I have a confession to make: I really like pop music and I always have.
I’m not ashamed of this, per se—I have just seen a decline in quality in recent years, so my fandom has felt bittersweet. For me, saying that I like pop feels like saying that I like country music—I love Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Jason Isbell, Lillie Mae, Amanda Shires, Neko Case’s early records, etc, but the term “country” connotes the utter trash of Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, and the like. And heaven forbid anyone think I like that! I feel like listening to that music is like advertising that you voted for Trump. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Or…whatever. I’m a judgmental bitch.
Anyway, digression aside, there have been a few recent standouts in pop (other than everything Beyoncé and Rihanna do) that have (belatedly) caught my attention. While everyone is freaking out about Taylor Swift’s new (hilarious, awful) song, y’all are sleeping on these two (incredibly popular, shut up, Chelsea) albums! That’s right—I said albums. As in, complete, cohesive artworks, not a collection of singles with some filler thrown in (à la every pop album from the ’90s). Coincidentally, both of these albums came out on the same day! What?! May 12th was lit this year.
Let’s check ’em out!
Paramore, After Laughter
Hayley Williams is finally free, you guys! I always got a vibe that she was really cool and talented, but shackled to the “scene”. In the past few years, Paramore has been in transition from my guilty pleasure to a band that I have no qualms about supporting. I thought the self-titled album from 2013 was good, but it still had too many connecting threads to the pop-punk/whatever-it-is genre that Paramore came up out of. After Laughter is different. It’s catchy, fun, and bright, and owes little debt to the band’s “roots”. Quickly peruse Hayley Williams’ Instagram page and you’ll see Paramore assertively described as an “American genre-neutral band”. For a band aligned with a very specific genre, this is a bold-ass statement and I am here for it.
This is, imho, the only Paramore album that is listenable from start to finish with no eye-roll moments. These songs would make no sense at Warped Tour, for instance. Hayley’s even sporting a new lewk, with platinum blonde hair and her best fashion sense to date. And Hayley’s style isn’t the only noticeable aesthetic departure. Even the cover art and the press photos for After Laugher are elevated far beyond years past. Looks like Paramore is one of those extremely rare bands that has gotten better with each album.
This album is a joy to listen to. Put it on next time you’re in a bad mood, it’ll kick your doom-and-gloom’s ass.
Standout After Laughter moments: “No Friend” (feat. Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou), “Tell Me How”, and the infectious lead single “Hard Times”
Harry Styles, Harry Styles
Disclaimer: I am 100 years old and therefore way too old to know anything about One Direction. I’m to old to know anything about the Jonas Brothers. I saw DNCE on the VMAs and I was like, “Oh, that kid looks familiar.” My boy-band obsessed days were 20 years ago and centered around *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys.
That being said, I don’t live under a rock, and I’ve heard a handful of 1D songs. They didn’t do a ton for me, which is why I didn’t have high hopes for Harry Styles’ solo album. That’s why his SNL performance blew me away. I’m not going to pretend that his album is changing the landscape of music or anything, but I have a ton of sudden respect for Styles. It seems like he wants to set himself apart as an artist, not just a cog in a manufactured boy band. (No shade, all of those groups are manufactured by producers or labels, it’s not an indictment).
“Sign of the Times”, the lead single, is downright soulful! I’m going to put my rose-colored glasses on and assume the title is a nod to Prince, of course. The album is tight from start to finish, and it has fun little moments sprinkled throughout (my personal fave is the intro to “Woman”: “Should we just search for romantic comedies on Netflix and see what we find?”). If this album had come out when I was a teenager, it would have totally been boning music. The kid’s got pipes. He’s also pretty easy on the eyes, but as he is younger than my little brother, I must abstain from attraction.
Standout Harry Styles moments: “Meet Me in the Hallway”, the rambunctious “Kiwi”, and “From the Dining Table”
I’m 100% buying both of these albums with real U.S. currency and you should too! What are you into these days?
P.S. I hate Lorde and you will never see her on my “Best Of” lists.
Yeah, that’s right. Céline Dion is not the only thing I cherish about the nineties. But if I’m being 100% honest, most of what happened in the decade of my birth was trash. Kurt Cobain died. The OJ thing. The band Nickelback formed and rose to prominence. Hillary Clinton became such a household name that a bunch of millennial fuckboys decided to vote for Jill Stein in 2016. Et cetera.
