songs

I Put My Armor On: Sia’s “Unstoppable”

Billboard called this song a “new empowerment anthem,” which, okay. I don’t know that they listened to all the words. Sia’s voice cloaks the verses like crystallized honey, cutting into clarity only at the chorus — you could listen to this song on the radio a million times and never hear anything but unstoppable today, unstoppable toda-a-ay, dark and soaring. But a Porsche with no brakes is not unstoppable because it is powerful. It is unstoppable because it is lacking the piece it needs in order to stop.

The first line of this song is all smiles, I know what it takes to fool this town. It is very easy to trick people into believing you are empowered, because everyone knows what being empowered is supposed to look like. Lace up your black boots, shake down your hair, slap your palms on the sticky bar and demand another round. I put my armor on, show you how strong I am. Draw on that eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man, but laugh easily and love sex. Be badass. Strong Female Character. Cool Girl. Don’t need batteries to play.

I spent a lot of time play-acting at this role, wearing little black shorts over ripped glitter tights and sipping whiskey from plastic handles, but when the world rolled beneath me one too many times I went home and splashed cold water on my face and pulled the covers around me, shivering. I am lucky. I have always had brakes. Failsafe, built-in, so that even when my whole self is roaring with hurricane wanting I do not give it what it asks for. Sometimes I don’t keep going even when I should. It took me years to learn that not everyone has this luxury, that not everyone feels a compass needle in their chest swinging to point towards moderation and self-preservation. Not everyone knows how to lay down the mantle of wildness and begin soothing the startled kicking heart that caused them to wear it in the first place. Not everyone knows how to stop.

There’s fake it til you make it, and then there’s “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be,” and that both of these are highly popular instagrammable quotes as well as possible readings of this song is not an accident. You can choose to hear I put my armor on, show you how strong I am as a rallying cry, a promise that those who grit their teeth and charge through their sorrow enough times will come out as conquerors in the end. Or you can choose to hear it as a sentence of entrapment: I put my armor on, show you how strong I am, meaning retreating deeper and deeper into a cavernous shell of your own making until it is impossible to bring your vulnerabilities to light again, no matter how violently you rattle and clang against the walls.

I mean, I’m invincible, I win every single game is much easier to sing loud and clear to anyone who’s listening than I’ve heard that to let your feelings show is the only way to make friendships grow / but I’m too afraid now, yeah. Equating unstoppable with powerful is much less terrifying than believing it to be a warning sign. Then again: I listened to this song all weekend. When I went out for the first time in two days to buy groceries I rounded the corner of the sidewalk mouthing I’m so confident, yeah, and sunshine blazed from behind a cloud, and in that moment I believed it.

Sia’s new album is titled This Is Acting. It will be out at the end of this week.

You Said You Liked My Cobain Shirt: 5 Seconds of Summer’s “End Up Here”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgnkViHEg3A]

She says, we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot for love
We’ll give it a shot

—Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On A Prayer”

I am twenty-five, but most days I still feel nineteen. On the cusp of something grander, larger than myself. A part of me thinks I just don’t want to accept that Tegan and Sara’s “Nineteen” is no longer about me. I have an affinity for young adult novels and teen rom coms. I still clutch Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever close to my heart. I use a Camp Rock laundry hamper. The sexiest moment in film history to me will always be Alan M clasping Josie’s dress and running his finger up along her spine. I think of myself as a modern day Diane Court, learning to take chances and the depths of my parent’s mistakes. I believe I still feel nineteen because of the way I allow pop culture to speak for me and about me. I want my identity to be a conglomeration of Zadie Smith’s prose, Florence Welch’s hair, and Kesha’s sparkle. It’s wearing a Heart of the Ocean plastic necklace to elementary school so your classmates know your parents were cool enough to let you see an R-rated movie or wearing a Rilo Kiley concert tee into AP European History to let everyone know what you did over the weekend. I understand the shorthand of teens where pop culture is used to discern who is friend or foe. I understand because I am still doing it. I wear my One Direction shirts on the L train in hopes a girl steps on who silently bops to “Change Your Ticket” while she heads into Manhattan like I do, in hopes she’ll see it and smile and we’ll share that, for a moment at least.

