Willow’s newest self-titled project dropped on July 19, and it’s gotten tossed around as a “new age trope” and “disappointing.” What those reviewers missed is its calming energies, feminist messaging, and proudly anti-materialistic declarations – a bold step for the daughter of two of society’s wealthiest people to take.
“Like a Bird” is a poem. “Female Energy, Part 2” is a slow, crooning ballad that is entirely too relatable amidst our current political and environmental crises. “I don’t know if I can chill / I need to scream it loud,” she sings. “[H]ow am I to feel? Tell me how,” alludes to the new trend of climate-change-and-political-inaction-related-anxiety.
This project is more mature and staunchly realistic in its statements than ARDIPITHECUS and The 1st. It is primarily written from the perspective of Willow looking outward, whereas much of her past work, including “Cycles”, were more typical pop songs in their self-centered themes. The feminist assertions of “PrettyGirlz” and “Overthinking IT” are not to be overlooked. “Overthinking IT” takes responsibility for changing one’s own perceptions and stereotypes and removing one’s self from anxiety-inducing situations (self-care!): “I got so much work to do… I have so much love to give.” “PrettyGirlz” is my favorite track on the project; it celebrates femininity, bi- and pansexuality, and the attractiveness of intelligence (“Want a girl who knows herself like her favorite book right on the shelf”). Willow contrasts what society wants from girls (hips, Hollywood glamour, perfection, and oodles of straight, styled hair) with more desirable, genuine traits: curls (yay natural hair!), emotions running “amok”, passion, and confidence (“Her planet so bright, can’t see shit”).
The nostalgia of “Time Machine” is powerful and understandable; I’m a 90s kid, but I read and watch and hear about growing up in the 80s and 90s (my husband is eight years older than me) and yearn for that safer, anti-establishment moment. Instead, the cost of living today is so high that my friends don’t have time to get together; we’re working two or three part-time jobs seven days a week; what I wouldn’t give to have time to ride a longboard and “cruise all day.” She also references Basquiat and in “Samo Is Now”, SAMO, the pair of graffiti artists whose artistically-scrawled epigrams challenged conventional thinking and encouraged societal critique.
Her 2015 track “dRuGz” deals with insecurities and spiritual uncertainty. WILLOW demonstrates her newfound confidence using psychedelic imagery, energies, and spiritually-fresh musings: “Ancient secrets on me, on the beach for the week.” This project’s stunning, musically-mature sound and challenging content make it stand out among other 2019 releases.
Gambino’s new video “This is America” is a thoughtfully choreographed masterpiece, evocative, timely, crucial. I was reminded of others’ work, Danez Smith, Claudia Rankine, Michelle Alexander, Jess X Snow, Myles Golden, George Abraham, Toni Morrison, Khalid Abudawas, and I felt that this video is poetry, that it takes audiences on such a stark, emotional journey, and it does so well. This project uses every imaginable aspect to convey violence, corruption, and terror. Each swell, musical style, and rhythm is meant to bolster the content of the lyrics and visuals.
The very first glimpse we have of Gambino is when he comes into view from behind a beam: taking us by surprise. Before the first sound loop changes into the next section of the song, we see him pull a gun out and execute the guitarist, terrorist / POW-style right after grooving to the intro, aka in the middle of ordinary activities.
After the commentary indicative of a Black Lives Matter / cultural truth “we just wanna party”, the chorus dives into critiques of guns, police, and the divide between people of color (particularly dark-skinned Americans) and inner city police forces (“Don’t catch you slipping up” and “guerilla”).
His main entourage or co-stars in the video are young; including young dancers is a beautiful statement and nod to those learning and dancing young, particularly to those youth of color in inner cities (the school uniform aesthetic) who dance for fun; it also serves, as culture and roots remind us, as an homage to inner city youth of days past.
