first impressions

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ZAYN’S “PILLOWTALK”

ALY: I had mixed feelings – confusingly, frustratingly mixed feelings – when I listened to this, and I think that’s due mostly to the video. I am sorry: this is not the video for me. I do think it’s an extremely interesting use of bodies and sex to create something that I ultimately don’t find sexy, but I don’t need to watch it again.

The rest of my mixed feelings came from something akin to disappointment, a sort of underwhelmed “hm” that even now I am ashamed to admit. I think what it comes down to is that my feelings were hurt when he left and no matter what this song was, it was going to take me some time to warm up to it. My girlfriend called me at two in the morning and we talked about it – she’s a Zayn girl – and I kind of needed that, to hear her so genuinely thrilled and excited about it, to sort of thaw me out. I was trying to be objective about this – about the debut album of someone I have loved for years, someone who hurt me but not intentionally, someone who is spreading his tiny little art-bro wings and flying – and I was just like, why? Why now, of all times, do I need to be objective about music, a thing that I have never once in my life been objective about?

This is the truth: I don’t know a lot about R&B, and my truest love is pop music. On first listen, this song underwhelmed me, but I woke up with nobody but you / body but me / body but us / bodies together pulsing in my skull.

This is another truth: If this album were Zayn yelling “FUCK ONE DIRECTION” over a bassline I would still listen to it, and I would be sad about it but I would still love it, because this – all of this – is important in ways that I cannot even begin to articulate, this fact that Zayn is becoming what he wants to become, and everything that entails. The way he is engaging with fans, with the world, and yes, with himself as a young Muslim man of color; all of this is part of this song, and this album, of Zayn Malik as ZAYN, and to pretend it’s not is to deny something incredibly, really significant.

ASHLEY: Zayn’s debut as a solo artist is rife with conflict for me. We should start there. I’m so incredibly happy to see him release music as a solo artist—find his own identity on the charts, including dropping his last name to mirror the likes of Beyoncé—but it’s been hard to get to this moment. There’s been relief, and there’s been irritation parsing through FADER and Billboard cover stories. It has been “paradise” and a “war zone.” “PILLOWTALK” is a strong debut—I can’t wait to hear it outside of my iPhone on the off-chance I actually step into a Manhattan nightclub soon, and watch people grind to nobody but you, ‘body but me—but it’s not the groundbreaking single that will change the music industry as it’s been touted in multiple cover stories.  I guess what I’m saying is, “PILLOWTALK” will fit in on Top 40 radio right alongside Bieber and Drake. He’s gone in a new direction, but that doesn’t mean it’s revolutionary (particularly the video which objectifies a woman and uses her as prop for Zayn’s own sexual awakening).  The timeline of artist’s using their sexuality to proclaim their musical agency goes back decades. Maybe it’s that as a fan of “Zayn Malik from One Direction”, I often daydreamed of him singing The Weeknd tracks on Bus 1 with Liam laying down the track. We’ve known since his X Factor debut what his allegiances and references were musically. Zane Lowe and other male rock critics might be surprised by the depth of Zayn’s mind, but I am not. It’s the music that all of us who followed Zayn Malik’s career for five years have known he is capable of recording. It’s good, meandering. Sexy. Climb on board / We’ll go slow and high tempo… Hold me hard and mellow… The production of the song elevates the lyrical content. As promised to The Sunday Times, “PILLOWTALK” is Zayn’s exploration of sex. A place that is so pure, so dirty and raw / In the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day / Fucking you, and fighting on… Zayn is all grown up, a twenty-three year old man who in the last year alone has cut ties with his former bandmates and fiancée in order to go back to his Bradford roots and reclaim the identity he feels he lost between the shuffle of stadiums and hotels. A year from the date Zayn Malik left One Direction, ZAYN will release “Mind of Mine” on his own terms, my pre-order will be ready for download. I need to hear “Befour” and “It’s You.” My enemy, my ally / Prisoners…

CORBIN: I tried to write a serious and nuanced review of “PILLOWTALK,” but I can’t. Not that I’ve ever had any interest in “””objective””” evaluation of music anyway, but, it is impossible to listen to “PILLOWTALK” as a standalone piece of music rather than a new installment in the greatest narrative saga of our time, Everything Relating To One Direction, and I am so thrilled to be here to witness it that my usual avenues of critique are all blocked off and all I can do is bask in how delighted I am that ZAYN, now a single-name entity stylized in all caps, is free to make this Gap commercial about vaginas. He made a whole album of this Drake-meets-the-1975-sounding music!!! He’s releasing it on March 25th, a year to the day from when he left One Direction!!! All of this is a real thing that’s really happening and we get to watch it unfold like a lily between the legs of a supermodel!!! Life is beautiful and poignant and strange and I am going to go to sleep tonight with reck less beHAV IAAah echoing in my head. God bless us every one. Buy “PILLOWTALK” on iTunes.

KENZIE: I am not impressed by what Zayn, or should I say ZAYN, is bringing to the table lately. Part of that is, of course, One Direction-related. I don’t like the way he shirks any accountability in the current relations between he and his former bandmates, the way he is so easily forgiven any responsibility in the lapse in communication. Yes, I have some complicated feelings about all the One Direction drama last year, and I’m sure that is impacting the way I approach ZAYN now. But even beyond that, I’m just not into the whole image being presented right now. When I was a guest on #SWOONSTEP I said that I’d paid my dues with an artbro phase, that those days were behind me. I meant it. I really, really dislike guys whose Tinder profiles would just read “420 + pussy = life” beneath a moody over-filtered picture of them where you can’t see their face, and that is exactly what ZAYN is leaning into right now. Last night when I listened to the song the first time, I made a note on my phone that reads simply, “the ways he says Fuck with the heavy emphasis of a 12-year-old saying it to his friends for shock value.” I’m not surprised. This is exactly what I expected ZAYN’s first single to sound like, the video looks exactly like I thought it would, blooming vagina-flowers and all. But this is all in line with a ZAYN I find sort of blandly irritating, like an annoying guy in your class that you can’t wait to be rid of at the end of the semester, even if you are secretly hoping you run into him at a party where you can blame the desire to kiss him on alcohol. Plus, okay, yeah. It stings that he claimed he was going to make #realmusic and #realart and then we got a college freshman’s intro art class project run through every Windows movie maker filter. “Kiss You” is, objectively, a much better video, and I’m not sorry to say it.

All of that being said, the video is pleasantly and surprisingly gay in between being terrible, and the song is pretty enjoyable if you mumble along so that all the goofy artbro lyrics are obscured. ZAYN’s voice is spectacular and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed hearing him until he started singing. And I mean, I’m fake as hell and I’ve listened to this song on repeat all day; I just pretend the lyrics are “hmm hmm hmm ba duh da duh reck-UH-liss behavi-YUUUUUUH ba duh duh dummmm.”

TESS: When Zayn left One Direction I was too busy falling in love to care, and today, as the first #zingle is released unto the world, I am too physically ill with heartbreak to have much of an opinion about it one way or another. “Pillow Talk” is pretty lyrically humorless and dull (pleasure/pain, light/dark, hard/mellow, paradise/war zone, like, “so dirty and raw” okay, bud, I get it), and I personally have never had much patience for the “Yes I Have In Fact Had Sexual Intercourse” genre of music unless the song has a certain amount of levity and wit to engate how boring it is to hear some boy brag about the fact that he has fucked a girl before but, you know what? I’m happy for Zayn. It is 2016 but the way that we talk about and relate to sex culturally is still so fraught as to make all openly sexual pieces of media A Statement by default. I may not find “Pillow Talk” to be particularly “sexy”, but there is no denying that it is a song about sex, and for a person of color, a young brown man whose sexuality is inherently coded as aggressive, volatile, and other in a milquetoast lily-white society and subsequently repressed– a young brown man who spent five years of his life making white music with white boys under the control of white people — this territory is all the more treacherous to explore. Zayn Malik singing about fucking and fighting in the bed all day isn’t just Zayn Malik singing about fucking and fighting in the bed all day. It is Zayn Malik employing a right to sexual autonomy and sexual expression that the world would prefer he didn’t have. If Zayn wants to be a gloomy Drizzy Jr. with a swirl of Miguel and the most cringeworthy moments of The 1975 then that is what I want for him, too. I probably won’t listen to this song very many more times, but I am glad it exists. Art is an exercise in actively making the personal available for public consumption, and the process of its creation involves so many lenses and complexly moving parts that the idea of authenticity and the fact of artifice blur until the two are in fact one slippery amalgam. I don’t mean to imply that I am interested at all in interrogating what is or is not “real” in a piece of art, a meaningless endeavor, but that when someone is able to take a step closer to a version of their truth, we are all better off.

