Life is perpetual motion and GaGa’s “Just Dance” keeps you going

I’ve had a little bit too much, much
All of the people start to rush.
Start to rush by.
A dizzy twister dance
Can’t find my drink or man.
Where are my keys? I lost my phone, phone.

This is actually terrifying. This is someone who is on the absolute edge of their life feeling like they are about to lose everything. This is the type of thing you could listen to on a shroom trip while trying to balance yourself. It’s so simplistic but it’s profound in its direct approach.

What’s going on, on the floor?
I love this record, baby, but I can’t see straight anymore.
Keep it cool, what’s the name of this club?
I can’t remember but it’s alright, a-alright.

Absolute loss of everything. Borderline ego death. No I’m not reading too deep into this. This is why this song is so motivational and fun to dance to. There are psychic truths hidden within this song. Someone is about to lose every reference point they’ve ever had — their house, their keys, their car, their clothes, their mind, their location, their vision, their perception. They admit they’ve had too much of life, too much indulgence and now they are paying for it.

But just as it feels like they are going to lose it all, the music reminds them it’s going to be okay. Just dance. It’s going to be okay. You don’t need anything beyond this moment. As long as you are dancing and trusting in the universe’s inherent love, you will be okay:

Just dance. Gonna be okay.
Da-doo-doo-doo
Just dance. Spin that record babe.
Da-doo-doo-doo
Just dance. Gonna be okay.
Duh-duh-duh-duh
Dance. Dance. Dance. Just dance.

Even her nonsense lines — she’s humming to herself because it’s literally ALL she has left.

Wish I could shut my playboy mouth.
How’d I turn my shirt inside out, inside out right?

She can’t control her word vomit. She can’t control the nagging self-doubt that bleeds and grinds away at her confidence. It’s moved beyond her mind and is now on display in her actual appearance.

I love music that is aware of just how lucid, brutal and desperate life can become, but still remains optimistic in spite of it. I am so moved right now. It’s a simple song but that’s exactly why it’s so profound. Life requires absurd, sometimes silly metaphors to connect with us. For me, my life has been a hurricane and every line in here connects to something deeper within my life. Where is my home base? Where is my center? Ive had a little bit too much of self-indulgence. I wish I could shut my mouth. I wish I could find my significant other. Where am I? What will I do if all my plans fall apart? Just dance, it’ll be okay.

There’s a reason this was her first single. It’s one of her most profound in the disguise of one of her most vapid.

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“Andrew the Rapper”

When I was 16 I recorded a ‘rap album’ with 11 tracks, a 15 dollar microphone and a program I still use today — Audacity.  I made it mainly because I wanted to liven up the tedious routine of school and I rapped about very tame things (the class botany project; in-jokes with friends recorded for friends and Dance Dance Revolution, sampling South Park’s then-popular episode).  I even tried to make a “real” song, of which I’ll spare you the details.

Among friends, from then on, I was of-course known by my rap alias, “Hateorade”, not necessarily by choice, but always in good-spirit.  The 14-minute album-in-question, “Hate or Die”, did manage to get played in said science class and yes, when the first track, “With a Beat” came on, a few people started dancing (and laughing).

The memory of my friends’ and classmates’ reaction, in addition to the ‘recording process’ itself (i.e. “Name me some stuff and I’ll make a rap about it,” leading to the classic, “Pancaked”) are clearly why I made the project.  The intentions were so pure and the results were so horrible, but everyone just kept going with it because it was honestly pretty funny – this was in 2006.

This is my ultimate take-away from making music: what you record in the present turns into something which helps understand who you were in the past (and thus, who you are today).  I think when I revisited this, years later, this realization refueled my desire to record music.

Fast-forward to the end of 2010, throughout 2011 and into early 2012 and I began to reimagine my favorite moments in music as platforms on which my perspective could stand – this was done by looping portions of songs, then rapping over these loops.  Those are heady statements, too, because the practical result was some uber-lo-fi, uber-quiet raps over weird-ass samples; amassing maybe a collective 1,000 views on YouTube (and over 17 tracks, that’s even less than you think it is).

It was early 2012 and I realized I had recorded about an album’s length of material, so I released it on DatPiff.  I also realized, judging from said ‘album’, that I was a terrible rapper and it was ridiculous to think anyone should waste their time listening to such “armchair Hip Hop”.   This, in itself, was enough for me to ask the question: “Could I do it any better if I actually tried?”

