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Music Culture cheat sheet: The 1975, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more

May. 25, 2020
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Listen: Notes on a Conditional Form by The 1975

The evening before the official release of The 1975’s fourth album, frontman Matty Healy spent hours retweeting negative reviews of it. (It had leaked online a few days prior.) It was easy to understand why—it’s their longest, most indulgent record yet, and one with no clear overarching theme. Healy knows of this risk and he stands by it. “[The album] is called Notes on a Conditional Form. It literally means nothing,” he told Rolling Stone. While Healy used to be one of those obnoxiously loud white men who thinks using big words is a personality, I like to think he’s different now; he has enough self-awareness to know he’s not above the culture he critiques. 

Notes was supposed to come out only months after their last album, 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, to satiate Healy’s craving for constant stimulus, but ironically, they got distracted. This album contains sentiments from the year-long delay; the band took note of the success of their anthemic single “Love It If We Made It” and grew into their role as a generational mouthpiece. All their albums begin with a self-titled overture, and the first time I heard this new iteration was live in concert, last September—already a hectic time, but somber in hindsight. Greta Thunberg’s voice (other cameos in the album include Phoebe Bridgers and FKA twigs) boomed through the arena speakers. Healy stayed on stage during a supposed interlude. 

Perhaps the best part about Notes, or the band in general, is its tendency for self-reference. It makes their body of work feel like an entity on its own, capable of growth. And in that context it can be hard to imagine the tracklist being further edited. Leave it to The 1975 to try out almost every genre in one album and nail every single one. 

Notes on a Conditional Form is available to stream on Spotify.

Listen: Dedicated Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen

My relationship with Carly Rae Jepsen’s discography is more casual than most, so when an admittedly more cultured friend informed me the singer releases B-sides because she has written about 200 songs that couldn’t all possibly make it to her albums’ main tracklists, I frantically texted back, “You’re telling me these songs are leftovers????” 

I have frequently advocated for solo dance parties as pop artists continue to release bangers while we’re all still at home (I’m not done dancing to SAWAYAMA), and Jepsen releasing the B-side to last year’s Dedicated confirms that my heart is in the right place. “Party for One” has been my social-isolation anthem, and now I have a dozen more songs to go with it. 

Jepsen’s work always feels so nostalgic because it’s loaded with imagery and sonic texture. This is all the more evident in this album, which reminded me so much of life pre-quarantine; especially with the knowledge that it was written by Jepsen while she trotted around the world touring and collaborating.

In a way, I feel bad that I would most associate these songs with quar—she just released a song called “Summer Love” just in time for the season, and I’m indoors! It doesn’t feel too great to sing “I’m so down for you all the time” to myself, no matter how much I love dancing in solitude. But leave it to Jepsen to also have an anthem declaring, “And I know what it feels like / To be alone on a cold night… But it’s all gonna turn around / And I swear it’ll be alright.” 

Dedicated Side B is available to stream on Spotify.Read: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I have to admit: learning about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s memoir Lean In and the neoliberal feminist offshoot it inspired has personally brought a lot of clarity. Suddenly this new mutation of armchair activism that put more emphasis on “armchair” than “activism” had a birthplace; “lean in” the forerunner of the many more aspirational-sounding phrases targeted at women, also known as a market demographic. 

Such a Fun Age’s Alix Chamberlain is a social media mogul in her own way, with her own feminist catchphrase-turned-advocacy. Let Her Speak began when she started writing brands to get free stuff, over time becoming a full-blown campaign to, you know, let her speak. Alternating with her POV is Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old still fumbling with adulthood (and health insurance) who babysits part-time for Alix. One night, while on the clock, Emira gets racially profiled. 

Fiction set in a very recent, very specific time is difficult to nail, and this novel, set in 2016, has a setting as fully realized as its characters. It exposes biases that are often overlooked when overt racism isn’t allowed anymore, resulting in a funny but insightful story about white people’s relationship not exactly with black people, but with blackness.

Alix nurses a misguided fondness for Emira, fueled by a desire to prove something. Her concern about Emira’s experiences as a black woman is self-congratulatory, dropping hints of her “wokeness” (she excitedly counts in her head the black visitors she’ll have for Thanksgiving dinner, one of whom is Emira: five) as a kind of mating call to earn the validation of her babysitter.

It’s at that same dinner that we find out Emira’s white boyfriend knew Alix when they were younger, and that, because of a certain incident, they left high school both thinking the other was racist. “Their relationships with Emira become the battleground through which each intends to prove their racial virtue,” Constance Grady writes for Vox.

Kiley Reid’s debut isn’t just a smart analysis of contemporary performative feminism, but also motherhood, friendship, and growing up. It depicts a millennial’s foray into adulthood, and how bigger forces like class, race, and gender trickle down into Emira’s relationships with others and herself. In a story where the characters are always pushed to process personal events and feelings publicly, Reid’s commanding voice provides much-needed introspection.

Such a Fun Age is available wherever books are sold.