Why I Went for the “G.I. Jane” in 2017

I’m a 90s kid, but I don’t remember 90s culture – I’m only 20, so I was born in ’97 – by the time the 90s had closed, all I remembered was that I wore a lot of cute rompers.

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I’m on the cusp of the turn of the century, so while I’m categorized as a “90s kid” I wasn’t aware of the culture, fashion, & political issues going on at that time. That’s because I was under 4 years old.

The 90s were groundbreaking in many ways – & I won’t turn this into a history class, but hear me out: the first supermodels were born, universal healthcare became a widely discussed topic…& Natalie Portman shaved her head for the role she played in “V for Vendetta.”

Natalie Portman was not the first woman to get her locks chopped; she most certainly wasn’t the last, either, but she was one of the first people that popped up on my Google image search when I looked for buzzcut inspiration back in 2016. Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman – two powerful actresses that shaved their heads in the 90s for film roles.

But…how about we skip back a few years, to a name I never heard (I know…shame on me) until I started really looking into buzzcuts: Sinéad O’Connor.

Sinéad’s buzzcut was done a few years before Portman or Theron made the call to go bald – & she didn’t do it for a film role, either. O’Connor’s look was admittedly “edgy” – the singer/songwriter burst in on the scene, looking like someone no one had ever seen before…& love it or hate it, O’Connor was different. She garnered attention for her buzzcut. She was “more interesting” because of it.

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After I buzzed my head, I got a lot of “you look like Sinéad!” comments. I don’t really see that close of a resemblance; Sinéad & I don’t have the same face shape or eye color, & while we’re both fair-skinned with brunette buzz cuts, I wouldn’t call us twins. Still – the continued comparison to O’Connor picqued my interest, & I looked a little further into what Sinéad was all about. I wasn’t around in the 80s, & I never listened to O’Connor. I came in pretty unbiased; all I knew was that she was bald, & that she liked being bald.

I saw that O’Connor was extremely open about her mental illnesses & her past with sexual harrassment & assault. It seemed evident to me that her shaving her head (& continuing to do so) was one of many ways to cope with her traumatic past – but it was also a way for her to break barriers; a way for her to assert herself in Hollywood, an industry that we all know by now is rife with misogyny.

I came across an interview O’Connor did for “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” One of the questions addressed her being a young woman in the Hollywood/music industry, & how her buzzcut helped her “keep safe”:

“They wanted me to grow my hair really long and wear miniskirts and all that kind of stuff because they reckoned I’d look much prettier,” she told Oprah – “so I went straight around to the barber and shaved the rest of my hair off.” O’Connor went on to say that she felt as though her buzzcut protected her in many ways. “I always had that sense that it was quite important to protect myself — make myself as unattractive as I possibly could,” she finished.

A couple things here: I don’t think Sinéad for one moment felt “ugly” when buzzing her head – at least, that’s not what it seems like to me, particularly because she’s been very vocal about continuing to shave her head…perhaps until the very day she dies. In a 2010 interview with Patrick Barkham for The Guardian, she said: “I don’t feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I’m an old lady, I’m going to have it.”

Clearly, O’Connor enjoys the way she looks with no hair…& I do as well. In researching O’Connor’s past, how/when/why she shaved her head, I found a lot of parallels between the two of us.

I initially shaved my head in the summer of 2016, when I really wanted a tattoo. At the time, I couldn’t get one – my blood counts (thanks, chronic illness!) were too low to ensure that I wouldn’t get an infection. I was frustrated by this; it felt like just one more affirmation that I was not in control of my body, & it made me feel incredibly angry & sad at times.

I came across a few models on my Instagram explore page with freshly shaved heads around that time. I looked, & I flipped away. I went back to look again. & again. By the end of June 2016, I was heading to Supercuts.

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The initial buzz – June 2016

The initial reception I got from my very short hair wasn’t all positive. Many were confused; a few were angry. That made me confused – all of a sudden, I was wondering: is my beauty/value placed solely on how much hair I have or don’t have? After all, my face looked the same. I had no permanent ink on my body. I just had (very) short hair.

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Because of the somewhat mixed reception, I shaved my head two more times that summer (just to touch up) & let it be by the time I went to school in September of that year. By the end of the year, my hair was curly/wavy, & I looked a bit like Finn Wolfhard (yes, from Stranger Things).

