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.

Songs About Drowning, pt. 1

If some songs are just words and music, then others are flesh and muscle, skin and bone, heart and soul. Some songs were tattooed inside your eyelids before they were ever sung. These songs were written in my blood before I knew them, I think, they were mine before I even heard a note.

By which I sort of mean that I can’t believe we don’t talk more about the fact that Florence Welch wrote a song about Virginia Woolf but I also mean that what’s really important is that she sort of wrote a song about me or maybe she wrote a song and it became about me or I became about it somehow. Anyway.

(I’ve never told anyone this but I once sat on the pavement on Folly Bridge at 1 a.m., drunk, crying a little, holding my high heels, thighs burning, feeling physically unable to get up because I wasn’t sure whether, if I did, I would carry on down the road to my house, or climb up to the edge of the bridge and jump. I didn’t know what I would do and I didn’t know what I wanted to do.)

Lay me down, let the only sound be the overflow, pockets full of stones

I first listened to this in an intimidatingly old library, newly 18, all nervous smiles and clean starts, leaving behind my dark and twisted past in the corridor by my sixth form common room. There were strange books and late nights and soft, quiet kisses and I might have still been carrying razor blades around but I wasn’t using them and that felt like a win. And so I loved this song, and I liked the harp, and I took true and genuine pleasure in the fact that someone had written a pop song about Virginia Woolf but for a while it stayed as just a song.

And then it wasn’t.

And oh, poor Atlas, the world’s a beast of a burden. You’ve been holding up a long time.

I can’t work out if I was always rubbish at life or if I was once ok and then I got worse. Hard to tell. What I do know is that somebody I trusted hurt me, just walked away and didn’t look back, and I completely fell to pieces. It’s been four years and I still don’t have a fucking clue whether that was a justified reaction but it’s what happened. And hey guess what it turns out that holding yourself together with lipstick, a piece of string, and razor blades disguised as a comfort blanket is really fucking exhausting and sometimes this dangerous painful world is just too hard to exist in. That’s what this song tells us, what it whispers in amongst the crash of cymbals and pounding bass guitars. That sometimes life is Too Much. It is a screaming, wailing declaration of life’s too-muchness, it is the loudness of our need for escape, it’s the desperation of our search for some peace. Carrying around pain is exhausting, we all know that, but I’m not really one for letting things go. I’m a Class A grudge holder, an eternal list-keeper, a classic wound-dweller and I don’t have a clue how I’d change that if I wanted to. (Do I want to?)

But would you have it any other way?

I can’t really tell if it was this song or cycling over that one bridge every day for a year or just some weird latent cultural force but I developed this strange thing about jumping into the river. I don’t think I wanted to drown so much as I wanted to jump. I wanted to find out what it would feel like to hit the water, to feel its coldness surround me. Would I swim to the side? Would I be able to? Would I want to? Maybe that’s why I wanted to jump, to find out, to get myself out of this limbo where I was stuck, unsure of what I wanted, of whether I wanted to be here, of whether I wanted to be anywhere. I was tired, I think, not just of living but of wondering how tired was too tired. It’s the sort of wondering that makes you brittle, and hollow, like those first 20 seconds before Florence sings, just wavering synths and clicking drumsticks, pared down, nothing else left.

And all this longing. And the ships are left to rust.

There’s an overwhelming feeling when this song, after wavering about for a little, finally kicks in, when Florence wails, when she raises her voice and raises the roof and it’s like you’re standing in a storm, her voice and that chaos of music and those words, all swirling around you turning you round and tearing you apart and flinging your arms out from where they’ve been protecting your body till you’re exposed and honest and you admit that this is the truth. That this voice is your voice sometimes.

(I wanted to die. I felt like I needed to die. I thought about dying. I nearly tried to. Don’t tell, ok? Let’s keep this between us: you, me and Flo).


I didn’t jump, that night, or any of the others, and that probably says something. I got up, and walked home in the cold, no jacket, heels in my hands, stumbling a little. I went back to my dark empty room and got up the next day and just survived for a little while, until I began to feel like living again.

Veronica Heney doesn’t wear shoes that aren’t heels and she’s obsessed with wearing black lipstick in broad daylight, taylor swift’s liner notes, and that one time blair waldorf said ‘haven’t you heard? i’m the crazy bitch around here.’