For a lot of people around my age, it feels like the ’90s/early ’00s never ended. I mean, I watched the Spice Girls movie by choice in 2009. We’re still appropriating the fashion trends (even fucking scrunchies are back, I’m wearing one right now) and we still lose our goddamn minds every time we hear “…Baby One More Time”. I mean, Urban Outfitters has just been selling the outfits from the movie Clueless for the past ten years. People of every generation get stuck in their respective youths—play “Jessie’s Girl” in a room full of 50-year-old women and you’ll see what I mean—but it feels like this particular nostalgia has real lasting power. It might have something to do with the fact that this was the very last pre-Internet era. The Internet existed, sure, but not in our hands 24/7. We kept maps in the car. I remember when iPods were released and I needed to call a Voodoo priestess to revive me after I died of shock and amazement. I would never argue that this time in history was better (it wasn’t), but I will say that I had a much better attention span and had yet to be insulted by an anonymous Twitter egg, so, simpler times.
I digress. Now, when I say ’90s baby, I don’t necessarily mean that you were born in the ’90s. This playlist is geared towards those old enough to have vivid memories of Y2K and 9/11. ’85-’92 or thereabouts. My compatriots in culture. Growing up in this era afforded a very specific and pop cultural experience, one that, as much as we may have loved it, was pretty much trash. This is no “best of” list. But this is the shit that we can’t erase from our psyches, no matter how hard we try. Or at least, this is the shit that I can’t erase from my mind, and in the words of millennial superhero, Lana Del Rey, “God knows I tried.”
You thought it was going to be “Bye Bye Bye“, didn’t you? HA. “Bye Bye Bye” is a solid, beloved track, but which song is still a meme almost 20 years later? “It’s Gonna Be Me” motherfuckers! This song is so tight! I’ve listened to it twice today, in prep for this post, and let me tell you, ’90s pop songwriters did not eff around with song formulas. Bridges for days!
I have vivid memories of procuring the “No Strings Attached” album. I was in third grade at the time. It’s possible that we bought it at Bradlee’s. By the way, if you’re ever unsure of a person’s age, just bring up Bradlee’s. It’ll seal the deal.
It still bums be out the JC Chasez was supposed to be a frontman. Timberlake just dominated, and he has spent the last several years earning his fame. The 20/20 Experience took us all to church, and solidified JT’s position as a pop icon. “Cry Me A River” could have stood alone as an anthem, but I appreciate JT’s growth as an artist.
I will say that “This I Promise You” was written by Richard Marx. Unrelated to this post, but an absolutely invaluable piece of trivia. Ya welcome.
I DON’T THINK YOU CAN HANDLE THIS. No grade-schooler was ready for the line, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly”. Is “Bootylicious” the feminist response to “I Like Big Butts”? I don’t know! I do know that the guitar is sampled from “Edge of Seventeen” and that Stevie Nicks herself is in this video. Also, Michelle actually gets to sing in this one, and Kelly actually takes the lead! Also, the costumes, which I can only hope were designed by Ms. Tina, are sublime. They are transcendent. Fringe…bikinis?
The term “bootylicious” was conferred upon us by the illustrious Snoop Dogg ten years prior to the release of this DC track, but Beyoncé & co. are certainly responsible for popularizing the term.
To be fair, she cried for help. Folks my age remember the 2007 Britney meltdown, and the subsequent YouTube video. Britney’s trials and tribulations are even a running gag on the show Girlboss in the Year of our Lord 2017. Looking back, this song is so depressing! It’s basically Brit looking at her own life and being like, “Help! I’m so depressed! Success is not fulfilling!” But we didn’t even bat an eye at the “Everytime” video, and she legit kills herself in that one.
On a happier note, Britney looks stunning in this video, styled as an Old Hollywood starlet. Even the chord progression of the song is a clear homage to doo-wop, which is a cute and thoughtful detail. Let she who did not want to sit on a sparkly star and throw glitter cast the first stone.
“U Remind Me” almost took top billing here, but “U Got It Bad” has a permanent spot in my heart and mind. This is one sultry-ass ballad. When I think about the (Boston) radio station, JAMN 94.5, this immediately comes to mind. Usher has the smoothest voice in the game—I’d listen to him sing the phone book.
Also, if you can actually believe this shit, this song was dethroned as #1 on the Hot 100 by that Nickelback song. You know the one.
P.S. Chili from TLC is in the music video, so this probably belongs in the Smithsonian as an example of peak human achievement.
Yaaasss, bitches, the fake Russian lesbian song! For many of us, this music video may have acted as a sexual awakening of sorts. The controversy surrounding it was so beyond trife. I can’t even imagine such nonsense happening today, but again, this is before we even had marriage equality in Massachusetts. Any queer content was a big deal back then—remember Ellen & Anne Heche?!
