Juliette Recommends: “Kill This Love” by BLACKPINK

Image via Consequence of Sound

I never thought I would be into K-pop. Like, ever. Korean pop groups were literally half a world away, and I try to avoid large groups of screaming fangirls at the height of something’s popularity (not that there’s anything wrong with loving something that much— I’m not one for noise and crowds generally!).

Then, my sister started listening to almost exclusively K-pop groups: EXO, BTS, NCT … and BLACKPINK. I’ve quickly lost track of her long list of favourites, but BLACKPINK stood out to me from the start.

On the one hand, they were the very first girl group she showed me. It was honestly a refreshing sight after weeks of watching groups of men dancing in brightly coloured suits (usually without a shirt underneath).

On the other, they’re simply talented. Not only is this group of girls absolutely stunning, but they’ve got more than enough talent backing it up. Singing, dancing, rapping — they’ve got it all.

Like most K-pop hits, their music is catchy. I’ve grown to like many of their songs (and, I’ll admit it — my sister made me a full K-pop playlist that I listen to frequently). But Kill This Love was the first of countless BLACKPINK songs my sister introduced me to, and it’s remained my favourite.

As said sister so kindly puts it, “This is the one song you can kind of sing along to.” In this, she’s referring to both my absolute ignorance of the Korean language and a rather lengthy section of English lyrics in this song in particular:

“Let’s kill this love!
Rum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum

We all commit to love
That makes you cry, oh oh
We’re all making love
That kills you inside, yeah

We must kill this love (yeah, yeah)
Yeah, it’s sad but true
Gotta kill this love (yeah, yeah)
Before it kills you, too”

Contrary to my own expectations, yes, I’ve gotten into K-pop, however mildly. Thanks to BLACKPINK, I’ve been able to share in one of my sister’s biggest interests as of late, and it’s actually brought us closer along the way. Not to mention, I’ve got some new favourites to get stuck in my head!

(Song recommendation by Juliette Sebock)

Tom Recommends: “Andrew In Drag” by The Magnetic Fields

In case you’ve never tried it, writing is really fucking hard!

So if you ever need to be reminded how bad you are at it relative to the abilities of others, might I suggest listening to the song Andrew In Drag by The Magnetic Fields. In two minutes (and while rhyming the end of every single line of the lyrics in a simple “-ag” stressed syllable), Stephin Merritt puts on a clinic on how to establish, develop, and pay off characters across a core narrative conflict that illuminates themes about personal identity and love.

I, on the other hand, one time was able to semi-coherently express my feelings to my wife.

Oh, and I wrote a couple of books that maybe, maaaaaybe achieve a sliver of the narrative impact and clarity this song achieves in TWO GOD-DAMN MINUTES!!! What, exactly, did I ever do to you, Stephin Merritt? Seriously. I want to know. Touché, motherfucker!

This is the part of the recommendation where it would make sense for me to synopsize the song’s narrative, but it truly cannot be said any better than it’s said in the song. So I’m not going to take the bait and drag my stank all over it. No. I’m just going to politely stand back and recommend the song with the added disclosure that listening to it and really thinking about the effortless efficiency and complexity of its storytelling might make you give up on using words ever again. In fact, if it doesn’t, then listen to it one more time. You’ll get there. And if we all listen to it, then you’ll be living in a silent world, Merritt. A lonely, desolate and silent universe just like the one my soul is now trapped in when all I wanted to do was write!

(Song recommendation by Tom Stern)

Sam Recommends: “Hard Times” by Paramore

I was never a huge fan of Paramore. Not even in high school, when their earliest releases were solidifying themselves as one of the most iconic pop punk bands in that genre’s heyday.

In the decade that has lapsed since those days, I can’t say that much has changed between me and Paramore. I’ve never purchased one of their albums or gone to one of their concerts. But what I have done is become obsessed with one of their most recently released singles, “Hard Times,” from their 2017 album After Laughter. 

