Five Cent Sound Fall 2021

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Fall 2021 @fivecentsound

A bright, yellow sticky note dangles right above my dated, mint green Keurig. Given the assortment of prints plastered onto my wall, you’d think my short attention span would lead my eyes toward the other mementos embodying my various quirks. Maybe I always gravitate to that particular note because I shuffle to this corner at least three times a day to make a cup of black coffee. Or maybe it’s because every time I see it I am reminded of the striking epiphany and its resulting relief that prompted the scrawling of it. I felt impartial to my own experience during the end of this past April as I packed up the items representing the people, the moments, the spiraling growth of myself, into cardboard boxes. The nostalgia from the past year only exacerbated the hollow shell of a human that I’d come to believe I was. I guess the move-out could be classified as a normal one considering the abnormality of the prior departure, but it still felt unsatisfactory. At least the year before, I had no time to process my surrender before leaving. I desperately craved the unintentional suppression of my emotions. I didn’t know how to cope with this slow burn of settling realization and my consequential reality. After soliciting help with packing from two of my closest friends, we relocated what was already a two-hour conversation from my room to my suite’s front door. Dreading the goodbye that signified a temporary separation, I pulled Will Percarpio into the small alcove that our suite called a kitchen and continued talking about any topic I could to delay the inevitable. As in most of my discussions, Five Cent Sound became our next heavily deliberated topic. We reflected on the aesthetic for the Spring 2021 print magazines, prompting me to contemplate my relationship with the publication. I thought about the minds that molded what we now know Five Cent Sound to be and what their impressive, passionate legacy meant in the hands of a naive rising junior. I thought about the freshman full of life, whose wide eyes frantically

scanned her acceptance email as a feature writer for the magazine. I missed that Five Cent Sound and the person I was within it. I felt stuck in a state of ambiguity and desolation, and it didn’t help that the world around me was reflecting this somber uncertainty. I yearned for the version of myself that never thought this position was possible and for the magazine that completely blew my mind with possibility. “Why don’t you make that the theme of the magazine?” Will’s voice asserted powerfully, releasing me from my internal discourse.

“Revival? I mean, you said it yourself.” As cliche as it might sound, a light bulb of clarity and inspiration lit up the moment the obvious tumbled from Will’s mouth — maybe it just took someone else saying it for me to give weight to its potential. The ideas instantly flowed from our tongues, the excitement and energy building off each new concept the two of us introduced. My feet detached themselves from the tiled floor and instinctively made a mad dash to the pad of sticky notes perched on my desk. Ranging from the return of live music and the re-rise of the once-snubbed Summer of Soul to the rebranding of artist’s images through reimagined albums and revamp of specific genres, all I could see this summer in music was revival. I decided to look at these as notions to lean into the uncertainty of running the magazine. I pulled from the precedents set before me and utilized them as inspiration informing what my own vision and passion for Five Cent Sound is. I channeled my sentiments about the end of an era into the ripe possibility a new and predominantly younger staff promised. I could not express enough gratitude for our Managing Editor Joy Freeman and our Online Director Nick Gemma for showing me what constitutes real leadership,

collaboration, and creativity. What makes this unpredictable, at times arduous, journey worthwhile (besides my unending devotion to music journalism, of course) is working with a counterpart who understands and matches my position of revitalization. Without our Creative Director Harry Jenkins, the revival of all sectors of our publication would not have been possible. I will shamelessly take a moment to thank the oblivious yet completely insightful child I used to be, the one who reached for her headphones as a way to seek isolating comfort, understanding, and emotion that can only be conveyed through music. And who would I be without my ghostwriter Chelsea Gibbons — the girl who is able to pull me apart and put me back together through the words I always meant to say, but can never muster out myself. I sure as hell wouldn’t have any bylines. Most importantly, thank you to everyone who picked up a copy of our magazine; to everyone who contributed their time and support to any aspect of our cause; to everyone who chose our publication to be the vessel that houses their unique creations. Five Cent Sound is much more than a magazine (if you saw us at the org fair this fall, you know we repeated this phrase about a thousand times) and the collection of your eyes, your ears, and your definition of noise has made it so <3 always, ashley


Editor-in-Chief // Ashley Onnembo Managing Editor // Joy Freeman Creative Director // Harry Jenkins Head Diversity & Inclusion Editor // Jeanie Thompson Online Directors // Nick Gemma & Emma Shacochis


General Editors Molly Goodrich

Claire Moriarty Writers Paulina Subia Morgan Gaffney Lauren Surbey Brooke Huffman Madeline Wendricks Samson Malmoli Mariano Monjaras Julianna Morgan Samantha Silveira Zoe O’Nei

Diversity & Inclusion Editors Lydia Aga

Daphne Bryant Creative Chloe Chee Quinn Donnelly Sydney Gaines-Wheeler Devin Hill David Shird Reagan Finch Carys Hirawady Alison Madsen Miranda Nicusanti Abby Stanicek Sam Wachs

Copyeditors Charlotte Drummond

Jess Ferguson Style Chelsea Gibbons Will Percarpio Rifka Handelman Sam Hwang Jude Overholtzer

and many more online !!

Table of Contents

The Sound of Combat by Samson Malmoli // [11-14] Our Generation’s 15 (Seconds) of Fame by Mariano Monjaras // [15-21] Personal Ode to Pop by Molly Goodrich // [22-28] For the Record by Zoe O’Neil // [29-35] Under the Covers by Morgan Gaffney // [36-41] Emerson Spotlight: Anna Miller Walking on a String by Ashley Onnembo // [42-50] The Revitalization of Rap Collectives by Harry Jenkins // [51-58] Don’t Fear the Queer: Boston’s Gender Nonconf orming Artists in the Hip-Hop Industry by Brooke Huffman // [59-65] My Blackness Shapes My Music, But My Music is Not My Blackness by Daphne Bryant // [66-71] Pop Goes Punk: The Evolution of a Genre by Paulina Subia // [72-76] Fighting on Two Fronts: Rock’s Forgotten Black Frontwoman by Lydia Aga // [77-81] Boston Nonprofits Make Music More Accessible by Jess Ferguson // [82-88] ** table of contents continues onto next page **

Harrison Whitford is Afraid of Nothing, Including Kissing His Bandmate on Stage by Joy Freeman and Ashley Onnembo // [89-99] Anime Music: Emotional Enhancement by Julianna Morgan // [100-106] Rivalry and Revival in East Coast’s Small Music Scene by Samantha Silveira // [107-112] What Emerson Sounds Like by Joy Freeman // [113-119] Making Sense of Death Through Music by Claire Moriarty // [120-125]

Visual by Olivia Tran

The cities of America move the culture. The whirlwind of identity blowing through the city streets shapes the culture — a culture that is never just one thing or truly one culture at all. Just the same, within the cities is where the music lies. This music is built by the cars, trains, people, birds and the musicians themselves. Music is not one thing or produced by one culture. So it only makes sense that where there is sex, there is music—these flowing items that cannot be defined as one thing, but are linked as things interminably influence one another. Thus, where there is sex everywhere, there is often the crux of the music and of culture. It may not (and it probably does not) seem like this crux could occur in a place overflowing with

hookers, peep shows, pornos, pimps, prostitutes, and all the good stuff in between. But it is the only place with enough of a push and pull between freedom and anarchy to make a true sound: the sound of sex. This

place so close to you and I, yet one we would never know about if we were not told. was the Combat Zone of Boston, a

The Combat Zone existed before anyone had deemed it as such, located mostly on Washington Street between Boylston and Kneeland Streets before the 1960s and into the 1980s. Now, the bounds of the former Combat Zone are a mix of Chinatown (which existed before and after the reign of the Combat Zone) and the Theater District (at this point, just college students and tourists). The once sonic streets now hold fancy furniture stores, Tufts Medical School buildings, millions of corporate shopping centers nearby at Downtown Crossing, restaurants filled by college students and locals, and (maybe most ironically) the Ritz-Carlton.

The homelessness has not changed, but the people who pass through have. As aforementioned, this was a place of great talent. Not to mention the work put in by those who applied their various trades in the area, it was also a hub of music in Boston at the time. Strip joints like Naked i, the Pilgrim Theatre, the Intermission Lounge, and the Pussycat Lounge offered jobs to young rock n’ rollers looking for a buck and start. A wealth of Boston music legends like Peter Wolf (famously of The J. Geils Band) got their start playing in Combat Zone nightclubs. This is no coincidence. Many of the more renowned clubs and venues in the city (and in the nation) did not want this new, raucous genre of music to be played there. These groups had to look elsewhere, and that elsewhere was where the bigger stars would likely not go — what was widely viewed as the sleazier part of the city.

Yet it worked out perfectly for both parties: the managers of these strip joints looked for those who would play for ten bucks and a night’s worth of booze, and the young rock stars got the chance to hone in on their craft and get enough money to live and record their music. As the genre built in fame and possibility, it should be argued that it is indelibly connected with the emergence of areas like the Combat Zone around the country (and many parts of the world), the places where they were given a real shot.

It’s not all about rock & roll in the Combat Zone either. In fact, as the location was in place

before much of the foundation of rock music, its initial musical output was lounge and jazz music. The Silver Dollar held some of the city's greatest jazz musicians between their walls built in 1936, namely Don Humbert, Nick Jerret, Jack Wyatt, and Ray Perry; not timeless names, but incredibly talented and well known at the time (the bar was also frequented following the second World War by a young Frank O’Hara in college at Harvard, the greatest poet of the twentieth century — yeah, I said it). So too was Izzy Ort’s Bar there on 25 Essex Street, a jazz bar that held the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Quincy Jones, as well as The Gilded Cage nearby at 11 Boylston Street, which was home to many early R&B groups in the ’60s. Noticeably, there was an outpouring of music every night all around the area; music could be heard flowing from the open doors out into the street for all the world to experience. In observation of the sheer numbers of bars and clubs there were at the time, it is impossible to mention all of the people in such a brief article, and there are too many names still lost to time. Nevertheless, one more must be mentioned, despite it being slightly outside the bounds of the Combat Zone. The legendary Boston club, The Boston Tea Party, was just a few blocks south of the area on 53 Berkeley Street. It became well known in its small run from

1967 to 1970 and may have been the most tangible goal for these young rockers playing the strip joints and looking for a big break. I mean, just check out the May 1969 lineup for the place: Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Jeff Beck Group, The Bonzo Dog Band (who in fact perform with a burlesque dancer in Beatles’ psychedelic classic movie, Magical Mystery Tour), not to mention The Velvet Underground, Joe Cocker, and The Allman Brothers, plus a wealth more of talent. And that’s just the lineup for that month! If this existed today, they would call it sacrilegious that such great acts would lose a spot to play, and its existence only a few blocks down from us here at Emerson would make it a mainstay of the undergrad crowd.

no music remains, no noise or excitement, no gritty streets and flashing neon billboard lights. I certainly do not mean But

to glorify the struggles that those in the Combat Zone had to go through in the whole of their lives, rather I mean to reprimand how the area has been forgotten because it was deemed as little more than a red light district. We know this is not true. Yet all that is left of the Combat Zone is two strip clubs, in the alleyway across from Little Building (21+ only, sorry freshmen). The Combat Zone, like every other place considered “sleazy” by plastic-suited government curators, was to be quelled and silenced before the 1990s got to see the light of day. And where is the music in Boston? It is easy to hear the noise in Central Square and Allston. There’s still so much that is great in Boston — a lot of music venues, a lot of performers, a lot of beautiful noise in the streets still — and many of which will continue to be mentioned here in Five Cent Sound.

But if you want my advice? Make it happen yourself.

Our Generation’s 15 (Seconds) of Fame By Mariano Monjaras

The meteoric rise of the music-based platform TikTok is undeniable. Over a single year of the pandemic, TikTok has gone from an embarrassing footnote in the very back of someone’s phone to one of the most influential platforms of this digital era. It’s a hub for comedy, drama, dancing and “storytimes,” all under the umbrella of a singular medium: music. You would be hard-pressed to go three minutes without hearing a single song on the scarily accurate For You Page. Likewise, you’ll just as easily find a song you’ve never heard before from an artist that might have only

After all, that is the ultimate allure of TikTok: a chance for fame and recognition in a hundredth of the time it might usually take. three other songs on Spotify.

Every day, thousands of aspiring musicians use TikTok in the hopes of garnering an audience for their art. These videos can be categorized into following one of three strategies: showcasing one’s singing ability, connecting with followers, and — perhaps most importantly — previewing upcoming tracks. The first two strategies are relatively arbitrary; amateur cover videos and acoustic songs have been around since the dawn of YouTube almost two decades ago. While they have taken slightly different shapes within the TikTok sphere (usually accompanied by someone else’s background instrumentation), the main ideas remain the same. Cover videos and songs with simple acoustics invite the audience into the artist’s world. They provide a look at the personality of each artist and, in the case of acoustic videos, may give a sense of their songwriting abilities. As for connecting with followers, that’s a principle inherently built into every social media platform. By participating in trends, responding to comments, and creating content, artists give an insight into who they are as people. Although these two approaches are essential to fostering a following on TikTok, it’s the previewing method that has come to define promotion in the modern day.

We live in an age of anticipation, and this has become especially clear through TikTok. The very nature of music promotion is to advertise songs that haven’t been released yet. This became a trend relatively recently with the unprecedented growth in popularity for artists like PinkPantheress. It makes sense. Given the short-form, fast-paced nature of TikTok, teasing a song for months is one of the only ways to keep people from forgetting about you in an endless sea of content. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if an artist’s song finds its way into a trend as well — despite the unique offerings that each promotional strategy employs, all of it would be pointless without repetition. As far as anyone is concerned, repetition is the only way to find any semblance of success on TikTok. Whether it’s attaching yourself to a preexisting trend, attempting to create your own or simply pumping out videos with your song for hours at a time, repetition is critical. R&B artist Alemeda’s most popular video, with almost thirty thousand likes, is straightforward. Depicting a screen recording of her Notes app, a song titled “Gonna Bleach My Eyebrows” plays in the background with an excerpt of the lyrics in the forefront, all wrapped up with a three-word caption:

“Should I drop?” That TikTok was released on Friday, September 30th. By the following Sunday, the song was out on all streaming platforms. This was clearly a calculated move, but it panned out perfectly. Since she first previewed the song, Alemeda has uploaded 27 separate videos using “Gonna Bleach My Eyebrows” as a sound. While most of these videos are directly tied to the music itself, sometimes Alemeda will simply play it in the background while something entirely unrelated occurs. Alemeda amassed almost 20,000 streams for “Gonna Bleach

My Eyebrows” on Spotify alone in just over a week. On October 10th, she revealed that she’d also been included on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist and Tidal’s Rising playlist.

The constant promotion is helping, and Alemeda isn’t one to let the hype die down: within the last week of promotion for “Gonna Bleach My Eyebrows,” Alemeda has begun anticipation for three more tracks: the angry, uptempo “Post Nut Clarity”; the groovy, dance-inspired “Sit Back Down”; and the rap-infused “Hollywood.” Alemeda undoubtedly understands TikTok. With just two songs, she has already become a master at cultivating a following. Not only does she employ an immense amount of repetition, but she also understands the importance of anticipation. However, she also recognizes the importance of image and sound in the era of short-form content. Take a peek under any of Alemeda’s TikToks, and you’ll see loving comparisons to any number of artists.

“It’s giving me young Rihanna,” one commenter writes. Other commenters echo similar sentiments:

“It’s giving Tinashe + Rihanna,” and “U kinda sound like pia miaaaaaa I love your voiceeeee [sic].” Alemeda’s sound originates from a variety of influences to create her unique style. She naturally establishes a sense of familiarity that people can latch onto very quickly. This same reasoning applies to acoustic singersongwriters: after all, what’s easier to understand than one person and their guitar?

