Girls Rock Santa Barbara Interviews Divinity Roxx

This year, Girls Rock Santa Barbara has developed The Summer of Love Internship, its first ever paid internship for teen girls and gender-expansive youth, which allows the organization to continue to provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to encourage lifelong skills like positive peer bonding and self-confident resilience. The internship, which lasts six weeks and pays each intern $500, offers six exciting and arts-focused disciplines: Record Label, Recording Artist, Social Media, Journalism, Photography, and Podcasting. Audiofemme is pleased to publish the following article, written by Alex Stadlinger and Katy Caballero, two interns from the Journalism program.

Photo Credit: Ian Frank Photography

Artist, composer and bassist Divinity Roxx started out her career in 2000 when she attended Victor Wooten’s bass nature camp, where she met both the bass legend and his brothers, and by the end she was asked to tour with them. Appearing on two of Wooten’s albums, (Live in America and Soul Circus), she toured with the band from 2000-2005. But Divinity Roxx is probably best known as the touring bassist for Beyoncé from 2006-2011; having been featured on several of Beyoncé’s albums,she also became the Musical Director on the mega-star’s third and fourth tours.

But Divinity Roxx isn’t just someone else’s bassist. She self-released her first album, Ain’t No Other Way, in 2003 while she was touring with Wooten. Though working with Beyoncé kept her busy, she returned with a solo record in 2012, The Roxx Boxx Experience, fully cementing her sound as an artist who marries blues, rock, and soul in her own right. Her most recent album, Impossible, was released in 2016, and adds more funk to the mix.

Along with her solo career, she is a member of the OGs, an all-female band consisting of original members from Beyoncé’s 2006 touring band. This year, they released a song called “Higher,” recorded in partnership with Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco and Plug-In Alliance. The song opens a conversation about our world today and how we need to stand up for ourselves and each other. Throughout her career, Divinity Roxx has been a shining light of women’s empowerment, self confidence, and mentorship to girls and women of all ages.

GRSB: The OG’s have been around for a while now, but you haven’t really released any music together up until recently with your new song “Higher.” What brought you together to make this song?

DR: Our percussionist Marci is a band director at a school in Salinas, California, and we were hanging out, having lunch, and we talked about recording – as we always do, except we never really do it, we just talk about it. I had an opportunity to record in a studio in California, and I invited them all out. Nobody had to pay for any recording time – I had hooked up with a woman, Terri, who runs Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco, so we were able to use her recording studio. I had written this song, “Higher.” I sent the music to everybody and everybody liked it and so we recorded that song, but there are a number of songs that we all have written and we should record but who knows. We’ll take it song by song.

GRSB: “Higher” has a lot of powerful lyrics. What was the inspiration behind writing it?

DR: You know, it’s funny, because I had written that song maybe a year ago, at the end of 2018, maybe early 2019. I always want to write lyrics that are empowering, that are inspirational. I don’t want to just make music for the sake of saying something that sounds cool, that doesn’t have some sort of impact. The groove was so strong and there were so many things going on at the time and it’s so funny that it came out when it did because it was still so relevant. You could tell by the lyrics that I wrote it at a certain time because I referenced a couple of people who had been murdered by the police – I talked about Atatiana Jefferson and that was in 2019, and so we were in 2020 and George Floyd had just happened and the song was already recorded. It was so relevant because these things continue to happen and I wanted to say something powerful. I wanted to – I needed to – say something about it, because I hadn’t and the only way I feel like I can make my voice heard is through music and the lyrics. I want them to smack you in the face and wake you up as to what was happening in the world.

GRSB: Yeah, that’s really important and really inspirational. Will the OG’s be releasing more music together soon?

DR: I hope so, I hope so. It’s really difficult because we all live in different cities, we all have our own careers as individual artists, some of us are moms, some of us are professors at university. Tia Fuller is a professor at Berklee. Nikki Glaspie has her own band called The Nth Power. Marci is a full-time teacher, Katty is a full-time teacher and artist. I’m a full-time artist, so it’s just really difficult to get us together, get us all on the same page, get us into a studio, in a room and make a recording. I felt like I was lucky to get everybody in a room together to get [“Higher”] done, so I really do hope we are able to make some more music together because we are so powerful when we are together.

GRSB: Speaking on your solo career, do you have any new projects coming up that you can talk about?

DR: I’m working on an album and a stage performance  piece called The Ballad of Debbie Walker. It’s sort of the origin story of Divinity Roxx. Debbie Walker is actually my birth name – I changed it to Divinity Roxx and it’s sort of like my superhero name, so I feel like I haven’t really given the world the backstory of Debbie Walker. I went in the studio in California, Zoo Labs, and got with my band and we started writing. I’m really excited about the record because it too is extremely inspirational and kind of talks about how I became who I am as an artist. One of my favorite songs is called “Happy Looks Good on Her,” so I’m really excited about it. I need to work on it more; I hope I’m able to release it next year, 2021.

GRSB: That’s really exciting! Going back a little, you recently re-released “We Are” from your album Impossible. What made you want to record and release that again during quarantine?

DR: Well I did it in partnership with a company called Austrian Audio. They are a microphone company and they are one of my endorsers and it was really their idea – they loved the song and what they wanted to do was remix it with some of their artists and use it as a promo video, not only their microphones but for the message that it was sending to the world at this time. They wanted to bring some positivity to their audience and they thought “We Are” would be a really cool way to do it. So we did a cool licensing deal and I’m really excited about it. I think it came out beautifully. The Impossible album has more jazz and funk and soul I think than The Roxx Boxx Experience record and I feel like it spoke more to the music I grew up listening to than the music I sort of got into once I started playing bass. When I started playing bass I got into rock music because it was just fun and you could just wild out on stage, but the funk and the jazz and the soul was kind of what I grew up on.

GRSB: And the song itself is inspired by a poem by June Jordan, right?

DR: Yes! You’ve been doing your research, I love it! June Jordan was my poetry professor at UC Berkeley; I went to UC Berkeley to be a journalist, and then I became a bass player! But June wrote a poem about South African women, and [“we are”] was the last line in the poem, she read it at the UN. It was a poem to protest Apartheid. I come out of that school of protest and you know, June really taught us. Early on she used to say “If you had two minutes to say anything to the world, what would you say?” And that sort of has been what my whole artistry is about. Every time I have an opportunity, it’s like, those are my two minutes.

GRSB: How do you feel like you use your platform to comment on social and political issues that are happening in the world today?

DR: I feel like music is an incredible vehicle to bring about social change because of its reach. There’s music everywhere. Everywhere we turn, everywhere we go, music is playing. It’s such an intimate and huge part of so many people’s lives. I really do feel like what Nina Simone said is relevant: “As an artist you are supposed to reflect the times. It’s your responsibility to reflect the times.” And for some artists that means something different. For me, as a poet and as somebody who came out of the June Jordan school of poetry where we have an obligation to criticize and to critically think about what it is in the world that’s happening, how it affects our lives, especially as a Black woman in this country, I have always been extremely involved in politics and in social matters and so that finds itself in my music because my music is a reflection of who I am. There are some people for whom that doesn’t happen, and that’s fine, but I feel like I have a duty for the young women who come after me and for the women who came before me to honor them and to continue to fight for the people who don’t have anybody fighting for them, for the powerless. So I really feel like that’s part of the reason why social commentary and political views and different things like that find themselves in my music. It’s just part of how I speak when I’m hanging out with my friends really.

GRSB: What inspired the change in genre between The Roxx Boxx Experience and Impossible?

DR: When I first started performing, I was so aggressive, and I was a lot younger too. I was really mashing up rock and hip-hop. In 2012 I wasn’t planning on releasing The Roxx Boxx Experience – those were old songs. I had moved out to California, hooked up with this guitar player, and he sort of convinced me that those songs needed to be heard. He was like, “You should put this record out.” I was kind of like, “Eh, I don’t know. Maybe put some other type of music out.” And he was like, “Nah man this is killing. We really should. It’s rocked out, it’s hard, it’s aggressive.” I was performing it out there, people were loving it. It’s such an L.A. type of record, you know what I mean?

So we put that record out, and I think those songs that were released on the 2016 album are songs that I had been writing since probably 2010 or something, but they all existed on my hard drive and I was on tour with my band in Europe and I was just letting them hear all these songs, and again they were like, “Why aren’t you putting this music out?” I was like, “Oh you know, it’s not ready…” And they were like, “No, we need to go in the studio and make this album.” So they sort of convinced me to go to the studio and make the Impossible album. The thing about Impossible is that I wanted to explore Divinity Roxx a little more. I wanted it to be more intimate. I wanted to tell some truths that I was avoiding telling on The Roxx Boxx Experience. It’s like The Roxx Boxx Experience was this facade of Divinity; Impossible was this little bit of opening into who I really am inside and what my inner, deeper thoughts are and how I feel. Honestly I said it was going to be my last album because I was frustrated with the music industry and frustrated with art, which happens. But that’s not true, it’s not going to be the last one.

GRSB: Can you talk about your role working with Beyoncé, being her bassist and music director? What does a musical director do?

DR: That was my first time being a musical director, but I was more of an assistant musical director. They gave me the title of musical director but Kim Burse was our boss. She was teaching us and sort of training us on what it meant to be a musical director. Since then I’ve been the musical director for a group called 21 and currently I’m the musical director for Fantasia, but the Beyoncé gig is where I learned what it meant to be a musical director and the job is really tough. You kind of have to get into an artist’s head almost. You help the artist come up with a setlist, you lead the band in creating arrangements. Some musical directors deal with the business of payroll. We hire musicians and identify which musicians would be good to form a band. We are always in communications with the tour manager about different logistical things that the band needs [in terms of] equipment. We are always in contact with the band members to make sure they are given what they need. We kind of help manage the band, make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. Sometimes we set rehearsal times. We are responsible for making sure that the artist’s songs are cleared for performance a lot of the time. It depends on what organization you’re in, how deep the job can be or how surface it can be. Mostly we’re responsible for what you hear on stage.