Do My Thang: Little Mix’s “Boy”

“I used to be the shyest little thing ever. The thing that brought out my confidence is being in this group with these girls… Being around them has brought out the best in me.” – Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Seventeen


I always like to tell people that my interest in boy bands at the age of 18 (Jonas Brothers) and the age of 22 (One Direction) was due to my disinterest in boy bands in the 90s. I didn’t care about Justin Timberlake’s Ramen hair, Nick Lachey’s biceps, or AJ McLean’s tattoos. The pop music I lived, breathed, devoured in my childhood bedroom was solely made by women. Spice Girls, B*Witched, Vitamin C, Destiny’s Child, Britney Spears, Dream, Mandy Moore. I wanted to have Posh Spice’s wardrobe, Britney Spears’s allure, and Beyonce’s confidence.

My dad doesn’t know how he raised a feminist. I’m personally just glad he doesn’t take credit. I know a large part is due to my musical education. I grew up choreographing dance routines to “Say My Name” with my best friend Alex at latchkey. Tell the truth, who you with, how would you like it if I came over with my clique… We tried on our mother’s platforms, attempted pigtails, and hoisted up dresses to “baby doll” lengths. I was always enamored with Baby’s pin straight blonde hair which was a far cry from my wild curls, but I was usually delegated the role of Ginger. Ginger’s brand of sex appeal alluded me at such a young age, but I was happy to try it on. If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends (gotta get with my friends)Ally McBeal had taught me what lovers were, but my classmates Ricky—with his sideways grin and Niker trainers—and Ron—with his boyhood bravado & penchant for ripping up my love poems—simply weren’t interested in getting to know my friends if it didn’t include a game of kickball or Pokemon. It would take years to find “my clique,” even longer to procure a “lover.”

Listening to Little Mix is a mixture of childhood nostalgia and a musical representation of the fierce friendships I’ve been lucky to form in my twenties. Little Mix’s “Boy” is the anthem I wish I had during college when I fell hard for boys who didn’t return my affections.  I’ve never fallen for a bad boy per se, but boys are often alike. The “boy” in question is (usually) selfish. Texts you when he wants to hear from you and expects a prompt response time of no longer than ten minutes, expects enthusiasm and interest. Kisses you when it’s convenient, but is quick to pull away lest you read too far into (drunken) public displays of affection and hand holding he initiated. Proclaims you’re the only person he would date if he had the desire. It’s a circular pattern, and yet I always find it almost impossible to forget that boy, forget that boy. I instead forget the tears that I shed, nails I bit, texts left ignored. I liberally, stupidly hold onto the rush of his fingers grabbing my hand to drag me upstairs. I forget how to protect myself. I’m usually careful to a fault emotionally. But every few years there’s a boy who makes me forget my dignity, self-control.

Do you remember what he said?
I do. He told you he’d never ever hurt you.
Oh, here we go again.
Another break up, make up.
When you gonna wake up?

I am very lucky to have a handful of girls willing to vocally proclaim—like Perrie, Jesy, Jade and Leigh-Anne—that I am often better than whatever “boy” I am currently crushing on. In the case of senior year, I was constantly checking Tumblr to see if the “boy” in question had reblogged my latest Parks and Recreation GIF or responded to my text about a Modern British Literature essay I had actually finished days ago looking for an excuse to chat or checked “going” on a Facebook invite for an upcoming Jay Z / Kanye West themed “Ball So Hard” party. I liked how he invaded my space. He would stand close enough that our shoulders would brush, his figure looming large, as he asked me if I had finished Party Down yet. His head always enthusiastically nodding, a real-life bobblehead. Always so self-assured in his opinions. I liked his long legs and Bruce Springsteen t-shirts. I liked his glasses and scruffy beard. I liked that he pursued me… until he didn’t. When I eventually cornered him to stop playing games, to end whatever looming almost-something we were, I broke as he told me that he couldn’t date me.

