Ashley

Ashley Hull wishes she was a mermaid, but she’s happier she’s managed to find her voice. She currently resides in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for her, she’s likely in front of a mirror applying lip stain while singing Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” under her breath.

There’s A Love and It Grows: One Direction’s “Walking in the Wind” and Zayn’s “Golden”

One Direction recently celebrated their six year anniversary. As new solo contracts get signed during this hiatus and the first summer without a tour passes, now is the perfect time to reflect on One Direction’s creation. A cultural phenomenon I’m happy to have witnessed myself, One Direction has helped create our modern conception of pop-rock music – through their own music, launching the career of 5 Seconds of Summer, and inspiring subsequent copycats.

It was written about endlessly for the last year that Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction would see him creating a new sound space for himself as a musician. It is true that ZAYN’s solo album relied heavily on R&B, a sound that was not heard in One Direction’s tracks. However, the slick production value of Mind of Mine was no surprise. ZAYN’s release is among the biggest records of 2016 behind Kanye West, Drake, and Beyoncé. Critics acted shocked by his performance on the charts as if ZAYN was not a veteran pop performer with five years of industry experience and a rampant following. His rise to the top of the charts was no accident. “PILLOWTALK” and “LIKE I WOULD” do not forget his pop sensibilities, but build upon them with solid engineering from top producers.

As I wrote about One Direction’s fifth album Made in the A.M. in November on witchsong:

The much publicized and debated departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction in March 2015 is not obvious in the seamless vocal recording—full, textured and layered, perhaps now more than ever as they even managed to record several tracks with a 24-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios—but Zayn’s absence is unquestionably evident in the melancholy and poignant lyrical content of Made in the A.M.  Zayn’s departure has given them the vocabulary necessary to express rage, remorse… to reminisce. The album has been dedicated time and time again to the fans. The unspoken dedication is to the boy who left center stage in March.

This is clearest in One Direction’s deluxe edition bonus track, “Walking in the Wind.” The track, which to me is reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland, cannot be extracted from the narrative of Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction on March 25, 2015. The song was written by Julian Bunetta, John Ryan, J.S. Baylin, and, most importantly in this case, Harry Styles. The track ruminates on a sudden departure.

The fact that we can sit right here and say goodbye
Means we’ve already won
A necessity for apologies between you and me
Baby, there is none…

Made in the A.M. is an album written in the early morning haze of tour life. It’s also an album written in the aftermath of a departure of a beloved “brother”, best friend, and colleague. The era of Take Me Home bops has ended, darkening with age and the complications of fame. Made in the A.M. carries the weight of worldwide scandals, ended love affairs, and Zayn’s exit. There’s a real maturity to the sentiment we’ve already won. One Direction did win. Well, not the competition. But what they won was more important. They won over each other’s hearts, and in turn ours. We’ve already won holds onto the burden and pressure of goodbye. It allows the memories of the past to maintain their joy, sentimentality. There’s an acceptance of the current state of affairs, and an understanding that what is currently the status quo will one day change. There is an earned ease to Harry’s lyrics.

“Walking in the Wind” meanders; it’s reflective and aimless. It’s looking, searching for a landing.

We had some good times, didn’t we?
We had some good tricks up our sleeve
Goodbyes are bitter-sweet
But it’s not the end, I’ll see your face again…

Zayn’s departure is intrinsically a part of One Direction’s follow-up album. It is a part of the album’s narrative, but also of One Direction’s – just look at the promotional press surrounding the release. There was not a single interview that did not discuss Zayn’s sudden exit. The boys handled the questions well, but there were fractures. Days where the endless litany of the same questions seems to crack their veneer. Harry making fun of Zayn’s ying-yang tattoo or Louis admitting to The Sunday Times Style that their friendship was altered by the exit.  We had some good times, didn’t we might as well be accompanied by a reel of This Is Us clips. I’ll see your face again everywhere, in the flurry of paparazzi flashes that will constantly follow the five of them, no matter if they reside in London, Los Angeles or Bradford. Goodbyes are bittersweet and that was never more clear than in the months following the Facebook post on One Direction’s official account confirming Zayn’s exit. Vomiting in the middle of the night after Zayn spoke to The Sun about his departure, I didn’t think my mouth would ever stop tasting sour.

“Walking in the Wind” feels like a confirmation from 1D that it’s ok to wrestle with the past, present and future of the band.

You will find me, yeah you will find me
In places that we’ve never been
For reasons we don’t understand…

There will be reminders of One Direction for years to come, even if their current hiatus extends from two years to permanent. A postgraduate album of sorts, Made in the A.M. is a reflection of the fluctuating dynamics of band mates/friends/significant others as allegiances and priorities change.  Zayn Malik’s CV will always start with The X Factor, Simon Cowell, “Torn” and four other boys. Their skin is inked with tattoos that speak to the bonds forged during late nights on Bus 1 and on Madison Square Garden’s stage. The memories of #1 hits and bong hits. There’s been a manipulation of the past in interviews and cover stories, but we were all there. We’ll never forget the history that was made.

It’s fitting that Louis, Zayn’s best friend and partner in crime, gets the last verse of “Walking in the Wind”:

Yesterday I went out
To celebrate the birthday of a friend
But as we raised our glasses up to make a toast
I realised you were missing…

There are afternoons where I’m listening to Made in the A.M. stuck on the subway, and my body jolts as I wait for a voice that will never come. Last year, it seemed like Louis was taking Zayn’s departure just as hard as I was. No one seems to have captured that emotional journey more completely than Louis – the immense sense of loss, the melancholy.

A man of few words while in One Direction, Zayn didn’t let Made in the A.M. get the last word. ZAYN’s solo debut (released on the one-year anniversary of his departure from One Direction, a level of management shade that Shakespeare is jealous he did not write) Mind of Mine allows us unrivaled access to his current headspace, which is filled mostly with romance, weed, sex and goodbyes. It’s a young artist trying to find his own identity after years of contributing little outside vocal runs. Here ZAYN had the final say in all creative decisions, at least according to his label.