Jensen McRae is the perfect example of this notion. Like Alemeda, she uses TikTok to highlight her personality and voice in a very affable way. Take one look at McRae’s page and you’ll see hundreds of videos solely based on her singing and songwriting abilities. She has a recurring “Birthday Challenge” segment where she writes a short song revolving around one commenter’s birthday. This same trend has branched off to include “Name Challenges” or “Journal Challenges.” McRae applies the same familiar strategies as Alemeda — she uploads constantly and always centers her music around these uploads. However, she’s carved a very different path for how she explicitly showcases her talents. Unlike Alemeda, McRae previews her abilities as a musician before any studio release. McRae’s distinct showcase of her musicianship has not gone unnoticed, with her accruing over three hundred and thirty thousand Spotify listeners since her initial video in May 2020. Both Alemeda and McRae have used their sound to craft short, memorable videos that lead to audience interaction. This is what works best on a platform like TikTok, which allows for videos up to three minutes in length.

If you’re trying to succeed through repetition and constant appearances on people’s feeds, making a video anywhere above 45 seconds isn’t going to cut it. In the era of short-form content, you have to grab your audience and make them remember you. With this in mind, it’s evident that past influence is extremely important; we naturally gravitate toward what is familiar. If an audience member who regularly listens to Rihanna, Tinashe, or PinkPantheress finds Alemeda’s music, they will instantly be intrigued. Likewise, in the age of acoustic covers, McRae’s format is just as familiar to the masses. Both of these artists understand TikTok like almost nobody else on the platform. Even with the success both artists have seen, there is still a downside to TikTok’s approach to content.

One of TikTok’s greatest detractors is one of its most valuable tools: repetition. Without constant promotion, it’s almost impossible to regularly show up on people’s feeds or help them remember you. However, it can be a draining process. McRae is one of the biggest successes I’ve seen in a while, and even the performances on her videos are wildly inconsistent. When looking at her page, there are strings of videos with 1,000 or 2,000 views at most, followed by 50,000 or 100,000 on videos the next day. One could only imagine the sheer amount of stress born out of this inconsistency. It’s clearly not for lack of quality, though. Regardless of the performance of her videos, it’s impossible to find anything other than an overwhelmingly positive positive reception towards McRae’s music.

Nonetheless, the music industry, especially with streaming as a primary outlet, is built more on how many people listen instead of how much people enjoy it. Alemeda’s music feels like it’s perfect for TikTok: uptempo, ear-grabbing, and an amalgamation of everything that came before her. Even with this perfectly catered sound, there are still days where Alemeda struggles to gain any traction. It’s hard not to imagine that burnout could be a likely possibility. So if burnout is expected for someone as well-crafted and settled into their persona as Alemeda, what might it be like for artists who operate within different genres? TikTok will always emphasize videos that grab your attention quickly and end before you expect them to. With this in mind, attempting to cultivate a fanbase on the app when you’re in a rock band or something similarly geared towards longer runtimes may feel impossible.

How can one portray the entire scope of their music in just 15 seconds?

It’s evident that TikTok caters to pop, rap, R&B and anything with a fast beat; often, you’ll find that a song that blew up on TikTok will be under two minutes in its entirety. Burnout is hard to manage for any artist, but it can be downright disheartening when you also have to find ways to grow your fanbase on a platform that actively shies away from your sound. It’s by no means impossible, but boy, can it be tough. TikTok is a consolidation of past social media platforms like no other. It takes the influence of YouTube, the subcommunities of Twitter and Reddit and the short-form ideals of Vine and puts it all together to create a singular entity. With its widespread acclaim and power, it’s understandable why so many artists have used it as a tool for success. Artists like Alemeda have created a highly-studied approach to their use of TikTok, and the benefits are apparent. When 15 seconds is all artists have to make or break their success, the overwhelming stress of constantly trying to post and grow is undeniable. There’s no reason for TikTok to go away — it’s a unique tool for many artists. But perhaps a more cultural shift toward the consumption of longer content is all that is necessary to provide an equal playing field for everybody.


To By


Pop M o l l y Goodrich

I’m five years old, or maybe six, when I remember first hearing a song I liked in the car. In between Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana, a beacon of light shined through: Sheryl Crow singing about communism through her 2002 hit, “Soak Up The Sun.” I probably won't get the meaning behind it until I’m much older, (Does anyone really know what she’s singing about here?) but maybe that’s the whole point of pop music. Slightly vague lyrics, a warmth to the tone, and an upbeat melody to remind you of simpler times. What about pop music is so polarizing? In an editorial for Discover Music written by Paul Mcguiness, the music executive hails pop music as our most important art form. Similarly to how indie has become a catchall phrase for soft, acoustic music, instead of just music independent from any labels, pop music is often thought of as brainless “Top 40” garbage. But is it fair to call pop its own genre? Right now, pop may mean Olivia Rodrigo, but in the ’50s, it was Sinatra; in the ’80s, it was Prince, David Bowie, and Michael Jackson. Even the Beatles, in all of their rock ‘n’ roll ’60s glory, could technically be defined as pop music at the time. That was what was popular, after all. Perhaps John Lennon would have pushed back against that statement, but the truth is, pop can be in any style or form, played by any band or artist. And like everything, it will ebb and flow as trends come and go.

Nobody would dare say that these legendary artists were producing brainless music. Regardless, there doesn’t have to be a point to pop. Sometimes it can really just be mindless music. If Shawn Mendes isn’t your thing, that’s fine, but shutting down an entire array of music due to the fact it’s popular isn’t fair to the artist. Nor is it fair to yourself to deprive yourself of music that’s

fun. Like the unabashed belting of “Total Eclipse of The Heart '' in the back seat of your parents car, which will both fill your entire soul with joy and make you wonder why you haven’t fallen in love with a vampire like Bonnie Tyler. A friend of mine calls those fond memories of childhood

“car seat songs.”

The music you listened to before having any sort of sense of self; before you could grab your phone and add it to a playlist, strapped in the back seat with little to no control over your day. Years later, the first note or the first word can still immediately take you back to that place. I’m forever seven years old whenever I hear Colbie Caillat’s “Fallin’ For You,” staring out the car window and dramatically imagining a scenario with some boy whose name I forget now.

This music raised me,

and though I can now appreciate “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” (thanks, Dad) I realized that crafting one’s own music taste is a huge part of one’s development. For the first time, you have music that feels like it’s yours. And “Soak Up The Sun” was the very first song to fill me with that feeling. Others followed, of course. Like when I bought my first Miley Cyrus CD and listened to it on the car ride home, performing the lyrics to “The Driveway” as if I was also sixteen and breaking up with Nick Jonas. Or when I filled my iPod Nano with Taylor Swift for a long car ride to the ocean at nine years old, and after the trip I felt as though I could write a heartbreak album myself. There’s something sort of magical John” staring out at the Olympic a year later, I stood amongst a overly-excited tween girls as she even swear she smiled at me.

about listening to “Dear Peninsula. A little over crowd of twenty thousand sang back to us. I could

In the midst of a somewhat turbulent childhood, pop music grounded me. It transported me to a different world when real life may have been too much to handle. Some

kids read to escape, but I had ex-Disney stars turned pop icons to fill me with the same type of escapism. I was twelve years old when I discovered One Direction, and as cliché as it sounds, that band truly changed my life. I like to think the bond between a girl and her

first boy band is unbreakable. Whatever you cling to in your developmental years, whether it’s a band or a television show or a book series, it will indescribably shape the rest of your life. I’m not sure who I’d be without One Direction. Listening to “What Makes You Beautiful” for the first time is a moment burned into my memory, and I am not being hyperbolic. Not only did they serve as my introduction to the internet (both a blessing and a curse), but they also shaped the way I viewed the music industry and social media. Most importantly, they made me realize I wanted a career as a writer. Subsequently, this would push me out of my comfort zone and small town to pursue a degree in writing that I will be finishing up this December. At fifteen, I attended my first and only One Direction concert. Even sans Zayn, I remember becoming so emotional that they were actually standing in front of me, that they were real, not just pixels on a phone screen. Maybe the complex emotions of teenage girls are a mystery to the rest of the world, but as far as I was concerned, watching four 20-somethings sing songs with vague sexual innuendos was the best day of my life.

Six years later, I would see Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden, and everything would feel very full circle.

Pop music has connected me through every friendship, every night in my room, and every flight home or back from college. It

was the first thing I talked to my college roommate about, (“You’re So Vain”) and fills the silence in the car after emotional conversations (“All Too Well,” always). It soundtracked an entire roadtrip with my sister, in which we listened to every One Direction song in chronological order. (Her favorite, “Olivia,” mine, “Home”). It’s what I scream when I’m home in Seattle with my best friends, (“When It Lands”). It reminds me in every situation, no matter how intense, or scary, or stressful, that somewhere out there, there’s a pop song describing exactly how I feel. There’s been a sense of shame that has come with the enjoyment of pop music that has particularly grown these past few decades. Specifically targeted at young women, pop music is seen as dull, repetitive, and generally unbearable. Perhaps there’s an inkling of misogyny there – much of this music comes with large female audiences, which can be a turn off. My dad refused to listen to Harry Styles until he covered “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, and I’m sure part of that was due to the fact that he has a large female fanbase. Pop is by no means a judgement free zone, and certainly has its issues amongst itself. Los Angeles Times columnist LZ Granderson queries the way Black artists feel the need to cross over to pop in order to appease a white audience. In her op-ed, Granderson says, “The ‘crossover’ narrative sickens me because it deems the sensibilities of white America as the sole arbiter of American music, while simultaneously dismissing the sensibilities of the people who have created America’s most popular genres of music.” While a number 1 hit on the Billboard 100 for Madonna may have been easy, Janet Jackson had to work twice as hard to be seen on the same scale as her white

counterparts and earn that number 1. While pop music has its faux pas, it is becoming more inclusive, diverse and accepting of change as this generation continues to support artists that don’t fit into your typical pop mold. Lil Nas X, an openly queer Black artist held the number 1 spot on the BillBoard charts for 17 weeks, breaking the record previously held by Mariah Carey. Pop music isn’t as cookie-cutter as people may make it out to be.

The last thing any of us need right now is to have a superiority complex of what music is good or bad. We all loved those car seat songs once, so you might as well turn the volume up and allow yourself to have fun with music every once in a while. I promise it won’t bite.

Listen to Molly’s evolution of “car seat songs” here!

Visual By: Abby Stanicek

Visuals by Carys Hirawady

Three milk crates, two bookshelves, two military-grade lockboxes, and one big teetering pile. This eclectic array of furniture in my living room is dedicated to my dad’s vinyl collection. The bookshelves were added last year; upon their arrival, we quickly realized that we would need to re-alphabetize the whole collection. I canceled my afternoon plans and turned on the stereo in preparation for the hours of stacking, flipping, and sorting. Half the records I picked up were unfamiliar names, but the ones I did know, I knew very well. My dad and I took turns manning the music for the night, and I started off by spinning De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising. De La Soul’s album is a special treat to me: it isn't available on music streaming platforms, so I haven’t overplayed it like all the other music I love. The funky hip-hop grooves aren’t portable; they demand your full attention since you can’t take them on the go in your earbuds. We listened and alphabetized, rediscovering our favorite samples or beats and sharing our amazement aloud. Once the group’s rhymes ended, my dad picked out a DJ remix of the Deee-Lite single “Call Me.” He has a soft spot for anything that seems like it’s from the bowels of a local radio station, and this record was no exception. It smelled vaguely of cigarettes and had names scribbled on the paper jacket in a cursive that wasn’t from the hand of anyone under the age of 50. When we worked up an appetite and waited for the oven to heat up our freezer pizzas, we danced to the disco beats — but only in the kitchen so the needle didn’t jump when we did. As we continued to sort, I accumulated a few paper cuts from record sleeves and a small heap of records I wanted to take to Boston. In my life, home is where the music is. Background music is as much of a staple as the family room couch. I knew if I wanted to make my space feel like a home, I needed to furnish the space with the crackling sounds of vinyl.

When I moved into my dorm at Emerson, my most obnoxious piece of luggage by far was a grey milk crate full of records. It was annoyingly heavy and an absolute pain to remove from the tetris of suitcases in the laundry cart used to transport my possessions. The burn of future calluses on my palms from the abrasive crate handles only furthered my deep respect for my roommate Siobhan, who casually showed up with a compact record carrying case complete with a solid, thick handle. This sleek storage was leagues ahead of my milk crate, and I knew instantly she had a good head on her shoulders. After all, I had DMed her on Instagram because her username was about Ian Curtis. Her good taste and practical record transportation choice were two very good signs, and the friendship was further cemented when we talked about our records. As we compared albums and chatted about why we chose to collect vinyl on one of our first quarantined days in the dorm, we realized our stories paralleled one another. I told her that my bond with my dad grew stronger as we spent time listening to and talking about records over the years. She agreed, saying, “I think that record collecting has brought me closer to my dad. He bought me my first record player and first couple of records when I was 14. He has always supported my love for music, and talking about records is a great way for me to bond with him.” In his youth, Siobhan’s dad spent his pocket money at the record shops in Dublin; my dad did the same across the globe at a small Connecticut strip mall. My dad and I bonded over Sly and the Family Stone, Gorillaz, and Getz and Gilberto; Siobhan and her dad “both love Joy Division, New Order, Amy Winehouse, and Lily Allen.” Just as we bonded with our dads over music and records, we bonded with each other as we recalled memories of our first records or our favorite record shops. Not only does listening to records evoke a sense of personal nostalgia, the medium itself is a reminder of yesteryear. The heyday of vinyl ended before my dad and I became music lovers. Records were equally as obsolete in his lifetime as they are in mine. He

grew up in the ’80s with cassette player tapes of songs meticulously recorded from the Today’s Rock Hits station. I grew up with a disc collection and a purple CD player. He moved on to a Walkman just as I moved onto a $30 three-inch mp3 player. When MTV became appropriate for him, I started watching YouTube music videos. The ten-year innovation cycle has ground to halt. As streaming continues to dominate, my dad and I have chosen to look to the Goodwill bins or garage sale tubs full of those antique treasures: records. The shiny black vinyls are dusty and warped when we find them; we take them home and clean them with microfiber cloth and cleaning solution. With a little love, they sound just as good as they did in someone’s wood-paneled, wall-to-wall carpeted living room 40 years ago. That first day, I secured my turntable on top of our mini fridge as Siobhan set up our small vinyl collection next to it. Later in the semester, she picked up a Miles Davis poster from a vintage store, and we hung it above the fridge to complete our music setup. This area was henceforth christened our record corner, and it was the crown jewel of the room. The records were more than ear candy or ambient study tunes: they were a conversation starter. You can scroll through someone’s favorite songs on Spotify, or you can step into someone’s physical space and listen to their quips about each record you fish out of their crate. Siobhan said to me that records aren’t obsolete because they “can prompt shared experiences. It’s an interactive and personal way to share interests with the people around you through conversation and listening.” Indeed, the novelty of playing and sharing records turns the commonplace act of listening to music into a social event. Siobhan and I knew this, so we decided to write a message on our door: WE HAVE SNACKS AND RECORDS. Luring people in with records was a tried and true tactic for me, as record-listening gatherings have

always been a smash hit with my friends. After years of watching my dad depart for record sharing night, his shoulder bag crammed with options, I adopted the idea and started organizing my own. Instead of using satchels, my friends and I would fill our New Yorker totes or Jansport backpacks to the brim. Spinning records together was an excuse for us to gather and share. If there was a soundtrack provided, we could freely ramble about our fears or dreams for the future without any threat of silence at the end of a sentence. When words failed, we could listen to a copy of an album that reminded us of a certain shared summer. Frank Ocean’s Blonde played and we were 15 years old again, worrying about failing our driving permit tests. Siobhan said it best when I asked her why records are desirable: “The second I start playing a record, memories come flooding back to me, and it’s nice to listen to them with people if we have a shared memory.” Records are impractical: they are fragile, demand a lot of physical storage space, and, in a few helpless cases, permanently smell like an old basement. Maybe these imperfections are what make them so nostalgic and special. Owning a record involves upkeep and effort; in a world that moves too quickly and favors disposability, records should be obsolete. After all, if you’re like Siobhan and I, you might not even like some of the records you own anymore. When I asked about her collection, Siobhan said, “I started collecting records when I was 14, so I have a ton of records that I’m not really into anymore. Although my music taste has changed over the past five years, it’s nice to see what music I used to love and why I liked it.”

