"Such a funny thing for me to try to explain..."
(originally published March 8th 2021)
Here’s a very quick cup of orange cranberry herbal tea that I brewed earlier: first, a random ramble about music after a trailer for a thing spurred a generous and confusing thought out of me, and then, some discourse on the curiosity of copying someone else’s art. Enjoy!
So Crazy Right Now: The Treachery of the Love Song
(cw: discussion of intimate partner abuse and threats)
For a while now, I have been almost obsessively critical of love songs.
Not in the Ne-Yo sense.
It is very easy to be thoughtlessly dismissive of love songs, especially when you’re socialised under patriarchy. They’re saccharine, cloying. In pop, it’s a very simple (often manipulatively simple) argument that they depend on the same imagery to manipulate young women into seeing themselves as simultaneously loved and worthy of love yet needing to constantly fulfill a shallow performance of themselves in order to remain worthy: that you must always be this beautiful, you must always be this happy, that you always remember that ‘I’m’ here…
You’ve heard that one Bo Burnham song, you don’t need me to go over that again.
Of course, some part of that commentary is inherently sexist. Why can’t young women just enjoy a thing—especially a thing that allows them to potentially just experience something wholesome vicariously through a work instead of actually being taken advantage of by someone’s words? Why do we assume those young women don’t have a level of discernment? Why is it the responsibility of a single song or a single genre of music to be aware of how people hear it or whether someone will ‘use it wrong’?
But the part that lingers with me in terms of critique is that perhaps the language itself is inherently less than ideal.
Case and point: you ever notice how easy it is to change the tone of one and it suddenly means something very different?
Okay, that’s an easy assumption for me to tee up. Film and television trailers pull that trick all the time. But I think the example I’m going for makes a far more important case as to why we should be wary of love-song language in general.
The trailer for the HBO Max series Made For Love looks… absolutely sinister, to be honest. Dramatically riveting by way of WTF. A lot of recent film and television media has found arresting ways to radically complicate cishet relationships and reveal the sharp shards of spitefulness and control at the heart of them, and a series about being digitally stalked, physically tortured, and even potentially having your real-time perception of reality warped by a partner after leaving them sounds like a harrowing exaggeration of an already undeniably frightening reality many people actively experience after liberating themselves from abuse.
But I can’t get over the music (or, I guess, the patiently stoic spoken word by Ray Romano), because it is actually very goddamn choice.
I look and stare so deep in your eyes (I...)
I touch on you more and more every time
When you leave, I'm begging you not to go
Call your name, two, three times in a row
Such a funny thing for me to try to explain
How I'm feeling, and my pride is the one to blame (Yeah)
'Cause I know I don't understand
Just how your love can do what no one else can
The thing that threw me for a loop about love songs after I fell into one of my own early trauma-induced rabbit holes was how much they resemble love-bombing as a rule. They’re about letting the listener know how perfect and flawless they are, how deserving of love they are (and by ‘love’ they mean ‘the absolute and undying surrender of imagery in their name’, they mean being surrounded by fancy things and being constantly shown how great this feeling is for their suitor), how transcendent this experience is. Few if any love songs are about how dull and quiet things are: it’s always glass-slippers, and always ready for the ball.
But what also gets me is how many heartbreak songs, arguably the natural byproduct of the natural expiration of the love song, are not merely about the fact that maybe we just aren’t right for each other, but about how the persona deserved the fucking ball and someone is terrible (and should even pay) for not giving it to them. Never about how it’s already terrible to set them up for the ball.
I don’t know Olivia Rodrigo, for instance, but the first time I heard ‘drivers license’, I started breathing very hard.
And I know we weren't perfect
But I've never felt this way for no one
And I just can't imagine
How you could be so okay now that I'm gone
Guess you didn't mean what you wrote in that song about me
'Cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street…
I get it. I’m entering the territory I mentioned earlier: why should a singer who doesn’t know me be aware of this overindulgence on my part? What responsibility does a song have? How does it know it could be a trigger?
I have a very strange confession to make: when I listen to most Beyoncé songs, I get very tense. One time, I was walking to a workshop when ‘Hold Up’ came on though my headphones and I had to sit on the sidewalk. Sometimes you re-enter that space and it reminds you first and foremost of its falsehood, of the sharp edges waiting beside or behind it. Sometimes that song that everyone thinks is just about how angry and hollow one feels when they learn their love isn’t meant to be just so happens to give the supposed hero/ine the same words as someone who threatened to kill you because they knew you would never give them that fairy tale they thought only they deserved.