Furthermore, Gigi Hadid is so beautiful I want to give her both my kidneys.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ONE DIRECTION’S MADE IN THE A.M.

ALY: I still have not listened to Made in the A.M. I am afraid to listen to it, honestly, because I am so sad about everything. I am going to listen to it alone, I think, which is interesting to me that that’s what I want to do because One Direction has always been for me a thing of togetherness, of experiencing a thing with other people. And I eventually want to experience MITAM with other people, and I will, but I am not ready for that yet, that rawness. But I think that that’s not what this album is about, like, the necessity of being alone in the midst of other people, the kind of blinking brightness of coming out of a darkened room into the middle of the afternoon. How did we get here? We watched the Live Lounge performance yesterday and it left me feeling strange and hollow and empty because, like, the passage of time! There is no clearer indication of how much everything has changed than revisiting the past, in superimposing it upon the present and looking at the way the edges don’t match up. “Torn” is actually about One Direction, is what I’m saying, and that realization left a sunny, windblown space inside me. Illusion never changed into something real; I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn. You can’t ever get anything back;  you can sing the same song but there are only four boys on stage now and they look sad and scared. Their cover of “FourFiveSeconds” was almost as hurtful; just tryna make it back homeThat’s all I want. It has been five years and no matter what happens I love these boys, I love them with a clear pure fire that will never go out no matter how it sputters, but they are different now and so am I, and so are we all. I haven’t listened to Made in the A.M. but still in my soul I know what it’s about, which is this: It will never change me and you is a fiction that only growing up reveals to you. I’ll still feel the same about you is impossible just by the nature of being alive, of being a person that is also a chrysalis that is also a constantly mutable thing. Growing up is about realizing that it’s okay to feel differently, to say goodbye, to feel love and know that it is different from the love you felt before even as you feel it for the same people. Swearing that your emotions will never change is a lie and we tell it to ourselves and to everyone else and Made in the A.M., actually One Direction itself as it is now, honestly, is about opening your hand and letting that lie blow away into the hot bright empty space inside you. I don’t know if they’ll come back but even if they do it’s not like everything will be the same because it already isn’t, and I am trying to be okay with that, and I think they are too. It will never change me and you isn’t that your emotions will never change, never wax and wane and mutate, but that the idea of me and you will never change. We will always be tied to each other by something. We will aways be a “we.”

ASHLEY: One Direction has loved for years to compare themselves to lads at “uni.” If this is true, Made in the A.M. is their post-graduate album. It’s regretful, world-weary. We had it all, yeah and we walked away… The much publicized and debated departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction in March 2015 is not obvious in the seamless vocal recording—full, textured and layered, perhaps now more than ever as they even managed to record several tracks with a 24-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios—but Zayn’s absence is unquestionably evident in the melancholy and poignant lyrical content of Made in the A.M.  Zayn’s departure has given them the vocabulary necessary to express rage, remorse… to reminisce. The album has been dedicated time and time again to the fans. The unspoken dedication is to the boy who left center stage in March. I try to forgive you, but I’m struggling cause I don’t know how… It’s beautiful, albeit complicated, to listen to Niall, Harry, Liam and Louis grapple with the reality of their success and the physical (and emotional) loss on the road of their best friend. The isolation of fame on “Perfect” (if you like causing trouble up in hotel rooms), the confusion of losing the only comforting reality they’ve known on “Olivia” (and time is irrelevant when I’ve not been seeing ya), and the constant thrum of attention on “History” (all of the rumors, all of the fights / But we always find a way to make it out alive). One Direction does not hide the pain, anguish, and promise of the last year in their voices.

Made in the A.M. confronts the reality of what they’ve lost (and gained) in artfully crafted melodies. Made in the A.M. is a natural progression for One Direction from the harmonies and rock influence of FOUR. This album created by men who have been crowned “king(s)” because of us is ambitious, lush, and complete. “Never Enough”, “Wolves” and “Temporary Fix” are three of the strongest pop-rock tracks they’ve ever released. Eccentric, original, catchy. “What A Feeling” is a great homage to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” “If I Could Fly” might be the most intimate and sincere ballad One Direction has ever released. Edges soft, tones hushed. There’s resolve. Yes, there are still lovers as there must be on One Direction albums—I’m not trying to downplay the very real role of break ups and conceptions in the legacy of their music—but the disappearance of Zayn—I believe—has given them the language necessary to articulate twist the knife and break and, most importantly, for all of us still here, forever. “Long Way Down” laments, We had it all yeah / And we walked away… One Direction does not hide; rather they confront the last year track by track, and thank us for staying. “Walking in the Wind,” influenced by Paul Simon, directly addresses Zayn’s absence. We had some good times, didn’t we? / We had some good tricks up our sleeve… Made in the A.M. doesn’t ask for the soaring, far-reaching vocals of Midnight Memories; they’ve crash-landed. This has been a year of assessment. At the “End of the Day,” they’re still here and we’re still here. I don’t know who is more grateful. We can live forever…

CARSON: What is a first impression if it’s not really a first impression? Because it was so easy to get my hands on this album before its “official” release date. Too easy. Browsing through 8tracks and casually finding the entire album easy. Not to mention that, what, eight of the 17 tracks on the album have already been released on Spotify? So basically, sorry not sorry that my first impression is sort of hollow, but who cares? The temporarily-fixed last album is out!!! Immediate favorites: “Never Enough.” The other one, “Walking In the Wind,” I think, is the one that Harry said was based off that Paul Simon song. Right? But “Never Enough” is a Paul Simon song! A poppy, silly one at that. It’s “You Can Call Me Al” and, for good measure, Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.” “Olivia.” This opinion is a little biased – and it now makes two songs named after close friends – but this one is just as cute as Olivia is. One part sentimentality, the other a giant reference to The Beatles. I’d say this is their most Beatles song, which is saying something – also, Willy Wonka vibes? Finally, “History” and “Temporary Fix.” More Niall songs! Well, not “History,” but to be honest “History” should just be a Niall song. As we’ve all decided in that unspoken agreement, Niall is the band’s historian. But Niall shines on this album. And all albums, giving us “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” and “Act My Age,” but particularly in this one, with some genuine bangers. I want to yell all of Niall’s songs so loudly, it hurts. Niall, or my projection of Niall, represents the best parts of this band – lads being lads, people with maybe a little bit of darkness mostly obscured by light and genuine fun-loving. It’s all Niall. Maybe this album is the band’s tribute – not to Zayn (though of course there are so many Zayn songs on here) – but to the unobtrusive glue that keeps it held together. And I couldn’t ask for a better way for them to (maybe) end.

CORBIN: The thesis of FOUR is that change will not happen once you prove that something has been happening long enough: she been my queen since we were sixteen is also I have loved you since we were eighteen is also even when the night changes, it will never change me and you is also I won’t act my age, I’ll still be the same and you will too. The thesis of Made in the A.M. is that change must happen, but whatever will happen does not invalidate what has happened. “Love You Goodbye” begins by saying it’s inevitable everything that’s good comes to an end, so the leaving can happen with grace despite the sorrow of loss. It hurts to know that you cannot rise and rise and rise forever –– we built it up so high and now I’m falling, it’s a long way down –– but doesn’t have to be we had a spaceship but we couldn’t land it. It can be we can sit right here and say goodbye because we’ve already won. Maturity is not about attaining fixity, but about learning to handle flux, becoming a person who can grow and learn and leave and become a self, over and over, in new ways. You follow your heart even though it’ll break sometimes. Ending is not erasing, and ending does not eliminate the possibility of future beginning –– you will find me in places we’ve never been, for reasons we don’t understand. One Direction will leave us, is leaving us, has left us, but left with the promise that any time I’ve gone / you can listen to my voice and sing along, and in that sense, the words of “History” have become true: this is not the end, this is not the end, we can live forever.