Flipping through a record collection is an intimate experience chronicling personal history. You can delete a Spotify playlist of middle school

guilty pleasure songs, but a record is a collector’s item and is harder to get rid of. Maybe that’s a good thing. There’s no denying where your music taste started when you flip through a record collection that originated in early teenage years. My first record was Arctic Monkeys’ AM; at 14, I was so excited to show up at the Urban Outfitters checkout desk and let the cashier assess how cool my music taste was. That record was too expensive to buy on my own, but my dad saw me wandering back to the vinyl section for another look and decided to buy it for me. From that day on, the collection has grown in size and genre as my taste has evolved. My dad has bestowed many musical gifts to me. He showed me how to scratch a record the right way on Delegation’s “Oh Honey,” and he let me pretend I’d known how to do it for ages when my friends came over later that night. He gave me the confidence to tell all my friends that yes, their suitcase Crosley from Urban Outfitters was shredding their records and yes, maybe they should upgrade to an open deck setup! Few people in my life will match my enthusiasm over a limited edition pressing or a cheap split-tone record. When I found my first in Boston — Tennis’ half-pink and half-blue Yours Conditionally, for only 15 bucks — I knew my dad would be almost as elated as I was. During those first two weeks at school, he had been texting me pictures of his new purchases. I could practically hear his voice in every picture description: “Great steal!” or “Look at my new addition!”

Maybe he would be able to imagine my smile if I texted a picture of what I had found. I think I was more excited to text him about the steal than I was to run my keys along the static cling shrink wrap cover when I got home to listen. As I walked into my dorm room, desperate to escape the August heat, Siobhan asked for a reveal of what I bought. I knew she would give me the reaction I

wanted, and I was excited to show off my find as I rifled through my paper grocery bags to procure my new treasure. Siobhan insisted we had to listen immediately, and as the album crackled to life, I couldn’t help but smile.

Her excitement felt like a pat on the back from my dad.

Check out Hayden Scoplitte’s comprehensive guide on record shops in the Greater Boston area below!

and much more at!

Under the Covers

By Morgan Gaffney

When I was growing up, my dad was a drummer in a local band with a bunch of other dads from around my hometown. They practiced in our basement, shaking the entire house — I could quite literally feel vibrations under my feet when I was in the kitchen. They played cover after cover of all their favorite songs, because what group of dads with full time jobs and little kids would have time to write originals? At gigs, they would play these covers for small crowds. I loved hearing them play songs I knew, the tunes my dad would play in the car or while he was cooking. People would go wild at these shows, dancing, singing and moving to the beat. It felt like my dad and his band brought these songs to life. In the surrounding Boston area, there are many bands who play covers in addition to originals. Lazy Bird, a jam-based funk and reggae band from Burlington, Vermont, started out performing covers along with their originals. Saxophonist Matt Cincotta and drummer Jackson Bower began by playing in the bike room of their dorm.

“It’s like this cinderblock room — it was trash — and we would just go down there at night, write songs and jam,” Bower says. Slowly, their band began gaining popularity, and they added members. They would play in the common room of their dorm for crowds of close to 100 people. They remain very influenced by old soul, funk and reggae genres, all pioneered by revolutionary Black musicians.

“We definitely take a lot of inspiration from old soul and funk artists — Stevie Wonder, Al Green and Bill Withers, to name a few,” says Cincotta. They now play gigs around Burlington and hope to play in the Boston area soon.

From their start, Lazy Bird wanted to play covers people would recognize and appreciate. “I’d definitely say that in the beginning, we were trying to focus on things people would know, and so a couple covers we did over the summer were like, ‘You Are The Best Thing’ by Ray Lamontagne,” Cincotta says. Part of making a good cover is making sure the original artist is honored for their initial work. Covering well-known, iconic songs allows artists freedom to build on the source material. People know the original brains behind the song, but may appreciate other artists and bands putting a new spin on it.

“I feel like if you play a cover that’s too rare, it’s like an original, and that’s not cool,” Bower explains. Producing a great cover can also be about bringing a song back to life. Maybe it’s covering a song from a previous musical era or a song from an artist who has since passed; either way, it uncovers the musical depths it might be in and makes it brand-new again. Lazy Bird experienced this when covering “Well, You Needn’t,” written in 1944 by Thelonious Monk, a jazz musician active between the 1940s and 1970s. “It’s like a jazz standard. We slowed it down and we play it almost as a heavy b-riff,” Bower shares. They explain people quite literally mosh to their cover of this song, with the majority of the crowd head banging along to their distortion. After their bass player said Monk was probably rolling over in his grave, the band thought about it: “We were like, no. This music — ‘Well, You Needn’t’ — back in [the 1940s] was dance music,” says Bower. “The fact that we can take that cover and redo it and still have it be danceable today —”

“— It’s kind of making old stuff new again,” Cincotta interjects.

While covers can make a song shiny and new again, they should also say something new. Artists are choosing to cover songs for a reason, and that reason should shine through in performance. Boston-based indie rock band Frogger touched on this aspect of covering. Frogger is comprised of Emerson and Berklee students: Evan Taylor, Georgia Jaffe, Josie Arthur and Miles Karlin. Frogger began as a separate project created by Taylor and Jaffe when two members from their other band, Proxy War, traveled abroad for the semester. Taylor and Jaffe were jamming on their own when they eventually teamed up with Arthur and Karlin, solidifying their indie sound. “Whenever we hear something that sounds cool to us, that we think would be applicable to our specific sound and that we could offer a creative new interpretation of, that’s something we’ll jump at,” Taylor shares about their cover selection process. “[Tayloe] brings in newer cover songs, and I’ll typically bring in some older ones,” Jaffe says. When it comes to this creative new interpretation that covers require, Taylor states,

“You have to try and say something new about it. You have to kind of justify why you are re-saying the words of somebody else.”

Photos by Alison Madsen & Harry Jenkins

It comes back to this idea that an artist’s reasoning for covering a song should be evident in their version. Whether it be adding an instrumental solo, changing the style, speeding it up or slowing it down, there needs to be a clear distinction between the original and the cover that makes it unique to the artist covering said piece of work. In simpler terms, it should sound different. There certainly are those out there who argue against this and believe covers should preserve the exact same sound as the original, but what’s the point? There is no purpose in doing the same exact thing as a previous artist; in fact, it’s almost disrespectful. That is both taking the credit for someone else’s creativity and, quite frankly, just boring. The list of characteristics of a good cover could go on for days. But the significance lies in what bands and artists can do with an already established piece of music, and how they turn it into something equally as expressive through their individual lens and style. Covers are an integral part of music: they honor previous musical eras, other genres and great artists. In order to honor these aspects, musicians must evolutionize the pieces of music they choose to cover. A truly successful, evolutionized cover will make that little girl I was, watching my dad for all those years, rock out like there’s no goddamn tomorrow.

Emerson Spotlight: Anna Miller Walking on a String

By Ashley Onnembo

When you hear the name Anna Miller, it’s almost impossible not to get wrapped up in contemporary instrumentation and breathy, ethereal vocals. Her rosy cheeks, soft smile, and occasional dawning of thin, wire-rimmed glasses convey an air of innocence perfectly matching the delicacy within her lyrical self-reflection. What most people don’t imagine is the six-yearold version of herself, the one who ironically got her start with the acoustic on a purple Hannah Montana guitar, dancing behind midwestern moshers as her older brother screamed violent profanities into a high-pitched megaphone. Although rebelling against cookie cutter suburbia seems a lot different than singing soothing ballads, one thing that does translate (maybe not always in its delivery) is its beautifully painful lyrics. Her juvenile immersion in the midwestern emo scene came to inform the musical catharsis and storytelling aspects that now define her indie-folk identity. It wasn’t always easy for Miller to find her artistic voice. Her adolescent years in musicals informed her decision to enter Emerson as a Theatre and Performance major. Her classes freshman year catalyzed intense self-exploration, causing her to realize that it was the act of performing she loved over acting itself. Miller tried to train her voice to fit the style of musical theatre by taking various lessons over the years, but restricting herself to a rigid mold only made her feel more frustrated. “I wish I would have known earlier that [lacking the vocal qualities for this genre] was not something to be ashamed of,” explained Miller. “I feel like that probably hindered me from being inspired to create my own stuff because I feel like now I’m kind of falling behind and trying to figure out how my voice and style sounds when I’m writing music. I spent so many years trying to make it sound like something that it’s not.” Covering songs from her favoirte artists became the perfect transition for Miller — it offered her the

flexibility she needed to develop her own musical inclinations without being too daunting. One artist she specifically enjoys covering is Post Malone, mainly because she’s able to push the boundaries of the genre he creates in by applying more indie tones to her covers. Miller also walks the line by emulating details similar to the original version in a way that is complementary to her skill set. “For example, like a Pinegrove song, if [Evan Stephens Hall] is singing with a lot of gusto in one part and it really resonates with me, I’ll do the same because I want to highlight what I really like about it,” said Miller.

“I love adding personal styles to stuff — rather than deliberately choosing what not to do, I figure out places where I can do something that’s more me,” Miller continues. “It’s cool to be able to get into different types of music and translate it to the style that I’m doing.” Given her relationship with music, Miller finds herself clinging to characteristics of indie-folk when performing. The genre, besides being the one she’s currently comfortable creating in, provides her with a sense of individuality that wasn’t available in her traditional training. Switching to a Business of Creative Enterprises major fueled her initiative to completely delve into the world of music, especially when she remotely began her internship with BaDaBing! Records in Brooklyn this past year. Previously, Miller tended to dive into the discographies of artists like Big Thief and Elliott Smith for months before she forced herself to temporarily pause from these singular obsessions. The label introduced Miller to a whole side of the industry she never knew existed. Working with Cassandra Jenkins and more experimental artists not only encouraged Miller to open herself up to varying genres, but also

reshaped the ear she approached music with. Researching and writing about stylistic components in music influenced the tonal quality she considered when constructing her own songs. Miller mostly writes with the words and cadence of a song in mind; she composes all of her songs entirely in one sitting with just herself and her guitar. The process is intricate, but never one she pushes herself to do — even if it takes hours and loads of caffeine to complete, she finds the lyrics naturally come with the progression of her own riffs. When it comes time for a second set of ears to hear Miller’s raw material, she immediately reaches out to Eli Torgersen, a fellow artist studying at Berklee. Torgersen takes the bare bones of Miller’s songs and is able to transform it into the version she always pictured in her head.

She shared, “I give [Torgersen] a lot of freedom to do pretty much anything. There hasn’t really been an idea yet that anyone has had that I really did not like. We blend together really well musically because we have the same vision about what a song will be without even discussing it.” Miller’s first single, “45 Buswell St.,” nostalgically exudes the energy of their musical partnership. Its twangy, somewhat somber instrumentals flawlessly flatter Miller’s ballads and overdubbed vocals. The single was written during the fall of her first semester at college, yet its content sentimentally reflects on the evolution of a relationship and its standing in a new setting. “45 Buswell St.” is literally the address of the BU dorm her boyfriend lived in at the time and still resides in. When writing this song, Miller and her partner were

in the beginning stages of turning a friendship into a romantic relationship.

This emotional tug-of-war also leans into Miller’s perspective, its lyricism highlighting not only her personal observation of the five-year relationship but also her own growth. The anecdotal, straightforward nature of “45 Buswell St.” allows the listener to paint a picture of the single’s scene as if they personally exited the Green Line at St. Mary’s T stop. It’s almost as if their brains can conjure the ghosts of Miller’s experiences floating through the neighborhood’s side streets. At the same time, there are layers of ambiguity to them (which could be credited to Miller’s intention and headspace while writing), provoking the listener to interpret and imagine this contemplation in their own context. Right in the middle of the single’s mixing, someone broke into Torgersen’s apartment and stole the computer housing all of the original audio files for “45 Buswell St.” The mind-boggling tragedy happened to be a blessing in disguise for both of them. Displeased with the original vocals, Miller secretly celebrated the opportunity to re-record the song without having to purposefully ask Torgersen. “We had an idea about what the song was going to be but then that got stolen, quite literally,” Miller recalls between slightly stifled giggles. “We had to rethink it again. I think it was good that we went back to the drawing board because a lot of elements of that song came out of that new recording process, [which] wouldn’t have made it in the one we originally did.” Miller’s second single “Stiff” reflects a different stage of her relationship, one impacted by the pandemic and the fizzle of the honeymoon phase.The track begs of an untraditional call-and-response structure,

Photos by Sam Wachs

with Miller lyrically pulling for acknowledgment from her partner without it actually being addressed. Her airy vocalization remains prominent through it all but intentionally feels far off at times, emphasizing her removal from her relationship. The first line of the chorus is framed as a question, and that uncertainty is persistent with “Stiff’s” progression. The instrumentals’ distinct sounds blend intricately to create a crashing intensity. The fast-paced strumming and clanging cymbal is like a racing heart beat fueled by ticking anxiety; the consistent tapping on the same piano key is like a leg bouncing with agitation. The cacophony reinforces how harsh and unignorable the truth can be to confront. The line, “You only see what you wanna see,” can ironically prompt the listener to ponder the idea of an unreliable narrator, considering Miller’s songs are only delivered from her perspective. Of course, it’s this perspective that makes the songwriting itself that much more special — when else will any of us be lucky enough to have the opportunity to explore the inside of Anna’s head, to feel the emotions as if we were her? That idea dissipates as the last two lines of “Stiff” are introduced, but not in the way the song expects. What was once an outro characterized by Torgersen’s melody quickly transformed into the tease that now builds up Miller’s departing words. The shift from first to third person pronouns in the song marks the significant collaboration that went into the lyric’s last-minute inclusion.

“I don’t wanna be another afterthought”

would not leave Miller’s head in the moments leading up to her recording of “Stiff.” Torgersen’s roommate, Aidan Reese, disguised a small closet in their apartment as a DIY studio while Miller incessantly picked his brain for the inspiration that would make this line come to life. After a myriad of bouncing ideas, Reese tossed Miller the song rhyming dictionary that put an end to her

half-baked writer’s block. “The last few lines we literally wrote the day we recorded the vocals. I liked the last line so much because it was actually a combination of all three of us [being Miller, Torgersen, and Reese]. Usually, I write the lyrics completely on my own and I don’t have input.” Despite there being a consistency in the sounds of Miller’s discography, the most prominent being the utilization of the slide guitar technique, “45 Buswell St.” and “Stiff” are two very different singles. The intimacy and inspirations taken are particular to the insight she possessed while writing them. To Miller, “45 Buswell St.” feels like an incomplete song in a unique way because it flows through a thread of verses instead of sticking to a set chorus. “Stiff,” on the other hand, follows a very traditional song structure because of its professional production process. What stands out most to Miller is the significant disparity in streaming statistics between the two singles, which made her question if she should stick to a ballad form of indie.

“Honestly, releasing the second one was really terrifying,” Miller reveals. “I remember obsessively thinking if people listened to it what that says about me, and if they don’t what that [also] says about me; I feel like it’s more telling than the first one, or supposedly could be. Maybe that’s why I’m not going back to that process right now.” One process Miller notices herself often revisiting is her unfinished voice memos. With the return of live music, she is focusing on remixing small sections of half-written songs in order to create more material for upcoming performances. Miller’s imagination and recent additions of indie rock songs to her library wrap her up in promises of possibilities — only the

heavy banging from the other side of her apartment’s shared drywall can make her conscious of how loud she tests the belty boundaries of her vocal chords. These methods only remind Miller of the pure emotion and excitement elicited from experimenting with various song concepts.

“I’m really adamant about keeping this process as natural for me as possible,” she asserted. “The minute it starts to feel like a job for me or I start to feel a lot of pressure, it doesn’t become enjoyable anymore… The way I’m approaching [music] now is my intent is not necessarily on recording music. I have plenty of time. If there’s not a story I have worth telling right now, then there will be one eventually.” And that’s what makes “45 Buswell St.” so authentic: in its stripped down structure and purpose, it is a truly honest attempt. Miller and Torgersen talked about saving “Stiff” for an EP, but the cost to produce the project ultimately deterred them. When that time does come, the two want to be extremely passionate about the material and have a lot of support behind them. Miller feels releasing too much music too soon would be to her disadvantage, fearing her fans would only listen to the first few songs instead of the complete body of work. Similarly, the implied responsibility of maintaining a theme throughout a project is something that overwhelms Miller. In her listening experience, there have been instances where she observes artists undergoing so many identity crises during an album or EP, which became a turn- off for her. For Miller, it is of the utmost importance that fans can begin to discern her sound when first introduced to her discography. After years of feeling trapped in the shadows of other musical styles, she finally feels as if she can relish in the freedom to explore the

direction and depth of her vocal range. “Releasing singles instead of an album project also allows me time to grow into whatever style I want to because I don’t even know that,” explains Miller lucidly. “I want to have a firm grasp on what I even want to get out of doing music or what I want to sound like before I release a huge project and spend so much time working on it, too.”

