“Swift is certainly not exceptional in her yearning for approval, but her life has unfolded on an unprecedented scale.”
Not exactly original insights. If The New Yorker had commissioned me to write the review, which in hindsight they should’ve, I would’ve framed the film as another in a long line of case studies on the corrosive effects of fame. As my saying goes, “Fame tends to corrupt and absolute fame corrupts absolutely.” Then I would’ve referenced “Amy” the documentary about Amy Winehouse which powerfully illustrates how sadly pop icons’ stories often turn out especially when surrounded by selfish, financially dependent employees, family, and “friends”.
And it’s odd that The New Yorker’s choice for reviewer is silent on our mindless tendency towards celebrity worship, which I’d argue makes us complicit in Swift’s struggles and Winehouse’s demise.
It’s also disappointing that their reviewer is silent on Swift’s passive acceptance of her fame. Swift did lay low for a year, but more as a pause in her incredibly ambitious career. What’s stopping her, someone has to ask, from a complete retreat from the public sphere for much, much longer.
Taylor, if you’re reading this, which I suspect you are, eat up and change your appearance, move to Canada, make friends with Harry and Megan, and dig into the ancient Stoics. You won’t be disappointed.
I can’t speak for my daughters, but the rest of us will be okay.
Maybe because I am so lacking in talent, I have an especially keen appreciation for it. Lots of different kinds—folk, rap, hip hop, electronic, pop, Eastern, indigenous.
In church Sunday we sang some sorry hymns in a manner that can only be described as uninspired. Which got me thinking.
Instead of singing, or whatever you call what I do, I went into participant observation mode. And I noticed other people not singing. Who knows, maybe our church is filled with closet sociologists.
More and more people are choosing not to attend church, especially young adults. There are many reasons, but I can’t help but think that church music being so mind numbingly predictable, so Western, and so traditional, has to play a part. It’s like we’ve decided to only use one or two letters of the alphabet.
The continuum of groovy, inspiring music stretches across many, many genres and traditions from every region of the world, and yet, our Lutheran church, like most I suspect, routinely draws from the same 1% of the world’s musical variety. We tiptoe on a musical balance beam Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Which is exasperating for people with eclectic tastes.
So why the utter lack of creativity? Why is the Western traditional church music status quo so engrained when congregations are struggling to entice people to attend? Why isn’t there more risk-taking? More experimenting? Some risk-taking? Some experimenting? Some flavor flav?
A theory. Increasingly, in mainline Protestant denominations (and probably Catholic churches too) the vast majority of members are retirement age. Add to that the fact that the world is chaotic. Familiar music is integral to older member’s sense of church from days long past. To many of them, what I too flippantly call sorry hymns is a musical history that provides them with structure, and as a result, helps them create some semblance of order out of chaos.
But here’s the problem. The exact music older, long-standing church members find most helpful in making sense of the world, younger potential church members often find uninspiring. The incredible predictability and familiarity comforts older longstanding members who are in the last chapters of their lives while it simultaneously alienates younger more diverse people who do not share the same musical history and who have more eclectic musical tastes.
A decree. Every church leader should watch at least one NPR Tiny Desk concert as a part of their work week.
But maybe resistance is futile. Maybe churches will cling to the exact same church music as they spiral down without daring to ask whether the familiarity is playing a part in their decline?
All I know is if this post gets picked up by any of the traditional church music stalwarts at my church, I am likely to be tarred and feathered at a service early in the next calendar year. So if the humble blog goes dark, you’ll know why.
She ended up sharing its contents with my sissy who got a big kick out of my fondness for female artists of a folky/pop/R&B persuasion. I’m secure enough in my maleness to say I dig me some Karen Carpenter, Jill Scott, Abigail Washburn, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Tracy Chapman, Sade. I pity the faux-macho who are too insecure to embrace the beauty of female voices.
Which brings us to Haim, who I just learned about as a result of this lengthy review of their second album, Something to Tell You. Learning of my discovery on her visit home last week, Alison has been helping me catch up. Their voices are excellent, but I’m even more enamored by their stage presence.
Carl Wilson, Slate’s music reviewer, follows the music scene much, much more closely than me. As a result, I had to read Wilson’s review a couple of times to make sense of it. From the odd opening reference to Haim as “the smart set’s favorite white pop band”, I alternately really liked and disliked his analysis.
I liked his description of their newest vid.
“This emphasis on musicianship rebukes the stubborn stereotype of the “girl band” as an artificially assembled group of sexy singers. Haim (pronounced “Hi-um”)* doesn’t have to dress up and do choreographed dance routines. The sisters are not ornaments—they’re the music makers. (Of course, it’s the music business, so they’re still conventionally attractive. Though that also reinforces that they’re making a choice.) So, in the video, they move only when they feel the music, sing only when it seems expressive. Got it.”
I disliked his thesis.
“Every pop moment is embedded in history, and history is embedded in every pop moment. Thinking through Something to Tell You, I’m puzzled by how Haim has gotten better but seems worse than in 2013–14. The reason has to be that in the late Obama era, when pop-chart populism still seemed democratizing and progress was on the upswing, Haim’s sisterhood variation on the theme felt liberating. That populism now feels double-edged, so the songs don’t quite stick. At the tail of the “Want You Back” video, the dance routine falls apart, and the trio wanders off laughing as the camera pulls away. The cathartic feeling dwindles back to mere charm, a shrugging amiability. It works as a reclamation of the band’s autonomy from pop imperatives, but it’s also like what happened here didn’t matter. It’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A.”
Mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter, it’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A. That last phrase strikes me as especially odd. What makes L.A. carefree and privileged, the fact that they closed Van Nuys Boulevard for the shoot? And why is Haim responsible for, or even complicit in, L.A.’s supposed carefree, privilege?
Maybe Wilson is too deep for me, but the way I interpret his “mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter” sentence is that art must be political today. Meaning Haim has to take some sort of a stand on pressing issues of the day. I beg to differ because I interact regularly with a lot of young women who are extremely self conscious, sometimes to the point of being intensely anxious and/or clinically depressed.
When I watch the “Want You Back” vid and this one,
the Haim sisters come across as joyfully unencumbered. Carefree is absolutely right. Given some young women’s mental health challenges today, that is gift enough.
Every one of us struggles, to varying degrees, with being self-conscious. The less self conscious among us inspire us to be more authentic, to make art, to dress, to write, to live, however we feel.
I’ll take more unencumbered joy with my art than policy pronouncements any day.
* I LOVE hate it when I am right and Alison is wrong. DIG the hypen Al, two syllables!** Let your friends down easily.