I am not embarrassed to admit that the morning 5 Seconds of Summer’s album came out I was at Target at 7:54 am, before work, waiting for the doors to open so I could run in. Blasting the CD on my drive to work, “End Up Here” instantly pulled me in. “End Up Here” has all the essential parts of any relevant (and enduring) teen rom com: insecure boy, radiant (and slightly rebellious) girl, nostalgic soundtrack, and the desire to define a relationship. The first verse is the slow pan of the camera at the beginning where the exposition is set up and we learn the protagonist doesn’t have a shot with the crush of their dreams. You walked in / Everyone was asking for your name / You just smiled and told them “Trouble.” It reminds me of walking out of 4th period knowing I’d pass Ryan Stafford on my way to gym class with his disheveled curls, Chucks, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah shirts, and long legs. The fright and disappointment I felt as we didn’t make eye contact in the hallway. You’re way too cool / And you’re coming this way…

5SOS completely captures the promise inherent in romance in “End Up Here.” The surprise and longing. The electric shock of getting what you’ve wanted. How did we end up talking in the first place? / You said you liked my Cobain shirt. 5SOS often gets criticized for wearing band t-shirts. Peers in the music community like to accuse Calum, Ashton, Luke and Michael of conveniently wearing the garb of prior generations. As if it’s necessary to substantiate their understanding of the knowledge or catalogue of pop punk history to others in order to adorn their body with the decoration of direct influences to their writing and sound. The premise of the detractors is that anyone can go to Hot Topic and buy a Misfits or CBGB shirt. I am over boys and girls needing to justify the clothes they wear. Musically in “End Up Here,” “Trouble” uses 5SOS’s collective Kurt Cobain t-shirt as an opening line to talk to a cute boy. Music is a means to discuss their worldviews, dreams, and longings. It’s also the reason we all meticulously updated our MySpace playlists to incorporate songs that spoke to our sense of self. Cat Power exchanged for the latest single from The Killers. The reason my AIM away message was once Because you’re empty and I’m empty / And you can never quarantine the past. “Trouble” deduces this self-identified insecure boy might just understand her from taking a quick glance at his Cobain shirt. She confides in him about her own musical knowledge, how she just loves that song / about living on a prayer. Here is a teen girl who identifies with the story of a working class couple who struggles to make ends meet. They found love, and therefore they’ll give it a shot. “Trouble” herself asserts—as pop and rock predecessors have taught her—she is here to stay. It doesn’t matter if he is a six and she is a ten. 5SOS has found their leading lady.

I don’t often feel the rush people talk about when they discuss romance, but every time I have it’s because I’ve been talking excitedly to a boy about Mad Men or a band. We’ve all been these people, for better or worse. Like the party where I actually, momentarily, fell for a boy who stumbled up to me and used David Foster Wallace to lure me upstairs to his bedroom to make out against his door handle with his hands up the front of my crop top. I really should’ve known better than to think it would go past two dates, but in the moment I’d been too focused on the way he’d gesticulated when he talked so passionately about The Broom of the System. I was focused on all the possibilities that seemed inherent from our shared love of sacred pop culture tenets. I saw us taking trips to the local art theater and record store. I love “End Up Here” for allowing me to reconnect and indulge the fantasies of my youth (and present). I am now old enough to (maybe) accept that Nicole and Chase didn’t last much past the end credits of Drive Me Crazy, but I’d like to believe they did, for the same reason I was so happy to see Meg Cabot writing about Mia Thermopolis’s wedding to Michael Moscovitz (the real teen dreamboat, sorry Harry Styles). I, an insecure girl who is learning to own her vulnerabilities, want an insecure boy. I want to stay up late at night—sharing a 6 pack in the corner of a packed party in Bushwick—talking about the way St. Vincent lyrics soothe and how The Social Network broke my heart. Come morning I want to be asking, How did we end up here? I’m still just a girl looking for a boy to spend the next forever with. I’m looking, like “Trouble,” for a boy who is here to stay.


