Hey Guys! This is a Guest Post, written by my super-talented best friend,
David Dawson, who's in his final year studying Music at University (so he probably has more of a right to judge music than I do!). Hope you like his piece!
Who remembers the good old days when you would log onto iTunes and buy a song for 99p, or when you’d rip all your cd music onto your Sony Ericsson with the slide up screen to then sit on the back of the bus eagerly Bluetoothing them all to your mates? To say this was still happening less than ten years ago is pretty crazy, especially in comparison with how most of us consume music these days. I am one of the millions of people who pay monthly for the pleasure of accessing all of my favourite tracks in one place and in one convenient app.
I imagine that most of the people who read this will have some use or experience of Apple Music, Spotify or any other streaming service, whether it’s using seven different email addresses to push your 30-day trial to the max, having a free membership at the sacrifice of adverts or paying a full subscription. My question is, should we? Obviously, as a consumer the benefits seem logical, why wouldn’t we want all the music we could think of, and more, all playable from your tinny mobile speaker? Streaming services allow us to access music in a way we have never experienced before, giving us the chance to not only enjoy the same tunes we know and love, but to find new music quicker than ever. Obscure music for me used to mean Track 10 from an album only known for the title song, but with streaming services you can pick yourself a band no one has heard of and shove it in the faces of your mates hoping to get discovery rights - should they hit fame.
So, what is my big issue with streaming? Well, it’s not exactly a secret, thanks to Taylor Swift and Jay-Z, that artists don’t get much money from streams. In fact, one single stream normally amounts to a fraction of a fraction of a penny being paid out to the artist. Of that tiny pie, the record label eats most of the good stuff, leaving only the accidental fruit seed and that little bit that got dropped on the floor for the artists. A look into the proper figures would tell us that labels actually do pretty well from our extensive use of streaming, with the three major labels making a combined $6.93 billion in 2018, and that this is up ten per cent from the figure in 2017 and will probably rise again for 2019. This for me causes an issue with our perception, as we all know a tiny piece of a near $7 billion dollar-sized pie is actually pretty big, but does that make it fair?
When Taylor Swift decided to effectively boycott streaming services, removing her music initially in 2012 and refusing to release her new album at the time, Red, on their services, I, as I imagine many people did, scoffed at the news. The thought of someone like Taylor Swift complaining about how much she was being paid seemed almost laughable to me, and I certainly wasn’t going to make a wooden sign and start marching in her support.
But should we have all done more to get on her side? Yes, Taylor Swift doesn’t exactly need more money, but the reality is that streaming services don’t get artists the money they deserve for the hard work they put into their music, and this is what she was protesting. Whatever job you do, and however much you earn, I’d say it’s fair for anyone to ask for an acceptable amount of payment. Of course, Taylor was brought around once some terms were put in place, but the picture hasn’t much changed since.
The issue for me seems to be that streaming services have the monopoly. Even for a huge artist, if your music is not on all the major streaming sites it is a fact that the exposure you and your music gains will be smaller, and as streaming counts for charts these days, your chances of hitting higher in the Top 40 is significantly reduced. This still may be hard for most people to relate to, so the issue I would raise, and the main issue as far as I am concerned, is how this affects smaller artists and new music. Being a user of Spotify I know how great it is for discovering new music, as is Apple Music and other streaming services. I can easily find playlists to match my exact needs or mood, or that fit into a particular genre that I enjoy, and within these playlists, while I may find some of my old favourites there is almost always one or two new tunes that really catch my attention. Therefore, for an artist that is just starting out, or even on the way up, is not being on the popular streaming services really an option? The priority for these artists at this stage is obviously to gain as much exposure as they possibly can and to find an audience for their music, which streaming allows.