Moral of the story: they weren’t lesbians, they’ve since dismissed the whole thing as “silly” (ugh, very progressive, guys), and they’re probably to blame for the Madonna/XTina/Britney MTV awards fiasco and the song “I Kissed A Girl”. “All The Things She Said”, however, though repetitive, is actually pretty friggin’ catchy.
P.S. Now I think that, somewhere in here, there’s a TrumpRussia/pee tape joke to be made but I’m not quite there yet. I’ll report back.
Continuing right along with our theme of LGBT-tinged pop singles, y’all know what’s next! “Beautiful”, baby! She won a goddamn GLAAD media award for the video! Linda Perry, of 4 Non Blondes fame, wrote this gem, whose vid was more inclusive 15 years ago than certain Disney movies that are trying to be on trend in twenty-seventeen.
This video features a kiss between two men, a girl suffering from anorexia, and a closeted trans* woman, among others. It’s still mostly white people (2002, smh), but when this aired, it was radical. It affected me personally—I was pretty young, so I was seeing some of those people for the first time. This video probably opened those narratives and told those stories for the first time to a lot of folks. I’ve long felt that XTina doesn’t get the credit she deserves for taking this risk with her image. For a while, this was the wokest thing we had, for better of for worse.
Like I said, growing up in the late nineties/ early ’00s was a very specific and bizarre time. So, we grew up with a country band performing our “Landslide”, as opposed to the O.G. or Billy Corgan versions. I am a Fleetwood Mac devotee, but I’m also 25 years old, so I learned these lyrics from Natalie Maines, not Stevie Nicks. This song also dropped at the height of my TRL-watching, so I have seen this video, which features a heavily pregnant Emily Robison playing lap steel (?!), about 150,000 times.
Is it just me, or does this song actively suck? I remember loving it at the time, but now I hear it and I’m borderline horrified that this is all it took to top the charts in the year 2000. I mean, Tom DeLonge’s voice alone could serve as a suicide note. There’s not enough nostalgia in the world to justify this (and blink’s entire catalog) as good music.
Okay, so, back story: this was hugely popular when I was in the sixth grade, and as a little prude warrior, I took great offense to the line, “I’m into having sex / I ain’t into making love” as I felt it was disrespectful to women. Rap music doesn’t have the best reputation re: misogyny, but if I could go back in time and shut myself up, I would. Hearing this song floods me with happiness. It’s so dramatic. The video is like some CIA action-movie homage. Also, Eminem discovered 50 Cent? What?
In a lot of ways, this track feels like an 80s rap set to truly stellar (eye-rolls for days @ the orchestra hits) early-00s production. The lyrics are deliciously cheesy. This song was #1 on the charts for nine weeks and its most memorable line is, “Yo, shawty, it’s your birthday.” And,I reiterate, the orchestra hits are just…sublime. Anthemic.
This song is a trash anthem and I love it! I was NINE when this song was popular. NINE. It is 50 Shades of Cray that any of us were allowed to listen to this. Shout-out to radio-edited lyrics that mystified the line “bangin’ on the bathroom floor” for years!
I truly feel that nothing says more about a person than his or her taste in music. It’s constantly evolving (unless you’re stuck in rut listening to the same shit you listened to in high school *cough* Motley Crue fans *cough*). Music is so personal and emotional—revealing your taste can be a very vulnerable experience. Luckily for you all, I’m not that shy about it.
The backstory: my computer got hacked recently, and in my effort to fix it, I needed to locate my proof of purchase (i.e. the Best Buy receipt from early 2013). Back in those days, I was still living with my dad, so I carted my ass back to my childhood home to search through the few belongings I’d left behind. Long story short, I found it and my computer is fine, but in the process, I noticed that I’d basically been hoarding the entire early ’00s in my bedroom closet. I went back the next day to rifle through everything, and boy did I find some gems! Lots of embarrassing diaries, my binder from AP European History, a copy of The Hobbit in Russian! I also found a truckload of CDs I’d burned, some of which were mixes. I had to check them out!
The following is the actual tracklisting to a mix CD I just found, made circa 2005 (age 14). *very Jean Valjean voice* WHO AM I?
This mix starts off with some very of-the-era cuts. It was December 19, 2005! At least four of these songs came out that year. But the rest of it? Why the fuck would I put a song from Willy Wonka on a mix CD? The orchestral piece makes sense—that’s what my middle school orchestra played at competition earlier that year—but the rest of it is mind-boggling. No 14-year-old should be jamming to “Smoke Two Joints” and “I Know What Boys Like”. And there is no way in hell I ever actually liked that Marilyn Manson cover.