KENZIE: Everything about this album is nostalgic, in a way. The sound of it is clearly inspired by Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac, they’ve even said as much; the lyrics are about looking back, about goodbyes, about endings. It’s a gift to get us across a span of time that could be a year, could be two, could continue indefinitely. But it is a gift– it’s happy, it is about accepting that things end and that it doesn’t invalidate what happened before, it doesn’t make that less important. And to be clear, I love this gift. I love it and will cherish it and I pre-ordered it and I’m probably going to buy it on vinyl on payday and I’m going to choose to believe that “I Want to Write You A Song,” a song about them writing us a song to sing along to when they are gone and we are sad, was written for me personally. It isn’t Take Me Home or FOUR, Zayn is missing, life is changing for them and the absence of One Direction is looming on their horizon and ours. For some people, that absence is going to sting too much. Sometimes people can’t let go; we’ve got albums about holding onto things and preserving, given to us by One Direction, so I know. They know. It hurts to need to let things go and to accept that good things end. And that is fair. But that doesn’t mean the good things weren’t good. It doesn’t mean they can’t still be good for you. For me, the nostalgia feels sweet and gentle, and the bops in between the nostalgia are just so goddamn much fun. “Never Enough” is full of grunting, “Temporary Fix” is fun and filthy and talks about the things you can do in the dark. This isn’t just some ballads for looking out into the sunset and taking that first step forward, it’s also fun, it is happy, it is going to be okay. We have this to tell us that. One Direction are going on hiatus. It is indefinite, who knows when they’ll come back, if they’ll come back. But we have this. We can sing their songs. The things they built, the things we built, they still exist. And that is a gift.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ONE DIRECTION’S “DRAG ME DOWN”

ALY: What does it mean to be fireproof? I thought – I always thought it was walking into the flames, walking through them, living curled inside them like a coal, glowing, smoldering. Now I know better, now I’ve already written an email to my tattoo lady, because what it means to be fireproof is to have fire for a heart. To live every day with those flames licking up your throat, through your ribcage, lighting your way. You don’t burn! You never burn. You have fire for a heart because you are strong enough to exist around that fire, to keep it within you, not caged but housed. Symbiotic. And when you realize – when I realized that’s what it is – it feels like invincibility. I’ve got fire for a heart! I can’t get past it; I will never need to. Isabel said something about One Direction always writing songs that are about them and also about us, and, like, true? Like. One Direction loves me – I rewatched This Is Us two nights ago and it hurt so much but also the girls are not crazy the girls are just excited and also, also, also I know they love me, they don’t know me but I know they love me. And they do! Nobody can drag me down because I have them, and their love, and this fire for a heart. Loving these terrible precious boys has given me life, literally and figuratively. I am a better and stronger person because of One Direction, because of the way they taught me how to feel and how to feel okay about feeling, as stupid as that sounds – to be okay with the feelings that I have and to value them. To let the fire burn within me knowing that I am fireproof. To let the lights shine on me knowing they can’t blind me. But we love them too, remember; we have made them just as much as they have made us. Symbiotic. I love this song so fucking much.

ARIA: “Drag Me Down” opens with Harry’s voice sonically personifying a pout, leading into Louis’ hoarse, emotional scream-singing. This is exactly what I signed up for. During the initial crescendo into the chorus (a shouting bridge! classic 1D) I expected it to drop into a frenzied dance beat, but instead–sexy guitar riff!! It’s very Haim and it’s very grown up of them. Now, if they’d stop yelling in unison, that would really cinch it for me. I don’t love it completely. I guess it was only a matter of time before One Direction reached the point of releasing singles that musically sound like they could have been a Maroon 5 song in another iteration. Maybe that’s unfair; there’s a lot of man bands in top 40 radio these days. It could be any of them. Probably Maroon 5, though. Our boys want us to know they are men now! This involves experimenting with more “grown up” sounds, from Mumford-style folksy guitars to Imagine Dragons electro beats to this, a cast-off Maroon 5 song. With so many different influences converging on pop right now, it seems like they’re trying out everything there is to try without landing on anything that sticks. Here’s to hoping they find their own sound eventually (soon). I really mean that; because I’m embarrassing and shamelessly into Harry’s classic rock vibes, my fingers are crossed and candles burned for them to go back to whatever horrible thing they were doing with Midnight Memories, because I loved Tom Petty Direction.

Ok! Having gotten that out of the way, time to dive into the mythology. Goddess help us all. First of all, 3 in the fucking morning? Who do you think you are, Beyoncé? One Direction waited until the witching hour in the US to drop this anvil on our heads. Coincidence? Probably. Brushing aside my “Stevie Nicks worshiping Harry Styles is a witch” headcanons for the time being, what that leaves is the rest of what One Direction worships, which is the proverbial “us.” We are the Girl Almightys, but not stationary on a pedestal. This is a dance, something reciprocal. Our love fuels each others’; these songs about love are about ideal love, love that isn’t a feeling but an action, a constant exchange of support and emotions. They are songs not just about a singular romantic relationship but our relationship with the band. Our love and support begets theirs, and like this song says, “if I didn’t have you there would be nothing left.” There is a story here, a story about real people who have real hardships and their love for each other is a beacon of light that leads them through the thick of it. Strengths can become weaknesses and vice versa–“don’t burn out” / “I’ve got a fire for a heart.” But the overarching idea is that we have built something–a relationship–and the strength of this relationship is what allows us to navigate the darkness and difficulty of life (and mental illness, if I’m being totally honest, so much of this speaks directly to mental illness). This is what all good relationships do, with our friends, family, and significant others. That’s what they’re for. One Direction wants us to know that, and wants to make sure we know that we are part of it for them the same way they are part of it for us. Anyway, this has culminated in me sobbing in my bed about Through The Dark. No one can drag us down, we will find a way through the dark.

CAROLINE: I’m at my least eloquent when writing on One Direction as a fan rather than a ~scholar but I don’t want to do research right now (even though I think this song made it to number one on iTunes in a matter of minutes & that needs to be investigated), I just want to stay awake & sweat over what we’ve been given.

One Direction catalogues themes & images & repurposes them each time they release new material – they never get too far away from the original source, even if they trick casual listeners into thinking they have. One Direction has a core that has remained relatively consistent since Midnight Memories. They are nuanced songwriters – 1D imagery is perennial & blooms more meaningful as they persevere. I’m not in the business of One Direction “proving” themselves or finally being accepted into canon of “music white dudes think is okay” & the discourse surrounding this song is already leaning in that direction but I will say this is a fucking bop, this is mercilessly executed pop. Niall sounds like Adam Levine & Harry is riffing. There are echoes & “oohs” & that guitar that sounds like it is winking, this is POP. This is not One Direction with “Story of my Life” & their attempt at faux adult contemporarily listen at your desk at work, this is formulaic One Direction in 2015 utilizing each member to their fullest & most dynamic potential. Did anyone know Harry’s voice could do that? I don’t think it was necessary to prove the vocal talents of the other boys (to this extent) because up until now, Zayn provided the frills. I don’t think this is One Direction “proving” themselves to audiences but proving to themselves that they can exist without Zayn. This song is the rebirth of OT4.

This song is a natural progression from their work on FOUR except in that this is the single. None of the standout tracks from FOUR were put anywhere near radio. “No Control” only got off the ground because of fan initiative. “Drag Me Down” is a single released by the band/management that sounds like the “deep tracks” that are scarcely even included in the set list of a tour promoting the album those songs are from. This is the first good choice made by One Direction’s management in several years.

I do need to take a few selfish moments to talk about these riffs. Harry is not given room on recorded material to riff, those spots filled by Zayn in the past & tag teamed by Liam during live shows. Firstly, I’m not sure I can believe that is real. It is instantly obvious that it is him, by process of elimination if nothing else, but it isn’t something I can just accept as fact. Like Perrie’s note in “About the Boy,” I’ll believe it when I hear it live & will be joyously proven wrong. I don’t often feel bad when Harry isn’t given a lot of solo parts in songs because I think his voice is well recognized, well received, as is his celebrity, & I say to myself (during songs like “Through the Dark”) “I think he’ll be okay,” but I don’t know the last time we got a full Harry song, maybe “Happily?” This song is OT4 & I also think this is Harry blatantly screeching, “I AM IN THIS BAND FOREVER.”

Also, who the fuck is laughing at the end?

CORBIN: you know that feeling where you’re driving on the highway and there’s a car up ahead of you going just a little too slow so you pull into the passing lane and speed up, and as you press your foot harder and harder into the gas it seems like you’re not really going to make it, the other car’s going a little faster than you thought and you’re definitely going over the speed limit, your fists are tight on the wheel and you’re suddenly conscious of the rules of physics in a way you weren’t before and right as you think it’s too much and you’re going too fast and you’ll lose control you pull ahead, you soar ahead, and ease back into the other lane with a smoothness and a steadiness you didn’t know was possible while the road fans out wide and beautiful ahead –– you know that feeling? that’s what this song sounds like, building to the chorus and then dropping into it with loose, practiced, unhurried grace. and frankly, i’m hoping that’s how one direction feels right now: like frantic too-fast acceleration that is finally settling into a smooth ride. i love this song. i love it. i love direction. i’m never taking this off repeat.

