reviews

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

JUST WATCH ME: Cher Lloyd is Getting Activated

How blessed we are to be alive in this, the second #summerofCher, even if it is kind of getting more into the #autumnofCher. I like fall better anyway, so I’m pleased. At any rate, the new season of Cher Lloyd is finally upon us.

Cher Lloyd is very good at this thing which I love, which is the use of straight up nonsense syllables to express emotion. I find something very pure and kind of transcendent about that – the idea that your love, or rage, or whatever else, is too much for language. It started with “Want U Back”, ramped up on Sorry I’m Late with “Dirty Love” and “Just Be Mine”, and now we have “Activated”.

The other thing about this song that makes me really excited for the album is the lack of a traditionally recognizable chorus. I’m seeing it more and more – “Dangerous Woman” is a good example, 5H’s “Flex” and Little Mix’s “Move”, Selena’s “Same Old Love”, Demi’s “Cool for the Summer”, and both of Meghan Trainor’s new singles. There’s still a recognizable refrain, which you can classify as the chorus: they like ‘ooh’, they like ‘ooh / baby just wait on it / when I do the damn thing just watch me. But it’s not as separate from the rest of the song as something like, say, the chorus of “You Belong With Me”. It’s more subtle, less musically distinct. Some of these songs even use the same lyrics as the bridge rather than introduce a new element, simply changing the pacing or the pitch. It makes for a different kind of listening experience, I think, because it’s more difficult to say when the song “should” end. I could listen to “Activated” on a loop for several hours, probably, before I got tired of it or really even noticed that it was repeating. There is nothing to snag, nothing to hang you up in the flow of it. You all know I love Taylor more than life, but you know when a Taylor Swift song is over. This song – and others like it – are less in-your-face. They’re not exactly background tracks; they demand more attention and care than that. But they’re not something that you have to drop everything to focus on. “Activated” is predictable, but in a different way than something like “Sirens” is. It’s difficult to describe, but if you listen to it, you’ll get it.

“Activated” feels more mature than Cher’s earlier work somehow, and that might just be me, but I am so ready for this album, for the direction she seems to be headed in. Hopefully we’ll see more from her soon, and in the meantime, you have this slinky neon video to watch.

Shura — “Nothing’s Real”

A dreamy, hazy intro is the first thing you get from our newest pop princess Shura’s debut album. Scraps of dialogue from Shura’s father and what sounds like a rocket blasting off in the distance tune in and out like a fuzzy radio. As “(i)” fades, it’s replaced by the album’s title track. Nothing’s Real shifts from ’80s homage in songs like “What’s It Gonna Be” to near imitation in “Nothing’s Real”. Shura uses this album to take on a presence like those of the early ’80s queens, each track presenting a girlish, almost naively feminine voice.

The defining measure of the album is Shura’s introversion. In songs like “2Shy”, Shura channels the spirit of Molly Ringwald in 16 Candles, right before Michael Schoeffling is about to kiss her over the cake. Shura is hesitant, whispering over a powdery synthetic build about her desire — maybe? — for a sort of relationship with this person she might just like.

Despite this uncertainty, Shura doesn’t stray from being articulate in “2Shy”. Each note is perfectly in place, never straying from the heartbeat of the song. She might be murmuring, caressing the lyrics, but the phrasing is too deliberate to ignore: Headphones on, got a cigarette rolled, I know / I shouldn’t light it ‘cause I haven’t had one for weeks.

Shura’s shy and sweet, but she’s also deliberate and aware of everything happening around her. It’s this deliberation that drives her individuality and really matches her to the early ’80s greats. “Nothing’s Real” shows off her power more so than any other track off the album. Instead of the soft thrum of a heartbeat, the album’s title track epitomizes the throb of restlessness, ticking through the dragging hours of dissociation and panic. There’s nothing soft or playful about “Nothing’s Real,” though the hesitation and uncertainty remains