I was still relatively new to Los Angeles the first time I heard the song. A friend played the music video for our group after an epic night out that included a lot of alcohol and a trip to Jumbo’s Clown Room. I couldn’t deny that — despite the sadness conveyed in the lyrics — the song was catchy as hell. The music is peppy and upbeat, and the visuals in the music video are just as dazzling. It’s the musical embodiment of a dark cloud’s silver lining. Except this silver lining is actually a technicolor rainbow that pops and glimmers like lightning.

Since then, “Hard Times” has become one of my standard go-to tracks on bad days when I need catharsis in the form of musical commiseration. I hope it can bring you some joy, light, and color on your own dark days.

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

Venus Recommends: “Venus” by Sleeping At Last

The night sky once ruled my imagination.
Now I turn the dials with careful calculation.
After a while, I thought I’d never find you.
I convinced myself that I would never find you,
When suddenly I saw you.

The year was 2017. I had hated my name for years upon years. As a child, I assumed it was just because my name was common.

I won’t tell you the exact name but think along the same vein as “Jessica”, “Megan”, or “Kelly”.

I wanted to feel special and different and like my name meant something, something I could identify with. Every time someone called my name — I just felt fear and disgust. Coincidentally, I happened to have Sleeping At Last’s “Atlas: Space” album recommended to me around the time that I started heavily questioning my name and gender.

Each song is named after a different planet and the lyrics embody this kind of broad intensity that can only be captured by thinking of something celestial. I remember staying up late one night with a close friend and telling him about how I didn’t feel like a girl, how I hated my name. I told him that I wanted to be called something unique but was afraid of being judged or made fun of for my choice of name. I jokingly said, “I can’t just go by a name like Sunflower. People would tear me apart for that.”

I remember he just looked at me and laughed. He told me that a sort of hippie name would suit me well. That’s when it clicked, I wanted to be called Venus. I played “Venus” by Sleeping At Last constantly in my dorm room and while I was out and about. The decision didn’t feel spur of the moment or rushed at all. It just felt right.

I came out as nonbinary and texted my friends about my name change and from then on — I was Venus. Suddenly, I saw myself in a way I never had before.

Maybe, if you give this song a listen, you will find a piece of yourself in it too.

(Song recommendation by Venus Davis)

Dan Recommends: “I’m Not Sorry I Was Having Fun” by Chumbawamba

Consider the deluge of guitar bands with smash singles from the 1990s, from Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” to “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals (not to mention the pop and hip-hop contributions of Lou Bega, House of Pain, and Haddaway) and you’ll get a portrait of a time when popular music was outright saturated with here-today-gone-tomorrow stars.

One group that has been lumped into this category — this “one hit wonder” label I genuinely despise — but which has nevertheless always interested me, is Chumbawamba.

You may remember “Tubthumping,” or more colloquially the “I get knocked down” song. It’s a raucous and fun enough tune, and inarguably the most successful in the band’s catalog, but it only gives you the slightest insight into the band’s oeuvre and, by extension, their anarchism. In the wake of its success, with vocalist Alice Nutter encouraging fans to shoplift Tubthumper (the album on which “Tubthumping” appears) and using their appearance on the Late Show to demand police “free Mumia Abu-Jamal”, the collective used their platform to push forward causes they believed in — not to mention gleefully incite chaos in the music industry.

“I’m Not Sorry I Was Having Fun” is a veritable summation of Chumbawamba’s years following their mainstream breakthrough. It evokes images of Woodstock burning to the ground, pop music mediocrity, and the “old time religion” of never crossing picket lines. Appearing on the collective’s first album post-Tubthumper, titled WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), the song is a declaration that Chumbawamba is what it is, and that no force could conspire to change that.

The WYSIWYG album as a whole is a direct response to Chumbawamba’s experience as an unknown band from Leeds suddenly being world famous in the United States, a place teeming with excess and distraction. At the end of “I’m Not Sorry”, we hear a clip of someone asking:

“Now since this, uh, single was a great hit all over the world you must have earned a lot of money and we were wondering how being an anarchist and, um, being a rich man get along together?”

Chumbawamba could have played the game and tried spinning their “Tubthumping” success into riches and notoriety. Instead, they chose to stick to their values and have fun causing chaos — fun, for which, if you haven’t guessed, they are emphatically not sorry.