You’re holding back tears in your eyes… Running from his fraternity house that night, I fell into the protective grip of my friends. The van idling at the curb, the promise of late-night burgers and fries from McDonald’s. If grease could cure hangovers, maybe just maybe it could dry my tears. For the next six months, I ignored the fact he didn’t want us to date—despite the murmurs of my friends that he enjoyed leading me on—because of the heady rush I got every time he walked up to me at a party and demanded to know my thoughts on Community. I eagerly and attentively responded to every text and every postcard when we eventually went home for the summer. I shamelessly made myself available, so sure I could change his mind. I didn’t. He started dating someone else, and I decided I wanted him in my life no matter the label. We settled on best friends. I no longer want the burn of denim on denim, skin on skin. But, there are still dark moments after midnight inspired by late night listenings to Nicki Minaj’s “Grand Piano” when the flare of that rejection makes my cheeks smolder with embarrassment. Why was I not worth it?

I’ve never been in love. Lust, yes. Smitten, yes. Interested, yes. Obsessed, yes. But I’ve never been in love. Maybe because I fall for a concept, rather than the person. Or maybe I just watched (500) Days of Summer too much at eighteen. Except, well, that’s not completely accurate. I’ve never been in romantic love. I’ve been fiercely, recklessly, happily devoted to six women I was lucky enough to fall head over heels for my sophomore year of college who humor me, compliment me, and support me. It was as if all my girl group dreams came true when we moved into our women’s co-operative. I had what the girls of Little Mix are so happy to express in interviews, I found a group of girls who brought out only the best in me. Late-nights were spent studying in the dining room and living room ignoring homework in favor of talking about our self-indulgent daydreams and static childhoods, trading plaid shirts and bodycon dresses, offering up make-up tips alongside thesis suggestions, shot gunning beers in the second floor bathroom before frat parties and inevitably drying tears when the boys we liked ignored us for other girls and/or a game of beer pong. I’d think it was a movie montage cliché of girl power if I didn’t experience it myself. My “clique” helped me to accept the curly hair, weight, intelligence my mother had taught me to despise. In their company, I felt like we were a girl group. Each of us complimenting and highlighting each other’s best attributes. Earrings catching the light, heels clacking on linoleum. We possessed the power of pop with every stomp and clap. Stumbling into parties after a few too many sips of Franzia and Coors Light, we were beautiful, powerful, untouchable in each other’s company. We glowed, burned bright. I’ll be the one to say you’re beautiful, One more word, he never said at all…

These girls for the last seven years have made feel whole, bursting at the seams with love. They “like” every selfie I post on Instagram and Facebook for good measure. Ask me to be a bridesmaid in their upcoming wedding. Invite me to their family condo “Up North” to drink beer and shop garage sales for vintage jewelry. Support me in my desire to move to New York City, despite the fact that it will put miles of distance between us. Distract me when my mother asks me—relentlessly—why I’m not dating. Text me when Zayn Malik leaves One Direction to make sure I’m okay. I’ve rarely post-grad wanted a “boy.” Some would suggest this is because I want a “man.” Sure, maybe. But, I think it’s really a reflection of the confidence I longed for in my youth and now come close on my better days to possessing. I know I’m driven, smart, beautiful. I know my worth, and I don’t think the fuckboys of Tinder care. I know what you’re worth, girl, You know what you got… With a little help from my friends, I’ve come to understand just how much I like not having to answer to anyone. I don’t want a bad boy who texts me “hi what u up 2” late at night or prefers when I straighten my hair or maligns One Direction because it’s convenient and accepted. It took me a frightening long time to forget that boy and to actually believe girl, you’ll be alright. Right now, it’s about me and my girls. Independent, ambitious, loud. I’m doing my own thing, and reveling in the control. I’d like to think Jesy Nelson is proud.

Ashley Hull wishes she was a mermaid, but she’s happier she’s managed to find her voice. She resides, for now, in a state that colloquially refers to itself as a mitten. 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.

