If there was one phenomenon that nearly everyone could agree on in 2019, it was Lizzo. She is the sensation we’ve all been in need of in these dark times. Wildly gifted, gorgeous, goofy, glamorous, and most of all, bursting with positivity, she’s the literal antidote to depression. In short, it’s very hard not to love Lizzo, and if you can’t find something about her to connect to, no joke there has to be something wrong with you. The only people who had anything bad to say about Lizzo were the sort of fun-hating cave trolls who take personal offense at the idea of a big black woman being unapologetically herself, having fun, supporting other women and being lauded for it. For the rest of us, she offers a great message wrapped in great tunes, and unlike so much so-called ‘positivity culture’, hers is not pap. She’s not just spouting off platitudes; it’s the hard-won lessons of someone who got tired of being shamed by the world for existing in a shape and color that wasn’t just exactly the correct shape and color designated to earn ‘approval’, and decided that the whole concept of waiting and striving and forcing yourself to somehow become worthy of some nebulous hypothetical approval was bunk, and the only approval a girl needs is her own and that of her familiars, and that without the boulder of self-loathing that women are brainwashed into carrying around life is %10,000 better. It’s not something you learn from an Instagram post. It’s wisdom you learn by living it. The spread of self-love and self-empowerment wisdom might just be the only thing worth celebrating right now.
The Norwegian singer Aurora has been one of my favorite new discoveries this year. I’ve been drawn towards Scandinavia in general lately, for whatever reason. I’ve been listening to a lot of records by Royksopp, Karin Dreijer, Ionnalee, and – of course- Robyn. There’s something, collectively, about their cerebral take on electronic music. Aurora is a great addition to that roster, with her eerie vocals and evocative compositions. Maybe it’s the cold pure northern air that inspires so many chilly soundscapes, or maybe just the depressive effects of so many months spent wearing woolen socks. Whatever it is, it speaks to me.
Thanks to internet culture, and social media, and technology, and, like, the world being what it is, we now have Emo Rap. Which is exactly what you think it is; a genre that combines the fun stuff of rap, such as rapping, with the emotionally heavy stuff of emo, such as suicidal depression. Aka it’s the most post-millennial, post-cultural, post-post-everything musical genre that encapsulates what the youth of today are thinking and feeling. Hint, they’re angry and depressed. All this is exemplified here, by Hobo Johnson, a young millennial Mexican-American Californian who took his stage name from being homeless. I discovered his work because Spotify allows you to see what your friends are listening to, and a lot of them were listening to Hobo Johnson. Apparently, his best known song is about buying a Subaru, which both parodies hip-hop’s gauche obsession with luxury cars, and speaks to the lived experience of the artist and his young fans. (More about that song later.) You may not have to like it – I’m not entirely sure I do – but it’s a product of our cultural moment and fascinating as such.
This is a thing I stumbled on when I was looking for something else. I discovered Meg Myers when I was trying to research Meg Mac and I thought they were the same person. Probably happens a lot. As it is, you probably know as much about Meg Myers as I do. Which is next to nothing. But definitely check out 2015 debut album, also titled Sorry.
Welcome back to finding out bands that I’ve made a point of never listening to because I thought they were quote unquote ** 90’s music **. As usual in this particular regard, I’m wrong. The Stone Roses, apparently, had kicked around the Manchester music scene for almost the whole entire 80’s before making a record. They made their debut album in 1989, made another one in 1994, and disbanded amid legal wranglings. So these guys spent most of their lifespan as a group playing without a record label, or records. Which must have been some kind of a feat of bad luck and/or self sabotage, because we all know that Manchester was the absolute coolest miserable, poverty-stricken post-industrial backwater to be plucked from by the sweet chariot of fame aka there were a lot of record label scouts up there looking for the next Ian Curtis. Interesting to know how that whole story played out. Maybe I’ll read up on it. In the meantime, here’s one great 80’s Manchester sadboi album I didn’t previously know about.
You thought I was an expert on 80’s music, but I’m sorry, I’m not. Every time I think that I really know my stuff, I discover how much I don’t know. For example, I’ve never listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain before this year, and that was only because I put myself through the task of listening to more 80’s music, year by year. Apparently, I know a lot about New Wave and the New Romantics, but alternative rock remains a huge blind spot. I’ve also never listened to Sonic Youth, the Replacements, or R.E.M. just to name a few. I’m not exactly going to change my lifestyle to listen to more R.E.M. – they suck, fyi – but there’s a few records I’ve discovered that I’m going to start listening to more. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy is one of them.
Sometimes a new discovery isn’t new at all. Who remembers Jody Watley? I sure didn’t, but I guess I do now. She had a series of big hits in the late 80’s, and then, presumably because New Jack Swing went out of style, continued recording with a much lower profile. Obviously, I don’t know very much about 80’s funk music, so there’s a lot of artists who had major moments of fame who I’ve barely heard of. Also, in the 80’s, there was still a fair amount of market segregation, so that artists who enjoyed great success with black audiences didn’t necessarily become well known in the white-dominated mainstream. That means that Jody Watley may be one of the most successful dance music artists of all time, and one of the most successful black women singers, but in her day ‘dance music’ was code for the gay nightclub demographic, funk and R’n’B were for black audiences, and female singers were considered bubblegum. Does that mean that Watley was unfairly overlooked and deserves to be taken much more seriously? Probably not. Her music was pretty unambitious pop-funk, but it does offer a refreshing alternative to the same old handful of generic white-girl pop hits that we’ve come to associate with the decade.