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BELIEVE IN THE SKY: IMBOLC & BEYOND

Hello again! Today is witchsong’s birthday. witchsong is an Aquarius, which is charming and altogether fitting, as we are collectively a long-limbed dorky weirdo who loves bananas and Stevie Nicks. It is also Ingrid Nilsen‘s birthday (happy birthday Ingrid, please call me, let’s talk about the new Glossier cleanser). Today is also Imbolc, one of the spokes of the wheel of the year, a historically pagan festival day which marks the beginning of spring and rebirth and all things bright and beautiful. It is also, not coincidentally, Groundhog Day! And in great news, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning. Nor, according to NPR, did his Canadian counterpart, nor did two other independent groundhogs. So! Spring has officially been heralded. Your horoscopes will be a little different today because I want us all to take advantage of this day, which is a good time to begin things, to change things, to believe in yourself.

BELIEVE IN THE SKY: IMBOLC (AND FEBRUARY) 2016

Aquarius: Soft music with no lyrics. Piano, not orchestra.

Light a candle, a new candle, white or gold or gray. Sit in front of it, in a position that will keep you comfortable, and stare into the heart of the flame, directly surrounding the wick. Try to empty your mind, to let it fill with light, the gradations of color in the flame. You have to allow yourself to be calm, to let your thoughts go still and quiet, like water. Examine the things that come to the surface, the things that cannot be stilled, and then decide whether or not to keep them. Do not blow out the candle; either extinguish it with your fingers or allow it to burn out.

Pisces: Songs from your childhood.

Take a pomegranate and split it open carefully. Remove the seeds, letting the juice stain the tips of your fingers, your nailbeds. Fill a bowl and look at the seeds for awhile. Think about all the places they could have ended up, the ways they could grow, the potential contained in every single tiny core inside that deep red jewel. Think about planting things, about growth, about the way everything stretches upward toward the sun. Eat the seeds, one by one at first, feeling them crack under your teeth, and then take a big handful and crush it to pulp in your mouth.

Aries: Norah Jones.

Find a notebook, a journal, a sketchbook – anything with blank pages. Find a pen, a good pen, one that you feel comfortable holding. Start writing. Write down the sorrow, the joy, the petty thoughts, the things that you can’t hold inside your heart anymore that you still don’t want to say to anyone but yourself. Write longer than you think you can, past the point of thought. Write at least five pages. When you are done, do not read it over. Turn the page and close the book. Do this again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, until it becomes a habit.

Taurus: Bluegrass, the almost-country kind.

Find an animal, a small one – go to the pet store, if you need to. Sit for awhile and look at it, the perfection of it. What it is made for. The economy of being an animal, rather than a person, the usefulness of every feature. If you can put your hands on the animal, do so. Feathers, fur, little teeny toe beans, scales, tiny perfect teeth. A cat is a cat is a cat and it knows it’s a cat but it also thinks you are a cat. Think about your animal self, the perfection of it. What it is made for. The usefulness of every feature. Put your hands on yourself. Feel your muscles under your skin, your toes, your teeth.

Gemini: Anything that reminds you of summer.

Draw something today; it doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter if you never have. Take a pen, see something inside your head and then make it real, make it exist in the world. The thought takes on substance and form and becomes something beyond yourself, a part of you externalized. It is never weakness to need evidence that you exist, and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Breathe something new out and let yourself take something new in.

Cancer: Something soft, something romantic. Spanish guitar.

Write a letter to someone, one that you have put off for too long. Write to heal wounds, to break the bone in order to reset it. Write everything you have kept yourself from saying. Think about what will happen if you send this letter, and whether this is something that you want. Leave it alone for an hour, come back to it. Read it once more and then seal it in an envelope. When you wake up tomorrow, either burn it or mail it, but do not open it again – physically or mentally.

Leo: Lush electronic songs, the kind with a heartbeat.

Find a body of water. Use your phone, the internet; there is at least a reservoir closer than you think. Drive there, if you drive, or walk. Approach the water, getting as close to it as you can. If it is warm enough, and if it is allowed, take off your shoes and wade. Sit or stand, looking at the water, feeling it against your skin. Let your eyes drift out of focus, listen to the sounds of the wind and the birds and whatever trees are there, and the water. Look into the water until you can feel your blood like the tide, gently rocking. Be still, be silent, be open.

Virgo: Jewel.

Go to the store and purchase a squash, any kind you want. Bring it home and cut it open, scooping out the seeds. Do this with your bare hands. Rinse them, keep them. Wrap the squash and roast it; or if you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, cook the squash by burying it in the hot ashes. Eat it hot, as hot as you can bear, right from the skin and seasoned only with herbs. Think about how everything comes from the earth, returns to the earth, comes again. Roast the seeds, except for a few, and eat these as well. Leave the rest outside, for the animals.

Libra: Satie, the Gymnopédies.

Look for a classical music radio station, something that will play continuously without interruption. Wait for a song you don’t know and find a place to lie down. Turn it up as loud as you can bear it and close your eyes. Try to pick out each individual instrument, follow them, travel with them for as long as you can. Let them find each other again, behind your eyelids, however you visualize them braiding into each other and becoming one sound. So many parts, and yet it creates such an elaborate, seamless whole.

Scorpio: Rumba, something sun-soaked and warm.

Plant something, a small green something. Indoors, outdoors, it doesn’t matter, but do it with your hands. Turn the earth, press the seeds into their small dark burrows and cover them gently. Think about what it is to germinate, to take the leap from not-life to life. Don’t clean the dirt out from under your fingernails right away; don’t break your connection with the earth so quickly. Keep one seed in your pocket for awhile, until you forget it is there.

Sagittarius: Your favorite band in high school.

Fill a bathtub with almost as much water as it will hold, as hot as you can bear it. Take whatever crystals you own, small bright pieces of the earth, and place them in the water. Get in slowly, inch by inch. Let yourself acclimate to the water, even if it bites at first. When you are ready, close your eyes and slip under the water, holding your breath. Listen to the sound the silence makes, the water in your ears, the muffling that is somehow still noise. Listen to your heartbeat, the steadiness of it. Lift your head out of the water slowly, lovingly, and let it drip until it dries on its own.

Capricorn: Love songs.

Write down the things you need to let go of. Do not think about this overlong; do not pretty it up. Write down what you want to leave behind, the ashes you want to rise from. Read this list out loud to yourself as many times as you need to and then light it on fire. Watch it burn until the fire dies completely. Take the ashes somewhere high – a balcony, a hill – and let the wind have them. Do not bury them; this is another way to hold onto something. Watch them go.

Today is the first day of a ceremonial kind of spring, the season where all things are made new, and although this year it’s calendrically speaking today you can celebrate it any time, especially this month. These are all things that will ground you, center you, remind you of your connection with the earth and the physical world, the regeneration that is occurring every moment of every day of your life. Little rituals, small ways to feel in control of your physical self. These tasks are yours to perform whenever you want, this month and every month, any time you feel like you need renewal.

lonelier and more in love: “death of a bachelor”

Death of a Bachelor is maybe the best Panic! at the Disco album. It is definitely at the top of my list, at least, and I am still trying to pin down exactly why. There is something about it that none of their albums have had for me since 2005, a magnetic pull that defies explanation. I think – what I have settled on so far – is that it is Fever You Can’t Sweat Out for grown-ups, or people who think they’re grown-ups, or people who want to be grown-ups. For me.

Fever was what I needed when I was fourteen and bleak, neverbeenkissed cutting my eyes across a high school auditorium at a boy who broke my heart three years later, and I still think I’ve got more wit a better kiss a hotter touch a better fuck is the sexiest thing but it’s not what I need anymore. I still love it and I always will, but it’s not a mirror the way it used to be; I have moved further through the funhouse and now it is a reflection of a reflection, a shade of my younger self.

