sometimes youtube recommends me good stuff

I’ve always loved youtube for all the weird things that people upload on there. And my youtube history is often a bizarre odyssey through word association spiraling down a hole into some very niche corner of the internet, where I start learning about blacksmithery or Russian popstars who remind me more of aliens than anything I’ve ever encountered or how to make a bow and arrow from a sapling or where people load hour after hour of surreal skits. I think the best thing I’ve stumbled into over the last year is this:

I can’t even explain how funny that is to me or how hard I laugh every time I see it or think about it.

In anycase, the things youtube recommends me are often times pretty strange and I usually ignore them, but sometimes I get something awesome. Which is how I discovered Francis and the Lights yesterday.

This video popped up on my recommendations and, I mean, how could I turn down something that has Kanye West and Bon Iver involved?

So I click over and find one of the strangest and most delightful music videos I can remember. Having no idea who Francis and the Lights was, I had no concept of who this strange, hawklike man standing in a white room with Kanye West could possibly be, but I was into it, if only for how weird it is to do a single shot video of a white wall that pans over to Kanye West just slightly bobbing to the beat while looking at the ground, not even pretending to be singing the song. And as you watch, it just keeps getting weirder, because this skinny guy with awful hair starts strutting in the background, then sits on a ladder that serves no purpose, and then suddenly he’s dancing, and the way he dances is just so absolutely gleefully bad. It reminded me immediately of all those 90s comedians who built a career on describing how terrible white men are at dancing.

It almost seemed like it was the visualisation of all those Sinbad jokes that used to make me howl with laughter when I was a kid, staying up late on school nights.

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But it doesn’t stop there either. He just keeps dancing once the chorus hits again, and who’s there? Justin Vernon! The man behind Bon Iver, someone I still have trouble imagining dancing because he seems like the last person you’d expect to be able to move with any semblance of rhythm, and then this video kind of proves that that’s the case.

Maybe what makes it strangest of all is that you see that this is choreographed! They spent some amount of time practicing these moves! There’s something both hilarious and amazing about this. That they could invent this dance, then convince a camera crew to film it. And Kanye West, we finally see, is just standing on the sidelines watching, maybe approving.

Anyrate, I really dug that song, and I love love love the video, so I of course clicked onto the related video, which was similar but with Chance the Rapper, and then I clicked another, and another, and I was intensely amused but also completely loving the music this guy makes.

And he has a strange visual aesthetic for his videos.

The beat to this song is so simple but it fits right between my heartbeats. And then his vocals are sort of Phil Collinsy or Peter Gabriely, but over beats that seem more like Jamie xx or even a milder Daft Punk…or something.

Whatever it is, I like it, and I like these strange single shot videos. Following in a tight frame right behind him as he walks through some city is weirdly engrossing, especially when the only sound is that electrodrumbeat and his haunting synthed out vocals.

And then he starts running while the song slows down only to handspring into the street and backflip as the song crescendoes down our ears.

What I’m trying to say is that I really dig this Francis and the Lights. He’s kind of amazing, and I could imagine him being a pretty big hit. There’s nothing about his music that screams pop sensation, but there’s also nothing about his music that seems offputting to a larger audience.

Big hooks, infectious beats, and a clear vocal style, and enough energy and self possession to make his awkwardness seem endearing, or even like a confident statement.

I mean, look at this goofball spend three minutes dancing in a field:

And then, through some kind of alchemy, this all reminded me of Kesha’s new song that I happen to hear on the radio because sometimes I hate my life just enough to listen to top 40s radio instead of whatever else I could be listening to as broadcasted from my phone.

But I was driving to pick up Chelsea and this song came on that began kind of small and simple, but rose into this emotional level that I don’t often expect from the radio. I was thinking to myself, This is a great song, and when it was over, the DJ said it was Kesha and I was kind of flabbergasted.

Kesha?

My knowledge of Kesha is, admittedly, almost nonexistent. She made a lot of music I found intensely offputting and annoying that I would hear out in the world at restaurants, stores, and so on. But I never gave her much though until I heard about the terrible things that were done to her by her producer.

I won’t go into it or even link to it, because it’s one of the most vile things done to a person that I can think of.

But that was a few years ago, and I probably had not thought about her since whenever I read that stuff about her producer assaulting her.

I don’t know. People who paid attention to Kesha probably always knew she was talented, but I was pretty blown away by her.

