Lately I do all my crying in the kitchen. I think I do that because the kitchen table is where you sit to have serious talks, no touching allowed. The couch is too snuggly. Every surface of a bedroom is a statement. The kitchen also has three separate lighting fixtures, and more proper corners than the rest of the apartment, which is softened and complicated at its edges by comfy chairs and bookcases – friendly objects to escape into. The kitchen is hard and bright and clinical in a way that forces you to feel things, no distractions.
But lately I haven’t been doing much crying at all (this may surprise my friends, but trust: my face was once a waterpark and now it’s more like a Slip’N Slide – you really gotta commit). My body is doing this really well-intentioned and ultimately awful thing where it’s become something of an emotional sinkhole, but tonight, hoo buddy, I’ve been listening to the first three tracks from the Pinkprint on loop while doing the dishes. All the lights are on, I can hear the neighbors having sex, everything is plastic on metal on glass, everything is “another slap to the face, another uppercut” and I fucking lose it. These are the weeping songs.
I. “All Things Go”
Today you are a little okay.
You gave yourself Imbolc and the full moon. You cleaned your nest so it could be yours again, a home and not an exhibit on the art of turning yourself inside out. You strip the bed, you open the window. You can’t strip yourself of your heart or your heart of itself or the room of its ghost, but today is better. You’re only holding your breath some of the time, and the air is still very sharp in your lungs, sharp enough to choke on, but you aren’t suffocating anymore. Your hair is dirty but it’s almost long. You’ll wash it tomorrow.
This song is the sort of manifesto of selfhood that comes in that rare moment between existing in the nadir of your pain and rising up out of it. Dispensing with the truculent swagger of prior track 1s, Nicki goes straight for the throat, and it’s her own throat and she doesn’t just drip, she spills. It’s inescapably autobiographical, deeply personal, and still, somehow, remarkably anthemic:
All things go, all things go
All things go, all things go
I feel one minute, yeah we got it then it’s gone
While we keep waiting for a moment to live for
So can’t nobody ever tell me that I’m wrong
Cause Imma ride out with you still, the night is young
And we keep goin’, we go, we go, we go
We wake back up and do it all again
We know, we know, say fuck the world we ridin’ ‘til the end
When all is said and done, look at what we’ve become
I just want you to know that I did it for you
Everything goes away, everything will be bone, will be dust, will be forgotten, and that’s painful but it also means that pain we feel right now? It’ll pass. Until then, we do what makes us feel alive. We do what makes us go. We ride until the end, but also maybe we ride hard enough that we bring the end of the/our world, ourselves. Horsemen.
It’s a song about waking up heartbroken and crying because the sky is beautiful and you know you’ll be okay but you’re not right now, you’re just not. I always get choked up at about 4:06, where she speaks the record’s name for the first time, says, “THIS is the Pinkprint.” It’s reinforced throughout the album, a braggadocio-laced shoutout, but all of those moments come back to this one and feed it. “This is me. This is the most important thing I have to say. We are all going to die and we are all very sad, and, so, live!” (Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre!) It’s a rumination on the nature and necessity of #yolo, and it’s exquisite.
II. “I Lied”
Last week, you were not okay.
You sit on the floor in the kitchen corner, between the wall and the cabinet where you keep the Tupperware. You’re not crying but you were. He left, he said “I’m going to leave now,” and he turned and walked out of your house as though out of your life. He was going to a party. He left you a slice of cake. You drink whiskey instead, not enough to get drunk, you don’t have the energy. Everything is so much and you’re wearing a cashmere sweater, which is both too soft and not soft enough to feel on you when your heart is breaking. But there’s a song you know that also knows you that you can blast into your skull loud enough that maybe you can replace your feelings with those of someone richer but just as sad.
When I first heard “I Lied” I was just, you know, chilling with my roommate and all I could do was gaze wide-eyed into the middle distance and mumble several variations on “Oh my god.” With a few more listens and a little more distance from my ~woes~, I can see the song for its universality, but at the time I was in drop-jawed cartoon disbelief at how in the world Nicki managed to write a song that was so clearly about my personal heartache.