Lush is the best word, I think, to describe the difference – Fever had this urgency, this heat, this darkness, and Death of a Bachelor has these things too, but so lushly. It is bigger, softer, more alive, it is rich dark earth in which many things have decayed so that new things might grow. It is nightshade plants blooming beneath a velvet sky. The almost orchestral quality of this album, the harmonies, the horns, the vast spiralingness of it all – it is melancholy. But it is melancholy in a way that makes me indefinably happy, in a way that suggests that getting older isn’t a bad thing. It is growth, real growth, and it is beautiful. This is Brendon Urie’s first album on his own, without any of the other original members of Panic!, and it feels like it.

Death of a Bachelor opens with “Victorious”, a love song to success on your own terms – about defining success as what you have achieved rather than what you strive for. Brendon Urie described it as “giving ’em hell to get a taste of heaven”. You don’t have to win to be a winner; you don’t have to knock the other guy out to feel victorious. This is a song about the stupid wild nights of your life that you feel alive, drunk running down the middle of the street with a sparkler, proud of yourself for the simple fact of your survival. As I get older I have fewer of these nights, but I feel like I have more of them metaphorically, if that makes sense. There’s a part in the video where he doesn’t call his ex and they give him one of those gigantic novelty checks; there’s another scene where he walks an old lady across the street and gets the keys to the city. Your victories are what you decide they are – when you celebrate something, it’s an achievement. I drive work listening to “Victorious” and I’m like hell yeah I got out of bed, hell yeah I’m driving the heck out of this little red Hyundai. You take your wins where you get them, but you get to decide where you get them.

“Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” starts with a sample of “Rock Lobster”, which is my favorite fact of 2016 so far. It’s driving and ominous and sexy – Urie does menace well. This is the morning after, pounding hangover and hazy memory, but there’s not a trace of regret in it. Sayin’ “if you go out you might pass out in a drainpipe” / oh yeah? Don’t threaten me with a good time, and that’s really all there is to it. Raise hell and turn it up.

(We talked about “Hallelujah” when it was released.)

The first time on the album that we really see Brendon coming to terms with essentially being Panic! at the Disco now is “Emperor’s New Clothes”, and what a time it is. Welcome to the end of eras he lilts, an assertion of his power, of his rightness. If it feels good, tastes good, it must be mine. It is a very vulnerable song for containing the line I’m taking back the crown, for being essentially a declaration of independence. I’m all dressed up and naked is the crux, the fear – here I am as Brendon Urie as Panic! at the Disco as a new and singular entity, take it or leave it (but please take it). The video starts at the end of “This is Gospel”, which is important – if you love me let me go.

“Death of a Bachelor” makes me want to peel off all my skin, in the best way possible. Like, we know Brendon Urie has a great voice, we’re all aware of this. And yet somehow I forgot? Or I didn’t really know, or something? It doesn’t matter – the point is this. “Death of a Bachelor” is an incredible ballad, a sweeping Sinatra-esque song that has just enough of a dubsteppy vibe to keep it interesting. And that voice! His fucking voice! There was a Chuck Klosterman essay once that was like, I don’t remember what the Would You Rather question was precisely but one of the choices was “Everything you hear for the rest of your life will sound like the lead singer of Alice in Chains”, and it was still better than the alternative, I think, if I recall, but what I am saying here is that if I could only hear one voice ever again it might very well be Brendon Urie’s. This is also a really beautiful song about love and what you give up for it, the way it changes you, the way it makes you better and worse and different and utterly the same. The lace in your dress tangles my neck / how do I live? / the death of a bachelor, but then – how could I ask for more? / a lifetime of laughter / at the expense of the death of a bachelor. 

There’s a lot of fun wordplay going on in “Crazy=Genius”, but the really important thing about this album’s “These Tables are Numbered” (it is, trust me on this) is that it is about Brendon Urie’s imaginary girlfriend telling him that you’re just like Mike Love but you wanna be Brian Wilson / said you’re just like Mike Love but you’ll never be Brian Wilson. No matter where it comes from, it’s something that you either have or you don’t. You can’t make yourself a Brian Wilson. You can set yourself on fire / but you’re never gonna burn, burn, burn.

“LA Devotee” is currently my favorite song off the album, although I do reserve the right to fall more in love with something else. It is so sly and cruel and perfect; it yanks you off your feet into the passenger seat of a Mustang convertible, watching the lights flash past in the middle of the hot dark night. This is the only song I’ve ever heard about LA that makes me want to move there, makes me want to be a girl in a swimming pool under the desert sky, makes me want a life so fast I feel like there’s never time even while I’m standing still. It’s got a very retro feel, sort of sock-hoppy in the way it uh-ohs, that simple drumbeat that I know there’s a name for, the horns! It’s almost Britpoppy, the way it bounces forward. It is maybe a perfect song, and the phrase the black magic on Mulholland Drive isn’t not an entire lifestyle waiting to happen.

Oh don’t you wonder when the light begins to fade? And the clock just makes the colors turn to grey? Nothing stays, not even your memories, and here again we see Brendon negotiating the idea of moving forward into the future, moving by definition away from the past. “Golden Days” is a promise not to forget even while it admits that remembering is impossible. Forever young but growing older just the same, as he looks at a Polaroid – you are young in your photos, your memories, and that is a reality but so is the reality of your physical body aging. You are forever twenty, tan, sipping champagne on a yacht inside a tiny flat square (shake it til you see it), and you are thirty, sitting in a record shop looking at a picture of yourself, you are always becoming something different but you are always the same. These things can exist simultaneously if you are strong enough to let them. Let the love remain and I swear that I’ll always paint you / golden days.

“The Good, the Bad and the Dirty” is mostly just fun to listen to, a door-slamming fight song in its most literal sense. If you wanna start a fight you better throw the first punch / make it a good one. Like, this is a fact – if you want to start the fight you have to… start the fight. But in this aggressive cadence it has more meaning somehow, more threat, more swagger. Come at me with everything you’ve got – if you wanna make it through the night you better say my name. All of the good girls act so good til one of them doesn’t wait their turn and you’re nodding yes, yes, ready to swing. I’m gonna keep getting underneath you is this album’s more wit a better kiss and it is just as sexy, just as dangerous. Even here, as in-your-face as it gets, there is melancholy – truth is that it was always going to end.

The album winds to a close with two really stunning slow songs. “House of Memories” is this grand, gothic number, a love song in sweeping minor chords, a love song that is about being alone. If you’re a lover, you should know / the lonely moments just get lonelier / the longer you’re in love / than if you were alone. There is the large formless ache of loneliness that comes from missing no one in particular, and there is the sharp twisting knife of loneliness that comes from missing your other half. Heart to heart and eyes to eyesbaby we built this house on memories. Memory isn’t a strong foundation; it’s mutable and fickle, and it’s certainly not permanent. But that’s all Urie wants here, a place in your house of memories. Put me on a shelf, as long as I can stay there; don’t forget me. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all but it is also harder. Take my picture now, shake it til you see it. 

“Impossible Year” is almost cruel in its accuracy, its visceral realness. What a note to end an album on; what a way to make an entrance out of an exit. There’s never air to breathe / there’s never in-betweens / these nightmares always hang on past the dream. This, then, is what Death of a Bachelor is about, underneath it all, twining through it like blood in water. Loss, the kind that leaves you alone and breathless and waiting for the punchline only to realize that there is none. Urie can swagger and posture all he wants and we know he will be okay in the way that all of us will be okay, but that doesn’t mean it is easy and it doesn’t mean it will be the same.

