video reviews

JUST WATCH ME: Cher Lloyd is Getting Activated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am Who I Am and Who I Need to Be: Out of the Woods

Taylor Swift has always been a source of incredible sincerity. Sincere is not the same as authentic and no, I will not be talking about authenticity because I think it’s a boring, boring way to discredit pop music, its makers, and the people who listen to it. I don’t think I need to explain Taylor’s sincerity very much, because the song “Fifteen” exists and serves as a much better explanation than I could ever dream of writing. The point is that Taylor, in her image and her music, has always been a heartspace of unfiltered earnestness and love, for me and for so many others. And in 2015, the sincerity was compromised.

1989 Taylor is sharp, all angles and perfect answers to interview questions. She is so sparkly, which is something she’s always been, but nowadays it’s less people throw rocks at things that shine and rhinestoned guitars than it is the hard glint of the mirrored disco balls of New Romantics. 1989 Taylor is a diamond – glittering, beautiful, and hard hard hard.

There’s nothing wrong with being hard. There’s nothing wrong with someone making themselves tougher by encasing themselves, especially when that someone is an international pop star famous for her emotional vulnerability. None of us have any right to expect Taylor to lay herself bare to us. But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t become disenchanted with her in 2015.

You see, Taylor has always meant every single word she said. She believes so strongly in telling stories to pull through her emotions, and I’ve always trusted her to tell me her truth. In her I found a place to feel my heart understood. That’s not to say that I took her word as gospel or anything, but I believed her. I believed that the girl in the dress wrote me a song.

Let me be clear: none of this means I stopped believing her, or that she’s meant any less to me, or that I think she should become her younger self again. It’s just that it was hard for me, and (from what I’ve gathered) a lot of other fans, to find that same vulnerability, that sincerity and earnestness that was once so easy to see, under the layers of shine and gloss. I got distracted by all the refracting light and glittering mirrors, so carefully placed by Taylor and the media and us, and I mistook this distraction for disillusionment.

But Taylor has never been an illusion; she’s so adamant about that. I was there; I remember. How could I have forgotten about that? Taylor’s validation of her experiences through assertion of presence extends far beyond the narratives of her songs. It’s also a part of who she is as a person, all the way from Taylor Swift™ to just Taylor. I was there is not just a way to read and make sense of the past, it’s also a way to understand the present. In every version of herself, in every way, she’s here, she’s been here, she was right here the whole time.

In the “Out of the Woods” video, Taylor Swift wears a blue dress and runs through a muddy forest with wolves snapping at her feet. She crawls through the dirt and she drowns and she escapes and she walks through the fire, all so she can find an unscathed version of herself and tap this Taylor on the shoulder. After all this time, after all she went through, she is here.

I didn’t cry the first time I watched the video, because I was with a crowd of people and it was playing on TV as part of the New Year’s Eve special. I actually found myself making fun of the video, but the second the words left my mouth, I knew something was wrong. Taylor has never been a source of cynicism for me, but I guess it turns out that she’s not the only one who’s been sharpening her edges. So I went home and cried because I knew my heart was colder than it used to be.

The Taylor who taps herself on the shoulder at the end of the video is not the same as the Taylor in the pretty blue dress, hair blowing in the wind. She has mud caked on her face. Along her arms are scratches where the tree branches and vines have curled around her. She’s thrown her necklace over a cliff – she’s thrown herself over a cliff – and her dress has been torn apart by wolves and fire. She looks cold and tired, and her eyes are sad, but she reaches out to her old self because it’s all she can do. “Out of the Woods” is a song about memory, constantly repeating I remember, I remember, but it’s not really about any one specific moment. I remember is a phrase rarely accompanied by a second clause. She remembers whatever you need her to, she remembers for the sake of memory, of honoring all her past selves, every version of herself she’s ever been or wanted to be.

Taylor Swift taps herself on the shoulder to say that she’s right here, and she remembers.

And in that moment, I remember, too.

Asif Becher is a 16 year old recently discovered cat lady who lives in the desert. She is often asked to “chill” about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Taylor Swift, a suggestion she finds absolutely ridiculous. You can find her on Twitter and on tumblr.

I’ve Had Enough: “Same Old Love” by Selena Gomez

You can watch the video here:

It’s always felt to me like pop stars live in a different world than my own. Taylor Swift exists in a sea of wristband lights and gold awards, their shininess dimmed only by the filter of a Polaroid. Katy Perry lives on top of cotton-candy clouds wearing bubblegum-colored wigs, eternally running through the sprinklers and sparklers of a summer night.

I see pop stars’ lives through a series of snapshots. A tweet about their most recent show. An interview. A performance at the VMAs. They seem to float above me,  their lives spooling past me like a fairytale. They’re beautiful and confident, and their worlds never mix with mine. They drive through shining cities in limousines, they put on their prettiest high heels and walk smiling into a crowd of photographers, they dance onstage in sparkly outfits before getting back into the limo to their hotel for the night. They are separate from me; their lives are separate from my own.

That’s why the video for Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love” was so shocking to me the first time I watched it. In this video, Selena doesn’t play a character, and she doesn’t really even perform the song until the very end. No, in this video, it’s not Selena the Pop Star, but rather Selena the person whose job is to be a pop star. She’s in a limo wearing a silky black dress with perfectly blown-out hair, sure, but she’s looking out the window. She’s focused outward. She watches a mother and son leaving, finally leaving; she watches a young girl feed her fish, a guy shouting along to the radio in his car, a couple making out in front of the liquor store. She looks on in concern at a man sitting sadly on his fire escape, and she keeps thinking about all of them as she makes her way through a twisting, churning dancefloor, as she passes another couple with a small smile on her lips. She keeps thinking about all of them as she runs to the stage to perform under the bright lights and until those lights come up on her, that’s what’s in her mind. Them. She lives in our world. My world. Those people and their world (my world) are a part of her as she flips her hair around and puts her diamond-studded hand on her hip. There hasn’t been an interview, “intimate” magazine profile, or “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” segment that has been able to shake me of the romanticism I view celebrities with as much as this collection of images.

Here, then, in the space between a pop star and a person like me, that’s where the actual song comes in. “Same Old Love,” a song about changing the status quo because you just don’t believe in it anymore, because it hurts you too much. I’m so sick of that same old love/ That shit it tears me up/ I’m so sick of that same old love/ My body’s had enough. I can’t help but listen to these words and think of myself as an eleven-year-old girl, watching Taylor Swift videos and crying because I could never be as talented or beautiful. So sick of that same old love/ Feels like I’ve blown apart. Or when I was thirteen, trying to act all quiet and mysterious after watching Skins because I wanted to be aloof and cold and gorgeous like Effy. That same old love/ The kind that breaks your heart. Or, for that matter, when I was twelve and watched the “Who Says” video for the first time, devastated that I couldn’t look nearly as pretty without makeup on as Selena Gomez did. I’m so sick of that same old love/ my body’s had enough.

It doesn’t have to be a comparison. It doesn’t have to be that same old love, the one that comes with an ache and something to measure yourself against. With this four-minute clip, Selena Gomez has convinced me that she and everyone else in her business are not superior to me. Not even that different from me, really. I may be sitting here in a sweatshirt and jeans, and she may be on a stage in a flowing gown and diamond earrings, but she doesn’t float above me in her own parallel universe anymore. Underneath it all we’re both just girls looking out a window, wanting something more.


Asif Becher is a 16 year old recently discovered cat lady who lives in the desert. She is often asked to “chill” about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Taylor Swift, a suggestion she finds absolutely ridiculous. You can find her on Twitter and on tumblr.