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.

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…

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!

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…

little mix is having a sleepover and we’re all invited

There is not a single member of Little Mix that I would not kill a man for. These four precious angels are so beautiful and talented and funny and they love each other so much! I had a dream the other night that Little Mix was in a fight and I woke up near tears, okay? They are just paragons of female friendship and/or secret love (song pt. II) and they are perfect. And now there is a video for “Hair” and it is just a big slumber party and Jesy’s eyes are so green and Perrie feeds Leigh-Anne pizza and I am so very alive.

lol

 

What else is there to say? Silk shorts + crop top + unbuttoned silk shirt is definitely the only pajama ensemble anyone should ever wear again. Someday I hope Jade Thirlwall lovingly wraps a boa around my neck. That is all.

ICYMI: Tegan & Sara

You probably know this, but I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t share it anyway. This year of our Lord 2016 is maybe the best year ever, so far, and it is definitely the weirdest, but it just keeps on giving and giving and giving.

In brief: Tegan and Sara are finally following up their (amazing, Taylor Swift-inspired) pop triumph Heartthrob, and their eighth studio album Love You To Death is coming out on June 3rd. The first single off the (incredibly titled!) album is called “Boyfriend”, and if you are looking for the perfect track to put on the mixtape you’re making for the cute-but-confusing girl in your life, it’s right here. You treat me like your boyfriend / I don’t wanna be your secret anymore. It feels like the perfect followup to Heartthrob, and I can only hope that the rest of Love You To Death is as dancey, as bubbly, as blisteringly pointed.

Love You To Death is out June 3 from Vapor Records. You can pre-order it on iTunes for an instant download of “Boyfriend” and “U-Turn”.

BELIEVE IN THE SKY: APRIL 2016

Hello! It is April! It is the month of my birth and also Gerard Way’s and Kristen Stewart’s and many of our readers and two of my very dearest friends, who were actually born on the same day as me! So! It is a good month, a month I love, and I am very excited for all of us as it unfolds. Here we go!

ts eliot, “the waste land”

Aries: “What You Waiting For?”, Gwen Stefani. Take a chance ’cause you might grow.

There is never going to be a perfect time, Aries. There is never going to be what Jack Sparrow called the opportune moment, some bright shining thing that emerges from the sky and says to you yes, now, yes. There is never going to come a day when all of your conditions are met; there is no ideal time at which everything you undertake will go well. Instead, consider this your signal. This is not the opportune moment, but it is the moment in which you have a choice. You can move, now, out of the shadow and into a light of your own making, or you can stand still and wait for it to find you. Don’t stand still. Don’t wait.

Taurus: “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)”, the Decemberists. Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow, I will come on the breath of the wind.

It is very trying to feel sad in the spring,  and very lonely. It feels somehow inauthentic. But listen, Taurus: your heart does not always correspond to the seasons on Earth. There is a landscape in your soul that is yours and yours alone, dappled with sun and shadow, snow-capped peaks next to the sea. If I can quote Whitman, and I will, you contain multitudes. You are always reflected in the world, no matter what you think, but the problem lies in that often you are not looking for yourself in the right place. This month is for meeting yourself where you are, not where you think you should be.

Gemini: “Golden Slumbers”, the Beatles. Once there was a way to get back homeward.

Your world is getting bigger, every single day, by simple virtue of the fact that you are a living thing. It can make you feel small when you think about it, the tiny boat of yourself in a vast expanding sea. It can make you want to stay still. Instead I want you to try, this month, to think of this widening life as a blessing. You are the same size no matter how many directions you can strike out in; a small fish in a small bowl feels big, but it’s confined. Recognize the incredible mobility that you have and reach for the edges of your map. Carry yourself as bravely as you can.

Cancer: “Tonight I’m Getting Over You”, Carly Rae Jepsen. No more cryin’ to get me through.

Pruning is important. It is vital, this cutting, this weeping of ichor. To stay healthy, to grow, you have to prune yourself down. Examine yourself this month. Look at the core of you, the bright flourishing new growth. Follow the branches of your life out to what is withering; take hold of those things and cut them away. You must be as impassive as you can as you do this. It will hurt, but these things are sapping you, choking you. It will hurt, but you will not miss them when they are gone – this is how you will know you were right. Protect your vitality.

Leo: “Breathe (2 AM)”, Anna Nalick. You can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable.