Being Too Much: Of Monsters and Men’s “I Of The Storm”

I mean, I don’t want to be overly prescriptive, since Of Monsters and Men’s new single “I Of The Storm” has only been available to the general public audience for three days, but: if you are a person who knows what it feels like to lie up at night with fear clutching at your chest, thinking of all the things you’ve done wrong, working them over and over in your head to try and mete out enough peace to sleep, you should listen to this song. If you are eager to please and scared that you will fall short, you should listen to this song. If you have drifted uneasily in and out of your own skin, fighting against the insistent suspicion of I am a stranger / I am an alien inside a structure, you should listen to this song. If you are prone to fits of self-described ghostliness, shaking like a leaf or maybe it echoes when I breathe, you should listen to this song. If you are bowled over by the disgusting enormity of your own uncontrollable consciousness, like I feel it biting / I feel it break my skin / So uninviting, you should listen to this song. If you have ever felt afraid you will be denied a love you could have had, or that you will be responsible for losing a love you thought you earned, you should listen to this song. If you are always trying to map out the edges of where you end and your mind begins, if you struggle to ensure you create a distinction between all my thoughts and all my faults, if you are an I that both belongs to and stands apart from a storm of your own, well, I’m just saying. You should listen to this song. It’s right on the edge of being too much, but it all holds together. And really, isn’t that all anyone could ask for?



Oh my, oh my, oh my god
This girl straight and this girl not
Tipsy off that peach Ciroc
Like la la la



reality ruined my life

IMG_6410I have the words “I Would” tattooed on the back of my shoulder, written in my own hand originally transcribed on a scrap of paper meticulously scribbled with sharpie on a tattoo shop counter. I have a hard time explaining to people why. The easy explanation is that it was the first song I ever performed drag to–One Direction songs are the only songs I’ve ever done drag to, sometimes solo and sometimes with a group of friends as One Erection. (The joke is so easy it would be a waste not to make it.) “I Would” as a phrase says something about me as a performer and as a queer person, and as a song is contextually situated at the intersection of those two things. That’s the easy answer, but still a hard one to give because the casual querent is usually not someone I want to talk to about gender and performance, and I usually end up explaining basic things about drag rather than addressing the real metaphor at work. Which is fine, I guess–that is easier than explaining queer theory to someone on the back porch of a bar who is probably only asking because they think “I Would” is a sexually implicit entendre, and is going to be disappointed by the irony of how unsexy thinking about your sexuality can be.

The difficult answer is only difficult in that it’s loaded with self-involved introspective bullshit, so it feels both self-indulgent and overly personal to tease it out of where it feels nestled deep in my rib cage, a tangle of core self-truths that I find to be evident in the tone of a One Direction song about wanting what you can’t have because you feel like you deserve it more. That sounds so entitled, and it is, a little bit. But it’s not the situation that I care so much for, even though I can relate more than I wish I did. What’s important to me about it is the ability to identify yourself as the person who can give someone else all of those things. It’s the ability to pinpoint what you have to offer. That’s how I want to define myself to the people I’m close to, not by some checklist of niche interests and political ideologies and personality traits, but what I have to give to them. What do you bring to the table of this emotional potluck?

Would he say he’s in L-O-V-E?
Well if it was me then I would.
Would he hold you when you’re feeling low?
Baby you should know that I would.

There’s a theme in the universe of 1D songs where the subject is “I,” but is then fixated on an object of desire that is set up as someone wholly deserving, sometimes unattainable, definitely imperfect, but nevertheless ideal. They started out telling us that we don’t know we’re beautiful, and we’ve all cried about “Little Things,” it’s fine, this is a safe space, you don’t have to pretend. (And! And.) I don’t even want to start on “Through The Dark”–Kenzie already handled that. The narrative consistently emphasizes the worth of the person they’re singing about, in spite of anything, especially self-worth, and that comes through even when the narrator is just talking about himself. The complementary implication to “I would” is “you deserve,” and I haven’t heard it any other way.

With this song I feel I am both the first and second person. I’ve always been ultimately an empathetic and nurturing person. What I know I have the most of to give is love, effusive and unconditional love. I think I am most happy when I have someone to pour all that excess affection onto, and that’s something I’ve really struggled with in my mostly-intentional sabbatical from dating. Can I, or should I, hinge my happiness on loving someone else? “I Would” instead mounts my identity on my capacity for loving people–it just defines that potential as part of who I am. It doesn’t mean I am less-than without it, but that the ability to boil over with affection is latent, simmering until heat is applied. The narrator has his insecurities, relatably–I can’t compete with your boyfriend; He’s got 27 tattoos!–who hasn’t belabored their inadequacies that way? Yet he exhibits self confidence in his ability to love someone exactly the way they need. He vacillates between defeated insecurity and egotistical to a fault. Instead of asking, “well which is it?” I find myself nodding along like, yeah, hard same. This is also the song that brought us “reality ruined my life,” which is possibly my very favorite line in a One Direction song, or any song, ever. It encapsulates the futility of daydreams and the powerlessness of knowing you are good, truly good, core-good, but having to wait for someone else to recognize it in you. The narrator has already recognized it in the love interest, who’s the same person I imagine her to be in every song – me. That’s the point of the boy band as an institution – to write songs about me, but the 1D straw-girl is special in that she’s enchanting, desirable, and flawed, yet entirely worthy of four albums of adoration. I am totally content with being the girl in a little black dress who still has to squeeze into her jeans and is pretty when she cries. That’s me. I’m glad to know you would. I would, too.