Panic! at the Disco has become something entirely new and yet it is haunted by the ghost of what it was, and Brendon Urie lives with those ghosts every day. This album is his re-introduction to the world, his soul laid bare before the eyes of everyone who watched this band disintegrate over the past ten years. It is not an apology, but it is an acknowledgement of the part he’s played. There is bravado and vindication and bleeding rawness, and the brilliance of this album comes from letting all of them exist together. It is a very painful kind of growth, the cracking-open kind, the kind that leads to beauty and greatness and nothing but sky. It is the death of a bachelor, the birth of something new and incredible. It is lonelier and more in love than ever before.

cake by the ocean: sex on the beach with DNCE

Joe Jonas has a new band.

He’s had one since 2015, apparently, and their name is DNCE. I didn’t become aware of them until mid-last week and now I can’t stop listening to their debut EP Swaay, which consists of four delightful songs that kind of sound like if Chromeo had been a little more into falsetto. It’s great, is what I’m saying, and I want you to know about it.

“Cake by the Ocean” is the first track, and the single, and to my surprise I actually heard it on the radio about two days ago, so I think they are gearing up for album release this year. The story about “Cake by the Ocean” is that one of their producers was trying to remember the name of the drink Sex on the Beach and came up with Cake by the Ocean, which Joe Jonas was very tickled/inspired by.

If “sex on the beach” is (duh) sex on the beach, “cake by the ocean” is going down on your girl in the hollow of the sand dunes, salt on skin, long lazy afternoon fading into night. It’s a sexy phrase, and I know we’re not doing anything innovative with cake as a euphemism but like, I like it, okay. Interestingly, though, it’s not really a sexy song. It is a great song – I want to dance to it on a yacht à la Point Break 2016* and/or One Direction 2013 – but I would not put it on any kind of sexy mixtape. I would put it on at the yacht party and catch someone’s eye across the dance floor, maybe an eye roll, can you believe he just said the word ‘funfetti’, but we’d both know. This is a dance jam like you wouldn’t believe; I am honestly surprised that they’re mobilizing this through the winter because this song – this whole EP, really, but this song in particular – is summer. It makes me want to throw a house party and I don’t even have a house. It makes me want to see DNCE in some kind of beachside concert and I don’t even live near the beach. Anyway, Gigi Hadid directed this video, so.

“Pay My Rent” is exactly what it sounds like, which is a request for your lover to pay your rent. This is probably a coy way to ask someone to move in, I guess, but I’m choosing to interpret it as what I will sing to Harry Styles when we eventually meet cute in a SoulCycle**. If you said you could, I would give you all the power – would you pay my rent? It’s the least you can do, Harry. Again – such a jam! This one I don’t know if I would need to full-on dance to, but I would definitely have to stop whatever conversation I was having to yell BUT WOULD YOU PAY MY RENT across the room when it came on.

“Toothbrush” is a very precious slow jam about how Joe Jonas wants to really commit to this relationship, he wants to take it to the next level – he doesn’t need you to rush out of his house! You can leave a toothbrush there! It is very stupid, and it is so endearing. Standing there in your underwear and my t-shirt from the night before / with your messed-up hair and your feet still bare, so evocative, like, it puts me right into that headspace, saccharine and silly though it is. Maybe you don’t have to rush; maybe you can leave a toothbrush at my place. Not quite a request, not quite a question, but a tentative faux-casual mix of the two, as if you haven’t been psyching yourself up to say it since the third time she stayed over. It almost reminds me of that scene in Romeo + Juliet where the sheets are billowing around them while they look at each other. It makes me think about a girl in a white t-shirt, dancing just a little while she gets ready for work.

This is a One Direction bonus track circa 2012. It is. I am literally convinced that One Direction wrote this song and should be singing it. Listen! Listen to this and tell me that Louis Tomlinson shouldn’t be crooning yeah I want to tell everyone / that you are, you are my only one / scream it at the top of my lungs / but i’m whispering i’m whispering i’m whispering / ’cause I don’t wanna jinx it. It is cringeworthy in that same way – think “Irresistible” – the way it is so sincere, the way it is unashamed to say things like like a birthday wish, don’t say it out loud. (There is a rather unfortunate use of the phrase wet dreams that I do not think 2012 One Direction would have pulled off, but they would cover this song today in a heartbeat and it would just feel so right.) Like “Toothbrush”, it is so trite that it tips back into being meaningful, the terror of scaring someone away that you can only express in cliches. Fingers crossed when I kiss you strikes a chord even as you roll your eyes, you know?

This is a great EP. I have been listening to it almost constantly, these four synthesizer-led songs on a loop, and I like it more and more each time. I am hoping they’ll release the album for summer – this music demands open windows, open air, those rafts that they tether out in the water that you race to. Honestly, it demands yacht parties. They don’t sell a t-shirt that says CAKE BY THE OCEAN yet, but I am sending this wish out into the universe and perhaps I will be rewarded.

*You should see Point Break. It is very stupid, and it is one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences I have had recently. It is very un-self-aware and they filmed it in a bunch of incredibly beautiful places; there are squirrel suits and a lot of parties and a lot of very intense bro eye contact, would recommend 10/10

**I would literally never go to SoulCycle and this is, I feel in my bones, the only reason that Harry Styles and I are not cosmically destined for each other

BELIEVE IN THE SKY: IT’S 2016

Hello, my precious loves. It has been a year, in both the actual temporal sense and also in the sense it’s meant when people go “It’s been a year.” 2015 was rough! Many bad things happened. Many good things happened, too, because the world is a weird and cyclical thing, but on the whole I am more than ready to welcome the new year. I am a big believer in the theoretical fresh start that a new year brings – I know that there’s backlash against that, like, you can start over any time you want! and I get that, I do, but I also like making resolutions and opening up a new journal and the whole silly parade of things that come with The New Year as an institution. I am canceling my gym membership, which may seem counterintuitive, but it’s half an hour from my house and I was locked into a yearlong contract and it’s just! not! financially sustainable! and one of my resolutions is to stop being so terrible with money. Plus now I’ve got the Fitsugar app (shouts to Fitsugar) and it is rad and free and totally kicking my ass.

Anyway! Horoscopes! I know I have not been the best messenger-of-the-stars this year, and I will not make excuses for that, but another of my resolutions is to be better to y’all. If you’re going to show up every month then so am I! It’s only right! So just know that you have inspired me to do better, to be more consistent, and generally to be awesome. You are all very, very awesome. Tell me your resolutions.

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[image via]

BELIEVE IN THE SKY: JANUARY 2016

PLAYLIST

Capricorn: “The Glory”, Kanye West. Can I talk my shit again?

This is a year for pride, Capricorn. You are – not modest, exactly, but something close to it. Secretive is probably the better word. You stack up all your accomplishments like tiny glowing things and then you clutch them to your chest, fold your wings around them, hide them and their light from the world. This year is for letting everyone know how great you are, okay? This year is for self-promotion. You have, always, this calm confidence that comes from knowing that you are competent, that you are successful, but it’s so internal! You are where you are for a reason, and I think that because you are so quiet about it you tend to forget it. You have achieved so much already, and this year is going to bring so many more opportunities for success to you. I want you to try, really try, to recognize and name your strengths and your victories this year. Look at where you are, know that you got yourself there, and don’t be afraid to acknowledge it. More importantly, don’t be afraid to share it. Vocalizing your success doesn’t diminish it.

Aquarius: “Que Sera Sera”, Doris Day. Whatever will be will be / The future’s not ours to see

You are a long-term thinker, even if you don’t consider yourself to be one. Everything you do is with an eye toward the future, a vision of your idealized life – your idealized self – that is always on the horizon. There are two sides to this coin, and you need to be aware of both of them this year. The good thing about always working toward your goals is pretty evident – you are always working toward your goals. On the flip side, though, is the looming specter of disappointment. The future you envision does not always line up with the present you are in, and sometimes that’s correctable and sometimes it’s not. The challenge you will face this year is learning what you can change and what you can’t, and what is even worth trying to change. You are on the path you’re on for a reason, and just because it seems to be veering away from the point on the horizon you’ve fixed on doesn’t mean it’s not going to take you somewhere wonderful. This year is for knowing that your work will be rewarded, even if it’s not necessarily in the manner you’ve envisioned.