In “Golden,” a Mind of Mine bonus track, fans get what feels like a direct response to “Walking in the Wind.” The first verse begins It goes and it’s golden like sands of time / I hope and I hope you’ll still be fine… The piano-driven track continues:

The choices we make change the path that we take
But I know
That somewhere out there there’s a path that we chose
There’s a life that we share, there’s a love and it grows…

The life that they share is in the pop charts, in their continued success as musicians, and in the lingering memories of One Direction fans. There’s a love and it grows… While this might have felt like proper fan fiction in the summer of 2015, there seem to be glimpses of their mended friendships. Or at least, Liam and Zayn’s continued bond according to interviews with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe and FADER.

I hope and I hope you’ll still be fine
I know that it’s bright
Look through the light and see it’s meant to be…

ZAYN wishes them the best in their future endeavors. He knows that the future is “bright” for all of them. These boys are a “jigsaw piece” that I am happy we got to watch, catapult to international acclaim for five years making exceptional pop-rock tracks. Like ZAYN, I too, after months of agony and indecision, think it was “meant to be.” The future is bright. I can’t wait to stand inside the light and see.

You Say You Want A Revolution: Nice As Fuck at Bowery Ballroom

We’re Nice As Fuck
Wish you good luck!

–Nice As Fuck, “NAF Theme”

It was a nice surprise when a friend sent me a VISA gift card for my birthday. I could finally justify spending money to seeing Nice As Fuck’s most recent show in New York City at Bowery Ballroom. I kept missing NAF perform (at the just closed The Deep End Club or opening for M. Ward). I pinched myself as I hit “confirm payment” thinking about how I would get the chance to see Jenny Lewis for a second time this year, and witness Tennessee Thomas and Erika Forster groove up close. This summer has been oppressively hot in New York, and without One Direction I have had little to look forward to. I was geeked about having the opportunity to see one of my favorite musicians in a totally new dynamic. Jenny Lewis, the lead singer of Nice As Fuck, has had an impressive solo career for the last ten years. She came to fame in the music industry in her previous band Rilo Kiley. Tennessee Thomas was a drummer in the rock group The Like. Erika Forster established her name with Au Revoir Simone.

I got off work on August 1 ready for the revolution. I’d spent months scouring the Instagrams of Tennessee Thomas and Jenny Lewis as their friendship led to the formation of the new rock trio. I giddily got excited as Matt Hitt and Alexa Chung popped up around the band. The network of New York models, artists, and performers all coming together in solidarity. Despite waiting to buy a tee and beer, I managed to snag a spot right in front of Jenny Lewis’ mic stand. I’m not kidding when I say I was on top of the keyboard. I figured you don’t let a chance like this go by without grasping it.

Alix Brown DJ’d the first hour of the evening as we waited around NAF’s staging on the floor of the Bowery. The songs set the perfect tone for the evening, even though I will admit, I didn’t recognize a single song. However, I was happy to sip my beer, snap pics of the staging, wonder if Alexa Chung would be at the early show (she was at the late show), and subtly shake my hips to the tunes.

NAF came out a little after 8pm for their first show of the evening at the Bowery. Dressed in black pants, Nice As Fuck black tees, green military jackets, black berets, heavy winged eyeliner with bold lipstick, NAF were a conglomeration of radical 60s counter-culture attire and attitude. The Bernie tee taped to Tennessee’s drum set was a nice touch, a shout out to her advocacy and campaigning for the Senator in his Presidential bid. NAF asks for all those in attendance to unite in a desire to experience connection, love and freedom.

naf

This was the point when it settled in just how close I was going to be to Jenny Lewis during the set. As you can see, without zoom, I felt like I was pretty much in her personal space. But in terms of art, there was a great closeness that developed between artist and audience as the set began. With no barrier, not even a rope, we were a part of their raucous set. It was contained chaos performed with a smirk.

NAF performed “Runaway”, off the new album, first. In the aftermath of Jenny Lewis’ rumored break up with writing partner Jonathan Rice and her move to the East Coast, it’s hard to not read her own departure into the lyrics. The solace Jenny has found alongside Tennessee and Erika is obvious in her stage presence, and her Instagram posts where her smile is infectious, large. All three performers seemed genuinely humbled by the outpouring of love for their set.

Jenny Lewis sang the opening verse of “Cookie Lips” directly to me. As I sought to break eye contact do to the overwhelming feeling of having my favorite singers eyes on me, she sang Oh cookie lips, give me a crumb /Oh cookie lips, are you the one? As Tennessee explained before the song began, “Cookie Lips” is about a lover who gives you enough of the “cookie” to keep you wanting more, but it’s ultimately “crumbs.” A lover who ghosts. I think I just got ghosted by cookie lips / (What a dick). The song is fresh, young. Fun. It’s also catchy as hell.

Universe pulls us together
For tonight
Cookie lips

 

If you want to know who I am? 
Just ask any of my friends

“Higher” was a stand out of the night. The soaring vocals, bass and drums pulsing within the confines of the Bowery. True love never dies / I’m getting higher and higher. Jenny’s stage presence was electric, intense. She was actually lit up. The confidence she has as a performer so clearly comes from years of experience on the road, and it’s hard to look away as she commands everyone to join in the experience. To revel alongside her.

The set drew to a close with “Door” and “Guns,” the two most obvious songs of revolution and power on the album. “Door” has a recurring exclamation of Don’t Close The Door! An insistence that the message of peace and love brings about real unity. “Guns” is a call for us all to put our guns away. Nice As Fuck doesn’t want to be afraid. The album, written this past spring, feels like a direct reaction to the current political climate. As Jenny instructs, the solution is revolution. NAF’s politics cannot be ignored. They don’t want you to be able to look away, misinterpret. Leaving, I felt like over the course of 9 songs I had become closer with the band. I somehow understand their energy, their sound better.  I’m excited to see what they all do with this side project in the future.