So I did try — really, really hard.  That very summer I made up my mind I was going to make a rap album that was somewhat listenable.  There was also a serious sense of urgency to the project because part of me was a bit sketched out by talks of doomsday and Mayan Apocalypse.  I knew the world wouldn’t end, but I did wonder: “If it would, what would I want to say now?”

I was making music as if it was the last thing I was ever going to make.  Once it was made, however, I realized that life was still continuing and, since I had at least tried to make something, my sense of urgency faded.  Life kicked into full-gear and I was too busy balancing work and school to really find time for rapping.

During this time period, I used Laptop Rap 2 as personal motivation.  Whenever I felt like everything was too much, I remembered that at the end of the day, I made Laptop Rap 2.  It sounds so silly now, but it was quite an accomplishment (in my own head).  Over time, however, inner(/net) criticism dissolved my halcyon daze and I was back to square one: “Could I make an album which would transcend internal criticism?”

Spoilers: Yes.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that making Hip Hop music, in the 100%-DIY manner I choose to make it, is both therapeutic and a powerful tool for self-motivation.  I’m telling you all this because I wanted those who know me in-person to understand my intentions and that no, I haven’t lost my mind.  If you really respect me as a person, you will indulge my rap-fantasy and give my tunes a listen – you’ll be surprised.

Lyrical Analysis: “DLZ” by TV on the Radio

The lyrics can be found here.  You can listen to the song below:

“DLZ” (‘Deals’) by TV on the Radio is a song that deals with “evil” and how it spreads.  The first half of the song describes how a loathsome protagonist rises in power; the second focuses on his impact.  Right away, the song hits you with a massive scale of sound, a crooning arriving from the highest dimensions of the cosmic sphere – the song is profound long before learning what’s being sung.  This elaborates the scale of the protagonist’s misdeeds, as if to suggest this is a dictator, high-end arms dealer or Walter White from Breaking Bad.  When the song closes, all that’s left is a quiet chanting: “This is beginning to feel like the dawn of a loser forever”.  While every human is mortal, one’s impact lives on longer than their life – good and bad.  If we take up “loser” characteristics, they may be passed on, forever.

Indirect metaphor is painted over “DLZ”’s lyrics like a coating.  Taken as a whole, however, all these symbols paint but one color – an angry crimson.  Furthermore, the paint is being thrown in frustration against the canvas, as if the painter has been remaking the same painting over and over, growing weary in the process.  Indeed, the first line of the song, “Congratulations on the mess you made of things,” is sung with condescension and jest, summing up the song’s tone in half a sentence.

“To reconstruct the air” is impossible and the protagonist fails in his attempted reconstruction (making “a mess of things”).  Oxidation is a process in which electrons are lost – this may seem out of place until making the connection that the song is describing the loss of the soul in three sentences.  For going against what’s natural (“reconstructing the air”), you’ve dug yourself into a hole from which you cannot escape (the “mess you’ve made” / “compromise you owe”) and now you’ve lost your soul (the soul representing the electrons lost in oxidation).  Ironically, it’s beginning to feel like the dog (the loathsome protagonist) wants a bone (is starting to feel guilty / wants a break).

If the first verse provided exposition into how the protagonist turns evil, the second describes why he remains evil.  He “forces his fire” then “falsifies his deeds” – his malicious wishes are subjected to the world and when it’s time to answer consequence, he covers up ever being involved in the first place.  The song implies not only does the protagonist avoid accusation; he becomes rich off of his misdeeds.

Unfortunately, no amount of fortune could ever fill the vacuous void of his soul; regardless, the protagonist still tries to satisfy this emptiness with further wealth and power.  This is the beginning of the end, the point of no return – when evil becomes impossible to sustain with a sane mind (“This is beginning to feel like the dog’s lost her lead”).  Again, the song is implying the protagonist has found great success, perhaps even admired by many, but has lost the spark (oxidation/soul) which made him admirable in the first place.