ISABEL: One Direction has always been a series of lessons I needed and recoiled from and finally surrendered to. I drank up what they said to me like water in a Manhattan August, grateful and undignified, and at some point the identification didn’t so much shift as expand, so that I could be both sung-to and singer, object and subject, poem and poet, listening to myself sing about salvation and feeling both rescued and brave. This song is a repository of One Direction’s favorite motifs, so much so that it throws into relief the story they’ve been writing: how to feel human when inside you is the force of the elements, how to endure your own uncooling fire and survive your own raging sea. How to find the steadiness of the shore by revealing the flickering tremors of your mercurial heart. How to turn your exhausting spirit into something bearable without taming its beautiful bright power. I’ve got a fire for a heart / I’m not scared of the dark, and I’m not scared of the fire, which scorches but which also shines, I’m not scared of what I know now I’m strong enough to carry. You taught me how to be someone, One Direction tells me, and I think, #same, and then I think something slightly different: you taught me I already was. They’re still teaching me, and I’m still here, burning and fireproof, drowning and sailing strong through the storm. It’s hard going, but I’m going. Another lesson I had in me that became clearer when some idiot millionaires in tank tops and ripped jeans said it for me, showed me the words I couldn’t feel behind my teeth: nobody can drag me down.

KENZIE: Listen, okay. OKAY. There are very few things that make me feel as alive as loving this band does. I’ve talked about it before. When this song dropped and my phone blew up and my friend visiting from out of town rose out of bed and walked into my room with his phone in hand like his very soul had been summoned, it’s like… it is beyond words. Every cell in your body wakes up and so many of the people you love the most are experiencing that exact thing at that exact time and it feels like your heart is in your throat, it feels like transcendence; it’s the closest thing my heathen self will ever get to religious ecstasy. How else can you describe how it feels to be the recipient of a token of pure joy after a really difficult few months? We know the headlines, I don’t need to repeat their premature death knells. And then here’s One Direction coming to you at 1am on a Thursday night/morning, saying “Nobody can drag me down,” saying “all my life you stood by me when no one else was ever behind me,” saying “you taught me how to be someone.” What’s more is the song is good, it’s an evolution in their sound but it fucking SLAYS. This isn’t just talk, it’s triumphant, it’s flipping your hair at (and maybe flipping your middle finger at) the naysayers and rising from the flames where they tried to burn you to nothing. (Don’t even get me started on “I’ve got a fire for a heart, I’m not scared of the dark,” a line that I heard and immediately had to repeat at the top of my lungs, because we all know how I feel about “Through the Dark” and the echoes make me want to set someone, probably myself, on fire. [I’m hoping someone else has something more eloquent to say about that, honestly.]) I love this song. I love it fiercely, I will defend it to the death, no one can take this joy from me, no one can take this band from me. I paid $1.29 for this song so I could have it immediately, and then like five minutes later it was on Spotify, and I’m not even mad. What a terrible, beautiful, perfect gift.

First Impressions: Little Mix’s “Black Magic”

ALY: This music video is exactly perfect for this song, and what this song is is the highlight reel of the exact movie that Little Mix has just made. This is maybe the best song in the world? That’s not true but honestly it might be. CRYSTAL BALLIN is not not the aesthetic, is what I’m saying. This is like peak nineties girl-power witchcraft movie jams, this is the song that every one of those movies now wishes had been written when they were looking for credits music. Like, this video is the three-minute trailer for the remake of The Craft that they just announced, and it stars Little Mix and instead of stabbing each other in the back they just stay best friends and throw dance parties at school. That’s the whole movie, and this song is the makeover montage, the discovering of their abilities, the part where they kindly put Jade’s sweater vest in a dumpster, the power that (spoiler alert) comes not just from magic but from THE MAGIC OF FRIENDSHIP. Has Leigh-Anne Pinnock ever looked more beautiful? Is she real? I have never seen her in the same room as an actual angel, is what I’m saying, so? Is Jesy Nelson a literal rose incarnated as a human? IS THERE STILL TIME FOR ME TO COME AND GET IT, JESY? These are my burning questions. five stars, would recommend, will watch again eighty million times. Friendship!!!!!!! Gentle vengeance!!!!!!!!!! Helping the nerdy dude get the girl!!!!!!!!!! Elle Woods would love this video if she weren’t already basically starring in it!!!!! Album 3 is going to be such a beautiful noughties dream!!!!!!!

ARIA: I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t totally sold on “Black Magic” when the audio was released. It’s fun, but it’s not “Move.” My interest in the song shifted from ambivalent to casually interested when my friend Britt made a tumblr post I can paraphrase to, “I can’t believe Little Mix just released a song teaching girls to demand oral sex,” which, ok, excellent selling point. BUT THIS VIDEO!! OH! MY! GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! I haven’t had such an over-the-top reaction to seeing a music video for a subpar single since “Best Song Ever.” And this is not in the ballpark of BSE. Not even the same sport. It’s so much better than anything I could have ever imagined for it. Maybe that’s TOO over-the-top. Lord knows we can imagine some spectacular setups for our girls. BUT it’s the campiest teen movie romp PLUS witches, like She’s All That got all its shitty sexist parts replaced by sections of Practical Magic and The Craft. I can’t get over it! I’ll never be over it! I can’t really make sentences about it, so here are some things I want to scream about:

OPEN: RELATABLE CLUMSY DORKS! ME! THEY’RE ME! ENTER THEIR NEMESIS IN A SILVER VELVET SPACE WITCH CROP TOP, THAT I WANT ON MY BODY IMMEDIATELY. They sit in a MAGIC FRIEND CIRCLE and the power of four best friends holding hands levitates them all, LIGHT AS A FEATHER, STIFF AS A BOARD!!!! PERRIE DYES HER HAIR PURPLE WITH HER HANDS, THE GREATEST MAGIC POWER FOR A POP PRINCESS! Instead of making their antagonist ugly or doing anything cruel, they hexed her with FARTS! Farts! It’s so INNOCENT and FUN! They help out a kin nerd boy not by making him into a jock but just by making him inexplicably attractive just the way he was! They’re never mean! The black magic is fueled by FRIENDSHIP and CONFIDENCE and BELIEVING IN YOURSELF! They use their powers to have a DANCE PARTY! When they get hot outfits JADE IS STILL DRESSED LIKE A NERD! Just like, a more put-together nerd! Our heroines are 4 good witches with hearts of gold and everything is fun & fart jokes! And at the end of the day, it’s still a song about how your pussy tastes so good that it’s a secret potion to make boys fall in love with you, so like, sold, sold, eternally sold.

CAROLINE: When I saw the cover for “Black Magic” I felt like I was looking at “Wings” Little Mix rather than “Salute” Little Mix. This song is an 80s bop, Go-Go’s “Vacation” & everything attributed to Cyndi Lauper & I experienced the terrible chill of what-if-I-don’t-like-this because I actually hate the 80s, even more when I’m expecting the 90s but I should know better than to doubt Little Mix or what’s more, my love for Little Mix. Song-wise, I’m happy with all the tiny witch references – I know they cited The Craft & there are actual parallels (the light as a feather, stiff as a board scene in Bonnie’s bedroom & the scene in Nancy’s new apartment where Sarah changes her hair color) but the vibe of The Craft isn’t there. There’s no darkness, an actual lack of black magic. This song & this video are witch-lite, Teen Witch & it is so cute & it is so Little Mix. There’s so much flounce & snap & girls holding hands & glitter & I’m choosing not to be upset about it because honestly, I would watch this movie. I have watched this movie.