(Song recommendation by D.R. Baker)

Prem Recommends “Make My” by The Roots feat. Big K.R.I.T & Dice Raw

“Make My” is the song that made me fall in love with hip-hop.

This might sound like a momentous claim, one that can rarely be limited to a single song. But I can remember with perfect clarity the first time I heard “Make My”, purely by chance. The hypnotic, gentle keys, clean drums, and the beguiling sousaphone. The weight of K.R.I.T’s words. The meditative hook. The frustration in Black Thought’s voice. The crystal-clear mix. The entrancing musicality of it all.

As an Indian teenager with little exposure to American vernaculars and accents, however, the words were hard to grasp — among my peers, Eminem was the ‘cool’ rapper, and people could care less what he said. Nevertheless, the unassailable, stark beauty of “Make My” got me to keep listening. And I had to know what it all meant.

Thus began my journey of research and discovery. Something that hooked me so easily kept my curiosity. I dug into the meanings of individual words, fit it into the broader context of the verses, then the song, then the album — then the genre. I learned to be a student of the music, of the strength of lyrics. The sheer poetry of “Make My” unraveled itself to show me the gems that lay within.

When Big K.R.I.T opens the song with an almost conversational flow, the tone is set for a masterful existential reflection on the contradictions and consequences of his life’s choices — at the moment of the narrator’s death.

My heart’s so heavy that the ropes that hold my casket breaks
’Cause everything that wasn’t for me I had to chase

Dice Raw’s hook takes on an ethereal quality, despite its nihilism. The realization that at the end of one’s life, the end won’t justify the means, won’t “justify the dreams” is a powerful moral statement.

The final acceptance of death in Black Thought’s verse comes with perhaps the most damning epiphany of all — the narrator’s life was all for naught.

Unwritten and unraveled, it’s the dead man’s pedantic

In the end, he can’t find the stairway to heaven. The verse taps into a primal human fear — what if our lives have no grand epilogue after all? What if this is it — our choices on this earth are the only ones that matter?

As the song goes out with a dense instrumental that seeks to reflect the tuning out of death, these questions linger. The hope of an answer lies within us, and only us.

The individualist moral narrative of “Make My” stands strongly on its own two feet. But the power of hip-hop is its larger narrative. The sociopolitical experiences of a community I wasn’t part of, but the meditations on whose realities were so pertinent to the world at large took me more work to understand. When I did, is when I knew hip-hop to be a genre into whose depths I would dive. I have no reservations in stating that understanding its social consciousness, starting with “Make My,” set me on my own path of aligning myself with principles of social justice.

On “Make My,The Roots bring together everything that makes hip-hop so powerful, so unique in its cross-genre appeal. It was the song that introduced me to The Roots, who would go on to be one of my favourite bands. It was the song that introduced me to Big K.R.I.T, who would go on to be one of my favourite rappers. It was the song that introduced me to undun, which would go on to be one of my favourite albums ever.

Perhaps most importantly though, “Make My” introduced me to the transformative ability of music. My life has been better for it.

(Song recommendation by Prem Sylvester)

Emily Recommends: “Tell Em All to Go to Hell” by Ezra Furman

“Tell Em All to Go to Hell” is a classic fuck-you song, and as all fuck-you songs do, it riles. It breathes air into deflated lungs. It gets you pumped to go do…something. Anything. Even if you don’t end up actually telling anyone to go to hell, you feel, by the end of those two minutes and thirteen seconds, that you could if you wanted to. And sometimes just the act of listening and singing along feels defiant enough.

In a live performance of the song in 2016, Furman talks about that defiance, of challenging the “false authority” we’re all subject to; he dedicates the song to them when he says, “and to all you out there in TV land who don’t like what I wear, this one’s your special song.” “Tell Em All to Go to Hell” also seems to be about the defiance of being alive when maybe you don’t want to be, or when others treat you like you shouldn’t be: “And I’m too young to die/Or I’m too scared to try,” and “It’s a double-bind, baby, a catch-22/How nobody knows you until there’s no you.”