Balance is so very important. You are a hunting creature, a seeking striving thing, and the incredible, single-minded focus you possess is a double-edged sword. There is a difference between purposeful motion and running yourself into exhaustion. It is not weakness to rest, to acknowledge that you need rest in the first place. Allow yourself some leeway this month. Be gentle with yourself; acknowledge your needs and try as hard as you can to remember that they are valid. Doing this is not straying from the path toward what you want – only pausing upon it.

Virgo: “Like Dylan in the Movies”, Belle and Sebastian. Don’t look back, like Dylan in the movies.

You will get nothing from looking back except a mouthful of salt. This month I want you to keep your eyes forward. Dwelling on what has been will not bring it back or change it; this is a hard lesson to learn but it is crucial. You cannot live your life looking at what you have left behind, at the things you have moved beyond. Start to learn to carry the past with you without taking it out, examining it, turning it over in the light. Eventually you will be able to put it down altogether.

Libra: “Everything I Am”, Kanye West. Everything I’m not made me everything I am.

You are made up of other people, of places and books and movies and paintings, the things you learn from them and the world as a whole. Everything that has ever taught you is a part of you, and this does not make you inauthentic. Even natural things are constructed – think of crystals, think of snowflakes, think of the perfect fluid grace of any skeleton. You can make your own way even as you follow in the footsteps of others – this is how you make yourself better. This is how you make the world better. Don’t be afraid of losing yourself; everything you are is yours.

Scorpio: “BeFoUr”, ZAYN. I can’t be bothered to fight it no more, no.

Try to find it in yourself to be soft this month. It is natural, when the world becomes sharp and hard, to steel yourself against it, to spark against it like flint. It is natural to bite when you are cornered. This is against your instinct – against the instinct of all animals, really – but sometimes the unexpected move is what wins the fight. Let yourself be pliable this month; let yourself yield. Slip out of the grasp of the things that would hold you, crush you, even as you drew blood from their fingers. Live to fight another day.

Sagittarius: “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, They Might Be Giants. Keep the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in your soul.

Things flourish when they are safe. They bloom when they are nurtured. There is always the temptation to dismiss the mundane, the familiar, but there has to be a harbor. There has to be a place where you can put down roots, spread yourself upward and outward and unfurl all your tiny wings. Think, this month, about the places you feel safe, and the people you allow there. Remind yourself of your foundation, the things you can rely on, the ground out of which you will grow. Learn to take these things with you as you navigate the world. Make a home inside yourself, and know that it is safe there.

Capricorn: “Changes”, David Bowie. Turn and face the strange.

Do not be fooled into thinking that you deserve your suffering. Do not be fooled into thinking that sadness is a matter of course. Remember: feelings are finite. This is a beautiful, daunting gift. Everything you feel at every moment is new, no matter how familiar it seems – you are a new person every moment, every breath that you take. There are shades and shades of everything you will ever feel and no two are the same. Listen carefully to yourself this month, the way you would try to make out a very distant, half-remembered song. Witness the minute, dizzying, endless variations of your emotions, and know that you will feel different.

Aquarius: “Out is Through”, Alanis Morissette. I think there must be easier ways

The forest is very dark, but the only way back into the sun is to go through it. It is so difficult, in the moment, in the middle of the darkness, to remember this, but this month I want you to try. I want you to remember that the sun always rises. There is always, always a way forward – there is always meaning. There is a reason you are in the dark in the first place, but the forest tries to swallow it up and keep you there. Do not let the weary actuality of the struggle make you forget what you are struggling towards. Do not lose hope.

Pisces: “Benson Hedges”, fun. You’re beautiful for all your big mistakes.

Memory is a fluid and fickle thing, something ruled by the head and the heart, something ruled by the soles of the feet. It is tempting to ignore it, to dismiss it, to try and escape it, but this month I want you to turn and face it head-on. Your memories are a part of you as much as your blood and your bones, even the ones you don’t love. Let your past exist within you, and know that it does not make you weak. Know that to hold all of these things inside you is a great and terrible thing, something to aspire to, something to be proud of. Know that it is a kind of home.