I highly suggest checking out this new act if they stop into your area. Join the revolution! You can check out The Deep End Club’s activism blog and even buy your own NAF tee before attending. Let’s all try to be a part of the solution!

Setlist:

Intro – Jem and the Holograms theme
Runaway
Angel
Homerun
Cookie Lips
Higher
Mall Music
Door
Guns
NAF Theme

The Story of Us: Steven Hyden’s YOUR FAVORITE BAND IS KILLING ME & Chuck Klosterman’s BUT WHAT IF WE’RE WRONG?

7c8a7566596aeee98516ae8744f347f6The release of Steven Hyden’s book Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me has been on my calendar for months. A former Grantland (~RIP to my favorite website~) staff writer, Hyden wrote what might my favorite major publication review of any One Direction album in 2013 when he noted that the best rock song of the year was on “Midnight Memories” (yes, obviously, he was referencing “Little Black Dress”). A Midwesterner, Hyden feels like a rare breed in the male-dominated world of rock criticism in his willingness to embrace new music. He reviews the likes of Drake, Joanna Newsom, and Beach Slang all with sincere enthusiasm and insight. If you’re looking for another podcast to download about rock music, Hyden now hosts “Celebration Rock.”

I was excited when it was revealed Hyden’s new book would be about rivalries in music, and what they say about all of us. Hyden writes welcoming prose about music that does not have the elitism of Pitchfork. His knowledge is extensive, but he’s willing to gently explain the background history of Neil Young, Kanye West or Prince to new music fans.

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me succeeds in letting us know the bands behind major music rivalries, while illuminating Steven Hyden himself. In his chapter on Jack White and The Black Keys, Hyden writes about the difficulties of men in their thirties making friends at their children’s activities. As he notes, “I get that ‘Why can’t Jack White and Dan Auerbach be friends?’ might seem like a frivolous question: speculating on the status of the relationship between two similar celebrities is a silly exercise. But what I’m really asking is this: Why can’t I make more male friends?”

The rivalries chosen span decades, an expansive look at how musicians have sparred over credibility, image and chords. As Hyden told The A.V. Club, “Let’s be real: Musical rivalries are never totally about music. It’s about sympathizing with a particular worldview represented by an artist over a different worldview represented by an ‘opposing’ artist. You are what you love—and also what you choose not to love.” I highly recommend Steven Hyden’s book if, like me, you’re interested in what the music you like says about you, about us as a collective community.

I myself had a chance to catch Steven Hyden on his book tour in New York in conversation with Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield. I knew I had found “my people” when it only took 35 minutes for Rob Sheffield to name drop Harry Styles and his iconic tattoos to a room of mostly thirty year old men. It was great to hear the two of them expand upon projection, Oasis versus Blur (one of the many rivalries covered in Hyden’s book), the mythology in music of mystery versus/or equating with authenticity (“Is a curated Instagram that different from artists selecting iconography for fans to dismantle on a 70s album cover?”), records as imaginary friends, and using pop culture—specifically music—as shorthand to describe who we are.

I was drawn to the discussion of authenticity as it is an idea that witchsong and its staff continues to come back to when celebrating and loving musical acts. I personally do not believe that the curation of an archive of Instagram pictures and commentary is inauthentic. (I could tell the older readers in the audience did.) All of us, celebrities, teens, and girl-across-the-cubicle are documenting our lives (for better or worse) through social media. The dialogue between fans and performer has never been more open. The discourse online is what has propelled Troye Sivan and Halsey to international acclaim. There are Instagram accounts clearly overseen by performers in partnership with professional photographers (Adele, Coldplay, Fifth Harmony), and then there are the personal accounts of performers that offer further insight into their achievements, dalliances, frustrations (Louis Tomlinson of One Direction, Justin Bieber, Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix). However, mystery remains. Harry Styles may give me a picture of his feet, but there is often very little clarity. I can read the same symbolism into the picture of his feet that prior fans used to read into a Radiohead album cover. The images are still open to discussion, interpretation, projection. Mystery remains despite more avenues to learn about their likes, dislikes. Instagram doesn’t equate with inauthenticity just because it is off the cuff. Hyden himself noted that Led Zeppelin’s curated album covers, notably without their likenesses and beloved for their mystery, comes from the same meticulous attention to detail that modern stars now use to catalog new tattoos, paid promotion, and international landscapes.

For any of us who have loved music, who have used it to talk about ourselves, Hyden has an extraordinary section where he admits—like Chris Christie does with Bruce Springsteen—of thinking of his favorite musicians as imaginary friends. I’m glad that in the course of reading Hyden’s book, it felt like I had made another imaginary friend with which to argue, agree, and affectionately underline.

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Chuck Klosterman is my favorite author. Earlier this year I wrote about Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, a refreshing take on music, by acknowledging my love of Klosterman’s work. He is the formative author of my teen years. I got the book thanks to a recommendation from Lost’s Jorge Garcia in Entertainment Weekly. My worn copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto traveled the halls of my high school and later the globe to China and London alongside me. It has been gifted to friends for birthdays, loaned to roommates with dog-eared pages. I’ve laughed alongside Chuck for over ten years. His new book But What If We’re Wrong? seeks to think about the present as if it were the past. Therefore Klosterman takes what we believe will be the celebrated idea in any given field in hundred years and undermines why that will be wrong. Our projected ideas of the future are very rarely right. Klosterman interweaves his own opinions in with interviews from George Saunders, David Bryne, Ryan Adams, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater.