Her face lights up, perhaps replicating an expression almost identical to her at six years old, as she loses herself in the potential of what lies ahead.

The Revitalization of Rap Collectives By Harry Jenkins

Backtracks Hip-hop unsurprisingly started in the same way it got its name: by defying the norm. The pioneers at the forefront of this genre have always been able to recreate their situation. In 1973, Dj Kool Herc reimagined the usage of turntables, making songs people heard every day become something else entirely. The revitalizing nature of the genre didn't end there — every aspect of rap became something never before seen, a combination yet to be thought of. To some, it made the music more enticing; to others, it left them with a sour taste in their mouth because there was no specific structure to stick to.

A mix of racial prejudice from listeners, as well a lack of label representation, left the beginnings of hip-hop unable to find commercial success. It was floundering, considered by most to be “party music.” It was at one of these parties where the music found its way to the right set of ears, those belonging to producer Sylvia Robinson. The sounds she heard galvanized her to throw together an impromptu audition, resulting in the group known as the Sugarhill Gang. Their sound pulled a lot from the influences of popular tracks at the time, which can specifically be heard in the moments where the fusion of pop funk and the lyrical abilities of the artists are put on display. With the backing track already ready, Sugarhill Gang created a Billboard record changing the trajectory of hip-hop forever in a matter of minutes. The unique audition approach taken to form the Sugarhill Gang was never really duplicated; artists took it upon themselves to form like-minded groups. The record “Rappers Delight,” now a 2x RIAA certified platinum, solidified the marketability of rap as well as the value of forming a group. The widespread acceptance of groups grew as the genre developed, which consequently affected the popularity and profitability of hip-hop.

Group Centric Run D.M.C. A Tribe Called Quest. Wu Tang Clan. N.W.A. Outkast. For the decades following 1979, collectives like these revolutionized the rap game with their ever-changing styles and sounds. With a revenue stream growing, members felt inspired to start individual ventures capitalizing on the group’s fame in order to increase their own fortune. Whether it was the solo records coming from the members of Wu Tang Clan, the lucrative solo careers of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, or the legendary Lauryn Hill, more artists were finding success in solo careers. Looking at Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Supreme Clientele, or any of the solo projects stemming from the Clan, a listener can distinctly hear the soulful compositions reinforcing the idea and relevant impact of Wu-Tang Forever. With RZA production and multiple features from other Wu members, these spinoffs cemented the group’s supremacy. Although their solo projects never strayed too far from the group’s original sound, it did offer members a chance to explore and highlight their individual vocal range. Wu Tang’s journey is just one of the many different ways an artist's solo career can develop. Dr. Dre’s ties to NWA enabled him to work with whoever he wanted. This cultivation of collaboration (in a setting different from his past rap experience) allowed him to grow as a rapper and producer. Accumulating insight from his own perspective and others in the game pushed him to develop unique sounds. And maybe that (combined with a plethora of other factors, of course) is why a solo career

it allows artists to maintain a level of collective efforts without sacrificing self-expression and creativity. can be so alluring —

Transitioning As the faces in the rap game changed over the years, so did the industry as a whole. Solo acts dominated the genre through the late 2000s and 2010s; listeners saw the spotlight shine on acts like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Eminem, or Jay Z. As the careers of these solo artists evolved, this development was reflected on the genre as a whole. This new wave of solo artists obtained record contracts easier than ever before, with major labels helping immensely with this marketing. Commercial success inspired other acts to follow suit. With individuals representing an array of cities, more voices became represented. This colorful palette introduced new sounds, expressions, and pride associated with hometown roots, changing the face of rap as we know it. Hip-hop being regarded as one of the most popular genres in the world came as a shock to most. Backtracking through the history of the genre, and seeing all the stigma the originators faced, makes it even more gratifying to note the progress the genre has made.

What was once a seemingly underground genre became the pinnacle of pop culture, influencing society to this day. Whether it was the flamboyant personalities and clothing or the genre’s abrasive lyrics, the general public was infatuated with the rawness of it all. A major aspect of hip-hop’s ever increasing popularity has been the genre’s ever-changing nature — in this specific instance, the developmental focus is more on the versatility within the genre’s structure and how those boundaries can be expanded than on rebranding iconic elements into something they’re not. It is easy for diehard fans to see past elements of

rap reimagined into new projects. Whether it is in rapper and producer collab albums like Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, group projects like A$AP MOB and their Cozy Tape series, or homegrown collectives like Brocktons own Van Buren Records, it seems the influence of early rap groups has never been so rampant. While solo artists still dominate in popularity over the past decade, a common trend has become for the artist to form a collective, recruiting people with a similar sound or mindset from their city. The collectives were focused on utilizing the popularity and resources of the artist in order to benefit lesser known people in the group, which has now come the blueprint for how the scene tends to operate today.

What It Looks Like Today TDE. Beast Coast. G59. Dreamville. Cactus Jack. Current collectives have some structural similarities to the early groups coming out of hip-hop, but the collaborative approaches are vastly different. This time around, it’s more than just vocal collaboration — they work exclusively through specific producers, team photographers and creative partners who curate every aspect of their musical releases. Surveying the

one has to look no further than Brockton’s own Van Buren Records, a scene in Boston,

collective made up of designers, producers, rappers, and management. This group is fully independent from outside labels, choosing to make their own instead. I have had the pleasure of watching the group grow both as a whole and in their solo careers, seeing both the quality and recognition of their music developing with time.

The collective began working exclusively with specific visual artists, ensuring every aspect of their vision is properly executed. Now, every VB release comes accompanied by a professional cover, music video and a slew of in-house promotion. The collective is currently focused on their “Van Buren Tuesday Series,” which features solo releases from the members each week. The collective media presence, mixed with their constant releases, sets them aside from the rest. Even still, the eclectic mix of tactics from groups of the old and new era exemplified through Van Buren leaves any true fan of hip-hop reminiscent of their past favorites and excited for those coming in the future. Exclusively working with one or multiple producers allows for artists to best develop their own sound. The artist’s ability to make creative decisions relies heavily on their relationship with the manager or label, making it clear that the most interactive artists are almost always independent. Getting all of their creative work done in house has inspired collectives to take it upon themselves to act as their own record label; Cactus Jack Records, TDE records, and G59 records are some of the many who are recently capitalizing and redefining the definition of a brand.

It seems the members of the rap community have figured out the most efficient way to maximise their trust, production, and profits while minimizing costs and losses. Hip-hop has historically been known as a deceitful industry. Now, artists don’t have to worry as much about their music being leaked or their contract being unfair because they’ve curated an overlapping team they trust. In-house production, promotions, and feature artists allows collectives to explore a route that eliminates several costs that impact their revenue.

Today, newfound collectives form in a somewhat opposite way, often with an individual or two who already harness a large following creating something new instead of established pieces of the puzzle splitting off into solo careers. Additionally, collectives place a large importance on bringing members of the same community together as one to fabricate a stronger overall force. The music scene in Atlanta has largely informed this. Artists like Young Thug utilize their platform to promote individuals who share stylistic similarities or come from their home area. His label YSL has been referred to as the “engine behind Atlanta’s emerging stars,” with their roster housing the likes of Gunna or Lil Keed.

It’s almost as if we’re able to watch the work of the Wu Tang Clan come to life again, this time without the outsourced label representation.

Don’t Fear the Queer: Boston’s Gender Nonconforming Artists in the Hip-Hop Industry By: Brooke Huffman Visual by Quinn Donnelly

“Unabashedly queer”—

that is how Rolling Stone magazine referred to Lil Nas X’s chart-topping single “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” The moniker is accurate; the music video contrasts biblical imagery with homoeroticism when the rapper provides lap dances for the devil. Though the song was rife with controversy recently, it’s hard to imagine it garnering the same success decades ago when rappers could toss homophobic slurs back and forth without consequence. Lil Nas X is not the first queer rapper in the industry — artist Tim’m T West of the group Deep Dickollective has been openly gay since the beginning of his career. West coined the term “homo hop” in the early 2000s as a means to unify the queer community within the genre. History was made in 2003 when Cashun became the first openly queer rapper to be signed to a major label, although this later turned out to be a stunt engineered by a straight producer. Two decades later, we have artists like Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy, who have been praised for their open expression of sexuality and gender nonconformity. While Lil Nas X didn’t come onto the scene as a “queer artist,” he did stand out as a rulebreaker. His first hit, “Old Town Road,” blended two genres that have been completely contradictory: country and rap. He immediately drew attention and made a name for himself in the music industry. Fans were in a frenzy when he came out as gay on Twitter in June 2019. While some were in complete support of the rapper, others were disgusted, saying they could no longer stream his music. Diplo tweeted,

“We love you tho,” amidst a crowd you not be gay” comments. Due to the



abundance of toxic masculinity from both straight male rap fans and within the rap genre itself, Lil Nas X’s career could’ve ended right in his Twitter replies. However, LGBTQ+ enthusiasts of the genre flooded to uplift him; they finally felt seen. Hip-hop has long been marketed as a homophobic genre, and rightfully so. The style originated to provide a

platform for young immigrants and Black youth in the Bronx, like DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. However, it has slowly been bastardized and whitewashed to bash outsiders. Rappers like Eminem rose to fame at the expense of all groups targeted by his bigoted lyrics, and artists like Bhad Bhabie appropriate Black culture for clout. Up until recently, the genre was mainly filled with misogynistic rhetoric and homophobic insults, making it a difficult environment to enter the industry as an openly LGBTQ+ artist. Boston’s music scene includes queer artists of every genre: trailblazers actively reegineer what it looks like to be a rapper. Pink Navel is one representation of those pioneers. Navel identifies as nonbinary and gender-nonconforming. Coming from the Boston DIY scene, a very queer space, they feel very privileged in presenting more masculine.

“I don't telegraph as somebody who is queer to a lot of folks. I look like [a cis person] sometimes. I think it's important for me to acknowledge that I have that privilege,” Navel explains.

Originating in punk shows and slowly shifting towards hip-hop, Navel has redefined their music to better express themself. Now, they fall within the subcategory of “art rap,” a microgenre focused on self-expression and breaking down barriers. More avant garde than regular rap music tends to be, art rap focuses on the abstract and weird. “I was always somebody who was really weird and [art rap] kind of embraced that,” Navel says. “I gravitated towards [art rap] and towards rappers who were rapping about things that people who aren't familiar with the genre wouldn't expect a rapper to discuss, or even know about.” These concepts include identity struggles, mental health, sexuality, and just plain strange tangents— art rap welcomes all. Their transition from punk to rap was surprisingly easy. Navel continued to utilize the connections they

made as a punk artist when they ventured into rap, leading them to often be the only rapper playing at many shows. “People weren't expecting a rapper. And I think that allowed me to ingratiate myself to folks that are very active fans, and very active supporters,” Navel shares. Navel, influenced by band member R.A.P. Ferreira of Ruby Yacht, has completely immersed themself in rap. They’d been a fan of Ferreira, formerly known as Milo, since their teenage years, as well as many other members of the crew. “This little group I'm in, we kind of bounce influence from each other, back and forth a lot. It's very insular,” Navel says. Femininity is very taboo in rap, so many artists feel the need to express excessive amounts of masculinity. Navel mentioned the example of Drake being criticized online for a pose that was decidedly too “feminine.” Yet in the world of alternative rap, queer artists are more accepted (and even praised) for venturing outside of the gender norm. “I think it's cool to see someone with that kind of status and fame having genuine fun with presentation

“To feel good about yourself, who you are and how you look, in my opinion, should be fun.” and gender identity,” Navel says.

Rapper Lavagxrl also enjoys experimenting with gender identity and presentation. They got their start while creating music as a coping mechanism. When first beginning their freshman year of college, they entered a deep depression, finding writing songs and creating beats to be the only way out. “When I started writing songs, it just really clicked. It felt so natural and now I can’t stop doing it,” says Lavagxrl.

To combine their love of poetry and rhythm, they began creating ambient rap music. To them, the result was magical and intoxicating. They also wanted to incorporate their love of nature into their music, sampling sounds to create what they refer to as a “comforting world.” Their sound focuses on ambiance and vibes, made with the intention of being calming. Lavagxrl identifies as queer, both gender and sexualitywise, and uses the he/she/they pronouns. They’re drawn to the ambiguity of the term, the lack of label it provides while simultaneously serving as a defining identification. They’ve personally experimented a lot with their sexuality, identifying as a lesbian at times or bisexual at others. Now, they’ve found comfort in the simplicity of queerness. “I'm very fluid and I feel like my understanding of my gender is still evolving,” Lavagxrl explains. That doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides to that fluidity for them— online, even in queer spaces, they’ve felt a sort of pressure to “justify” their place within the community. “I feel like there's just a lot of reductive politics online that can be dangerous. The black and white thinking about gender and sexuality just really hurts everybody in the music world,” they share. “And we need to be making more space for queer and trans people and on our terms.” On the surface, it appears that the rap industry has become increasingly supportive of the queer community, yet Lavagxrl expressed a level of performativeness that has accompanied this progress. “There can be a perception in the neoliberal world that people who are queer, trans, Black or Asian are here in this sphere to represent their group and that’s enough,” they say. “Everyone else who’s working in some other aspect of the industry, they’re

not visible, their struggles are not being addressed.”

Another queer artist dominating the Boston scene is The Queer B.I.G., otherwise known rapper Billy Dean Thomas. They started five years ago with nothing more than a love for words and rhymes. At a young age, Thomas would read the dictionary for pleasure, enjoying flipping through the pages of word after word. After being raised with artists like Biggie Smalls and Busta Rhymes, they realized hip-hop was just the manipulation of vocabulary that plays with puns and twists sounds to fit a specific purpose.

“I pieced together my desire to write with this musical aspect that I was hearing all around me,” Thomas shares. Their music tends to be autobiographical, and revolves around manifestation: they focus on what they want, and have full intention of achieving it. They’ve dubbed it to be “documentarian hip-hop.” Much like Lavagxrl, Thomas identifies as queer as well as nonbinary. They’re turned off by the bizarrity of labels, and prefer the fluidity of the umbrella term queer.

“I am ever-changing. I do identify as masculine, and I definitely also shout-out to my femininity too ‘cause it’s there. I may not parade it and talk about it all the time,” Thomas says. “I'm just trying to be comfortable in my body and my spirit and mind. I’ll allow myself to shift as I wish.” This part of their identity often goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. For Thomas, it’s a trend to be the only nonbinary artist in a bill or be booked for a show titled “Black Girl Magic” despite their genderqueer identity. They walk a fine line between being tokenized and having their identity erased. “It’s something that I had noticed a few weeks ago, just like as a whole,” they say. “I was thinking about my career and I was like damn, it’s a really

dope bill, but I'm the only Black person and I don't identify as a woman or femme and everyone else does. It’s just kind of fucked up and frustrating that those are the only bills that I’m primarily at.” Thomas attributes this to a lack of respect. Producers, other artists, and people in general assume they understand Thomas’ work better than its creator. They find their voice being lost in the crowd, even in regards to their own music.

“There’s a lot of having to fight for your opinions to be validated and heard. And your edits have to be made in the way that you want them to, because this dude thinks he knows more than you,” Thomas says. We are consuming queer music that is made and produced within the rap genre. Without queer BIPOC artists, there would undoubtedly be no music industry. This era of representation cannot be a fad or a phase, and it is not limited to just a handful of artists. Queer BIPOC rappers need to be uplifted and supported on a local and a national level. Seeking out these artists to diversify our music taste and support our community will empower underrepresented voices.