Obviously one of the most fucked up and therefore powerful images in the video is when he slays the church choir. But the very way the scene is set up is also a powerful statement; Gambino slips in a side door unnoticed, meaning we as the audience probably didn’t even notice the door until he came in, since we were so focused on watching the choir perform. He acts at home, dances, smiles, laughs, freezes, turns, catches an assault rifle, and guns down the choir. During my first time watching the video, I said to my husband, “I almost had to expect that after the first guy he killed.” That in itself is part of the statement. How often do we just feel numb to the news of another mass shooting, another school shooting, another person with access to a gun who had never passed a background check, another bucket in the ocean of reasons assault rifles should not be manufactured for civilian sale. Another instance of Conservative gunowners possessing more rights than victims of gun violence.
The next scene depicts police and violence against individuals dressed in street clothes, hoodies, loose pants, etc. During the middle of this scene, Gambino jumps on beat and makes eye contact with the camera while singing, “Whoo, whoo!” He jumps playfully, sings goodnaturedly, as though the officers are a joke. As though the scene is a joke. Because how Black men are treated in this country by the police SHOULD BE A JOKE. But it isn’t. This irony packs a punch.
He dances again with the group of young people. He plays it off. It’s not ‘serious’; it’s normal for these kids to be dancing in the middle of chaos with the police; their neighborhoods are overpoliced and underserved. This generation is growing up when Black Lives Matter and social media and everyday life in their communities teaches them that this combative existence against the police is normal.
The lyrics during this section focus on a materialistic critique, a critique about caring about superficial things (“geekin out”; “fitted”; “Gucci”; “so pretty”). Then, the content moves in on a critique of guns and international weapons trafficking (“contraband”; “the plug in Oaxaca” (a city in Mexico); “blocka”). You’ll notice also that as the camera pans over some kids sitting on a balcony / second floor of the building, one kid is recording everything on a phone; this serves to critique the normalization of recording violence. I’m sure others who teach or are around teens can attest to this prominent habit of theirs today. When I was in high school six years ago, only a few (and I’ll be rude and call them shitty) of my peers recorded fights instead of getting help or trying to intervene. Now, I see my teen students pull up videos of fights or show off footage they recorded almost daily. They don’t seem to mind the wrongness of laughing at and celebrating violence; they’ve been desensitized. Inner city violence is multi-faceted and has a long history that can be traced directly to racism, segregation, poverty, systemic discrimination, intentional drug ferrying, redlining, gentrification, and on and on. But none of this okays the celebration of violence.
Gambino pauses in the next moments, and the music stops. He lights a joint. Casually. Pointedly. Again, a critique. Others of us light up to escape, to ignore, to waste time and not improve the problems laid out in the video.
I know there are so many things that have escaped my notice or that I can’t catch as references or significant because I lack the knowledge. One of these is the significance of all the parked, abandoned, hazards-flashing cars. I notice a young woman perched on one car’s bumper who seems to blow a kiss as the camera pans out.
The song shifts again, a second moment where we expected the song to be over, yet it continued. Point being, yes, these problems, that’s just it, they keep going. There are that many of them. They remain unsolved, placed on America’s back burner.
The final section of the song sounds like an outro or like background music in a slow-mo or timelapse portion of a movie. The part of the movie that isn’t content persay but filler. The scenes that help you understand the transition or the passing of time. The story being depicted here is Gambino running, terrified, from the police. But this is just something that happens. It’s just filler, just time passing. Right?
The conversation continues in the words of many other, wiser writers and people. Individuals on my Facebook timeline have pointed out references to Fela Kuti and New Jack City. I’m not pretending to be an expert by any means, but I’ve been a fan of Gambino’s for years, and this new video is fucking powerful. Thanks for reading. What do you think of what I unraveled? What did I misinterpret or miss altogether?
And may the universe bless Donald Glover.
Featured image credit: Highsnobiety & Donald Glover
In anticipation of the MoPop Festival happening this weekend in Detroit, we were able to conduct a brief interview with Jason Singer, the solo artist known as Michigander, originally founded in 2015.
What’s your favorite memory so far of playing live?
My last headline show in Grand Rapids at the Pyramid Scheme was one the best nights of my life! It’s always great playing in that city.