It took eleven years to finally be in the same room as Klosterman. I didn’t have him sign my book after his reading at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, because I was afraid of blurting out one of the following upon meeting him: 1) “I’m pretty sure I’ve projected your personality onto every boy I’ve ever liked.” 2) “Your ex-girlfriend who chose a night in Portland seeing Coldplay’s first U.S. performance over you is probably a large part of the reason I (subconsciously) justified flying to Wembley to see One Direction.” 3) “Why did you unfollow me on Twitter after one fucking day?” 4) “What’s Rembert Browne’s phone number?”

Klosterman’s book was the perfect summer read. I could pick it up between two connecting flights, a June wedding, and work errands. I recommend reading the essays in chronological order. This is a book meant to be read from cover to cover. Don’t start at the end.

If you’re interested in checking out an excerpt before buying, Klosterman’s chapter on football was featured in GQ.

The book covers varying topics from science, football, and music. An intriguing question for fans of witchsong: “What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today?” Klosterman wrestles with the idea of what musician or band will come to stand singlehandedly for rock music as the composer John Philip Sousa is now synonymous with American military and patriotic marches. Will it be The Rolling Stones? The Beatles? Elvis? One Direction? Oh, sorry. That last one was my own interjection. Klosterman deftly parses through difficult questions, and illuminates how our culture will be remembered. But What If We’re Wrong? is not my favorite book Klosterman has ever written, but I understand the evolution of his career. He is no longer a man in his late twenties who wants to dissect The Real World and porn. He is interested in analyzing larger questions. That’s ok. I’m willing to follow him to whatever intellectual discussion he wants to write. Much like Hyden, Chuck Klosterman is interested in evaluating how we define ourselves, what that definition meant and will come to mean.

Summer, babe: Playlist

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playlist

NAO – Fool to Love
I was a fool to love
I was a fool to love you

Catfish and the Bottlemen – Twice
Cause when you love the way you’re living it gets hard to fret about much

Flume – Never Be Like You (feat Kai)
I would give anything to change
This fickle minded heart that loves fake shiny things

Little Mix – OMG
Oh my gosh, I did it again
He said I broke his heart, it keeps happening

Wet – It’s All in Vain
Tell me, baby, say it slowly
All the things you never showed me

Drowners – Pick up the Pace
I have searched all the terraces for you

ZAYN – dRUNk
Right now I’m emotional

AURORA – Life on Mars
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen

Mitski – Thursday Girl
Somebody please
Tell me no, tell me no

The Stone Roses – I Wanna Be Adored
I wanna be adored
You adore me

Ellie Goulding – Here’s to Us
There’s something in the way, love is never enough

One Direction – Walking in the Wind
Yeah you will find me
In places that we’ve never been
For reasons we don’t understand

Beyoncé – All Night
Kiss up and rub up and feel up
Kiss up and rub up and feel up on ya

My Mama Don’t Like You: Justin Bieber at Barclays Center

I debated whether or not to buy a ticket to Justin Bieber’s New York tour for months. It was a big financial decision. Or as a co-worker said the day after when I walked into the office in a Bieber tee, “I hope that wasn’t expensive!” Newsflash: pop concerts are not cheap, particularly when everyone on StubHub sells tickets at $150 over the original value for all those of us who couldn’t buy them the day they were released due to work, funds, life. However, I knew I desperately needed the momentary reprieve that a night of Bieber and “What Do You Mean?” could give.

2016 has already been a rough year for us all. We’ve endured the loss of Bowie and Prince, survived another winter, and, if you’re like me, departed work a little more world-weary with each passing day. I bought the ticket to Justin Bieber in hopes of celebrating his revival (yes, Selena Gomez’s not the only one) and hoping for my own.

No one can deny the ascent of Justin Bieber on last year’s charts. His crossover appeal has seen such a rise that Urban Outfitters now sells “vintage” men’s tees of his baby face (I loathe these shirts. Men can continue owning Metallica tees for all I care.). It’s been ok’d by Complex and Pitchfork to indulge in Bieber’s musings. I’ve always been a Bieber fan musically, but I’ve been on the fringe of his fandom. I will defend “Die In Your Arms” until the end of time, but I’ve never quite seen the appeal of his locks or tattoos. I already have my fandom (One Direction), and it takes up more than enough of my time and money. Yet in light of their hiatus, I knew I had the savings to allow for one night of carefree dancing and swaying to “No Sense” and “Love Yourself”. The price of admission was entirely worth it once Bieber sat on a velvet sofa and sang you think I’m crying on my own, well I ain’t to a reverent audience.

Upon arrival at Barclays, I immediately made the mistake of purchasing a tee outside of the arena only to discover my favorite shirt inside after four steps into the arena. $80 and two tees later, I trudged past the merchandise only to discover the beer lounge immediately to my right. I’ll be honest: I plopped myself there for the first two openers alongside wine moms and Bud Light dads. I was here for Justin and Justin alone. I made sure to charge my phone, and watched as gleeful teens in a uniform of ripped black jeans and tank tops made their way to their seats. I lusted after a Saint Laurent jacket that walked by on a young teen and watched the number of Calvin Klein merch bags grow in number. I was pleased to see that most of the people in attendance were still the young women who had been there since the beginning. Pop airwaves might be drowned in “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean?”, but among the fans paying for tickets are the same women who attended the Believe Tour.

The tour opened with Purpose’s album opener, “Mark My Words.” Singing from the middle of a glass box, fists and face pressed against the glass, Justin Bieber sang Mark my words, that’s all that I have / Mark my words, give you all I got. After the spiral of the last few years, Purpose begins with a hushed promise.  There was a reliance on the stark images of Justin on top of a metaphorical mountain on stage, the slope of the stage. He climbed the inclined stage as he did the charts—effortlessly.