My Blackness Sha My Music is No By Daphn

apes My Music But, ot My Blackness ne Bryant

Visual by Quinn Donnelly

Stereotypes are applied to Black artists and their music videos, sounds and personas. Many of these musicians are unfairly defined by lyricality involving drugs and gangs, toxic masculinity and images of sexual degradation and immorality. Not only that, but stereotypes and expectations exclude and diminish Black artists who create genres of music that aren’t rap, R&B or hip hop. Why, in our minds, do we immediately typecast and perpetrate African American and Black artists? Why is there a damaging and detrimental idea of Blackness in music? The issue stems from a deep-rooted American concept that Black artists create music with negative connotations, such as aggressive tracks, songs that objectify women and “ghetto” tones, messages and appearances. Black male artists who embrace femininity, as opposed to their white counterparts, are shamed due to a culture promoting hypermasculinity. In the same ways slang is used, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is often deemed improper. Furthermore, dangerous societal stereotypes playing out in real time leak into the music industry. This has not only limited Black artists and the genres of music they choose to create in, but contracted the identities of African American artists as well. To understand where this institutional racism stems from and how it has persisted, we must go to the beginning. African American music originated in the fields of plantations. My ancestors would sing songs as they worked against their will. They told melodic tales of their lives in Africa and shared the torture of being forced into American slavery through music. Despite being silenced by slave owners, slaves continued to sing and chant. As they were coerced into Christian conversion, slave music became hymns and spirituals, eventually evolving into gospel music. Once African American slaves were given the chance to be “real” members of society, they branched out and created new styles, including blues and rock. Their music swept through the U.S. as well as the

rest of the world; genres such as rock and roll, funk, jazz, R&B, rap, reggae and hip-hop were largely developed by African American people. While this kind of music is consumed on a global scale, it’s more than just a form of entertainment to its Black creators and performers. African American music was and is simultaneously identifying with roots and making declarations against racism and microaggressions. Scholar Megan Sullivan explains, “Music became a way to remain connected to their African heritage while protesting the bleak conditions African Americans faced throughout history.” However, as African American artistry began to grow in popularity, stereotypes and schemas began to form about Black people and consequently what kind of music they were capable of. It’s important to note that some genres have publicly excluded, stolen from and discriminated against African American musicians, reiterating that there are types of music that are “non-Black.” PBS uses the example of the country genre, where “stereotypes that country music is just for white audiences and sung by mostly white males are reinforced daily on country radio, playlists, label rosters and tour lineups.” In reality, Black musicians are the blueprint; white musicians in country music have stolen sounds from slave spirituals. Portrayals of Black and African American people in mediums such as cartoons, film, songs and books became representative of the real-life negative connotations made by those in power. Images and ideas of Black people as a sexual, dishonorable, unsophisticated, brash and threatening group of people influenced the way people saw Black music as well. After these attributes were carried over into music stereotypes, many people associated these traits with Black hip-hop and rap culture. It created an antipathetic view of Black musicians and Black music.

Eventually, Americans began to typecast artists and see rap and hip-hop culture (which they often called “urban”) as the only Black music culture there was. African American artists struggle to get what they rightfully deserve, whether it be actual recognition or a chance to delve into music that contradicts Black stereotypes. Black artists can feel restricted because of the picture White American society has painted of “Blackness” in the music industry. It is common for them to feel as though their identity doesn’t match up with their music, or vice versa. Anjimile, a Boston-based Black, queer and trans artist shaking up the indie folk scene, is no stranger to this alienation.

“It’s weird. There are a bunch of other Black indie artists — I’m not the only one out there — but folk is a genre that’s been co-opted by whiteness… I feel a part of the genre, but I don’t necessarily feel like a part of the community,” they share during our interview.

This is only one of the many subtle and stark ways people confine Black musicians into a box and expect them to stay there. One artist breaking down the walls of genre inclusion and stereotyping is Lucky Daye, a Black R&B singer-songwriter hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana. Jazz is alive and well in this area, which can be one of the main reasons why Daye prides himself on the intersection of jazz and R&B that enriches his music. The inclusion of groovy, funk sounds and soul fusion in his creations juxtaposes the mainstream idea of R&B the industry (and consequently White America) perpetuates. As an advocate for diversification, Daye encourages fellow musicians to experiment with musical nuances. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Daye emphasized the importance of molding the industry to one’s own beat, stating that it would be his dream if other

artists pulled inspiration from his album Painted to do things that aren’t following the trends.

“We will simply carve our own path and do something new,” Anjimile says. “Literally creating whatever art we want is going to bust up the framework.” Serena Isioma taps into this same vein. They began creating music in 2018 and are one of the most impressive Black multi-hyphenate artists of our generation. Isioma dabbles in bedroom pop, indie, rock, rap and more in an amalgamation that is absolutely mesmerizing. Each and every one of their songs explores new musical elements, genres and formulas. In this way,Isioma refuses to give power to the institutionalized and societal stereotypes placed on Black artists in music. Isioma isn’t just crossing label boundaries in music. As a non-binary musician, Isioma strives to generate a space in the music industry where people who identify as non-binary can create and live happily. Isioma is intent on creating a new perspective on Black musicians that will aid in removing harmful stereotypes about Black gender identity and Black attributes, and does so fearlessly. On a roll with their music promoting selflove and healing, it is no surprise that Isioma’s focus is on positively influencing the demographic of Black musicians instead of being concerned with the arbitrary categories systems of oppression impose on their music or identity. Anjimile’s identity also challenges society’s perception of what a folk musician is. They view these stereotypes as an opportunity to further resistance towards the music industry’s institutional and systemic flaws instead of deliberately feeding into a divide. “It just so happens that I am all of these things [Black, queer and trans]. It really is the icing on the cake that it’s a “fuck you” to society,” they explain.

“I just so happen to exist, and the fact that my existence is resistance is like...



Black resistance in music is not a trend or temporary movement. It is a celebration of taking back what was always theirs. Black people being restricted to societal concepts of who they can be and what they can do is a reality constantly being shattered by front movers and revolutionaries in the music industry today. As they have always done, Black artists take from their experiences, heritage and souls and pour it into their melodies, sounds and lyrics.

The idea of “Blackness” that Americans have formulated is not the idea of Blackness that I know: the Blackness that is real and whole, expansive and beautiful. That twisted Blackness society has created does not define these African American musicians, for their Blackness shapes their music, but their music is not their Blackness.

Visual by Rifka Handelman

Punk is perhaps the most evasive genre in rock history, with its emphasis of nonconformity and freedom enticing generations of fans over the last six decades. From the dive bars of downtown New York City to the bedrooms of soon-to-be TikTok stars, punk has come a long way in defining a sector of music history. With a “no-fucks-given” attitude and signature fast-paced guitar riffs, punk has soundtracked generations and routinely challenged conventional notions of popular music. Today, in an ironic turn of events, punk has been twisted to fit the mainstream. Gen Z is seeing a revival of “pop punk” that echoes the music of our youth, with artists such as Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker once again becoming household names as they collaborate with Gen Z artists like WILLOW on pop punk tunes with TikTok-viral potential. In this renewed trend of punk elements in mainstream music, the question of what “qualifies” as punk persists to much contention across generations of punk fans.

While some may find pop punk enjoyable and intriguing in its blending of genres, others — namely, fans of classic punk — may criticize pop punk for its influences and mainstream affinities. Rock journalist and founder of Wild Honey magazine, Cherri Cheetah, offers a firsthand account of the discourse surrounding the pop punk revival. “I’m seeing a lot of negativity directed at aesthetics, as in outfits and makeup that selfdescribed ‘punk’ artists wear,” she says in an email interview. “[There’s also] negativity

towards the music… because it is not the noisy, rough, classic punk we think of when something is called ‘punk.’”

This establishment of a divide between old and new across generations of fans creates tension within a

subculture that was initially meant to be welcoming to all walks of life. As Cheetah recounts, old-school punk fans often condemn the aesthetic appearance of modern punk bands in an effort to draw comparisons to classic punk acts, searching for ways to catch socalled “posers” in their act. This blatantly juvenile approach to criticism often holds no validity. As the growth of the punk subculture has shown, the evolution of aesthetic approaches has been a mainstay. Looking back on punk’s evolution over the decades, it is clear that pop punk is not the first, nor will it be the last, of the subgenres to come from punk. Punk has roots in Detroit, Michigan, with acts like The Stooges and MC5 distorting their garage rock origins into a narrative that created the “punk” mold we know today: short-lived, energized songs with simple, hardhitting lyrics. The Stooges’ frontman, Iggy Pop (who later went on to have a successful solo career) defines the quintessential punk energy. His theatrical stage presence and chaotic lifestyle personified the era of punk that started it all, and continues to define the genre today. Classic Stooges songs like “Search and Destroy” touch on feelings of disillusionment, carelessness, and generational discontent, as Pop sings:

“I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm / I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb / I am a world’s forgotten boy /The one who searches and destroys…” Migrating to downtown New York City, punk assumed its true form in acts like The Ramones, Blondie, the New York Dolls and Patti Smith. Immortalized in the iconography of leather jackets, dive bars and downtown grunge, New York punks are the true innovators of the genre. With similar sentiments to the Detroit punks, New York punk elevated the genre from garage bands to a fully-formed culture, sparking a movement across an entire generation of fans. Soon, English punks like the Sex Pistols were adopting the looks, attitudes and lyrical content of New York punk with a political twist, inserting punk into the mainstream media with a

level of infamy — for better or for worse. After the initial New York punk movement, punk moved to the West Coast. Now-legendary bands like the Runaways, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks are some of the many names to come out of the California punk scene. West Coast punk is especially notable for its combination of punk with other genres: the Runaways combined early punk with elements of glam rock; the alternative new wave genre saw its origins in California punk; and ska punk emerged in bands like Operation Ivy, No Doubt and Sublime. The surfacing of various subgenres in punk — while surely innovative in their own ways — slowly became indicative of punk’s entrance into popular music. With today’s pop punk revival, elements of classic punk are being combined with more pop-influenced sounds to become more palatable to mainstream audiences. There is undeniable irony in this “gentrification” of punk, a genre whose origins lie in a rejection of mainstream culture being contorted into a filtered version of what it once was. While past generations have icons like Debbie Harry, Joe Strummer or Joey Ramone, Gen Z has… Machine Gun Kelly? A questionable evolution of punk for sure, especially considering an artist like MGK is suddenly transitioning into pop punk once it became more mainstream. Despite room for contention, pop punk has succeeded in introducing punk as a genre to a wide range of audiences. Bands like blink-182 and Green Day, for example, have experienced immense success in popular music while staying true to their punk roots over the years. The genre’s movement into the mainstream came with a reassessment of the values upheld within the culture. For one, modern pop punk is drastically more inclusive than its classic punk predecessors and the dominant white and male culture it persisted in. “There’s also a lot more female, queer, and non-white artists in punk,” Cheetah notes, “such as Meet Me @ The Altar, Nova Twins, and VENUS GRRRLS at the fronts of the charts and playlists. I think that’s great.”

Diversity in rock has always been crucial to the evolution of the genre, and with Gen Z adopting a more welcoming approach, pop punk in 2021 has proven to be a space with a promising future. Tommy Fahy, a guitarist studying at Ramapo College in New Jersey, is open to the growth of pop punk, namely as a means of stepping away from the more unfortunate aspects of classic punk. “While many people still listen to classic punk, the genre hasn’t held up very well,” he says over email. “The ideas and sound are generally outdated. It’s unfortunate, but it happens with all music.”

A distancing from certain ideologies, in regards to a narrow view of gender, sexuality and race in punk, is perhaps the most notable aspect of Gen Z’s pop punk revival. While the

stylistic aspects of pop punk remain up for dispute, the progressive morals behind the genre are a reflection of Gen Z’s potential to bring rock ‘n’ roll back into the mainstream on an elevated level. With a subversive genre like punk, it is difficult to say what “qualifies” as punk, as it is constantly changing and evolving with each generation. While pop punk has infiltrated the mainstream once again, elements of classic punk are still to be heard in indie circles. Bands like Turnstile, ZIG MENTALITY, and cleopatrick adopt punk riffs and drums with a modern twist, introducing the younger generations to punk in a way that reflects the genre in a more “traditional” way. Punk, at its core, stresses a lack of conformity that carries into contemporary iterations of the genre. While modern pop punk may not be the most evocative of beloved classic punk bands, the vitality of the genre withstands.

Fighting on Two Fronts: Rock’s Forgotten Black Frontwoman

by Lydia Aga

With string-callused fingers, Black artists of the 20th century plucked away at social norms and channeled their rage into infectious melodies, electric guitars, and powerful lyrics liberated from the white gaze. When will we honor rock ‘n’ roll’s unknown Black pioneers through memory? When David Bowie’s androgyny and Mick Jagger’s signature pout attracted international attention, Somali-British punk rocker Poly Styrene’s untamed curls and vibrant aesthetic challenged U.K.’s punk scene. Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex cultivated punk’s political consciousness through her own criticisms of mass consumption infused in her lyrics, evident in her self-made wardrobe, and apparent by her stage name — styrene being a “lightweight, disposable plastic.” Styrene isolated herself from the nihilism and black monochrome uniform attached to punk to develop her own personal style defined outside the white confines placed within punk. Her pride,

her passion, and her perseverance were the antithesis of punk’s gloomy aesthetics and attitudes. Styrene’s biracial identity, in addition to her playful post-modern style, halted any potential mainstream success. Only in her passing was her life’s story honored. Dayglo!: The Poly Styrene Story, a biography written following Styrene’s death, is a generational homage from daughter to mother. Celeste Bell, Styrene’s only daughter, captures Styrene’s life from growing up during a wave of migration in the ’60s as the daughter of a Somali immigrant to exploring her identity through music in the ’70s. Celeste revives her mother’s brilliance and exceptional life through recounting Styrene’s story — one that tends to fly under the radar.

Poly Styrene redefined punk.

She loved bright colors, pink, fluffy things, and frills. She was highly feminine and gentle, sweet and kind, contrasting the abrasive attitude of punk in the ’70s. She was the blueprint. She was everything. Across the Atlantic, Tina Bell of Seattle’s Bam Bam was slinking across stages and taking over the world.

Tina’s charisma bled through Bam Bam’s sludgy guitars, haunting vocals, and pulsing drums. The band’s unique sound found a name for itself in the world of Seattle’s emerging grunge scene. Birthed from the relationship Bell had with her husband Tommy Martin and lifelong friend Scott Ledgerwood, Bam Bam was the earliest incarnation of a genre mistakenly credited to white men in plaid skirts and knit hats. Before Nirvana, before Pearl Jam, and before Soundgarden, Bam Bam’s biting anti-establishment lyricism coupled with Tina’s poetic lyrical delivery captured punk’s essence beyond the aesthetics of fashion. Tina’s ferocity commanded presence in the predominantly white grunge scene intentionally designed to discard her at the margins as a Black

Her performances were explosive and knocked down the barriers placed between the intersection of Blackness and womanhood that socially suffocated her. However, she was still met with criticism woman.

beyond her control.

Bam Bam struggled, in part because audiences weren’t on board with an African American female punk singer. “The press compared her to Tina Turner as if that made any sense,” Martin said in a 2012 article with Jen Graves for The Stranger. In memory, Bam Bam is remembered only within brief mentions of Kurt Cobain, who served as the group’s roadie in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The group’s — primarily Tina’s — success is consistently

measured in proximity to white stardom and Cobain’s commercial appeal.