It is now when Tunde cries out “This is beginning to feel like the long-winded blues of the never” – this is beginning to feel like there is no going back.  There is no hope, escape or plan-B.  The protagonist is so consumed by greed that he’s essentially dying (“curling up slowly”) and now looks to bring the rest of the world down with him (“finding a throat to choke”).  He descends down this self-made spiral so fast and with such reckless abandon, it could be compared to a train running itself off the tracks (“barely controlled locomotive”).

At this point, the only thing in his future is downfall – with a tunnel-vision, he ignores all outside perspective and hope (“consuming the picture”).  Again, the song references the protagonist’s desire (“static explosion”) to pass along his disease to whomsoever gets in his way (“devoted to crushing the broken”) so that they too will suffer in the same hell (“shoving their souls to ghost”).

What’s the result?  Eternal admiration; his likeness objectified into stone (“eternalized; objectified”).  His “sights” were set powerfully upon the top and the song has revealed the extent of his success.  However, this is where he begins to face criticism, as Tunde once again observes, “This is beginning to feel like the bolt’s busted loose from the lever” – he’s gone mad with power.  Unhinged, derailed, insane – the public is catching on.

The narrator now enters the song as a second character, the antagonist in this case, and asserts how impossible it would be to ever fall victim to the protagonist’s evil nature (“Never you mind, death professor! / Your structure’s fine; my dust is better!”).  This insult about “dust” seems to say “Regardless how massive or complex these structures are (“eternalized; objectified”), there’s more substance to be found in the dust from my footprint, however small it’s impact may be.”  Additionally, in the same stanza is a jab toward those who are “weak” enough (“your victims”) to be swayed by the promise of power, to the point where they give everything to reach it (“fly so high”) only to realize that at the lowest pit of hell, there’s nothing to do but drag others down with you (“all to catch a bird’s eye-view of who’s next”).

Swept away in hatred for the protagonist, the narrator continues preaching upon his soapbox.  “Love is life!  My love is better!” Tunde declares.  It’s emancipation from any remaining connection the narrator has to this narrative of evil.  He theorizes if more people weren’t “confused with who’s next”, our “eyes could be the diamonds” – our transcendent focus would astound all, the same way a diamond’s shine would catch anyone’s attention.

He elaborates — “Your shocks are fine – my struts are better” – while power’s hypnotism is profound, the ability for the narrator to cast it aside allows him to rant (“strut”) with superior ease.  Still, there’s another reference to how many are swayed by twisted promises (“Your fiction flies so high”) and how these people are past the point of self-correction, for they are tumbling down the spiral (“Y’all could use a doctor / who’s sick? / who’s next?”)

Pen-ultimately, the narrator sings how his love is electric, crystalizing into the psyches of everyone whom experiences it.  Thus, the impact will last longer than any statue or monument.  Promising how “all could be the diamond fused with–” the narrator interrupts himself: “—who’s next?”  Does he question who is next to rise, or fall?  The song ends soon after.

Though filled with abstract metaphor, the song’s overall tone is quite simple to grasp.  From here, you can translate this general narrative into something much more specific.  It is easy to fixate on the song’s phonetic title, “Deals”, as if to say this is a song about the power structure in our society and how TV on the Radio have an antidote – musical expression (“electrified – my love is better!”).  However, the song is as applicable to trust issues in a relationship as it is to a critique on organized religion.  Regardless what you choose to read into and what you choose to exclude, the ending of the song is very much about liberation and the mentality one develops when freed.  What you are being liberated from, is up to you as a listener to decide.

“Modern Art” In Contemporary Society

Ask the average twenty-something what ‘modern art’ is and apart from an indifferent shrug, the response heard most often will be along the lines of “Oh, you mean Warhol and the soup cans?”

Warhol’s take on art was considered by many to be “the end of art”. Within the last year I have begun to realize the unintentional meaning this phrase carries in the ’00s.  To the average consumer, kid, adult and American, “art” is whatever is on television, our favorite films and the video game of the moment.  Traditional art, paintings, sculptures and the idea of a museum has become completely irrelevant apart from those who actively seek it out.  Art has faded into the background as a hobby at best and an unnecessary, exclusive, expensive and outdated luxury at worst.

Some might say, “Well, it’s simply been redefined” — this is ignoring the issue.  Paintings and the idea of putting art upon a pedestal for viewing has vanished from contemporary society and from the practical consumer’s mindset.  Sure, it has been replaced by flashier culture, but it’s only on a metaphorical pedestal, not a literal one, that we view video gaming and television.  What does a painting mean now?  If the term “modern art” means something that is half a century old (‘soup cans’), it’s clear that the very term is hypocritical.