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

“we don’t feel anything”: a new brand new

The chorus of Brand New’s latest vaguely-proper single, “Mene,” mainly consists of “we don’t feel anything.” It’s an odd line from the band that have made their careers from Jesse Lacey’s raw emotion, a band that have repeatedly found critical acclaim in their most vulnerable moments.

It’s a song about fear and guilt, and Jesse sings “we don’t feel anything” again and again, like repetition might make it more true, and it might feel like denial, distancing, but the line that leads into it is “what sings to you when you disconnect” and that’s something else.

There’s a longing for forgetfulness in this song, “the ocean never sleeps or dreams” and “come gather now and lay this beast to rest” and it’s an odd song for a first single off what will presumably (eventually) be an album, because it feels like a goodbye. There’s been an awful lot of cryptic hype that suggests that this could well be the last Brand New album (although who really knows with these guys), and fans seized upon lines like “not gone but fading fast” as a suggestion of their future breakup. If this is It, then it’s hard not to see “Mene” as looking back at a legacy. We were what sang to you when you disconnected, perhaps, but we can’t be that any longer. Or, we used to have that, used to have something that sang in our veins and hearts. Or maybe it’s a question – what sings to you when you disconnect, give me your secrets and hopes and the light in your eyes because I’m slipping, floating free –

It’s odd, the use of the plural pronoun. “We” could be anyone: it could be the band, it could be a generation, and when preceded with the personal confession of guilt that is this is my own fault it jars, suggesting that it is Jesse’s fault we don’t feel anything. The “we” should be inclusive, but the audience are always “you”, both questioning and questioned. The “you”s in Brand New are often aggressive or accusatory, “is that what you call a getaway//I’m sick of your tattoos and the way you always criticise The Smiths//you’re just jealous cause we’re young and in love”, and we’re used to that, that edge of uncomfortableness, of forcing yourself on the other side of that ‘you’ to become the self-righteous ‘I’, and we’re used to fear, to frankness, but not to –

Not to not feeling anything.

The song ends with that line, and it feels bleak, but perhaps there’s hope here too, perhaps this numbness is merely a stepping stone, a blank slate for something entirely new. Before “Sealed to Me”, the new song they’ve only performed live, Jesse made a speech along the lines that he was (finally) growing up, learning to take responsibility and grow emotionally in the way he should have as a young twenty-something. “Your father spoke a prophecy, to think that I believed is self-centred of me” finds it’s fruition in “your kingdom never comes, I ain’t no chosen one” – it edges into resigned, acceptance of an identity that does not stem from being Special. When Jesse sings “I’m working hard at being my own MVP/instead of feeling lucky just to have made the team”, it’s a far cry from “Millstone”’s “I used to be such a burning example/I used to be so original […] I’m my own stone around my neck”. The verse in “Sealed to Me” ends with “I’m finished with these pliers/sick of pulling my teeth”, suggesting a departure from the self-aggrandizing and self-tormenting statements of “Millstone”. The anger has passed, but so has the need to separate himself from it – there’s no need to torture himself about it, anymore, but there’s no need to pretend to be something Other. It’s passive, no longer raging against his own lack of importance. There’s a tinge of sadness in the loss of Jesse’s strutting “I am heaven sent”, but there’s growth here too, the necessary pain of growing old and seeing the universe expand before you.

