Universal Melodrama: Lorde and Medea

135e9ae4d19e7816e0ffdd9a95922a0c.1000x1000x1.jpg

“We told you this was Melodrama.”

Lorde’s Melodrama is a shining pop masterpiece, but as new as the album sounds, the story that it tells is one as old as humanity. Autobiographically-told, it follows Lorde as she grapples with heartbreak and fights to free herself from the intensity of young womanhood. Beloved by both fans and critics, Melodrama is a record that perfectly captures what it’s like to be in love. From the initial feelings of being “wild and fluorescent” to the shift of wondering why you’re dancing alone, the album tracks love as its vibrance slowly fades.

However, to say that Melodrama is merely about romance would be missing the point. The record also addresses what it’s like to be a young woman, transitioning into a world full of expectations and contradictions. In her own words, Melodrama follows the story of a house party, from the euphoric highs of “The Louvre” to the dark intricacies of “Liability,” each song depicts a different stage of the evening as Lorde searches for peace in the aftermath of a breakup. In an album filled with complexities and confusion, the line between heartbreak and freedom becomes blurry, and the party rages on while Lorde tries to keep up.

About 2,000 years prior to Melodrama, Greek playwright Euripides wrote a tragedy called Medea that touched on many of the same topics. The plot focuses on the heartbreak our heroine Medea faces and her plan to get revenge on her adulterous partner. But more than that, it follows a powerful woman who struggles with the expectations placed on her by society. Lorde and Euripides’ works bear a striking number of similarities to each other. Both of our protagonists become obsessed with their lovers, and find themselves willing to betray friends and family. The two narratives posit that love often leads to heartbreak, but it can also lead to freedom.

186121489048454.jpg

Part 1 | The Lover

At the beginning of Medea, our main character falls in love with Jason when he visits her island of Colchis on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece and take his spot on the throne. Compelled to help her lover, she feeds Jason tips and helps him attain the fleece through the power of her wizardry. After the current king blocks Jason from taking the throne, Medea hatches a plot to take the kingship illegitimately by tricking the king’s daughters into chopping him up. When her plan is uncovered, both Jason and Medea are banished from the island, chased away by Medea’s own family. In an attempt to escape by sea, Medea devises a plan to slow her father down by killing and chopping up her brother’s body then throwing it to the sea, knowing that her father will stop to collect the individual body parts.

Meanwhile, on Melodrama Lorde finds herself experiencing the same intoxication of love on “The Louvre” where she feels ready to betray friends and family for her lover much like Medea did. At the start of the song’s third verse, she recounts “Blow all my friendships / to sit in hell with you / But we’re the greatest / They’ll hang us in the Louvre.” While she obviously doesn’t go as far as killing, Lorde is still obsessed with her lover in the same way that Medea was, willingly destroying all of her friendships in favor of newfound love. Earlier on in the track, she bottles up that feeling of infatuation with the lines “I am your sweetheart psychopathic crush / Drink up your movements still I can’t get enough.” Both women experience the electrifying fluorescence of new love and succumb to the rush that it fuels.

tumblr_inline_p4qolkL0HI1twzzd8_1280.jpg

Part 2 | The Betrayal

After escaping her homeland, Medea and Jason relocate on Corinth, a remote island where they settle down and have a number of children together. Eventually, Jason finds himself enamored with another woman, Creusa, who also happens to be a princess on the island. Drawn to Creusa’s beauty (and her social status) Jason abandons Medea, leaving her stranded on a strange land, alone with no standing as a foreigner and as a woman. Her time in love with Jason was ultimately quick and intense, and they fall apart just as quickly as they were drawn together.

Lorde also finds herself grappling with a similar situation of new and unfamiliar love on “Homemade Dynamite” where she opens the song with some scene-setting lyrics: “A couple rebel top gun pilots / Flying with nowhere to be / Don’t know you super well / But I think that you might be the same as me / Behave abnormally.” Intoxicated with the feeling of fresh love, Lorde is inspired to act irrationally, jumping into a relationship with little foresight or evidence of compatibility.

Within the same song, we witness the relationship’s quick end as it devolves into a spiteful and violent split. Lorde ends up with someone else despite seemingly still being attached to her original lover. “See me rolling, showing someone else love / Dancing with our shoes off / Know I think you’re awesome right?” Right after asking that, Lorde transitions into a vengeful chorus of “our rules our dreams, we’re blind / blowing shit up with homemade dynamite.” The rapid transformation within the song highlights how quickly the intense feelings of love can retreat and metamorphosize into equally-passionate emotions of hate or violence, just as they did with Medea.

lorde.jpg

Both Lorde and Medea find themselves impassioned by their unfaithful lovers in different ways. While Lorde finds herself partying and wanting to “blow shit up,” Medea’s emotions come out in the much more biblical form of a speech. Tied to her husband by law, Medea is left feeling powerless once he abandons her for someone who will lift his status in society. Men, she claims, lead an easy life and can leave their woman whenever they want. Meanwhile, women are the ones who suffer as divorce is reprehensible, women are the ones who have to give birth, and powerful women are feared. Abandoned by Jason, Medea shares her frustration, orating to the women of her city, she claims that even death is preferable to marriage.