I feared that the video would introduce them as typically dorky, a pack of losers (which sorry, I cannot buy, look at Leigh-Anne!) & that the spell would change them (their appearance) rather than influence those judging them but I hoped that they would remain unpopular & the spell would impact everyone else – like the guy being made fun of in the hallway; the guy doesn’t change but the girls making fun of him, after the effects of the spell, flock him, a textbook love spell. I feel it is uncharacteristically Little Mix to change the girl rather than change her surroundings. The song doesn’t imply anything that takes place within the plot of the video – the boy, according to the lyrics, feels the effect of the potion – full of honey just to make him sweet, crystal balling just to help him see what he’s been missing. The spell alters (improves) the boy in response to what the girl wants, it doesn’t “fix” something about the girl in order to make her appeal more to the boy – if you’re looking for Mr. Right, need that magic to change him overnight. Change him, not change yourself because you think that’s what he wants. “Black Magic” serves the girl. I guess the true service to the girl would be to convince her that she shouldn’t waste her time on a guy that can’t see what he’s missing (“Boy,” hello) but there is something sweetly manipulative & “mama knows best” about poisoning a boy to make him like you, as well as helping all the girls in the neighborhood do the same & maybe that’s the black magic part I felt was missing. Lyrically, the song is Little Mix, girls helping girls, but the video is almost the anti-Little Mix. I’m sure it could be argued that their change in appearance is some sort of newly found confidence or just some sort of natural glow from the magic (?) but mostly it reads as changing to please others, like Fern in Jawbreaker. I do think it should be said though that boy with ponytail is not end game, no boy is really end game. Sparkly Little Mix is. I’m only slightly deflated because it seems like they would/should see how the video reads & how it doesn’t honor the lyrics or what Little Mix has forever been about. I’m letting the lyrics lead me rather than the visuals attached to them. I know it seems like I’m not holding them accountable but ultimately they did not make the video, I doubt they even wrote the treatment but they did write the lyrics & the lyrics sound like Little Mix.

KENZIE: Here’s the thing about this video. I love the “Salute” video. I love The Craft. Little Mix making a video for a song called “Black Magic” that is supposedly inspired by The Craft? I was so, so excited. I had high hopes. And… I’m disappointed. I love the song. I’ve been listening to the song a lot since it leaked, honestly; glittery pop friendship, this is the soundtrack to a convertible driving around California with its top down, magicked to be able to fit all the witchsong writers, all of us in vaguely coordinating sunglasses/accessories. The sound of it is so good, so fun. It’s simple, yeah, and I doubt I’ll be listening to it all summer, but still– fun! Happy! Bubbly! Lyrically, it leaves a little to be desired. I was afraid the first time I heard it that the video was going to be some beautiful-nerdy-girl-in-glasses-takes-off-her-glasses-to-become-a-bombshell thing, and I only got more scared when I saw the first pictures from it. And, well, yeah. That’s exactly what it is. Beautiful girls dressed in adorable “nerdy” outfits with glasses, that we’re supposed to believe boys totally ignore, discover magic and use it to embarrass another girl in front of her boyfriend, change their appearances, and get attention. I don’t know. Some of the moments are so cute, so perfect; the four of them learning the magic together, how beautiful and adorable they look at every moment in the video. Jesy in every single thing she does. But the video just doesn’t sit right with me, really, when you get down to it. I’m sorry! I’m sorry. I like the song; you can keep the video. Watch “Salute” instead a few times and then listen to “Black Magic” on repeat.

First Impressions: Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”

Go watch it, first, if you haven’t. Then report back.

ALY‘s first impressions are more a rewrite of what “Bad Blood” would’ve been in her perfect world. OPEN ON ARSYN and CATASTROPHE, as they fight through a building. ARSYN kicks CATASTROPHE out a window, same as before, but then:

Wide shot of THE TAYLOR SWIFT SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, a forbidding, ivy-cloaked building, curly iron gates, the whole works. It looks like a fancy college, perhaps a bit run-down, past its glory days, but serviceable. We know, though, that it’s more than that – much more. THE TAYLOR SWIFT SCHOOL FOR GIRLS is nothing less than the top assassin training program in the world, run by HEADMISTRESS, instructors LUNA, JUSTICE, and DOMINO. WELVIN DA GREAT deposits CATASTROPHE’s broken body on the steps and rings the bell. HEADMISTRESS opens the door. They lock eyes. WELVIN scoops CATASTROPHE up and they go inside, the massive doors slamming behind them.

MEANWHILE, ACROSS TOWN: ARSYN enters the office of LUCKY FIORI carrying the briefcase, looking smug. LUCKY takes it from her and snaps it open. They look at the contents – a sheaf of paper that we the audience know to be nuclear launch codes – and then at each other and smile. Suddenly LUCKY’s phone buzzes – a text from her old business partner, WELVIN, who she betrayed when a deal went sour late last year. She looks at it, puzzled, not understanding the picture text she has received, but ARSYN takes one look at it and goes pale. It is CATASTROPHE in the rebirthing chamber, surrounded by THE TRINITY, and there is murder in her eyes. ARSYN and LUCKY begin assembling a task force to protect themselves – and the codes – from the Swift girls, long known for their devotion to justice and the safety of the world. Almost as well as they are known for their incredible, deadly combat skills… and their love of vengeance.

TRAINING MONTAGE featuring the girls from both sides: MOTHER CHUCKER, KNOCKOUT, CUT-THROAT, HOMESLICE and FROSTBYTE are Swift girls, taking CATASTROPHE through the paces to sharpen her skills and hone the weapon that is her newly reconstructed body. There is a sense of camaraderie, of teamwork, of friendship. There is also hella gayness, as CATASTROPHE and KNOCKOUT definitely make out at least three times in various locker rooms, training fields, etc. Also, all of the punching bags/target practice dummies mysteriously bear the likeness of a dark-haired woman with bangs and blue eyes wearing a terrible, racist costume. Across town, SLAY-Z, THE CRIMSON CURSE, DESTRUCTA X, and DILEMMA are berated by a disheveled, nervous-looking ARSYN as LUCKY watches impassively. WELVIN sends her another message: TOMORROW. She crushes her cigar in her fist and stands.

THE FINAL SHOWDOWN, IN THE DESERT OUTSIDE LAS VEGAS, I GUESS, BECAUSE THEY WANTED A DESERT: In this version the city isn’t exploding behind them because that makes no sense, sorry, but imagine a sort of Killjoys-versus-corporate goons standoff here. Imagine, if you will, the croquet kids versus the jocks. They stand, all of them, assembled across from each other – one side focused on domination, destruction, conquering – the other on justice, vengeance, a world kept safe. They lock eyes. The music swells one last time. They start to lunge –

CAROLINE: I know there’s a lot of similar chat going around about this video & while I do think it isn’t all it could be, I also think that there is a lot of good to be found. I guess I’ll start by saying the obvious – the high concept & illusion to plot actually kept the plot from ever unfolding; the video ends where it should’ve began. We all know (WE ALL KNOW) Taylor has a lot of friends & I understand that she wanted to bring them in & create this girl gang, girl army scenario but I do think if you’re going to have that many characters, this should have been a mini movie type video rather than a 4 minute remix. I also hate how many times I had to see shots of Lena Dunham with her mouth open.

Okay, now that the criticism portion is done, I want to take a moment to selfishly celebrate because almost all of my favorite tracks from 1989 have been chosen as singles. I have also been waiting on this song to be remixed & I think it is done so subtlety, I still hear all the nuances of the original song. This remix serves the original, it enhances but it doesn’t alter. Kendrick’s verse do the same thing in that they are relevant to the content, an extension of what is already being said – “I don’t hate you but I hate to critique, overrate you, these beats of a dark heart, use baselines to replace you, take time & erase you / Remember when you tried to write me off, remember when you thought I’d take a loss, don’t you remember you thought that I would need you … it was my season for battle wounds, battle scars.” His lyrics are Taylor-esque in content, both things she would say & concepts we associate with her – criticism, overrated-ness, erasure, replacement, undervalued-ness.

Visually, I’m sold. I hate action films as a general rule but I LOVE stylized violence, fighting that looks like a choreographed dance. I like how clean everything is & I like the unnecessary amount of totally useless displays of strength & skill – why is Taylor walking through a wall in her own underground alien chrome lair? Why is Ellie Goulding firing off a missile inside? But what does Taylor love if not showing us how fucking strong she & all her friends are? There is no unnecessary strength for her. I like the absence of masculine presence – she beats up guys in suits in the first sequence & that’s her only physical contact with a male for the duration of the video. Kendrick is kept separate – he’s in the office alone & then in the car with Taylor but he never interacts with the rest of the cast. He’s present but he’s contained. He’s not a deus ex machina really but I do see him as a Bosley presence?