GRSB: You’ve definitely played with some really cool people and on some huge stages – how do you feel like that’s shaped your career and your personal music?

DR: Wow! I’ve played on some really tiny stages too! This morning I woke up and somebody, one of my followers, had posted a picture and said, “Four years ago today Divinity Roxx played to a crowd at this place called This Ain’t Hollywood.” Like, there was nobody there, right? But we always play like there’s 20,000 people there, even when there’s nobody there. I think just playing has shaped my career and shaped my performance and how I perform. I have so much experience on stage because I’ve definitely put in my 10,000 hours on stages, whether the gig was filled to the brim with people, or there were three people there; whether it was outside at a music festival doing my solo thing, or on the stage at Glastonbury with Beyoncé when I was extremely nervous and afraid. I get a lot of compliments on my performance because I give it 100%. It’s one of the few times when I’m extremely focused – my brain is always like, “Do this, do this, oh, I should do this, oh you know what, I’ve got to do this.” My brain is usually all over the place, but when I’m on stage I am completely on stage. I am not thinking about anything else, I’m not wanting to be anywhere else, I’m not worried about my problems, I’m not even celebrating my victories. I am just in the moment performing whatever song it is and praying that people are experiencing something. I always pray before the show and ask God that He – or She – shows up and touches somebody’s heart. That is all I want to do when I get on stage. I want to touch somebody’s heart and when I leave and they leave, I want them to feel whole, you know?

GRSB: Are there any other influences that kind of shaped the artist that you are today?

DR: Oh man there are so many people, and they’re not all musicians! Some of my favorite writers are Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe and Alice Walker. When I was a kid, Alice Walker was one of my biggest influences as a writer. I wanted to be a writer and a journalist so I think that those people really inspire me. Of course, there are musicians – Victor Wooten being one of the most incredible human beings on Earth and me having the opportunities to spend so much time with him and learn from him, he’s a huge influence. My mom is probably one of my hugest influences. Her support is immeasurable, has always been immeasurable. I’m one of those kids whose mom was always at the game embarrassing me, screaming for me and I would just be like, “Shut up. Stop screaming for me.” But you know, that’s what moms do. I was fortunate to have that mom who was always like, “You can be whatever you want to be and you can do whatever you want to do.” So I kind of feel like I’m a reflection of her in that way too with the inspiration. My mom’s ridiculous, she inspires so many people. So many people love her so much it’s crazy, but it’s because of the human being that she is, so I just want to be a good human on this Earth. We need more good humans.

GRSB: Being a woman in the music industry, have you dealt with any inequality or maybe experienced struggles with trying to make it?

DR: I mean, I think that being a woman in this world and doing anything is going to be tough. As a female journalist it’s going to be tough you know? There’s always going to be people that are going to doubt your abilities as a woman and whether or not you got where you are because you’re a woman or because you did something that men can’t do in order to get there. I grew up in a house where my dad never made me feel like as a girl I couldn’t do anything. He always taught me how to do things that he thought I needed to do, like if I needed to fix a car, he’d say, “Okay, here’s how you change a tire. Here’s how you do those things that women don’t traditionally do because I want you to be able to take care of yourself fully.” He taught me how to be myself and never doubt myself because I was a girl. I just never had that thing in me. I don’t even know what that’s like. But I have had people react to me negatively because I was a woman and for me I was just like, “Dude. I could probably beat you at that.” There’s always going to be people who are prodding you and who are competing with you and throwing out negativity about you and talking trash about you like, “Oh you’re never going to be this. You’re never going to do that.” Women are going to do that to you, men are going to do that to you. There’s always going to be obstacles, but don’t let nobody take your shine away, don’t let nobody take your love, your passion. Whatever it is that you want to do, you can do it. This excuse that we can’t do things because we’re women… we’re 51% of the population on the Earth! Are you kidding me? We can do whatever we want to do. We birth babies. We can do that! And we can still work and we can still have jobs and careers and create and flourish, so I just kind of brush it off a lot of times. I think when I was younger it really used to bother me and I felt like I needed to prove something. I wanted to fight against it. I wanted to get angry about it, but I think as I get older I’m just settled with myself. I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of and I know that whatever I’m not capable of, I’m capable of learning. Victor always says, [when] we look at all these incredible bass players and we say, “Oh, they’re so amazing,” [something] his mom used to say: “That person has ten fingers just like you, they have a brain, they have two arms and two legs and they walk this Earth and they can reason and think and they practice, so there’s nothing different about you. You just have to work at it.” So that’s just kind of what I do – I just keep working at it. There’s always going to be somebody better, but there’s nobody who’s going to do it like I do it.

GRSB: How do you want the world to remember you?

DR: Wow! That’s always a tough question. I want people to remember me as being honest and real and inspiring and as somebody who continued to want to evolve. I want to continue to evolve. I want to continue to grow. I want to continue to put goodness out into this world and that’s how I want people to remember me. I want them to remember my songs and my lyrics and think about how they make you feel on the inside. It’s just like doing a show – this life is a show. I think the Red Hot Chili Peppers said that in one of their songs. This life is not a rehearsal, it’s the real thing, so this is my show, this is my stage, this life, this is my outfit, this is my wardrobe, my bass is my weapon of choice and I try to live this life as honest and as real [as I can]. I hope that anybody that comes in contact with me in any way, shape, or form will leave feeling a little bit better than when they first came to me.

Follow Divinity Roxx on Instagram for ongoing updates.

BOOK REVIEW: Classic Albums By Women

The art of listening to an album—front to back—is in some ways, a lost one. At least, this is what Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy believed when she founded Classic Album Sundays, a worldwide podcast and website made specifically for album lovers that features filmed interviews with artists, stories behind classic albums, curated playlists and more.

“I founded Classic Album Sundays in 2010 as a response to a societal disposition that I felt was devaluing music, the act of listening and the significance of my beloved album format,” she writes in the introduction to the new book, Classic Albums By Women, released by Classic Album Sundays and ACC Art Books.

Conversely, Murphy noted the devaluing of the albums of women musicians despite their manifest, and emotionally resonant, contributions. So, a few weeks before International Women’s Day in 2018, Murphy set out to highlight those women-made albums with a social media campaign.

“I came up with the last-minute idea to ask our friends in the world of music to nominate their favorite album by a female musicians by taking a ‘selfie’ of themselves holding up their chosen album, and giving an account as to why that album held such personal importance,” she wrote.

Murphy received over 100 entries, and eventually, those entries turned into the 200-page “Classic Albums By Women,” which features the album picks of music industry players from across generations and genres.

Elsa Hill, DJ from Worldwide FM, holding her favorite women-made album.

While reading the book, you may not immediately recognize the name of every curator—but Classic Albums by Women contains the views of some industry heavyweights. For instance, Michael Kurtz, the co-founder of the ever-popular Record Store Day, contributes his pick.

“I have so many favourite albums by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Regina Spektor (to name a few), but right now the album that demands my attention and makes me see the world differently is Rabbit Hole by Mindy Gledhill,” he writes in the book.

Additionally, the music critic at the Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick, vouches for Beyonce’s Lemonade. He notes, “Female musicians have been undervalued, undermined and underpromoted ever since there has been a music business…There has never been so much great music by woman as there is right now. Beyonce is a towering start making shape-shifting, genre-busting R&B hip-hop pop with depth and purpose.”

The book also highlights how the albums of women inspired new generations of women to pursue music-making.

Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order, with his favorite album by a woman.

“I remember the first time I heard [Carole King’s] Tapestry,” writes musician KT Tunstall. “It became my song-writing bible; a masterclass in how to remain strong and vulnerable in equal measure.”

Likewise, as DJ/producer Honey Dijon writes about her pick, Island Life by Grace Jones: “Grace Jones is the reason I felt free enough to become an artist,” she writes.

Overall, this little book—perfect for quick, casual coffee table thumb-through or a more thorough read before an album listening session—is a great way to learn more about your favorite artists, and learn about some new women that have impacted people along the way. The long list of curators involved with the book also provide a tether to the worldwide, album-loving community so you can find your next favorite podcast or music journalist. Most importantly, Classic Albums by Women is a towering testament to the power women artists have had, and continue to have over listeners of all walks of life.

Classic Albums by Women is available on Amazon or through the publisher, ACC Art Books.

ONLY NOISE: Playlist for a Schoolgirl Crush

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Erin Lyndal Martin shares a selection of songs that bring back the rush of a schoolgirl crush.

No matter how old you get, there’s something that stays dreamy about teenaged crushes. I call these my schoolgirl crushes, remembering the flush of excitement every time my crush asked to borrow a pencil. As we get older, schoolgirl crushes seem so much more innocent. We never worried about the bad things our crushes had done or why they’d been divorced twice or if their time management skills were lacking. We just wanted to lie on our beds and listen to songs that reminded us of their dimples.

These songs go back to those dreamy crushes. They all have an element of escape to them — slipping away from parents, from responsibility, from a place that holds you back, from anything that isn’t basking in your lover’s presence.

“The Ghost In You” by The Psychedelic Furs (Mirror Moves)
Formed in 1977, the Psychedelic Furs have explored a number of rock genres, including post-punk and New Wave.

“Ghost In You” could well be the theme song of this whole collection. “Inside you the time moves/She don’t fade,” Richard Butler sings, his thick British accent making the song all the more charming. And he’s right. When I remember my high school crush, the boy with the beautiful dimples, I remember him not as a teenager but as a man, the two of us always on the brink of a great romance.

“ocean eyes” by Billie Eilish (don’t smile at me)
Billie Eilish is a 17 year-old singer/model/dancer from Los Angeles.

The power in this song is its slow, sensual flow. Listening to it brings back how mind-blowing it was when making out was new, when every breath on your neck made you tremble on the brink of a new world. Eilish’s soprano mimics the intoxication of touching someone for the first time.

“Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene (You Forgot It In People)
Broken Social Scene is a Canadian musical collective comprised of members of other bands, mostly based in Toronto.

