The Return

There won’t be many cigarettes left,
Not many to burn down
Tears to ashes.
Let the music hang
In there,
Let the strings be the veins, that
Carry all that is left,
Sent back from the ones that
Held it close.
So, when rhythm comes running back
Beating and thumping
You don’t face the love with retreat,
But calmness.
For once it unravels before your eyes,
It ceases to amaze you.

Building upon Disappearance: Lady Gaga’s Joanne Answers to Contemporary Pop Culture

The fifth studio album of mother monster comes at a conjecture where pop music has been divorced from its instrumentalities; and quite literally so. The major releases in past few years have been dominated by electronically generated music, pitch correction and auto tuned vocals. It’s true that there have been few exceptions, and God they have been good, but the larger idea of pop music in the contemporary era seems to be moving towards this centre of dance music that is alienated not only from the conventional instruments but also from the personal storytelling. So folks, it’s true that pop music is constantly in the flux but what’s also undeniable is the movement of this flux in only one direction – the lyrical booty touche.

So what has this pop apocalypse dawned upon us? Well, the new album Joanne answers just that.

Ackbar Abbas, a renowned cultural theorist, came up with this idea of disappearance while studying the transitionary stage of the city of Hong Kong. He observed that the constant flux of the city under colonialism coupled with its globalised existence, created this identity of disappearance where no identity of Hong Kong claimed to be permanent. It was only when the British chose to hand over Hong Kong to a much obsolete and conservative state of China that the city began to realise the importance of making an identity for itself to resist such unwelcomed change.

Lady Gaga’s Joanne builds upon the same idea of disappearance. The blinding movement of contemporary pop music towards this unrelatable space of art where every display is mere objectification of sleazy sexual fantasies. The songs have been removed from poetical lyrics and are now stuffed with conversational slangs. This flux of pop music only realises its disappearing identity when Gaga’s Joanne dawns upon it.

Joanne not only brings back live recording and acoustic instruments back into foray but also displays a personality that develops through the songs within it. Named after Gaga’s late aunt who died of lupus at a very early stage of her life, the title track exemplifies the lingering grief of her father in the simplest of melodies. In addition to this, songs such as Angel Down which draws inspiration from Trayvon Martin and Diamond Heart that screams wreaking of childhood innocence by the doings of a rapists speak lengths about the character of the album which is not much diverged from Gaga’s own history of assault and rejection.

Apart from being personal, Joanne exemplifies the versatility of a true pop legend. From country to funk to soul, the swinging beat of progression provides every facet of the artist in the purest representation. So, how does Joanne works up with the audience?

The most common criticism that comes to this album is the idea that most of the songs are under produced or poorly recorded. This observation reflects nothing but the gravity of destruction that contemporary pop audience has underwent due to artificially tuned and over produced pop records. The lack of vocal strength and the use of lip syncing in award shows are the biggest signifiers of the cosmetics of contemporary pop music. Therefore, in such circumstances when you have an artist like Gaga or Sia who dare to go the natural way, popzillas find them to be under produced, musically weak or simply ‘weird’.

The second criticism carries the seed of its own bafflement. I’ve noticed many people saying that the vocals were top notch but they didn’t feel the song. So, you are accepting the vocal perfection of a person but still calling her a bad singer? Well, what does a singer supposed to do apart from getting her notes right? I think the lack of rationality here is quite self explanatory.

The third and the most confusing criticism comes from the Little Monsters themselves who say that since they expected another Fame Monster, Gaga’s new album fails to deliver. I believe that this is precisely the conservatism that hinders an artist’s growth to self celebratory legend stature. Artists often give up to this popular expectation and compromises on their creative instincts and artistic aspirations just to pander to the market. That’s precisely what Gaga is moving away from. Joanne is not only her record but also her rebel. It’s a statement she proudly makes about giving a space to an artist to realise her true potential, enjoy the music making process and develop a personal relationship with her fans. And talking about personal relationship, well the dive bar performance at NYC shall be the resting argument of my case.