“In my case, however, this sudden blow that has struck me has destroyed my life. I am undone, I have resigned all joy in life, and I want to die. For the man in whom all I had was bound up, as I well know—my husband—has proved the basest of men. Of all creatures that have breath and sensation, we women are the most unfortunate. First at an exorbitant price we must buy a husband and master of our bodies. And the outcome of our life’s striving hangs on this, whether we take a bad or a good husband. For divorce is discreditable for women and it is not possible to refuse wedlock. And when a woman comes into the new customs and practices of her husband’s house, she must somehow divine, since she has not learned it at home, how she shall best deal with her husband. If after we have spent great efforts on these tasks our husbands live with us without resenting the marriage-yoke, our life is enviable. Otherwise, death is preferable. A man, whenever he is annoyed with the company of those in the house, goes elsewhere and thus rids his soul of its boredom. But we must fix our gaze on one person only. Men say that we live a life free from danger at home while they fight with the spear. How wrong they are! I would rather stand three times with a shield in battle than give birth once.”

After the outward destruction found on “Homemade Dynamite,” Lorde tries her best to find peace in her own company. She confesses her own experiences of being isolated in “Liability,” the emotional centerpiece of the record in which Lorde finds solace in her own self-love. No longer dependent on someone else for her happiness, she focuses on her relationship with herself. “So I guess I’ll go home into the arms of the girl that I love / The only love I haven’t screwed up / She’s so hard to please, but she’s a forest fire.” In these lines Lorde admits that love has shaken her up, but begins to realize that happiness can (and must) come from within first. She goes on to depict a scene of her evening alone, revealing that she’s indeed talking about herself. “I do my best to meet her demands, play at romance / We slow dance in the living room, but all that a stranger would see / Is one girl swaying alone, stroking her cheek.”

Part 3 | The Revenge

Betrayed by Jason, Medea plots her revenge, eventually deciding to kill Creusa, and the children she’s had with Jason. By taking Jason’s fatherhood and social status, she hopes to harm him in the most painful way possible. Medea eventually decides to kill Creusa by sending her a cursed crown and robe delivered by the children that Jason had with Medea. At first reluctant to accept the kids into her house, Creusa immediately becomes amicable when she notices the beautiful gifts they are offering. Once put on, the crown takes a moment before it latches into Creusa’s skull while the robe burns her skin into a waxy substance. Before she is killed, Creusa is given a chance to admire herself in the mirror, only to watch her beauty that was so treasured be torn away.

In Melodrama Lorde is at her most vengeful on “Writer In The Dark” where she warns her ex of the mistake he made. Instead of remaining heartbroken, she turns her ex’s departure into something empowering. Just as Medea hurts Jason and Creusa in the most personal way possible, Lorde defies her ex by achieving superstar status off an album partially about the empowerment of being alone. “Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark / Now she’s gonna play and sing and lock you in her heart.” The chorus portrays Lorde at her most vicious as she bares her fangs through flashes of love-infused threats. “I am my mother’s child, I’ll love you ‘till my breathing stops / I’ll love you 'til you call the cops on me / But in our darkest hours, I stumbled on a secret power / I’ll find a way to be without you, babe.” Eventually, she lands on the self-reliance detailed above in “Liability” and explains that she found her own way out of the darkness of heartache.

Part 4 | The Escape

After having achieved her revenge, Medea leaves the Earth and disappears into the sun on a chariot given to her by her grandfather Helios, the sun god. By giving her the chariot, Helios is also sanctioning her actions and is giving Medea a chance to escape the world that has caused her such pain. This is a moment of triumph, as Medea is now free of her lover and all the actions that came in the aftermath of his betrayal.

Melodrama also includes a reference to disappearing into the sun on “Liability” when Lorde whispers “They’re gonna watch me disappear into the sun / You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun” on the track’s outro. In Melodrama’s context, disappearing into the sun is the final act of an incredibly dark and intricate song, yet this disappearance, like the rest of the record, isn’t easy to reckon with. She’s leaving behind her lover in favor of her success, much like Medea left her world behind after achieving revenge. It’s not the choice either would have made in a vacuum, but rather a step that is necessary in order to fully attain the freedom from their past lives.

On Melodrama’s closing trackPerfect Places,” Lorde is confronted with the reality that perfection is impossible, despite the bliss partying seems to bring. To start the song, she details her attempts to get lost in the ecstasy of an average night out. “Every night, I live and die / Feel the party to my bones / Watch the wasters blow the speakers / Spill my guts beneath the outdoor light / It’s just another graceless night.” Checking to make sure her company is as immersed in the party as she is, Lorde asks “Are you lost enough? / Have another drink, get lost in us / This is how we get notorious.” She quickly turns around and explains why she feels the need to party in order to be free, offering that she is ashamed of herself and is afraid of facing the fact that her heroes are disappearing around her. “All of the things we’re taking / 'Cause we are young and we’re ashamed / Send us to perfect places / All of our heroes fading / Now I can’t stand to be alone / Let’s go to perfect places.” After trying to avoid her pain through partying and drinking, Lorde finally comes to realize that life will probably always be an unavoidable mess, and distractions won’t help her deal with her issues despite providing a few hours of escape. She sends the album off with an anthemic chant of “All the nights spent off our faces /  Trying to find these perfect places / What the fuck are perfect places anyway?