Personally, art has meant album artwork.  This is a medium which many could toss up to containing a cohesive and beautiful statement once every 300 album covers.  Regardless, I have thrived off of my last remaining attachment I have to traditional paintings, even though the pedestal said album art is viewed upon is my laptop.

There is a poster on my wall containing the album artwork of Animal Collective’s 2009 album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”.  When moving from college dorm A to college dorm B, I had forgotten to take down my posters.  My friend, Ryan, kindly took the posters down and stored them in his car, where they collected dust all summer long.  These posters were rolled together in a messy clump, rendering most of them ruined from being stuck together for such a long time.  However, there was one interesting effect to the Merriweather Poster.  In addition to several white tears, the sunlight had created a fantastic faded blue streak across the bottom of the image.  It gave a precise effect that looked as if it could have only been created digitally — or perhaps by leaving a poster exposed to three months of sunlight.

With no real desire to seek out far-less stimulating culture, the place for massive and vibrant paintings, sculptures and installations has been moved to one of two places:

  1. There are enthusiasts, many of them, who will never say goodbye to the wonder and subtlety that “true” art, found in a museum, provides.
  2. The second place this art has gone to (and the place which gets far more attention) is upon Flickr accounts, various impersonal Tumblr pages and occasionally upon a Google Image search.

If art was an experience to help transcend the trivialities of daily life, if even for a moment, and said experience no longer takes place outside the stream of our lives — what does that say for art?  We no longer have to visit museums to experience a plethora of styles; all we need is StumbleUpon and perhaps a search string.  Such ease allows us a whirlwind of culture, but at the same time, it is easy to under-appreciate the magnitude of the culture itself.

Conceptually, the artist is dead, because there are no longer pedestals for each artist to showcase their work upon.  All art created gets thrown into the digital void, upon one unified pedestal.  This pedestal is shared amongst all artists and with this sharing, artistic individuality has been lost in the digital stream of consciousness.  The artist is no longer relevant so much as the audience, i.e., you, as you have the power to skip to the next image or share it on your Facebook wall.  This is about as much praise as one can practically expect as an artist on a mass scale, apart from the occasional PR puff piece and blogosphere commentary.

The poster on my wall does not ask for my attention, yet it exists outside the internet, in its own museum (my room) on its own pedestal (the wall).  The audience (I and whoever is in the room at the time) is not forced to look upon this poster, but when they do, it captures the overstimulated attention span, if just for a moment.  Modern art is individually-oriented and based around personal narratives — one glance upon the poster reminds of a story.  It calls attention to something I have no control over (sunlight, the forces of nature, destroying my perfect replica of a favorite album) and in its own subliminal way, reminds of my own impermanence.  One may think that this is all a bit hyperbolic, but that’s just it!  There is nothing that is going to exist in our lives which will live up to the mythical shadow cast upon by pre-internet society, when it was impossible to fathom the audience even touching the pedestal, let alone controlling what was seen upon it.

This is why I can look to a sun-faded Animal Collective poster as the highest example of contemporary art imaginable.  This is why the definition of art in practical, contemporary society is exactly what you as a viewer, view it to be.  While artists will continue to make thought-provoking work to be seen in small scales, the masses are still left scratching their head, thinking to 1962’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” as the only example of modern art — before tuning back into the daily programming.  Today, artistic relevance depends completely on what you personally find relevant.  Traditional art made by others will always have beauty, but it will never catch the eye as the heirlooms our lifetime will, however insignificant to an outside observer these may be.

The end of art meant the end of established artistic norms, of an invisible world telling you what you could and could not find aesthetically pleasing.  It began with Warhol realizing that art could be found anywhere, even in the supermarket.  If a supermarket is a pedestal, then it’s obvious that the museum is the human mind and whatever we attach ourselves to can be transformed into a gallery, flimsy posters included.

Defining Music

Before you press play and long after the song has ended, sound can still be heard.  Whether it’s the background noise of a bus or the sound of headphones being removed from the ear — we continuously hear sound each day.  Listening to the sounds of birds in the morning in combination with the natural sounds of the outdoor environment can sooth and perhaps even allow us to hear patterns of melody in the noisy nothingness.  A woodpecker tapping on a tree might match nicely with the sound of the rain – it is in this context in which the listener has transformed what was at first noise, into music.