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September 2016
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November 2016
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December 2016
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January 2017 (starting to feel like Finn Wolfhard)
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March 2017
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April 2017…
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April 2017…
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…& April 2017

I didn’t consciously make the decision to grow out my hair; I think that I subconsciously told myself: people don’t think this is attractive. You’re probably going to get weird looks. Just grow it out – it’s hair, it’s not a big deal. So – I grew it out.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t feel as though any stage of my “growing-out process” was awkward or ugly. I enjoyed seeing my hair change – & it changed quite quickly. First it was a fluffy pixie, then it was a flat pixie, & by the time February 2017 hit, I could pretend as though I was just slicking back very long hair (thanks to lots of bobby pins) I could make a quiff, or I could leave it be & look like Harry Styles, 2013 era. I didn’t ever hate my hair – let me make that perfectly clear.

But – but! June came around. It was summer 2017, & I’d just had a very scary doctor’s appointment on my birthday (fun, I know). The information I was given was incorrect, & I was in a full-fledged panic attack. I was told that if I didn’t have X surgery or Y procedure, I would surely die. This was incorrect, but a doctor was telling me that. It wasn’t something I could just brush off – lots of research & careful decisions needed to be made before I “broke up” with that doctor.

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Early June 2017

In the meantime, my mind was in shambles. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself in the days between that initial appointment – & the decision I finally made (which ended in me departing from the practice). Not everything is 100% clear in my mind around those 10 days or so, but I remember sitting in the car on the way back home (my mama driving) both of us crying, & me thinking over & over again: I need to shave my head. I need to shave my head.

That evening, my mama went out with a friend (it’s what she deserved) & I went to supercuts. I took a before photo – my eyes look sleepy & dull, & I look very sad. Then there’s an after photo, taken the moment I walked out of Supercuts (I was sitting on the curb when I took it). The outfit is the same, the photos were taken 30 minutes apart – but I truly believe my eyes look happier & brighter once my hair was off. You can see:

At that moment, getting rid of my hair was one of the most empowering decisions I could have made. It was me telling my mind that no matter what happened to me, I still had some control over my body. My body is my body, no matter what – & I am in control & ownership of it.

I’m not sure if people knew I intended on keeping it around this time, but it was my full intention to do so. In fact, about a month later, I bought my own clippers & started shaving my head myself. Initially, it took about three hours – the end result was uneven (& that’s me being kind) & my parents were mad, because I left a big mess in the bathroom. I don’t blame them.

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I’m better at shaving my head now. I’m also better at cleaning up the mess.

I kept redoing my head, & as with most things, it got easier. I kept getting asked why I wanted to keep doing it. I was often asked if I shaved my head because of my illness, or whether the medications I was on caused hair loss.

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The answer to that is no! I do not shave my head because of my medication side effects. I do shave my head because of my illness (at least, it’s one of the reasons why) but it’s not because I would have a patchy head of hair if I didn’t shave it.

Another question I get: Did you “pull a Britney? Is this a mental breakdown?”

First of all – no, I didn’t “pull a Britney.” Even if I did, it’s insulting to use an actual mental breakdown as an expression/jokey slang. Spears clearly was going through a lot when she shaved her own head, & perhaps it helped her cope – perhaps it didn’t. That’s not the point, though. Although I shaved my head to cope, it wasn’t because I was in imminent danger. It was simply a way for me to replace past negative coping mechanisms with a positive one.

I had a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms for the past two years when trying to wrestle with my illness. Some of them fall under the category of self-harm. Others just made me feel badly about myself. I tend to fiddle with/twist my hands or fingers when anxious. That only made my arthritic symptoms worse. I would have panic attacks, & would not know what to do with myself – so I would run around, I’d hit the floor, I’d punch my stomach, hoping that something bad would happen.

Thankfully, nothing did. I’m lucky nothing did – but that’s just a small peek at some of the very unhealthy ways in which I “tried” (& failed) to cope with my illness. Self-harm only brings greater mental anguish; sometimes, it can be life-threatening. I’m lucky I’m alive today, & I am grateful that I’ve moved past that toxic mindset & replaced those toxic behaviors with healthier ones.

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Now, when I’m anxious, I rub my head. It feels velvety & soft; it’s like having a stress ball – except the stress ball is my head. I’ve found that I do this more now. I don’t twist my hands. I don’t hit my stomach. I just “fuzz my head,” as I call it.

So – one of the biggest reasons I shaved my head in the first place (& continue to do so) is because it helped me find a healthy coping mechanism; one that would soothe me rather than harm me. I find now that shaving my head is very ritualistic. Since I do it myself, I have a whole routine. It used to take three hours; now, it can take 30-45 minutes if I do it right. I like to shave my head the evening before some serious testing or a big medical procedure. It’s a reminder to myself: this is my body, & no one can take that away from me.

Let’s move back to Sinéad for a second.

When I read that O’Connor shaved her head to protect herself; to make herself look as “ugly” as possible – I started seeing a lot of parallels between my behavior & hers.