The second mix CD I found is labeled “Ultimate Wedding Playlist”. I got married eleven years after this CD was created, and only one of these songs played at our wedding.
So, aside from the fact that some of these songs are depressing and deeply inappropriate to play at a wedding, this is also basically a rip-off of the “Our Little Corner of the World” Gilmore Girls soundtrack that came out in 2002. I trashed the 2nd CD after I wrote down the tracklisting (it was badly scratched), but I’m keeping the other. You never know when you’re going to need to bring the house down with some Hole deep-cuts.
What embarrassing nonsense did you listen to in early high school?
*I have no idea, by the way, if that Pernice Brothers video is real, but it’s great. And that song is still great.
If you have met me, or read anything I’ve ever written, or picked up on my psychic energy, you know that I love Beyoncé. She’s the HBIC of our entire cultural landscape, which is actually really major. It’s so important that a powerful woman of color is making daring artistic choices and subsequently gaining the respect and admiration of even the most unlikely people.
She hasn’t ended sexism or racism or anything, she’s a human woman, but she is an exceptional role model to girls—she is an avowed feminist and activist, and she embraces and celebrates her sexuality without shame. She is a mother, a distraction and sacrifice for many, yet has released her best and most gripping work since her daughter was born. Motherhood, for Bey, is one of the many facets of femininity, and she glorifies it without being exclusionary. She’s got the whole world breathlessly awaiting the birth of her twins, so let’s celebrate the mother of all icons!
Aside from being our generation’s biggest icon, she’s a musical artist. A singer, songwriter, and producer that has more hit songs than you can shake a stick at (that’s a phrase, right?) It’s not just her image that is valuable. She’s got songs! Six solo albums worth of glorious songs! A lot of people have only begun to truly appreciate Queen Bey in the past few years, more for her persona than for her actual talent, which is a damn shame. She has been out here on her own since 2003, making our lives better with her art. I present to you Beyoncé’s six albums, in order of the quality of the songwriting on each. This was not easy, but we live in the age of listicles and all must be ranked. Here they are, in order from great to greatest.
Released on her 25th birthday, B’Day is Beyoncé’s second solo effort, best known for spawning the hit single “Irreplaceable“. This is the reason that everyone spent the entirety of 2007 saying “to the left, to the left”. This album was released before I became a Bey-votee, but I would hardly be the aficionado I claim to be if I did not revisit her early works.
I don’t have much to say about B’Day, apart from that it is musically pretty unremarkable. Apart from “Irreplaceable”, it doesn’t have any stand-out tracks. Even the two songs featuring Jay-Z are forgettable. The lyrics, however, are all about female empowerment, laying the foundation for her later work. Solange also has some writing credits on this album!
One thing worth noting is that, apparently, every song on this album has a music video, which indicates that, even seven years before she stealth-dropped the movie/album Beyoncé, visual representation was a priority.
This is Beyoncé’s debut solo album, y’all! She came out the gate spitting venom. “Crazy in Love (feat. Jay-Z)” is an enduring banger and “Naughty Girl“, which samples Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, is one of her sexiest tracks to date. This album, as a whole, is hardly a musical revelation, but it certainly proved that Bey’s career would be just fine without the other ladies of Destiny’s Child. “Baby Boy” notably features Sean Paul, as all songs did in the year 2003. That was currency back then.
Much like B’Day above, Dangerously in Love was merely sowing the seeds that would bloom Beyoncé into the iconic matriarch she is today.
P.S. Fuckin’ shout-out to “Stole” by Kelly Rowland. I mean no disrespect to the alumnae of Destiny’s Child.
I Am…Sasha Fierce (2008)
I Am…Sasha Fierce is, in my opinion, Beyoncé’s first cohesive album. Like the first two albums, Sasha Fierce spawned a ton of hits, but for the first time, the album was more than a vehicle for singles. The concept was that the double album’s second side would represent the perspective of Beyoncé’s alter ego, Sasha Fierce, an edgier stage version of the wholesome image of Beyoncé. If I remember my pop culture history correctly, this is when people really started paying attention to Beyoncé as an artist, rather than just a pop star. Of course she was already an A-list celebrity, but 2008 is when the veil of mystique that she still wears was cast upon her. Earlier in the year, she married Jay-Z, and his influence no doubt led her to be more selective about her musical projects.
As the individual songs go, this album is a heavy-hitter. “If I Were A Boy” is not only a great track that picks up the girl power theme in a big way, the title also employs the subjunctive tense properly, which never, ever happens in songs. Sasha Fierce also notably contains what may be Beyoncé’s best song, “Halo“. And then, of course, there’s the pièce de résistance, “Single Ladies“, the music video that launched a thousand parodies. Shout out to Ms. Tina’s Deréon jeans! This video is what caused the Kanye Interruption heard ’round the world! No prior moment in Bey’s career so solidified her status as a cult leader an icon.