The concert kicked into gear when Bieber came back out, the box descending into the depths of Barclays Center, to perform “Where Are Ü Now”, the smash hit remix of 2015. “Where Are Ü Now” has been remixed for the tour, and Bieber effortlessly carried out killer dance moves alongside his vocals. Singing to us fans, he pleaded, I need you, you, you, you, you, you / You, you, you / I need you the most.

It’s impossible to separate the narrative of the relationship between Selena Gomez and Justin from Purpose. He confronts the tabloid culture of his breakdown on “I’ll Show You”, singing My life is a movie and everyone’s watching / So let’s get to the good part and past all the nonsense… Much like his continued appearances on James Corden, striving to show his heart, his humanity, Justin just wants us all to focus on the beats and lyrics. He wants us to focus on his craft and not the spectacle. I’m not made out of steel / Don’t forget that I’m human, don’t forget that I’m real… It can be hard to remember that the celebrities we see on Tumblr and Twitter exist outside of our browsers. “I’ll Show You” asks us to look for the man behind the music. Act like you know me, but you never will… As I stood there, swaying and spilling beer, I thought of all those meet and greets Bieber had cancelled due to sapped energy. The distance between us and Bieber grows daily as the magnitude of his celebrity engulfs him, but lyrically we’ve never known him better. Bieber, the singer, is trying to let us in. He just wants to set the limits. He just wants to show us, under the lights of an arena.

Bieber went on to perform “The Feeling,” his collaboration with Halsey, and the instant classic “Boyfriend”. The arena joyously sang along to the slick vocal magic of “Boyfriend,” which is just as massive as it was in 2012. It’s still exhilarating to sing along to Chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue / I don’t know about me but I know about you.

I was happiest to hear “Love Yourself.” There’s no arguing with the brilliance of the lyric my mama don’t like you and she likes everyone. By pairing up with Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber wrote the first song off Purpose that might not actually be aimed at Selena or his fame. This isn’t an apology, but a declaration. The kiss-off that I’m happy to add to my pop arsenal is you should go and love yourself. Even better, in a year of self-care, the shortened love yourself. Ed Sheeran knows how to write a ballad, and this track allows Bieber to do what he does best: quite simply, sing. I’ve loved watching Bieber take this song around the world. The presentation in concert was minimal, which allowed for the track to find its true depth. Anyone who has watched the concert film Believe knows that Bieber’s tours of old were about bombast, cinema, and flair. The Purpose Tour smartly contains itself. It’s not as interested in the staging as it is in Justin’s restoration. Sure, there are dancers; but at times there is just Justin, the man, alone on stage. Nearly consumed by the lights, we get to watch him apologize and resurrect the career he nearly imploded.

Thankfully, the last half of the concert retained old hits “As Long As You Love Me” and “Baby”, while adding  “Purpose” and “What Do You Mean?”

It’s interesting how “Baby” in 2016 retains its desperation:

And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ‘til you wake me from this bad dream
I’m going down, down, down, down
And I just can’t believe my first love won’t be around…

At the height of his fame, Justin still is in pieces. He still can’t believe his first love won’t be around. Week after week, we get continued Instagram posts where Justin reflects on his history with Selena. While she was seen crumpling a sign calling for her to marry Justin earlier last week on her Revival Tour, Justin seems intent on hanging onto the past.  “Baby”, a breakout pop hit, feels just as relevant to Justin’s history and headspace now as it did in 2010. The song now carries the weight of his real true love, the media backlash, and the continued desire to connect with millions of people through music.

I am still speechless that Bieber performed “Children.” The track dragged. If I’d been in need of another 20-oz beer this would have been the time.

I’d like to remind you to not leave during his drum solo, a pulsating reminder of the talent behind every changing hairstyle (thankfully, he cut the cornrows before Barclays so I could attend in good conscience). The encore of the night was, of course, “Sorry”. As we grabbed our coats and threw away our beers, Justin wanted us to remember that he wanted to redeem himself. Justin, in my opinion, consider yourself absolved.

Setlist:

Mark My Words
Where Are Ü Now (Jack Ü cover) (Purpose Tour remix)
Get Used To It
I’ll Show You
The Feeling
Boyfriend
Cry Me A River (Timberlake cover)
Love Yourself
Been You
Company
No Sense
Hold Tight
No Pressure
As Long As You Love Me
Justin Bieber Drum Solo
U Smile
Children
Life Is Worth Living
What Do You Mean?
Baby
Purpose

Encore:
Sorry

We Found Love: Goldy Moldavsky’s ‘Kill The Boy Band’

I was wary of reading the young adult novel Kill The Boy Band. Don’t get me wrong, the title hooked me right away. Goldy Moldavsky and the publisher knew what they were doing when they titled the book and put the script in highlighter pink (the ads on my Tumblr didn’t hurt as far as promotion is concerned either). My interest was piqued. However, I was troubled by an interview I’d seen in the Observer, which made it sound like the book was a judgment call being passed on “fangirls.” As a fangirl—as a girl invested in a boy band herself—I was wary of what this book would have to say about me.

[image from Scholastic’s blog]
Already from the About The Book on Scholastic’s website, I grew concerned. The narrator says, “We are fans. Okay, superfans who spend all of our free time tweeting about the boys and updating our fan tumblrs. But so what, that’s what you do when you love a group so much it hurts.” The phrasing here seems to beg for laughs from readers.

I’m not saying I haven’t at my worst moments expressed that same type of gleeful judgment, trepidation, and shock at fan behavior that I felt had crossed a line. A girl fainted next to me in Detroit when 5 Seconds of Summer took the stage prior to One Direction’s concert, and I froze in panic and then broke into laughter when I looked at my best friend. (Yes, I made sure this girl was ok; I also inwardly thought, “I’m glad we express our adoration differently.”) I just couldn’t find that type of fervor for Ashton Irwin.