As someone who now ID’s as lesbian, maintaining my buzzcut makes me feel “gayer.” Does one need to have a shaved head to “feel gay?” No – absolutely not. Personally, however, I feel more confident, more assertive, & more myself. I feel comfortable with my identity, & my very short hair helped me come to terms with my sexual identity. Sinéad’s explanation pretty much nailed it: I wanted to avoid the male gaze. Cishet men do not typically find women (or non-binary folks) with buzzcuts sexually appealing. Never say never, of course – & I’m not trying to imply that it solves the problem of being approached in a sexual way by men, because when a man wants to catcall, he will – but it helps. It’s an outward way for me to say: Hey – this is who I am. I feel very comfortable like this. 

Would I be any less gay if I didn’t have my head shaved? Of course not! If I grow out my hair in the future, will I be less gay? Of course not! Right now, though, it’s what I need. With the help of my $50 WAHL clippers purchased at Walgreens, I’m maintaining my own G.I. Jane, reaffirming my identity to myself every time I look in the mirror – & I think I look pretty great, too.

When asked: Are you keeping your hair this way forever? I don’t have an answer, because I don’t know. I do know that every single time I shave my head, I feel comfortable, calm, & at peace with myself. It’s an incredible coping mechanism for me – it’s a healthy one. It’s not putting me in danger. It makes me feel freer, more assertive, & more willing to put myself out there. It’s been integral in helping me feel more comfortable with my identity as a chronically ill lesbian.

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Post-shave (just a few days ago)

Buzzcuts have been breaking gender norms on & off the runway in the past few years. Although many of the models sporting a buzzcut identify as cisgender heterosexual women, just as many do not. LGBT model Ruth Bell got her career kickstarted when she shaved her long blonde hair. Adwoa Aboah (model of 2017) has had a buzz for quite a while, & Sudanese models (& runway icons) Ajak Deng & Grace Bol have had them for even longer. Off the runway, Rihanna & N.E.R.D. “broke the internet” with the music video Lemon. The song Lemon (by Pharrell) features Rihanna rapping (the first time we’ve ever heard Rihanna rap) & the music video (watch it here) features Mette Towley, a dancer who got her head shaved on camera by Rihanna (!!!) who proceeds to dance for the remainder of the video. That sparked even more interest around the buzzcut. When Rihanna’s involved in a project, the people pay attention. I have no doubt we’ll continue to see even more buzzes pop up after this.

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The acclaimed hair stylist Guido Palau had this to say on the return of the buzzcut (as told to Allure): 

“[A buzzed head] makes you feel that a woman is strong, she has her own mind, and wants to let people see her the way she wants to be seen.” says Palau. “I often find that when I do buzz cuts, girls would change the way they dress, the way they stand, their whole attitude.”

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A sentiment I’m on board with – followed by a video of Mette dancing for a Beats x Nerd advertisement 

I couldn’t have said it better myself. My fashion, my stance, & my attitude have made leaps & bounds ever since I consciously made the decision to maintain my buzzcut. As someone who struggles with body image, thanks to chronic illness, that’s incredible to experience. It’s an incredible existence to live. & it makes me feel more comfortable with my sexuality.

So – sorry, everyone! If you don’t like my buzz, it’ll be staying around for at least a little while. I don’t have any plans to grow it out at the moment. Who knows what the future will hold, right? In the moment, I’m grateful to my clippers, my own personal growth, & my Instagram explore page for initially introducing me to the style.

Have any of you thought of buzzing your hair? Let me know if you have already done it, if you’re planning on doing it – or if you’re just not sure! I do get this question a lot: “Will a buzzcut look bad on my face shape?” To that, I say:

Do men wonder the same thing before getting a buzzcut? Do little boys? There are always a few exceptions, but the overwhelming majority would probably not worry about it. Remind yourself of that – & if you still want the buzz after that, go for it. Be free.

Check out my YouTube video on shaving my head here – & check out my other video on why I did it here!

Stay bald.

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Love,

Sofia ❤

#TopTenSeries: Top Ten Most-Played Songs of 2017

Welcome to part three of my #TopTenSeries! I’ll be honest: I’m not sure how many top tens I’ll be posting, but this is definitely one you’re getting. As you might’ve guessed from the title, these are songs of 2017. 

For my #TopTenSeries, I tried to pick things that had actually been released in 2017. There are two exceptions on here, but other than that, all this music is new to 2017.

These are picked right from the “Your Top Songs 2017” playlist Spotify generates for you. I’m listing the top ten in order from most listened to least listened. Let’s do it! 