Universal Melodrama

So how did these two works of art end up with such eerily-similar arcs? Well, they are both centered around universal themes that are always relevant to the human experience. While love and heartbreak will always be relatable topics, Lorde has admitted that she designed Melodrama to emulate the feeling of a Greek tragedy. In an interview with Vanity Fair she elaborated:

“[Melodrama is] a nod to the types of emotions you experience when you’re 19 or 20. I had such an intense two years, and everything I was feeling—whether it was crying or laughing or dancing or in love—each of them felt like the most concentrated version of that emotion. I also have a love of theater and I love drawing a parallel with Greek tragedies. But there’s definitely an element of tongue-in-cheek; it’s very funny to title your record Melodrama.”

Lorde clearly invokes classical ideals in her record, as she emphasizes the unity of time, place, metaphor, and action. This makes for a more concise album, and as a result, everything is condensed and easy to follow. Similarly, she employs unity of metaphor with repeated references to the sun and fire, ribbons tying her to someone, and the feeling of being used in a relationship. All the imagery is meant to connect, spawning echoes and reflections across the album.

On “Sober II (Melodrama)”, Lorde cautions “We told you this melodrama / Our only wish is melodrama.” Much like the Greeks used to pen cautionary tales of being swept away in a fit of emotion, Lorde’s cry acts as a claim that the listener got exactly what they came for, just as she presumably knew that heartbreak often follows love. Despite the suffering caused by the disintegration of her relationship, Lorde knows every part of her life will be amplified in her transition to womanhood, even the highs.

tumblr_inline_p4qpd3DOqb1twzzd8_1280.jpg

The upside to these stories is that both Lorde and Medea turn their cautionary tales of heartbreak into stories of self-success. Thinking less about the specifics of what Medea did and more about the concept, we see two women who successfully seized opportunities to take control of their lives when they could have easily blamed the world for what was happening to them. Without discounting the fact that they both did take a moment to acknowledge the pain of their situation (“Liability” in Melodrama, Medea’s speech in Medea), we can see they were both more interested in accepting the challenge the world had given to them than they were in wallowing in self-pity. That can be a scary concept to tackle, and one that is even harder to realize in actuality. But as Lorde sings in “Liability,” her forest fire-like passion is what enables the wild fluorescence of love, the following crash of being alone, and the ability to embrace a new life. And the unique confusion that comes from that mix of feelings is worth it to have her strength and passion.

Another metaphor that unites both Lorde and Medea is the idea of disappearing into the sun. Lorde does so in “Liability,” a song about feeling used and retreating into yourself. Medea disappears into the sun literally as the final act of the play, leaving behind Jason to join the gods. They both do this as a way of showing heartbreak is not only something that can be overcome, but that the lessons learned from it and the resulting actions might have a more positive and permanent impact than loving someone else did. Lorde and Medea both understand that they can be better off alone and that the empowerment that comes along with their actions allows them to defy the usual feelings of heartbreak.

lorde-perfect-places-vid-2017-billboard-1548.jpg

In many ways, the human experience will always be the same. We will always search for connection, we will always find heartbreak, and we stumble into relationships that change us forever. The fact that these two vastly different works, in two disparate mediums, from two artists centuries apart can both feel equally valid speaks to this. Viewing these universal truths through different lenses is how we evolve and connect as humans. It gives us an outlet to reflect on our own experiences, and (hopefully) grow as people through them. Whether it’s a murderous sorceress ascending into the sun or a New Zealand teenager dancing in her room by herself, there is truth, experience, and life to be gained through both of these pieces of art.


 

Studying at Boston University, Grant loves writing about all things music. From Jeff Rosenstock to Bleachers, you can see what he his is listening to here. To stay up to date on more music thoughts, follow him on Twitter here.

 

U Talkin' U2 To Me? - An Album-by-album Descent into Insanity

U56sz_UT.jpg

U Talkin’ U2 To Me? is a podcast that wades the listener into the warm embrace of insanity over the course of multiple hours. Billed as a “comprehensive and encyclopedic” look at U2, the podcast is an epic album-by-album exploration of the Irish rock band’s discography and decades-long history. It’s a deep dive into the bleeding emotion behind artistry and the raw humanity that it takes to create a lasting piece of culture. Just kidding. While UTU2TM may not be that serious, it still manages to be one of the most hilarious, endearing, and (occasionally) earnest podcasts that I’ve ever listened to.

Hosted by Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang! Bang!) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), U Talkin’ U2 To Me? is a spiritual successor to Analyze Phish, a show taking place in the same “podcast universe” in which comedian Harris Wittels tries to convince Scott Aukerman why he should like the band Phish. The conceit of UTU2TM is similarly simple: Scott likes U2. So does Adam. Together, they combine comedic powers to systematically walk the listener through the band’s discography in an effort to expel all of the U2-related information in their heads.

tumblr_inline_oyniqxfq0x1twzzd8_1280.jpg

Forecasted by a teaser clip that found Adam Scott recounting a childhood memory of the 1983 US Festival, U Talkin’ U2 To Me? officially launched one week later in February of 2014. The first episode began humbly enough as the duo laid out their plan to discuss three albums per episode in the lead-up to U2’s then-unnamed thirteenth studio album. Within several minutes it became clear that things were destined to go off-track as Scott and Scott venture off on multiple tangents all while simply trying to describe the conceit of the podcast. Eventually, they settle on a rambling half-serious mission statement:

What we want this podcast to be is the definitive, comprehensive encyclopedic compendium of all things U2. In other words we are going to talk about it all. If you have never heard of U2, you will feel like you have heard of U2.