This song balances innocence and obsession in a perfectly winsome way. Emily Haines’s vocals are breathless, smeared slightly with distortion, and stay quiet even as the song intensifies. Every lyric in the song is repeated several times, building up to a single line (“Park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me”) being repeated 13 times. Meanwhile, the instrumentation builds from sparse banjo strummed to an ecstatic violin and percussion. While the song is more about nostalgia than love, its giddy take on fixation speaks to the 17 year-old girl in all of us.

“I Know Places” by Lykke Li (Wounded Rhymes)
Lykke Li is a Swedish singer, songwriter, and model who blends folk and electropop.

This is a song for the schoolgirl crushes I feel as an adult. For the rush of first getting intimate with someone and wanting only to be together, to ignore the world. “The high won’t fade here, babe,” she promises. Ambiguity is part of why the song is so captivating. Maybe they’re seeking literal places to escape, or maybe getting intoxicated on one another in bed, or off in a forest or on a beach.

“Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run)
Bruce Springsteen is a legendary singer-songwriter from New Jersey known for writing about working class struggles.

“Thunder Road” has to be a contender for one of the best songs ever written, and it’s all in the incredible imagery, the swell of the music, and even in the way Springsteen mumbles divine lyrics. However old you are, whatever your situation was growing up, he brings to life the glory of a brief escape from town where Mary’s past lovers haunt her from “the skeleton frames of burnt-out Chevrolets,” her graduation gown long tossed to these boys. The narrator sings about putting out to win from a town full of losers, and you get the sense there’s really no hope of it, but in the moment, you believe in that love, and any young love that’s made it seem possible to escape the limitations of your current life.

“XO” by Beyoncé (Beyoncé)
Beyoncé Knowles is one of the most acclaimed singers and performers of the day, and was ranked most powerful female in entertainment by Forbes in 2015 and 2017.

“XO” manages to be both intimate and urgent, full of both love and lust. The song takes place in a crowded room where the lights will be turned out soon. The driving beat reinforces the urgency of finding each other in the impending darkness, but the soaring chorus and backing vocals create atmosphere. The lights going out take on different meanings, mostly with Beyoncé begging “baby love me lights out.” The immediacy of the song brings back the thirsty makeout sessions of adolescence, all the more urgent because a curfew was usually involved.

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths (The Queen is Dead)
The Smiths are a Britpop band known for melodramatic but highly melodic songs.

For me, and for many of my friends, this song inspires the same feeling in us now as when we were 16 and first listening to it. The synthesizers swirl like ribbons, and lead singer Morrissey pouts in his falsetto, and it’s so triumphant. Like “Thunder Road,” this song celebrates an escape from real life (“Take me out tonight/I need to see people and I need to see light”) and the magic of finding escape velocity with a lover. So much magic that it becomes romantic to think about dying in a crash with a ten-ton truck. That’s some seriously potent escapism.

“All Through the Night” by Cyndi Lauper (She’s So Unusual)
Cyndi Lauper is best known as a pop singer who rose to fame in the 1980’s.

Originally a folksy song by Jules Shear, Cyndi Lauper’s twinkly synthesizer and sweetly pouting voice made it her own song. She includes details from the real world, like stray cats crying, but the real world is irrelevant. “We have no past/We won’t reach back,” she sings in the chorus as the music swells. “Keep with me forward all through the night,” she sings, another way of saying “We’re in this together. It’s only us now.”


Nipsey Hussle Laid to Rest in LA

This Thursday, funeral services and city-wide celebrations were held across Los Angeles to honor slain rapper Ermias Joseph “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom. Shot fatally outside Marathon Clothing, a store he co-owned near the intersection of Slauson and Crenshaw in South LA, on March 31 by a man policed have identified as Eric Holder, the Grammy-nominated rapper and activist made a name for himself by putting out a series of mixtapes from the mid 2000s onward, finally releasing his acclaimed debut LP Victory Lap just last year on his own label. Admired for his integrity, Nipsey remained staunchly independent and had previously invested in STEM programs for inner-city kids.

Nipsey’s emotional farewell was held at Staples Center and attended by more than 20,000 people, including fans, loved ones, and a few famous faces, too. Tributes poured in from Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Barack Obama, Snoop Dogg, and longtime girlfriend, actress Lauren London, with performances from Jhené Aiko, Stevie Wonder, and others. While his funeral procession, for the most part, brought many LA residents together, violence erupted on Thursday afternoon when a drive-by shooting at 103 and Main resulted in another senseless death. Tragically, this would’ve been the last thing Nipsey wanted; he was set to meet with LAPD officials to find ways to end gang violence in his community, despite his former affiliation with a sub-group of the Crips. His death is still under investigation but appears to stem from a personal conflict and is not believed to be gang-related. He was 33.

That New New

I never need to watch another music video (or eat another potato) again thanks to this starchy bit of Tierra Whack genius.

Kaytranada teamed up with VanJess for “Dysfunctional,” a teaser single for the as yet unannounced follow-up to 2016’s 99.9%.

Hand Habits’ placeholder LP came out in March and remains one of the best of the year thus far; check out this video for “wildfire,” which was inspired by the recent California wildfires and makes a poignant statement about our 24-hour news cycle.

Ahead of their May tour with Refused and the Hives, Bleached have returned with a stripped down song called “Shitty Ballet,” their first single since 2017 EP Can You Deal?

Emily Reo’s Only You Can See It is out today, and she’s shared the video for its lead single “Strawberry” to celebrate.

Mega Bog has released the first single from their forthcoming concept album Dolphine (out June 28 via Paradise of Bachelors).

SASAMI put together a video starring her grandma for the single “Morning Comes,” from her excellent self-titled debut, out now.

Blonde Redhead frontwoman Kazu Makino is going solo with her forthcoming album Adult Baby (and she’s launching a record label of the same name). Details are scant for now, but there’s a video for the vibey first single, “Salty,” which features Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mauro Refosco (of Atoms For Peace), and Ian Chang (Son Lux).

Aldous Harding is back with another song from her forthcoming LP Designer, out April 26 via 4AD.

Atlanta’s Mattiel has announced the release of their sophomore album Satis Factory via ATO Records (out June 14) with a fun video for lead single “Keep the Change.”

Brooklyn band Crumb prep their debut full-length Jinx for release in June with a video for its lead single, “Nina.”

Jackie Mendoza continues her streak of beguiling biligual electronica with “Mucho Más,” from forthcoming LuvHz (out April 26 on Luminelle Recordings).

Clinic are set to release their first album in seven years, Wheeltappers And Shunters, on May 10 via Domino Recordings. After previously sharing a video for its first single “Rubber Bullets,” the art-rock weirdos return with “Laughing Cavalier.”

Longtime Animal Collective videographer Danny Perez has directed a truly bizarre Dating Game-meets-Beetlejuice video for the title track to Panda Bear’s recently released Buoys.

Recent Partisan Records signees Pottery have shared another single, called “The Craft,” from their No. 1 EP, which comes out May 10.

Feminist art-punk quartet French Vanilla have a new LP coming out on June 7 called How Am I Not Myself? and have shared its lead single “All the Time.”

Amsterdam’s Pip Blom drums up some anticipation for Boat (out May 31 via PIAS/Heavenly) with a video for latest single “Ruby.”

Courtney Barnett shared Tell Me How You Really Feel outtake “Everybody Here Hates You” ahead of its official Record Store Day single release for Rough Trade (the exclusive 7″ will also feature B-side “Small Talk”).

Watch Fanclub’s Leslie Crunkilton play a crushed out ghost in the video for their latest song, “Uppercut.”

If you’re missing SXSW, The Pinheads have your cure – their video for “Feel It Now” compiles footage from this year’s festivities, including the band’s set at Burgerama 8. The Aussie’s sophomore record Is This Real comes out May 24.

West Virginian indie rockers Ona release Full Moon, Heavy Light on May 10 and have shared its mellow second single “Young Forever.”

Jesca Hoop has signed to Memphis Industries for the release of her next LP STONECHILD, which arrives July 5. It’s first single, Shoulder Charge, features Lucius.

Swedish supergroup Amason announced the August release of their first record since 2015’s Sky City with a new single, “You Don’t Have to Call Me.”

The National shared a cinematic video for “Light Years,” from I Am Easy to Find, out May 17.

End Notes

  • Now in its 12th year, Record Store Day promises another Saturday afternoon of rare releases, in-store performances, and general celebration of all things vinyl for dedicated crate-diggers and more casual music fans alike.
  • Radiohead has issued a statement on the now-concluded investigation of the 2o12 death of their drum technician during a stage collapse in Toronto.
  • A new clip for Perfect, the Eddie Alcazar film being released by Brainfeeder’s recently-established movie production house, features snippets of its soundtrack by Flying Lotus (who says his next LP is ready).
  • Vampire Weekend will celebrate the release of their next album Father of the Bride with three New York shows in Buffalo, Kingston, and a day-long affair at Webster Hall that includes a bagel breakfast, pizza lunch, and three separate sets (including one that will consist of the new LP in its entirety).
  • Coachella is upon us! In addition to the premiere of Childish Gambino and Rihanna’s Guava Island film, the festival will feature Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Lizzo, Janelle Monáe, Anderson .Paak, Maggie Rogers, Kacey Musgraves, Christine and the Queens, the first US appearances by Black Pink and Rosalía, and more. But the legendary fest hasn’t been without conflict; Solange dropped out this week, citing production issues, and a worker was killed in a fall setting up for the fest last weekend. In happier news, a new doc about Beyoncé’s epic headline performance last year is set to hit Netflix April 17; watch the trailer below.

8 Songs Celebrating Female Masturbation, for Better or Worse

NYC electronic artist Von not only writes about female masturbation, she literally creates songs from her orgasms.

Over the past few years, female masturbation has gone from a total taboo to a popular topic among those looking to add a little ~edge~ to their art. We haven’t made it all the way to normalizing the act, but we have reached this weird middle stage where singing or writing about it is deemed a bold, avant-garde choice. That’s a far cry from the casual way we depict male masturbation, which is just assumed to happen rather than made into some sort of statement, but it’s a step above not talking about it at all.