Other songs are harder to categorize. “What’s It Gonna Be”, a track with a video you should have already fallen in love with, balances indecision (incidentally, the name of another song off the album) with a defined, upbeat assuredness. Nothing’s Real is all about going boldly forward into the unknown, and suddenly the sounds of the rocket in “(i)” make a lot more sense.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the final two tracks off Nothing Is Real. Each over nine minutes long, “White Light” and “The Space Tapes” feel unfinished and uncensored. “The Space Tapes” relies on instrumentation and has the vibe of an R&B song, so much so as to be tonally distinct from the rest of the album. Both pieces include slow fades to silence, only to pick back up again with an entirely new theme. It’s almost as if Shura were piecing together a few incomplete bits of her brain, unsure what to do with them — so she just stuck them to the end of the album. “White Light” and “The Space Tapes” share a refreshing distinction from the power and precision of the rest of the album, and they add yet another layer of humanity to Nothing’s Real.

Shura’s debut album didn’t strike a chord with me because her music sounds exactly like the theme to a John Hughes movie. It didn’t strike a chord because she’s a British pop princess, or because she made a cute LGBT music video (although that certainly didn’t hurt). It resonated with me because Shura leans heavily into teasing out different aspects of what we, the audience, are led to believe make her a person with doubts and fears. Making music in itself is a scary thing, but deliberately making your art reflect a deep, true part of yourself is even scarier. So here Shura goes, boldly forward into the unknown.


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

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.

New Video Monday: Haley Bonar’s “Kismet Kill”

I’ll be honest. I am not a person who hated high school. In fact, I kind of loved it. I went to a small, tight-knit school that didn’t have an issue with smart kids (to a certain extent) or theater kids (as long as they were “normal”). I feel weird sitting next to friends who told me they hated their high school experiences. And with good reason! Being bullied or excluded is brutal, and I know that — although my high school wasn’t exactly tolerant — I’m very privileged to have been able to speak my mind and be myself, more or less. And I don’t think I’ll ever wish that I could go back to being in high school! My brain is more developed, I have deeper friendships. I’m getting closer to chipping away at who I might be, and it’s all very exciting. No, I don’t miss high school. But the feeling of being a ball of potential? The stability of knowing what each day is going to bring, but that it’s not going to be forever? I do miss those feelings.

In “Kismet Kill” (“kismet” meaning fate, a word I had to look up), Haley Bonar shows the worst of what my life could end up like. When the prom queen (I wasn’t a prom queen, but I had my own little sources of pride that no one but I will remember) wakes up, she’s in the post-apocalyptic world of banality. A cracked disco ball lying forlornly on the side of the road. Empty airports, empty parking garages, empty top floors of once-impressive buildings. Giving birth to a plastic doll (sometimes the apocalypse offers hilarity in its tragedy). Always stagnant in a world where you’re completely alone.

“Kismet Kill” strikes a chord in its almost overplayed dramatics, because sometimes being a grownup feels like a personal apocalypse. Every day I worry that this is the first day of the rest of my life (this? How can this be the first day?), my world is a little bit shaken. Sometimes, the gravity of growing up breaks us all.

You can watch the video for “Kismet Kill” on NPR’s First Watch. Bonar’s album, Impossible Dream, comes out on August 5.


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

Send Me Your Magic: Paperwhite Live in DC

I want intimacy in my music. I look for emotion in songs and yank it out with my bare fists, ingesting it into myself. And what is a concert but a way to project music’s intimacy into three dimensions?

While a successful artist — the one with “the X factor”  — can entrance a stadium full of thousands of people, a different challenge presents itself in the smoky back rooms of shady concert venues. An intimate venue calls for an intimate presence: We’re all in on the secret, shared between the back room’s enclosed walls.

In one such back room at the Black Cat (semi-discovered DC dive bar and concert venue), Paperwhite frontwoman Katie Marshall invites us inside her secrets. Throughout her performance, I imagine her standing in front of the gates of the Secret Garden, finger crooked towards us. She deftly breaks the rusted lock and pushes the gates open, hair swinging behind her and catching impossible glints of sunlight, allowing us to see the most intimate parts of her.