‘Til I Change My Luck: “Fireproof”

“Fireproof” is a lot of things to a lot of people. It was the first thing we heard of off FOUR, One Direction’s most recent album, and for me it was like coming home, somehow. It was good and right and real, it felt like the sun breaking through clouds. I closed my eyes and tipped my head back and I floated, and I thought about love. All of the ways we love each other, all of the ways we let ourselves be loved. All of the forms and functions that love has; what it makes us. “Fireproof” is a love song, but I mean that in an impossibly broad sense. “Fireproof” is love, itself, burning and burning and never going out.

Nobody knows you, baby, the way I do
Nobody loves you, baby, the way I do
It’s been so long, it’s been so long
Maybe we’re fireproof
‘Cause nobody saves me, baby, the way you do

All I can hear in this – all I can feel in this – is deep, abiding, wild love. Platonic, romantic – it doesn’t matter. To have someone like that in your life, someone who saves you, someone who knows you inside and out, as well as you know them: this is what it is to be fireproof. To walk hand in hand through flames, to fight the dragon, to face it together. I hear in this song what I hear in Taylor Swift’s “Long Live,” a song that many (all) of us have cried about, and for good reason. For a moment a band of thieves in ripped-up jeans got to rule the world, but that’s not the point. The point is together, the point is I had the time of my life with you. The point is we’re fireproof. This is what it is to love fully, to love without reservation. This is what it is, standing in the heart of the fire, hands clasped together; standing on a stage, looking out at a sea of glowing lights and shining faces. This is what it is to be bound together by something wild and bright and older than time. It’s been so long, and still we are here, together. Still we are fireproof.

I think I’m gonna win this time
I’m ridin’ on the wind and I won’t give up
I think I’m gonna win this time
I roll and I roll ’til I change my luck, yeah
I roll and I roll ’til I change my luck

This line, in particular, this verse, really fucks me up. The first verse goes I roll and I roll ’til I’m out of luck, which is good and true in its own right: sometimes that’s all you can do, riding the wave that you’re on until it curls you onto shore somewhere. All things go, as much as we don’t want them to, as much as we mourn their passing. But then – but then. ‘Til I change my luck. I roll and I roll ’til I change my luck. It means a lot to me that Louis is the one that gets this line, because although he’s not my favorite he’s the scrappiest and he’s the one I relate to the most. He has a harder time, I think, with the fame, and with feeling like he deserves what he has. He still doesn’t believe it, that he has it, that he won’t wake up one day at home and realize he’s been dreaming another life this whole time. But this life is his and he has it, he earned it, and he ripped it out of the jaws of a blind and deathless thing. They all did, all five of them. There is a lot of discussion about fate, a lot of woobly hands about One Direction coming together, about the right place at the right time, and, like, I am here for that, I am 110000% here for that. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that there is also so much more, and so much more important. They did this. They rolled, and they rolled, and they changed their luck. I’ll say it again: they lost! They lost the goddamn show! And STILL they made it! I would stake my life on the fact that they still think about that. I would stake my life on the fact that they have never loved anyone the way they love each other.

They know each other in ways that no one does; they are bound by so many unnameable things, good and bad. They have navigated the last four years together, jet lag and bright lights and bodyguards, photo shoots and quiet evenings in. They have shared a bed, countless beds, couches, clothes. They have done stupid things. Their privacy has been violated in more ways than it seems possible. They have seen each other at their worst, their best. They have stood on that stage and looked out at their dreams and then at each other, can you believe it, and no one else will ever understand what that is like. No one else can. Love, at its core, is understanding. It is looking at something and seeing it all, as it is, to the heart of it laid bare and glistening. It is knowing that you are seen in that same unflinching light. I feel you is such a stupid statement but it means exactly what it needs to. Think about what you feel, how much you feel it, how much it seems all your own, and imagine how crucial and incredible it is that someone could ever possibly feel it as well, and know that it is possible. That is what it is, to be fireproof. And all of it is bound up in three minutes and a dreamy, echoing chorus.