Pisces: “Work B**ch”, Britney Spears. They gon’ try to try ya but they can’t deny ya / Now get to work, bitch!

This is a year for planning your attack, Pisces. You know what you want, but you need to start making actual, concrete plans for getting it. It is very easy, as the dreamiest of the signs, to think about your future in abstract terms. This is good motivation – this is actually key for you, this rose-tinted vision – but in 2016 I want you to slow down just a little bit. I want you to step your focus back from the future to the now. You cope with dissatisfaction with your present by throwing your vision forward, losing yourself in the idea of your eventual success, and I know it hurts but you need to pull your sight back to where you are. In order to get from your present to the future you want, you have to understand exactly where you are now. This is the year for really taking things into your own hands. This year is for making lists. This year is a metaphorical training montage. It is time to figure out exactly where you want to be, and then to start figuring out how to get there.

Aries: “Let’s Be Still”, The Head and the Heart. So just for the moment let’s be still

Your fear of the unknown manifests in interesting ways, the most notable of which is flinging yourself headlong directly into the darkness. Your fight-or-flight always lands on fight, and this is often useful, but this year calls for more care. The thing about blindly forging ahead is that it’s not predicated on anything other than the desire to move, which means it doesn’t necessarily matter where you end up. This year I want you to think about being intentional, about embracing your fear and sitting with it and letting it explain itself to you. Stay where you are and look out into the distance and wait for it to be revealed. Change is coming for you this year, as it does every year, and I want you to work on meeting it coolly, calmly, with a level gaze. When you lunge forward you cut yourself off from any other paths you could take, and it is worth it to look around before you leap! Being more intentional about these things can help you to see more clearly – looking at the path before you take it is boring, I know, but it will help you more than you know in the long term.

Taurus: “Mr. Tambourine Man”, Bob Dylan. Dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free

Taurus is a steadfast sign, a practical sign, a sign of the material world – it is the earth, solid and constant. This year, though, I want you to embrace the intuitive, creative side of yourself. Even as the grounded person you are, you are so imaginative, so in your head, always thinking about some new adventure – this year you need to take the plunge. There is a spark inside you, a tiny flare that only needs the slightest bit of encouragement to become a fire that will warm you at your core. There is so much enthusiasm in you, so much raw unformed energy – I want you to think about letting some of that energy out, this year. It can seem embarrassing or impractical to follow your dreams, especially the ones that are based in something as nebulous and unpredictable as the arts, but you have the strength to take the spark and make it into something that will sustain you. This is not yet a time for planning – you are too good at planning, to good at taking your impulses and corralling them. This is a time for doing, leaping, creating, letting yourself be without worrying about the practical implications of it all.

Gemini: “Roar”, Katy Perry. Used to bite my tongue and hold my breath / Scared to rock the boat and make a mess

You have a tendency to avoid conflict; it is easier to swim down than it is to take the bait. This year I want you to think about what is worth fighting for. There is such a thing as constructive conflict, as difficult as that is to believe, and I’ll be honest – you need some. Deflecting problems, sublimating your anger, these things are useful in the short term but what are they doing for you in the long run? The only way to find out what you’re willing to fight for is to fight. The only way to figure out what a conflict is really about is to let it unfold itself, to look at what is underneath it. I know it’s tempting to let things lie, to hope that they will play out on their own or, better yet, fizzle completely, but they don’t. They don’t, and they won’t, and the longer you wait to start speaking up the harder it will get for you to take that step. This year I want you to be brave; I want you to allow some conflict into your life. I want you to choose your fights; I want you to choose at least one and I want you to fight it. Let yourself be strong enough to face conflict head-on.

Cancer: “Control”, Halsey. I’m meaner than these demons

Your experience of the world is filtered through yourself. Everything that is comes to you through the layers of meat and fluff and frightened neurons that make up a person, and this is a blessing and a curse. Your external circumstances affect you, but it is what’s inside that paralyzes you. This year is going to be about working through things, about recognizing your emotions and meeting them where they are, but not letting them have purchase in your soul. There is caution and then there are self-fulfilling negative expectations, and these seem the same on the surface but one is useful and one will weigh you down like lead. I want you to try and work through the paralysis this year, the one that comes from uncertainty and fear and anxiety. These emotions want you to be hard on yourself, on the parts of you that are most vulnerable, and you do not deserve that. Know these things intimately, for what they are, and know that you can beat them. Try as best as you can to meet the future with joy, even in the face of the unknown.

Leo: “(Un)Lost”, the Maine. Unaware of where I’m going or if I’m going anywhere at all / But I know I’ll take the leap if it is worth the fall

You have a tendency to assume the worst, which can serve you well in terms of looking before you leap but also has the effect of keeping you from the things in life that you cannot guarantee. There is so much in this world that you cannot be sure of, and I know it feels safer to just keep away from those things, but – sorry – think about Finding Nemo. I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him; then nothing would ever happen to him. You can’t keep yourself away from everything that might hurt you, as much as you’d like to try. This year I want you to stop trying so hard. I want you to allow yourself to get hurt. The fear is worse than the actuality of it, and when you stop letting that fear dictate what you do you will find that nothing is as frightening as you have imagined it to be. You will find that although there are things that will hurt you, there are so many more that will reward you for taking that leap.

Virgo: “Animal Instinct”, the Cranberries. The thing that freaks me out / Is that I’ll always be in doubt

There are those who don’t trust the world and there are those who don’t trust themselves and you, Virgo, are the latter. This year I want you to work on listening to yourself, to the still, small voice. I want you to trust your instincts. There is intent in everything you do – you are such a measured sign, so methodical and level-headed, and sometimes you forget that. Trust that you have had reason to do the things you have done; trust that the plans you have made have been made with purpose. This means listening to yourself – and if you genuinely feel that you are moving in the wrong direction, trust that as well. Your instincts are different than self-doubt: one is about self-preservation, about staying alive and whole, and one is about simply undermining yourself. This year is for learning the difference, for learning how to listen to yourself and value your own voice. All the strength that you need is within you.

Libra: “Slow and Steady”, Of Monsters And Men. I move slow and steady / But I feel like a waterfall

Do not rely on the future to bring you what you want. They say that slow and steady wins the race but what that does not mean is that you get to stand still. No life is without challenges. You cannot guarantee your own success, even if it seems assured, and I know this seems frightening but what I mean is that you cannot assume you will have anything you don’t currently have. What I mean is that you need to work, now and always, to get the things you want. You will be successful – you have an incredible drive, an enviable work ethic, an ability to shoulder a tremendous burden – but you cannot simply allow things to come to you. You have to get them. This year is for actively, purposefully moving toward your goals – not hastily, not in a way that takes from others – in a way that is true to who you are at your core. You are a rare combination, a planner and a dreamer, and these facets of your personality can combine to make you lethargic (think making a to-do list and then feeling accomplished), but they also make you a force to be reckoned with. Dream big this year, but don’t stop there.

Scorpio: “Fight Song”, Rachel Platten. And I don’t really care if nobody else believes / ‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me 

This year is for taking back a sense of control over your life. You have felt dragged, up to now, pulled through your life by forces larger and more cruel than you, but enough is enough. There are things in this life you cannot control, and this is something that you will struggle with forever, but listen. There are enough things that you can control, things that you can fix your sight on that will make you feel strong. This year is for looking for those things, reminding yourself of the ways in which you have power in your life. You have felt angry this last year, almost directionlessly so, at the wide formless universe, at other people, at nothing, at everything. Take that anger and focus it down to a fine point, something that you can use to move forward, to clear a path. You may not be where you want to be just yet, but the best way to stop feeling that life is something that is simply happening to you is to influence its course. Look for small victories this year, things that will shore you up when you feel rudderless. Remember that you are always moving, always on a journey – you may not know where you are going but you can always, always steer.