What I like most about “Bad Blood” is that Taylor writes about losing females almost identically to how she writes about losing males but maybe even more dramatically, more viscerally. “Bad Blood” is a violent song paired with a violent video. It is mildly wistful, mildly reflective but never passive. I know I said the plot was lacking & it is but I do think major plot points are hit even if they aren’t explored. You have the betrayal, the get -tough montage, the rebirth & the revenge, all by women, all because of women. Taylor comes back stronger because of her friends. Selena’s (Arsyn’s) army are masked, she marches front & center, away from them, ahead of them while Taylor, still front & center, is flanked, supported, surrounded. I didn’t think I would be into the Karlie vs. Tay boxing match but it actually looks like Taylor fighting herself which feels like something she would consciously include in this video about getting past what someone else has done to you, blaming the guilty party instead of yourself.

My favorite part of this video is the moment towards the end when Taylor has her red hair & latex bodycon & her face is in close up & she’s looking at the camera from the side singing the “look what you’ve done” adlib & she makes this face – the Taylor face. This knowing, half smirk with her eyes wide. In the midst of this explosion, marching to war, she breaks character to make the Taylor face. 1989 is Taylor’s self-awareness & she refuses to let us forget. Her character’s name is also Catastrophe. Come on.

KENZIE: I told everyone that I wasn’t going to write a response because I didn’t have anything to say but I don’t want to be left out, so like, here we are. This video could never have lived up to its hype, it was doomed before it began, and yet. And yet! I still hoped. And then was disappointed. Not gay enough, not enough Mariska Hargitay. The best parts were Cara Delevingne and the weaponized accessories because that’s essentially the only sort of accessory I fuck with– something that looks like it once was, or could currently double as, a weapon. I love this song, personally, like really fucking love it, but I’m underwhelmed by the video and that makes me sad. I’m all for a remake with about 99% gay girl love in it. Also more destruction. Set the world on fire, girls.

SOPHIA: “Bad Blood” isn’t that good a song, I don’t think anyway, but I love it. It took me a while but I love it, I love it, I do. I love this song because it is about the kind of violence I could only ever feel for another girl. Boys make me angry and boys sometimes make me very sad but ultimately I barely care about them enough to justify this kind of heart-wrenched, bloody, shining rage, this need to tear someone apart. “Baby now we got bad blood,”, the baby just as emphasized as the bad or the blood. Violence is for those who you are most intimate with. Violence is for your closest friends. Taylor Swift made a video for this song and cast everyone in it. Honestly, everyone, every friend she’s ever been tied to in the media, everyone. It is a video filled with two-second shots of beautiful leggy blonde supermodels like strange chromed aliens, snarling and perfect, neo-noir monikers slapped over the frame. It is both the dumbest video and the greatest, most important thing.

My greatest sadness about this video is that it takes the verses out and is less than four minutes long. The verses are where the steely, ecstatic rage of this song rests best of all: Rub it in so deep / salt in the wound. The verses are where we get into the viscera of hate. But the verses get taken out here and therein rests my main gripe with this video: I think there isn’t enough of it. The escalation of the rage of this girl-voice to neo-mythic proportions is desperately, extravagantly important to me and I don’t get it. Such a silly thing to be sad about: It’s not as magic as it could have been. I would watch three hours of Taylor Swift and her beautiful model friends stealing things and destroying the world and destroying each other, faux-blood running in streams.

Still, still. Everyone in this video is so beautiful and everyone in this video is strange and sharp and gleaming, their legs so long it almost hurts to look at them. I am reminded of the way I have hated, hated other girls and I mean—it hasn’t not been like this, all sexy clawing and biting and wanting to rip someone’s throat out with your teeth, in, like, a romantic way. I want to send it to the girl I was in love with in junior high and say “hey remember that time you punched me in the face and I started laughing and I wanted to kiss you so bad?”. It’s not a bad video, all things considered.

TESS: I mean, the thing is, if I never heard “Bad Blood” again I wouldn’t care. that’s why it’s impressive that I was as excited for this video as I was, and why I don’t mind at all that it didn’t really live up to the hype. the hype is the payoff now; it’s 2015 and if you can make people care that you’re releasing a music video you’ve already won. when music videos  mattered, there would maybe be a sneak peak on e! news, and if you missed the official premiere on TRL because you had soccer practice, it would be on television every morning for six months anyway. today, if you are not able to construct a pop culture event around hot music video, then hardly anyone is going to ever see it. Taylor is nothing if not able to command attention, confidently, briskly, like a white wine buzzed PTA president in head to toe Celine. she is very savvy about the sale of her product, very aware that the product is herself more than her work, about the negligible difference between the two in the end, in this cult of personality world we live in, and that’s why every single Instagram post about this music video was more important than the video itself. And why the best part of the “Bad Blood” video was sending and receiving frantic text messages last week when it was announced that Mariska Hargitay was going to be making a cameo. But, I like the video. I like to see sweetly pretty Real Housewives offspring Gigi Hadid, whose mother told her that playing high school volleyball was going to make her mannish, checking out her sleek high ponytail in a compact mirror that’s also a weapon, acertified  member of Taylor’s girl gang even though she was recently photographed at a dog rescue center with Joe Jonas.  I am sure Kendrick Lamar was well compensated for his presence, and I like that. I’m equally sure the bevy of models who spend their off time lounging around the many homes of Taylor Swift wearing coordinating outfits would have appeared for free, but will also gratefully accept the thank you baskets full of cupcakes and expensive skincare products Taylor has already hand packed. I love a world where all the white men are dead and all the women are dangerous and hot. I loved that before I watched the video, but I don’t mind that Taylor Swift wanted me to know she loves it too, as if the steady growth of her tightknit coven of beautiful girls over the last few years weren’t proof enough. “Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes” still makes me cringe, but in the event that for album six Taylor wants me to appear in a second all ladies star studded video event–like, on a hippie commune, like, call me Taylor, we’ll do it up, #acoustic album six– please know that I will expect you to forget I ever said so. I love girls, I’m fake as hell.

First Impressions: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You”

Kenzie: I mean, look. “I Really Like You” is a fucking perfect pop song, in my opinion. This is glittery swooning pale pink pop at its finest and most addictive, like consuming whole swaths of cotton candy and sucking on your fingertips to get every last remnant of sugar. Swooping butterflies in your stomach, it’s way too soon I know this isn’t love, the feeling at the top of a roller coaster right before you plunge, I really really really really really really like you, and I want you, do you want me, do you want me, too? This is about the huge importance of tiny braveries, the adrenaline-rush of putting yourself out there, the euphoria of a crush, of really really really liking someone and wanting them enough that you have to tell them. My roommate has already yelled at me for listening to it on repeat, but it’s fine, because I’ve already got the words memorized and I’ll just sing it at the top of my lungs instead.

Corbin: My boyfriend, whose top played song on iTunes is a remix of “Call Me Maybe,” was sitting across from me when I started playing this song yesterday afternoon. “What is this?” he said, within the first fifteen seconds. “The new Carly Rae Jepsen single,” I said. “Hmm,” he said, and feigned going back to his work. “Not into it?” I said. “I think ‘Call Me Maybe’ was a one time thing for me,” he said. Then the first chorus hit, and his head snapped up, and we locked eyes and started laughing like, oh my god, this is happening, this is real, this is an actual song, can you believe? Laughing because it’s hilarious to say “really” six times in a row, especially when you know there are going to be people who call your songs stupid no matter what words you’re saying, but also laughing because every one of those reallys is piercingly honest and set to a backbeat that sounds like the entire glitter budget for an 80s fantasy film upended in front of a fan and like, isn’t that what delight is, just truth and bright things? Before we even got to the bridge he was like, “you know, this is really catchy.” And I was like, “Really really really really really really catchy. I know.”

Aria: I knew I was going to love this song because “Kiss” is possibly my favorite pop album of all time, like, album, as far as every song being solid, play all the way through every time, no skips. I don’t believe Carly Rae Jepsen can make a bad pop song.