However, artists like this often don’t have huge backings of record labels and to continue recording music and trying to expand revenue is a requirement. When we consider these artists, instead of millionaire popstars, we start to realise how unfair payments for music are a big issue, which is why I questioned whether we should have offered more support, or at least approval, when Swift tried to make a point. Similarly to how Swift threw her own weight around to make some progress, other larger artists are actually able to use their popularity and streaming figures to negotiate more favourable terms for themselves. However, this is a luxury that smaller artists do not enjoy, meaning that while established and rich artists may be able to make some extra money, those with smaller followings and less financial backing are only able to make the minimum, supporting that age old saying about the rich getting richer whilst the poor get poorer.
Jay-Z was another big name who recognised the injustice, setting up his own streaming site, Tidal, and moving all his music across. Despite Tidal paying more, it is still significantly small amounts per stream, which still means that artists would have to get thousands of listeners to make any significant amount, which for most artists starting out is not a reality.
The ultimate point that I am trying to make, therefore, is that as much as we use or enjoy streaming services, maybe we should have been marching with Taylor and supporting the progress she was trying to make, and that now we should still be scrutinising these big streaming services and trying to generate change. As was the problem with Swift’s actions, it is hard to get people to empathise or sympathise with a millionaire expecting more money. But I would emphasise to people that no matter what their vocation or salary, if they were not paid a fair amount for their honest labour, they too would feel a lack of justice, and that when we consider the smaller artists attempting to make a career for themselves, is it fair that they have to accept tiny payments in exchange for their exposure and advancement? After all, there would be little point in having a great platform to enjoy music on, if there was no new music for us to enjoy.
There was a time when an offer to perform on the Grammys stage was one of the most coveted honours in music, where if the Grammys adjudicators deemed you an artist worthy of showcasing, then you’d made it. It was the seal of approval most musicians pined for.
But today’s awards ceremony is very different to how it once was. Two of the biggest artists of the day, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, both rejected opportunities to perform; Song of the Year and Music Video of the Year winner Childish Gambino didn’t turn up; and neither did the industry’s power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Notably, most of the artists that continually turn their noses up at the Grammys operate in the Hip Hop arena. This is partly because the genre has quickly become the biggest in the US, with Nielsen Music’s report suggesting 8 out of the 10 most streamed artists in the world are rappers. However, this surge has arguably not been mirrored by the genre’s award tallies, with the Grammys coming under fire for its problem acknowledging artists of colour, as well as consistently under-representing women. Clear attempts were made this year to shine the spotlight on female artists, with Kacey Musgraves winning Best Album and Dua Lipa winning Best New Artist.
But Hip Hop continued its troubled relationship with the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony, with the biggest incident of the night arriving during Drake’s acceptance speech for Best Song. Instead of thanking the adjudicators (whoever those mysterious people are) for choosing ‘God’s Plan’ as the winner, he criticised the very existence of the Grammys. He addressed the crowd, “I want to let you know we're playing in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport”, before elaborating, “Look, if there's people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don't need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”
Half of this speech was ‘accidentally’ cut off, so that viewers didn’t get to see it, but it seems like Drake had a point. Although it may appear a little paradoxical for a music critic to claim that we are wrong to judge music, I think the Canadian rapper is right in that we cannot really take an objective approach, and the eclecticism that expresses itself through people’s music tastes highlights this. You’d be hard-pressed to sit a Heavy Metal fanatic opposite a Jazz connoisseur and get them to agree as to which is the ‘better’ form of art. By the same token, it seems futile for some unbiased umpire to conclude Jazz as superior to Heavy Metal, or vice versa. They’re just different, not necessarily better or worse. You could argue that the charts are this independent referee, so to speak, as the more popular a song is, the better it must be. But how come critics so frequently give an album a very bleak review, yet it subsequently leaps to number one in the charts? Whose opinion should we trust more? We can only really talk in terms of preference, rather than quality, and this is the notion Drake was trying to convey.
Can we compare Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode to Mozart’s 21st Symphony? Can we rate Tracey Emin’s ‘Unmade Bed’ higher or lower than Dali’s ‘Lobster Telephone’? Can we even judge songs within the same genre to be better than others, or is it always going to be a matter of personal palate? Some Hip Hop heads might be obsessed with the Migos, while others will complain they are garbage compared to the old guard of 2pac and the Notorious B.I.G.