Sagittarius: “Mushaboom”, Feist. Old dirt road / Knee deep snow / Watchin’ the fire as we grow old

This is a year of growth for you, the kind of growth that comes from stability, from establishing something you feel is permanent. It will be a time for considering your beliefs – about the universe, about love, about yourself. Look around and appreciate all the things you have created for yourself. This has been a year of upheaval and confusion, and you are entering now into a time where all things will become clearer, more still. You have been tested; now is the time to examine yourself and your life to see what passed the test and what did not. What are the parts of you that have made it through the fire? This burnished version of yourself, this elemental, sleek thing, this is what you will settle into this year. You are always evolving but this is a more measured, more contemplative act, testing the edges of the skin you wear and finding it to fit well. Think about the person you have become, and what had to happen to bring you into the world as you are now. Think about where you will go from this new, stable foundation, and how.

letter(s) from the editor(s): aly’s top ten albums of 2015

10. The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Brandi Carlile.

You lose so many things you love as you grow

9. Reflection, Fifth Harmony.

Where you from? Must be heaven / You’d be rich if lookin’ good was your profession / Think I’m in love ’cause you so sexy / Boy I ain’t talkin’ bout you I’m talkin’ to my own reflection

8. Another Eternity, Purity Ring.

I wanna know what’s your quietest feeling?

7. RevivalSelena Gomez.

I mean, I could, but why would I want to?

6. Beat the Champthe Mountain Goats.

I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object

5. Froot, Marina & the Diamonds.

Sometimes you have to learn to forget about it

4. E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen.

‘Cause I want what I want do you think that I want too much?

3. Purpose, Justin Bieber.

Is it too late now to say sorry?

2. Made in the A.M., One Direction.

You know I’m always comin’ back to this place / You know I’m always gonna look for your face

  1. Get Weird, Little Mix.

We’re gonna get (get) weird (weird) all night I said let’s get weird all night

Honorable mentions: Sounds Good Feels Good by 5SOS, American Beauty/American Psycho by Fall Out Boy, Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves, III by JoJo.

I apologize for linking to myself so much but I, uh, apparently talk a lot, and also didn’t really listen to anything that I didn’t scream about this year. Sorry that I have so little chill.

Also – I am writing a Purpose review, I am! It is taking a long time because its thesis is “Justin Bieber is lonely and uncertain” and so I have to take frequent crying breaks. So I am sorry for that as well although I would then have to link to myself more, so I guess maybe that equals out.

Happy solstice! Happy whatever holiday! Happy try not to kill your relatives, and remember that no matter what they think of your hair/gender/sexuality/music taste, we love you here. Thank you for sticking with us this far – it means more than you know. See you in 2016!

NEW MUSIC FRIDAY: CHRISTMAS & CHILL

Good morning! This is a very brief public service announcement that Ariana Grande has released a Christmas EP called CHRISTMAS & CHILL which is a very unsubtle but still sexy and delightful collection of six songs featuring lyrics like Merry Christmas, here I am boy (from the incredibly titled “Wit It This Christmas”). There are some ballads, a lot of those little notes that sound like snowflakes that you get in Christmas songs; there is an almost dubsteppy song that I guess is from the perspective of the girl who’s getting all the shit from the 12 Days of Christmas, but she’s really stoked about it (look at all the things my true love gave to me!). My personal favorite is “Winter Things” , in which she talks about the fact that it’s 100 degrees outside, but her baby is coming to town and they’re gonna do some winter things. Ice skating, log cabin, snuggle by the fire. Winter things!

I Hate the Grammys

Okay, I don’t really hate the Grammys. But I kind of do. When they get it right they get it so right (Amy!! my sweet Amy!!!) but way, way more often than that they get it… the most wrong. Anyway, today the list of 2016 nominees was released and predictably people are mad about it! Because per uze, the list defies all rational expectations. In honor of this momentously, notoriously frustrating occasion, I have compiled a brief list of the personal attacks perpetrated against me by the Grammys since 2011, when I finally stopped watching them (but continued hate-stalking them).

2011: Justin Bieber does not win Best New Artist. The Fame Monster does not win Album of the Year. Miranda Lambert does not win Song of the Year for “The House that Built Me”.

2012: Nicki Minaj does not win Best New Artist. “All of the Lights” does not win Song of the Year. One Direction is not nominated for anything.

2013: Mumford & Sons beats out Frank Ocean for Album of the Year. Fun. beats out Frank Ocean for Best New Artist. Fun. also beats “Call Me Maybe” for Song of the Year. One Direction is not nominated for anything.

2014: Red, arguably Taylor Swift’s best record to date, does not win Album of the Year. Macklemore wins Best New Artist. (One small consolation – Lorde wins Song of the Year for “Royals”, not my favorite of her songs but at least she’s on the board.) One Direction is not nominated for anything.

2015: Beck wins Album of the Year despite the fact that Beyoncé is nominated. Sam Smith wins Best New Artist despite the fact that HAIM is nominated. Neither “Shake It Off” nor “Chandelier” wins Song of the Year because terrible “Stay With Me” wins Song of the Year. One Direction is not nominated for anything.

What injustice will 2016 bring? First and most obviously, The Pinkprint isn’t nominated for Album of the Year. Neither is E•MO•TION. If the Grammys really want to hurt me more than that, Kendrick won’t win anything he’s nominated for. Who the fuck is Chris Stapleton? I assume he’ll win Album of the Year because I have never in my life heard his name. If they want to keep swinging at me, Meghan Trainor will win Best New Artist. Courtney Barnett, whom I’ve also never heard of but who upon doing some light Googling seems really cool and awesome, probably does not stand a chance due to aforementioned coolness. She did win a lot of ARIAs this year so maybe there is hope – we will see. The Furious 7 song that I have too many feelings about is nominated – Mariam and I will be doing some magic for that to win. The Fast & Furious franchise deserves a Grammy. (And an Oscar and, after my Tony-award-winning Furious: the Musical and its spinoff TV show get written, an EGOT.)  If I can’t have that, hopefully Taylor wins, and if I can’t have that I wish only for Ed Sheeran to stop getting rewarded for being decent at writing songs. Of course, the largest, most glaring injustice is that – once again – fucking say it with me – One Direction is not nominated for anything. This is like the Leonardo DiCaprio Oscars saga except that they aren’t even getting nominated! The industry is literally looking at them and being like, “Eh.” I’m surprised they keep attending, honestly, but I am petty and tend toward melodrama so maybe that’s just me. At any rate, I don’t have cable, so it’s not like I would be able to watch the Grammys anyway, but I just want you to know I won’t. I will read the outraged tweets and I will sympathize, but maybe – hopefully – I will be proven wrong this year. You never know! Maybe at the last minute whoever’s presenting will be like, “PSYCH!! IT’S ONE DIRECTION!! IT’S BEEN ONE DIRECTION ALL ALONG!!! ALBUM OF THE YEAR!! BEST FEMALE POP VOCALS!! BEST RECORD!!! BEST NEW ARTIST SINCE 2011!!! WUBALUBADUBDUB!!!!!!!” and then all the boys will parachute down onto the stage because in this fantasy the Grammys are outside, and also Zayn is with them and he’s like “I’M BACK, BITCHES, AND HERE’S MY SOLO ALBUM THAT IS ACTUALLY A DUET ALBUM WITH FRANK OCEAN AND NOW WE’RE ALL GOING ON TOUR TOGETHER AND ALSO RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT, MALIK/OCEAN 2016 FEAT. ONE DIRECTION AS THE CABINET” and then my soul will physically leave my body and I will attain a spiritual peace I thought impossible during this life.