So other than the obvious hand-clasping jumping-up-and-down squealing of this being a perfect slumber party song, hairbrush-mic singalongs and plush pajamas and all, other than telling you that this song is perfect and everything I wanted from CRJ dipping her toes back into the charts, other than this being in that distinct Carjeps way a song that I have listened to about 12 times on repeat (and is still repeating as I write this) that still refuses to wear thin on me, what strikes me as incredible and special about “I Really Like You” is that it’s SUCH a Pisces. The tide of the mood comes in and out, a light verse leading into a slightly higher energy bridge, cresting over a punchy but still gentle chorus, washing over you. Never too big, never not enough. It balances the external and internal emotion of both the narrator and subject. She says “I’m so in my head,” but also, “all I wanna do is get into your head.” She’s cautious, analyzing her feelings, their feelings, should she stay or go, she shouldn’t but she wants it. Pisces are so interior-oriented, and this song is about the interior of crushes in the simplest way–trying to decide how you feel about someone, and how they feel about you. And I like the element of self control, how the deliberate withholding and tension between them is palpable, and recalls every kiss that doesn’t end in an invitation inside, that temperance of desire. It’s a soundtrack to a very specific kind of romance, not the sinkhole of love that hits like a natural disaster, but something more tender, something to be nurtured rather than consumed by. As much as I hate to ascribe maturity to love–what the fuck do I know about that, anyway–it seems like a more grown up approach to romance, and it’s also just a more Piscean one. Gentle, internal, elusive. Though the (arguably false) distance of cautious constraint often begets more desire, it also raises a question–“I really like you, and I want you, do you want me too?”

I only have one “complaint” and it’s not really a complaint so much because I am weird, but the line “who gave you eyes like that, said you could keep them,” dragged me right out of the song and still does every listen, like, what? I felt very eyes emoji about it, but honestly I like the line because it reminds me of campy body horror. I can’t decide if I think it’s totally out of place or the perfect sneaky weirdo addition to take it to the next level of “this song is amazing” to “oh my god, I fucking love this song and I’m going to chew my own arms off about it.” The line’s position in that kind of stripped-down verse towards the end made it stand out more but also fit in rather than if it were just a really strange line in a bridge or something, so I think I’ve decided it’s perfect and I love it. Or at least, I really really really really really like it.

Sophia: My favorite thing about this song is the “—and I want you, do you want me, do you want me to(o)”. Probably it’s “do you want me too” but I am captivated by the idea that it could be “do you want me to”—do you want me to what? This is Carly Rae Jepsen hurling herself into the void between “I like you” and “I love you” clumsily and wholeheartedly and in shining twinkling lights, in this giddy soap-bubble of a song. It’s perfect. It makes me think spring might come after all. She asks “oh, did I say too much? / I’m so in my head / we’re so out of touch” and then the chorus kicks in again and we know the uncertainty was never real, forget about anything but I REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY LIKE YOU!!!!. The space between “I like you” and “I love you” is liminal and strange and she barrels right through it and fills it with confetti, and because she’s Carly Rae you forgive her, you love her for it. There’s no such thing as too much.

Aly: I LOVE THIS SONG SO MUCH I’M GONNA PUNCH A HOLE IN THE SUN. SHE’S BAAAAACK, I shrieked at everyone at work. Who’s back, they said, and I opened my mouth and a swarm of glittering bats flew out. CARLY RAAAAAAAAAE. IT’S BEEN SO LONG. I’m trying to have more coherent thoughts about this but my main emotion is just PURE JOY, excitement, fulfillment beyond my wildest dreams, so it’s difficult. But! I do have some specific non-glitterbat feedback. One of my favorite things about Carly Rae is her voice, which is like Gwen Stefani to the nth-degree level sugar. She has the cutest voice! Like! She’s an amazing singer but she has SUCH A CUTE VOICE and it makes me want to talk to her late at night on the phone. Make her giggle, you know. Anyway. This song is SOOOO good for cutevoice, especially in the quasi-whispered breathy “-but I need to tell ya somethin’-“, but also in what MIGHT be my favorite sequence of lines to date, “Who gave you eyes like that / said you could keep ’em?” I’m not saying Carly Rae has a thing for Harry Styles, I’m just saying that I have shrieked those exact words at a picture of him on more than one occasion. And it’s delivered so well! God! Carly Rae. I love this song as much as if more than I loved Call Me Maybe, and I am so ready for the backlash because I will go to the MAT for Carly Rae. She is the pinnacle of what people don’t like about pop – too catchy, remember they said about Call Me Maybe, to which my friend Britt aptly and perfectly replied, “Sorry… it… did what it intended?” I think about that all the time. This song is SO catchy and SO bubblegum and soooooo beautifully “not about anything important”, which is exactly what makes it so important. Crush biz is real and it is everything! If you don’t believe that you are lying to yourself! And if you can’t relate to something as pure and perfect as “I Really Like You”, both the song and the sentiment behind it, I really don’t know how I’m gonna relate to you, like ever, like at all. 11/10, would recommend, put it in my earballs a thousand more times. Long live Carly Rae, long may she reign.

Tess: There’s something animal about a crush, or at least its something that happens more bodily than the long yeses and nos of love, leaning away and back in, the straight-mouthed dealings that came later even in the happiest stories. I am gluttonous about my own feelings, an offshoot of self-obsession, a walkway on the path to the imaginary mansion in which I think and preen. I like the taste and touch of experiencing myself experiencing the world. It’s selfish, it’s why I get quiet on good dates, luxuriating already. Cotton candy weighs nothing and rots your teeth, and someone who smiles gummy like in a fourth grade class picture and says they like your chewed up nails, holds them up toward the light for only a moment on the street, is like a thousand soft pink dinners when you don’t even know their middle name. Get light and jumpy. You remember, suddenly, that you have got all of these nerve-endings, entirely alive, somehow, still, and you can’t believe. It is– to be hideous and awful, to reveal myself to be one entirely without shame– a lot like the moment when a wave arcs up over your head, when the spray hits your face and every sound made by anything but the water is blocked out, a high wild tumbling second before the full weight of the ocean crashes on you. Portentous, bombastic, it could be done in a week. You could drown. The maybes are the most fun. I am greedy for those inbetweens when you’re free to be nobody’s somebody, move your own bones, but you’re looking. You’re seeing. I like when you can bite your cheek after a phone call, say, hands up. The drop is coming and you’re a big girl. I like the great sugar-soaked ecstasy of new wanting, when you’ve looked in someone’s eyes (“who gave you eyes like that? / said you could keep them”) and felt that click in your brain that can’t be explained or predicted, just, yes. I say yes.

That’s what “I Really Like You” sounds like. I imagine it will be a hit.

First Impressions: Taylor Swift’s “Style”

Aly: First of all I just need to say, unequivocally, that I love Taylor Swift with all of my big dumb heart. I would watch her read a phonebook and I would watch a music video where she rode a horse for five straight minutes. I would watch one that was like that Lorde video where she just stares at the camera, are you kidding, I would kill for that one. I don’t care. Let me watch her do her nails. Let me watch her try on shoes. I don’t care. I love her.

That being said: my first and so far only reaction to the Style video was “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” It made me feel the way that One Direction’s You and I video made me feel, which is to say, kind of bored. I feel like the director was like, “Let’s do this cool thing with a broken mirror and projections and stuff,” and I feel like it was probably really cool in theory, but in actuality I’m just bored. I feel like it didn’t fit the song; Style isn’t about brokenness, to me, or about fixing something. It’s accepting that things move in cycles, and people come and go throughout your life, and that sometimes, maybe, they circle back to you. I feel like there was so much potential there with what they did to say something, and I feel like they just didn’t. Like, look at Marina and the Diamonds’ video for Immortal. Same basic concept – the past is projected on the present; the future is unclear, but we will have the memory of us. Like, literally that could be the synopsis for Style. And yet Marina’s video makes me want to curl up in a ball and weep, and Taylor’s… doesn’t. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m not saying I want to weep. But I am saying that I want to feel something about it, and I didn’t.

I’m gonna watch it again, obviously, probably a million more times. And maybe I will get more out of it at that point. But my initial reaction is that this is not a Taylor video that is gonna go in my top 5, or even my top 10. I will give points for the excellently over-the-top Harry Styles necklace shots, and for the throwback walking-in-the-woods dress shots. But I look at that Polaroid, at the single art, and I wonder where that went, that fire. That good girl faith and a tight little skirt. That was the video I wanted.