Now that references to flicking the bean, jllling off, klittra, or whatever you want to call it are seeing the light of day, artists are scandalizing everyone’s pants off with music about female masturbation. Here are some songs that tackle the topic head-on without beating around the bush (sorry, I had to).

“Love Myself” by Hailee Steinfeld

At first listen, then-18-year-old Steinfeld’s first single sounds like a self-love anthem… until you listen closely and realize it’s a self-love anthem. Really, it’s both. “Gonna love myself, no, I don’t need anybody else,” she sings. What’s cool about the song and surprisingly G-rated video is that Steinfeld isn’t portraying herself as dirty, “slutty,” or sexy. Her innocent image conveys that masturbation isn’t just for “bad girls” – it’s for girls working toward loving and taking care of themselves… so, all girls. It’s admittedly a bit cheesy with her “self-service” shirt and lines like “I know how to scream my own name,” which don’t exactly portray female masturbation accurately (unless anyone does that? I’m willing to be proven wrong), but her decoupling of female masturbation from the male gaze makes me forgive her.

“Solo” by Clean Bandit Feat. Demi Lovato

This annoyingly catchy song exemplifies the biggest problems with the ways we talk (and, now, sing) about female masturbation. “I do it solo” is supposed to be some sort of scandalous revelation on Lovato’s part: OMG, she does what solo?! Not to mention, she presents masturbation as a mere consolation for when her ex is not around. We don’t get the impression that her sexuality exists independently of men; we learn that she’s sexual in response to them and uses her hand/vibrator/whatever as a less-than-ideal penis substitute. But truthfully, I lost all hope for this song the moment she started singing “whoop whoop” instead of “fuck.”

“Action” by Von

“Sex-positive synth pop” artist Von took the act of turning female masturbation into music to the next level by making a song out of her orgasm. I mean this literally: She used an app called Lioness to measure her orgasmic contractions, displayed them on a graph, and then used the wave pattern as the basis for the bass beat. The result is a song about sexual independence, with lyrics like “don’t need you to make it happen / one-woman show with the action.” By turning female pleasure into something as accessible as a song, Von aims to give people an easy avenue to talk about it. And by portraying female masturbation based on its internal motions and sensations, rather than its appearance, she presents it in a way that can’t be objectified.

“I Don’t Need a Man” by The Pussycat Dolls

In a similar vein, The Pussycat Dolls declare in this track that they “don’t need a man to make it happen” and “get off on being free.” Even better, they use these lines to shut down guys who think their dicks are God’s gift to womankind. If those lyrics don’t make that crystal clear, “I can get off when you ain’t around” should do it.

“I Touch Myself” by Divinyls

The OG of female masturbation anthems was progressive during its 1990 release for acknowledging that female masturbation is a thing, though it’s expectedly not the most progressive on the list today. Like Demi Lovato, Chrissy Amphlett sings about self-love sessions inspired by a particular love interest — and not only that, but she will fantasize about him and him only, playing into the stereotype that sexual desire is deeply intertwined with love for women. Even in her solo sex life, the man she’s singing about has a monopoly on her mind. The lyrics aren’t the most empowering either; the opening line “I love myself” is undermined by the subsequent “When I feel down, I want you above me / I search myself, I want you to find me / I forget myself, I want you to remind me.”

“She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper

Another classic entry on the list, Cyndi Lauper’s third single from 1983 debut She’s So Unusual was partially responsible for the creation of the Parental Advisory Sticker. The song never makes outward mention of its true subject matter; Lauper said she wanted to maintain the illusion that it was just about dancing for younger listeners. But she also claimed in an interview with Howard Stern that she recorded its vocals in the buff.

“Hump Day” by Miss Eaves

This infectious track is notable not just for confident lyrics like “I know best. I know better / I’m killing this, a real go-getter” but also for a video where Miss Eaves sings in a suggestive cat hoodie while several other women mimic their masturbation faces. They weren’t actually pleasuring themselves in the video, but as Miss Eaves has said, it’s “really good method acting.” With a diversity of women and explicit lyrics, it’s a refreshing break from songs like “Solo” and “I Touch Myself” that make masturbation either a substitute for men or a performance for them.

“Feelin’ Myself” by Nicki Minaj Feat. Beyonce

“Feelin’ Myself” takes on a double meaning here, with masturbation a metaphor for Queen Bey and Nicki Minaj owning their power and being proudly “masculine.” As an astute user has pointed out, it may be inspired by Minaj’s “Come on a Cone” line, “I’m not masturbatin’, but I’m feelin’ myself / Paparazzis is waiting, ’cause them pictures will sell.” Whether it’s taken literally or metaphorically, the song gives women permission to be bossy, loud-mouthed, and a bit full of themselves. And, of course, to masturbate.

NEWS ROUNDUP: The Return of Kanye West & More

Kanye West, The Latest Releases & More

By Jasmine Williams

The Return of Mr. West

Kanye West has been largely silent since the end of 2016, when he was hospitalized for a mental health emergency following a series of outbursts and the early cancellation of a major tour. This week, Kanye West made his unofficial return to the cultural zeitgeist with a slew of tweets announcing two new albums. During an interview with his interior designer last Friday, West exhibited his latest reincarnation – Zen Kanye. He told Axel Vervoordt, “I don’t wish to be number one anymore – I wish to be water.”

That New New

Happy 420! There’s a lot of new music out for you to ponder while you celebrate the greenest of holidays today. Dream beautiful, sad dreams with cellist-singer-model Kelsey Lu’s latest release, “Shades Of Blue” and “Quiet, The Winter Harbor,” from Mazzy Star. Temper your weird munchies cravings with CupcakKe’s new song, “Spoiled Milk Titties.” Get excited by streaming Half Waif and Speedy Ortiz’ new albums one week ahead of their April 27th releases. Feel the nostalgic feels with the return of Lykke Li. The “Little Bit” singer released two new tracks this week. Get crazy with Britkids Let’s Eat Grandma – they announced their new album’s June 29th release date, a new tour, and shared a new song, “It’s Not Just Me.”

You may have slept on Father John Misty’s brief album leak two days ago but you can listen to two brand new FJM tracks now. His next LP drops June 1st. A few weeks ago, the Pitchfork music festival lineup was released and Lauryn Hill emerged as a headliner, with plans to play a reunion show of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This week, the “That Thing” singer announced that she will embark on a full tour to support her singular 1998 album. Neko Case has also made plans to hit the road in support of her upcoming album, Hell-On, out June 1st. Tickets for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ North American tour are on sale now.

End notes:

  • Record Store Day is tomorrow, April 21st! Check out Brooklyn Vegan’s event guide for NYC happenings on Saturday.
  • Old school hip-hop is getting a lot of love. A week after Ghostface Killah played at a Bushwick-area White Castle, MTV announced the return of Yo! MTV Raps, and New York’s Summerstage lineup was released —it features a whole lot of artists from rap’s golden era.
  • Distraction tactics? Shortly after prosecutors announced that they would not push criminal charges in the case of Prince’s death, his estate release a long disappeared 1984 recording of Nothing Compares 2 U. Sinead O’ Connor cemented the song’s fame with her version in 1990.

  • Marking another hip-hop first, Kendrick Lamar received the Pulitzer Prize for music for his seminal album, DAMN.
  • Janelle Monae’s next album, Dirty Computer, is out next week. The “PYNK” singer recently sat down with The New York Times to talk about Prince, her sexuality, and her upcoming record. She released new single “I Like That” earlier this week.

  • Bernie Sanders continues the pop culture and politics love affair. On Wednesday, The Vermont Senator tweeted his support for Cardi B’s recent statements on social security.


VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Surfbort “Les Be In Love” & More

Dani Miller and her band of no-fucks-given cohorts make up the Brooklyn based punk band Surfbort. The band has quickly captured the hearts of the musically saturated Brooklyn borough, with their energetic live shows and their quirky take on punk tradtion. “Les Be In Love” is a single off Surfbort’s first EP, released with Cult Records.

Originally released on February 14th, the single is a reminder not to give love just one day a year. Miller says of the song “‘Les Be in Love’ is our anthem, a call to arms to begin the love revolution. It reminds us that love, humor, magic, and the human sitting next to you are the only antidote to the capitalist hellscape.”

The video is Surfbort’s “letter” to the love gods to end our society’s capitalist agenda and allow all to flourish in the state of love. It’s their statement to bring a little more art, friendship, music and love back into a world where idealism is often replaced by corporate greed.

Miller herself plays cupid in the video, and instead of infecting people with romance, her arrows corrupt people with a true sense of weirdness. The magic arrows take these greedsters out of their corporate suits and flashes them into a colorful world of eccentric weirdos – the world in which the members of Surfbort clearly spend most of their time.

In the video we get a chance to imagine a reality where a bunch of flying weirdos are able to transform anyone into the true super freaks that might be living beneath the suit and tie.

From their humble living room beginnings, to their debut album, the musical trajectory of this sister act has been unique. “The Kids Are Alright Film” is a medley of songs off their debut album, released on March 23rd by Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment label.

Gretta Kline, aka Frankie Cosmos, is deeply vulnerable about the sensations of heartache and and feeling invisible in her latest single “Jesse.” Her album Vessel is slated for release on March 30th.

From Ivy Lab, a London based electronic music group, the music video for their recent release “Cake” is a visual feast. Figures glide through shadows, choreographed by Brooklyn-based dancer Justin Conte, to glitch heavy bass.

Wye Oak’s most recent release “Lifer” is an intimate recognition of the privilege Jenn Wasner sees in her own life and has simultaneously felt uncomfortable with. The visuals are simple, drawing more attention to her words. The song “Lifer” is from their album The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, which is due on April 6th.