I don’t know how this band will end, but as much as I hate to think about it I know it will. But I also know – in a part of me that is wiser and wilder than my heart – that it never will. It’s been so long, and they’re fireproof.

Welcome to Hell: “Kiss You”

I can’t tell you what it really is. I can only tell you what it feels like.

I feel a lot of pressure on me to explain this thing, this small burning thing that lives in my heart. I feel it all the time, every lifted eyebrow when someone hears me talk about them for the first time, every time they realize, oh, you’re serious. But I feel it right now, too, on the edge of this precipice before we tip forward into full-on One Direction week. I don’t want to be, like, vain, but for a lot of you this is going to be it, you know? This will be when you decide whether you’re going to read everything else. And I hope that you will, I hope that this will convince you, pique your interest – I hope that I can convey in some small way why this band, this ridiculous band full of ridiculous boys, matters so much. And you should – even if you hate this piece, I mean it – you should keep reading, because better and more eloquent people than I have a lot of things to say this week. I just have the honor and the terror of going first. But here is the thing, the reason that it matters: doesn’t it make you curious, a little, that we have things to say? Things beyond, like, “they’re cute”? Maybe you don’t have a One Direction fan in your life (how did you get here, btw, please tell your friends about us because somehow you came here totally independently of us or anyone we know, please, tell our story), but more likely you do, and you don’t get it. You dismiss it the way you dismiss the way you feel when something comes on the radio you like; you enjoy it, but it doesn’t mean anything. And I’m sitting here on my bed in the sun, feeling my heart like a bird in its cage, trying to figure out how best to tell you: it means everything. And we want to tell you why, if you will listen. If you will open yourself to it.

It’s not not an infection, I’ll say that. There are definitely stages. I decided to stop jabbing another button every time “What Makes You Beautiful” came on the car radio. That was first. Then I started singing along, and that was second. Then I started waiting for it, and hoping for it, and one day when I was cleaning my apartment, right after Take Me Home had come out, I made a Spotify playlist that I still have titled “WHO EVEN AM I” that was just both of their albums. Just to see, I told myself, to see what the fuss was about. I was not the first one on this wagon by any means, and my smarter and more unafraid friends had been tempting me for months. Not on purpose, and I think this is the best thing. There is something about really loving something, openly and purely and without reservation, that draws people in, that produces a light that warms you and calls to you and makes you want to be a part of it. And I saw this thing happening to people whose opinions I trusted and valued, and I liked “What Makes You Beautiful,” and so I made that playlist. And I think I was probably three songs in before I was like oh fuck, this is the greatest, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me. And I still feel that way.

You love them personally, is the thing. I don’t know why or how it happens but I am betting you’ve felt it, maybe not with a boyband and so you feel better about it, but I guarantee you know the feeling. I chose Harry as my favorite because I thought he was the cutest, but three years and more YouTube compilation videos than I can count and a very long series of extremely poor fashion decisions later he’s still my number one. We know them, you know. And I know fame allows for fabrication, for projection, for interpretation and malleability and how, possibly, can you know a person you have never met, but listen, listen. This is part of it. We know them. We know their habits, their fears. We know they miss their parents; we know they love each other like the earth loves the sun. We know that nothing lasts forever but we look at them up on that stage living their dreams and we feel like it might. We know they love us. We know that they are just people but somehow, because we love them, they are more than that, they are something bright and shining and joyful that we can hold on to.