Aria: I can’t drive. This is a thing that’s become very #about me, and defines my relationships with people as someone who’s a perpetual passenger. This means whoever I’m dating is always the one driving, so I’ve come to romanticize rides in cars. When I first heard “Style” I immediately recalled the movie “Drive,” just the Kavinsky-like pulsing electro beat, before any of the lyrics about driving, it felt like a driving song, like some kind of Escape From New York jangly pop version of a John Carpenter soundtrack. I loved it, it was my initial favorite on the album, and I’ve had my moments to it that probably shaped my expectations of the video. Driving through downtown with an ex I had one tornado of a relationship with, still do, blasting that song through open windows in December and kissing at every red light. I was wearing red lipstick, too, I mean, it was perfect. Just the other night my crush kissed me as I was bouncing in his passenger seat, singing along to this song. Always in cars. This song was made for car stereos and teenage-throwback makeouts. For the video I expected some similar visual adaptation to the movies it recalled in my mind, I wanted our proverbial Ryan Gosling possibly updated with a 20’s undercut to be taking us for a ride through a world that was all cool tones of blue and grey and red. And the driving sequences delivered in every aspect, honestly, but the rest of it confused me. Why are we at the ocean looking through a warm sepia instagram filter? Why is everything so soft and ethereal when this song is so sharp, I mean, galvanizing, even? It’s such a big song and the video is so wishy-washy. Why isn’t our James Dean daydream dressed like Snake Plissken touring Taylor through a dystopian future-world where everything has crumbled around them but they’ll still never go out of style? I guess I’ll never know. Instead I’m following around some melancholy lovers who frankly don’t exhibit even a fraction of the of chemistry I have with whoever I’m thinking about when I hear this song. I’m sorry, Taylor, but you can’t go all Stevie on a song that is way more Cyndi. You gotta go weirder, bigger. Maybe I’m being greedy, but I just wanted more.


Elisabeth: Tbh the Taylor Swift news I was way more excited about today was the announcement of her Vogue cover with Karlie Kloss. Um anyway idk this video is about images and about images as things that are seen and remembering as a particular kind of fractured sight which are all themes familiar to Taylor Swift and it’s nice to see those ideas expressed not just lyrically but also via her like, visual existence. The 1989 era has been very characterized so far not just by cohesiveness, but by interconnectedness and I actually think this video alludes really heavily to the thoughts and images posed in “Out of the Woods,” just as much as it takes images from “Style,” not just the paper airplane necklace and the literal woods but also the sort of looking at it now quality. Anyway Taylor Swift is a pop star about narrative and memory and image and this is a video about narrative and memory and image.


Kenzie: I keep trying to put the way I feel about this video into words, but it’s harder than I expected it to be. I don’t dislike it. Not by any means. It’s indulgent and hazy and all ethereal foggy gloom spook in a way that appeals to me (and which, for the record, I think would’ve suited “Wildest Dreams” perfectly). I’m just not convinced that these are the images that fit “Style,” by which I mean to say, this isn’t any one of the many videos I would’ve dream up for it. But then again, I’m not Taylor Swift, and if there’s one thing that she’s made abundantly clear, it’s that a lot of thought and effort goes into the presentation and artistic reality that is Taylor Swift, so who am I to question it really? I’m sure I’ll watch the video a million more times; maybe this time next week I’ll love it. Mostly I think it should’ve been Kristen Stewart playing opposite Taylor Swift. There’s a James Dean daydream I can get behind.


Sophia: “Style” opens and its pure heatwave, hazy glare the way you can see the summer sun as it flickers through your lowered eyelashes. “Style” opens and it is summer inside of Taylor Swift’s eyes and she’s gazing at the camera and laughing and close-up of her face, sharp and bright. Taylor and a beach and the boy inside of her head, Taylor tilting her head back, her profile beautiful, Taylor behind a pane of shattered glass. I have watched this video seven times and I still can’t parse how I feel about this, Taylor Swift encompassing forests and Taylor Swift captured in fragments of glass with her red red lips.

“Style” is about visual iconography but also about emotional iconography, right—you and me and the dress and the road and the nighttime, us as two separate bodies on a collision course, what it means to look that way and what it means to feel that way. The thing about iconography is that it’s most interesting when it breaks down. “You can’t keep your wild eyes on the road” and then the boy’s silhouette fading into the road itself, your bodies fading into one another and then into lightning, the lightning inside of you. They get closer to one another and what was silhouetted separation becomes Taylor Swift eating up the distance between them, “I said I’ve been there too a few times”. It’s not “all we are is skin and bone / trained to get along” and it knows that it’s not. Look, the boy becomes the road. The road becomes the boy, the boy has two different-colored eyes and you see those eyes immense and projected and silhouetted behind her. What that does is destabilize the iconography, you have to pay attention.  On Red, in “State of Grace” (which is my favorite song on Red) Taylor sings “just twin fire signs / four blue eyes” and I don’t care if that’s about Jake Gyllenhaal, honestly I don’t, I care that Taylor Swift vested so much energy into tension and symmetry then and purposefully invests it in asymmetry now.

This is a video about Taylor Swift, a bright sharp silhouette against the outside world, an icon—icon in the way that Taylor Swift is the most iconic version of herself in red lipstick, “that red lip classic thing that you like”. Taylor Swift’s eyes, immense, Taylor Swift’s red lips in a single shard of glass projected over and over on top of this boy and his face that we will all forget about. Taylor Swift. This is also a video, though, about the immense multiplicity of being a person, about the way sketching out an image of a self in sharp black lines doesn’t preclude you from containing multitudes. “I should just tell you to leave / cause I know exactly where it leads but—” as a statement not just about a boy but about navigating the inward iconography of personhood. I know exactly where it leads, but.


Tess: What I find endearing about the video for “Style” is that it has very little of it. This is like a ninth grader’s vision of dark glamour, only probably not, probably it’s worse than that, because I think ninth graders have gotten a lot more sophisticated and aesthetically aware than they were when I was hanging sparkly purple spiderweb from the halloween store across my ceiling in 2005 while listening to The Cure. It isn’t great. Taylor looks very beautiful. I don’t know why this man isn’t wearing a shirt. I watched it once before coffee and twice after two and texted my friend saying, “A lot of the video feels like the concept was “Twilight” but, like, “Twilight” if you misunderstood and hated Twilight.” I love Twilight. When he checks the rearview mirror and sees red-lipped good girl Taylor staring back it looks like she’s in the backseat, which is weird unless what we’re meant to understand that she’s a dead girl and he has no choice but to “take me home” because she’s haunting him forever and watching him take off his coat. That’s rad, but could have been made a little more textually clear, I think. Not all viewers can be as perceptive as I am. Really, though, the overblown goofiness of this whole thing, the way it colossally misses on being either cool or fun, by way of being weirdly self-serious in its performance of failed cool, is a relief to me. Taylor’s video track record consists almost exclusively of self-conscious dweebage. I love that! Taylor Swift’s entire vibe, the whole brand is just being loudly, actively, intently Taylor Swift (Best Best Friend Taylor Swift. Everybody’s Big Sister Taylor Swift. Bad Dancer Taylor Swift. Loves Cats Taylor Swift. And I Could Go On And On On And On And I Will Taylor Swift.) but it’s hard to translate that into a compelling visual work. Remember when she hired Stephen Colletti to be the dude in “White Horse”? Can you honestly tell me you have even once gotten through “I Knew You Were Trouble” without laughing that back of throat laugh where you’re embarrassed and you can’t tell if you should be hiding it or not, as if you’re watching this video sitting beside Taylor in her personal, best friends only home theater and not alone in your bedroom, because in your head that is sort of always the case? When the most iconic music video of your career is an adorable knockoff of the superior “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavinge that Kanye didn’t want you to get a VMA for, the chances that you’re destined to be a great auteur of the post TRL world are sort of slim. “Blank Space” was a glittering outlier, but I’m kind of glad we’re back to knock-kneed PTA mom Taylor producing a white wine spritzer video for a dry martini song. She’s got bell sleeves on here. There are weird close ups. It’s kinda “Stevie Nicks” in passing. “Stevie Nicks” like when you try on something with fringe or some kind of witchy mesh overlay at Forever 21 and you look at yourself in the finger-smudged mirror and go “wow, so Stevie Nicks,” to your best friend. That’s fine with me. I think that is nice and good like a mall pretzel shared by hands with glitter nails. I don’t mind any of this, but, I’ve seen the March cover of Vogue magazine so when I watch Taylor have her most explicitly sexy video moments with this topless character amid some Fifty Shades type lighting and just before a truly mortifying literal lightning strike, I keep finding that my heart is desperate to yell, “Nobody cares about this! Do you ever kiss Karlie?” What happened here? Did his repeatedly mentioned terrible driving send them to a bloody roadside demise? Do they live on now as well-groomed ghosts just as long as there are broken mirrors and fuzzy synth beats to hold their spirits to the Earth? Is that what ghoul girl Taylor in the white shorts is putting down here? Chill, me too.