Also, in case you were wondering, a diva is a female version of a hustler.
‘Twas in this era that we truly began to understand the cultural import of Queen Bey. SNL may have put it best in “The Beygency“. She had revealed years prior that she basically doesn’t need the media when she released the first photos of Blue Ivy on her own site. Then in December 2013, she blessed us with a surprise album that, SURPRISE AGAIN, was also a movie.
*very Stefon voice* This album has everything. Bey was not fucking around with this album. It opens with “Pretty Hurts“, penned by Sia—a scathing condemnation of damaging societal beauty standards. “***Flawless” features Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED Talk. This is the era in which Bey performed at awards shows in front of giant neon signs reading “FEMINIST”. Do not underestimate how important it was for a famous woman of color to declare herself a feminist—feminism is for everyone. It is inclusive and intersectional.
I very nearly placed I Am…Sasha Fierce in this spot, but Beyoncé broke the internet and changed the world. Maybe I’ll listen to “Halo” more often than “Blow“, but I’ll always acknowledge the awesome power of Bey’s 2013 sexual revolution.
The only, I mean the only, reason that this album did not take the top spot is the intro to the song “Party”, which features Kanye West rapping: You a bad girl / And your friends bad too / We got the swag sauce / She drippin’ Swagu. The rest of the song is actually great—it features André 3000, for chrissakes—but that Swagu line is so cheesy that I can’t endorse it and must bump the incredible, sensational 4 to second place.
The highlights of this album are, in my opinion, “Countdown” and “I Care” which is a stunning track that features some of Bey’s best vocals to date. She sings along with the guitar solo. It is chilling. Also, can we fucking talk about Frank Ocean’s writing and vocal contribution to “I Miss You”? If you can tolerate crappy-quality YouTube vids, there are quite a few of him performing the song alone, which melt me.
4 is just an incredible album. Every single track is a musical goldmine and I will love each one ’til the end of time.
P.S. I just re-watched the pregnancy-reveal video and cried when Kanye hugs Jay.
P.P.S. The official video for “Party” features J. Cole instead of André and in my opinion, this constitutes a war crime.
Are you surprised, though? Know what surprises me? That Adele won a Grammy for Best Album over Lemonade. That’s institutional racism at work, friends. Beyoncé, despite jumping genres at a break-neck speed, is trapped in the less-respected “Urban Contemporary” category. SMDH @ the Academy forever. And I ain’t sorry.
Lemonade began its journey into our collective consciousness when Bey dropped the “Formation” video prior to her performance at the 2016 Super Bowl. It set the world ablaze, gave us all the best catchphrase of all time (“I got hot sauce in my bag”), and inspired one of my favorite SNL Digital Shorts, “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black“, which skewers the criticism she faced over the controversial video.
Then, in the springtime, the season of rebirth, we were blessed with Lemonade. I will come out and say that I do not care if it is merely a performance piece and she and Jay were 100% fine the whole time. I don’t even care if the Solange elevator moment was unrelated. All I care about is that my queen collaborated with Jack White, Kendrick, James Blake, and The Weeknd to bring us this sensational vision.
P.S. In the time since I started this post, the new season of Kimmy Schmidt dropped, and with it an incomparable “Hold Up” parody by the incredible Tituss Burgess. They also riffed on “Sorry” and “All Night“. I will not rest until Tituss and Bey sing together IRL.
P.P.S. The album also inspired this fabulous video, back when there was still light in the world and we almost had a competent president.
P.P.P.S. Lemonade was released on HBO and Tidal, so not all of the mini-movies are available on YouTube. You can watch the pirate versions, of course, or you could just buy the fucking album.
So, there you have it. Enough Beyoncé #content to have you in a YouTube k-hole for half a day.
63 Grammy nominations, 22 wins, 6 solo albums, 3 children, 1 Beyoncé.
I’m a little light this week on recommendations because, well, I’ve been busy AF. I’m finishing the last bits of my grad school application, working full time, and committing to my Trivia host side-hustle. The WordPress drafts are getting out of hand! But here’s what I’ve been up to in my spare time.