1. “Green Light” – Lorde

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I remember the exact date this song was released: March 2, 2017. I was in Chicago at a different hospital to get an opinion from a different specialist. It was a stressful week – I was there for two days & had anxiety leading up to it – but Lorde teasing her single’s release kept my excitement up while reducing my anxiety. I’m a huge fan of Lorde’s music & got on the bandwagon as soon as I heard “Royals” for the first time, downloading the complete album, memorizing all the lyrics in a heartbeat – then, first patiently, then impatiently waiting for another album. We were all ready, but Lorde had to take her time.

I’m glad she did. “Green Light” was the first single dropped from her album, Melodrama. It grabbed me by the shoulders from the very first line: “I do my makeup in somebody else’s car.” It’s intense yet quiet at the beginning; we hear a steady, fast buildup to the chorus (“I’M WAITING FOR IT, THAT GREEN LIGHT, I WANT IT!”) that is impossible not to get up & start dancing to. It’s a breakup song – that’s made clear when she says “be seeing you down every road” & then mentions waiting for a green light; her signal that she’ll feel when she’s finally let go of the sadness/anger of losing what she previously had.

It’s a breakup song, but it’s not a sad song. There’s something beautifully joyous about “Green Light.” Ella has started to let go; she’s happy that she’s moving on – but there’s a tiny bit of resentment in her heart still. She needs to let it go. Something beautifully vengeful yet pure about this song. There aren’t many breakup songs you can bop to – but this is one of them. Count on the Lorde to make it possible.

Oh – & when asked by Rolling Stone about “Green Light,” she said it was all about her “shouting at the universe, wanting to let go, wanting to go forward, to get the green light from life.” Asked a follow-up: did she think she got it? “‘Oh, my God,’ she says. Yes.'” There’s something delightfully encouraging in reading that – at least that’s how I felt. If Lorde can find her green light, so can the rest of us. Until we have, we shout at the universe.

2. “Fetish” – Selena Gomez (feat. Gucci Mane)

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Let me be honest: I’m really not a fan of Selena’s. I never listened to her old music unless it was on the radio; I’ve never had a desire to attend a concert. “Fetish,” however, caught my eye. First, it was the lyric video: everyone wanted the shiny lip gloss on Selena’s mouth as a camera filmed her mouthing the lyrics on close-up – that, & the neutral shade of nail polish she was wearing. The Internet was abuzz for a few weeks about it. Then, the official music video dropped, directed by Petra Collins – I’m a huge fan of her visuals.

It played out beautifully, but to me, “Fetish” wasn’t about an ex-lover. The way the video was shot; the way the video looked – Selena wasn’t speaking about a person, in my opinion. She was speaking about her illness.

I wrote an article on why I think “Fetish” is about chronic illness, & you can read that here so I don’t clutter this space – but to me, it’s almost unthinkable that the song is about an ex. It’s about an abusive relationship for sure – but I think it’s between her & her illness. The way the visuals are presented, the dark undertone to the video…& no implication of any kind of lover, past or present.

Then, of course, we got the news late this year that Selena had had a kidney transplant. When I read that, my jaw dropped. Though she’s never said what “Fetish” is about (to my knowledge, at least) it is too coincidental for the video to have dropped right around the time Selena was either preparing for or just beginning to recover from her kidney transplant. The expressions in her face are almost painful in the way that I can read/relate to them. Maybe I’m way off the mark here, but that’s just my opinion.

If we’re talking song: visuals are beautiful, as you’d expect in a video directed by Petra Collins. Soft, sparkly lighting; delicate dresses – combined with biting of soap & sitting on top of a table covered in candles; wandering around aimlessly in a giant, seemingly endless freezer, with frozen eyelashes & a vague expression. It’s incredibly striking, & for me, I’ll always feel as though the song is about chronic illness.

I listened to Selena’s other single & wasn’t a big fan. Again – I’m not usually one for her music. “Fetish” struck a chord with me, though, & I can’t ignore it. A soft yet powerful beat with a drop that’s impossible to ignore, combined with whispered lyrics, & then the contrast of Gucci Mane’s verse that somehow fits just perfectly with the track. I think it’s very well done; certainly the best track Selena has put out – in my opinion, at least.

3. “Watch Me” – Jaden Smith 

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This was named the second single off Jaden’s record SYRE (which dropped in November). I considered it the first; I had not been paying any attention to Jaden’s music – I’ll be completely honest – but the song “Batman” was officially the first single from SYRE.

A friend sent me this song in late August. I was completely floored by it; I immediately thought the beat was reminiscent of Kanye West’s song “Black Skinhead” off his album Yeezus – something that all of the YouTube comments definitely made note of, & something Jaden himself alluded to, saying that the making of SYRE was inspired by Kanye, among others.