So really, who are the Grammys to say that Childish Gambino had a ‘better’ song than Lady Gaga, or Shawn Mendes? How can they profess such insight as to be able to do what nobody else seems able to do, and rank music, not only within genres, but across genres. Perhaps Drake summed it up perfectly in saying, "This is a business where sometimes it's up to a bunch of people who might not understand what a mixed race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York or anybody else, or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [Scott]. But my point is you've already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if you're a hero in your hometown.”
Music is made for the public and for the fans, it’s not aimed at critics or Grammys adjudicators. By the same token, for me to talk of ‘good music’, it should really just be interchangeable with ‘music that I like’. This isn’t a fact-based sport, it’s an opinion-based one - your playlist is your pantheon of Grammy winners.
So I guess that leaves me awarding Travis Scott the Best Metal Performance, Drake the Best New Age Album, and Future the Best Jazz Vocal Album. Who knew Hip Hop was so versatile?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Avicii, 'The Nights'
“He said, one day you'll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember
My father told me when I was just a child
These are the nights that never die”
I think it’s a testament to the selflessness that pervades the late Swedish DJ’s music, that he wove a constant theme of ‘Carpe Dium’ throughout his catalogue, despite clearly struggling to overcome his own struggles to find happiness. Maybe this is what motivated him so fervently to provide his listeners with an approach to help them find their own joy. Either way, Avicii’s ‘The Nights’ is the epitome of what my Self-Help Songs series is all about.
“One day my father he told me
Son, don't let it slip away
He took me in his arms, I heard him say
When you get older
Your wild heart will live for younger days
Think of me if ever you're afraid”
It may sound corny to call an EDM track my favourite song of all time, especially considering my overwhelming love for Hip Hop, but ‘The Nights’ is a definite contender for my personal top spot. Its tale of a father telling his son not to waste his life and to chase his dreams reminds me of the mentality my dad has always tried to instil in me. I remember playing this song to him a few years back, and he immediately fell in love with it too - despite in no way being a fan of Electronic Dance Music. The music video only serves to drive home the valuable message, with professional life-liver Rory Kramer giving us a snapshot into the rip-roaring adventures he has always been inspired to embark on. My dad still sends me texts at University saying ‘Remember - these are the Nights!’, (admittedly usually accompanied by a few random emojis!). But sometimes I feel like I do need this reminder to try and make the most of this moment. It seems adults spend half their time telling us that ‘Oh, life does go by quickly, and before you know it you’ll be old and wishing you’d made more of your youth’. Ugh, whatever, is the standard response, occasionally followed by a roll of the eyes.
It’s true though, and I think we all know this deep down. I mean, it feels like I only started my Oxford journey last month, but already I’m going to Halfway Hall, signifying I’ve officially made it through half of my three year degree. Time does fly by, and one day we will leave this world behind, despite my childhood attempts to reject this notion and believe in the possibility of immortality (part of me is still tempted to go and freeze myself for a few centuries until a cure for death has been made, but I guess I’ll need to commit a little more than part of myself in order for that to work!). I’m as guilty as anyone of looking forward all the time, planning ahead, thinking of where I want to be in five, ten years. I think this is partly a symptom of our education system, and how there is always an objective, a goal we are preparing for, whether this be GCSEs, A-Levels, Prelims or Finals, and we believe that once we get past the next target we can start living as we want to. But life is one long string of targets, and I feel like it’s easy to focus so hard on that next deadline, that upcoming holiday, and that job promotion that’s a couple of years off, that you eventually find that you’ve wished years of your life away.
So following on from my last Self-Help Songs post on Zac Brown Band, I think that while it’s important and inspiring to set goals, at the same time we have to remember to just appreciate this night, this day, this moment, without thinking of what comes next. It’s that cheesy old slogan that’s now emblazoned across every iPhone case, laptop screensaver and River Island t shirt - 'Carpe Dium'. It’s a painfully overused cliche - but at the same time, it’s undoubtedly true. Because in reality, we only ever experience life in the present, so I guess you could say that the future never arrives. So why put your emphasis on something uncertain, when you could be putting your energy into making the most of the what is right in front of you? After all, these are ‘The Nights’ (unless you’re in Australia, in which case - these are ‘The Days’!)