Though her legacy is cemented to Cobain in regards to memory, Tina, within her lifetime, was a powerhouse. She was striking, energetic, and possessed an inspirational aura amid unresponsive crowds and racist attacks. Ledgerwood, whose bass strokes cemented Bam Bam’s soul-stirring signature sound,

recalls the abuse Tina underwent as a consequence of being hypervisible in Seattle’s predominantly white music scene. Tina resisted the limitations that white audiences forced upon her as a Black woman making a name for herself in Seattle’s early grunge scene. Tina’s resilience, despite racist attacks, is reminiscent of her foremothers Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. The emotional and physical labor that being Black in grunge demanded caused Bell to spiral, eventually departing from Bam Bam and withdrawing from music entirely. Ledgerwood believes she died of a broken heart. Alcoholism and depression had consumed Tina in the years following her departure from Bam Bam. In her Las Vegas apartment, she emptied her shelves of memorabilia. All of Tina’s writings and videos from her time fronting Bam Bam were discarded in silence. In the seminal history of Seattle grunge, Bell’s hypervisibility was erased from memory. Her legacy rests in an unmarked grave. Though she fought misogynoir on grunge’s frontlines, she remains an unknown soldier to many. As the daughter of a powerful rock ‘n’ roll matriarch, Willow Smith’s 2021 latest pop-punk release lately I feel EVERYTHING felt like a beautiful inevitability. WILLOW’s musical evolution from dance-pop, to alt-pop, to indie rock, to pop-punk comes as little surprise; her mother was once in the heavy metal trenches, earning her stripes as the frontwoman for Wicked Wisdom. With a hefty musical catalog already under her belt by 19, lately, I feel EVERYTHING completes WILLOW’s journey toward rebranding herself within the world of punk. As the daughter of a powerful rock ‘n’ roll matriarch, Willow Smith’s 2021 latest pop-punk release lately I feel EVERYTHING felt like a beautiful inevitability. WILLOW’s musical evolution from dance-pop, to alt-pop, to indie rock, to pop-punk comes as little surprise; her mother was once in the heavy metal trenches, earning her stripes as the frontwoman for Wicked Wisdom.

With a hefty musical catalog already under her belt by 19, lately, I feel EVERYTHING completes WILLOW’s journey toward rebranding herself within the world of punk. Having watched her mother be indicted into the world of rock at just two years old, WILLOW’s career is a generational homage from daughter to mother. Like her mother, WILLOW is coming into her own as a raging rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse. WILLOW is not one to remain shackled to the musical constraints that box in Black women, and neither was her mother, Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith’s metal band formed in 2002. Jada served as singer and primary songwriter, launching herself off a few small gigs into headlining the official Ozzfest Tour in 2005. In a recent interview with Lopez Tonight, Pinkett Smith revealed fans of Ozzfest were enraged, claiming they lacked the proper credentials to play such a prestigious tour attached to heavy hitters like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Rob Zombie, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, and Black Label Society. There is no doubt that attacks from Ozzfest fans were fueled by misogynoir aimed at Pinkett Smith. In a V Magazine interview with Alexis Brown, the Black frontwoman of Tennessee-based metal band Straight Line Stitch, WILLOW recalls the verbal harassment, death threats, and violence her mother underwent. Despite having seen how white audiences alienate Black artists from a genre they’ve birthed, WILLOW continually sought refuge in rock as an outlet for her internalized anger. WILLOW’s passion transcends any limitation. lately, I feel EVERYTHING is a love letter to any Black woman who has ever wanted to whip their hair back and forth and shake off the expectations clinging onto their backs.

lately, I feel EVERYTHING forces us to question what it means to be loud in a space that perpetually erases Black women and decenters them from their own histories. On her fifth studio album, WILLOW allows herself to feel everything and refuses to let her voice age into a relic that gets forgotten with time’s passing.

Even when she’s carrying rock’s racist, sexist past with her in memory, WILLOW gives herself the ability to be present.

visuals by Quinn Donnelly

Boston Nonprofits Make Music More Accessible

By: Jess Ferguson

Learning a new instrument is hard enough as is — try mixing in high costs, an almost two-year long pandemic and identity-based obstacles. Nonprofits in the Boston area are combating just that. Bipop and Boston Music Project are both providing a platform for students to build community and express themselves. Alana Colvin, the Berklee student and creator of Bipop, and Christopher Schroeder, the executive director of Boston Music Project, found a sense of identity through their own music; it is this sense of belonging that inspires them to expose others to this understanding process.

“Boston Music Project is a nonprofit that works with Boston Public Schools and Boston youth to provide equitable music education weekly on a consistent basis throughout the school year,” Schroeder says. “The other aspect of Boston Music Project is working with school communities to address their needs through music education and social-emotional learning.”

Because some Boston Public Schools have smaller student bodies, and therefore smaller budgets, they don’t have the financial resources to establish music programs. That’s where Boston Music Project comes in. By offering a platform for students to make music between one and five days a week, learning the craft becomes more equitable. They also offer financial aid for their programs, allowing them to connect with lower-income families.

“We’re committed to addressing the needs of the students and school communities themselves,” Schroeder says. “We're working with

these smaller community schools at this exact moment to start to build out some partnership programs and explore what that looks like for us.” Bipop is an online music education platform by and

for women and non-binary people of color. Colvin got started through her Artist Entrepreneur class last year and has since developed it over the past few months. “These individually are communities that have often been swept under the rug in terms of their activism, work and accomplishments,” she says. “In a man's world, there just needs to be that protection, connection and form of communication.” Similarly, Colvin said Bipop cuts its rates down to at least half of the average to accommodate more students and their experience levels. “Music is not an affordable thing, and these are also groups that are not usually in an upper middle class situation,” she says. “A lot of these students are working with affordable instruments and are learning, and they're just looking to expand on that and also play music that reflects them.” Colvin is currently studying professional music with concentrations in songwriting and music business at Berklee, but her music experience traces back to her youth. Coming from a musical family, she learned piano at age four and began expanding to guitar, flute, ukulele, violin, viola, drums and more throughout the years. She also makes her own music that she describes as “alternative.” Colvin is most inspired by indie artists like Moses Sumney and Kimbra, jazz artists like Nina Simone, folk/rock artists like Bob Dylan, and rock groups like Alabama Shakes.

“I learned very early on that I had a pretty strong ear, and I just leaned into it,” she says. “It’s very much a part of me and how I communicate with people and what makes me feel good, if nothing else.” Likewise, Schroeder found a sense of belonging through music when he picked up trumpet in middle

school, which opened the doors to a group of people who truly understood and connected with him. “There are challenges that I was going through personally at home,” he says. “Whenever I came into the band room, I'd always have a group of friends and musicians that I could hang out with and have deeper conversations than my other peers. It wasn't just about music.” That like with word

music community can be helpful to a start-up Bipop. Because Berklee is a community filled musicians, Colvin has relied on social media and of mouth to publicize Bipop and its services.

Boston Music Project unexpectedly transitioned to an online model four days after the pandemic lockdown, but it hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing. Schroeder and his team had to think of how they would continue reaching students, families and community members, despite not being able to be in-person. “We had to completely reimagine how we engage with our audience, how we keep the kids connected, how we storytell,” Schroeder says. “A lot of that went to how to improve our social media, our monthly newsletters and our communication with friends, donors and parents.” Bipop was founded last May, so Colvin didn’t have to do the same technological reinventing as other organizations. Despite its new inception, she still has taken advantage of the online format. “For one one-on-one lessons, they're all online to create some flexibility for the students and their time and when they're available,” she says. Unfortunately, COVID has created delays in some of the projects she hopes to start, such as free private music lessons for Boston Public School students. In spite of the pandemic, members of Boston Music Project have created important work to commemorate this point in history through virtual technologies.

Students in the after-school Quincy Upper School program partook in the Caged Bird Project, inspired by Maya Angelou’s work. In the end, they created 15 original tracks related to the idea of being caged. “Essentially it was blending ELA practices with music composition, and through it, trying to capture just how the kids were feeling and processing this moment in time,” Schroeder says. Prior to the pandemic, students did live performances at the mayor’s State of the City address, Boston Symphony Hall and the Boston Children’s Museum. They are now back to in-person performances with Wandering Wednesdays on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, where students perform at a location between the North End to Chinatown at 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays. Bipop currently has their own community outreach initiatives in the works, including a local, donationbased mutual aid program that provides hot meals to locals in need. As for long-term plans, Colvin hopes to create Bipop chapters in major cities that focus on “private instruction in public schools” in addition to providing free lessons at Boston Public Schools. “The arts are often targeted in terms of funding and things like that in public school districts. Right now, we're just trying to make a solid foundation here in Boston,” she says. These two nonprofits are just some of the organizations that allow Boston students and musicians to start from scratch or refine their musical craft. They foster an accepting community environment and provide them skills and experiences beyond music.

“We’ve found time and time again that music is a great tool for building community, creating a space in the school where students feel like they

can express themselves, feel like they can connect more deeply with their teachers, with their peers, and have a creative and fun outlet to get to know themselves through that creative process,” Schroeder says. Boston Music Project is on Instagram @bosmusicproject and online at Bipop can be found on Instagram @bipopbops and online at Check out Colvin’s music under the name Alana Amore on Spotify!

Harrison Whitford is Afraid of Nothing, Nothing , Including Kissing His Bandmate on Stage by Joy Freeman & Ashley Onnembo

Nearly a year later to the day, Harrison Whitford nonchalantly re-joined Five Cent Sound behind a Zoom screen (we, on the other hand, were mid-freak out when his black square popped up into the room). Some things have changed — he isn’t donning a skeleton costume, and he’s been on a national tour postvaccine — but others, like his humor and enthusiasm about releasing new music, are very much the same. This time we are meeting under the pretense of his upcoming sophomore LP Afraid of Nothing, released on November 12th. It is a triumphant follow-up to Afraid of Everything, a continuation of masterful lyricism and a sophisticated, self-produced approach to sonic evolution. Gone are the days of an alternative folk label; streaming platforms proudly proclaim this is indie rock.

“I was at dinner with friends the other day and they asked, ‘why isn’t postfolk a genre?’” Whitford laughs at the relabelling. “That’s what I’ll call it. Post-folk.” *The following content has been slightly edited for conciseness and clarity.* Joy Joy: This album that you’re releasing is very quintessentially November to me. When I listened to it, I got very fall vibes. I could picture myself driving in New England to see my family for Thanksgiving! So I wanted to know when you recorded it and also when you wrote it originally, time frame wise? Harrison That’s funny. I wrote a handful of them Harrison: [in] November 2019 funny enough and then recorded a lot of them the end of November, December 2019. It was just going to be a five or six song EP. And then over the course of the pandemic, I thought that I would add some more songs and make it a record because it felt more exciting to me to put a whole record out instead of an EP. Some of the songs on the record, I think one song I wrote like four or

maybe five years ago, but most of them were written at the end of 2019. A few of them were written during the very beginning of 2020. I live in LA now, and I'm from Massachusetts, I originally grew up there. I grew up in New York also and then I lived in Nashville. Even though I live in LA, that sort of feeling of seasons and the different things we consume seasonally is still very much something I think about subconsciously. I'm usually generally attracted to things that I feel are sonically or artistically November-ish, fall-ish, or winter, that general time. It's reflective because you're just inside more, so I always thought that if I did put it out at some point, it would be nice to put it out when it is coming out. So it's cool that you feel that way. Ashley Kind of regressing a little bit with this Ashley: question, but in previous interviews it was mentioned that Afraid of Everything was recorded very quickly, with the album being recorded over the span of a few days and then a few months left for revision. Was that decision intentional, and what were the benefits or drawbacks to that? H: When I made that record, I was younger, I was less patient and again less able to edit myself. I was like, “Okay, I just want to make this record and get it done.” This record, I spent basically two years making because I wasn’t in any rush. I’ve always loved the process of making music or working on any kind of art, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to love that process even more and really realize that that’s the part of it that counts.The drawbacks are that you might end up hearing those things totally differently a year from when you made them or mixed them or whatever. So making something over a longer period of time you just have more time to sort of gain perspective, which is why I was able to record like five different versions of songs. I could make a version and like it, but then over the course of five months be like, “I don’t like that the way I thought I did initially.”Different things hold up more or just feel more powerful later on.

A: It’s so interesting you say that, because for me when I'm writing something, my process is very similar. I just bang it out. And I'm like, “Whoa, that felt weird, but good to let it all out.” Then I'll revisit it a few months later or after it's been published for a bit and I'm like, “Oh my god, why did I think that was so good?!” or “Why was that so important to me?” It's really interesting to see how your perspective and evolving experiences shape what you take away from it later on. H: It’s cool when you have that experience, right? Because it means that my curiosity is evolved and my tastes are still evolved. It basically is a

signal to the fact that the way you think is still evolving because you almost wouldn’t want to

look at something you wrote six months ago and feel the exact same way about it. J: Going into specifics about actual songs on [Afraid of Nothing], there’s a really good and beautiful simplicity, especially the melodies of “Any Place I Am” and “Picture in a Drawer.” Also the piano lines are very simple, but there’s a profoundness in that; it’s almost like two lullabies. Why did you choose to strip those ones down as opposed to other songs? H: Thank you, I really appreciate that. I feel like I’m not consciously ever trying to make something that’s necessarily simple and profound at the same time. My favorite thing about Robert Frank’s photos is that they can just be of a landscape through a window and it’s super underexposed, it’s kind of nothing but it has this emotional effect on you. Maybe it was because the songs were more plaintive and more leaning into the voice of the character feeling sort of regretful or defeated. It just made more sense. Usually a decision like that I rely on whatever intuitively makes sense. A lot of making records taking the song and trying it in all these different ways. There are songs on the record where I probably recorded five different versions of them until I found a version I liked. But those ones always made sense to me that I’m just gonna let them be these piano

ballads with environmental sounds happening around them. It wasn't a super calculated idea. It made sense to do that, for whatever reason. J: I’m gonna play Genius Lyrics for a minute and ask a lyric question: In “Afraid of Nothing,” you have the line:

“I won’t be afraid of nothing / No, I won’t be scared of you.” Who or what is that referring to? H: That song happened so fast.It’s sort of about coming out the other end of a really difficult thing and learning to take care of yourself, I guess. In some ways that is a scary event when maybe your whole life, say you had certain coping mechanisms for something and you really relied on those coping mechanisms; it was a really well trodden path. You really knew those mechanisms and those ways of thinking, even if they were ultimately detrimental, like yourself. When you start choosing to be like, “Okay, I’m going to start choosing to like myself more,” or “I’m going to start doing things that make me like myself more,” it’s kind of scary because you are suddenly re-wir[ing] these new thought patterns. It’s about not being afraid to take the path that you think is going to help you out just because it’s unfamiliar. But also, it could be about nothing. It totally could be about nothing. I think part of it is that it just felt really cathartic to sing that. When I recorded it, I recorded everything and then I wanted the end of it to sort of feel like that. I basically recorded eight tracks of me, like a microphone at one end of the live room of the studio. I was standing all the way at

the back of the other wall just basically screaming the lyrics because that was how I was feeling at the moment. I wanted to get this feeling across that it is cathartic, so there’s like 10 of me on there.

A: Obviously, you've done a lot of songwriting not only for yourself, but for other artists as well. Does your songwriting process differ when you're writing songs for other artists versus ones for yourself? And how do you decide what songs are going to be offered to others and which ones will be kept solely for you, whether it be released or unreleased? H: That’s an interesting question. It definitely is a different process when you’re writing with somebody else because your combined tastes and views of the world are coming up against each other. I don’t want to use the word compromise, but there is kind of an inevitable compromise that gets made. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. When you’re collaborating with somebody, you have to listen to them, you have to make sure that it is this dance of your idea and their idea. A lot of the time, usually when I’m in the context of writing with somebody else, I’m usually more contributing musical ideas. Songwriters like what they like very specifically, and it can be tricky to write lyrics with somebody. Times that I’ve written with Phoebe are different, where you can contribute an idea but she’ll eventually decide on whichever lyric she likes the most. I’ve written a bunch of songs with my friend Matt Berninger, who’s the singer of that band the National. That’s just music because Matt’s only a singer and lyricist; he doesn’t even play an instrument. You basically write a song form and give it to him, and then he writes lyrics and a melody over it. When I’m writing by myself, it’s just compulsive. If I happen to sit down at the piano or something and get an idea, it’s almost like a thread: you can either chase that thread to wherever it ends or it just kind of unravels and you don’t get at the idea. The feeling of doing both is very different to me at least. These days, if I’m writing with somebody, I usually am just trying to contribute musical stuff. With lyrics, everybody sees the world in such a specific way. Even I have a hard time with writing. Sometimes I have a hard time committing to somebody else’s suggestion because I don’t know if

it lines up with my exact feeling about this, but it can also be a pain in the ass to be that way because sometimes it takes a really long time to find the right lyric or thing. J: Going off of that in terms of collaborating, is there anybody else who performed on this album, whether it be instruments or vocals? H: The most core musicians on this record are some friends of mine from Nashville, my friends, Kevin, Tark, and Alex, and they played on my first record. When I used to live in Nashville, we’d just hang out and record demos and songs together all the time. We played a ton of music together, which is cool when you have that with people because you can be in the same room and you don’t really have to communicate very much. You can just start playing and we know each other; all of the communication takes place in just playing together. It was really fun because it was also my first time fully producing something on my own. And I used that as an opportunity to be like, “Which musician friends of mine could I just ask

to add something?,” because I like the things they make. My roommate Mason’s a great guitar player and he played on it. I think with music in particular, collaboration is such an incredible joy and blessing when you have that experience where everybody offers such a unique thing and color. If you’re lucky to have the opportunity to know a bunch of different people, you can end up with interesting results. It’s as much my record as it is everyone’s who played on it. J: You just got off of a tour, which is a huge deal after not being able to perform for so long! What was that like? H: It was awesome. To tour after not doing it for a while, it was a little intense on the body just because you’re not necessarily getting the best sleep every night. I forgot that traveling in and of itself was weird. It was kind of mind blowing that we even got through the tour. It’s funny, you end up getting to this point in tour, or at least I do, where I find

myself maybe unwittingly taking it for granted. I'm in this headspace of like, “Okay, I'm ready to get home.” The tour ended on a high note which was nice, our last few shows were really good shows and I was really glad to be home when I got home. But then I went and saw Moses Sumney the other night, who I'd never seen before. It was so amazing. Just watching, I wish[ed] I was

back on tour. It's good to take stock of where you're at when you're on tour.