The electric guitar grabbed me by my face from the minute that it started; I really like the steady “monotone” that Jaden maintains in the opening verse. This “monotone” is used quite consistently throughout the song, but depending on what point we’re at in the song, Jaden raises or lowers this “monotone” by a few notes. It’s a great way for the song to build suspense.

I’m not quite sure what about this song really grabbed my attention, but I’ve been enjoying the intersection of different musical genres. I found that Jaden’s album SYRE accomplished this as a whole; this song was a great introduction to it. Drastically different from “Batman,” this song was impossible for me to ignore.

As someone whose confidence was at a bit of a low in August & September of 2017, this was a great song for me to listen to; it boosted my own self-esteem, it was impossible to be sad when listening to it, & “WATCH ME….DO THIS!” are four words that are a great way to grab someone’s attention. It’s a good way for me to move into 2018 – more confidence than before.

The music video was really enjoyable for me as well. The color scheme is reflective of the single’s artwork; if you want to see Jaden moonwalking in the desert, dressed to the nines in black leather, surrounded by a fancy car – this is for you. There’s a bit of an otherworldly touch, too – sometimes, the trees seem to wave & flicker, turning different neon colors. It’s impossible for me to tear my eyes away from, & it caught my attention. By the end of September, I was drooling excitedly for the complete release of SYRE. I’m not sure what Jaden has in store for us next, but it definitely includes another album, as well as a book of poetry (if his tweets are speaking the truth). “See me dancing like I’m Elvis/just tell your man that it’s all in the pelvis” was another line that was slightly tongue-in-cheek…or was it? It’s impossible to tell if Jaden’s hyping himself up, dissing an old flame…or doing both at once. That’s the beauty of the Smith kids: we’ll probably never know exactly what they mean. Therefore, we can project our own experiences onto the beautiful music/visuals they’ve created for us. Thanks for “Watch Me,” Jaden – it was a big upper for my own confidence.

4. Love On The Brain – Rihanna 

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This is an old song – I’m fully aware. ANTI, Rihanna’s eighth studio album, was released in late January of 2016. I didn’t really fall in love with the album until late 2016. By September of that year, though, I was naming songs like “Desperado,” “Higher,” & finally “Love On The Brain” as my album favorites. “Desperado” has made a few comebacks for me, but “Love On The Brain” has made top ten appearances last year – as well as this year.

There’s something about “Love On The Brain” that really distances itself from the rest of ANTI‘s tracks. As a whole, ANTI is predominantly pop & R&B, with some elements of dancehall music (ex. “Work”) & soul – incorporated into “Love On The Brain.” As a whole, ANTI is about Rihanna’s power as a woman; some of the tracks are a little dark. Most of them are pretty “sexy” – & so are the music videos that accompany these songs. No complaints there; like I said, I really enjoyed the whole album, though it took me a little while to get used to Rihanna’s “new sound” – but “Love On The Brain” is my favorite track of ANTI at this point, simply because it’s Rihanna stripped down to her most emotional. According to Billboard, “Love On The Brain” “is a doowop, R&B and soul ballad inspired by 1950s and 1960s music” something quite different from the more electronic song “Sex With Me” or “Kiss It Better.” It was written by Norwegian producer Fred Ball, who said that they wanted it to have a juxtaposition of “old school soul feel with modern lyrics.” I think they accomplished it perfectly. The warm beat contrasts with lyrics like “throw me against a wall” & Rihanna gives up her femme fatale demeanor when she sings “must be love on the brain…that’s got me feeling this way…it beats me black & blue but it fucks me so good & I can’t get enough…” definitely one of the most vulnerable tracks on the album.

Rihanna focused on the vocals here, did a few riffs here & there…& kept it gender-neutral. I’ve been able to apply this song to my own life on multiple occasions, & something about it keeps me feeling warm & sentimental, just like the retro background track. It’s probably going to be on my top ten in 2018, too. We’ll see.

This track is definitely something “different” – I love it, as does my mother (not a Rihanna fan or a fan of pop/R&B/Top 40 in general) & even my father (even less of a Top 40 fan). It’s a testament to how music can cross genres & get incredible amounts of love. At its highest point, “Love On The Brain” reached #5 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, breaking Rihanna’s tie with Elvis Presley as artist with the 5th most top-five singles…& it’s still getting radio play in late 2017 (as I type this).

Rihanna’s here to stay – her fashion line, makeup line, & album ANTI made that more than clear to the public. There isn’t much chatter about another album, but I’m more than happy listening to “Love On The Brain” for the next 40 years, if need be.