The title “Mene” is believed to refer to the writing that appeared on the wall in Daniel (“written on the wall, in letters plain and tall”), end times and doom being things that you cannot run away from, and that I’m not sure Brand New are particularly interested in running away from even if you could. In terms of religious imagery, both “Mene” and “Sealed to Me” are obvious follow-ups from “Jesus Christ”: “Jesus Christ I’m not scared to die, I’m a little bit scared of what comes after/still cower at eternal wrath though, don’t want my fear to become my shadow” – except that in “Mene” as well as an admission of fear it becomes something else, it becomes a declaration, a decision – “don’t want” can be “won’t allow” in the right hands, and although sometimes Jesse’s drawling delivery can make it hard to feel truly get-up-and-go about anything, when he follows it with “I want, I want” it feels like that – who cares whether it’s possible, this is what he needs, now, this is what it’s all been for. And when, at the end of “Sealed to Me”, Jesse declares, “those gates won’t be/sealed to me” it doesn’t feel like arrogance, not anymore. It feels earned, feels taken from the hands of God. It feels true.

I don’t know what Brand New have planned. I don’t know if this is the end, or if we’re headed for some kind of Fall Out Boy-esque rebirth, the old mainstays of the pop punk scene finally growing up and settling down. I don’t know if the end of the struggle signals the end of the music, or whether there can ever really be an end to the struggle at all. All I know is that Brand New will continue to surprise, to confuse, and, despite any declaration to the contrary, to emote their pop punk hearts out.


Rebecca Coates is a some-student some-time theatre critic who loves characters named Hal, the live performance of Dear John (the rising scream!), and is obsessed with that one time Taylor covered “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” Frankly weird levels of love for their hometown, London.

WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF HAS ALWAYS BEEN A LIE

Woozy is the first word that comes to mind when you listen. Think about when you’re out and it’s too late and you can feel the music somewhere deep in your gut but it is a battle to keep your eyes open, because you had a drink or two more than you should have but you want to keep dancing, you want to stay up until the sun comes up, so you’re sort of half swaying your hips with a glass of water in one hand and a beer in the other and there is lipstick on the neck of the bottle and on the cheeks of your friends and you are just so tired— that is what B. Miles’s newest release, “Shaking Hands,” sounds like.

There’s something unmistakably sultry, even sexy, in the beat. Then there are her vocals, by turns pouting and crystal clear, almost purring on lines like “I think I killed a man but it wasn’t planned” and then soaring just a few bars later on “want you to look me in the eye and tell me what you’re waiting for, oooh oooh oh.” The lyrics have some downright Holzer-esque truisms, but Miles wields them in a way that makes you nod along instead of rolling your eyes. It’s just the sort of glittering dark pop we’re into around here. A release, and a musician, worth paying attention to.

got a taste for the cherry: demi lovato’s “cool for the summer”

This song is first and foremost a banger. Let’s just lay that down. This incredible jagged guitar lick that makes me want to kick down a door, juxtaposed with the breathy synthy sundrenched vocals that Demi is doing – it is weird, perfect alchemy. I’ve had it on repeat since it dropped. If this is what the next album is gonna be like, this summer is going to be sparkles and Lime-a-ritas and mirrored sunglasses and – most importantly – gay as hell. GAY AS HELL. Let’s dive in.

This song is everything I wanted “I Kissed A Girl” to be, back when “I Kissed A Girl” was all we had. Hope my boyfriend doesn’t mind? Just wanna try you on? Katy, what about those of us who kiss girls and don’t regret it, who want to kiss more girls? What about those of us who haven’t kissed a girl but know that we only wanna kiss girls for the rest of our lives? What about those of us who kissed a girl and aren’t sure how they feel about it? Where are they in “I Kissed A Girl”? Like, okay. I know that everything doesn’t have to be representative of everyone all the time, but it was just so disappointing to me to hear I kissed a girl and I liked it in the same song as you’re my experimental game. It’s hard enough to understand your own sexuality without being told that it’s just for fun, an experiment, a phase. And for some people it is! And that is fine! But. There are ways to try to understand yourself – call them experiments or not – without sort of denying your experiment partner any agency. Does that make sense?