No less than a minute after outlining this semi-lasting objective, the two stumble across the podcast’s first great recurring bit: saying “Achtung Baby” over and over again for minutes on end. Sprang from a moment of improvisation while listing off the band’s discography, Aukerman goofily pronounced the name of the 1991 album with a full-throated bellow which prompted Adam Scott to respond similarly. Eventually, the two find themselves volleying increasingly-accented shouts of “ACHTUNG baby” back and forth at each other like a vocal tennis match. It’s absolutely absurd to behold.  

Eventually Scott and Scott emerge from their tears of laughter long enough to move the podcast forward, but this is the moment that (less than ten minutes into their inaugural episode) forever sets the tone of the show and gave the listener a glimpse of the beautiful insanity that was about to unfold on a weekly basis.

The Achtung Baby bit sounds so nonsensical to write out on paper (and it is nonsensical, even in the context of the show) because it’s a joke that defies logic. It’s abjectly stupid, yet somehow this string of cartoonish exclamations feels right at home on U Talkin’ U2 To Me? It’s so mind-bogglingly silly that you begin to crack up by proxy just witnessing to these two grown men entertain each other as they break down into complete hysteria.

tumblr_inline_oynj2uzkc11twzzd8_1280.jpg

The podcast’s initial plan of three-albums per episode quickly deteriorates to one album per episode (and eventually no album per episode) simply because the hosts end up going on so many diversions. Often recorded late at night after a full day of work, the recordings begin to sprawl into hilariously-rudderless, sleep-deprived ramblings. Even so, the most charming element of U Talkin’ U2 To Me? (and the thing that will keep you coming back) is the chemistry between the two hosts. As the episodes pile up, the Scotts quickly develop their own in-jokes, references, and everything short of a unique language.

Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott clearly enjoy each other’s company, and eventually, the podcast morphs into two friends recording multi-hour dick joke-laden podcasts only loosely centered around an album. This artificial extension ended up working in their favor because after several months of episodes U2’s album was still nowhere in sight. The show then became the podcast equivalent of a stalling tactic, killing time until the band released their highly-anticipated thirteenth album.

Over the course of several episodes, the show’s scope gradually expands into its own self-referential universe. The Scotts bring guests into the mix, record a segment in the white house, and create a punch-drunk 2-hour podcast based on a one-off joke from an earlier episode. Listening to the pair’s spiral into madness over the course of 20-some episodes is a thing of beauty and something that I’ve never seen accomplished in the medium of podcasting.

The show’s first act culminated in June with the sixteenth episode, a “commentary special” in which Scott and Scott host a new podcast laidover the top of their first episode. It’s a mind-bending experience that served as a conceptual high point to the show’s already-meta narrative. With the U2’s new album still an unknown, the podcast went on hiatus until the record’s release. This was the end. For now.

tumblr_inline_oynj38CYAr1twzzd8_1280.jpg

In September of 2014, Apple held their yearly press conference. The tech giant announced their new iPhone, unveiled the Apple Watch, and made wallets obsolete with Apple Pay. At the tail end of the presentation, after nearly two hours of incredible, amazing, awesome products, Tim Cook threw the audience for a loop and introduced U2.

The lights dimmed, and the band came out to play “The Miracle of Joey Ramone.” After the performance, Tim Cook joined the band on stage for one of the most awkward conference exchanges in recent memory and revealed that the band’s albumless five-year drought was about to come to an end. After some back and forth, the two parties announced that U2’s thirteenth album was out now. Not only that, it was free, and it was already on everyone’s iPhone.

I was at work during the conference, and as excited as I was about the prospect of upgrading my phone, my biggest takeaway was the fact that this meant we would have a new episode of U Talkin’ U2 To Me soon. I raced to the /r/earwolf subreddit and joined hundreds of other podcast nerds who all found themselves excited by-proxy at a new U2 album because it represented the payoff the entire podcast’s run.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I don’t even like U2.

Even in my fanboyish excitement at new Apple devices, all I cared about was that a band I’m lukewarm on was releasing an album, just because it meant I’d get a new podcast. It’s probably the weirdest string of events that I’ve ever found myself excited at, but I was ecstatic nonetheless.

And sure enough, the UTU2TM hosts met up the following day and released their celebratory, 2.5-hour Songs of Innocence episode only two days after the album’s release. I was overjoyed.

The album’s release was a total surprise, a highly-publicized rollout, and it harkened back to an earlier collaboration that warmed my heart. The internet hated it. Eventually, the Scotts got back together several weeks later to discuss how the album was sitting with them, and the internet’s overwhelminglynegativereaction to the album showing up on their phones. The episode that came out after the album’s release was a (seemingly) single bright spot in a sea of negativity as people complained that a free album showed up on their phones.