5. “Don’t Take The Money” – Bleachers 

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Bleachers – a name you might not have heard over the past few years; a name you might have heard more than once in 2017. Bleachers is the official stage name for Jack Antonoff; it’s his band/side act/”American indie pop act” – Antonoff is also part of the band fun. (famously behind the album Some Nights), & Bleachers has been most active during periods of time where other acts he was part of (like fun. & the band Steel Train) were on hiatus/working on their own side projects.

I’d vaguely heard of Bleachers; I knew quite a bit about Antonoff, first thanks to fun. – then thanks to Lorde. Antonoff worked closely with Lorde on her second album, Melodrama, helping with both lyrics & production.

Interesting that Antonoff worked so closely with Lorde; “Don’t Take The Money” is a song off Bleachers’ album Gone Now – the second album by the band/act – & “Don’t Take The Money” was the lead single. Who co-wrote the song/was featured in background vocals? Lorde/Ella herself. Near the end of the song, Lorde’s unmistakeable voice is heard in the background, crooning the main chorus…but softer, as though she’s whispering it to herself.

The song is about difficulties of navigating a relationship; Antonoff has said that the phrase “don’t take the money” is something he says all the time, & “has nothing to do with actual money. It means to follow the light. Don’t ignore a gut feeling. Not following a deep gut feeling destroys your art and the people around you. so I say it in my head constantly; sometimes about something very specific relating to music, sometimes about a bigger question about marriage or depression. Point is, it’s become my phrase to stay on track” (x).

The phrase clearly has several meanings; when repeated in the chorus, there’s a pleading quality to it that gets quite emotional. The quieter verses, followed by the little burst of energy in the chorus – “Somebody told me once/Love is a currency” is the opening lyric, as opposed to the chorus “You steal the air out of my lungs/You make me feel it” – gives the song its addictive up-&-down quality. It’s a song that’s made me cry, though I’m not sure why; it’s a song that’s defined several important moments in my summer, though I’m not currently navigating a relationship. I suppose that, like all the artists I enjoy, Bleachers was able to make an emotional melody, an addicting beat, & add lyrics that can apply to a lot of different things. Like Antonoff said, “don’t take the money” isn’t referring to a robbery. It’s a plea; a reminder to stay on track. Yet – the addictive, dance-like chorus makes it impossible for us to not throw our heads back & immerse ourselves in the joyous sound of the music. It incorporates a lot of different emotions – & I love that about it.

6. “Hard Feelings / Loveless” – Lorde

melodrama-lorde-album-new-artwork-cover.pngAhh…another favorite from Melodrama. This two-part song was impossible for me to ignore. The lyric I can’t go without mentioning is “I’m at jungle city, it’s late & this song is for you.” We don’t exactly know who Ella is singing for or to, but we do know that there’s a lot of emotion behind this quiet song “Hard Feelings,” which starts with a simple finger snap & a quiet beat.

“Hard Feelings” is Lorde’s last breath of air for a relationship that’s been over & done with: “Now we sit in your car & our love is a ghost” – but though the love itself is gone, the feelings that the singer has are not. She works her way through this: “I light all the candles/Cut flowers for all my rooms/I care for myself the way I used to care about you.” “When you’ve outgrown a lover/The whole world knows but you,” & these little pieces of Lorde learning to be with & by herself turn into a scratchy, screaming dance beat; a wordless chorus that has an overwhelming amount of overlapping harmonies, resulting in a beautiful discord of emotion & musical notes.

We segue into “Loveless” which reveals another side of the singer – it’s short, but definitely not sweet. A man’s voice saying “What is this tape??? This is my favorite tape!!!” builts up to a beat, which builds up to a shake-up of the beat; within a minute, we’re into the actual song “Bet you’re gonna rip my heart out/Bet you’re gonna skip my calls now – well guess what, I like that” “We’re L.O.V.E.L.E.S.S. Generation/all fuckin’ with our lovers’ heads,” shows us Lorde’s colder side; perhaps the side that she briefly acknowleged in “Hard Feelings” but didn’t want to completely reveal quite yet.

Together, these two songs make way for a beautiful transition into the second half of Melodrama. It’s hard to pick “one” of the two “songs” in this compilation, but “Hard Feelings” stole my heart with its succinct yet incredibly emotional lyrics. That, & the whispered “go back & tell it” by Ella at the very beginning gives an intimate introduction to the track even before we’re more than eight beats into the song.

