music, Rambles, Things Happening RN, Things I Like

WHO’S GOT THE BEAT: I TRY TO FIND NEW MUSIC

Historically, I have bad taste in music. I don’t think so, but I’ve been told so. I have the kind of musical taste that people will unceremoniously aim for a new vibe whenever I have control of the aux cord. In conjunction with that, I’m also picky. I’ll listen to the same song over and over until I’m sick of it, then I listen to it even more until I hate it, and then I’ll move onto something else. If something doesn’t immediately jive with me, I don’t give it any chance. This combines to making it extremely difficult for me to find new stuff. I’m writing this is the hopes that I can The Secret new music.

Over the past few days, with an unusual ferocity, I am deleting songs that I don’t listen to on my Spotify. I’m a hoarder by nature (thanks Dad!) so I hardly ever delete music – what if it’s the exact song I need to through that tough set at the gym?? What will I do then? – and I’ll just skip through until I find one I like.

Eventually, I realized that I was spending more time skipping through songs than I was actually working out/modeling in front of the mirror-wall. Beyond that, I basically only listen to Cupcakke’s new album, Ephorize, at the gym anyway, so I don’t know why I haven’t just caught on and put that on shuffle yet. Too old to learn but too dumb to realize, I guess.

Suddenly, everything in my library annoys me, and it’s kind of no wonder. Currently, it’s an emotionally disturbing cross-section that includes The Greatest Showman soundtrack, music by drag queens, piecemeal rap, and Kelly Clarkson. I mostly listen to music when I’m at the gym. When I’m driving, cooking, walking, doing laundry, sitting quietly in the corner, I listen to podcasts. But I find podcasts hard to listen to at the gym – either they’re too funny, and I laugh at an inopportune time, or I find that it doesn’t propel me forward in my workout. So the music I tend to gravitate to at the gym typically is super-emotive and thinspiring.

But I’d like to get into more music, and the road I’ve been traveling down is just not cutting it. Roughly every six months, I pick a new vibe and cultivate music around that. In the autumn and winter, I’m moodier and rocky-er. I pick songs that are similar to my youth (I was formulated – Powerpuff Girl-style – on the Kooks, Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine, and Rilo Kiley). In the summer, I live for a good bop (Carly Rae Jepsen – more like Carly Slay Jepsen! I’m gay and I hate myself). Two autumns ago, it was a Bastille-Halsey moment. Last summer was all about Grace Potter. This summer was dedicated to Kesha, and in the autumn, I fell back in love with Joanne and Miley Cyrus’s Younger Now.

But lately, I’ve been going further and further down a country/folk/rock/indie avenue, and I need help. The vibe I’m going for this spring and summer is “chill” meets Call Me By Your Name meets “indie rock” meets “country pop” meets “long, winding summer road” meets “pine tree” meets “winsome romance.” Unsurprisingly, that is not a “Mood” that you can click on Spotify’s Browse.

I created a SS18 (spring-summer 2018) playlist expressly for the purpose of encouraging the new sound, and it’s definitely threadbare. Their “Recommended” and “Discover Weekly” features are also a total let-down, because it pulls from the songs that are in your library. For me, that produces a heavily-skewed coterie that’s more suited for poppers and raving than it is for me living my actual, human experience.

Music, for me to get into it, has to invoke a strong emotional response. You know how there are some people who can listen to an album and “appreciate” it? Or sit through a terrible art film and “examine” it? That’s not me. Ephorize makes me want to be a total slut; Vince Staples’ Prima Donna gives me swag; Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life fulfills every karaoke fantasy I’ve ever had. I’m in a period of flux at the moment, and I’m kinda teetering on Big Adult™ decisions, so I want something that reflects that and inspires me.

I’ve started listening to a little more country – definitely country lite, like Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves and Russell Dickerson. I’ve been in a more softly contemplative mood lately, and I find that mindless pop – that includes you, Katy Perry, with your “activist” pop – isn’t really cutting it for me. I used to hate country music – it was too square and too heteronormative and square – but I like what it feels like for me. It feels a little evolving, and a little slow, and a little contemplative. And that’s, overall, the vibe that I’m aiming for in the next few months.

If you’ve got any suggestions, or any advice on how to find new music, plz send me a postcard. I need your help. America needs your help.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1237130065/playlist/0JQlpZOW32PIBaUQTJ6sxo

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music, pop culture

KESHA IS “PRAYING” FOR YOU

Written whilst listening to Kesha’s “Praying,” over and over again.