Maybe that will happen! There’s really no way to know. Definitely shoot me a tweet if that seems like it’s going to happen, okay, and I will leap off my balcony and squirrel-suit into the living room of someone with cable. Otherwise I’ll be at home, squished into the corner of my couch drinking red moscato and staring at Neko Atsume, waiting for a miracle.

BELIEVE IN THE SKY: NOVEMBER 2015

Hello my babies, hello my honeys, hello my ragtime gals. I would like to shout out to twitter user @ravvy_rachel who very sweetly tweeted at me that she was in need of some news from the stars, which served the dual purpose of warming the dreary cockles of my heart to an incredible degree (they read the horoscopes!!! my brain shrieks) and also of getting my ass into gear because this November started off terribly, and I’ve been using that as an excuse but sometimes you gotta turn your own tides, you know? [Britney Spears voice] Choose your own destiny. ANYWAY. Here is a thing for you, before we get into this, and I will preface it by saying that it has gotten me through some cold bleak winters, and I shove joy like a knife into my own heart isn’t not the point of everything, anyway, anyway:

Reasons to Survive November
Tony Hoagland

November like a train wreck—
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze—
but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

—Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.

Try to love your November life, this month, and all the months that follow in its footsteps. Now we can get started.

BELIEVE IN THE SKY: NOVEMBER 2015

PLAYLIST

Scorpio: “You Learn”, Alanis Morissette. You live you learn.

I love Scorpios. I’m not supposed to love Scorpios, I think, logistically – this is one of those pairings that does not necessarily work – but some of my favorite people in this whole world are Scorpios and I admire them and value them and it is your birthday month, Scorpios, so happy birthday. This month I want you to think about learning, about the ways you are shaped by the world. It is hard to admit that you are still learning, and it is even harder to try and learn not just from people you deem worthy. You are so vast and so smart and so capable of absorbing all the information that the world has to give you, but you tend to only accept it from certain sources, in certain forms. This month I want you to open your heart to places and people and things you would not generally expect to have anything to teach you. It is a frightening thing not to know everything, to open yourself to the idea of being wrong, of changing your mind, but this is the way you grow. This is the way you become more. You take everything in and distill it down to the things you know to be true, and sometimes these things change and sometimes you change and this constant unfolding is so, so important. Don’t be afraid to keep learning; don’t be afraid to be changed.

Sagittarius: “Little Me”, Little Mix. I’d tell her to speak up – tell her to shout out – talk a bit louder – be a bit prouder.

Just because sometimes you don’t want to hear what you have to say doesn’t mean that the world feels the same way. This month is for probing gently at your feelings of inadequacy, of self-doubt, turning them over and exposing them to the light. You have a tendency to hide, to focus inward, to assume that you have been talking too loudly and too long for anyone to still be listening. I am not saying that your impulse is wrong; if you feel that you need to remove yourself from the world for a bit I want you to do that. But what I also want is for you to be sure that self-doubt isn’t what’s driving you. There are times when a little bit of isolation, of contemplation, is exactly what you need to replenish yourself. There are other times, though, when your self-imposed exile comes from fear and doubt and not from a need to be alone with yourself, and that is dangerous. The more you assume that you should not be heard the less you will make yourself heard, and your voice is too important for that. Try to nurture yourself, this month. Try to remember that you are your harshest critic.

Capricorn: “Everything is Connected and Everything Matters (A Temporary Solution to a Permanent Problem)”, empire! empire!. What It Takes To Move Forward.

I was watching Jane the Virgin the other night, and I thought of you at a certain point. Jane has writer’s block, and her writing group mentor says to her, “Most of the time the problem is further back.” The problem isn’t with the actual scene she’s stuck on, it’s further back in the book. It’s deeper than she thinks. Capricorn – the problem is further back. Your current situation seems isolated, sudden, a sharp jagged uptick in an otherwise smooth line, but I want you to take a hold of that line and follow it back, notice its actual texture. This month I want you to think about how you have come to be where you are, and the things in your life that have made you and shaped you and brought you to this point. By focusing so intently on the present moment you are sort of – sort of Bell Jar-ing the situation, does that make sense? You can’t slam a cup down over this moment and separate it from the stream of all the other moments that make up your life. This is not limbo, and everything that is happening now is influenced by larger and more subtle things than you are presently aware of. Try and widen your perspective, this month – zoom out on the map, if you will. Look how far away the rivers start before they converge. You will find your way forward by looking at the path you’ve taken.

Aquarius: “Fear and Loathing”, Marina & the Diamonds. I’ve lived a lot of different lives. Been different people many times.

Don’t let the tilting of the world, the constant spinning and shifting of the ground beneath your feet, don’t let this shake you away from who you are. You have an incredibly strong sense of self, a candle that burns in the hollows of your gut and does not waver, but lately the flame is dimming. The uncertainty of your life is scraping away at you, scaring you away from the person you know yourself to be. There will always be situations in which you don’t react like yourself, choices you make that you’ll look back on and think who was that person, what was I thinking, but these things do not invalidate who you are. Part of being a person is acknowledging that you contain multitudes, that sometimes you contradict yourself, and knowing still in an unshakable way that you are a cohesive whole. Whatever is happening lately has you feeling like your grip on yourself is lessening and that is a frightening and difficult thing, but try to hold on to this: It will pass and you will remain. Even if you change you will remain, and you will know the truth of yourself even in the darkest night. Don’t let anyone or anything make you unsure of that.

Pisces: “Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset”, Modest Mouse. I claim I’m not excited with my life anymore.

I want you to read “Leaves of Grass” this month. I want you to think about forcing yourself toward pleasure, about the idea that smiling can actually make you happier. I want you to do this because you have a tendency toward fixating on the things that you hate, the things that bring you pain and sorrow, and in naming them so directly and so often you give them power. This month I want you to think about “dismiss whatever insults your own soul”, about the idea that you can let go of the things that hurt you. I know this is hard, I know, but I want you to be firm and vocal about the things you love. Notice the things that bring you joy and address them, talk about them, replace the litany of darkness with a flood of light. It is maybe the hardest thing in the world to just not think about something and I am not asking you to do that, because I genuinely don’t yet know how to do it myself. What I am asking you to do this month is to try and lessen the power that the painful things have over you by giving them less space in your life, in your mind and your heart and your thoughts. They won’t be gone – they will never be gone – but the less attention you pay them the less you will notice them curled in the corner. “Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”

Aries: “Mouthful of Diamonds”, Phantogram. You’ve got a mouthful of diamonds and a pocketful of secrets.

There is benefit sometimes in playing it close to the chest, Aries. This is counter to everything that the fire in your blood tells you, the impulsive shout of your birth that thrums in your veins, but it is worth knowing. You do not have to speak it out loud for it to be true, and you do not have to give away any part of you. It is tempting to lay yourself bare to be picked over like a carcass, submission as a form of power, of control, but there is a different and colder kind of power in silence. Naming your demons gives them less power, toss of the hair yeah that happened but it’s whatever, but this has become more of a reflex than a genuine urge to speak of them. When you feel like you have to talk about it in order for it to be real, when you feel like you have to legitimize yourself by exposing your rawest places, you’re no longer in control. You are offering pieces of yourself on an altar that is already slick with blood and the only things that will take heed of this are scavengers. Be cautious, this month, with the bits of yourself you put on display. Every time you open your mouth diamonds tumble off your tongue, and it is worth it to decide who really deserves them.

Taurus: “Take Care”, Beach House. I’ll take care of you if you ask me to. 