And after watching a bunch of Francis and the Lights videos, I looked up her new one, and it was…well, it’s right here.

I’m mostly struck by how passionate and bewildering the video is. The imagery is caustic and gaudy and fairly spiritual, but there’s also a sort of nightmare quality to it, and then a seeming ambivalence towards all the iconography that she jams onto the screen here. Because at a certain point here, you’re not so much watching her perform as feeling her perform a song that directly addresses the awful things done to her.

What I find especially interesting about this song–besides that Kesha made it–is how beautiful it is. Most popmusic has a strange kind of viciousness to it, I think. It’s often accusatory, especially when it’s about a relationship, romantic or adversarial. I think of Taylor Swift who’s basically famous for accusing people of treating her poorly and then proudly declaring that she’s better than them, or that they’re unable to hurt her because she’s strong and independent. Or something. I don’t know much about Taylor Swift either, so this is kind of my impression of her music that generally only glances against me every once and a while.

But it’s not just Taylor Swift. I even wrote a long thing about Justin Beiber last year that’s kind of about this same thing. There are probably a lot of examples that come to mind when someone mentions a song about a jilted lover or a cheating lover or a friendship that soured.

In all cases, there’s a clear antagonist and protagonist, and these are generally put in opposition.

You did a bad thing and now the world will know.

Or at least that’s how I think of them when compared to Kesha’s song.

Kesha’s doing something more interesting here, I think, and it’s something that’s much stronger than simply moving on or calling someone out.

She’s saying You did a terrible thing to me, and I forgive you.

It gives me chills even to write that, knowing what was done to her.

She’s not just moving on from the horrors inflicted on her by another person, she’s picking up the weight of that trauma, shouldering it, embracing it, and making it a part of her life, a part of who she is. She’s moving on, but not forgetting. She’s not starting over or beginning as a new version of herself.

At the same time, forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you forget what they did or excuse what they did. Those scars will always be there, but she’s accepting them, and instead of attacking the man who scarred her so, she’s hoping that he’s asking more than just her for forgiveness. Because the trauma we inflict on one person is never just contained by one person. The violence you do to a single person is always felt by a family, a community, the whole world.

It’s one of the most interesting things I think a popstar has done in a long time. At least to me. It shows a kind of strength we’re unused to encountering.

But, man, listen to those drums come in while she’s singing.

It’s big.

musings on popculture: justin beiber

Or is it Bieber? I mean, I could pretty easily check but I don’t think it really matters. I mean, I’m going to google him in a minute for the purposes of this little thoughtdump, but I’ll probably spell it wrong, either way I spell it, and I certainly won’t remember which way is correct, and even if I do I’ll just leave it as is because whatever, yeah?

Anyrate, Justin Beiber’s been around for what seems a long time but I didn’t actually know what he looked like till I randomly stumbled into this weird interview from 2012. Before that, I always thought he was on the Disney Channel and that’s where his fame came from.

Anyrate. It’s actually a really interesting interview and it’s what made me start thinking about Justin Beiber a lot. I didn’t reread that interview, but the gist of it is that he grew up being a brand and has the most peculiar life I can imagine.

And for a while–maybe still–I became kind of obsessed with this idea of Justin Beiber. This boy who grew up being super famous due to his musical talent and then has to be more this person who carries around people’s perceptions and ideas. I still want to write a novel about this, which actually became tied up in a different novel idea about Hitler conquering the world and building a city of glass, which, yeah.

But despite this random and meandering introduction, I do want to say some things about this dude who people feel so strongly about.

And I know this is a weird thing to do. Most people who care about Justin Beiber are teenagers or women. I mean, I’m assuming that. I have no idea what kind of people listen to his music or enjoy him as a person, but that’s not really important. And I could talk about how he’s in the news for being kind of an idiot but I also don’t care about that.

The thing is, I kind of like Justin Beiber’s new song. I’ve actually heard two of his songs over the last few months that I liked. The first was this one.

It could probably be argued that it’s barely even his song and he’s mostly just an instrument, but it’s his dumb face and body dancing, so I’m counting it as his.

Also, can we talk about this dancing? I always thought he was kind of famous for his dancing, but this is kind of hilariously bad, yeah? It makes me think of George Michael more than Michael Jackson, and I imagine that’s not the intention. Also, what a boring video! Like, it’s just him in a room getting scribbled on.