NEWS ROUNDUP: The Grammys, New Study on Gender Disparity in Music & More

  • The Grammy Awards

    On Sunday night, the music industry’s most momentous ceremony returns to New York City after ten years in Los Angeles. The 60th Grammy Awards will be held at Madison Square Garden and this year the pressure is on for the Recording Academy to prove that they are still relevant within the cultural zeitgeist. In 2016, Taylor Swift’s 1989 was awarded album of the year over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. The win prompted many, including Frank Ocean, to accuse The Academy of shutting out minorities. In a move that Ocean called his “Colin Kaepernick moment” he declined to submit his seminal sophomore album, Blonde, for 2017 consideration. This action was echoed by Drake who did not enter his immensely popular Views into the competition. A year later, at the 2017 ceremony, a collective “WTF!?” was felt across the music industry yet again when Album of the Year was awarded to Adele’s 25 (herself in disbelief) over Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

    This year, everyone is wondering if the Recording Academy will finally give artists of color the credit they are due. Will trophy wins match the Billboard charts, which have have proven that we are living in the age of hip-hop and R&B? If the nominations are any indication, all signs point to yes. Childish Gambino, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Bruno Mars are all up for album of the year (no rapper has ever won the honor). The last time that four non-white artists were included in this category was in 2005. However, we still have to ask, “Where the women at?” Lorde is the single female nominee in the group. In contrast, the 2018 Best New Artist selection bodes well for racial diversity and gender equality. SZA, Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert, Alessia Cara, and Julia Michaels round out that category.

  • Gender Disparity In The Music Industry

    A new study by USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism has confirmed something we already knew: women are vastly underrepresented in the music industry. To make its conclusion, the study analyzed the gender make-up of songwriters, performers, and producers of top-charting songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for a five-year period. From 2012-2017, female songwriters counted for only 12.3 percent of those hits; 22.4 percent of the performers were women. The study found that different veins of gender inequality within the music industry are all linked. It’s a chain reaction – female artists tend to work with female songwriters more than male artists do. Less ladies on stage mean less ladies behind the lyrics. However, the biggest industry disparity is present in the recording studio. Only two-percent of producers credited for the Billboard hits were women. In other words, male producers outnumbered the ladies, forty-nine to one.

    The Annenberg school is hoping that by highlighting these numbers, the music industry will be called to action and put hiring practices in place that are more beneficial to women.

  • RIP Mark E. Smith (March 5, 1957 – January 24, 2018)

    On Wednesday, post-punk legend Mark E. Smith passed away at the age of sixty. As lead singer and founder of The Fall, the Manchester musician was a complicated figure whose immense talent and vitriolic disposition simultaneously captivated and repelled his greatest collaborators & fans. Smith formed the Fall in 1976 after seeing the Sex Pistols in concert. Before his death, he churned out thirty-two records with a rotating cast of band members. Despite a lack of commercial success, the Fall proved to be a defining influence for future generations of punks and indie-rockers. The Fall’s last release New Facts Emerge came out last year.

  • Other Highlights

    According to Prince’s estate adviser, Troy Carter, the world will one day hear new music from the late musician. However, there’s no telling when the unreleased material will be available to the public as it is tied up in legal battles between record labels, Prince’s legal heirs, and his estate. Sir Elton John has announced that he will retire from touring but you still have several years to catch him on the road. The seventy-year-old Rocket Man will bid his farewell by playing three-hundred shows over the next three years. Two pop heavy-hitters gave us videos this week: Lady Gaga released the clip for a piano-centric version of “Joanne” while Justin Timberlake prompted Bon Iver comparisons (and insults) with “Say Something.” JT’s vid is produced and directed by La Blogothèque, the French collective best known for their YouTube performance series, the Take Away shows. The #MeToo movement is quickly making waves in music industry. This week, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and rapper Nelly were accused of sexual assault. Simmons has vehemently denied the accusations; Nelly has yet to make a statement.

    The Misfits may be returning to NYC with their original lineup. On January 26, Live Nation tweeted “#ALLHELLSGONNABREAKLOOSE” accompanied by the iconic skull logo in the shape of New Jersey, the band’s home state. Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff paid tribute to the late Dolores O’Riordan by releasing covers of The Cranberries’ hits “No Need To Argue” and “Zombie.” Due to overwhelming demand, indie darlings Haim have added a second Radio City date to their Sister Sister Sister tour. They also released a new video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This month has been great for new albums – Hollie Cook, No Age, and Ty Segall all released new material today. No Age will be playing in Brooklyn on May 2.

NEWS ROUNDUP: NYC Cabaret Law Repealed, CMA Gag Order & More

  • NYC Cabaret Law Officially Repealed

    Established in 1926 to prevent unlicensed dancing in NYC bars, New York’s “Cabaret Law” is finally on its last legs after City Council voted Tuesday to end it. Many have been quick to point out that the antiquated law is like something out of Footloose, inappropriate for such a progressive, cosmopolitan city. While the law has been less strictly enforced since Rudy Giuliani used it to crack down on “rowdy” nightclubs nearly two decades ago, it still a red-tape nightmare for venues, bars and clubs – especially, say its critics, those run by and for marginalized groups, such as LGBT, Black, and Latinx communities. Now that City Council has voted to repeal, Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to approve the measure to officially end the 91-year old restriction.

  • The Country Music Association Bans Questions On Gun Rights, Then Rescinds its Gag Rule

    Next week is the annual Country Music Association Awards, and the organization drew criticism this week when it warned reporters covering the event not to ask artists about so-called sensitive issues – specifically, “gun rights, political affiliations or topics of the like.” They threatened reporters who defied these guidelines with loss of credentials and removal from the event, but eventually rescinded the gag order when taken to task by artists and media via Twitter – including the show’s host, Brad Paisley. While the country music scene has often touted gun ownership rights, a deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas at a country music festival last month has caused some musicians to reverse their opinions and call for stricter gun control. To compound to issue, the head of the powerful country music PR firm that represents NRA Country (as well as artists like Dolly Parton and Kid Rock, who have since severed ties) is embroiled in a sexual assault scandal

  • Other Highlights

    Elsewhere opens and Market Hotel re-opens on opposite ends of Bushwick, Beyoncé will play Nala in Disney’s live-action Lion King, Blind Melon’s Bee Girl gets married, Brooklyn grunge-rock darlings Sunflower Bean release new song and sign to Mom + Pop records, Southwest Airlines wants to torture travelers with in-flight concerts, see the LES mural dedicated to Charles Bradley, the 50 most requested lyrics on Alexa, check out Bjork’s bold new publicity photo, Maroon 5’s unfortunate album title, “Oldies” are official public domain, Wilco shares twangy new “old” song “Myrna Lee”, Lana Del Rey weighs in on Harvey Weinstein, Shamir Bailey takes down his music video (his latest LP Revelations is out today), and forget guitar – this woman plays the scissors. Plus new videos from Benjamin Clementine, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Stef Chura.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Princess Nokia a Soup-er Hero, Music Industry Assault Allegations & More

  • Princess Nokia Stands Up To Racist, Goes Viral 

    This week, a viral video showed NYC commuters standing up to a drunk guy on the train when he started yelling racist insults at a group of teenagers. At the end of the video, as he’s pushed out of the train car, someone launches a container of soup at them, covering them in yellow goo. It gets better: the hero in this story is rapper Princess Nokia, who tweeted, “Although painful and humiliating we stood together and kicked this disgusting racist off the train so we could ride in peace away from him… [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][I’ll be] damned if I let some drunk bigot call a group of young teenage boys racist names and allow him to get away with it.”

  • Women Speak out About Sexual Assault in the Music Industry

    No doubt encouraged by the bravery of the many women who have come forward to share their harrowing experiences with powerful film executive Harvey Weinstein, women are coming forward to call out men in other industries who they say have engaged in inappropriate behavior up to and including harassment and assault. Allegations have surfaced in the last week involving Matt Mondanile (a.k.a. Ducktails) who parted ways with former outfit Real Estate over the allegations last year; The Gaslamp Killer, and Alex Calder. A few of the labels and publicists who have worked with these artists have spoken out as well in a show of solidarity. 

  • Other Highlights

    Watch Beyonce’s video for “Freedom,” listen to an unreleased Bob Dylan song, an early listen of Bully’s Losing, Radiohead songs translated through Spongebobit’s the release day for St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION as well as Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s Lotta Sea Lice and Beck’s Colors, watch the new Neil Young video for “Hitchhiker,” Japanese Breakfast directed Jay Som’s “The Bus Song” video, Marilyn Manson discusses his onstage accident, Taylor Swift is starting her own social network, Joan Baez is retiring from touring, Sharon Jones’ posthumous album to be released next month, and read this: The Story of Jud Jud[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


Sometimes, these columns are damn hard to spit out. It’s not always easy to remain enthralled with the music world, especially when the real world seems to be crumbling around us. We don’t have to pretend. 2017 has been a fucking nightmare. We’ve witnessed the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, North Korea launching a missile over Japan, devastating floods in Houston and South Asia, and rallies filled with actual Nazis, just to name few lows.

I’m not a religious person, but I’m starting to expect widespread plague and a swarm of locusts any minute now. Just visiting The Guardian’s World News webpage fills me with terror – especially when the top headline reads: “Armageddon. Scientists calculate how stars can nudge comets to strike Earth.” What the fuck?! I’m a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, but you know what? Maybe there is someone up there, ready to just take us all out with a flaming space rock, because we clearly can’t keep things together down here.

“Um…what does this have to do with music?” you ask.

Here’s the thing: being a music journalist is pretty great. I love it more than any non-human in my life. However, when the world seems to be blazing in what Evangelicals would call “hellfire,” it’s hard to feel motivated to write about anything but serious shit. Rolling out a “think piece” on hidden messages in Taylor Swift’s new video feels like you’re stuffing your soul into a manila envelope and shipping it off to Satan for safekeeping. Even if you understand that it isn’t wrong to write about the VMAs, one still gets the sense that they are ignoring a towering elephant that is not only in the room, he’s bending the baseboards and demolishing furniture.

Of course, when I say “you” and “one,” I ultimately mean “me.” I cannot speak for other music writers. Though I can assume that many of my colleagues, who are intelligent, compassionate people, must feel some of this weight. It’s not possible that I’m the only person who suffers nauseating guilt reporting on Panorama Festival the same weekend journalists discover that North Korean missile tests have the capacity to reach New York.