Man it was good while it lasted
That shit wasn’t real, it was magic
If it was a record, it would have been classic
But fuck you, though. Orgasmic
is the kind of lyric that makes me want to stuff my hand in my mouth and pull my heart out through my throat because it has such a perfection to it. It has perfection about the perfection of a perfect mess. It lets this was fucked-up and it hurt me exist in tandem with this was beautiful and important in a lasting way. There is so, so much in the real vs. magic thing. Something can be false and feel true. Something can be so wonderful that it’s unreal. Magic is sometimes an illusion resting on mechanical dexterity and an inscrutable smile. A trick. But some of us believe in a deep magic, an always magic. It’s the fullness or absence of the moon before we know why. We craft myths to make sense of things we see and don’t understand. We pass them down and pass them down til they’re just tales of dead gods for nerdy kids to fawn over – fictitious, a fantasy. But flip it for a moment, reverse the trail, follow its traceries back to the root and see, for the first time, the vastness of the ocean and how the tide goes and yes it’s a real thing that exists but the immensity of it all, the salt wind tangling in your hair, the glitter and the peaks and the foam? Yeah, that’s magic.
So magic is real. Or is it? You felt it, didn’t you? Is that enough?
The last line in the quatrain is so, oh my god, sooooo intimate. Because no, she’s not not bitter, “even though [she] said fuck you, [she] lied,” but she’s changed her mind again. “But fuck you, though”: even though and also because of the good, the magic, the classic, like, how could you? Whatever it is, fill in the blank. How could you disappoint me, how could you let me go, how could you love me wrong, how could you not see me, how? And then, “orgasmic,” she slides back into the realm of their physical intimacy without apology or explanation. She’s there all of a sudden and it’s good or maybe it’s just ultimate. Final. They both finish.
III. “The Crying Game”
Last month you didn’t know the meaning of okay.
You try to say a thing or two and you try to say it well and you try not to be scary and you try to be kind and you try to make a space where you can keep something you cherish without holding it captive, but it doesn’t work. You aren’t fighting because nobody is yelling and you know you’ll submit in the end, but there’s something violent about this. Violent but quiet, like you’re on the Gravitron and the force of the motion is a pin in your sternum and he’s across the circle and you can see each other making weird, angular shapes with your bodies, shapes so hypnotic you forget he has eyes, you’re both just geometry. And you know you’re gonna lose something, no matter what you say. You’re not circling each other, but the game is circling you, and you just want (you want!) to have it out but to yell would be to quit, so you’re back to divining symbols from the bend of his limbs.
It’s so brutal, this song, so horrifically honest. It’s the story of two people who clearly, yes, have wanted the best for each other, and who, yes, still love each other, but have become so wrapped up in the game of “what can I say to wound you enough that you’ll see me? How can I be a mirror of the hurts you’ve sowed in me?” All their shared insecurities, all the things tearing them apart (and keeping them interlocked) laid bare on the track. We get a glimpse of this room that feels very real, with “sheets all over the floor and they laced with drugs” where “blood drippin’ out [his] arm on [her] Asian rugs.” We’re at the crack in the door where a fight (or maybe the fight) is grinding to its finish.
Jessie Ware’s gently soaring vocalization renders Nicki’s spit all the more naked, fists up, teeth bared. These lovers are willing to be mean. They will use some vicious metaphors, damn it. But then there are moments where everything they might’ve planned to say falls away, and all we’re left with is the horrible ambiguity of love:
Are you alone? Do you need someone?
Is it too late to talk? Did I wait to long?
Sayin that we had enough, but enough of what?
All this love you speak of
All I want to love and be loved
all those things you need to know if you’re the asker and don’t know the answer to if you’re being asked. Is any time the right time? How long before it’s always the wrong time? What about us are we done with? Are we done with all of it? Can’t we just have this?
These are the weeping songs. They’re the real after the magic. They know the dissolution of a love is a hard thing, the hardest, and don’t make demands of you. It was all real and it was all pretend and you can want it and still run away from it and maybe you should, but who knows? You can only be where you are, and where you are is in the kitchen, crying into the suds that prune your fingers. Or at least I am.