Speaking of weird videos, this was the first one I ever saw of his.

I honestly think that’s one of the most awkward videos ever made. Like, watch him dance with Nicki Minaj. It’s uncomfortably hilarious. This also might be one of the first of his songs I distinctly remember hearing and understanding that it was made by Justin Beiber. I know he had songs before this, maybe even a couple albums, but this was the first one I heard and thought to myself, Justin Beiber is on the radio.

Because, honestly, before that he was a Disney kid to me, though he apparently never actually was one. I thought of him as sort of an abstract teen concept that I had become pretty far removed from. This was also during the years that I almost exclusively listened to classical music and watched hours and hours of ballet, so I had become pretty far removed from popmusic or even most music happening with vocals and beats. But he was always just this kid that my teenage cousin really liked, and then he became this adult who dryhumped Nicki Minaj [someone who I also only really knew of abstractly–I think this video may have been the first time I saw her, actually].

And possibly through my burgeoning interest in Justin Beiber and my established love of opera, I stumbled upon this bit of genius.

Which is just fantastic. I want to live in it. But that’s only related to Justin Beiber kind of tangentially, as far as I’m concerned. Like, it’s Beiber’s hit song, but it’s sung by this gorgeous ethereal voice with haunting strings and so the opposite of what I thought of popmusic at the time, whether fairly or unfairly.

Also, I just love interesting covers of songs.

But between this and that Skrillex and Beiber song above, I hadn’t really thought about him and it felt like years had gone by. I mean, I saw stuff happen peripherally on social media. Like how he got arrested for drunk driving and then there was other stuff I don’t remember, which kind of successfully turned everyone’s baleful eyes on him.

Lots of people have always hated him, partly because he makes popmusic but mostly because he was making wildly successful popmusic. That’s kind of always been the state of pop post-Beatles–everyone hates you for making catchy music.

It’s really childish.

I mean, I was there. Had he come out when I was in high school, I probably would’ve been one of those people who talked about how no one should like him. But the thing about high school is that you shouldn’t really carry any of those kinds of prejudices with you once you leave that swirling cesspool of bad ideas.

Anyrate, what made me want to write this post in the first place was that I heard this song yesterday that I actually really liked. I liked it enough that I showed it to Chelsea, which also meant that I searched it in youtbe.

As bad as the above Beiber music videos are, this one is actually pretty brilliant. It might be one of the best videos I’ve seen in a long while. But that could be because I love dance. Also, we have good dancers here, who are notably not Justin Beiber, who’s mostly a funny dancer, despite what people say. He dances the way Justin Timberlake would have danced had Justin Timberlake never seen someone dance before.

Anyrate, I love the performance of these two. I think it captures the song really well, and it ends on a surprisingly emotionally resonant note.

But that’s not what brought me to the song because I didn’t see this till after I heard it in my car. What piqued my interest is how it feels and sounds like a love song but is actually pretty mean. I also found it pretty funny. That kind of funny mean, which fits with the perception that he’s a douchebag, I guess. But this is such a great line:

My momma don’t like you

and she likes everyone

Also, the title sounds like a statement of self improvement or personal empowerment, but it comes from this line:

If you like the way you look that much,

oh baby, you should go and love yourself.

And if you think that I’m still holding on to something

you should go and love yourself.

Which is kind of the perfect insulting description of a serial selfie taker. It’s also pretty mean, and in a very petty way.

Like, this song that sounds and feels like a love song is actually pretty petulantly aggressive. It’s kind of like Blake’s Chimney Sweeper. And, yes, I did just compare Justin Beiber to William Blake, so suck it, nerds.

Needless to say, this isn’t what we think of when we think of Justin Beiber. There are probably thousands of reasons for that, but I find it incredibly interesting that he’s making songs I enjoy, and also one that I find both hilarious and also kind of sweetly delicate. I mean, regardless of the songwriter or singer, I will always find the marriage of those two elements interesting. A sweet and delicate love song that’s actually a petulant dismissal of a love that never was.

But, yeah, these are my thoughts on Justin Beiber.

I know this is a weird thing to write so many words about and most probably think it’s incredibly bizarre to know that I’m currently listening to Justin Beiber and enjoying it, but I am.

This is also something I’m going to do now. Muse about popmusic, so deal with that, honkies.