That’s not on Beyoncé or Olivia Rodrigo or [insert boy band here]. Hell, a revelation like this is arguably equally or more damning for a poet, especially one who is best known at home (much to their chagrin) for a poem about the hollowness of love poetry.
But I think it’s worth asking, both as artists still trying to cater to the obviously worthwhile brand of romantic fantasia and as consumers trying to balance these portrayals with reality… maybe we should have more loves (and more imaginations of love) that don’t got us looking so crazy right now?
You’re Something Else, Ain’tcha?
As a bit of idle browsing the internet (that just accidentally turned into research for a novel idea I never really thought I’d be able to write), I stumbled upon this: the story of Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German forger caught and sentenced in 2011, released in 2015 and reportedly making millions of dollars selling his original work.
Forgery is a fascinating crime, because the line is so fine that being criminal, being merely annoying, and being absolutely harmless all balance on its thread. For instance, initially in an attempt to please his mother, American forger Mark Landis gave away dozens of forged paintings as donations to multiple museums in multiple states under a pile of false names and identities. Because he never sought monetary gain—he never sold them or took a tax deduction on them—he technically doesn’t meet the criterion necessary for it to be a crime. But he still deceived dozens of people, and the consequences of that deceit is allegedly still in the millions. Landis just isn’t on the hook for it, because… he isn’t a crook. He’s just a very talented painter who likes to give away things and rightly figured no museum would hoist a Landis on their wall.
It begs a lot of questions about the value of art, very obviously. If the name is valuable, then the authenticity is tied to the moment that one of the masters of the craft touched the easel. But how do you know that they did? And why is that, and not the genuinely arresting quality of the canvas in front of you, what matters? And if it does matter so much, wouldn’t any hand signing the name do? How come it’s illegal to cash in on the name with a forgery, but if I do it for free and ask you if you want it, I’m still a liar but not a thief? How come the financial cost of portraying both of the above forgeries as real is the same, even if the latter isn’t an attempt to con you out of money?
But moreso… why don’t we culturally recognise such painters as adepts in their field? Why don’t more collectors—and to be fair, more curators—make room to revere these creators’ original work as the talent of hands skilled enough to enter the minds of masters, such that they would never need to sell another counterfeit again, rather than them otherwise being culturally perceived as crooked masterminds whose only talent is deception?
It was said that Beltracchi had a talent not only for identifying the gaps within series of works by Ernst and Léger, embodying their style and replicating it into absolutely new works; he and his wife Helene also crafted quite the provenance of their works, eventually forging old photographs of Helene as her own collector ancestor in order to assure buyers of their genuineness. As for Landis, he not only dutifully replicated several creators, including Magritte and Picasso, but also created several aliases with the sole duty of giving them as gifts. Both men were aware both of artistic talent and the skill of restoration—Landis studied it himself whereas Beltracchi’s father worked as one—so its arguable that their very surroundings primed them to not only embrace the art, but to have a perfect eye and hand for the classics.
Isn’t that level of performance, of craftsmanship, laudable on its own?
There is a kind of deftness in being able to perfectly replicate someone else’s style, so much so that people constantly tell young and new creators to mimic the old in order to get better. There is simultaneously a kind of hollowness in the industry that values authenticity but a.) can often be so effectively fooled and b.) cannot concede the irony of being genuinely intrigued by a piece of art and yet fickle enough to discard it because it isn’t, in effect, name-brand.
Perhaps that’s what holds my attention about this at the moment: the idea that if only it were easier for Beltracchi to sell a Beltracchi, or for Landis to sell a Landis—or for another parallel, if either man were able to keep the art galleries they opened in the 80s without losing cash—they would never have been ‘forgers’ at all. Simply very talented artists worthy of your attention.
At some point on Sunday morning, I found myself idly returning to this Mystery Skulls joint while still laying in bed.
Still a banger. Still a catalogue full of bangers. Not much more to say about that.
If you’re in the mood for an AMV version: remember this?
That’s all for now!
A reminder that you can help keep this newsletter and the rest of my work afloat by supporting me on Patreon, buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi or sending a donation via PayPal, or by buying one of my small game projects over on Itch! And by all means, if something fascinated you here, don’t hesitate to share it!
Before I go, though, here are some questions:
- How do you feel about love songs?
- Are there any songs, or types of songs, that conjure images that are totally separate from their perceived meaning whenever you listen to them? (By all means, if that’s too personal, forget I asked.)
- If you could have a copy of (or the ability to copy) any work by one of ‘the greats’, which would it be, and why?
Here’s some kitties from the iOS game Kitten Match to bring a smile to your face! (Since I keep promising you all cute video game kitties and have yet to deliver!)
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed the tea!