From there the podcast seemed over. The band’s new album was released, and the duo had (more or less) achieved their goal of discussing each album. They surprised us a few more sporadic episodes including a Christmas special, a live podcast, and a concert review. Each of these came after month-long breaks, so they were all pleasant surprises that I devoured almost immediately once they manifested in my podcast feed.

Then, in August of 2015, it happened.

I refreshed my podcast app and saw a mysterious download titled “U2 Talk 2 U.” Initially thinking it was a typo or that I was misreading it. I scanned the episode’s description to make sure that I understood it correctly. My eyes started watering. Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman had interviewed U2.

It was the climax of the entire show. A podcast that started out nearly two years ago with a period joke in the first two minutes now somehow found itself talking to one of the biggest bands in the world. It’s a journey that has to be experienced from the beginning, and one that I’m not even spoiling by talking about here because it pays off so many of the shows different in-jokes. It’s the heart-warming culmination of a two-year journey. Something that started out as an unassuming gag between two friends instantly became legitimized. Every dick joke had led to this.

tumblr_inline_oyniqxfq0x1twzzd8_1280.jpg

U Talkin’ U2 To Me? is abject stupidity, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. This podcast came out at a pivotal time in my life where nearly everything seemed to be falling into place and shifting for the better. I credit UTU2TM with not only entertaining me for hours upon hours, but for improving my outlook on life and giving me a formative crash course in this silly comedic tone.

It’s one of the few podcasts that I’ve listened to multiple times in its entirety, and it benefits from both its limited run nature and the 22nd episode’s payoff. I still can’t describe how elated I was when I saw that episode pop up in my iTunes. The podcast has more surprises, inside jokes, and humor than almost everything else out right now. And it’ interesting to see how the little things (like recording late at night) led to a memorable and impactful experience. It’s an unlikely pairing and an unlikely topic that I ended up caring about way more than I ever thought I would.

The real beauty of the podcast comes from how often and how abruptly the hosts can fluctuate between moments of genuine, unbridled fandom, and delirious, unhinged absurdity. It became a blueprint for my recent sense of humor and willingness to embrace the absurd and stupid. And, it’s a horrible segue, but I did end up coming out of the podcast liking U2, if for no other reason than the music’s association with dozens of jokes.

U Talkin’ U2 To Me? is a force for good. An impossibly-dense multi-hour dive into the depths of exponentially-increasing goofiness. And more importantly, an honest showcase of genuine fandom. It’s something to aspire to on an artistic level, and a journey that is worth embarking on whether you like U2 or not. It’s an achievement of the medium and should be required listening for any podcast, music, or comedy fans.

It’s something that must be heard to be believed.

It’s a good rock and roll uhh podcast.

Pop Culture Cannibalism

1200x630bb.jpg

One of the fondest memories of my childhood is a simple one. It’s not a surprise trip to Disneyland, or my first kiss, or the unboxing of a brand new video game console at Christmas. No, in fact, it’s more banal than almost anything you could ever imagine. In reality, one of the most saccharine and amber-coated memories of my pre-teens involved sitting in my family’s living room with my best friend on a lazy summer day watching VH1’s I Love The… Series. We sat there lethargically sprawled out on my family’s couch, pacified by the television as we killed an entire bag of those cheap grocery store fudge pops and gleefully watched early 2000’s actors, comedians, and musicians warmly reflect on the pop culture events of yesteryear.

It feels like such a small thing. It wasn’t a “big” event, there was no defining moment, and if you asked me, I probably couldn’t even remember which season of the show we were watching at the time. If you asked my friend, he probably wouldn’t even remember this happening in the first place. It’s lost to time, one of the dozens of other nameless summer days that we all happily wasted enjoying our reprieve from of middle school.

I remember this day because I remember the feeling. I remember appreciating it in the moment, and it’s something I think of often, especially during the summer. I spent the rest of that summer playing video games, running around with friends, and watching as much as of the “I Love The” series possibly could. Luckily my family had just set up our first DVR, so I was able to methodically record every episode of each season and watch them all sequentially.

It felt good. Actually, it felt incredible. It was like a self-imposed history lesson. I felt like I was doing homework that I actually enjoyed. In my mind, I this show was a comprehensive look at every year of pop culture before I was born. It was the first time I was ever “pop culture woke,” and I realized that a lot of important stuff happened before I was born. I made it my duty to study it. This was my first step toward becoming a pop culture historian.

A couple years later in 2008, I listened to my first podcast. That’s a topic deserving of its own post somewhere down the line (it’s something I’ve been working up to for years). But in 2011 that podcast spun-off into its own show and subsequent network: Laser Time. Laser Time is a topic-based podcast that covers the hyper-specific happenings of our pop-cultural landscape. The show has covered everything from bad Beatles covers, and dirty Christmas songs to surprisingly pervasive concepts like 80’s rap commercials and celebrity vanity projects. The network is also home to a comic book show, a video game podcast, a chronological exploration of The Simpsons, and much more.