Pop music is so important to me, and I can’t tell you what to do but if I can give you any advice in this life it is this: listen to pop music. Let go of whatever it is that tells you that things that everyone likes are bad things and open yourself to the idea that there is still the potential for stupid, insane, unbridled joy in the human soul. I am a prime offender here; I was for a long time. I used to only listen to music that made me sad, because sadness is a valid emotion, and a smart emotion, and only real artists write about things that are sad, and only people who are smart and real can understand those songs, and everyone else who is stupid listens to pop music. And like, fine? I’m not trying to tell you that that’s not okay, if that’s what you’re into. But I will tell you this, and again, I can only tell you what it feels like: when I threw that away, when I stopped giving a fuck – that was a legitimate turning point in my life. There is nothing wrong with happiness, with things being easy. So much in this life is so hard, and sometimes “real” “art” is inaccessible in a way that, for some reason, makes it more legitimate. What I mean is this: I don’t care about musical talent as defined by a bunch of dudes at at some magazine who love dissonant guitar. I don’t read movie reviews. If something speaks to my soul I will pursue it, and honestly, One Direction was the point in my life where I began really leaning into that, really making that decision. They are incredibly talented, obviously, but like, no one who doesn’t already like them is at all willing to admit that, so I’m just bypassing it entirely. You don’t have to think something is “good” by some matrices that you didn’t invent, someone’s standards that were taught to you. I get it, I get that Dutch angles are cool and that it’s really soo amazing when they do one continuous scene for fifteen minutes with no cuts, but my favorite movie is Josie & the Pussycats and I could just give a fuck about what anyone has to say about that. Loving One Direction let me be more comfortable with myself and my interests and the things that I care about than I had ever thought could be possible, and no matter what happens in my life I will have that. I will have the knowledge that I loved a boy band so much that I cried about it REGULARLY, on MANY OCCASIONS, and that it made me happy beyond my wildest dreams, and that it brought me some of the dearest and best friends I have ever known, and that it helped me to know myself, and to love myself. All of these things are true, and I feel them so strongly, and the core of me is bright and sweet and hot pink sugar, and you don’t get it but I want you to. I can’t tell you what it really is, but I am going to try.

“Kiss You” was the second single off Take Me Home, which (gun to my head) is my favorite One Direction album. TMH is, for me, the peak of everything I love about them, and I am trying not to make this already-long piece any longer, so I will leave that there. “Kiss You” is probably my favorite One Direction song, though, like, if I had to choose. It is so much fun, oh my god, it is the most fun. The first time I heard it I was like, “You could probably do the Carlton dance to this,” and like, you can. It is SO MUCH FUN, it is a perfect pop song, and the video means more to me than a lot of physical possessions that I own.

This video, this representation of them, these five boys that I love so much: this is the best way I can think to describe One Direction to you. Look at them: they care so much. They care so much about what they do, and they love it, and they love each other. And they love us, because we make it possible, and that’s really all there is. You can say whatever you want about the machine, and the industry, and blah blah blah, but listen. One Direction lost a reality talent show in 2011 and now they are the biggest band in the world. And it’s because people loved them, because people like me saw something in them, something bright and burning and indestructible, something fireproof. There is something undeniable about them, a chemistry, a charm that comes from the fact that this is exactly all they have ever wanted, and they know how lucky they are to be doing it. And how much joy comes from that – can you imagine! And how much fear – can you imagine. Can you imagine still feeling like no one while everyone screams your name; can you imagine how much you would love the only other people who understood what that felt like. The most terrifying thing in the world is having your dreams come true, and I’m sure I’m projecting, but that is a lot of what we do with One Direction. They are us, somehow; they are me. They are people that I genuinely love and care about and, like, worry about whether they’re eating enough, and that is real. It is real in a way that I don’t feel when I listen to “real” music, and that’s why it’s so important. It is possible to be constructed and to be genuine at the same time, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, or has never been a human being. I love One Direction genuinely, with my heart and soul, and I have barely scratched the surface of what that means and what it is like but let me tell you this: it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Please, please stay tuned.

About Rebirth: Of Monsters and Men’s “Crystals”

In the fall of 2011, a friend of mine started circulating a thumb drive amongst my little insular college clique, insisting everyone download this one particular album he’d found somewhere in the dark corners of the internet where he went to hunt for the most obscure new music he could find. “These guys are so good,” he said. “They’re Icelandic, they won a contest or something. You can’t even get the album on American iTunes yet. It’s amazing.”