Katie occupies all of center stage, constantly reaching out and pulling us into her. She makes eye contact with every audience member in the venue as we crowd closer. Her eyes are at times fierce and passionate, but the warmth — the invitation — never leaves her face. Her bandmates, including brother Ben Marshall, drink in the audience with warmth, too. While they tend more to frame Katie than to draw attention to themselves, they’re happy to do so and bask in the atmosphere of the stage.

Paperwhite’s music is itself an expression of intimacy. Epitomizing dream pop’s ‘80s-synth movement, EPs Escape and Magic reach out to us the same way Katie Marshall does during her performances. We feel hypnotized by airy positivity; our heads nod and our bodies move until we’re all grooving together amidst shimmering electronics. All of Paperwhite’s songs — though particularly ones like “Wanderlust,” “Storm,” and “Magic” — encase us in a longing that eclipses words.

When we experience this three-dimensional performance of intimacy, longing, and shared secrets, we are connected by the synths, the movements, and the words alike. But best of all, Paperwhite’s reaction to us (the audience) is just as awestruck as ours to them. Katie let us into her secrets, and we somehow did the same for her. Just by collectively releasing our inhibitions to enjoy a shared experience, we lowered the barriers between audience and artist. We had as much to give Paperwhite as they had to give us.

The concert ended and Katie talked, took selfies, and signed phone cases, but the audience/artist dynamic had not been restored. We were still equals. We thanked her for her performance, told her she didn’t need to be so surprised that people deeply connected to her work. She thanked us for showing our support, for understanding what she was trying to give us. Our mutual respect and adoration allowed us to share that most intimate experience — the concert — in a way none of us are likely to forget.

I want you to notice/Some moments are rare/Don’t take me for granted/Just take me there
-“Take Me Back”


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

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.”

nonrequired reading: art and artists and one witch

Hello again! I have been reading a lot of books about art lately (okay, two of them), but as a person who works predominantly with art and who considers myself to be at least a little bit an artist I am always enthralled by books of this kind.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is about a girl who forges a painting in grad school because she’s broke (#relatable), grows up to become a famous curator, and then curates a show where – surprise – her forgery and the original show up. It is a little bit historical fiction, set respectively in the Golden Age of Dutch painting (late 1500s-early 1600s), the 1950s, and today, following painter, forger, and owner of the painting. There is a lot of rather technical detail about forging paintings which I personally found to be very interesting – types of brushstrokes, how to age a canvas, etc., etc., but it is also just a really beautiful study of people. The writing is incredible; there were certain parts that I had to just stop and stare at.

The Drowning Girl is a book about ghosts but also about art and it is, honestly, a piece of art in itself. I am about halfway through but I can already tell this is a book I will read and read and read. It has captured me so completely – it is almost impossible to describe, which I think is the point, but it resonates in my bones. It’s written so perfectly, so utterly truly – there is a part where she says that people fear vampires and werewolves and ghosts and whatnot because although they are not factual they are true. This book is true and I want you all to read it and come talk to me about it.

Now the witch! Of course there is a witch. Hex is a translation from its original Dutch (lots of Dutch today!) and the author reworked it a bit in the translating. It is a horror novel about a small town in upstate New York (I think? somewhere staid and unflappable, anyway) that has a witch. And they know they have a witch, and they’re resigned to having a witch, and when she inevitably shows up in someone’s living room to stand there for hours on end, they put a towel on her head so they don’t have to look at her face and keep watching TV. Obviously havoc ensues, eventually, but it’s a really interesting take on haunting as a concept and is pretty creepy at times, if I’m being honest.

Other books about art which I have loved: The Goldfinch,  The Swan Thieves, Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Anything that talks about the texture of light in a painting is something I am going to read. I am partial to landscapes and still lifes, Maria van Oosterwyck, Wyeth but not his weirder stuff. I would rather look at a Thomas Kinkade than a Rothko and I understand objectively why that is wrong but I am who I am. There is a painting by Didier Paquignon of a car on an overpass and the first time I saw it I cried because the light was so beautiful. There is a way that art gets talked about in fiction – painting, specifically – that makes me feel shivery and connected to humanity and these books have all got it.