Music is what we are presently hearing, but only if it is realized to be so.  Turning on an album and then focusing upon another activity – is the album still considered music, or has it become background noise?  The artist may have intended for it to have been heard as music, but when placed in a context where music is unwanted, it is simply one more layer of noise to tune out.  Therefore, music is not a theoretical record yet to have been played, nor is it the next thirty seconds approaching in the song – music is now.  If you consider it to be music, you are actively listening to it in the present moment.

Music is response-oriented – focusing upon the listener’s reaction, rather than the music itself.  Music is not a pop melody unless you recognize it to be one.  It is based on the listener’s state-of-mind and intention.  The sounds we hear are either aimless, formless noise or they are cohesive, consciously crafted statements of creativity made solely for our enlightenment.   At any given moment, we make the decision on how to classify receptive sound.

Thus, focus is the determining factor in musical preference.  Beyond the simple notion of “paying attention” to sound intended (and hoping-to-be-realized) as music, there is the ability to comprehend music at greater levels of clarity.  Simply paying attention in greater detail can allow for an increase in musical understanding.  Imagine a song you strongly detest, regardless of genre.  What caused the discomfort you feel?  Was it the sound itself, or was it the fact that the sound conflicted with a personalized mental attachment to what you consider “music”?  What happens when someone listens to the same song, but this person finds immense enjoyment in the material?  The song matches with their ideal for what can be considered music.  Music is completely response-oriented, and thus, all sound can be potentially experienced as music with a broad enough personal standard.  This standard adjusts at whim.  If you find yourself meditating on a mountaintop, you may find yourself at peace, and all is music.  If you find yourself in a traffic jam, limited patience will limit this standard, etc.

Conscious awareness of the fact that sound exists allows us to perceive sound in a way which goes beyond noise.  Music is sound which, through personalized context, sparks inspiration within the listener.

Lyrical Analysis: “Abducted” by Cults

The lyrics are found here.  Here is the official music video:

The music video for this song features a woman being abducted by a man, and then the man driving down a very long and winding road — constantly looking out the window the entire time.  The whole while, the woman is tied and trapped in the trunk of the car.  At the end of the video, he gets out the car, lets her out of the trunk, and allows himself to be tied up by her and eventually locked in the trunk.

The lyrics to this song focus upon a relationship where the woman is completely infatuated with the man upon first sight.  She realizes that this man is the best man she has ever been in a relationship with (“I knew right then no one was above him”).  The first three lines seem to infer to “I knew right then” as the moment/day/night she first met this man, but in the last line, “I knew right then that he would be breaking my heart“, she seems to be speaking from a later point in the relationship where she realizes that he is not in love with her like she is to him.

Unfortunately, she wants to stay with him regardless, because even though the love is not mutual, to her, he represents the closest thing to love she has ever felt (“He tore me apart because I really loved him“).  I love the next lines, “He took my heart(/it all) away and left me to bleed out, bleed out“, as it infers how she put her entire self transparently into the relationship, giving her heart to him, and the love was not returned in the manner she thought the situation would have indicated.

Then the song shifts to his perspective, this time again, the man does not seem to be speaking from the moment which they first met (“I knew right then that I’d never love her”).  He cannot control how in love someone is with him, he simply is not in love with her (“the reasons”) — and this likely became apparent when it was revealed to him how much she actually loved him.  He wishes her the best, realizing that the whole experience likely will cause her to never give herself that way to anyone ever again (“I hope the dream hasn’t left her scarred”).

This is where the video really comes full circle.  The vulnerability and emotion shown by the woman in the video really contrasts how stern and detached the male kidnapper comes across as.  That is, until the end, where the very thing the male voice in the song alludes to comes true — she becomes the cold and detached kidnapper, and now she will likely “kidnap” another’s heart in the same manner she was.  The cycle perpetuates, and we now can empathize with the male kidnapper, for it’s implied he was turned cold after opening himself to another, but then being rejected.  This song captures the emotion of the entire situation, and the video acts as a perfect visual allegory for the male and female characters within the song’s lyrics.