“When thunderclouds start pouring down
Light a fire they can't put out
Carve your name into those shining stars”
How to Live Without Regrets #1 - Seize the Day
How to De-Stress #1 - Slow Down
So you’ve heard it a million times. Yes, ok, we get it. The world we live in moves at too fast a pace. But quite frankly, what are we supposed to do about it. I’ve got an essay in for tomorrow, an internship application to sort out and lots of baying blog followers to please with a steady flow of posts. Well, maybe the last one was a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it seems easy to just tell people they’ve got too much going on without providing an actual solution to it.
I feel like this song gets to the crux of the matter in a really simple, convincing way. ‘No Hurry’ is about (spoiler alert) slowing down, and just taking a moment to breathe. Because in this day and age, we do have a million things to think about. Certainly at University, any moment you take off essay reading, or essay writing, or essay checking (pfft, like anyone actually does that), you feel kind of guilty for not spending it on work. But this shouldn’t be how we feel, life isn’t just about work. It’s just as important to stop and chill every once in a while, otherwise the bundle of impending deadlines and doom pile up in your mind until you reach breaking point. Personally, my mind often feels like its moving too fast for me to keep up, so that when I’m sat working on my CV I’m thinking that I should be working on my degree, but when I’m writing an essay I’m thinking I should be working on my CV.
Taking a step back is always really useful (unless you’re posing for a picture in front of the Grand Canyon, of course), and it puts everything into perspective. At the end of the day, what is the worst that will happen if you miss one deadline, or have a sparser bibliography than normal at the end of an essay?
So take a leaf out of Zac Brown Band’s book, because in reality I could have chosen any one of about ten songs all about kicking back and taking it easy that they have in their repertoire. Adopt the Mediterranean mantra of ‘Mañana’ every now and then - after all, they do say the laid-back attitude of our continental cousins is what makes them have such lengthy lifespans. Or maybe it’s the Mediterranean diet. Either way - what’s the hurry?*
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
*No responsibility will be accepted for any missed deadlines or angry emails from tutors.
This may seem like the least relevant question I could possibly ask, given that over the past five years Hip Hop has surged up the charts to become the leading genre across all streaming platforms. It is currently in the purplest of patches, with Drake and Kendrick Lamar now consistently leading the nominations across the biggest award shows.
However, the increase in rattling hi-hats and booming bass streaming down our headphones is partly due to Hip Hop’s malleability as a genre. Pop songs frequently feature a verse from a rapper, and have done since the early 2000s, while the introduction of Auto-Tune has led numerous Hip Hop artists to lend their vocals or a production credit to Alternative, Electronic, Rock and World songs.
But is this genre blurring specific only to Hip Hop, or is this something that can be seen across all genres? It is certainly not exclusively applicable to Hip Hop, with plenty of novel cross genre collaborations hitting the top of the charts, such as Country and EDM. But undoubtedly the most prominent of these, as well as perhaps the most unusual, involve Hip Hop. Who would have foreseen that Essex’s Charlie-Charmer Olly Murs would come together with West Coast gangster rapper Snoop Dogg on their recent hit Moves? Or that Stevie Wonder would agree to play the flute on Travis Scott’s Stop Trying to Be God?
A lot of these partnerships can be put down to record label manoeuvring, with the two artists often recording their pieces separately and never actually meeting. Certainly in the case of more commercial pop hits, this seems to nearly always be the case. However, Hip Hop seems to spark unlikely but genuine friendships. Elton John, for example, is a self-professed Young Thug superfan, combining forces with the Atlanta warbler on his recent High remix of John’s Rocket Man. Stevie Wonder and Travis Scott did actually meet, as proven in a very staged ‘Oh look who I bumped into’ photo on the latter’s Instagram. But they met, nonetheless.