Amongst the days and days worth of programming on the Laser Time Network, there is a slightly higher-concept show titled Thirty Twenty Ten. Thirty Twenty Ten is a “pop culture time machine” podcast that looks back at the music, movies, TV, and video games of this exact week 30, 20, and 10 years ago. It’s a blast to listen to, and it just recently clicked that I love this podcast for the same reason that I watched I Love The… series as a kid: it’s a fast-paced, unrelenting, and (relatively) comprehensive look back at our own pop culture history. It’s a carnivorous approach to media, one that doesn’t discriminate, and talks about these bits of the past with an absurd amount of reverence… well, as much reverence as you can have with a fart joke every episode.

I mean what other show would take the time to describe the beauty of the 1986 Transformers movie with an earnest and loving 30-minute discussion? And speaking of earnest, what podcast would care to break down the surprisingly-complicated history of Ernest P. Worrell? Hell, what other piece of media would jump from Predator, OK Computer, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and the finale of The Sopranos all within in the same episode?

Thirty Twenty Ten is a blitz of pop culture past. Like a train whizzing by at 50 miles an hour where each compartment is a great forgotten album or hilariously-shitty TV movie. The conflux of the host’s knowledge and anecdotes from the audience (like yours truly) combines into a beautiful listening experience that’s unlike anything else out on the digital airwaves right now.

When I sat down to start writing this it was a warm sunny summer afternoon that brought to mind that one day I spent with my friend watching low-budget VH1 programming. Now as the sun sets over the trees I’m grateful that I have a new weekly fix that emulates the same experience, improves upon it, and gives me a 90-minute trip down memory lane every week.

It’s a pop culture geek’s dream.

We’re blessed to live in a world where we can find anything we want in an instant. From childhood recipes to old commercials, to half-remembered lyrics of some distant song. The thing is, most of us don’t take advantage of that resource because these memories aren’t on the forefront of our consciousness. Both I Love The… and Thirty Twenty Ten are great because they capitalize on this information in a way that nobody else is. They’re diving into the rich mine of our shared cultural touch points, and emerging with something from the listener’s own memory. Something that reflects who we are.

Over a decade ago VH1 programmed me to be an absolute dork of a pop culture sponge. Someone who collects, categorizes, and memorizes obsessively. Someone who values the history of art both high and low. It changed my life and made me into the person I am today.

And now Thirty Twenty Ten is reinforcing that. Giving me weekly satiation for my pop cultural hunger. And as my life becomes busier and busier, I can’t be that kid anymore. I can no longer be that middle schooler who spends an entire summer day sitting on his couch downing half a bag of fudgsicles. And as I’ve felt my post-college life whirring into place over the past year I’m grateful to have something like Thirty Twenty Ten there for me when I’m too busy or too tired to do it myself. It’s an absolute joy to have this program and its hosts in my life, and I hope that they continue the show until its logical conclusion. Podcasts have changed my life, and Thirty Twenty Ten is proof that this is all worth it.

Bad Clients

I rarely ever talk about “work” on here. I prefer to use this site as an outlet to share music and art… but sometimes life creeps in too. The following is a cover letter that I wrote for a job application. The prompt asked for a “short story about a marketing campaign gone bad.” Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this enough to write candidly on the topic. Fortunately, I can also find the cosmic humor in these experiences, and each one has helped me grow as a writer and a person. I just enjoyed writing this, so I wanted to share it here too. 


Sometimes clients don’t know what they want. Sometimes clients don’t know what they need. Most of the time they don’t know either. In my experience, that’s been because they see their competition’s work and say “let’s do that” as if it’s that simple. Clients are also extraordinarily risk averse. I recognize a fellow penny-pincher when I see one, and I get it. Especially when we’re talking thousands (or millions) of dollars, month’s worth of development, and something that might put your job on the line, I can understand why you’d be apprehensive.

Especially in advertising where you’re viewed as an outsider, a meddler, someone playing within a realm that the client eats sleeps and breathes. The truth is, you’ll probably never know their product as well as them. What you bring is yourself. You bring an outside perspective that can approach their product (and their obstacle) from a different viewpoint. The problem is, that outsider perspective is scary.

Another problem is clients want something smooth. Something non-threatening. Something amorphous and ethereal. And that’s not bad in theory, but it’s rarely ever the most effective solution. Advertising (and creativity as a whole) is about building something that’s the polar opposite. It’s about creating something pointy, and sticky, and jagged that stays with the viewer. This is the fundamental “battle” carried out in advertising. A war of settling. With our side wanting to create something special and unique, and the other viewing that effort as an artistic wankery, a waste of money, and a risk in every sense of the word.

A few weeks back I met someone at an event who worked for a small boutique advertising agency here in town. They had been working with a local theater to produce a city-wide campaign trying to get people to come in and see live plays. Their current audience is the stereotypical theater-goer: well-to-do middle-aged couples, so this campaign (like many others) was designed to bring in a younger millennial audience that falls outside of their typical age range. Cool, right? He showed me some early-stage mockups of a few executions they were working on, and they looked incredible. And keep in mind; I’m the audience here. I thought these were eye-catching, interesting, and inspired me to read the copy for more info. When I asked him what the client thought, he replied: “Oh, these will never get produced.” I was at a loss. In his words, these were too “extreme” for the client. They looked great, but they were essentially too scary for this client to invest any amount of money into. They wanted something more traditional.