“Cool for the Summer” doesn’t use pronouns, first and foremost, which I truly love. It’s first person to second person, fully contextual, who is and who are you is entirely dependent on who you are when you’re listening. It’s also a lot more honest about Demi’s intentions, which I think is admirable. “I’m your body type,” she says. Tell me what you want, what you like. I’m a little curious. That doesn’t feel like an experiment, that feels like exploration. That feels like electricity, that breathless moment when you look at a girl and realize that you want her, not as a friend but as something more, something different, something unexpected. Even if they judge, I’ll do the time. She’s into this girl, whoever she is, but she’s asking permission. Take me down into your paradise. She’s letting her know that she’s new at this, but isn’t everyone at some point? It’s just something that we wanna try. She’s not making any pronouncements, she’s not putting either of them in a box. Is she gay? Is she bi? “Cool for the Summer” isn’t telling us, and I think that’s intentional. She’s interested in someone – that is what we know, and for us to want more than that isn’t fair. She might not even be directing it at a girl! I mean, I personally really feel like she is (cherry??? the CHERRY. DEMI. PLEASE) but I can’t prove it! And that means we can each have it as our own, which is beautiful.

“I Kissed A Girl” missed the mark because it made a fling about sexuality rather than temporality, which I think “Cool for the Summer” avoids magnificently. What I mean when I say that is that I always felt like Katy was singing about trying being interested in girls on, and I feel like Demi is singing about being genuinely attracted to someone and wanting a sexual relationship with them. Like, cool for the summer implies that the relationship will end, but – at least to me – it doesn’t imply that that’s because it’s a relationship based on a phase, or an experiment, something to be tried on and discarded. It’s just because sometimes your summer fling is a summer fling, regardless of who it is.  Don’t tell your mother – kiss one another – die for each other. Honestly, I’ll take it.

I’m 14 Carat: Selena Gomez’s “Good For You”

Selena Gomez has not released a song in six months. The last time she did it was “The Heart Wants What it Wants,” which many people do not like but I find strangely, deeply upsetting in a way that connects, like something tunneling inside of me. This song doesn’t really tunnel, though. It’s all about surface. I wanna look good for you. Wear that dress you like. But surfaces are confusing, surfaces are inherently complicated here. Selena Gomez matches delineations of surface with assertions of an inner self: I’m in my 14 carats, I’m 14 carat / Doin’ it up like Midas. I am wearing this, I am this. I’m in my Marquise diamonds, I’m a marquise diamond. I am very tempted at this moment to embed pictures of some diamonds, just for the full effect. What a way to start a song. I’m in my 14 carats. I’m 14 carat. A song about pleasing someone that begins first and foremost with this: I’m 14 carat. I’m expensive. This song is all about the organic fighting with the inorganic, about what a treacherous thing it is to undress a girl covered in expensive jewels and find that she’s just as crystalline underneath. I’m in my Marquise diamonds, I’m a marquise diamond.

Selena Gomez is very good at breathing.  That sounds strange to say but she has made an art of this, the syncopation of faux breaths in the background, the purposeful reflection of that breathing in her lyrics: “gonna […] syncopate my skin to your heart beating” and then later “gonna […] syncopate my skin to how you’re breathing.” The pulsing of surface, of skin, stretched very very thin over the vaguely inhuman, luminous core at the center of this song. 

This syncopated breathing reminds me aggressively of “Slow Down,” the second single from her second-to-last album, Stars Dance: “you know I’m good with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation / Breathe me in, breathe me out.” Breathe me in, breathe me out is barely anything more than an inhale-exhale. Syncopation becomes the close affinity between song and body, I just wanna feel your body right next to mine / all night long, baby slow down the song. Despite the fact that “Slow Down” is populated with breathy gasps it sounds nothing like a body, like a human being. Electronica is supposed to be made of breath and body but instead the cool light of it turns back, reflexively; the organic and synthetic get confused here, get mixed up. A girl dressed in diamonds is not a diamond, but not not a diamond herself.

I love this song. I love the fact that this strange machine humming is supposed to be breath. The ghost in the machine of this song isn’t Selena but it is someone else’s heart beating. Skin can’t be syncopated in anything but the most physical or the most abstract sense – syncopated while you’re touching them or syncopated while you’re thinking so hard about touching them that it might as well be the same thing. Honestly, the A$AP Rocky verse in this song is entirely superfluous. I am waiting for the inevitable tumblr supercut where those 40 seconds are gone. This song would be a perfect three minutes long: sharp, a little scary, precise.