Imagine that you are a plant. This should not be difficult. Imagine that you are a plant and that there are specific ways to ideally care for you. What are those ways? That is your task this month, Taurus. I want you to establish with yourself what it looks like to nurture you, to take care of you. Once you do that I want you to think about who, in your life, actually takes care of you. Who do you allow to care for you? Who cares for you in a way that doesn’t mesh with your plant-care manual? There are different ways to express love, obviously, but much of our unhappiness comes from the knowledge that we are, empirically, being loved, and yet not being able to feel it in a way that resonates with us. Maybe someone is overwatering you, to continue my plant metaphor, because they love you so much and they’re so worried you’re going to dry out, but they’re not listening when you tell them you’re actually good with a once-a-week watering. This month I want you to think about the people in your life that take care of you and the ways in which they do that, and I want you to find your way toward making the ways that you need care clearer to them. You deserve to be loved as carefully and intentionally as you love others, and the only way to do that is to first really understand what you need and then to speak it.

Gemini: “The Chain”, Ingrid Michaelson. And if you come around again then I will take the chain from off the door.

The things you have loved have a way of coming back to you. This is because you have loved them well, as you love all things, and because you are a soft and tender creature. This month I want you to think about the fact that it is your choice whether or not to accept them when they return, your prodigal beloveds. They return, but they left in the first place. It is not in your nature to be cruel and so you allow them in, but in doing this you manage to be cruel to yourself, reopening old wounds, accepting less than you deserve. Your willingness to see the good in people is a beautiful thing but it is a soft spot in a suit of armor made almost entirely of soft spots. Listen: It is well within your rights to lock the door when the past comes knocking, to examine apologies for truth, and ultimately to choose not to open your heart again. You do not owe anyone a second chance, is what I’m saying, and anyone that tries to make you feel that way – yourself included – is wrong. Be discerning, this month, and really think about who deserves more of you than they’ve already taken. Keep yourself safe.

Cancer: “End of the Day”, One Direction. You love who you love, there ain’t no other way.

You don’t have to understand someone to love them. You have so much love to give, it pours out of you almost without your permission, and so you try to ration it in this way, to stem the flow and direct it in a way that feels safer, that you can justify. We have so much in common, they really get me, we’re like, soulmates. You have loved so many people and so many of them have hurt you, and it doesn’t make sense that you would continue to fall in love so deeply and openly, to keep your heart as full as it is. Love doesn’t make sense, though, and this is your blessing and your curse: you love so much. You can look for kindred spirits, of course, but what you can’t do is mold someone into a person that you feel like you should love, the idea of a person who deserves your love. You don’t have to understand them, they don’t have to share your interests or your hobbies or your flaws; if these things happen they are great but you cannot force them. You love who you love, as One Direction says, you follow your heart even though it’ll break sometimes. The danger of being a person so capable of love is that you will be hurt, and shared circumstances don’t mitigate that. Be brave this month, all months. Take every leap; don’t close yourself off.

Leo: “Control Freak”, Copeland. You lose your mind if you lose control.

You are a very proud creature, Leo, of course you are, and you have every right to be because you are a force of nature. What you need to know, though, what you need to hold on to through this month, is this: you don’t have to do everything on your own. This requires you to trust other people – their abilities, their judgment, their choices. It is difficult for you to relinquish control, especially because you are generally very good at doing things. But listen – it’s not about your ability to do things all on your own. It’s about the fact that it’s not good for you to do so. You don’t have to be constantly proving yourself. You don’t have to be the first one into the fight, the last one to leave the office, the most tired person at the party. You know? You don’t have to do things all on your own and maybe even more importantly, you don’t have to do everything perfectly. You don’t even have to do everything right! You hold yourself to these impossible standards, you run yourself ragged and then you wonder why your edges are fraying, so this is what I am telling you. Cut yourself some slack this month. Delegate some responsibility; let people help you. Not because you need it, but because you could use it. You don’t have to play your life on xtreme difficulty hell-level, okay? Take naps, use cheat codes. Leave work at five and don’t feel bad about it.

Virgo: “The House That Built Me”,  Miranda Lambert. I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am. Out here it’s like I’m someone else. I thought that maybe I could find myself.

Be careful of the idols you choose. You are clever enough and determined enough to become them, to shape yourself in their image and emerge from a mold of your own making time and time again. You are capable of such self-transformation, of learning so precisely and completely how to be what you admire, that you need to be more judicious with your admiration than others do. This month is for thinking about the things you value in others and why you value them, and what they would mean to you if they were part of you instead. Burrow down inside yourself and examine what you know to be true, what you would like to change, what you value that is present in your own soul. Keep hold of these things, keep them in your sight, and you will be better able to discern what it is about a person that captivates you, makes you want to befriend them, makes you want to be them. What is charming in another person may feel disingenuous in your own skin; if you transform yourself with an eye only on the horizon you may lose sight of the shore.

Libra: “I Don’t Want To Let You Down”, Sharon Van Etten. When dreams grew black I didn’t want to see the light.

The ease with which you navigate people makes you distrust them, which is an interesting but understandable way to respond to your particular gift. You wear many masks, Libra, and it serves you well and there is a bright genuine core inside you that suffuses you no matter what, but you are aware of what you are projecting all the time. You’re always on, always ready. You are so good at sussing out a motive, at understanding what someone wants from a given situation, but lately you’re reaching a sort of terminal velocity with it. What I’m saying is that if you expect the worst from people you will find it. It is impossible not to disappoint someone who expects to be disappointed. There are caveats here, obviously – your radar for bullshit is peerless, and if you are genuinely getting bad vibes from someone I want you to trust yourself – but what I want you to work on this month is approaching people with an open mind. Game recognizes game, is what they say, but I want you to consider the possibility that there is no game. The interpersonal situations in which you find yourself are sometimes veiled negotiations, contests, but they’re not always. Trust yourself enough to know that you will feel it when someone is trying to play you; trust the world enough to know that most of the time, they won’t be.

NEW MUSIC FRIDAY: LITTLE MIX’S “GROWN”

Tiny pitch: Still looking for new music writers! There is so much new music, literally every week, literally every day of every week, and we are only humans and there are not very many of us and most of us are doing this in spare moments at like two a.m. so like, help a witch out, u know? Email me aly@witchsong.com. If you aren’t sure you have feelings about new music, you can take a gander here at the list of albums that will come out this and next year, and also Spotify releases lists of new music seemingly endlessly and I am ALWAYS BEHIND, and you can request to talk about those or anything else new, and I am also interested in local bands around the country, wherever our readers are, so if you know any and you like them let us know. Okay! Thank! Heart!

I have little to say about this song besides the obvious, which is that it FUCKING SLAYS, and I hate to use that phrase. But it does. If you are one of the many people who has been sleeping on Little Mix, like, that’s fine, it’s cool, take your time coming home, but also GET ON THE BOAT BEFORE YOU MISS THE BOAT. This is so much an Ultimate Justified Bitch song, like, what a glorious thing to have some tragic high-school boy that you pined over trying to crawl back into your life, and you look down at him over your Prada sunglasses and your ponytail is so sleek and so high and your lips are so glossy and your smile is so cruel and he can’t get with you; now you’re grown. And obviously this is my own fantasy and maybe in your head when you reject your erstwhile Prince Charming you are wearing combat fatigues and a crop top a la Gwen Stefani, whatever, this is your dream, that is the whole point of this song. This is “White Horse” if “White Horse” were an incredible dance number. No matter where you are now you are grown and you are too good for everyone who dismissed you when you were still growing. It’s so cheeky, is the best way to describe it, so flippantly defiant. It sounds like a schoolyard chant. Can’t-get-with-me-now-I’m-grown. It is delightful and mean and victorious and I love it. GROWN!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber is very, very dear to me. I am writing this piece in advance of the piece that I am going to write about his new album because, as I was telling a friend of mine the other day, if I wrote about his album without first separately unpacking all of the stupid-deep emotional shit that I have about JB, I would have to put all that shit in the album post and it would be thousands and thousands of words and you wouldn’t read it, so we are splitting it up. I am going to try to keep this relatively brief but I am not promising anything, and what I want to make clear first and foremost is that every time I am talking about Justin Bieber I am talking about me, and who I am and who I have been, and the ways in which this Canadian goofball has been with me through that.