So what does “one” do? Writing about art and pop culture in frightening times is a delicate matter. To say nothing of the floods, the violence, or the fear seems grossly irresponsible. To mention it only to alleviate one’s own guilt is possibly worse. I would never say making art in times of strife is a waste of time – I will always argue the opposite. I will even go so far as to say that it’s impossible to stall creativity in dire times, as conflict is one of art’s great muses. Critiquing art amidst global devastation, however, can be a task colored with shame. The question often clanging in my head being, “Does it even fucking matter?

I don’t know. I am unfit to answer the question. Here is what I do know. This is my job. My dream job, really. Artists and the music they make are kind of like my religion (or as close as this godless writer comes to it). Even on the worst of days, when my personal and family misfortunes could inspire an entire season of All My Children, I can still be brought to my knees by the beauty of a song. I know it’s corny. I also know that a song won’t drain the waters in Houston, or rewire the brains of white supremacists (if they have anything to rewire, that is). A song can’t do much when it all comes down to it, let alone a writer writing about a song – but artists can.

While I’ve been distraught by this year’s cruel newsreel, the artists who have leveraged their platforms for good causes have given me some sense of pride in humanity. 2017’s first cry from outspoken celebrities occurred at the Women’s March on Washington (and its sister marches around the world), where the likes of Madonna, Alicia Keys, The Indigo Girls, and Janelle Monáe either performed or gave impassioned speeches denouncing Trump’s election. That same month, Canadian electro-pop group Austra released their third LP Future Politics. The album is revelatory and filled with political insight, proving that pop music doesn’t have to be sugarcoated.

In 2017 there have been countless benefit concerts for organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and CAIR-New York (Counsel On American-Islamic Relations), to name but a few. Now the charitable hands of artists will extend to Houston. Solange has planned a benefit show later this month in Boston where 100% of proceeds will go to victims of Hurricane Harvey and its destructive floods. Fall Out Boy and rapper Bun B have planned separate but similar benefit shows, and numerous celebrities have either already given money to relief organizations (like $500,000 from Miley Cyrus and the $25,000 DJ Khaled shelled out) or promised to do so in the near future (like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Demi Lovato, and DNCE).

Many of the aforementioned performers are ones I don’t artistically care for that much, but these days I’m elated they’re around. It seems that with their immense command of the public interest and disposable income, artists have taken on responsibilities that our government should have the answers and funds for. It’s a sad and beautiful truth. That these seemingly “frivolous” celebrities go above and beyond their job title in times of crisis is noble; that they even need to in the first place is appalling.

So coming back to that initial question: what does “one” do? Let’s practice some simple logic. Things are bad right now. Things are really bad; and yet, artists both famous and obscure continue to defy the idea that humans are selfish, no-good creatures. If “you” are a music writer – why not write about those artists and their honorable efforts? It’s the least, and sometimes the most “you” can do.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Taylor Swift Goes Goth, NYC’s Night Mayor, & More

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Looks like Taylor really loved Bey’s “Formation”

  • Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift tried to overshadow the eclipse (while one artist was potentially blinded by it), by scrubbing her social media pages clean on Monday. The internet buzzed about the impending announcement of a follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-winning 1989, and by week’s end details were released: Reputation drops November 10th, with first single “Look What You Made Me Do” hinting at a darker, Goth-ier image for the singer-songwriter.


  • Soon, NYC Will Get Its Own Night Mayor

    In May, it was announced that New York City was getting a Night Mayor. The person that holds the title is in charge of the “Office of Nightlife,” and is responsible for protecting music venues, particularly the kind of DIY venues that have been shutting down at an alarming rates. Read more about the position here, and one of the people vying for it here.

  • A Fight Over Song Licensing Continues

    Some backstory: the Department of Justice is trying to enforce 100% licensing when it comes to song licenses; currently, the industry allows fractional licensing, which means everyone who “owns” a song must agree about its licensing. However, 100% licensing means that any one of those people can license the song without permission. Both BMI and ASCAP think this will be damaging to songwriters, and have teamed up to oppose the DOJ. Read the whole story here.

  • Other Highlights

    Spotify prepares to go public, hip-hop cookie dough, Solange is playing Radio City next month, RIP John Abercrombie, a new song from Beck, the Village Voice will end its print edition, Beyonce and Laverne Cox are planning a collaboration, Kim Gordon has a new clothing line, and the Allah-Lahs’s name leads to a canceled concert. 

NEWS ROUNDUP: Grace Slick, Fighting Misogyny In Music & More

  • Grace Slick Trolls Chick-fil-a

    We all know Chick-fil-a is notoriously anti-LGBTQ. You’d think this would make it hard for them to find a musician willing to allow their song in a television ad, but Grace Slick saw their offer as an opportunity. She’s donating all of the money she makes from the ad to Lambda Legal, an organization that fights for the rights of LGBTQ people. “Admittedly it’s not the millions that WinShape [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][of Chick-fil-a] has given to organizations that define marriage as heterosexual,” the she wrote in a Forbes op-ed. “But instead of them replacing my song with someone else’s and losing this opportunity to strike back at anti-LGBTQ forces, I decided to spend the cash in direct opposition to ‘Check’-fil-A’s causes.” Now that you know where the revenue is going, watch the ad below and read the op-ed here.

  • New Campaign Fights Misogyny In Music

    The mission of Bands Take A Stand is “to create safe spaces and use our collective voices as a vehicle for positive change within our music community.” Specifically, the campaign has teamed up with bands who donate their streaming revenue for a certain amount of time to A Voice For The Innocent, an organization that helps survivors of abuse. Read more here and here.

  • Fake (Music) News From Richard Spencer

    Yesterday, reporter Olivia Nuzzi tweeted that while attending the CPAC, Richard Spencer declared Depeche Mode the “official band of the alt-right” after he was asked if he liked rock music. The band took to social media to denounce the statement, and Spencer clarified that he was joking. Someone later shared a Facebook note in which Spencer ranked 30 years of Depeche Mode albums, which proves why he’s not a music journalist: it’s incredibly boring.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

NEWS ROUNDUP: Prince, The Grammys & More

  • Prince’s Music Is Now Streaming

    It’s something that was impossible just a week ago: As I write this, I’m listening to Around The World In A Day on Spotify. Prince’s music was formerly streaming only on Tidal, but his estate sued to release it on other streaming services starting last Sunday. On one hand, it’s nice to have easy access to such an iconic artist. But on the other, Prince was notorious for maintaining complete control over how his music was released and distributed as well as made, so it’s hard not to wonder what he’d think of all this.

ONLY NOISE: Only The Lonely

When Beyoncé so wisely instructed “All the single ladies” (ALL the single ladies) to “put your hands up,” it was a different time. It was 2008. A year of innocence. We had elected Obama. Beach House had released Devotion. And single ladies everywhere felt empowered by Queen B’s anthem for autonomy. I’d just moved to New York, 18 and wet behind the ears. I couldn’t wait to have my own fashion line, a loft in Soho, and to party with The Strokes – all of which happened in rapid succession. (#AlternativeFacts.)

Back then, 99% of my friends were single, and we relished in seasons of not giving a fuck about it. Our lives were spun of work, college, fun…and the impending recession. But still! Life was good. Lovers came and went like party guests. Some stayed longer than invited. Others left before even taking their coats off.

Nearly ten years on, paradigms have shifted, and rightly so. People met cute and moved in. People got married. Some got babied up. Hell, even Beyoncé, Ms. Single Lady herself, got married to Jay-Z – and I hear it’s going really well!

Naturally, my single friend percentage declined. It is in the single digits these days…like, in the 1-3% range. Which begs me to entreat: “All my single ladies (All my single ladies!) Now put your hands up!” All six of them. All six of your combined hands. Put them up, for the love of god. I guess with my hands we have eight. Strength in numbers.

Did anyone ever stop to ask: why are we putting our hands up?? Maybe Beyoncé wanted all the single ladies to put their hands up – because they were about to be shot by a firing squad? Maybe that’s what that song is about…elimination of the single ladies. She did marry Jay-Z that year after all. Perhaps it was meant as a kindness…to put us single ladies out of our perceived misery.

Ok, that’s a bit extreme, but I can’t help being wry. As we approach Valentine’s Day – the preferred holiday of single people everywhere – the commodity of coupling up can be oppressive. The polyester teddy bears lining shelves at Duane Reade. The lingerie ads. 50 Shades Darker.

Valentine’s Day is perhaps the most polarizing commercial holiday; the holiday that cruelly bisects the population into those with, and those without. Those who will dance together in the kitchen to Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” – and those who will sob to it over a box of self-gifted Russel Stover’s. Those who shall feast upon prix-fixe dinners of lamb chops and heart-shape chocolate cakes – and those who SHAN’T!

Parks and Recreation may have given us stags “Galentine’s Day,” and I’m sure Pinterest is rife with “fun alternatives” to drinking an entire bottle of wine in front of the mirror while cry-singing Cat Power, but I say fuck that shit. We don’t need alternatives. The single ladies don’t need saving. I don’t wanna go to the club with “gloss on my lips/a man on my hips,” as per Bey’s example.

Instead, all my single ladies: let’s dwell. Let’s lament. Let’s feel the pain. Love does hurt after all, and so does its absence. But that’s all right. This shit makes the world go ‘round. This Valentine’s Day, I want you to imagine all of the songs that have ever been written. Yup, all of ‘em. How many of those do you reckon are love songs? A pretty big portion I’d say. Finally, think about how many of those love songs are happy love songs, versus the ones that spring from raw, unbridled agony.

You see my point.

Would Roy Orbison ever have written “Only the Lonely” if he were just peachy and happily married? Would Stephin Merritt have written any songs, ever? Would I have any sad bastard music to listen to at all?


Some of the best music comes from good old-fashioned anguish. So when you’re feeling unbearably lonely, remember that you’re in good company – albeit the miserable kind.