Well, this entire construction of chaos and confusion that has been built around the new album comes from this restlessness that has been generated in the pop music patrons. They have been shown, quite unexpectedly and unapologetically, all what that has been compromised in creating this identity of disappearance. It’s hard for people to objectively analyse this album and the music that it offers for it becomes hard for them to divorce Lady Gaga from the fluidity she carries. So, even if Joanne stares at contemporary pop music right in the eye, it would be hard to expect any career defining sales for this one. We all know LG lives for the applause, so what if it comes from the people who actually matter.

Just a Minute

Minutes gone by, and
There I stand so defeated and
Disgusted, before
No one but
Myself
It was only minutes ago, that
I had seen a life being played like
A reel in front of my eyes, it
Was like a beginning
To this thing that knew no meaning, but
Felt all strings of rhythm, beating
And breathing heavily upon
My heart.
All that had ruined, and
All that wrecked
Lies within these few minutes
These minutes, they conspire
A fall so hard that I
Wouldn’t want to recognise self, a disgust
So profound, that
All that this body knows is
How rejection has shaped all its curves
And trajectories, it
Makes it, this body
A hate of itself, with a
Chain of nights spent
In curled up sobs, with tears making
Channels for the new ones to feel
The depth of this hurt.
These minutes,
They are not mine
And they didn’t hold back a little
To make me know that
For what all have I lost thinking
What this minute of attraction
Meant, to this
Long drawn patch of desperation
Left unrealised,
It meant nothing.
So, these are my minutes,
Spent in utter solace of understanding, how love in my life comes
Like yellow flicker lights, to
Attract the moth of my heart so close
That all that is left
To be seen, is
The smallness of my soul.

On Kochi Strike

It was when the roads were brave with

No soul treading upon it, but

Fires silently flaming high upon the falling

Tree trunks and giant logs

All so silent,

Silence that embezzles every shred of reason

Out of a worn out mind

 

The language was not mine, not

Even the faces or reflections

Any similar

I was getting into this unseen, unfelt stretch

Of land with nothing

But what the land offered me quite

Knowingly

 

I had known of the red, and

Every anger and dissent that flows

From that land, but

This anger was saffron, it

Was unafraid as if to have that

Cunning smile, concealed somewhere beneath

The scenes of basic deprivation

And fear, just fear

 

With every passing of a burnt tree, of

A shut house or burnt effigies, I

Saw the life running away from life, I

Saw resistance not in rebel

But in regret, or

Better or worse, in

Ignorance

 

So, the streets of Alavu rendered

Me a poem,

A poem that is about protest, about

Us versus them

About every tick of clock spent in fevered perspirations

The streets made me see life

As life that never made sense to me when

I ever made sense of politics and

People

The rebel bloomed like a lotus, over

What seemed like settled mud.  

And I,

Well I waited for the dawn.

On Norms

I can feel this world resting
Restlessly, beneath my
Knees.
Like a clamour destined to despair
It outreaches, clings
Then retreat.
I can feel this world praying
Faithfully, for the turn
Of my face
All this knowledge of this world
All these signals that pointed north
Have their eyes widened
Their faces reddened
For the might that
Thought I could be conquered
Doesn’t feel mighty
At all.

The Modernist Reading of Florence Welch

Florence Welch is a lead singer of a British alternative band Florence & the Machine. A visual artist in her own right, it is so fascinating to see how her musicology draws undeniable parallels from many modernist artists such as Picasso or Brecht. Quiet exemplary of the historicity of her name, Florence Welch has dedicated, consciously I believe, the visuality of her music to an aesthetic movement that demands its patrons to be participative in the thinking process.