The success of James Blake’s new album, Assume Form, was partly propelled by features from Hip Hop super-producer Metro Boomin and the aforementioned Travis Scott. Blake’s style tiptoes around the fringes of alternative and electronic music, his sound distinguishable by its contrasting ambient warmth and falsetto chills. Scott wades into Blake’s sonic universe with ease, providing a clear, downcast anchor in amongst the whirling, euphonic fog surrounding him. Personally, I think Blake often lacks this lucidity to counter the wavering, fleeting melodies that permeate his other works, and perhaps this is why Hip Hop comes into its element when complimenting an artist from another genre. Its directness and ferocity often lights up a track that is otherwise in need of a lift. Tranquil synths and dreamy pop vocals are the taste of the day, with Ariana Grande, Swae Lee, Halsey and newcomer Summer Walker all perpetuating this style. This works brilliantly on isolated tracks and brief chart-toppers, but this ambience can often struggle, in my view, to sustain the listener’s interest over an entire album. It works if you are on the right vibe, but the truth is you rarely stay in the mood for the hour it takes to digest an album of this ilk. A rap verse keeps the listener guessing, and gives hardcore fans of the featured artist a reason to stick with the song through to the end.
So now that Hip Hop has clambered to the top of the musical pedestal, albeit partly through a few helpful leg-ups from cross-genre features and the odd guest verse, can we expect it to stay there? Or will it be usurped by another mercenary genre leapfrogging its way to the top? Perhaps Country stars Florida Georgia Line’s collaboration with Pop’s Bebe Rexha, and Zac Brown Band’s venture into EDM with the late Avicii, are precursors to a Top 40 dominated by Nashville?
In reality, I think Hip Hop is here to stay for the next couple of years. Young Thug, Travis Scott and, most recently, Future, have all honed a sound that perfectly combines the spacey with the hard-hitting and fierce. If they can just add a little more depth to their lyrics, I think their armoury will be very difficult to defeat. But nonetheless, I’ll keep my checked shirt and cowboy hat at the ready, just in case…
Originally published at www.phasermagazine.com
An earlier version of this article was published at https://phasermagazine.com/main/2019/1/9/why-hip-hop-needs-to-change-its-approach-to-sexual-assault
The recent furore surrounding Hot 97 radio host Ebro Darden’s mild interrogation of Kodak Black, a rapper currently awaiting trial for a sexual assault case, is worrying to say the least. After the #MeToo movement’s attempts to cleanse Hollywood, one might have thought Darden’s stance would have been championed for being ‘woke’ in an era where the US President can (allegedly) pay off a porn star to keep quiet and still stand in front of his supporters like some kind of toupee-wearing god.
But no, if anything the response to the Kodak incident was overwhelmingly hostile towards Darden, with commentators criticising him for making the rapper feel ‘uncomfortable’. Ironic, considering he is being charged with doing things to someone which will have made them feel just a tad worse than ‘uncomfortable’. I get the whole innocent until proven guilty approach, because it is important to remember that the charges may indeed be shown to be false, and the media are right to avoid jumping the gun and producing another Cliff Richard smear debacle. But there is a difference between suspending judgment, and turning in the opposite direction and assuming that the accuser is lying. Chance the Rapper recently spoke out saying that he regretted working with R. Kelly, who has been the subject of a recent documentary reaffirming numerous allegations of sexual assault involving women and teenage girls. Chance admitted that he ignored the accusations because of the R&B singer’s celebrity, and had presumed the women were merely seeking publicity. It is just as dangerous to adopt this kind of attitude, as it is to adopt the mentality that Kodak Black is definitely guilty.