Do you have an album out? How’s the music business from your perspective?
I do not have an album. Just some singles as of right now. The music business is weird. There are a lot of really great people but for every great person there are two terrible ones. It can be frustrating to separate the two sometimes.
What are your goals for this and next year?
I’m hoping to tour a lot more and put out some more music in the very near future.
Awesome! What else is important to you?
I really love tacos. My faith is also important.
What would your advice to young musicians be?
Work hard. Send lots of emails. Don’t wear shorts on stage.
Lol. Sounds like you learned that last bit of advice from personal experience. We wish you the best in your creative project and look forward to seeing you at MoPop this weekend! Follow Michigander here.
Interview edited for grammar and clarity.
Featured image photo credit: GOOD PALS
TENDER only has 7,097 Facebook likes and 1,733 Instagram followers (so far!), which means the chances are good that you haven’t heard of them yet. So, listen to their gorgeously sexy tracks while you enjoy this article. And if you’re new to TENDER, trust me when I saw their newest track tops their 2016 releases, even though that shouldn’t have been possible.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me in the midst of a very busy summer!
Thanks for listening and reaching out to us, we really appreciate it!
Absolutely. My husband found your music last fall on a YouTube listening suggestion, and it was love for us at first listen. Your EPs have gotten us through many road trips and dish-washing sessions. Your sound is very unique in its ability to be both quiet (aka tender) and jam-able. Tell me about the journey of curating such a beautiful, sensual sound while also maintaining elements of alternative rock.
We previously played in a band that had similar dynamics but with more of an American West theme running through the songs. We wanted to move some of those techniques into writing with electronic elements too, whilst keeping an organic backbone of bass guitar and drums to underpin it all.
You’ve dropped two tracks so far this year (in addition to last year’s three EPs) and have at least one music video in the works. Is there a full-length album on the table?
Yes, our debut album ‘Modern Addiction’ is going to be released on 1st September via Partisan Records.
Fantastic. I can’t wait! Your lyrics often include themes of heartbreak, which makes them extremely relatable. Is music your outlet for coping with break-ups?
There are certain elements in the songs that are based on home truths, however they aren’t too literal. The song ‘Nadir‘, for instance, sounds like a break-up song on the surface, but it’s actually about different stages of peaks and troughs in relationships and how all long-term relationships go through them regardless of whether it ends in a break up or not. Sometimes couples just need to reconnect after stormy patches.
Album art for Modern Addiction
True that. On your Instagram, you mentioned the importance of airing “political stances” because “there’s a lot more at stake.” Can you expand on that?
I just think it’s a shame that there are a lot of influential artists that stand back and don’t use their voice to help action change in a society and economy that is rigged against some of the most vulnerable people, to benefit the wealthy few. Both inequality and climate change are huge issues that artists are reluctant to speak up for because they’re scared they might ‘alienate’ a few people on the internet. I don’t think it’s a very selfless way to go about your life.
Your music videos are quite explicit (not complaining!). Can you speak to the reasons behind that, other than the fact that my husband describes your songs as “sexy time” music?
For the songs on the upcoming album, we wanted the videos to reflect the themes and moods in the songs, which are largely about human connection, romance, and addictions. We wanted to be bold and set those tones without question.
Awesome. Bold is certainly an appropriate description of your music. So I still haven’t figured out Verse two in “Legion.”
Give me back my people
I want to be adored
You can address me as your king
while your money fills my halls
I don’t need a reason
Make you part of the hoards
They will give and I will take
I will work them ’till they’re sore
Can you give me some insight as to what these lyrics are describing?
These lyrics are some of the more fictional, but they can easily be applied to more modern day characters like our current Prime Minister Theresa May, who is just like the song, struggling to hold onto power. It’s a song ultimately about greed and the desire to rule over people from a struggling leader/monarch’s point of view.
Gotcha. My favorite line of yours is “I can count all my friends on a single hand”, unfortunately because the same is rather true of me. Has fame in the music world simply reinforced the truth of this statement?