There’s the dichotomy.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s a cliche used by daytime TV psychologists, but that doesn’t make it any less true. This particular client essentially wants to retread the same ground they’ve covered in the past in lieu of something new because that traditional approach what’s familiar to them. But you’ll never attract a new audience by retreading old ground. You know who you’re going to attract with that old campaign? The same people who are already in your audience. In their mind, this older idea is a “safer bet” than a scary new campaign. They are at odds with their own goal.

I’ve experienced this myself when working with a local sports team attempting to achieve the same goal as my friend’s theater client. They wanted to attract students and young Portlanders to come to their games. Simple enough. We spent weeks concepting, narrowed it down to the strongest one and got approval. Great! We liked the executions, got approval for the budget, etc. We jumped through all the hoops. Then somewhere along the line, the client got cold feet. They explained that they thought they were going to “pick the best” of our executions and run with those not understanding that this was a full campaign. They basically wanted to cherry pick their favorites, change some copy, change some design, and then running with those.

Man.

I think it’s easy for a client to see a finished product and say “what if we change this word to this?” or “what if we make the logo bigger?” or “why don’t we write this entire thing ourselves?” because at that point the hard part is done. We, as creatives, have designed, written, and carefully pieced together each element of every execution. We’ve done days, weeks, or months worth of work founded on strategic research. Now that the client has something concrete in front of them, it’s easy for them to say “change this word” without knowing how purposeful of a process it’s been up to that point and how long you’ve agonized over every single word of that headline.

It’s an interesting relationship, and at the end of the day they’re the ones paying, so they have final say. It’s a hit we copywriters and designers have to take; we’re ultimately at the whim of the client. That’s the difference between art and advertising. Artists create art for themselves. Advertisers create art for someone else.

I’ve had concepts killed for no reason. I’ve had an ad killed because the client didn’t know what an anvil was. At the end of the day, you have to ride it out and find the cosmic humor in things like that. There’s a reason we sit down and write hundreds of headlines. Not only because the first few are always warm-ups, but because the whole thing is exercise. It’s about digging hundreds of one-foot holes, not one 100-foot hole. There’s beauty in advertising, and I’ve come to adore the entire creative process, flaws and all.

I think some compromises have to be made on both sides of the equation. And not every client is bad, far from it, but if you want to do something new, you’re going to have to try something new. You’re going to have to trust me as someone who eats sleeps and breathes writing the same way you eat sleep and breathe your product. Sometimes the new thing is scary, but it’s better. Sometimes it takes an “out there” headline written by a 24-year-old to strike gold. But trust is a two-way street, and you won’t know until you venture out of your safe zone. A bad client can become a good client, but it takes an attentive account manager to make that happen. It takes a skilled creative team to walk that line. And it takes a client who wants to change.

The ones that do are worth their weight in gold.

The Great Swell

n-KANYE-628x314.jpg

In lieu of completing one of the half-written, obsessively-researched, and semi-thought-out blog posts in my Google Drive, I’m opting to post a spur-of-the-moment write-up on Kanye West.

Ever since 2005 and his massively off-script “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” Kanye has been the subject of countless controversies. From 2009’s infamous “I’mma let you finish” to his “YOU AIN’T GOT THE ANSWERS” outburst, there has been no shortage of discussions, memes, or attention surrounding Kanye West. His 2012 relationship and eventual marriage to Kim Kardashian brought him exponentially more media attention and cemented him as one of the most watched (and hated) men in America.

I believe that Kanye West is an unbridled force for good in this universe.

Kanye is controversial, sure, but is that enough reason to hate him? You know what else happened in 2005? He appeared on Oprah and debuted a song dedicated to his mother. You know what else happened in 2009? His mother passed. (Just to bring it full circle, he played this heartbreaking version of that Oprah song after her passing). Kanye isn’t the monster that the media likes to paint him as. People blindly hate Kanye because they only see the unscripted viral moments and pass judgment with those videos as their sole evidence. They know his attachment to the Kardashians (another source of unfounded hatred) and end up disliking him with zero research.

Kanye isn’t a monster. He’s manic.

Kanye has openly talked about Lexapro in songs and even quietly released a song called “I Feel Like That” which is the most open, frank, and honest discussion of mental health that I’ve ever heard in a song.

Do you feel tempered outbursts, that you cannot control?

Feeling lonely, even when you are with people, feeling blocked.

Feeling blue, sad, feeling disinterested in things, feeling fearful.

Are your feelings easily hurt?

Feeling that people are unfriendly, or do you feel like people dislike you?

I feel like that

I feel like that

I feel like that

I feel like that all the time

This weekend Kanye controversy reached a fever pitch as he found himself at the center of a series of increasingly bad decisions. We were watching him spiral out of control on a national stage in real time. I was driven to write this because the public at large handled his actions with as much tact as you would expect.

Friday 11/18 - Kanye sparked a new wave of controversy with a “pro-Trump” rant at an Inglewood concert. The media (and general public) ran with the headline of “Kanye Supports Trump” when in reality his words were much more bipartisan:

West elaborated throughout the show. He stated that while he admired Trump’s debating style – saying that it was “genius” because it “worked” – his true reason for backing the Republican was that his win would inspire racists to reveal themselves. “This is the beginning,” West said, according to one attendee, adding: “Neither candidate would fix racism in this country.