Of course, when celebrities are involved it has been known for sexual assault allegations to have been proven false, and submitted merely with the intention of getting in the papers. However, the truth is that this is usually not the case. The FBI puts the number of ‘unfounded’ rapes, i.e. those found to be false, at 8%. When you consider that the US Bureau of Justice estimates that only 35% of all sexual assaults are actually reported to the police, this figure becomes even more significant. Some cases will be submitted purely for publicity, and there are no statistics specifically in relation to sexual assault charges involving celebrities. But at the end of the day these rappers and singers are role models to a tremendous amount of people, so we surely have to treat their allegations with only the same amount of scepticism as we would a case involving the average Joe. Otherwise, if our immediate reaction to a sexual assault charge against a celebrity is ‘They’re probably lying’, then this will inevitably translate into our treatment of normal cases.
Ebro is 100% right for not merely sweeping the Kodak issue under the carpet. People should be aware that the man being interviewed is being tried for sexual assault, rather than simply ignoring the case and promoting the rapper’s new album like everything is hunky dory. People tend to get on their high horses at this point in the debate, arguing that if we refrain from listening to certain artists simply because of their private lives, then we are on a slippery slope to censoring art in general. They claim art should be treated as amoral.
But it is not about censoring music, it is about giving people who may be tempted to listen to Kodak Black the relevant information, which they can then choose to use as they wish. Many may be aware of his trial, but don’t believe music and the artist should be linked so concretely, with the credited artist not even being the main contributor to many songs that will have involved writing teams, producers, mixers, etc. Others, though, will undoubtedly choose to avoid buying a record that is linked so heavily with a potential sexual offender.
The problem runs deeper when the artist has already been shown to be guilty. My friend recently recommended an Xxxtentacion song to me, saying how beautiful the music is. But she wasn’t aware of his history of quite horrific domestic abuse, involving battery of a pregnant woman and attempted strangulation, and when she was made aware of this, she was shocked, and felt guilty for listening to his music. But the guilt should not lie with the listeners, for everyone is of course entitled to endorse whichever music they please. The issue is that she wasn’t even aware of his history, due to the overwhelmingly positive publicity the rapper has received after his passing. It is virtually impossible to listen to an Apple Music or Spotify Hip Hop playlist without almost accidentally listening to Xxxtentacion or 6ix9ine, the former of whom has been recorded admitting to his crimes, and the latter of whom has already been charged for sexual misconduct. Morality is treated as such a malleable concept in the modern era, with the increasing popularity of cultural relativism as a philosophical worldview, and I am not suggesting we start telling people not to listen to certain music and ranking some songs as morally superior to others. The point is that sexual crimes should not be glossed over simply because a rapper is popular. Hip Hop needs its own #MeToo movement.
For too long casual sexism has been an inherent part of rap music, with people like myself ignoring it with the justification that a lot of rap lyrics are purely fictional, written with the intention of fulfilling the gang-member, drug-dealer stereotype. But while Film is clearly making the effort to give women the respect they deserve, Hip Hop is flailing way behind.
People should be free to listen to these artists if they choose to. But in my view, their music should not be actively endorsed in the way it has been, simply to increase revenue for streaming services and record labels, in the process ignoring their sexual misconduct cases. At the moment, it is harder to avoid these artists than it is to listen to their music. Over the past couple of years Hip Hop has become a burgeoning feature in the charts, and I am as happy as anyone about this. However, it is crucial that the flourishing of this overwhelmingly male-dominated genre is not accompanied by the undoing of the positive steps made by numerous powerful female chart presences, such as Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Little Mix, and Jess Glynne to name a few.
The Hot 97 backlash is the last thing that Hip Hop needs. The genre needs to start showing more respect to victims of sexual assault, just as Ebro was trying to do in his Kodak interview. If you ask me, Hip Hop needs to start showing more respect to women in general - we need fewer songs objectifying women, and more songs made in the ilk of Lil Yachty’s ‘Worth It’, for example, which subverts this culture in his tackling of the issue of body image:
“I love you for who you are,
God don't mess up at all,
Even when he make us with flaws”
This attitude should be standard, rather than the exception.
Originally posted on Sosmusicmedia.com
Name: Maxim Mower
Artist: Jess Glynne
Song Title: Thursday
Song Link (YouTube/Soundcloud): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0v30jKH958
Issue: Body Image
“Sometimes I'm shy and I'm anxious
Sometimes I'm down on my knees
Sometimes I try to embrace all my insecurities
So I won't wear makeup on Thursday
'Cause who I am is enough”
Where’s the Meaning?