A: I’m sorry, we have to be good journalists, so we have to ask about the kiss with you and Phoebe at the end of “I Know the End.” H: I think that it happened literally at the first show on tour. There’s that obnoxious, tasteless solo outro. She came over to me, and I basically saw that she was saying “Kiss me.” It was like theatrical making out for fun. Phoebe and I’ve been best friends for like fucking nine years at this point, so sometimes you just make out with your best friend for fun. People thought it was funny too. The tough part is making out with somebody while having to play a guitar solo. You end up doing both kind of really badly. We kept being like, “Oh, we’re making out like 12 year olds right now.” The tour was full of silly shit like that. That makes touring fun, you know?

A: How are you able to balance your varied music tastes with your own creations? Do you feel like there’s certain styles that you’re able to either pull from or implement into your own work, or do you feel more inclined to bind yourself to a specific sound? H: It’s kind of just wherever I’m at at that moment, whichever records I’m stoked on or sounds I’m interested in. Kind of chasing those and maybe even subconsciously writing to that idea. I love how every record has such a different sort of blueprint of what it is sonically. That was part of why I wanted to make a record that I self produced and self engineered too, because it was an opportunity to be like, “Alright, I have really

specific sounds I want to try and make happen,

so I'm just going to do that and see if it works.” Since then, I've gotten to produce some other people's stuff, too. I just love that process of getting sounds.

A: You must be able to read my screen, because that’s a perfect lead into the last question I have for you today! Your songs mainly highlight your beautiful vocal abilities and I think you have such a unique voice, it really adds depth to your songs. Also, there are just some very amazing production details that really elevates the impact it has on a listener. Do you feel like there is anything in the production or revision process, like overdubbing, that conveys something that a raw track alone can’t? Do you have any favorite details to add when you’re doing the production or mixing for a song? H: Obviously the core of the song will apply to whatever the production is, but I do think the way a song is received changes based on the production. If something is really pared down, it might prime you to listen more closely to this one song because there’s less happening. It’s almost like that trick in the live show. If people aren’t listening, you don’t want to get louder, you want to actually get quieter because it makes people more aware of the volume of their own voices. As far as the specific production details, it’s a mix of going through trials. There’s a song on the record called “Linoleum”. When I first wrote it, I made this iPhone demo of it that was really sort of roomy and Lo Fi. The door was open, you could hear neighbors at a friend’s apartment and children, and it was its own thing that I was really attached to. I tried for fun to make this band version of it without losing the spirit of the song. You try different things based on wherever your imagination is at at the time. A lot of it too depends on other musicians. They’re going to add a thing that maybe you weren’t hearing [and] that becomes an exciting production detail. And a lot of it comes from experiences that you’ve had in the past, where it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to introduce this thing here as like an elevation,” or, “I’m going

to cut this thing out in this section to provide some sort of dynamic shifts.” There always are going to be certain sounds that I like because I love The White Album. There’s gonna be certain guitar sounds that I like, because of Jackson Browne’s album. Honestly, I’ve learned a lot from making Phoebe’s records about production

I’ve learned so much because he’s this guy that has this sort of encyclopedic knowledge of all music. He’s constantly thinking about production as well in terms of what else it’s referencing, sort of like pantheon of music, as well as how can it be different. A lot of production is almost like your opportunity to acknowledge your favorite records as well as hopefully give it its own thing that you wish those records did. from her producer Tony Berg.

Check out the full exclusive interview on our Youtube channel below!

Anime Music: Emotional Enhancement By Julianna Morgan

Anime and fantastic music seem to go hand in hand. If not always jaw-droppingly sensational, anime soundtracks are at a minimum notable and emotionally impactful: I have yet to see an anime from which I don’t come away thinking again and again about the music used.

But why is it so good? Where does the emotional impact come from? And why does it work so well every single time? A big part of it comes down to one important fact: nothing is random. Each piece has meaning and purpose. To ensure each soundtrack has its own remarkable spirit, the composers for anime tend not to play it safe. They don’t simply come up with generic compositions of music you’ve heard variations of a hundred times over — they create something unique to the show or movie itself.

The intense, epic, chill-inducing music in Attack on Titan could not be swapped for the soaring, uplifting soundtrack of Haikyuu. The fairytale-like composition in Howl’s Moving Castle wouldn’t fit another film that didn’t possess its same peculiar yet endearing magical characters. Fellow Emerson student Gordon Chan makes note of this special attention to detail and the uniqueness of anime music when considering what makes the musical experience of anime different from other shows and films. “A lot of the music is scored differently. American animations are often scored to the picture, with the music acting as a support for the images beat to beat,” says Chan. “Anime music, however, is usually written in large suites to concepts rather than pictures, so a lot of times they have much more fleshed out melodies and movements.”

This idea of creating soundtracks to support whole concepts touches on the reason behind the emotionality of anime music, making for the memorable, outstanding sound so many anime compositions have. A sound that is not found anywhere else. The concepts creating this sound can include overarching themes like freedom, love and hope; composers provide a wide scope of music to get to the heart of these feelings through compositions that include main themes, large suites and intricately complex melodies. Such complexity allows for the nuance behind each theme to be explored and fully-realized. In Attack on Titan, a show characterized by freedom, its score communicates this theme in thought-out songs. The music portrays the spectrum of emotions found within it, from the pain and sacrifice it takes to get that freedom — shown by desperate but resolute vocals and strings — to the exhilaration and awe found in finally having it — evoked through heart-racing movements with rapid shifts and ever-building climaxes. It also should be noted that a big part of what gives anime music its “sound” is the fact that (surprise!) its lyrics are in Japanese. Emerson student Olivia Tran comments on this, saying that by having lyrics in another language, “the experience that the listener has is purely a reaction to the emotion in the vocals and production.”

While you may not know what is being said, you are certain to feel the passion of each sentiment illuminated by the vocalist, making for a listening experience unique to what most English-speakers are used to. Instead of engaging with music through the lyrics, anime pulls us into its sound so we actually feel it, creating a closer and more immersive relationship. But not all anime music features vocals; in fact, much of it does not. When asked to further elaborate on what makes anime music special, Tran speaks about the way the music works with the visuals of the anime:

“The music is “paired with visuals in the opening sequence or during emotional peaks within the anime, which creates a lasting impact in the audience’s mind,” she says. While all TV and film soundtracks technically have visuals with their scores, it is this incredible ability to connect our feelings (and the feelings of the characters) to the music itself that makes anime soundtracks so memorable. This is a sentiment with which Tran agrees, explaining “with iconic opening [and] closing themes and other anime tracks, I can almost always vividly picture the animation that accompanies the song. Similarly to how regular songs can be associated with certain memories, anime music is able to take the listener back to a particular moment in the character’s journey, which creates a sort of nostalgia after initially completing the anime.” One of the ways anime expertly connects visuals and music can be seen in its use of character themes. From the moment you hear the quick-paced opening piano notes of “L’s Theme A” from Death Note, you know L is about to come up with something brilliant. And by the time the theme gets to the hard-hitting guitar section, he’s already handed Light’s ass to him while being another five steps ahead on the next problem. On the other hand, when the calm, clean guitar strings of “Light’s Theme” appear — a theme that slowly ascends

into a more complex rock piece mirroring Light’s own descent into madness — you know that Light has maneuvered his way out of the situation or has tricked everyone into falling for the master plan.

The game of cat and mouse continues between the two, each theme playing multiple times per episode until hearing one or the other subconsciously prepares you for what’s going to happen next, who’s about to get the focus or sometimes who is about to get the upper hand, if you’re really paying attention. When you hear the low, deep, unsettling chords of Death Note’s “Low of Solipsism,” you get that feeling of anticipation (or perhaps dread, depending on who you are) deep in your stomach for the montage of deaths and chaos that is sure to come. It may not be a character theme, but it sets the mood perfectly. The classical music backbone of the Original Sound Track (OST) along with the operatic vocals gives each scene an air of intensity and grandioseness, capturing the unhinged but brilliant mind of our main character, Light, and all the grand yet terrible things he is to do throughout the show. Another film with a particularly famous soundtrack that connects its theme to specific feelings and scenes is Howl’s Moving Castle, the Studio Ghibli film composed by Joe Hisaishi. The vibrant, whimsical piece called “Merry-Go-Round of Life” whisks you away with the main character, Sophie, taking you to a magical land of wizards, spells, and moving castles. The first moment the theme is used in full also serves as the introduction of Howl, the wizard who meets Sophie by taking her for a walk through the sky to escape the evil witch’s henchmen attempting to chase them down. Of course, you don’t need this context to understand this; the music itself is able to transport you into their world, making you feel as if you really are walking among the clouds (perhaps with a charming wizard by your side). Tran also mentions Howl’s Moving Castle when speaking

of scores she listens to frequently, saying “Hisaishi’s compositions draw from both romantic and classical periods and help create the dreamy, enamoring feeling that Ghibli films are known for.” The result of this classical inspiration in “Merry-Go-Round of Life” is its mix of light, fluttering piano and flowing violin as the very definition of fantasy, the perfect escape from reality. Unlike films such as Howl’s Moving Castle and A Silent Voice, the action-packed dark fantasy show Attack on Titan does not have one specific theme used for nearly all its pivotal moments. As a show that spans between heartbreaking devastation and epic adventure, its soundtrack has a similar scope. Yet even with such a sweeping array of music, there are certain OSTs that become familiar the more you watch. Attack on Titan often uses the same “fight theme,” or variations of it, when things are about to really go down. It begins with a sputtering electric pulse that runs along your spine and makes your hair stand on end. Before long, hard guitar riffs and chanting vocals appear, accompanied by the beat of drums. Then the lead voice belts out desperately — although it’s in German, we know it’s nothing good. Each time the beginning notes are heard, you get a spark of anxiety and awe for the battle to come, almost as if you can already taste the blood, sweat, and tears of the characters. Then there is “Vogel im Käfig,” an OST that automatically

packs a heavy, emotional punch every single time it’s played. It is introduced in the very first episode of the show as our protagonist Eren is forced to observe a titan eat his mother, a traumatic moment forever haunting all eyes watching. The song solidifies itself as a distressing, heart-rending piece for the entirety of the series. It is no small testament to its impact that Gordon Chan — who frequently listens to an extensive variety of film soundtracks — lists this OST as a favorite of his, mentioning it as what first comes to mind when thinking of a specific, standout musical moment. And, finally, we come to Tokyo Ghoul. But with this anime, there is only one song I am going to talk about: “Unravel,” possibly the most pivotal anime opening of all-time. While many anime have iconic intros, they are often only used for half a season before the show moves on to the next. “Unravel” has the distinction of being one of the only opening theme songs to be continuously used throughout its series from beginning to end. While “Unravel” doesn’t stay as the show’s main opening every season, it is brought back during important, emotional moments symbolizing change or offering a powerful callback to the roots of the show. Whether it be the scene where Kaneki finally accepts he is ghoul and gains control of his power or when Kaneki carries his childhood friend, Hide, through the snow, sacrificing himself over to his enemies in the process, the use of “Unravel” hits home.

This is only one fantastic anime opening. When speaking of anime music’s emotional connection, Emerson student Grace Guy mentions her favorite musical moment being “when you first hear a new opening.” Attack on Titan comes up specifically as she recalls its first opening theme being so fun to listen to that it immediately got her excited for the show before ever having seen it. Then, when speaking of their favorite anime closings, both Guy and Tran name Jujutsu Kaisen’s first closing, “Lost in Paradise,” rightfully naming the animated dancing outro an “instant classic.” The vibrant, sketch-like animation of the show’s main characters grooving to the song carries the fun, strange feeling of the show itself, pulling you to play the next episode. But to really get into anime openings and closings — and the wild amount of emotion they bring — would be a whole other article. At the end of the day, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly each reason anime music has the effect that it does. There is too much to be said, and not all of it can be expressed in words.

Anime portrays an infinite variety of emotion, from the smallest of nuances to the biggest, most epic experiences — the kind of emotions that are too powerful to fall under a single label. Depending on the show or film, and who you are as a person, certain soundtracks will just stick with you, leaving an impact long after the ending credits have rolled.

Rivalry and Revival in East Coast’s Small Music Scene

by Samantha Silveira

My life has been a love affair between two cities, both with histories far longer than I could ever imagine mine being. Providence and Boston: pillars of the East Coast, patrons of the arts, hotspots for cold weather and young people with lukewarm ambitions. Boston’s primary cultural acclaim is its intellectual reputation, Providence’s its pervasive artsiness. Lesser known are the uniquely vibrant music scenes that thrive in both. The hardcore punk movement took hold of both cities in the 1980s. In many ways, Providence and Boston were ripe for it: the movement grew out of small cities and towns across America, which sprung up in unison and in rage. Driven by typical youth angst, a political dissatisfaction with the Reagan administration, and a visceral reaction to the culture of alienation he brought on, punk ideologies found a welcoming host in the young, liberal East Coast cities.

Punk (as a music genre and a movement) shaped not only the underground music scenes of small cities like Boston and Providence, but also people. Chris Wrenn, founder of Boston-based hardcore label Bridge Nine Records, got involved with punk growing up in Connecticut and was able to make a career out of it.

The scenes he participated in introduced him to friends, idols, and more. “I felt like my world expanded quite a bit through music,” Wrenn shares. Providence’s music scene was born and spread through clubs. In the 1970s, they were seemingly organized by genre. The Met hosted the blues, Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel favored roots acts and Americana music, and the Living Room famously fostered Providence’s hardcore

punk scene. The Living Room, in all three of its locations, was the heart of Providence’s music scene for many. Alex Caimano, of Providence-based band Toad and the Stooligans, grew up seeing shows at The Living Room’s final location and affectionately described it as a “piss palace.” Providence’s collection of legal, condoned piss palaces were a home for the enthusiastic punk crowds. The spirit of the movement lived there, in the fans that always showed up, the art and zines created for shows, and the local tradition of having big-name touring bands open for local acts. The geography of Boston’s scene looked different from the start. A slightly bigger city with a larger business sector, its existing venues were quick to dismiss the unservable youth of the punk movement — which put no hitch in their enthusiasm. Instead, the movement took root in artists’ basements, abandoned warehouses, any space that could host music and an unjuried crowd. There were legal venues, too; the Rat in Allston

But the often-illegal occupation of space for the purpose of shows heavily influenced the scene and the music that came out of it: there were stronger networks of bands and fans, who would have to communicate about location; an early resentment towards police, who would pose as fans online to get venue addresses and then raid them; and in the 1990s, a philosophy of stagelessness — in these basements, everyone was equal. was a regular stop for major punk shows.

