Lindsay, yeah girl, the ontological concept of the #squad as it exists among (white) women in pop in the year 2015 is a prime and constant font of existential exhaustion; it makes me want to both quietly quit Twitter and permanently Krazy Glue my face into my hoodie after deleting every MP3 off my hard drive that isn’t Waka Flocka Flame. Perhaps that visceral sense of loathing is why one of my favorite moments of the year was its logical antidote: Nicki Minaj calling out Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, which also resulted in one of my absolute favorite viral songs of the year, the Jersey Club remix of “Miley, What’s Good?” by a SoundCloud guy called Gared A. Minaj was not only standing up for her own against Cyrus’s assertion in the New York Times that she is “not too kind”; she was recentering an extremely important conversation about race and women in pop that Miley had feebly attempted to deracinate. Later in the Times, Minaj readdressed her Cyrus confrontation (which, for the record, I do not believe was scripted):
You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.
Her diagnosis applies to the whole of pop music history (LOL smiley face have a nice day) but 2015 in particular, a year in which I actually did blink several eyes at Kendrick Lamar’s appearance on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” considering her enthusiasm for To Pimp a Butterfly, an album about black pain, was expressed cluelessly via a photo of herself and supermodel BFF Karlie Kloss frolicking on the beach.
When that new Kendrick comes on: pic.twitter.com/g9Il2LUgdX— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) March 20, 2015
Stylistically it didn’t shock, sure—rappers have been dropping verses on pop songs since the ’80s—but it’s also why I’m not convinced “crossover” is a dead concept. We may live in a melting pot of musical ideas, but there are still very tangible gates blocking who gets to express them, where they get to express them, and how.
But the fundamentally deracinated overuse of #squad is, perhaps, the end result of our worst fears about “poptimism,” that the tenor of experiencing music in 2015 is an imperative and bleary love of all the mainstream, all of the time, and to resist means you are not only a hater but also that you are in fact irrelevant. I agree that Taylor Swift’s special guest surprises seemed hodgepodge and performative and, if I may be so bold, borderline colonial (much like the 2014 earsore “Welcome to New York”), but perhaps that was poptimism, too; at its core “bad” poptimism is just another name for rotten capitalism, and it’s financially advantageous for Swift to publicly annex every famous person in the world for her friend base because she can also curry favor from their fans, also known as consumers. (Shit, though, I like “Style” a lot!)
While the act of having self-esteem isn’t a viable equivalent to being feminist but a corollary to it, I am most definitely on record as adoring Hailee Steinfeld’s gleaming pop single “Love Myself,” which I have listened to at least once a day since it dropped in August. I don’t see her hedging on whether it’s a masturbation anthem as ideologically wobbly so much as a symptom of an industry that demands its young female pop stars be overly chaste, and Steinfeld consciously and slyly avoiding a capitalist trap: She’s wearing a top that says “SELF SERVICE” in the video, but if she out and out said, “Yes, it’s a song about jerking off,” she might lose the moms of the 10-year-olds who are no doubt listening to it as much as I do. (Yes, I am freely and proudly admitting I have the musical proclivities of a tween. God bless.)
And anyway, hating is a vital part of feminism and feminist rap in particular. I read “Feeling Myself” as not just a black-girl power anthem but a boast song in the hip-hop tradition and a corrective to rap radio’s present affliction with lean-induced self-involvement. My No. 1 single this year was “Choppin Necks,” a murderous brag by Queens rapper and sometime Pat Field shopgirl Dai Burger, produced by prolific British grime star Darq E Freaker. It’s indebted to Minaj, to be sure, but also to Foxy Brown and Remy Ma and MC Lyte and her best friend Junglepussy (who put out a very good album this year, too) and all the very particularly New York female rappers who deigned to stand up to the boys, because with all this flaccid girl-power talk we end up obscuring that we still have a long road to travel.
But Lindsay, you asked what songs we disliked this year. My least favorite song of the year was “Charged Up” by Drake, a rapper for whom I honestly don’t have much use. In the rush to pedestalize his now Grammy-nominated Meek Mill diss track “Back to Back” (or, in the parlance of some, “Wack to Wack”), we seem to have forgotten that he made literally the worst diss track in the history of diss tracks, lamely offering some weak bars about his own vampiric squad OVO and actually attempting to assert that “No woman ever had me starstruck.” OK, dog. And in the rush to declare Meek Mill’s career officially deceased, we seemed to lose the fact that he put out one of the best rap albums of the year, Dreams Worth More Than Money, which by my watch bodied If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (the jury’s still out for me on What a Time to Be Alive, mostly because Future’s so goddamn ebullient).
But Craig, I know you have a lot to say on this topic, que no?
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