I admit: there is a time to “put your hands up” and feel emboldened by solitude. I do it every day, when I eat my lame yet efficient dinner of sandwich meats, mayo, and hot sauce wrapped in a plume of romaine lettuce. Standing up. By the sink. I celebrate the fact that I can make the decision to do so without the democratic process. Without having the “What are we doing for dinner?” conversation. I can eat my sad lettuce wrap in peace. Blaring Pulp and singing along, still chewing. There is always a time to champion sad salad wrap singing, and 2am laundry doing, and in-bed pizza eating. And there is also a time to pour yourself a carafe of merlot, put on a depressing record, and be alone with everyone who’s ever written a song.

This Valentine’s Day, let’s get dismal. Just for one night. No one will even notice! (Because they will be on a date!)

Let’s start with Morrissey’s “Please Help The Cause Against The Loneliness.” A bubblegum number to the uncaring ear; but listen closer: sweet, sweet isolation! Leave it to Moz to wax desolate – this bouncing tune scrutinizes the pity cast upon the unwed…and who better to scrutinize than the infamous asexual himself? “Please help the cause against the loneliness,” Moz croons, as if there is a charity handout for our kind (if only!).

Next turn up some Liz Phair, who knew that you could still be completely alone while lying right next to someone. Phair’s snarky “Fuck and Run” is the quintessential opus for bad decisions. A sloppy, pitchy, honest, pathetic, undeniably brave song. This is diary caliber realism – all about that forbidden bed you keep crawling back into. Phair really hits it home when she asks the simple questions, like:

“Whatever happened to a boyfriend/The kind of guy who tries to win you over?/And whatever happened to a boyfriend/The kind of guy who makes love ’cause he’s in it?/ And I want a boyfriend /I want a boyfriend/I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas.”

While we’re reveling in emotional immaturity, let’s listen to “I Don’t Want To Get Over You” by the barons of broken hearts – Magnetic Fields, the band that truly did “make a career of being blue.”

As we’re discovering, a bit of wallowing can be cathartic. Despite all of the song’s clever imagery, one line says it all for me:

“I could leave this agony behind/Which is just what I’d do/If I wanted to/But I don’t want to get over you.”

And haven’t we all been down that dark hallway?

If love’s impact on the history of music, film, art, literature, and war (I’m talking to you, Helen of Troy) isn’t making you feel at one with your solitude – may I throw but one last metaphor at you?

A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Paris: the city of lights and love and innumerable sauces. She regaled me with tales of part-time lovers and fine meals. At the end of one such fine meal, she chose a dessert to cap off the perfect dinner. She chose framboise surprise. Raspberry surprise. Ooh la la! To append an American dish with “surprise” usually suggests catastrophe (tuna surprise), but the French weren’t gonna fuck this up! It would be exquisite; mountains of frothy pink mousse encasing shortbread and sorbet, the whole thing crowned with gold-dipped sugar lattices. Quelle surprise!

When the dessert was gently placed on the table, raspberries there were. The surprise however, was missing. It was 12 raspberries, up-ended on a plate. 12. Fucking. Raspberries. That’s it. C’est tout.

My point is: sometimes love is all that frothy pink mousse and more. Sometimes a relationship is a rich and mysterious and delicious dessert, worthy of all the pain, paintings, opuses and arias. And sometimes – it’s 12 fucking raspberries on a plate. That you just paid 10 Euros for.

Either way…there’s bound to be a song about it.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Beyonce, Angel Olsen, and Anohni


  • Beyonce Teams Up With The Dixie Chicks

    The country group and pop star performed “Daddy Lessons” at the Country Music Awards with a full band in an impressive performance, but one that didn’t come without controversy: The CMA was accused of removing any mentions of the performance from its social media, some racist country fans left a bunch of unsavory comments regarding Beyonce’s anti-police associations from Lemonade, and people are still mad at the Dixie Chicks for insulting George Bush in 2003. Whatever, guys.

  • Anohni’s “Hopelessness” Gets Visuals

    “How did I become a virus?” The surreal video, which accompanies the title track of Ahnohni’s May 2016 album,  features a businesswoman walking through dream-like scenes where she confronts her connection to and impact on nature. Eventually, she retreats to the safety of technology.

  • Angel Olsen Performed With The Raincoats

    Clad in matching striped shirts, this collaboration celebrated Rough Trade’s 40th anniversary at Islington Assembly Hall in London. Check out their performance of “High And Wild.”

  • Haybaby Release Video For “Yours”

    Released yesterday via Tiny Engines, the video is an unsettling up-close shot of singer Leslie Hong as she struggles to find her own space in a room full of strangers, flinching at their touch. The song itself is blistering and raw, a must-listen. Check it out on Bandcamp, where you can name your price for the single.

PLAYING DETROIT: Bevlove “Talk That Shit”


The incomparable maven of Detroit pop, Bevlove released her EP Talk That Shit last week which pop, locks and drops feral beats with a disciplined hip-hop assertiveness that undoubtedly rewires the game.

The 5-track EP is unexpectedly varied but remarkably consistent. It’s as if each song is a chapter describing the same night out documenting the fun, the madness and the humanizing need to not go home alone all filtered through Bevlove’s prismatic scepter of diva-dom. Yes, Lady Love reigns supreme on Talk That Shit but unlike other commanding, radio-ready pop endeavors, there is nothing isolating or exclusive about this particular journey into Detroit’s after-hours and Bev’s sexified psyche. It’s a call to bad bitches and vulnerable vixens to not just get lit, but to shine through the club fog and to rise above the unreturned text messages from that dude.

Opening with “Do What I Say,” a BDSM, girl-gang anthem that self-satisfies without apology leads into “Freaks” which modernizes Whodini’s 1984 classic and acts as a word of warning to future gentrifiers and suburban visitors. Then comes Bev’s brand of satiated delicacy with “Save Me” which doesn’t stray sonically but explores her range of tenderness and soaring vocals that are reminiscent of vintage Rihanna. Bev’s emotional duality is a vibrant essence especially when she goes from achingly wanting someone to stay and save her and flips the script on “Leave With Me” which details a one night stand and mixed signals, where (once again) she takes control; the EP’s constant and Bevlove’s secret weapon. Collectively, Talk That Shit is an immovable powerhouse that is relevant yet stays two steps ahead. However, the closing track “Champagne Bubbles” is unbelievably self-realized and there’s no doubt that Beyonce herself would envy the song start to finish. From the placement of vocal flight and the cathartic, heart-opening sonic build, “Bubbles” is a complete thought and is evidence of Bevlove’s inevitable ascent to the next-next level.

Turn up and bow down to Bevlove’s latest below:

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PLAYING DETROIT: Bevlove “Do What I Say”

Playing Detroit

In today’s world, all you need is Bevlove.

Beverly Johnson is Bevlove, Detroit‘s premier pop goddess. She writes. She sings. She’s changing the game. Produced by SYBLYNG and Assemble Sound and directed by Detroit visual wonder-kids The Right Brothers, “Do What I Say” dropped last night at midnight. Relevant both conceptually and sonically, the track proves that Bevlove is more than a breakthrough, she’s a wrecking ball.

“DWIS” acts as a seductive instructional and a warning for future lovers, victims and anyone who dare take on Bevlove on the streets or in the sheets. “DWIS” could easily be the sequel to Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have my Money”  and the video could be the more sinister, less PG sister to rival girl-gang in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” The video features some of Detroit’s favorite bad girls following behind leading lady Love with torches and man eating scowls, ready to attack. Flashing to smokey dance scenes and the ultimate pink confetti girl party. Where “DWIS” bares its visual duality is when we see Bevlove in bed with white feathers floating around her lingerie clad angel self, making us believe she is to be trusted. But we know better. Bevlove uses her vocals as a Trojan horse, delivering the lyrics “Such a fucking lady/tonight I’m going to take control.” Her voice breaks into another stratosphere, departing from her hardened hip-hop cadence to reveal ethereal tones and a richness that Beyoncé herself would envy.  The song is perfectly crafted with everything that makes a song raunchy yet radio ready and impossible to shake from your head. The catchy hook, the bass beat and choppy hip-hop delivery is current enough to blend in and original enough to set its own precedent for badass-ery. The video celebrates women and flips the script on sex, desire and not taking shit. Bevlove is a great reminder of why you should get you a girl that can do both.

Watch “Do What I Say” here. Listen to the track below.

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NEWS ROUNDUP: The Politicization of Music, RHCP, & Radiohead


  • Beyonce & the Politicization of Music

    Though Beyonce’s Lemonade contains unlimited potential for trivial gossip (Who is Becky?), the visual album is way deeper than that, as explained in The Rolling Stone here. Music has gotten a little more political lately, with artists canceling shows in anti-LGBTQ states or performing in support of political candidates (well, mostly Bernie Sanders), but when Beyonce weighs in, you know we’ve reached the peak of the politicization of music.

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  • Red Hot Chili Peppers Accused of Sexual Harassment

    Julie Farman, who worked at Epic Records in the 90’s, wrote a blog post detailing a “fucked up” experience she had during a meeting with members of the band. Farman wrote she was inspired to speak up after Amber Coffman broke her silence about Heathcliff Berru earlier this year, and blamed “the misogynistic culture of the music industry that kept [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][her] from speaking up in 1991.”

  • Watch White Lung’s Video For “Below”

    The band plays in a dark theater, their only audience a handful of Marilyn Monroe impersonators who are brought to tears by the performance. “Below” is from White Lung’s upcoming album Paradise, out on May 6.

  • Levitation Festival Is Cancelled

    Artists including Animal Collective, Courtney Barnett, Ty Segall, Ween and many more were scheduled to play the festival, which was cancelled due to dangerous weather in Texas.

  • A New Radiohead Album Might Be In The Works

    The band is promoting it in kind of a creepy way: sending fans in the UK leaflets that say “We know where you live” and referencing the early 2000’s song “Burn The Witch.” It’s the latest sign that a new album is coming, after they announced a world tour and registered the companies Dawn Chorus LLP and Dawnnchoruss Ltd. When it comes out, it’ll be the band’s first new album since 2011’s The King Of Limbs.

  • Blink-182 Are Back?