Life in Pieces on CBS
The first season of Life in Pieces recently went up on Netflix, so I’ve been bingeing it, hard. Fig and I finished Breaking Bad and moved onto a 30 Rock rewatch, so I needed my own personal binge show for when our schedules don’t overlap (this is often). I’m trying to wean myself off of watching Gilmore Girls in an infinite loop, so when I saw LIP advertised on Netflix’s home page, I knew it would be a perfect fit. The cast of this show is bananas. Personal faves Zoe Lister-Jones (from Whitney) and Colin Hanks (from everything + being Tom Hanks’ son) join Betsey Brandt (from Breaking Bad), James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, and the stupidly handsome Thomas Sadoski in this light-hearted comedy told in 4 vignettes per episode.
The guest cast is insane—Martin Starr plays an exterminator, Jordan Peele makes frequent appearances as Colleen’s crazy ex, and apparently next season Mullally and Offerman have roles!
Life in Pieces is the perfect binge show for the lover of light-hearted comedies and accomplished casts. Highly recommend! Come for the famous actors, stay for the amazing kids! The kid who plays Sophia is the next Shailene Woodley or whatever, for real.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The book, I mean. Everyone’s been pestering me for weeks to start watching the HBO miniseries, Big Little Lies, starring literally every famous actress. Until last week, I didn’t even know it was based on a book, but as soon as I saw it, I recognized its candy-colored cover. I’m a moderately strict book-before-movie person, so when offered the ebook for free, how could I refuse?
At first, I was a bit dubious of the quality of the writing—it’s certainly not the sort of thing I’d typically pick up at the bookstore. But within a few pages I was hooked. I think I’ve thrown off my circadian rhythm staying up way too late reading it. I was almost less interested in finding out who the murderer/murder victim is than I was of learning about Jane’s mysterious past or the inner-workings of primary school politics.
The book is very, very different from the HBO miniseries of the same name, but I truly can’t choose which is better! They both bring so much to the table! I highly recommend both, book-before-miniseries, of course.
I’ll follow up in the next Kool Things.
The Far Field, Future Islands
It is no secret that I am f***ing obsessed with Future Islands. They are an amazing Baltimore-based synthpop band that brings me life. I first heard of them during college (Part I) when they put out their album In The Evening Air. All I had was a crap-quality (illegal) mp3 download of it, but I listened to it on repeat for months. I took to including “Long Flight” on every mix CD/playlist I made. Now that I am a grown-ass woman and pay for my music (thankyouverymuch), I’ve since remedied this earlier discretion and made sure to follow the band’s incredible career. 2014’s Singles was a revelation, and this year’s The Far Field is a fitting follow-up.
Lead singer Samuel Herring had one of the most unique and strange voices in all of music—he’s like the second coming of Mike Patton. He transitions from beautifully melodic and clean to heavy metal screaming with effortless ease. He’s also apparently a rapper (?!) which somehow I’m only just finding out about. You think I’d have such important info about my #mancrusheveryday.
This band is so ahead of the damn curve. They put out a sign language lyric video for “Cave”! “Shadows” even features actual icon/goddess Debbie Harry! The Far Field is the best use of your Hamilton ($10), trust. Future Islands is/are a big f***ing deal. Get into it.
I always love trying out new wines, but as someone who hasn’t yet read Marissa A. Ross‘s forthcoming book yet, I’m often at a loss for where to begin as I peruse the racks at my local wine shop. I’m a bit of a white wine junkie (basic white bitch, party of one!), so I absolutely love a Chardonnay, and am always looking for one that tastes better than the well swill they’ll serve you at restaurants if you don’t specify.
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the older I get, the more I realize that that’s a bullshit adage. When it comes to products, the cover (or label) actually says quite a bit! Small businesses that really believe in their product tend to pay greater attention to aesthetic details, like graphic and web design. I was drawn to this particular bottle because of its clean, minimal label—the website is no different. Bread & Butter only produces two very highly-rated wines out of Napa, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (which, incidentally, are my go-to white and red).
Bread & Butter Chardonnay ran me about $11, which, imho, is just about right for an everyday wine. I can’t wait to try their Pinot Noir! I’ll definitely be buying this wine again!
Well, those are the highlights of my week! What’s up with you? Any new fave wines or murder-mysteries to share? Sound off in the comments!
Céline Dion is Québécois royalty and this we avow*. If I’m being completely honest, for most of my life, I never gave much intentional thought to Ms. Dion. Growing up in the nineties and early ’00s, she was a ubiquitous, essential presence. I absolutely dare you to go grocery shopping without hearing at least one of her enduring bangers on the radio. The soft rock/pop vocalist genre never really did it for me, but it is impossible to deny both Dion’s talent and her contributions to pop culture.
*I deeply apologize for this ill-placed Evita reference.