Saturday 11/19 - After several turbulent weeks of publicly fighting, Kanye reunited with frequent collaborator Kid Cudi for a concert in Sacramento. After three songs, the concert was abruptly stopped and concluded with another more jumbled out lash of a rant. The show was less than 25 minutes.

Sunday 11/20 - Kanye inexplicably flooded his Instagram with grainy photos from a vintage Margiela lookbook, making posts minutes (or sometimes seconds) apart. By the end of the night, Kanye announced that he was canceling the remainder of the concert dates on his tour and issuing refunds to ticket holders (including Saturday’s botched show).

I started this post at 9:23 AM on Monday the 21st. It is now 1:20 AM on Tuesday, and within the last few hours Kanye West was taken to the UCLA Medical Center and hospitalized “for his own health and safety.”

Kanye is surrounded by stress. Kim Kardashian’s robbery in October made the possibility of losing his wife a frightening reality. His recent fights with close friends Kid Cudi and Jay-Z have worn on him. The pressure from constant touring and travel has cracked his surface. He’s sleep deprived, exhausted, and had literal public breakdowns within the last 48 hours.

I started writing this before his admission to the hospital, and I still see people making jokes about the recent news online, all because the media told them it was okay and South Park gave them ammunition 7 years ago.

Kanye West is publicly dealing with mental health issues, and for a country that claims to care about that issue any time there’s a hot new shooting, America sure seems content to sit back and write this off “because it’s Kanye.” Because people only seen the bad stuff they assume he’s a thuggish, rude, arrogant asshole. He may be some of those things, but he’s also more than that.

Personal history aside, he’s made some of the best music of the past decade. He’s set trends in music, fashion, and culture that are unparalleled by any nearly any artist outside of The Beatles. His art is beautiful, and it lights a flame in me that I rarely feel at any other time. It’s what pulled me up and inspired me to write this post. It’s what’s keeping me awake long after I should have gone to sleep. It’s what gives me a great swelling sensation that inspires me to create.

But my point is that Kanye is a person. Because of how the media, the internet, and popular culture work, he’s often painted in an unfair light. He’s dealing with real issues (especially right now) and he deserves a little compassion. It’s the least you could give. I’m not asking you to pray for him, or buy his discography, or even stop making fun of him. God know’s I’ll be right there creating memes with the rest of the fans when this is all over, but now’s not the time. This is a genuine issue of mental health, and in all this darkness, I’d love it if we as a culture could respect that. Kanye brings so much light and beauty into this world, I’d love it if just one person understood that after reading this.

West’s semi-recent outburst on Ellen is indicative of his recent behavior. In the midst of this year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy West threw himself into a typically-off-script diatribe about a variety of topics ranging from race to the media. Though he doesn’t say it well, the 8-minute video is filled with some valid points, even if they are scatterbrained as fuck.

At 3:01 in the video, a particularly sentient Kanye addresses the in-studio audience directly:

You know, people never write: ‘Kanye’s pissing everybody off.’ They try to position that through the media in some way that I’m like —- whatever. Whatever your friends might say. You know – ‘I saw Kanye.’ ‘How was he? Did he … (do anything crazy)?’

I care about people. I care about – My dad lived in homeless shelters less than five years ago. My mom was the first black female chair of the English department at Chicago State University. I was raised to do something, to make a difference.”

He soon went on to discuss the human race as a whole:

We got 100 years here. We’re one race, the human race, one civilization. We’re a blip in the existence of the universe, and we constantly try to pull each other down. Not doing things to help each other. That’s my point. I’m shaking talking about it. I know it’s daytime TV, but I feel I can make a difference while I’m here. I feel that I can make things better through my skill set. Through my skills – I’m an artist.”

He’s literally pleading with the audience to hear his words. The Ellen crowd are women who know Kanye primarily through the above-mentioned controversies and People Magazine covers that solely discuss how bad of a father he is. He’s talking directly to that audience and asking them to place that put all that aside for a second and listen.

Soon after that quote, he goes on to earnestly talk about how he wants to lower the cost of his shoes so they’re more accessible to kids in inner-cities. Not for money, but because he wants to end bullying. Because where he’s from having a shitty pair of shoes is an indicator that you’re poor, and that’s good enough reason as any to beat the shit out of somebody. Sentiments like that are sprinkled throughout the video, yet every media site on the internet wrote this up as “Kanye West Goes Crazy on Ellen” and ran with the big takeaway quote “sorry for the realness daytime TV.” It’s frustrating to watch a clip like that (in which he’s trying so hard) be met with cries of “crazy!”

Kanye has a huge ego. Kanye is controversial. Kanye says things off-cuff and can hardly get a coherent thought out when he’s worked up enough. That’s all true. Does that make him an asshole?

As I write this, Kanye is sitting in a hospital in LA after being rushed there for medical treatment. The legacy he leaves will be monumental, but I’m worried that too many people won’t see that until he’s gone. All I’m asking is to be subjective. Listen to him. He may be hard to understand but listen. Give him a fair shot because there are two sides to every story, and more often than not, the negative one is the side that ends up being printed.

Let’s make efforts towards destigmatizing mental health. Let’s help each other and listen.

Kanye is a husband and a father.

Kanye loves God.

Kanye loves his mom.

Kanye is a person and he fucks up.

Give him a break.