    The pop punk group replaced Tom Delonge with Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio and released the first song from their upcoming album. California will be out July 1st, but “Bored To Death” was just presented to the internet in the worst way possible: a lyric video. Seriously, why do bands use these things? Anyway, here it is:


NEWS ROUNDUP: Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, & Daytrotter Festival


  • Father John Misty Stars in Lana Del Rey’s “FREAK”

    In the 11-minute long video, the two go on a hike before dropping acid. The last few minutes are slow motion footage of people frolicking in a swimming pool, set to a gentle piano ballad. According to Father John Misty, the video was inspired by a time he took acid at a Taylor Swift concert. Uh, sure it is. Read our review here.

  • Inaugural Daytrotter Downs Fesitval Starts Next Week

    What is Daytrotter? They bring in fairly well-known artists for recording sessions featuring alternative or reworked versions of their songs, and sometimes brand-new material. And from February 18 to February 20, they’ll be hosting a music festival in Davenport, IA featuring artists such as Lizzo, Mothers, and Curtis Harding. Check out a Daytrotter session from the Alabama Shakes below:

  • Beyonce Drops New Video, Internet Explodes

    There’s not much left to say about Beyonce’s “Formation;” she released the song and video the night before the Superbowl, but didn’t stop there. After her halftime performance, she announced a 2016 tour and a new, upcoming album. Trying to buy some cheap tickets? Good luck.

  • Happy Valentine’s Day From Paul McCartney & … Skype?

    Nothing says “Rock & Roll” or “I Love You” quite like corporate sponsorship. Skype is introducing some new love-themed Mojis, and the company put Paul McCartney to work recording their sound effects. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for some desperate artist to do a MailChimp collaboration.

  • OK Go Release Video For “Upside Down & Inside Out”

    “Gravity’s just a habit that you’re really sure you can’t break:” OK Go is known for their off-the-wall music videos, and “Upside Down & Inside Out,” which was released yesterday, is no exception. It features the band literally bouncing off the walls in zero gravity along with some dancing flight attendants. While the song was included on the 2014 album Hungry Ghosts, it’s safe to assume to the delay was necessary to rehearse in that crazy setup.


BEST OF 2014: 10 Musicians Killing the Fashion Game This Year

Let’s admit it: 2014 has been a rough year for news. Missing planes, police killings and various states’ decisions to limit women’s access to health care (all together now, deep breaths) are just a few things that happened. So, to brighten things up, I’ve rounded up my favorite style icons from the music world. These ladies go outside the circle of accepted streetwear to find their own unique looks that we all should aspire to.

zola jesus

Zola Jesus/Nika Danilova

Zola Jesus is one of my personal style icons. Her style is dark and minimal, yet still edgy and cool. My favorite of her looks this year was the promotional photo passed around for her album Taiga. In it, she’s wearing a black dress that has what looks like a leather corset and this huge plate that looked like she cut out a circle and stuck her head through. Straight, long dark hair and dark red lipstick. Perfect.

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annie clark

St. Vincent/Annie Clark

Annie Clark has always had a cool style, but when she died her hair white/lavender/gray to serve as the look for her new album and tour, things got even better. The best way to describe her look is futuristic rocker chic. Even just the album cover of her latest release has her looking regal as she sits on her thrown, wearing a long sleeved, floor length dress. Even when she was featured in Time Out New York wearing a simple crew neck black dress, she still looks dazzlingly otherworldly. If her look is of the future, then I’m on board.

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Grimes/Claire Boucher

No matter her hair color this year, Grimes kept it fresh. From cutting her hair into a super short straight bang to wearing sparkly gold blazers, a Simpson’s themed sweatshirt or a yellow fuzzy sweater, her style is always keeping our attention. She wears what makes her happy and that is that. She’s one of several younger female musicians who aren’t afraid to be adventurous with her outfits. And thank goodness.

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Charli XCX

All I really need to say about Charli and her look is “pussy power.” She’s tough and fearless and sexy, in the best way. She’ll wear bomber jackets and platform heels and whatever the hell she wants. So much black fishnets, leather, choker collars, plaid miniskirts, fringe and two-piece matching outfits. And she has a sour-but-sweet attitude to top it all off. We’re so in love.

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Lucky for us, when the Haim sisters get dressed, we get three times the style. All of them have different taste altered to their liking, but it’s the same aesthetic: girl rockers who are here to kick some ass. Lots of black leather and denim jackets. You’re likely to find Este sporting either a dress or a skirt/crop combo. Alana has a more edgy look, more likely to pair leather with neon colors. Danielle pulls off the menswear look with button ups and blazers. Each of their looks compliments the others. It’s almost like they have some sort of sisterly telepathic energy that runs through them, keeping their styles together.

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Is there a year that Beyonce doesn’t run the fashion game? This year she kicked it up with her concert outfits with her On The Run Tour with Jay Z. Leotards for days. And Bey is the one to rock them all. The 7/11 music video where she wore variations of underwear and sweatshirts, and even an upside down visor that looked like a crown. Then there was the gold sequin Tom Ford jersey. Really, there’s nothing left to say.

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Do I really need to explain why the 2014 CFDA Style Icon Award winner is on this list? From baring it all at the awards ceremony in an Adam Salman dress to kicking it in a tee and cuttoffs in her ever-changing hair colors, RiRi has a fearless attitude when it comes to how she dresses herself. Vogue praised her style and put her on their March fashion cover and W did the same with the coveted fall fashion September issue. And she was recently named creative director of Puma. She truly shined this year and we should all be paying attention.

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Taylor Swift

I don’t care for Taylor Swift. Not my music, not my thing. But I do have to admit that the girl really upped her style when she ditched her former permanent uniform of sundresses and long curls for a more retro style and long bob. She really came into her own. When she’s not wearing glittery crop tops and high-waisted skirts while performing, you can find her strutting around New York in shirtdresses, button ups, and even… pants. Maybe hanging out with Karlie has rubbed off on her? Whatever it is, it’s working. So props to you, Tay Tay, even if you hold you purse really weirdly.

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A Year in Controversies: How the Think-piece Shapes Music Criticism


In the age of the ubiquitous think-piece, here’s another, and this time, it’s about think-pieces.  In 2013 what think-pieces mean is that no one is about to get away with anything.  You’re a white girl who twerked in a music video?  You’re a white girl trying to criticize consumerism by skewering the particular facets of hip-hop culture that bug you most?  You’re a white girl making a comeback built on spoofing both these things?  Well guess what – you’re racist.  Are you a male journalist discussing any of this?  You aren’t even allowed to.

Arcade Fire, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Lily Allen, Beyonce, and also everyone who has negative thoughts about Beyonce: you are racist.  Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, Action Bronson, James Brooks, Chris Ott, Beyonce, and also everyone who has negative thoughts about Beyonce: you’re sexist.  And R. Kelly?  You are criminally sick, and it’s sad it took us all this long to come to terms with that.

While the internet has been known to work itself into a tizzy and sometimes misses the point, all this goes beyond the “haters gon’ hate” anachronism.  This year certainly wasn’t the first time anyone examined culture through a progressive lens, but it feels refreshing to read about privilege in relation to pop music.  There will be those that will roll their eyes and some whose eyes will be opened.  Whether you are more upset over Arcade Fire’s appropriation of Haitian culture in the making and promoting of Reflektor or that they asked fans to dress in formal wear for their shows doesn’t exactly matter because the conversations are still happening.

And sometimes, just the conversation is the positive thing, the thing that shows real sea change.  Best case in point: the roundtable of eight female journalists that Spin assembled to discuss the work of James Brooks, an artist who’d been discussed up to that point mainly on message boards and on his girlfriend Grimes’ tumblr.  As a song, “On Fraternity” was not especially memorable, but the discussion that followed its release – about whether it was appropriate for Brooks as a man to “explain” rape culture to women, or to name his project Dead Girlfriends, kind of was.  Because it compiled the opinions of eight amazing writers who, because of their gender, are still a minority in their industry (even in 2013).

It’s the same industry that produced a guy like Chris Ott, who has some very valid points about the ethics of advertisers appropriating “cool” as interpreted by young writers.  But because he singled out the Pelly twins (and dug himself a deeper hole in trying to explain why) his arguments got lost in the (equally valid) debate about whether his comments were sexist.  In the end, he may have looked more curmudgeonly than anything else, but it raises an interesting question about the very blurry lines between free speech, hate speech, and sponsored content.

Which brings me to everyone’s favorite Marvin Gaye rip-off.  Robin Thicke’s video, the MTV VMA performance, and the date-rapey overtones of “Blurred Lines” were among the most discussed stories of the year.  In one of the more interesting examinations of the song’s politics, a feminist writer talked about how she was able to compartmentalize the its content because she just really, really loved the song.  There are a lot of women who share her ability to do that.  Agree or not, you have to admire that admission, because there were plenty of people who just shrugged and kept dancing without bothering to point out that women have to do this all the time, because so much of music portrays them as less than human.

There have always been controversial characters and questionable lyrics.  That piece also named R. Kelly as one of them (the writer, again, was able to set aside Kelly’s “alleged” crimes to enjoy “Remix to Ignition”).  But that was before Jess Hopper interviewed Jim DeRogatis, the reporter who broke Kelly’s sex scandal.  For fifteen years, juries and fans alike ignored his crimes, made jokes.  But because of that piece there are a lot of people who are now unable, or straight up refuse, to compartmentalize that reality to get through Black Panties without wanting to barf.  Why did it take fifteen years to come to terms with the fact that R. Kelly is a predator?  We knew it all along.

The difference, really, is the internet.  Most of DeRogatis’ reporting on the subject was done in print; Hopper is in a distinct position as music editor of Rookie, contributor to Spin, Village Voice, etc. etc. etc. to reach an audience that DeRogatis could not.  There are a lot of people writing think-pieces and open letters and retweeting important writing these days, and while they may not do it as eloquently as the professionals, they are no longer just screaming into a void.  Will that give artists in 2014 pause while they consider more deeply how their works and actions will be perceived?  Even if it takes us until 2050, let’s keep thinking.