Close in proximity, size, and spirit, the music scenes of Providence and Boston inevitably engaged with one another, for a while, as partners. The Providence scene had merit and energy, especially for hardcore

Gabriel Lazaro performs at the Tourist Trap in Allston this October. Photos by Miranda Nicusanti

bands, but it didn’t last forever. “When we were growing up, Rhode Island used to be a middle point between New York and Boston for every national group. They stopped putting shows on the map for Rhode Island, and I think at that point everybody sprung up to support the local people who were still doing their thing,” Caimano explains. This “springing up” manifested in the institutions and spirit that dictate Providence’s current local scene: AS220, a famed alternative art space, WBRU’s annual Rock Hunt to find a local headliner for their free summer concert series (RIP), and a community that is reputed for being “super supportive,” according to Reddit users. Subversive movements like hardcore punk, which lit the local scenes on fire, very rarely remain in the larger cultural zeitgeist. Punk is still a considerable force in the music industry today, but no longer as huge as it was in the 1980s. For small scenes, even a slight loss of enthusiasm had great impacts on the wellness of the scene as a whole. Providence was being rapidly gentrified, and the unjuried venues that fans and performers loved were time and again removed by noise complaints. As the movement lost energy, both cities had to focus on nurturing themselves rather than the larger New England music scene. For several years, each scene affirmed its position in its respective city: local musicians made names for themselves among the fans, and new fans got involved. As clubs got shut down in downtown Providence, the enthusiasm moved to Olneyville, a more affordable and less populated neighborhood. Illegal venues continued to move in and around Boston — so many that local punk veteran Chris Strunk compiled an entire zine of them last year. The cities were entrenched in a familiar cycle: their passionate music scenes create cultural capital, attracting people with money who move in and are subsequently repulsed by the noise associated

with the source of said cultural capital, using their power and economic standing to have that noise removed. Both scenes worked hard to survive

within this pattern; there was extreme focus, dedication, and some lingering resentment between the cities. What had once been partners in a raging movement became isolated acts, rebuilding alone: Rivals. Following the pandemic, every music scene in the nation is rebuilding. In the case of Providence and Boston, it means rebuilding together. Providence hip-hop artist Nino Francis tells me he’s excited to see artists “starting to build those bridges with Boston… in ways that we can all feed off of each other and really just connect and build.” Boston hardcore band Pummel’s Matt McCarthy, who has been involved in Boston hardcore for over a decade, expresses nothing but love for Providence’s hardcore scene. “It feels like a second home to us,” McCarthy says, noting that the band’s drummer is a member of the Providence scene. Fans and artists are able to form real bonds within and between their unique scenes. Social media has made this much easier, an innovation that was in effect long before the past year.

“The way people find out about bands happens much more quickly,” Wrenn explains, compared to

when he started putting out 7” records. McCarthy similarly expresses, “It’s something special

to be able to connect to so many different people from all over the country, from different walks of life, through music.”

The two cities, and many more, are now united by a common goal. Every fan or artist I spoke with offered me the same answer in regards to what was most exciting in their local scene right now: the return of shows. With solid bases and eager fans in

both, Boston and Providence artists alike are making the one-hour commute between cities to play as much as possible.

They’re more connected than ever, two small but mighty scenes on fire once again.

What Emerson sounds like

A Piece by Joy Freeman

The first time I ever missed home, I was fourteen and waiting for a Florida sunrise. My parents had surprised my younger sister, and consequently me, with tickets to Disney World for Easter (a holiday that rarely garners more than a stuffed bunny and chocolate, but this year I suppose we had earned it). It was that time of middle school where life feels most comfortable experienced through an internal retreat, with headphones plugged into an iPod Touch because you’re not quite old enough to make the investment in an iPhone worth it. This was one of the rare moments where I was unoccupied by the self-titled Boys Like Girls album as I sat in line waiting for the shuttle to the airport. “Boston” by Augustana crackled above my head via a low-quality speaker as an exhausted hoard of families filtered through the terminal. It had been a while since I’d heard the track, a Magic 106.7 staple. Familiarity enveloped me more than my tourist sweatshirt ever could. A song about the lights I loved, the buildings that never felt too big or too small. I vividly remember staring up at the black expanse of a sky above me, filled with relief. When the plane departed and the sun finally rose, it put on a show of bright pinks and oranges - it was the best I had ever seen. It still was not enough to make me want to stay in Florida. I was reintroduced to Boston when I met my roommate on GroupMe. We were both early admissions, receiving our purple and white email from Emerson College on opposite sides of the country in December of 2017. A conversation about “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon prompted a direct message break from the main thread of students; by night time, we had exchanged phone numbers and life stories. I sent her photos of the skyline, my perspective of my city from my hometown peninsula. When we met in person two months later for accepted students day, I ran to hug her. It felt instinctual. Our parents shook hands and made fun of our similar dietary restrictions.

I made a point to share the skyline that night, still possessive over my lucky vantage point. College was still half a year away, far enough to place in the back of our minds. We drove around the bend of my favorite street, the expanse of glittering office buildings, apartments, concert venues, and landing strips easy to ingest. We blasted “Boston” and screamed it at the top of our lungs, the title of strangers beginning to melt together. When freshman year began, I got to see every inch of the city from her perspective: it was the excitement of strolling through Harvard for small venue concerts; the leaves turning into bursts of color on the Common in October and the sound they made as they crunched beneath our matching boots; the trip to Salem on the commuter rail, the way it screeched at each stop; the cheers erupting from Fenway Park as we stood outside of a playoff game, cradling a slice of Regina pizza in one hand and a polaroid camera in the other. In turn, she gave me the Mamma Mia soundtrack, “Put Your Records On” cry-alongs, and enough laughter to last me the next three years. For a while, college sounded like “Flaw” by Soccer Mommy. Sophia Allison was supposed to open up for Kacey Musgraves when I saw her at the Boch Center (whose “Oh, What A World” vocoder was my wake-up alarm for an entire semester) but then she didn’t. In hindsight, this was probably a good thing, as her music is far too special for it to have been associated with freshman year mistakes. When my roommate was at class I’d grab my guitar and look out of our window with a view of an abandoned fire escape while strumming along to her voice. Sometimes the city is so loud that the moments of quiet you get feel eerie. I grew to like hearing my heels hit the pavement during sophomore year. My connections at Emerson began to dwindle, as they do once initial acquaintances fade. I’d sit at the Public Garden alone and journal, drowning the scratch of my pen with “A Change of Heart” by The 1975. I broke out of Boston on an

Visual By Reagan Finch

overpriced Peter Pan route, trading a weekend of overpriced lattes for mimosas mixed in a $4 MinuteMaid bottle, western Massachusetts foliage, and high school friend comfort. When we packed into a Subaru to get hangover bagels, the local UMass Amherst station played “Take A Picture” by Filter. Briefly, I wished I had chosen a small town over the bright lights. I pleaded to stay. I fell back in love with Boston when I fell in love in Boston. My resentment of the chatter of passersby on Boylston Street during busy Sunday afternoons was overshadowed by the comfort of an entirely empty street when the boy with brown eyes began to walk me home at 3 am. Suddenly, it felt fun to kiss under the orange glow of crosswalk signs. I would close my suite door as quietly as possible and sneak into bed to listen to “Big Black Heart” by Better Oblivion Community Center on repeat.

But then again you / Stopped in the middle of the street / Just to kiss me / And I thought you’d stopped the world. The city felt safer, and far less lonely, when we were the only ones making noise. He was the one to show me New York City, which screamed with a ferocity I had never encountered. Boston began to feel intimate, no longer intimidating. With my nose pressed against the bus window, I stared at the sparkle of the city on the trip home. I was enthralled with New York, with its art and its people and its vibrancy, but mostly with its sound. Music was everywhere - neighbors had recording studios, friends had rooftop shows, and warehouse rehearsal spaces were a second home. I had an epiphany: one day I’d have to leave my home for something bigger, for something more. I just wasn’t ready yet. The last time that I set foot in an Allston basement was March of 2020. We packed together, shoulder to shoulder as bass reverberated into the concrete floor. A local band broke into a cover of “Here’s Where the Story

Ends” by the Sundays, a classic rotation in my father’s weekend car ride playlist. I remember being surprised that nobody else knew the words. We stumbled upstairs

and for the first time in two years, an empty seat on a couch was available - I had finally graduated from the washing machines. “Pristine”

by Snail Mail, an already aged track, floated in from an unspecified speaker. The whole experience was silly, a culmination of every art school trope that I knew, but I belonged. When we gathered outside in a huddle to keep warm, cigarettes passed around while we waited for cars, I don’t remember complaining about the smoke (like I usually did). I do remember feeling content. I do remember that I was happy. The rest will sound all too familiar. The shuffle of boxes, the thrashing of trash bags as I packed my entire room in under thirty minutes. The hum of my laptop as I sat through a virtual junior year. The readiness that appeared to grow on me when I pondered the thought of leaving Boston started to fade. I was afraid of the world, afraid of the city. I didn’t take the MBTA for two years. This period of my life sounds like “Rings” by Pinegrove and my own voice singing in my car, muffled by the mask I wore anywhere except for my home. I became afraid of my own breath. I tried New York on for size from the other side of a screen. “Hard Drive” by Cassandra Jenkins soundtracked this time as I marketed her album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature for the label BaDaBing! Records. I tried my dream job on for size when I (virtually) sat down with Phoebe Bridgers and discussed her scream on “I Know the End”. I microdosed what was to come, yet I desperately yearned for more time. It was barreling towards me too fast. Although these were experiences I had been anticipating since I stepped foot in Piano Row, they were half-baked. Does it still count if it happened while I sat on my mattress in my childhood home?

I think so, although I’m not entirely sure of my answer.

What I do know is that I will miss the sound of the wind as it whips through the trees in New England autumns. I will miss the reluctant ping of the elevators in Walker that are almost always late. I will miss the comfort of hearing my name called by a friend from outside of a classroom, or at a coffee shop that I can barely afford. I will miss the secret language that I am able to speak with the only person I have ever shared a bedroom with. In September, Molly and I sat side by side on a bench in the Garden. The leaves were still full of green and the pond was glistening. As we wiped silent tears, avoiding the reality of our soon-to-be separation, a silver head of hair floated by. It was Phoebe. We said our hellos briefly at a crosswalk, shy and embarrassed by the state that we were in. Suddenly, as we turned to head back to school, the tears had turned into laughter. The tension had dissipated, and for a moment we were able to pretend that we had nowhere else to be in a few months. We existed in the space that had become our home without fear of the end. How lucky are we? she said. How lucky we’ve been.

Listen to “What Emerson Sounds Like” below!

In the past 18 months, I’ve thought about my own death more times than I have in my entire life. I don’t need to remind anyone of what we have experienced during this time. We all have our own memories of our year of isolation. Mine are predominantly of death getting a grip on my mind that I still haven’t been able to shake. Sometimes I’m seized by a firm certainty that I’m in imminent danger, hurtling fast towards some terrible fate. In these moments, the weight of my own mortality becomes overwhelming. And in these moments, like any music lover would, I often turn to music. I love listening to artists contemplate death. I feel soothed by the examination of life’s transience on Bon Iver’s “33 ‘GOD,’” and held by David Bowie’s dark, Nietzschean ruminations about what we learn when we die on “Quicksand.” The untamed scream that tears through Phoebe Bridgers’s “I Know The End” calms me down so effectively that I could go to sleep right after hearing it. She sings, “I’m not afraid to disappear,” and it galvanizes me, even though it’s the complete opposite of what I feel. Luckily for me, there’s no shortage of songs meditating on everything that falls under the umbrella of the word death: grief and loss, sickness, war, serial killers, the afterlife and whatever else you can think of. Artists across decades have done it, from brooding Morrissey as the frontman of the Smiths to storied rappers Tupac and Nas and spooky contemporary giants like Phoebe Bridgers and Sufjan Stevens. My attachment to these artists and their music seems counterintuitive, like being reminded of my anxiety should make it worse, but it doesn’t. Listening to songs about death is almost like listening to a true crime podcast. It makes me feel, if only for a few minutes, in control of a

situation that I will never truly have control over. Gabe Perez, a songwriting student at Berklee College of Music who released their first EP in January 2021, is yet another artist whose music explores themes of death, loss, and ephemerality. They wrote their song “Faint” after their childhood friend took his own life. The song, a soft yet stirring acoustic guitar number, was Perez’s way of grappling with the many complicated emotions that accompany such a loss.

“It felt very cathartic to get those ideas out and materialize them,” Perez says in a Zoom interview. “It felt almost like, not an out of body experience, but like him speaking through me in some ways. And the words I was saying weren’t just mine. And that was crazy.” “Faint” nails down the feeling of not knowing what to do with yourself after a tragedy and pinpoints the inadequacy of memory when it comes to recreating the image of someone you’ve lost. But in the chorus, Perez looks forward, not backward, wondering if they’ll see their friend again when they “escape this body.” “What’s beyond” is a topic of fascination for “The song looks at a lot of different perspectives of the grief that surrounds an event like that,” Perez says. “It looks at some of that guilt and remorse that I felt at the time, but also sort of looks upwards at what’s beyond and finding a greater purpose than everything earthly.” “What’s beyond” is a topic of fascination for many artists, one that seems to leave infinite room for speculation and exploration. “We don’t know what happens after death,” says Meghan Waldron, a Creative Writing major who can’t keep death out of her stories. “That’s kind of the whole mystery, mysticalness of it. You can create a whole different

world after death because nobody knows.” Aside from our mutual fixation on death, Waldron and I also share an appreciation for the music of Hozier. In many of his best songs, he beautifully explores the physicality of death. He compares being loved to being exhumed from a grave on one track, and yearns to be buried in the earth, foxes and insects feasting on his flesh, on the next. “He has a fascinating way of writing grief,” Waldron says. “‘Foreigner’s God,’ I don’t know if that one is specifically about death, but to me it is. There was somebody in my life who died over the summer and I just thought of that song because her family was really religious, so that whole thing about ‘screaming the name of a foreigner’s god, the purest expression of grief,’ I was doing that in my head, and it was really weird.” As a death-obsessed artist, Hozier joins the ranks of Bridgers, Stevens, and the others. He in particular portrays death as a state of ultimate peace, one that can nourish and renew the life that continues after we’re gone. I love this kind of music. It’s important to me and other listeners for the reasons I’ve outlined, and to artists as Perez explained. But by exploring such a dark subject through evocative poetic language and mesmerizing chords, these songs sometimes romanticize death in ways that could be harmful. Let’s compare Hozier’s song “In a Week” to my least favorite song about death, “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry. The latter is sung by a character who yearns for an early, tragic death because her passing would make the people around her appreciate her more. She sings “Funny when you’re dead, how people start listening,” as if her life will matter more after she dies. The song is mostly about the intense emotions that the speaker’s friends and family would feel if she died — emotions she seems to want associated with her. While it’s true that some people, and artists in particular, make a

bigger impact after their deaths, this is a dangerous idea to perpetuate, especially since she gives it such a positive connotation. “In a Week” is a duet in which two lovers are laid to rest together. Hozier and guest feature Karen Cowley describe their bodies decomposing in tandem, literally feeding the flora and fauna around them: foxes and insects devour them, and flowers grow as they fertilize the soil. A Genius annotation of the first verse suggests, “He personifies the grass and insects to paint a picture about nature accommodating his death. Nature isn’t evil; it’s just practical.” Though its poetic language makes it sound desirable, “In a Week” portrays death as a natural phenomenon, an inevitability that might not be so bad after all. Its speakers don’t wish for death, but are already dead, and are at peace with that fact. This, to me, is what the intersection of death and music should do. It should remind us that death, as hard and scary as it undeniably is, is just a fact of life. I wish I didn’t have to struggle so much with this anxiety. But the fact that these songs resonate with so many other people reminds me that I’m not the only one who does, and that whatever happens, we’ll always be able to turn to music when everything else feels dark. “[Music] is always somewhere I go to deal with emotions that happen in my life and events that happen in my life,” Perez said. “Hearing other stories of loss and of tragedy really helped me feel less alone, and feel more grounded. I get through what I’m feeling, and there’s light on the other side, and there’s a whole life to be lived.”

Visuals by Rifka Handelman

Covers by Devin Hill

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