7. “Liability” – Lorde 

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Last song from Melodrama – I promise! You probably have a pretty good idea at what my favorite album of the year was by now, though. You’ll see soon – for now, let me talk a little bit about “Liability,” which was the second single released from the Melodrama album. This was released only one week after the initial single, “Green Light” – & it was a sharp contrast to the anthem-y, dance-y vibes of “Green Light.” It’s the most stripped-down Lorde has ever gotten on a song, in my opinion – “Gone are the booming drums, crackling bass and waves of glistening synths that colored her early work,” says Billboard. Yes, it’s a complete 180 from “Green Light” – but that’s what made it so popular, in my opinion.

Lorde’s always been one to build herself up in her music (which I’m all for) – Pure Heroine was about the little goth girl who distanced herself from popular surroundings/culture with pride. “Liability” is a whole new story. On it, Lorde talks about the pain that might come with “being different”…or, perhaps, the pain that might accompany her fame – we get the lines “Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm/Says it was poison” followed by the now unmistakable chorus:

They say, “You’re a little much for me
You’re a liability
You’re a little much for me”
So they pull back, make other plans
I understand, I’m a liability
Get you wild, make you leave
I’m a little much for
E-a-na-na-na, everyone

Of course, the song is deeply personal – by the end, Lorde says that we’re gonna watch her disappear into the sun – but a song about liability will inevitably capture the attention (& hearts) of listeners everywhere. No matter what your social status/career/love life…everyone’s found themselves feeling a liability at some point – perhaps at many points. I think this is why the song was such a winner, & I think it was a great call to make it the second single. It showed the range of Melodrama – the sheer contrast to “Green Light” made me wonder how the album would play out.

On a personal level, I was able to make this about being sick/chronically ill. I constantly worry about having to pull away from something because I don’t feel well enough to go – I worry that other people will “pull back, make other plans/I understand…I’m a liability/Get you wild make you leave” & so on. This is applicable in my situation; it’s applicable in thousands of others’, too. Which is why it’s such a beautiful song; a great song. Lorde’s stripped-down SNL performance – with its touch of White Witch-y magic – only made the song more beautiful, in my opinion.

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Lorde performing “Liability” on SNL – back facing her pianist, which is a metaphor for her lonelinss (probably, anyway. I just came up with that myself).

The piano ballad was meant to be sung live. Ella did a beautiful job with it, hands-down. A great song – a song that’ll make you stop, sit back, & take a few moments to listen. You might even cry in public when it comes on shuffle (if you’re me). You’ll have to test your character. No matter what, though, “Liability” is a 2017 song to remember.

8. “White Iverson” – Post Malone

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I wouldn’t consider myself a Post Malone fan, judging from all the enjoyment I get from some of the more snide memes about him. I really know little to nothing about the man; I enjoy “Rockstar” when it’s on the radio (who doesn’t) & yes, I like “White Iverson.”

I first was introduced to it by a friend in early 2017. I listened to it a little bit in the early winter; I gave it a break once Melodrama & a few other albums began being teased. I revisited it in the summer, when I was trying to find some things to do to “replace” performance. It doesn’t come close, but dancing to some songs with a steady beat – & I say dancing with a big eyeroll – is a calming thing for me to do late at night, in the middle of a panic attack…or in the middle of the day, when I’m getting ready to go out…or when I’m feeling extra happy or sad. Whenever I need to “bop,” I need to blow off some steam; sometimes it’s happy steam, other times it’s sad. “White Iverson” has a great beat. I don’t listen much to the lyrics, I just listen to Post Malone’s voice carry the faster-paced verses down to the slower chorus…then speed it up again. I enjoy the way the beat completely stops in the middle of the song, “rewinds,” then starts up again. In case you can’t tell: I like the beat of this song a lot. I’ll always think of it fondly; not because of my admiration for Post Malone, the song’s music vidoe (wasn’t a huge fan), or the lyrics – just because of the way it planted myself in my life, & was in the back of my head during some of the most important moments of 2017. There’s no explaining why…it was just there sometimes. I chart that up, once again, to the catchiness of the beat. I’ve jammed to it in my bedroom at 4 a.m., I’ve sat outside during the midsummer heat & watched the sun go down to it…& many things in between. It’s been a constant for me in 2017, & it’ll be a marker of 2017. I guess that’s what makes a hit a hit, right?

9. “Lemon” – N.E.R.D. & Rihanna 

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“HAVE YOU SEEN THE MUSIC VIDEO?” I got via text in early November. “Of what?” I asked. It could be anything; I constantly follow music videos, & I’ve been doing it especially closely since midsummer. “RIHANNA,” I got back…but Rihanna had been busy with Fenty Beauty, & I told my friend so. “JUST GO TYPE IN LEMON,” was the response…so I did. & I haven’t shut up about it since.

The thumbnail of the music video caught my attention right away: “TUTORIAL No. 1. LEMON” featuring a woman with a shaved head, staring straight at the camera.