In this song, Jess Glynne walks us through her inhibitions, before closing the verse with a positive, uplifting statement of intent, proudly singing that she “won’t wear makeup on Thursday” in a rebuttal of her fears and society’s expectations of her. Notably, she conveys how she is desperately trying to ‘embrace all my insecurities’, rather than attempting to cover them up and hide them from the world. This sense of determination is even more rousing, because its optimism starkly contrasts with the worries of the preceding lines. In these Glynne acknowledges and reveals the severity of her struggles regarding other people’s perceptions of her. Powerfully voicing her resolution to forego make-up on Thursday suggests that the aforementioned insecurities (“Sometimes I’m shy and I’m anxious/Sometimes I’m down on my knees”) stem from a lack of body image confidence.
Struggles with body image and it’s most potent form, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), are increasingly prevalent today, perpetrated and exacerbated by social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, the culture of which puts pressure on women in particular, but also men to an extent, to look a certain way. The widespread use of Photoshop and other photo-editing tools by celebrities, influencers, and general users alike encourages fans, followers and friends to aspire to unrealistic and unattainable body goals.
The final, triumphant line (“‘Cause who I am is enough”) reminds us that the basic purpose of make-up is to cover up imperfections that we don’t want other people to see. Jess Glynne rejects this, arguing instead that we should embrace people’s imperfections and put less strain on people (young women especially) to fit into a mould set for them by society.
Her compelling use of the word ‘enough’, rather than something stronger, such as ‘beautiful’, or even ‘perfect’, impresses upon listeners that we shouldn’t be aiming at traditional, outdated body image standards. We should just be us, as imperfect as that might be, and refrain from passing any judgments or classifications on how people appear, or indeed, should appear.
Doesn't it get dark, right before the sun peaks?
Chance the Rapper, Work Out
I was going to call this edition of Self-Help Songs ‘How to Handle a Break-Up'. Because, initially at least, that’s what this song is about. But then the core message is so overwhelmingly one of love and peace that I had to put it in the ‘How to Be Positive’ category. It’s interesting because it does involve an on-off relationship, but Chance gives us insight into how to continue loving through these testing times, and to not react with resentment to periods of distance within a relationship.
Work Out is infectiously uplifting. What makes it resonate so much more than the usual, bubblegum-pop, happy-clappy songs that we might also deem exceedingly positive, is that he starts off on a more prickly note. And when I say prickly, I mean as prickly as the ever-smiling, man-of-God Chance the Rapper is ever going to be, which isn’t very. Chance begins his verse rapping, “Luckily my ex ugly, I don’t eat so she can’t get no lunch with me, I don’t reach so she can’t get in touch with me, Can’t be buds with me”.
This is an unusual tone for the Chicago rapper in that it feels kind of bitter. Is Chance making a…God forbid…diss track?
Before any of you start to wonder whether the world has just turned upside down, have no fear. Because before the first verse is even finished, Chance restores life to normality, crooning, “But I must confess, I must confess, For every single ex, I want the best, I really wish you nothing but success”.
Ah, that’s more like it. Although I speak in jest, it does contain a vital point about having the right outlook in life. Having feelings of bitterness or anger is only going to fester and have a negative impact on you in the long-run, especially if it’s about an ex-lover or someone you used to be super close to. I think Chance is preaching acceptance here, and more than anything love - because thinking selfishly, love not only brings warmth to its recipients, it also makes the giver feel so much better and happier.
How to Be Positive #1 - Love unconditionally
This isn’t the only thing we can learn from Work Out, though. Chance goes on to reference the earlier statement about his ex, rapping, “No you is not ugly I just said it to be/Funny we both know that you look better than me”. Now, there’s not many people who've gone through a break-up, and would be able to bring themselves to say something like that. So this obviously ties in with the ‘unconditional love’ note, but also what I get from it is how important it is to not take yourself too seriously. Yes, it’s vital to have self-esteem and to be confidant. But equally it’s refreshing and healthy to be able to laugh about yourself. A lot of artists get too involved in the intense introspection that music often entails, but watching Chance the Rapper speak on Genius about this song reinforces how it’s usually a lot better not to be so po-faced. Life can be sombre enough without adding extra, unnecessary seriousness to it. It’ll only weigh you down.