Someday I’ll Be: Taylor Swift at the Grammys, Part 1

It’s difficult for me to talk about this performance. This song is too dear to me at the best of times and actually watching it happen consistently reduces me to tears, always, all the time. This performance in particular is maybe the most important thing to me? in the world? because it is such a perfect vengeful victory, which as you know by now I am very much in favor of. So. Let me give you some backstory.

In 2010, when Taylor Swift was not yet 20, she won four Grammys for Fearless, one of the best albums of my personal life and our collective existence as humans. This was shortly after the “Imma let you finish” incident with Kanye at the 2009 VMAs, and the world was very distinctly split into camps about Taylor Swift at this point. People who loved her loved her, they got it, they thought her surprised face was cute and they knew she could sing. Everyone else – myself shamefully included – didn’t feel that way. I am writing this now as a person who wishes I could take back a lot of the things I said and thought about Taylor Swift, and the meanness that I felt toward her in my heart, in a very real and unintelligible way, closed me off to something bright and beautiful and powerful for a long, long time. And that’s why it hurts me so much now to think about the 2010 Grammys; that’s why it gives me such vengeful, vicious joy to tell you this story in its entirety.

So. In 2010 Taylor Swift wins four Grammys, and she gets to perform with Stevie Nicks, and together they sing “Rhiannon.” This video, which is a pretty solid recording, is titled “Taylor Swift BUTCHERS THE SHIT out of Rhiannon.”

So take a minute, go ahead and watch this, and think about being 19, and think about finally receiving some kind of validation of the sadness and pain that you feel as a teenage girl, and think about the incredible vulnerability of asking for that validation in the first place. I get that not everyone relates to Taylor Swift, I really do – I didn’t, for a long time, and there are a lot of factors that separate her from most people who would potentially identify with her. It’s hard to take a beautiful white girl seriously when she says she feels unwanted and unloved, and it’s even harder to relate to her, but recognizing the personhood of Taylor Swift is one of the better gifts you can give yourself as a person. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to, but I’m telling you this story nonetheless, and maybe it will affect you the way it affected me, and maybe you’ll find yourself on her side.

So Taylor Swift sings “Rhiannon,” and honestly, I feel like this is a fine performance? Like, it’s probably not her greatest showcase but I feel like “BUTCHERS THE SHIT OUT OF IT” is a bit extreme. But this was, like, a universal feeling! Adult music critics were coming out of the woodwork to be like haha bye, idiot guitar girl, hope you enjoyed your 15 minutes ’cause you blew it! A man named Bob Lefsetz, who is and was a very famous music critic, wrote a piece in which he declared quite publicly that Taylor had “destroyed her career overnight,” saying, “It’s hard to be a singer if you can’t sing.” He says she should have auto-tuned, and then calls her too young and dumb to understand the mistake she made. The mistake of being human, of being a teenage girl, of being less than perfect. (I will direct you once again to Lilian’s amazing piece on the expectations placed on female vocalists.)

So Taylor Swift is nineteen, just newly nineteen, and she’s already getting made fun of constantly for liking boys and writing songs about liking boys and generally having feelings, and for whatever reason adult critics seem particularly drawn to eviscerate her in a way that denies her any kind of agency, or intelligence, or human emotions, and now she has apparently just ended her own career with one performance. On the day she also won four Grammys. This is the world! This is what she is contending with. And I am speaking for myself but I have a hard enough time when someone blogs vaguely about me on the internet – I literally cannot imagine what this would have been like for her. Stevie Nicks defended her, which I love, but again, speaking for myself – it’s so easy to doubt yourself when others are cutting you down. It’s so, so easy; the anxiety-baby part of my brain waits until I think I’m fine and then leans in, but what if they’re right, though, did you even think about that. When I was nineteen I hated Taylor Swift because my friends hated Taylor Swift, and I let a boy that I thought loved me take away all my happiness, and I drank too much and made stupid decisions. And I got to do it out of a spotlight. And it took me a long time to feel okay about myself, and to stand up for myself, and honestly, listening to Taylor Swift – which I didn’t even start doing until our very own Tess’s OWOB on her – was a huge part of that, of starting to realize that those people were wrong, and cruel. I said it before and I’ll say it again: meanness is so often dismissed, you’re mean, a childish insult, but being mean to someone is fundamentally ignoring that they are a person, and it is diminishing in terrible ways, and it is so hard to combat precisely because it seems so nothing. Why are you so mad, anyway? Why does it bother you so much? They’re just being mean.