We’re not really the most recognisable people, so often people may know of our music but wouldn’t recognise us anyway, haha! We still have a close-knit group of friends and can only imagine that will remain the same way. I think it’s fine to embrace new friendships with people as long as you take care not to damage the long-standing ones you already have.
Good point. We can only stretch our time so much.
What’s your favorite interaction so far with a fan?
We were playing a Festival earlier in the year in Leeds, UK and a couple who were from LA had been on vacation in Europe. They flew specifically into the UK to see us play in Leeds. As we had just finished chatting to them afterwards we thought, “Nothing will top that”, when another fan, who was on her own and pretty shy, tapped us on the shoulder and handed us a note before quickly leaving. When we got back in the van and read the note, it explained that she had travelled from New Zealand to come and see us play in both Newcastle (the night before) and Leeds. We were amazed, but also wish we’d got to thank her in person.
Wow! People are so supportive! What are your goals as artists, both individually and as TENDER?
We want to be able to travel around the world playing to new audiences and meeting a load of amazing people. Dan wants to play sunset festival slots. James wants to play to as many people as possible.
You have awesome festivals planned for the summer. What are you looking forward to about 2017?
We’re looking forward to the summer festivals, but also our very first headline tour in August and September, where we’ll be playing shows in U.S. and Canada for the first time!
That’s awesome! My husband and I are going to catch you in Chicago. Good luck with the album release! Can’t wait to hear what you’ve been working on. New road trip music!
For U.S. or Canada residents interested in hearing TENDER live, get your tickets to a show quickly! They’re a goddamn steal, ranging from $10-$15.
Author’s note: Interview edited for grammar, spelling, and clarity.
All who attended the first U.S. Gorillaz concert (2017) at Huntington Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois were blessed to experience such profoundly moving, inspiring, and genuine art. Gorillaz (aka Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett plus their brilliant cohort of collaborators) is one of the best examples of activism done well. While the crowd was diverse in taste, personality, life experiences, age, and appearance, we shared a love for good music and – hopefully – a commitment to “be loving each other no matter what happens.”
Setlist (with commentary and highlights)
The stage design featured a large LED-lit circle, which displayed various video clips and images throughout the show, and a video screen backdrop, typical of many Gorillaz performances. The circular screen briefly displayed an Illuminati-reminiscent eye, and when the screen moved to hover over the performers, it seemed to symbolize the reminder that this night – as with every day activists are alive and upsetting the status quo – was under watch by the powers that be.
one) Gorillaz opened with “Ascension,” to the delight of many.
two) “Last Living Souls,” a song I understand as commentary on the deadened nature of those who limit their perception by refusing to use psychedelic drugs, as well as those who don’t care about others (the two characteristics, funnily enough, are often found in the same people).
three) “Saturnz Barz”, during which Albarn played the melodica.
four) “Charger”: The video backdrop featured electricity bolts and created a beautifully intense mood for the live performance. XXXX made me (and others, I assure you) swoon.
five) “Rhinestone Eyes,” which is one of my all-time favorite tracks, particularly because of its important subject matter and commentary on climate change and consumerism.
six) “Sex Murder Party,” the ironic murder ballad that – sadly – was especially relevant to the city of Chicago, both past and present. Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz were both present to lend their talents. Following the song, Katz encouraged us to “start a revolution… of love.” Now to follow through…
seven) “She’s My Collar,” which had one of the most creative (and damn good) video accompaniments: a pelican (with toucan or eagle coloring) flying over a photo collage of women’s bodies. Fine art. I was disappointed that Kali Uchis was not on the performer docket, as this is one of my favorite tracks from Humanz.
eight) “Busted and Blue,” which was dedicated “to all those in the grandstand… [and] all those in VIP”. The video accompaniment for this song was also fine art; it featured the Humanz album artwork of Noodle. Images of Noodle’s past phases bloomed in each lens of her glasses, spilling the ink of her history across the stage and our hearts. Its shifts in lighting supported each crescendo in the song perfectly.