The music of Céline Dion harkens back to a simpler time in popular culture, when talented composers created sleek, radio-friendly hits for talented songstresses and their angelic voices. Now, I’m all for the singer/songwriter as a cultural character and a genre, but in many ways the push for authenticity of subject may have actually done damage to pop music in general. I want Ryan Adams to write all of his own songs, but I don’t feel personally connected to Kelly Clarkson’s input in the songwriting process, y’know? Songcraft is important.
Dion, whose 49th birthday is next week, is experiencing something of a career Renaissance right now (or maybe I’m just projecting?). She’s been performing on tons of awards shows, she recently recorded a version of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” that did quite well, and she recorded a ballad “How Does A Moment Last Forever” for the new Beauty and the Beast live-action film, starring Emma Watson and literally every other actor. The new song was a sweet throwback to when she recorded the theme song to the 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast with the criminally underrated Peabo Bryson.
Last January, Dion lost her husband René Angélil, whom she had known since she was 12 years old. In honor of this beautiful queen rising from the ashes of tragedy, I’ve put together a short retrospective of her classic English-language hits.
Vive la Reine, and may she never relinquish her French-Candian accent.
That’s right, guys. The “I’m your lady / and you are my man” song. You are lying if you don’t know at least one couple that used this as their wedding song. This song is a classic—it’s sappy, romantic, and that high note at the end? Girl’s got the pipes. If you, unlike me, are ashamed of your love of power ballads, watch this video for no other reason than the haircut. #thefuckingnineties
How to listen: Drunkenly, at the end of a girls’ night out. Alternately, karaoke at a Bachelorette party.
From the first aggressive piano chord, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” is a fantastic, nuanced jam that manages at once to be angry ex-girlfriend diss track and a lament of lost love. It’s equal parts “I Will Survive” and “You’re Still the One”. Céline adopts a sexy rasp during the pre-choruses that breathes life into me. Baby, baby, BABY, this is, possibly, a perfect song.
How to listen: Home alone, belting along with hairbrush microphone in hand.
“Because You Loved Me”
I can’t find a decent version of this video, which is a shame. This song is excellent, so excellent in fact that it was the theme song to a Robert Redford movie. This is one of those Céline songs that has burrowed itself so far into your brain that when you hear it, you will unwittingly sing along to every word. The lyrics are essentially a laundry-list of reasons to love your bae, and frankly, it was a missed opportunity that I didn’t use them wedding vows.
“Because You Loved Me” won a Grammy and was nominated for the damn Oscar. I would be mad that it lost the Oscar, but it lost to “You Must Love Me” from Evita, and Andrew Lloyd Webber can do no wrong. In any case, the following year, Céline was vindicated, because “My Heart Will Go On” won for Titanic!
Céline’s cover of the 1975 Eric Carmen song is arguably as popular as the original—not an easy feat! This is an anthemic jam and you all know it. The lyrics are beautifully minimalistic, which imbues them with even more meaning—she’s by herself and she DON’T WANNA BE all by herself, damnit! “All By Myself” is probably the #1 sad jam ever written, and putting a varnish of Céline talent on it makes it all the more iconic.
How to listen: Driving home from work in the rain after a really hard day. Crying optional. I’d say post-breakup, but you’re no cliché.
This is the most late-nineties song ever recorded. Every pop artist had a song that sounds eerily like this one in the late nineties (see “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)“, “As Long As You Love Me“, and “Shape of My Heart” by the Backstreet Boys, “Sometimes” and “Born to Make You Happy” by Britney Spears, and probably an entire LeAnn Rimes or Faith Hill album, if I’m being honest. Is it the chord progression?) Céline’s, of course, is the epitomization of the trope. “That’s The Way It Is” is a pep talk in song form. Only Céline could get away with the lines, “Don’t surrender / ’cause you can win / in this thing called love,” and make the word “love” span 3-5 syllables.
How to listen: In the car with your single friends, to subliminally plant inspiration and positivity into their brains! Because you’re not a busybody or anything!
This song is about the birth of her son. Could anything possibly be sweeter? Lines like “I was waiting so long / for a miracle to come” and “I can’t believe / I’ve been touched by an angel with love” are so uplifting and precious! What kind of sociopath doesn’t want to listen to a new mother’s impassioned love song/lullaby to her baby?
How to listen: At a gender reveal party, to liven up the mood when everyone finds out it’s a boy.
It is beyond fitting that the theme song for the movie about the French Disney princess would be sung by the only French (Canadian) singer most Americans can name. And Peabo Bryson! How good is that guy? You may recognize his voice from every Disney theme song of the late eighties/early nineties.
It is also incredibly fitting that the updated 2017 version of this song is performed by Ariana Grande and John Legend—two powerhouse vocalists who can actually hold a candle to the original performances. Ariana Grande’s impression of Céline is a divine inspiration. Go forth and reward your ears with this sultry ballad.