The song starts with a vampy ’50s sax, an instrument used in several of Furman’s songs, feeding into the early rock ’n’ roll feel. That feel, that vibe, that Chuck-Berry-rollicking, the idea that you’re at some sweaty sock hop –it’s punching in and doing work here. Like, God’s work. Like, ripping something from your chest and shoving it up your throat so you can say what you want to say.

Most especially in the live version, the song explodes towards the end into a rockabilly frenzy, and the whole thing’s got this mix, part “No Particular Place To Go,” part “Quarter to Three,” even part “Goody Two Shoes” maybe, and all of it’s combining into that fuck-you energy, and man, you just have to harness it. Let it keep going in your chest the way a drum at a live show reverberates there, keeping you alive, giving you musical courage. You’re gonna need it if you actually do tell anyone to go to hell.

(Song recommendation by Emily Costa)

Phoebe Recommends: “Ribs” by Lorde

You are seventeen years old.

Do you remember what it felt like being seventeen years old? Of course you do, no one forgets something that traumatizing.

You live in the suburbs.

It doesn’t matter if you actually live in the suburbs; you’re seventeen, so everywhere’s the suburbs. Nowhere will ever be enough. Every space you inhabit is too small, too orderly, too un-disruptable. Your whole body feels like a disruption.

Time marches forward. You can still remember when you didn’t feel like this. Very recently, in fact, you didn’t feel like this at all. The spaces that now feel too small to contain you were once comforting and cozy. The things you’ve just started to question were once absolutes. But you see through all of that now. When you’re seventeen, you are wise. When you’re seventeen, you are ancient.

Fading youth is hardly a new musical theme — even children get older, after all, and I, for one, am getting older too — but Lorde’s first album, Pure Heroine, which came out at the tale-end of my own teen years, treads the knife’s edge of adolescence with the unparalleled precision and grace of Phillipe Petite crossing a high wire. Each song teems with languor and longing. Meandering late night drives, bad parties, low funds, boredom, gossip, growing pains.

The fourth track, “Ribs,” is the greatest distillation of these feelings. The aimless synthesizer of the opening builds, builds, builds, until the bass drum cuts through the mist, steady and relentless as time itself. The refrain is a mess of contradictions: the desperation to cling to the simple joys of the past, the disillusionment of the present, the combined threat and promise of the future. The hairpin lyrical turn from the joyous, childlike “My mom and dad let me stay home,” to the world-weary, “It drives you crazy getting old,” is a thing of wonder.

Lorde was only seventeen herself when she released the song. To hear someone so young sing “I want ’em back/Those minds we had,” has a bizarro kind of poignancy. Nostalgia eating its own tail.

(Song recommendation by Phoebe Cramer)

Juliette Recommends: “Part of Your World” by Jodi Benson

Image via Disney Wiki — Fandom

“Betcha on land
They understand,
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters…
Bright young women,
Sick o’ swimmin’,
Ready to stand….”

I never had much of a rebellious teenage phase, but I did go through the requisite “nobody understands me” era. Coincidentally enough, thanks to the age difference between me and my little sister (and my own love for Disney films & soundtracks), “Part of Your World” became a key soundtrack to my teenage angst — and a necessary contrast to Luke Bryan and Panic! at the Disco.

Was I a mermaid desperate to walk on land with a handsome prince? Well, no. Though I wouldn’t have turned down a handsome prince.

But like every other preteen to ever live, I felt like nobody really understood me. I’d always been mature for my age, which contrasted with being treated like a kid by default — I was sick o’ swimmin’. I wanted to experience all life had to offer and I couldn’t do that from my little rural small-town pond.

With The Little Mermaid all over the news and social media lately (for the record, I hadn’t heard of Halle Bailey before this casting but, from what I’ve seen, she’s a wonderful fit!), this song has been on my mind a lot. By extension, I’ve been thinking about that sense of not belonging, of being misunderstood.

And, quite frankly, I’m not sure I ever did grow out of it. Is that feeling of otherness and isolation a symptom of being human? I don’t know. But at least we’ve got “Part of Your World” to play in the background.

(Song recommendation by Juliette Sebock)