“Praying,” Kesha’s first song off her new album Rainbow, is remarkably restrained, given the fact that this marks her first entrance back into music after years of legal conflict with former producer, Dr. Luke, following accusations from Kesha that Dr. Luke physically and emotionally abused her.

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music, pop culture

THE GRAMMYS 2017

(i tried to make the header look like a golden plaque? idk don’t judge)

I’m not a music journalist, so I can’t give you all the deep tea on the Grammys, or what each award stands for. I actually didn’t watch the awards show because I don’t have a TV and honestly I can find the performances later. Isn’t that what’s most important?

Rolling Stone released an article, “Grammys 2017: Who Will Win, Who Should Win” by writer Keith Harris, that’s really helpful in understanding the individual nuances of each category.

There are essentially only a few categories that anyone is/should be interested in. “Album of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” “Record of the Year,” and “Best New Artist.” There are other ones: “Best Solo Performance,” “Best Pop Vocal Album,” and on and on until the only person left standing is CeeLo Green because apparently he’s a robot now.

The way Rolling Stone broke it down for the first three categories is this. “Album of the Year” relates most to album sales. “Song” is about the written-ness, and “Record” relates more to performance and singing. In each of these, it was a toss-up between Beyoncé and Adele for Lemonade and 25, respectively.

Adele ended up sweeping all three, with Beyonce winning “Best Urban Contemporary Album” (before the cameras were rolling, apparently they hand out a bunch of awards because the Grammys are long enough as it is).

If we’re going by the Rolling Stone outline, then it makes sense that 25 won Best Album. It sold 3.38 million in the first week of its release; 17.4 million copies in 2015; 20 million copies sold total. That’s, like, historic. So Album of the Year; that makes sense.

And if “Song” relates more to the written, then Adele wins that too. She writes all her own stuff (probably with some help) but whatever. She wrote “Hello.” Yes, done.

But “Record of the Year” should’ve at least gone to Beyoncé. I think that’s what’s so hard about Adele and Beyoncé. I LOVE BOTH OF THEM. Not even out of some deluded idea of “fairness” because—let’s face it—these awards basically mean nothing monetarily to these two queens. They’ll still be fucking incredible, no matter what some group of voters decides (there’s an allegory in there somewhere).

And this is the part that confuses me—does the voter group take into account public perception? Because of the two, 25 and Lemonade, the latter was more—in my small, tiny, chic opinion—the more influential. It brought police brutality into the national dialogue when Beyoncé wore a Blank Panthers-inspired outfit to the Super Bowl; when she released “Formation,” the music video of which invoked Hurricane Katrina, black womanness, police brutality, and Black Lives Matter. She did that.

It seems like that should be accounted for: the amount that Beyonce contributed to, affected and influenced our country’s dialogue about race. Lemonade was powerful in its own right—as a visual album and experience, and the songs that touched on the intersection between Blackness and Womanness—but it also impacted 2016 in a major way. A way that seems not to be recognized by the Grammy voters.

Adele, in her acceptance speech, said that Beyonce should’ve won “Album of the Year,” which maybe is true and is a nice sentiment, but kind of bullshit. I LOVE ADELE, so this is not shade, but there’s underlying condescension in the notion of “You should really won this (but I won this) but you should’ve!” I don’t think, honestly, Adele meant it that way, but actions speak louder than words.

Justin Bieber, Drake and Kanye West made the action to skip the Grammys, despite being nominated in several categories, because they felt the award show did not accurately recognize the contributions and accomplishments of black artists. According to TMZ, they thought it was kind of irrelevant. And after watching Adele sweep every category against Beyonce, I have to agree.

We’re in a tough place because it’s two QUEENS against each other, but Lemonade was iconic in 2016. Not just because it was good, but because it was important. And as heart-rending and evocative and emotional and lovely as 25 was, it wasn’t important and necessary in the same way that Lemonade was. There was pain in the voice of Adele, and in the eyes of Beyonce, when Adele dedicated her award to Beyonce. Because at the end of the day, they—and all artists—recognize the value and depth of each other’s art. Now if that could just be accurately represented, that would be killer.

I just need to reiterate that I love Adele, and writing this has physically hurt me, but I have to honor my truth.

ALSO CONGRATS TO CHANCE THE RAPPER FOR “BEST NEW ARTIST” YOU COMPLETELY DESERVE IT!

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music, Review

THINKPIECE: LADY GAGA’S METHODOLOGY

There’s something oddly alien about the stripped-down façade of Lady Gaga in promotional shoots for her latest album Joanne. Without the elaborate wigs and geometric makeup, her architectural cheekbones sweep along her face like foreign objects. Her full lips and sharp nose have a heavy, hawkish feeling. It’s jarring, because everything we’ve known of Gaga was the theatrics. And we have to wonder: have we ever known what she actually looked like?