How to Be Positive #2 - Don’t take yourself too seriously
Finally, just a point on the fact that Chance is now engaged to the woman he is singing about on this song. I guess it goes to show that in the end, even when life sucks and gets you down, everything ultimately works out. Hey, that would be a good name for a song…
How to Be Positive #3 - Know that it always works out in the end
When I’m with you, I’m not afraid to show it all. When I’m with you, I’m not hiding anymore
The Shires, Naked
How to Love #1 - Be Yourself
This song is all about how love involves letting your guard down and just being yourself. The Shires suggest that if you love someone without letting them see who you really are, then that person will be loving someone that isn’t really you, and you’ll be playing a part that eventually you’ll become tired of playing.
I love the metaphor of being physically naked, as it shows how revealing your true personality and all your flaws can be scary, because in your head you’ll be listing all the negative parts of you and you might feel set up for embarrassment. But this is why the line, “I can’t believe that you’re finally letting go/And I’ve been hurt and burnt before” is so important, because it shows how closely intertwined this feeling of being yourself is with trust. It takes trust to let someone in, especially if you’ve been ‘hurt and burnt’ in the past.
I feel like this whole song encapsulates one of the most vital moments in any relationship, when you finally drop the facade you’ve been maintaining to impress the person you’re with, and you just relax. The song’s intro highlights how putting up walls only complicates things and creates a feeling of uncertainty. But if there are no walls, then there is nothing to hide, as everything is out in the open.
Equally, what’s awesome about The Shires is that they can portray the perspectives of both lovers. So we are not only shown the amazing experience of freeing oneself from insecurity in the presence of one’s partner, but also the partner’s fulfilling feeling of being trusted and accepted. The country duo highlight the responsibility in a relationship not to judge, and to not throw this trust back in their partner's face.
Read the full lyrics to Naked here: https://genius.com/The-shires-naked-lyrics
Let’s switch bodies for a day. You could be me and I could be you
How to Be More Tolerant #1 - Before you judge someone, imagine life through their eyes
You might remember the comedy-rap hit from earlier this year, Lil Dicky’s ‘Freaky Friday’, in which he hilariously swaps bodies with Chris Brown. 6lack takes this plot but gives it a much deeper, more poignant makeover.
The chorus plays, “Now switch/Tell me how it feels/to be somebody else”. The famous ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ quote comes to mind - “You never truly understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
In this world of instant opinions and twitter debates, Switch’s message couldn’t be more appropriate. Social media increasingly gets us into the habit of making immediate judgments about people, words and images. Everything is divided into two categories - like or dislike, and while it may feel like a greater amount of viewpoints is making us more open-minded, I would argue it is having the opposite effect. Accusations of ‘Fake News’ has led us to judge based on emotions rather than on hard facts.
6lack croons, “Ain’t nobody gotta go through what I’m going through, no/But it seems like they all know what I’m supposed to do, so”. He is criticising those who try to dictate to him how he should live his life, and there is perhaps also a shot aimed at those who claim his problems aren’t worthy because he is living a life of stardom. But I think the most crucial message from Switch is to be more tolerant of others, because we can never truly experience life from their perspective. So although their issues may seem insignificant to us, or they may come across in a negative way, everyone is fighting their own battles, and each person’s troubles are the most important things in their own lives. Therefore everyone’s problems are equally as important as a whole - it is just a matter of subjectivity and perspective.
Next time you’re going to judge someone, think of the unlikely partnership of fictional 1930s lawyer Atticus Finch and 21st Century rapper 6lack:
“You never truly understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Now switch, tell me how it feels, to be somebody else.”
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?