The Way The Human Heart Works: Eric Bachmann’s Self-Titled Release

This is the thawing season, and it hurts. My heart, frozen all winter, is melting, and my tears choke me and bang at the back of my eyes. And this album sounds like almost-spring, like tears hanging heavy in your throat, like thawing. “Belong To You” starts with a long, lonesome piano lilt and then a steel guitar, so sad, comes in. It stretches out like the long evenings of late winter. I had a dream, Eric Bachmann sings, to one long-lost. One of those loves that still feels so strong and real that in dreams you think they’ve returned to you, only to wake and find out they have not. I woke at the break of dawn to the silence of the boats on the bay, as I reached out for you—but you were long gone. Do the long evenings bring relief? Do they ease your thawing, aching heart? If they do, even a little, it is a merciful thing. “Mercy,” with the bright jangle of the cymbals and the doo-wop backup vocals, sounds like ‘60s pop, almost too sweet, until you listen to the words. I don’t believe in armageddon, heaven, hell, or time regretting. I’m gonna love you like we’re all each other have. Sometimes it feels like armageddon is the only thing left to believe in, but maybe sometimes there’s still something else to hold onto, when you can love someone—or many someones—like you’re all each other have.

“Masters of the Deal” is about injustice, about the South and its false promises, about violence and racism. It’s a political song, which surprised me a little. I read an interview with Eric Bachmann, oh, a decade ago, wherein he said something along the lines of: “I find the way the human heart works a much more interesting topic than how much Bush sucks.” But then, “Masters of the Deal” isn’t a straightforward political song. This is no didactic punk band shouting at you that this sucks and if you don’t agree you’re wrong, it’s a story that’s as much about the way the human heart works as it is about anything else. How can the human heart allow us to commit such violence against each other? Speaking of the human heart—sometimes it needs chemicals to allay its ache, as in “Modern Drugs.” The sweet swing of the piano and the percussive brush sound like New York City to me, and I recognize the characters in this song. They’re older versions of characters from previous Crooked Fingers albums. They’re older versions of characters from my own life. Straight life is such a bore, says the refrain, and though I don’t touch modern drugs anymore, I still feel that way sometimes. The heart still longs for what used to take the edge off. And there is “Dreaming.” The opening piano reminds me of “Moonlight Sonata,” that saddest, most beautiful sound. In the yellow pines, I hear the wild bird singing the sweetest lullaby that set my mind to dreaming, Eric sings. Oooooh, ooooh, croon the backup singers, a chorus of dreaming ghosts. Then: Hey love, don’t turn on me now. I was gonna fight for you. A plea, repeated four times. My throat thickening with tears. Hey love, don’t turn on me now. I was gonna fight for you. I was gonna fight for you.

“Separation Fright,” “Small Talk,” and “Carolina,” while all good tunes, are the most forgettable songs on the album. They are not anthems or ballads, not for me; they don’t make me smile with sweetness or cause the tears to well up in my eyes, in my throat. My thawing heart does not long to hear them. The rest of the songs would be stronger if Eric had cut these three tracks and released this as an EP rather than a full-length album. Again, it’s not that I dislike them, it’s just… The first time I listened to the album I spent the entirety of it waiting for a moment I wasn’t sure would come. I was waiting for a moment of recognition, of revelation. See, Eric Bachmann has written a lot of songs, a lot of albums that hit so close to home for me it was as though he’d ripped the stories from the pages of my diary. (Most notably his 2006 solo album, To The Races, and the 2005 Crooked Fingers album Dignity and Shame.) And I hoped beyond hope that this album would have at least one song like that, one song that would make me say: “Get out of my head, god damn it.” When I got to the second-to-last track and hadn’t heard it yet, I doubted it was there at all. But then the final track played, and yes, yes, there it was.

“The Old Temptation.” It is the longest track on the album, it feels endless and I don’t want it to ever end. For all the love you leave along the wildly winding way you choose to go, there’s never any meaning. The way the city lights all shine and glow as you approach, but you don’t know. It makes you feel so alone, so alone. And yes, and yes, get out of my head, god damn it. It just seems I was always leaving, and this song knows that feeling. Halfway through, the lyrics end and there’s this beautiful instrumental bit with ambient noise in the background that sounds like an AM dial flicking between frequencies. Like you’re on the road, in the middle of nowhere, trying to find a song to sing along to. And look, here comes a voice faintly through the static, a voice from some distant station. You can barely hear what he’s saying, but the words you do catch make you cry: evenings. Old photographs. Never to be seen again. The end of the track brings me back home, with a bird chirping like the springtime birds outside my window.

I don’t love this whole album, but “Belong to You,” “Mercy,” “Masters of the Deal,” “Modern Drugs,” “Dreaming,” and most especially “The Old Temptation” make it well worth repeat listens. And it does my very human, thawing heart good to hear songs by someone like Eric Bachmann—someone who is wearied by the world but still holds onto a clutch of hope. Maybe there’s hope for me, if I can just get out into that springtime and find some new temptations.

Eric Bachmann is out on Merge Records. More information and purchase information is available via Merge.