The first thing you need to know is that I have been listening to Justin Bieber for a long time. Like, a long time. I was listening to Justin Bieber before I even allowed myself to admit that I cared about pop, that it mattered to me deep in my soul. We have a history that is only surpassed by my history with My Chemical Romance.

The second thing you need to know is that people hate boys who sound like girls. They hate them with a weird and burning intensity that I have never understood, but as a JB fan and later a One Direction fan I can tell you that there are three things that a person will say to you, usually in this order, when they find out that you care deeply about these musicians: “I just can’t get into it, he sounds like a girl, like, no offense, but-” “Oh my god, aren’t they, like, twelve?” “You know they can’t really sing, right?” This last is my personal cross to carry through my entire life, apparently, because I can’t ever let it go, can’t ever just let these people exist in their wrongness. Oh really, they can’t sing, I shriek as I fling YouTube video after YouTube video in their general direction. Here are eight thousand instances of you being wrong, you colossal idiot. And of course no one listens or believes me or watches the videos, and then inevitably there is a moment in popular thought where the boy-who-sounds-like-a-girl stops sounding like a girl, and his music stops sounding like ~girl music, and suddenly the thinkpieces are everywhere. “Justin Bieber Slays Us All With His Acoustic Chops”, you’ll see a headline. “He Really CAN Sing!”

Remember when FOUR came out and that twentysomething dude went to a One Direction show and wrote this incredibly un-self-aware piece about how, like, wow, One Direction are actual musicians and he just was so impressed by how actually musicians they are because he never realized that, even though teen girls have been adoring them forever? That’s what it’s like all the time. There’s a tipping point for these artists where they become ‘cool’, where everyone (read: “music” “professionals” (read: dudes)) realizes that they’re good and that it’s not a shameful thing to enjoy them. And that point is both gratifying and incredibly frustrating.

So this is where I am coming to you from, as a person who has watched Justin Bieber grow up from a teeny-tiny thirteen-year-old, who has watched him do some stupid, stupid shit, and who has loved him anyway because he is a human person who reminds me both of myself and of my little brother. I am coming to you as a person who has been literally laughed out of rooms at parties, I am coming to you as a person who gets loudly and too-intensely defensive of a small millionaire who does not need my defending. Except maybe he does, because again, you know, he is just a person.

Now on the one hand it’s hard to feel sorry for the very rich
You could record an album of Mountain Goats covers and torpedo your career overnight
You chose this life

But on the other hand even a rich guy needs some space
And should be able to get to his car without people all up in his face
And getting on his case

You don’t have to leave Justin alone
You don’t have to leave Justin alone, but don’t be an asshole

Are there bigger problems in the world yes
Abortion is legal but not everybody has access

Try not to be an asshole
Try not to be an asshole

Justin Bieber has done some stupid shit. He is a 21-year-old who has been Beatles-level famous since he was fourteen, and he is a millionaire white boy with questionable taste in TV and jewelry, and he has done some stupid shit. And he is still a person. I talked about this a little bit when I wrote about Taylor Swift. I think people very genuinely forget that celebrities are real people. There’s this weird and callous disregard of their humanity that you see anytime they are suffering, or doing something stupid, or some combination of the two. “Well, they chose to be famous. You know the paparazzi don’t bother people that don’t give them anything to talk about. They knew what they were getting into.” So let me just – to lay the cards out on the table – let me say a thing, here. I am very much invested in becoming a pop star, I am probably trying out for the Voice next year, I would love nothing more than to be wildly famous. Like, I have dreams about this and they are so vivid that it sometimes hurts to wake up. So, okay. I want to be famous. But I don’t want people to scream things at me, and I don’t want people to write mean things about me in magazines, and I don’t want to feel like I can’t leave my house or say anything ever without it being misinterpreted. I don’t want those things, and I think it is cruel and disingenuous to suggest that anyone does, and to suggest that that is simply the cost of being a celebrity. Maybe it is, I guess; maybe I am too forgiving, to willing to let them simply be people. All I know is that when I was fifteen and sixteen and seventeen and eighteen and beyond, probably, I was doing and saying a lot of stupid shit that I genuinely regret, and if I had been in any kind of a public eye when I was doing those things I can guarantee you that people would not sympathize with me. And I know that you all know how I feel about forgiveness, and who does and does not deserve it, but I have to say this. If you don’t allow for the possibility that people can grow and change and become better, then I don’t know what any of this is about. And maybe I am too soft on JB, maybe I am too optimistic in my faith in the human spirit to overcome the weirdness of being young and famous, but I can’t help it. There are things I can’t forgive but being young and rude and feeling invincible are not those things, because I did a lot worse, and if I can’t live in a world where Justin Bieber can still be a good person then I myself am probably not a good person.

I had a Justin Bieber shirt in college, one that I wore until it physically disintegrated, and I loved it because it was sort of a trick, visually. It said “JUSTIN BIEBER” in massive letters, but they were so big and blocky that you couldn’t really immediately tell what they said, and then within the letters was a picture of JB himself, but it was all sunset-colored and again, you couldn’t really tell immediately who it was. So I would be talking to someone and we would be carrying on a conversation and they’d be respecting me, you know, as a person, and then they’d take more than a second to look at it and I could see, visibly see, their estimation of me change. And it hurt! It still hurts, if I’m being honest, when I meet someone new and they say something dismissive about pop music, about teen fiction, about the things that have shored me up and made me the person that I am today. There is something very dehumanizing in the way that people talk about these things, these girl-oriented things, oh, young adult fiction is so damaging, it’s so unrealistic, it’s so poorly written, oh, Justin Bieber can’t even sing, it’s all autotune, and like, I’m sorry, but this usually comes from someone who thinks Jeff Mangum has a really good voice. Or rather – maybe it’s not even that he has a good voice but that his message transcends things like “having a good voice”. Like – I am not dismissing Jeff Mangum as being important – but you have to have noticed that no one says these things about non-pop musicians. What I mean is that Justin Bieber can write a hook like nobody’s business and that is not – categorically not – less important than a song about how sad we all are.

Different things are important to different people, but it’s always pop that gets dismissed because it’s “easy” and “shallow” and “not serious” and a number of other adjectives that are not-coincidentally also used to describe girls. And then there’s the tipping point – the music bros finally admit that they like to dance, or whatever – and all of a sudden it’s okay to like pop. Certain pop, though – no one who’s writing the JB thinkpieces now is going back and listening to My World 2.0; that guy who went to the 1D concert isn’t blasting Up All Night on his way to work. Those things still belong to the girls and the people who don’t appreciate real music. Justin Bieber had an incredible voice when he was twelve and he has an incredible voice now, and I saw Never Say Never in theaters twice and I cried both times, and I could talk to you every day for the rest of my life about individual syllables on each of his albums, the way he has always known exactly how to get at my heart, but I won’t. Either you get it or you don’t. Either you look at this millionaire and you see a fourteen-year-old kid trying to make a basket with his back turned to the hoop, or you don’t. I’m sure it’s harder to do if you weren’t paying attention to him when he was that kid, but I want you to try. Or at the very least – I want you to try this: When I talk about the album next month, when I try to explain to you how talented and incredible and precious this boy is, I want you to think about what you can forgive. I want you to think about your own mistakes, and making them on a stage so large that you can’t see the edges of it. I want you to think about the fact that he cried, openly wept, after his performance at the VMAs this year because he didn’t expect people to cheer. He didn’t expect to be forgiven. But he wants to be, and he is working toward that, and I just want you to think about what that means to you, if anything. I don’t expect anything more from you than that. This is my stupid cross to bear, my stupid hill to die on, the fact that I can’t abandon this kid that I can’t help but see as my little brother, but at least do me this favor when we reconvene: Try not to be an asshole.