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The Soundtrack To Life In New Orleans Is Bounce

Culture
Photographed by Patrick Melon. Reedy performing at an Easter Shakedown

We hit the Big Easy to hear from the genre’s next generation of voices on where it stands today and which way it’s headed

The following feature appears in the June/July issue of NYLON.

For the uninitiated, bounce is a regional music culture that emerged in early ’90s New Orleans from a combination of local traditions (call-and-response, Mardi Gras Indian chants, hip-hop, and dance). Largely defined by 808-style backbeats like the Triggerman and the Brown beat, the sound is one of heavily patterned, upbeat rhythms that inspire you to do something with dat azz. Nowadays, when people outside of New Orleans hear “bounce,” they often think of twerking, or Big Freedia, whose voice was featured—following the late Messy Mya’s—on Beyoncé’s “Formation,” which was built on a bounce beat, with a video that notably/notoriously features footage from a mini-doc about bounce culture. But, as anyone from the 504 will tell you, it’s way more than that.

“Bounce? Been around...forever.” I’m talking to one of New Orleans’s hottest artists, 25-year-old Reedy, outside of the women’s restroom at Lyve Nite Club on Tulane Avenue—Uptown, near the center of the city. Muffled bass lines and the sounds of Southern rap seep through the walls that separate us from the club’s main room, where, in about an hour, Reedy and other big names in the local bounce scene will be performing for a packed audience.

She’s leaning against the wall, talking in a slightly raspy voice—even when she’s not performing, she sounds like New Orleans—surrounded by friends that all look like they could be my own: Beautiful black girls in braids and bright colors. One’s rocking bunny ears (it is an Easter shakedown, after all). The whole scene reminds me of the place where I grew up. I’ve known this to be a defining feature of bounce culture for a while now—for lots of people, it feels familiar, comfortable, like home.

Photographed by Patrick Melon. Catch a wall (or the DJ setup) for support.

The show hasn’t really started yet—a DJ’s still handling things—so Reedy has some time to tell me about how she started off as a dancer. “I done danced for Katey Red, Sissy Nobby, I done danced in Magnolia Rhome videos, Keedy Black…everybody,” she says. Dance is a huge part of bounce culture; the twerking that’s been mainstreamed doesn’t really compare to the “shaking” Reedy’s talking about: girls all up on the ground in skirts, knees getting bruised, hair sweating out, not stopping until the DJ’s done. Dudes totally allowing their bodies to be free. There are specific shake moves (the titty bop, the wiggle, the swiggle, the list goes on), but shaking in general is more of an overall expression that’s difficult to put into words. It comes from the heart. It’s inspired by bounce music.

“It started off in school,” Reedy explains. “In high school, I used to be on the wall like”—she demonstrates, shaking to a self-improvised Brown beat—”beatin’ on a garbage can, and all dat.” In New Orleans, schools have often served as informal, communal bounce spaces where desks become drums between classes and roll calls get practiced during recess. One of the genre’s all-time greatest hits, “Get Ready, Ready,” by bounce pioneer (and longtime schoolteacher/football coach) DJ Jubilee, features a “What’s the name of your school?” call-and-response. The song’s hyper-local references highlight the importance of New Orleans high school pride while showing just how ingrained into the community the whole culture is.

Photographed by Patrick Melon. Support ya friends when they go off.

Reedy continues: “It’s like, making music—making songs and rhyming—come so natural to me, so I said, ‘One day, I’mma make me a song.’” And she did. Four years later, in 2016, Reedy won the NOLA Music Award for Best Bounce Artist.

As she’s telling me all of this, I can’t stop thinking about my shoes. Reedy looks hella fly in a baby blue cropped sweatshirt, denim short shorts, and Carolina blue-and-white Jordan 11s. I seriously regret not bringing my new sequoia green 8s on this trip. (I left them boxed up in my room at home because I was worried about messing them up.)

I’m at the shakedown to talk bounce, yes, but now, I also wanna show out. My fixation on the fashion, though, is part of the magic and wonder and beauty and value of the culture—what makes it so appealing. It’s more than just ass shaking and a Triggerman beat. I’m not from New Orleans; I’m essentially investigating a culture that isn’t mine, but one I’ve been invited into. The pieces of bounce that I can claim, though, are the ones that align with a black diaspora culture in the United States more generally. I come from a hood over 1,000 miles away from New Orleans, but we love Jordans—and drumming on desktops—there, too.

Photographed by Patrick Melon. Showing out will happen at a Second Line.

“Bounce is totally different than twerking, and ‘Formation,’” Shardaysa, another local artist, is telling me over the phone a couple days later. “It’s like, a soul-touching feeling. That’s what people don’t understand.” The 22-year-old has been performing regionally for almost two years thanks to one song, “Gimme My Gots,” which, like Reedy’s breakout track “Post to Be,” was released in 2015. One element of bounce music that hasn’t changed since its inception is the hit track’s shelf life. Bounce songs have longevity; one banger can be enough to keep a local artist booked in heavy rotation for years.

And while the popularity is an upside, the hustle that comes along with it can be taxing. “I’m my own boat,” Shardaysa tells me, explaining the work that goes into making sure she’s consistently booked. Combined with the drama of a small, independent scene—she tells me that beefing among producers, artists, managers, and DJs isn’t uncommon—it can be hard to expand.

Still, Shardaysa’s ultimate goal is for bounce to be worldwide. “We have stories behind this shit. I got a story to tell, and I’m not go’n stop until it’s told.”

Photographed by Patrick Melon. Another Shakedown moment.