So in a world intent on telling girls how to dress, act, and talk, I was a little nervous to start Kill The Boy Band. I feel so protective of the real world fandom us girls have all created–the men’s bathrooms at venues converted into women’s bathroom, meet-ups before concerts with people we’ve only met on the Internet, but who are soon to be IRL friends. The hushed silence that descends on an auditorium when the boys you’ve reblogged on Tumblr transform from pixels to flesh. Teen girls don’t need to be told to love in moderation. Society is already telling them to eat smaller portions, to take up less space. Girls are not allowed anything in excess, and that extends to the way they must love pop culture.

Kill The Boy Band is a fast read. I should start there. I devoured the book. Goldy Moldavsky creates a world rich with today’s social media platforms. This book cannot be separated from our current landscape. The Ruperts, the boy band of the title, are a conglomeration of 90’s acts (*NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys) and today’s rock acts (One Direction). As much as this book is fiction, there are moments when it reads like non-fiction. If you’re a “fangirl,” the shorthand on fanfic and investigation into lives of beloved boy band members is familiar territory. Goldy pushes the envelope in order to ask thought-provoking questions about what fandom can eventually look like.

The book opens promisingly: “Fangirls get a bad rap all the time. They say we’re weird, hysterical, obsessed, certifiable. But those people don’t understand. Just because I love something a lot doesn’t mean I’m crazy.” Sixty pages in, when a dude confronts the narrator about her feelings on boy bands, I cheered as her internal monologue stated, “When you find something that makes you happy and giddy and excited every day, us fangirls know a truth that everyone else seems to have forgotten: You hold on to that joy tenaciously.” Goldy, here, correctly understands the mindset of what it means to be in a fandom, but later I felt let down by the idea that kept appearing throughout about growing up and out of fandom culture: that these girls have wasted time, energy, friendships on boys who don’t deserve them.

Maybe it’s due to my Cancer horoscope, my weak inner constitution, and my deep-rooted hatred of criticism, but I can’t help but be angry that Goldy ultimately ridicules the adoration teen girls feel for boy bands. I hope no one who picks up Kill The Boy Band reflects on their time loving a boy band with self-hatred. I hope they can remember how it feels to love something larger than yourself – something that you helped create. The Ruperts of Kill The Boy Band only exist because of these teen girls (Erin, Isabel, Apple, and the unnamed narrator). There is a power in that.

Yes, their loyalties might change. We can all be fickle. We can all move on. However, we shouldn’t judge our former selves for what we needed in order to survive day to day. The GIFs, Snapchats, Instagrams, and memes are fleeting but what they give us is not. The laughs we shared with Internet friends a whole continent away, our fangirl kin that understood exactly what we meant when we used emojis to describe the latest shirtless selfie of our fav.

Kill The Boy Band succeeds in being readable, knowledgeable entertainment, but I worry about the passages where the book seems to say: One Direction is sure to let you down the same way The Ruperts have let down these girls. I’m uncomfortable with that assertion. I don’t think we have to be embarrassed by the pop culture we use as shorthand. I think there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Yes, it’s good to look deeper at the allegiances girls have to boy bands. But to paraphrase one of the pivotal characters, I don’t think we should be telling girls that their passion and power can be better utilized. I don’t see men being taught that they need to set down their remote controls in order to wield their brainpower in other mediums.

I urge witchsong readers to pick up their own copy from a local library, independent bookstore or Barnes & Noble, and let me know what they thought. In the meantime, I’ll be blasting One Direction’s “Change Your Ticket.”

Press Play: Catfish and the Bottlemen’s “7”

If you’re looking for new rock tunes to check out this week, I’d highly recommend Catfish and the Bottlemen’s “7.” Catfish has been playing the song in acoustic sets for radio stations for the last several weeks, but the song finally had it’s official release last week on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show.

Catfish and the Bottlemen are releasing their sophomore album The Ride on May 27. The guys have been nonstop touring since the release of their first album The Balcony—I’ve been lucky enough to see them twice—and the lyrics and production on “7” speak to the growing up they’ve done since writing their first album (much of which had been written by Van McCann as early as the age of 14). The lead singles from The Ride live in the present day. There is no ruminating or lamenting on their prior circumstances, but rather a confrontation of their current situation.

“7” recounts the struggle of touring while maintaining a relationship. “Soundcheck,” their lead single from The Ride, was about the allure of a hot girl in the audience. “7” is about the relationship that predated.

Promise again that I would call her
Forget the time because I’m 7 hours behind
It’s probably good I didn’t call though but I always want to…

The late-nights and grind of loving someone who is thousands of miles away. The constant repetition of waiting for a call. The magnetism of the open road and flashing lights of the main stage. While the demands of life on the road aren’t necessarily universal, Catfish and the Bottlemen succeed in writing a song that connects. Van’s longing for freedom and, ultimately, independence despite but I always want to is frank and heartbreaking.

I’d beg you but you know I’m never home
I’d love you but I need another year alone…

Don’t Mistake Kindness For Weakness: Tori Kelly’s “Unbreakable Smile”

I’m just a girl and her guitar
Trying to give you my whole heart
If there’s anybody out there listening to me
All I have is a story and a dream
Here I am, and that’s all I can be…

It took me a long time to search out Tori Kelly’s Unbreakable Smile. I think this is because after I moved, I stopped having a reason to listen to Top 40 radio anymore. I can cater to my ingrained interests (One Direction, Justin Bieber’s Journals, and Taylor Swift’s Speak Now World Tour Live). I listen to Spotify for free at work and pay for Apple Music in the evenings. I listen to Zane Lowe, Greg James, and Annie Mac for outside perspective. “Haim Time” on Beats 1 when I happen to be home on a Thursday evening. Nick Grimshaw if I can’t sleep and I manage to catch him live. Gilmore Guys podcast if I’m having a particularly slow day at work, and Marc Maron when he’s got an interesting guest that piques my interest.