So. Here we are again. It is 2012, and Taylor Swift is newly twenty-one, fresh off the Speak Now world tour, winning another couple Grammys, and she’s performing once again. And I can’t watch this video without tearing up, because I regret every minute of my life I didn’t spend loving Taylor Swift. I know she’s incredibly famous and rich and beautiful, but I hate that she was hurt. I hate that someone would do that, because even if she’s rich and beautiful and famous she wasn’t always that way, and if she’s anything like me she has a very small flame of self-doubt inside her that has never burned out and maybe never will. The Wikipedia article that mentions Lefsetz’ criticism says that a lot of people think it made her a better performer, which I guess is possibly true. But I hate that that’s what had to happen, that she wasn’t given the chance to evolve without that. What I do know is that if I’d had Taylor Swift when I was nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, I might have learned how to stand up for myself sooner. I might have learned that it’s okay to fight back when people are mean to you.

This performance. This song, always, when I think about performing it live, what that must be like. Imagine! Imagine looking out into a world full of people who think you can’t sing, who hate your guts and spend their lives writing about what a terrible role model and/or person you are, and saying simply Why you gotta be so mean? What must that feel like, looking out into those lights. That pause after “grumblin’ on about how I – can’t – sing,” the eternity of that heartbeat waiting for anyone to cheer, to side with you. Imagine what it feels like to sing those words at the Grammys, after a sold-out world tour, how terrified and vindicated and victorious. Imagine having the courage, at twenty-one, as a girl who has made a living talking about feelings, who has been vilified by everyone who isn’t a teenage girl for doing so, to get up in front of millions of people and call someone mean! And I’m sure you remember the shit she got about that song, the snide thinkpieces, wow, for an adult Taylor sure calls people “mean” a lot, like, you are exactly the problem. Like, okay. This is long and I’m trying to wrap it up but what I’m saying is this. I hate that Taylor Swift felt like she needed to write this song; I hate that she felt that she had to prove herself, that we all feel like we have to prove ourselves, every day, uphill in the snow, to people who don’t get it and never will get it. Does Bob Lefsetz need I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at fifteen? No, probably not, but I did, and I know so many of you did, and there are always going to be people who don’t get it. And you can’t change them, but you can stand up tall and look out into those lights and roll your eyes like it never bothered you. You can profit off the things that still hurt you if you look at them too directly; you can make them work for you, you can make them pay. You can clap your hands and smile with steel and fire in your eyes. Someday I’ll be singing this at the Grammys, and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.

I Contradict Myself: On Oddisee’s “Contradiction’s Maze” & Taking Care

Confusion is the theme of my life. I like watching aimless characters & listening to transitory voices, mirror media. Otherwise I get down & afraid that something is wrong with me, 23 with not a lot going on, one year out of college, B.A. still in the cardboard mailer, still working retail, still living at home. It reads like the plot to Post Grad but I don’t have blue eyes like Alexis Bledel. Stop the movie at peak conflict & insert me, erase the last 45 minutes because that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

I hate how much I love Song of Myself” but I cried in my American Literature class at 19 when my professor read parts of it aloud & I’m unable to detach. It’s like those supposed chemicals women release after an orgasm that induce attachment, my unforeseen Walt Whitman crygasm. I don’t read it often because I fear a total emotional collapse but I realized yesterday at work that I’ve found the musical equivalent.