In comparison to her peers, Gaga’s motives in her musical choices have been inscrutable. It’s hard to predict what she’ll do next. This difficulty in analysis is in part due to how we analyze her. Her fans and critics take her discography as fact, as a timeline. We do this because that’s what’s always been done. As artists age, their albums reflect that.

We analyzed her like this because that’s the framework we’re given. It’s worked for other pop artists, like Beyoncé and Adele. It’s possible to track the change from I Am…Sasha Fierce to Lemonade as Beyoncé became more confident and solid in the duality of femininity and power. 25 makes cohesive sense when in collaboration with 21 as Adele grappled with her rapid rise to stardom.

But Gaga’s choices don’t make that same sort of sense. And if you use the sequential model to analyze her discography, her discography makes even less sense. Because she’s not like other artists. She doesn’t work sequentially, she works laterally.

For Joanne, Lady Gaga’s fifth studio album, she took an earthier, cigarette smoke-wreathed image. She’s wearing white t-shirts and mom jeans, her blonde hair pulled back tightly into a bun or capped underneath a wide-brimmed pink hat. The music shifts from rock to a country twang easily. It’s partially a reflection of the Americana genre, but Gaga feels more grounded in this album.

Joanne centers around the theme of familial ties. “Joanne” is Gaga’s real middle name, but it is also the name of her father’s deceased sister. And so while this is another experimentation on the part of Lady Gaga, the themes—more personal than on her previous albums—makes Joanne her most deeply revealing album yet.

The sound of Joanne was a direct response to 2013’s ARTPOP, her previous solo studio album. In the wake of ARTPOP’s, Gaga took a more stripped-down tone, relying on her powerful voice rather than theatrics. It’s evident in her 2014 jazz album Cheek to Cheek; it’s present in her performance of songs from The Sound of Music at the 2015 Oscars.

Gaga said that she was inspired and influenced by country music. But Joanne is not a country album. And Lady Gaga knows that. It’s apparent particularly in “John Wayne.”

The song begins with a click of a needle hitting the record on the player and the slightly garbled, nouveau “cops and robbers” vibe starts crackling, all underneath Gaga’s voice. “It’s like, I just want a cowboy,” she says, and you can imagine it’s directed at a friend as they sit in a dim, mahogany bar, dirty gin bottles clinking against the lips of dirty glasses. “I know it’s bad but, like, can I just hang off the back of your horse and can you go a little bit faster,” her voice squeals as, we imagine, the horse takes off and Gaga is whisked away into the fantasy of a cowboy romance.

Gaga sets the scene. You imagine that it’s her fingers that put the needle onto the record, and it’s her listening to “John Wayne.” She’s listening, but we’re listening too. Gaga knows that we could never believe she authentically arrived at a country album. But by indulging us, and proving that she’s aware that this is a musical experiment, she stitches us into the narrative. We, like her, begin to experience the country influence. We, like her, want a cowboy. We immerse ourselves in the country genre with Lady Gaga as our vehicle.

“Come to Mama” feels particularly apt for the political climate. “So why do we gotta fight over ideas?” asked Gaga. “We’re talking the same ole shit after all of these years.”

A boozy, raucous throwback, with a bold “free love” ‘70s kind of vibe, the refrain says it all. “Come to mama/ tell me who hurt ya/ There’s gonna be no future/ If we don’t figure this out.” It’s a reference to Gaga’s role in her fandom as “Mother Monster” but tailored to her current image. She’s not the mother of a ravenous fandom. She’s a big, boisterous mother; she takes no shit, she’s tough love, but she ultimately wants everyone to be together.

“Come to Mama” is hopeful and loud and rousing. It’s probably the folksiest Gaga gets on her album, and digs into the dive bar-loud instrumentals aspect of performing. The music is as important as her lyrics and her harmonizing over the saxophones and snares.

A lot of the same ideas appear in Joanne as in her previous albums. “Dancin’ In Circles” details masturbation and female sexuality. “Perfect Illusion” talks about botched loves with men. But so much of the album resides under the framework structure of “family.” “Joanne” laments the death of Gaga’s aunt, who died before Gaga was born, but whose spirit lingered in the family mythology. “Sinner’s Prayer” pleads for understanding and forgiveness for a blinded-by-love sister.