It was. We fell in love, all of us, turning it up and dancing in the living room and howling the lyrics into the darkened trees behind our apartment building as the first snows began to fall. So did everyone else — fast-forward half a year and the band, Of Monsters and Men, could be heard in cars and coffee shops and malls everywhere. Their album My Head is an Animal was not only available on American iTunes but on the fast track to platinum sales. For a time it seemed like they’d be a one-off sensation, burning out early from too much too soon thanks to a magic in their sound that most people assumed would evade duplication (an anxiety inspired, maybe, by the cringingly bombastic sophomore release from Mumford and Sons). But they’ve just announced a new album, and the first single, “Crystals” has everything that made Of Monsters and Men a sensation in the first place.

“Crystals” is pop magic touched with smoky softness, lingering and lovely and delicately occult. I will allow it to be called folk only if folk is preceded by fey, because their lush, orchestral sound has nothing to do with folk except maybe the implied sweaters and bleak landscapes. The instrumentals are dreamy and lovely with a thrumming beat that sets your pulse going — a sound as big as the sky, and as intimate. Lead vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s voice swoops from a high, iceblink clarity to a softer, spookier, almost feline mewl, never not ringing with otherworldly beauty.

I want to talk about the lyrics, but  Of Monsters and Men doesn’t do lyrics – they do the lyric, pure lyric, the kind of thing Erato would listen to as she danced in a clearing of white roses or across a deserted beach of volcanic sands. Cover your crystal eyes / and feel the tones that tremble down your spine / cover your crystal eyes / and let your colors bleed and blend with mine, goes the chorus, and as they sing it, it happens to you — it becomes hard to feel like anything but a bank of glittering clouds; a wide aerial shot lifting away and away from rocks below into a sky cut through with cold pure sunlight; a bright, clear thing taking in the world.

Of Monsters and Men write fairytales about the making and unmaking of selves, the way humans turn into landscapes and creatures and monsters and dazzling abstracts, and this is no exception. “Crystals” is about captivity and unburdening, vulnerability and terror and growth — as in I know I’ll wither / so peel away the bark / cause nothing / grows when it is dark. It is a song about anxiously anticipating change: In spite of all my fears / I can see it all so clear. It is a love song — not, as the chorus might have you believe, between the you of the crystal eyes and the narrator that peels and withers, but instead a love song to a changed self, a self that is both stronger and more fragile than the self left behind. I’m okay in see-through skin / I forgive what is within. “Crystals” is a transfiguration song. “Crystals” is a song of rebirth. Of Monsters and Men’s second album, Beneath the Skin, is slated for release on June 9th, and I for one am super excited.

Soundtrack for Your Selfies: Kero Kero Bonito’s “Picture This”


Hold your camera high and click,
Exercise your right to picture this
But don’t forget to show everybody you’ve ever known

“Picture This” by London-based Kero Kero Bonito is capital-P Pop, pop squared, pop on steroids– and it is catchy as hell. The mix of sugary-sweet vocals and sound effects straight out of a video game done in pastel pink with lots of bouncy-happy characters is infectious, it gets stuck in your head. There’s something to the spoken word interjections that I particularly love, an almost staccato snap to her voice, like blowing bubblegum through your teeth, little mini-bubbles popping rapid fire.  I spent my entire evening shift at work bopping around and singing the words under my breath.

I check that no one else is around
and I take a picture of myself.

 It took me four straight listens to realize that I still wasn’t even positive whether or not she was being tongue-in-cheek about “selfie culture.” The idea of “show(ing something to) everybody you’ve ever known” definitely mimics the language of boring old white guys that thing Instagram is ruining our youth, but there’s a genuine sort of bubble-letter happiness going on here that keeps me from wincing away. It seems aware, more than anything. The idea that pictures on a phone or posted to a site are “all I need to show everyone what I’ve done, who I want to be,” well that feels like the same sort of winking self-awareness that echoes in posts all over tumblr. In the end, I’m coming down on the side of “Picture This” as a celebration of selfies, of the carefully curated breakfast shot, of taking the extra time to take your pictures with the rear-facing camera because the resolution is so much better. It’s the perfect song to listen to when the sun is out and your skin feels warm and you’ve got your favorite sunglasses on and you feel so good that you’ve got to take a few discreet selfies. Kero Kero Bonito won’t tell anyone.

And I really couldn’t say why my life is so photographic
‘Cause these days it’s just automatic
Show me a pic or it didn’t even happen.