nine) “El Mañana,” during which the circular screen above the stage featured additional imagery of clouds and a helicopter, thus expanding the ambience of the traditional music video.
ten) “Carnival,” featuring Anthony Hamilton, whose vocals were confident and somehow even better live than on the album.
eleven) An extended version of “Broken”
twelve) “Interlude: Elevator Going Up”
thirteen) “Andromeda,” with a stunning video accompaniment displaying a green-toned star-strewn sky in motion. Also, Albarn’s falsetto was on point during this performance. I particularly loved that Albarn paused the show to re-perform the song’s ending, insisting that it be performed right.
fourteen) “Strobelite” with Albarn on keytar and beautiful stage lighting.
fifteen) An altered version of “Out Of Body” with outstanding guest performances by Little Simz and Zebra Katz. “All that’s left for us to do is move,” Simz instructed, and the trippy video accompaniment winked with the details.
sixteen) New track “Garage Palace,” an anthem featuring Little Simz. It assured listeners, “This is our time.” The video accompaniment was a compilation of neon sign art overlapped and arranged in alternating patterns, one of my favorite aesthetics of the evening.
seventeen) “We Got the Power” was the final song for the initial setlist, and Albarn ensured that the audience understood why we ought to be there: to remember our “heart[s] full of hope” and that our love is “indestructible even when we’re tired.” (And fuck, this fight for justice, this march for peace, this country, these people, we’re tired.) This song was the epitome of beauty, featuring Noodle’s album art again but with rose-colored glasses, a direct statement on how we need to continue seeing and hoping for the world.
which happened after a record short interlude, perhaps one and a half minutes, just enough time for the band to walk backstage and guzzle some water.
eighteen) The classic hit “Stylo”
nineteen) An all-out performance of “Kids With Guns,” another satirical piece that splays out social problems and forces you to imagine solutions. (Because how can our kids have guns?)
twenty) “Clint Eastwood,” which was, as Albarn put it, an enormously special treat. Del the Funky Homosapien grinned his way onto stage, and we sang our guts out together. “I’m useless, but not for long,” Albarn admitted, by which I mean he assured us that ethical perception-expanding is how you become useful.
twenty-one & twenty-two) The evening’s final songs (and, in my tear ducts’ opinion, finest moments) were “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” and “Demon Days.” Simply speaking, this performance was a spiritual experience. “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” is a song which begs listeners to shrug off the temptations to abuse opioids and other life-destroying addictions: “Don’t get lost in heaven / They got locks on the gate / Don’t go over the edge / You’ll make a big mistake.” The choice to play this song at the evening’s close highlighted the importance of the city’s own struggle with hard drugs: in 2015 alone, 32,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. In the past two months, dozens of Chicago residents have died from a new addictive prescription drug that is marketed as safe.
“Tomorrow is a brand new day,” the gospel choir sang, looping “Demon Days” over and over while behind them, an image of stained glass rose onto the video screen. “So turn yourself around, turn yourself, turn yourself around.” Their voices reverberated around the pavilion, and I shut my eyes, lifted my face, and wept.
What do you want to change about your life? Albarn wants us to reconsider who we are and what we live for. What can you commit to doing this next week? I asked several people post-show.
Vincent Perez said, “I left hoping that the feeling wouldn’t fade. The only change I would make would be to have a positive attitude towards my week.”
Robert Fraser said, “The same things I always want to change about myself. I want to be more disciplined and productive with my time. I want to give myself reasons to make art beyond aesthetic.”
As for me, I’m continuing to advocate for self-reflection, mental wellness, spiritual health, peace, justice, and socialism. I’m writing poetry, curating this blog, and learning music. I certainly need to pick up the pace on my projects and use my time intentionally. I also need to give myself space to breathe, and I need to take pride in all I’ve accomplished and all those I’ve touched thus far. And I want to find:
“Some kind of nature
Some kind of soul
Some kind of mixture
Some kind of goal
Some kind of majesty
Some chemical load…
Some kind of gold”