The first parallel can be drawn from the Brechtian theatre and its idea of alienation that is reflective in Florence’s recent album. The viewers of Brecht’s plays might be aware of his style of alienating the actor from the character he or she plays in order to provide its objective understating to the audience. Brecht divorces the auratic presence from the character by dehumanising it and presenting it as a fictional representation of a human form and not the human being himself. In addition to this, the elaborate changing of props and unrealistic construction of the set provides further agency to the audience to think and view the drama as a work of art and not as an extension of their own lives.
We can see the traces of same artistry in almost all the chapters of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. In What Kind of Man, Florence divorces her actual conduct from the melancholy she was subjected to by representing that melancholy in a metaphorically exaggerated manner. This shows her act of divorcing actor from the character which gets further crystallised in Saint Jude where you can see her following her own self as if to be a spectator to her own story. This is a very interesting modernist trait in all the subsequent videos from the album particularly matured in Delilah. This also takes me to the second parallel which is drawn from legendary Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Vertov in his landmark film Man With The Moving Camera successfully endeavoured to portray the revolutionary potential of cinema. In that movie, Vertov places one of the faces exactly at the eye level of the audience so as to make them believe that they are being spectators of their own authority. By doing this, Vertov not only tried to democratise the art of filmmaking but also tried to make movies a mode of communication emancipated from theatrical melodrama and understood universally beyond the limits of language. In the video of Delilah, Florence has not only shown us the story of her self destructive wreck but has also made us participate in it by placing ourselves in the position of ‘shadow Florence’ that is shown as an unnoticed and objective viewer of all the miseries that the protagonist is suffering from. Moreover, the use of heavy imagery and the strong use of symbols makes it a video that can be understood beyond the limits of language. The casualty and simplicity of the protagonist’s dressing is quite reflective of the divorcing of the narrative from theatrical melodrama. When it comes to the use of imagery, Florence shows her genius in Queen of Peace. The symbolism of deserted island, rising and retreating waves, and her hand held high, the video makes Vertov proud by liberating emotions from the mercy of language. Every frame of that video has been left for the viewer to decipher and then interpret.
Apart from Vertov and Brecht, we can also see Picasso’s abstractness in many of Florence’s works namely Dog Days Are Over, Spectrum and Never Let Me Go. The Picasso style of looking at art from the perspective of its properties is quite evident in the geometries of the choreography of Dog Days Are Over. The principal focus on colors, shapes and symbols takes away the deceptive realism from the video and shows rebel in the free flowing riot of everything that art consists of. Well, precisely how rebel should look like.

Florence Welch has always itched a peculiar form of sensation among her patrons. That’s precisely the reason why she appears to be “alternative” in the large sea of popular culture. The heavy use of imagery and class apart metaphorical finesse puts Florence at the supreme rungs of contemporary visual artists. With a voice that is drenched in soulfulness, Florence & the Machine have continued to democratise discourses on art by just being the catalyst between videos as a form of representation and her music being the object of such representation. It is this artistry of celebrating art as representation and not as reality itself is precisely the reason why I would call Florence a modernist.

On Gravity

Unseen but felt

It aired me down to this

Soil, it said

I belong to

I came from

And what I shall, will,

Come back to.

So I stretch my hands out wide

There’s no more love

Left to love

And no less love left to regret

What unseen does to this Seen

What soil it brings

Me back to

I have no colour, no face

Nothing left of this

Body that could trace it back to body

Of the seen

Of the felt

Of the loved.

So unseen stands weak and buried

In the confusions of

It’s own creations

For how,

Would this unseen move,

the Unseen, which

It cannot trace back to anything.

To What, Imperfections.

We are so divorced from the cinema of life that the reality of it all plagues us. We could’ve made our own constructions and find peace in the meanings that we identify with. However, we chose not to find happiness in our depravity and keep on collating those relics of what a “real” life is.

Yesterday, a friend of mine left a door ajar for me to see through this façade. I could see the human melancholy from a distance and understand how it has nothing to do with depravity. That friend of mine proved it that we can make sense of who we are or what we have become without grieving upon what all we lost in this process. Loss will never let you go, but you can let go of what it represents in a “real” world.