Gaga is known for being chameleonic in her discography, each album grappling with different issues, built on the core of her identity. Her debut album The Fame was a foray into the positive aspects of celebrity, the initial sweetness of fame. Her follow-up reissue, The Fame Monster, was celebrity’s bitter aftertaste. She characterized it as her interest in the ‘decay of celebrity.’

The Fame and The Fame Monster illustrate that, even in the nascence of her career, Lady Gaga knew the pop machine.

In the music video for “Paparazzi” off The Fame Monster, Gaga is thrown off a balcony by her boyfriend. As she lies paralyzed on the rocks below, paparazzi crowd her and newspaper headlines fly across the screen. “Lady Gaga Hits Rock Bottom.” “Lady Gaga is Over.”  The video moves on, Gaga starts in a wheelchair and slowly recovers. Eventually, Lady Gaga manages to kill her boyfriend. And as she is carted off to jail—after confessing to the crime—newspapers begin to flash across the screen. “She’s Back!!!” “We Love Her Again.”

The message of the song criticizes celebrity culture. She exists for them to devour her and then build her back up. She is an object to them, as immobile as someone in a wheelchair. And she will exist in that way until she can, effectively, kill celebrity culture. She knows how the culture works, and thus operates outside of that.

She touches upon that in “Angel Down.” “I confess, I am lost, in the age of the social,” she sings as the opening line. The song functions as her break-up with celebrity culture. In indulging it in, we lose touch with humanity. Rather than let it consume her, she would rather seek out people, ergo save an “angel down.”

Her third album, Born This Way, was arguably her most successful and cohesive body of work. It was her first album to reach number-one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling over one million copies in one week. The songs touched upon feminism, individualism, and religion. This was peak-Gaga.

Her fourth album, ARTPOP, was—according to her—a Warholian experiment to bring art culture into pop culture. Warhol is famously an inspiration of Gaga’s, and his attempts to bring popular culture into the art world had a decided impact on her artistry. ARTPOP brought in influences from the fashion world—“Donatella” lauded Versace—classical art—“Venus” invoked Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus—and film—“Applause” emulated Black Swan in its music video.

ARTPOP is also Gaga’s biggest miscalculation. The songs felt at some points unfinished, and the music videos weren’t cohesive. Even for “G.U.Y.”—a personal favorite—the portrayal of the reality television celebrities from the network Bravo as a pseudo-Greek chorus and television host and personality Andy Cohen as a god and an almost Bladerunner-esque vibe felt trite rather than revolutionary. Something wasn’t landing for Gaga; maybe it was too big of a reach too soon. Maybe it was just a few years too early.

Gaga’s process of making music wasn’t revealed to us at this point. ARTPOP seemed like the mad manifesto of someone addled by celebrity. If you follow the trajectory of her discography, it’s a series of peaks and valleys. The Fame covered the adoration of fame, followed closely by the negative aspects of it—The Fame Monster. Born This Way was the resurgence and affirmation of individuality. And the descent into entirely incomprehensible “genius” is ARTPOP.

In 2014, Gaga released Cheek to Cheek, a jazz album, in collaboration with Tony Bennett. In 2015, she wrote and sang the song “Til It Happens to You” for the documentary The Hunting Ground, exploring sexual assault on college campuses. And in 2016, Gaga released Joanne, discarding the last vestiges of her crazy assembles and opting for something more dirt-road country.

And it takes being in 2016, looking at the full scope of her work to realize that Gaga is not working sequentially. Her discography is not reflective per se of a journey. It’s not trackable, like Beyoncé or Adele. Each album is a distinct and separate artistic endeavor, but work laterally to form an image of Gaga.

Lady Gaga is driven by a deep love for music. On making Cheek to Cheek, Gaga said she was inspired to preserve jazz standards for the next generation. That small remark, preserving music and celebrating music, echoes through her entire opus. In that light, each album could be seen as honoring different styles of music. The Fame and The Fame Monster celebrated dance-and-synth pop. Born This Way evoked rock and roll, heavy metal and disco. Cheek to Cheek was jazz. Joanne is Americana soft rock. Whereas some artists have a gradual shift from genre to genre—Taylor Swift’s evolution from country to pop—Gaga made a concentrated effort to constantly subvert genre expectations.

Lady Gaga doesn’t work sequentially. She doesn’t tell the story of her life like other artists. But each album reveals another layer of Gaga. Her avid adoration with celebrity. Her quick disgust with it. Her desire to leave its clinging embrace. Her sexuality. Religion. Her devotion to her family. They don’t work sequentially because they work laterally. Taken as contemporaneous pieces of the puzzle, they make much more sense; they paint the picture of a musically intelligent, passionate artist who, like many people, has a lot of different sides to her at any given time.

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