Next time I will talk about Girls on Fire! I have finished it but I am still processing. It is amazing, I will tell you that much.

nonrequired reading

Hello again! I read some more things. Once again I implore you to join me on Litsy (@furiosa) which is shaping up to be maybe pretty good. I would love to follow some of our readers – y’all have good taste <3 and one of the books I am gonna recommend here today was suggested to me by one of you!

The Expedition – Bea Uusma (hi Agnes!)
If you liked Dead Mountain – frankly, if you have even heard of it – you may be in the sort of unsolved-mountain-death-mystery club that I am. There is just something transfixing about a group of people dying inexplicably! I’m sorry! I want to know what happened! And obviously we never will – I fall into this trap every time I read one of these things, like, this person definitely solved it, we’re finally gonna KNOW THE TRUTH – like, let me stop you there and warn you, that is not what this book is. But it is beautifully written and sad and really prettily arranged; it is as much a work of art as it is a piece of writing, and it is really just lovely. It is about the first-ever Arctic expedition, and these three guys who, uh, tried to fly to the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon. You read that right. It is really fascinating from a scientific standpoint – lots of theories, debunking of theories, and did you know that the Arctic isn’t land? There’s no land! It’s just ice! Really thick ice! I freaked out about that for awhile. The seafloor is ten thousand feet below this fake ice continent! It is also, though, as all of these types of books are, a love story. There is a reason people do these things, as inexplicable as we may find it, and I think the reason I love these books is because they are a window into this kind of love, this dangerous, reckless love. Anyway, you should read it, it was translated from the original Swedish (I think?) and is maybe only available as a Kindle book in English, but still. Worth it. (Postscript: if you are into this kind of thing and have not watched Devil’s Pass, please do so and report back. Note that it is a horror movie and as such is a work of fiction, but still. But still.) 5 stars, would read again.

The Fireman – Joe Hill
More horror reviews from your horrorgirl, that’s me, always reading all the horror all the time, trying desperately to find the next best most terrifying thing. This one was not quite horror if I’m being honest, but I did like it. I have a weird relationship with Joe Hill, in that I half suspect that his dad is ghostwriting for him, but whether that’s true or not his recent stuff far eclipses his early work. N0S4A2, in particular, was truly haunting and I think about it a lot. But The Fireman is not horror. It is basically The Stand again, but in this decade, and with a new disease, and some other variations. It is also much, much better than The Stand. (I hate The Stand. I’m sorry. I know this is blasphemy. I love Stephen King despite his many missteps but I haaate The Stand. In a fun installment of “Aly misunderstands very common pop culture phenomena”, I actually did not read it for years despite loving King because I for some reason thought it was a 1500-page book about a trial. Taking the stand? Listen, I watch a lot of crime shows. Anyway, I finally read it and hated it, so, joke’s on me.) So this is another during-and-post-apocalypse tale that draws fairly heavily from The Horror Greats, which makes for a sort of fun Easter-egg spot-the-reference reading experience, and although it is a little bit predictable it is still very enjoyable. The universe that Hill has created is a good one, and I kind of want to write a bunch of things involving Dragonscale, the exciting new plague that’s sweeping the nation. Ha. 4 stars, will probably not read again but will definitely read a sequel/spinoff.

I’m currently reading War of the Foxes, which is a small and devastating book of poetry by Richard Siken containing many poems that are definitely about Bucky Barnes.

Next up on the list is something called Girls on Fire, which I know almost nothing about except that the author usually writes YA and it was described as “nightmarishly compelling”. Much like myself. After that, I’m keeping my eye out for a copy of the new YA book about the descendants of the Countess of Bathory (I KNOW. I KNOW!!).

Recommend things! Tell me what you’re reading! Tell me whether you think I’m giving Joe Hill too much/not enough credit! Did you read Horns? Did you see it? Do you think Daniel Radcliffe is eating enough? Do you think he wants to hang out with me sometime? I just feel like we’d hit it off. Comment below, I’ve got coffee and I’m ready to chat!