The first time I heard of Tori Kelly was back in November. I’d won tickets to VH1’s Big Music in 2015: You Oughta Know taping. I wanted to see James Bay, Ella Henderson, and Hozier perform their hits for an intimate audience and the larger American viewing audience. I’d already paid earlier in the year to see entire sets of Hozier and James Bay in Royal Oak and Chicago respectively. The entire audience erupted into claps when Tori Kelly came on stage. I didn’t recognize her. Cascading curls and long legs, Tori fiercely yielded a guitar with a smile. I didn’t know anything about her and her “authenticity,” but I was charmed by her polish and talent. She repeatedly came out to dazzle us all with her openness. I made a mental note to listen to “Should’ve Been Us” when I got home. As Gretchen and I left early, we could hear Hozier and Tori starting to play the sound checked “Blackbird” cover.

Tori Kelly/James Bay Grammy performance mash-up audio of “Hollow”/”Let It Go”

Tori Kelly’s performance with James Bay at the Grammy’s is worth checking out. Their mash-up of “Hollow/Let It Go” was beautiful, haunting. I read some pieces in February that said they slowed down the already stalled award show, but I’ve never met a ballad I didn’t want to hear on repeat. The decision to have James and Tori collaborate was smart, a decision that understood their overlapping core identities as singer-songwriters who put on great live performances with grit and wit. While I loved seeing James back Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” on guitar at the Brit Awards, I think this Grammy’s performance allowed both performers to shine. I’d buy an entire album of their joint sultry rock ‘n’ roll. The mash-up breathed new life for me into Tori’s “Hollow.”

Tell me, darling, will you understand me?
And not show me your cards?…

“Hollow” is the emotional center of Unbreakable Smile. There’s never been a song with claps that I don’t enjoy (ok, maybe that’s not entirely true). Tori Kelly’s “Hollow” was made for afternoons after school where you need to hear So hold me / wrap me in love. To think there’s someone who would do that, even on the bad days. It’s for evenings where you’re laying down, face planted in a pillow crying over an error at work. Tori’s voice is meant to rouse you, embolden you. She does this expertly.  By the final notes of “Hollow,” I don’t know why I was sad in the first place. Why I didn’t see that I don’t have to be empty.

The only song I’d heard off Unbreakable Smile was “I Was Made For Loving You,” which I first heard long before I knew who Tori Kelly was. I’d fallen down a rabbit hole of Ed Sheeran tracks on YouTube and clicked on this duet that I’d never heard with an artist that wasn’t Taylor Swift (I didn’t know Ed could duet with female’s not named Taylor). Tori’s voice lends itself well to emotional yearning, longing. Ed’s verse matches her heart and soul:

Hold me close through the night
Don’t let me go, we’ll be alright
Touch my soul and hold it tight…

I hope there’s never a point in my life where I tire of Ed Sheeran’s vulnerability. Tori Kelly holds her own against Ed’s recognizable vocal flourishes. This is a collaboration that makes sense. While it established and introduced her to a new market, their joint effort lyrically matures her voice. Ed knows how to write a love song, and Tori’s big heart grounds the song. There’s an earnestness, genuineness in both of their vocal performances. All I know is, darling, I was made for loving you.

Tori Kelly shines on “Unbreakable Smile” and “Nobody Love.” The former finds her responding to critics (already?) who want to categorize her. So call me boring, call me cookie cutter / Call me what you want… Pop music in the 2010s is all about empowerment and authenticity, and it’s nice to hear Tori celebrating her truth. As she brushes off detractors, she emboldens herself and all of us to “keep on singing.” Tori Kelly collaborated with Max Martin, the Swedish producer behind most of the smash hit pop records of the last twenty years, on “Nobody Love.” As with every other Max Martin produced track, the song is an earworm. I challenge you to not blare the chorus while singing along, Ain’t nobody, nobody, nobody love / Ain’t nobody love, ain’t nobody love like you do…

I’m excited to see Tori Kelly grow as an artist. I look forward to a future album from Tori where I listen from start to finish without skipping around.  For her duets to be with men her age (looking at you LL Cool J). Fingers crossed that her and James Bay put their songwriting chemistry on a follow-up record. While Tori might not have been Best New Artist at the Grammys, I’m thrilled at the prospect of her songwriting longevity. I want to continue to get to know the girl who told us, When I know the truth is never wrong / I’m alright, this is right where I belong…

“Made My Decision To Test My Limits”: Ariana Grande and Willa’s Artistic Impulses

Being a woman shouldn’t feel like a political act in 2016, but there are still days that I navigate my commute to and from my Bushwick apartment as men holler, cars honk and bodega workers sneer at my ass and I forget how I mustered the courage to leave my apartment at all. My wardrobe is not utilitarian in nature. It’s impractical and loud. I wear patterned dresses, sparkly boots, and sheer crops anywhere and everywhere. These days, since moving, every morning as I go through my closet I find myself reaching for pieces that will allow me to blend into my new surroundings. For perhaps the first time in my life, I don’t want my fashion choices to be noticed at all. I once had the luxury of hiding behind my car, the tinted windows and blaring bass. My chances for interactions in public with strangers wanting to comment on my outer appearance with whispered comments were slim. There was rarely vulgarity; outside of “nice skirt” from women who understood the pains of finding a well-fitted pencil skirt, there were rarely any comments at all. That is not my current reality. Just last week a man followed me to the subway, muttering about what he’d like to do to me given the opportunity. Quite frankly, my iPod has become a lifeline. When men shout, “Didn’t you hear my compliment!” I can walk past truthfully—eyes on the ground, paces brisk—knowing that I didn’t hear whatever choice of words were their idea of a “compliment.” Turning the volume up, I am soundproofed. I can no longer hear the tasteless comments. If I put on the right track, I can even feel bulletproof.

Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” released on March 11, replaced Rihanna’s “Needed Me” as my kiss-off track on my iPod last weekend as I walked (stalked down the pavement like it was own personal runway) to the grocery store, Forever 21 and Rite-Aid.

I have a confession to make before I discuss “Dangerous Woman.” Ariana’s appeal has long eluded me. Don’t get me wrong. I pined for her hair during the years of Victorious. I have her collaboration with Childish Gambino on my iPod. I danced in my car to “Problem.” I longed for Harry Styles’s demo version of him singing “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” as I listened to her soft, hushed ballad. I paid for “Bang Bang” featuring Jessie J and Nicki Minaj. I highly recommend her Christmas Kisses EP. It’s that, quite frankly, I’ve been mystified by Ariana’s image. The image that at times seemed infantile. I’ve been trying to educate myself. I am well aware as of late that Ariana might be one of the most vocal musicians who is actually living the lyrical content of confidence and control her songs exudes to fans. Last year, I clapped alongside Tumblr as Ariana told off the media for insinuating that she couldn’t simply be “friends” with One Direction’s Niall Horan. Identifying as a feminist, Ariana told her fans and detractors, “I am tired of living in world where women are mostly referred to as a man’s past, present or future PROPERTY / POSSESSION.”

“Dangerous Woman” feels like an appropriate extension of Ariana’s brand. Weeks after coming to the defense of Kesha, an early collaborator of Ariana’s, amidst her longstanding legal battle with Sony and Dr. Luke over allegations of sexual assault, Ariana uses her pipes to speak up once again about another definition of womanhood. Right from the start, Ariana doesn’t “need permission.” Taking control of this kind of moment / I’m locked and loaded / Completely focused, my mind is open… If 2014 was the Year of the “Good Girl” in music, I am ready for Ariana to celebrate the bad girl. Or at least a girl with shadows, edges. I want a blueprint of how to sneer back, how to command my own potential. Makes me wanna do things I shouldn’t / Something ‘bout, something ‘bout… Performing the track on Saturday Night Live last weekend, an episode that also saw her hosting, Ariana, poised and controlled, asserted through countless sketches that she really does knows exactly what’s she doing. Nothing to prove and I’m bulletproof and / Know what I’m doing…

I’d like to thank Spotify for putting Willa’s “Swan” on their New Music Friday playlist after Ariana. There’s a fluid movement between singers. Much like “Dangerous Woman,” Willa’s track demands the listener’s attention. I’m not in love / Don’t have the touch / Don’t have the time to bend another little church boy’s mind (again)… This track feels like an extension of our current cultural climate of Tinder, social media, and Broad City.  While I could make the time for a relationship with it’s ease of familiarity and takeout orders and nights in sprawled on the couch, I don’t want to make the time to date. A few weeks back, I met a guy at a bar. There was promising witty bar side banter, but when he dropped he lived in Westchester I knew our “meet-cute” was over. It’d basically be the equivalent of a long distance relationship in New York City. Dating is engaging and thrilling at it’s best, tedious and tiresome for the most part. I don’t have the money to see friends for dinner on the off chance I’m not working late into the evening with production’s ever-changing schedule, let alone a night to offer potential OkCupid dates who will ghost. In a culture where you can list off in a profile who you are, it’s apt of Willa to inform the listener she isn’t an angel, trophy or debutante. If that’s what her suitor is looking for, they can move right along. Swipe left. I’m not a swan / Pretty in a pond…

Two weeks ago, I bought Rebecca Traister’s All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. I’d recommend it for witchsong readers. Traister writes, “Women find themselves growing into themselves, shaping their identities, dreams and goals not necessarily in tandem with a man or within a traditional family structure, but instead alongside other women. Their friends.” The thesis of the book, which I’ll admit I haven’t finished as of yet, can best be summed up by Willa’s declaration in “Swan”, Don’t have the time / Call it a crime, to find everything I need in me (mind)… The book focuses largely on the female friendships that make life in the twenty-first century feel whole, complete. We are increasingly a world of dangerous women no longer seeking to fulfill the archetypes of “sweet treats.” I’m glad Ariana and Willa are providing us the soundtrack to blast if we ever need to be reminded of just how perilous we can be.

Bonus: If you are a fan of Ariana’s “Dangerous Woman,” check out the A Cappella version she released yesterday.

splinter: playlist

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splinter. a fracture. a break. the sound of silence.

playlist.

Taylor Swift – Wildest Dreams [GRAMMY Museum]
You’ll see me in hindsight / Tangled up with you all night…

Diana Krall – A Case of You [Live In Paris]
Oh! You’re in my blood like holy wine / You taste so bitter and you taste so sweet…

Adele – Million Years Ago
Sometimes I just feel it’s only me / Who can’t stand the reflection that they see…

One Direction – Long Way Down
Point of no return and now it’s just too late to turn around / I try to forgive you but I struggle cause I don’t know…

Sufjan Stevens – No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross
Get drunk to get laid / I take one more hit when you depart…

Ryan Adams – How You Get The Girl
Say “I want you for worse or for better / I would wait forever and ever / Broke your heart, I’ll put it back together…”

Hanson – Use Me Up (Acoustic)
So, please, use me up / I just want anyone to use me up…

The 1975 – Somebody Else
I don’t want your body / But I hate to think about you with somebody else…

Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Happy
So I could be happy, happy / Oh so happy, happy…

Wet – Body
No one said it would be easy / But I never knew I’d be so lonely…

Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard – One Fast Move or I’m Gone
We used to dream together / But now I drink alone…

Little Mix – The End
And no one can love you, the way I used to do / But / Love isn’t fair

Jess Glynne – Take Me Home
You say space will make it better / And time will make it heal / I won’t be lost forever…