The track “Contradiction’s Maze” from Oddisee’s The Good Fight is my 4-minute reminder that I’m big & full of contradictions & can probably do whatever I want. It is also my reminder that sometimes sitting on the couch is necessary & will provide me temporary happiness or at least will temporarily shut me down like a drone, which is also necessary. I find it difficult to write about male voices because they don’t often resonate with me – I feel like male voices are rarely in transit, which I know is generalizing, but men (white men) aren’t always tasked with growing up, boys will be boys even after they’re dead. I think they escape the fate of “figuring it out.” I find refuge from this in few places – Childish Gambino & Oddisee most consistently, Kendrick Lamar lately.

“Contradiction’s Maze” questions everything; nothing is safe or guaranteed, everything is weightless & buoyant, no tethers & near constant particle collision but every choice there is to make in life seems to possess a grave heaviness, the ever present spikey ball of lead in the stomach. You want to be kind to yourself in all the ways you know how but is kindness allowing yourself to relax or pushing yourself forward despite how tired you are?

Oddisee’s bravado isn’t lost; his strength isn’t compromised because he wants for opposites. He has options, he wants them all. Stability is a dream, a hardwired wish. He wants for homemade dinners & fast food, for vacations & the grind, for unlimited spending & frugality, for religion. I think I want a job at an office/I am the epitome of what a boss is/A paycheck every two weeks/over losing out on sleep for the fear that I go starving/and yet I wanna take more risks/I don’t want take more losses.

Maimouna Youssef provides the chorus, deceptively smooth, reflective & tinged with the simmer of panic, a near lamentation before Oddisee’s hustle shocks you to a boil. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself & he doesn’t seem apologetic for “wasting time,” but there’s no ease, he’s offering the unrest that I’m so accustomed to hearing from females. He isn’t reveling in the in between, he’s pushing against it, trying to find the balance. He’s unsure about everything & he’s troubled by it – there is no shrug here, no apathy or oh well. His discontent spiders in every possible direction, infinite tentacles touching infinite possibilities leading to infinite questions. I think I’m in a maze/I feeling conflicted within my brain/This contradictions got me feeling strange/Is a phase/Or is this the way?

I resonate with his selfish fear, the dread of the what if. How is anyone meant to know which choice is best & within what parameters is best defined? I think we are serving ourselves by questioning, by moving. A lack of clarity isn’t condemnable & sometimes we need to be reminded.

 

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.

I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine: Florence + the Machine’s “Delilah”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ50rvySDCk]

I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine
Maybe not tonight

Too fast for freedom
Sometimes it all falls down
These chains never leave me
I keep dragging them around

I saw Florence + the Machine at my first Bonnaroo, saw Florence stomp and jump and twirl her way across that stage in a sheer black dress and bare feet. It was post-Lungs, pre-Ceremonials, and that’s always been the Flo that is nearest and dearest to my heart. There’s an energy in that first album, like blood rushing through your veins, that can’t stop won’t stop feeling, digging your nails into your thighs just to remind yourself that you are still grounded in a physical body; it’s exhausting but it is exhilarating, at first. The songs from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful have a different kind of fire; here it comes from anger, not exultation and celebration. But– well, does it make me a terrible person to want it all? I’ve been waiting for a song that melded the two, angry and celebratory, something to twirl to as you shout the lyrics.

“Delilah” is that song. It’s angry, make no mistake. There’s still the anger that you hear in “What Kind of Man” and “Ship to Wreck,” but the sound, those almost glittery pop-vibes, is much more reminiscent of “Cosmic Love” or “You’ve Got the Love.” I’m trying to keep this brief because there will be a full review of the album when it is released but this is the song I was waiting for; I should’ve known Flo would deliver.

It’s a different kind of danger
And their bells are ringing out
And I’m calling for my mother
As I pull the pillars down

It’s a different kind of danger
And my feet are spinning ’round
Never knew I was a dancer
Until Delilah showed me how