This Oscar-winning song is an enduring classic. I will never yield in my belief that this song is at the pinnacle of songwriting achievement. I don’t care that it’s cheesy. I don’t care that it conjures up images of baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. If you don’t feel a profound connection to your emotions when you hear this song, check for a pulse. That flute/recorder part in the beginning? I melt. When the guitar and the harmonies come in in the second verse? RIP me. Dramatic key change? My spirit rises from the grave and floats off into outer space.
“My Heart Will Go On” is still a part of the zeitgeist 20 years later for a reason. Do you still hear “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins on the reg? Of course you don’t. You forgot that song even existed until right now. Before you rush off to watch Tarzan, at least finish reading this, though.
How to listen: When you can give it your full attention. When you can let the calming strains wash over you like a soothing bath. This song is the essential oils of music.
This week was brutal. Here in vacation destination Boston it’s been in the teens weather-wise, which is enough to crush even the most ardent winter-lover’s soul. I just looked at trusty iPhone for an update—snow expected 3 days this week! I guess spring is cancelled this year.
Also, Daylight Savings was this week. Nothing like being forced to adjust your circadian clock in order to make it to work on time!
I definitely needed some literal and figurative sunshine this week, so let’s dive in!
Lana Del Rey
In honor of Lana’s new song, “Love”, I’ve been revisiting the back catalog. I truly forgot how much I love her music! Despite the fact that she’s really blown up in popularity over the past five years, which is typically the death knell of anything cool, she continues to do whatever the fuck she wants—if anything, her albums get progressively more esoteric and less radio-friendly as the years go by. I’m anticipating the forthcoming album, but in the meantime, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy:
I couldn’t help but give a shout-out to actor and comedian, Baron Vaughn. I originally discovered him through the Netflix series, Grace & Frankie (which stars the legendary Lily Tomlin & Jane Fonda), and have since gone on to devour his back catalog. He’s an absolute genius, and he’s blowing up right now.
He’s appeared on all your favorite podcasts, like 2 Dope Queens and Put Your Hands Together, he’s on 2 Netflix shows right now (the other being Mystery Science Theatre 3000), and his 90’s Disney cartoon theme-songs bit from SXSW nearly put my husband and me into comedy comas. He even replied to me on Twitter once! #braggingrights
Plus, I mean, look at him. He’s fine as hell. Go forth and discover your new favorite comedian!
I know, I know. I said I was going to cool it with fast fashion. And I have! For the most part! But I had a crappy week and I just wanted to treat myself to something adorable, and they were having a 20% off sale on pretty, flouncy dresses! I’m a human woman! After reading The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees (more on that here), I’m leaning hard into “uniforms”, and short dresses are my #1. How cute is that blue dress going to be on Easter?
This one is very local, but all the same it brought me endless joy and vitamins this week. A new juicery opened in the town where I went to college (and hope to go to grad school!) *very Stefon voice* This place has everything—raw juice, smoothies, acai bowls, wheatgrass shots! So nice to have healthy options! I really could have used this place in undergrad, when I was living off of iced coffee and bagels with hummus, but better late than never. I’m hoping that this new addition to the center is an omen that I’ll get accepted into my program!
*A note about the prices: raw juice is not cheap! And once you’ve done it at home and seen the sheer volume of produce required to make a decent amount of it, you see why. Plus, if you’ve ever cleaned out a juicer, it’s like a sticky jigsaw puzzle but less fun. I like to compare juice to wine—when you’re out at a bar, you don’t bat an eye at paying $7-$9 a glass. Think of it like that, an indulgence—similar price, similar calorie situation (I assume), way more health benes.
This Vegan Queso Recipe
To preface this, I take zero credit! This one comes to you from Wilder Wellness, a health coaching group that I joined last month. The recipes that come along with the membership have been incredible, but this one is SO beyond that I keep a jar of it in my fridge at all times.
Vegan Quesoadapted from Wilder Wellness/Wildernessa
1 lb of organic carrots (1 bag of baby carrots, or 2 large carrots chopped)
1 medium sweet potato or an equal amount of chopped butternut squash
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup of coconut milk
1 cup of organic salsa
1/3 cup of nutritional yeast
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
Steam the sweet potato/squash and carrots until fork-tender. Once cooked, combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Thin to desired consistency with more coconut milk. Serve on everything, from tortilla chips to scrambled eggs! I actually used it as a sauce on red lentil penne last night, because I am a goddamned innovator.
I hope these things brighten your week as much as they have mine!