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I clicked on the video, & first a voice told me (on a black screen) “The truth will set you free. But first, it’ll piss you off.” Before I could reflect on the truthfulness of the phrase, BAM – there was Rihanna under some neon lights, staring right at the camera (panning out slowly). First it was just her face. Then we saw what she was doing: shaving a woman’s head. I started screaming internally, & texted a few people, getting a “I KNEW YOU’D LIKE IT” type response from everyone.

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We get a full 40 seconds or so of Rihanna shaving this woman’s head. There’s not much context behind it, & I wondered what kind of feature Rihanna would be getting. This was a N.E.R.D. project (a band formed by Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, & Shay Hayley – N.E.R.D. is an acronym for “NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES,”) & all I could hear was Pharrell rapping. That’s when I got hit with the realization: Rihanna was rapping on the track. nerd.jpg

We get a quick visual of the woman whose head Rihanna had been shaving – dancer Mette Towley, who has been working with Pharrell for a few years now – & then it’s time for Rihanna’s lyrics…& some serious dancing on Mette’s part.

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The music video got so much attention, between the on-camera head shave, the addicting verses done by Rihanna, & the incredible dancing by Mette – that the song shot to the top of my most-played on Spotify…a song released in November is on my top ten most-played of 2017 (let that sink in for a minute).

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Mette along with N.E.R.D. (in background) for a Beats by Dr. Dre “Beyond The Noise” ad video, which featured Mette “doing the Lemon” while wearing her music video outfit & a pair of Beats headphones.

I’ve been “bopping” to “Lemon” almost non-stop. It’s as though the song was tailored for my interests: beautiful women, Rihanna, heads being shaved, & some great dancing…& an incredibly hard to forget beat. I’ve been following Mette (Mette Towley is her full name) pretty closely as well, & I have to hand it over to N.E.R.D. for including a bunch of big names on their self-titled album: No One Ever Really Dies. Lemon was the album’s first single, which featured Rihanna; we got Future on “1000” – we even got Kendrick Lamar on “Don’t Don’t Do It!”

I really enjoyed the album as a whole…but Rihanna’s feature on Lemon, along with the now-iconic visuals is what made the album so attractive to me. I have no shame in saying it’s been on almost constant repeat; how else do you think it got to my top ten most-played so quickly?

10. “Neon Lights” Kraftwerk 

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I am perfectly aware that this song was released in 1978. Let’s put it in the “Love On The Brain” category – this is not a new song (by any means) but it was just something I played a lot this year, particularly during the months of March, April, & May.

Kraftwerk is another band that has particularly strong beats; in March, I started decreasing the amount of violin I was playing, due to the arthritis diagnosis I had gotten. I prepared to play a final concert in late April, but most of the time couldn’t attend orchestra rehearsals, lessons, etc. I had to sit out my final orchestra concert…so, in general, there wasn’t much playing, practicing, or performing going on during my final months of sophomore year of music school – something that was incredibly sad & frustrating for me.

I took a few courses to examine some scores (mainly Beethoven’s violin sonatas), but also took a lot of time to go through soundtracks, playlists, & books of music that I really hadn’t looked at much previously. For my whole life, I was hyperfocused on classical music, what went into performing it, what went into writing it, & the lives of those who had written the music that I played. Pop music was not the focus – &, when I started making my own little “videos” for fun, I wanted to look into new music…except it wasn’t necessarily “new” for me. I started with some good old British favorites, like Pink Floyd & Queen. I listened to the Stranger Things soundtrack – that introduced me to a lot of 80s rock, & heightened my enthusiasm for bands like The Smiths & Joy Division. I started getting into music my father had listened to; Kraftwerk was one of these bands, & “Neon Lights” was one of their most popular songs.

The beat is hyper-electronic; it’s very warm, though. The lyrics are ultra-simple: “Neon lights…shimmering neon lights…” sings the lead singer, until it’s time to sing the German translation. I’ve fallen asleep to this song; it’s a great song to write to, to think to…or just stare at the ceiling at 3:41 a.m. to. I have a few notes written out around that time somewhere in the middle of March, & the song is always mentioned.

That’s not to say the song is boring; it’s merely comforting & nostalgic to me, now. I’ll still tear up sometimes when I hear it.

Can you tell that that’s what makes a good song a good song to me? Tear up when you hear it. Okay…”Lemon” is an exception. It’s a lose if you’re crying to that one.

That’s it, folks! Those are my top ten most-played songs of 2017. If you want to hear them from 1-10, here’s a playlist featuring these 10 songs. How great, right?

What were your top ten favorite songs of 2017? I’d love to hear about them; let me know in the comments if you like.

Love,

Sofia ❤