“The beat. It has to be the beat.” We’re at a second line, and I’m asking New Orleanian (and excellent dancer) Bryant what elements of bounce get people moving nowadays. “We just need to hear the beat, and once it drops, all we have to do is just shake and bounce and move to it.” Which, he points out, isn’t just a hobby for New Orleanians—it’s simultaneously a stress reliever and a way to engage in community. “[Dancing] is something we all do together.”

“It’s not so much about the beat, though,” his boyfriend, Trindale, pushes back. “It’s the originality in the music, it’s the quality of the music, it’s how [artists] freestyle and how they mix the music with the lyrics. Back in the day, it was mainly lyrics, everybody would give you lyrics. But now, [bounce has] become faster, it’s progressing.”

While most contemporary bounce still shares the same foundation, the sound is evolving, and some artists have been able to move beyond just a local scene. Keno is a bounce artist crossing over into more mainstream territory by combining elements typically heard in dance and electronic music, and Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton followed up his solo debut with the mixtape Bounce & Soul, Vol. 1 in 2016.

Photographed by Patrick Melon. Shakedown rule number one: don’t stop till the DJ’s done.

“One good thing [about bounce becoming more mainstream] is that people are gonna have the opportunity to cross over, and collaborate, and educate more people on New Orleans culture,” says Marissa “Moe Joe” Joseph, creator of Bounce Fitness With Moe Joe. Joseph thinks this is a net positive because of the way people outside of New Orleans currently conceive of bounce. “It doesn’t really show any reverence to the people who created it or the culture,” she says. “It doesn’t show diversity. It doesn’t show strength. It doesn’t show empowerment. It doesn’t show the storytelling about where different people are from”—something she’s actively trying to combat by using wellness and self-care as vehicles to expand bounce’s reach.

Brought up in dance-team culture in southwestern Louisiana—“more on the consumption side of bounce music”—she often thinks about how bounce is packaged and presented outside of New Orleans. “As a dancer, you’re always just lookin’ for, relatively, what songs are gonna make you move?” she says. When she was younger, bounce gave her that kinetic energy, but also gave her a voice, a sense of independence, an idea of her sexuality, and inspired her to have her own perspective.

Created in 2014, Bounce Fitness With Moe Joe allows her to share all that bounce has to offer in wellness spaces. “When I thought about what really unified Louisiana as a community and state and people, it was that [bounce] sound from New Orleans—a place where people naturally, from different backgrounds, come and commune in music, in movement, in art, in culture,” Joseph says. With this new iteration of the culture, she is able to convey bounce’s richness and multivocality to new audiences on new terms. But with new audiences and opportunities also come new risks.

Photographed by Patrick Melon. Rule number two: wear ya shortest shorts.

It’s kind of hard to talk about the current state of bounce without also talking about the current state of New Orleans in terms of gentrification and shifting demographics. Before heading to Lyve for the shakedown, someone told me that it was in the hood and that I should be careful. When I relayed this warning to my friend Terri Coleman (a black New Orleanian and public humanities hustler who researches New Orleans culture), she told me it’s the black folks in and of that area who should be careful, because their “hood” won’t exist for much longer.

Lyve, just down the street from Xavier University, one of three historically black colleges and universities in the city, is on Tulane Avenue. Tulane is attached to a corridor that leads to a new federal- and state-funded hospital complex, which uses a private insurance model. In order to build the new complex, the state closed Charity Hospital—one of the nation’s oldest and continually operating public hospitals. Before Katrina, Charity, which largely served poor and uninsured people, was vital to the local population—the same local population who created and nurtured bounce.

“In actuality, the new hospital complex, just like a lot of the gentrification that’s happening in the city, took away already overburdened infrastructure and replaced it with more and higher-quality stuff that’s not available to poor people, black people, or the uninsured,” Coleman says. Why? “Part of that was explicitly to draw in new people to our economy.” So, condos are being built. Whiter, wealthier people are moving into historically black neighborhoods. And the new inhabitants are bringing new rules with them that infringe on established culture. “Now we have noise restrictions on places where shows used to be—that didn’t used to fucking happen! Those noise restrictions came with people who claimed to love our noise, but then they lived in it, and they were like, ‘This is really inconvenient!’” she says.

Photographed by Patrick Melon. Second-line goers at Downtown Super Sunday.

Block parties, second lines, shakedowns, school dances, cookouts—these are all traditional bounce spaces. When I’m in New Orleans, I expect to hear bounce music loudly and often: 2:04pm on Broadway and Fig. 4:18pm standing outside the library on Gentilly Boulevard. 4:23pm in the parking lot of Boost Mobile. 9:22pm leaving Melba’s Old School Po’ Boys.

But these patterns of post-Katrina gentrification could have lasting impacts on bounce culture, which explains why one black New Orleanian tells me that the state of bounce in 2017 is “bereft and unsafe for the black people who made it.” When asked to explain, she simply says, “White folks move into the neighborhood and it disappears. It sucks!”

Bounce, by and large, has been able to thrive in a small, local economy and as an in-group thing. (“Everybody just know where [the bounce scene’s] at. There are spots people been going to for years, everybody know that you just follow the beat,” Shardaysa tells me.) But who knows how long spots like Lyve—or the culture supported by clubs like it—will last before they disappear in the name of redevelopment and the comfort of outsiders.

Thankfully, another one of New Orleans’s biggest artists, singer-songwriter Denisia, who won two NOLA Music Awards in 2016, has plans to keep bounce precious.

The 26-year-old was brought up singing; she even sang in church with Big Freedia as a young girl. She’s been in the music game for a minute—”doing R&B for years,” she says—but there’s no doubt that more people fuck with her now thanks to bounce. The remix of her covering Adele’s “Hello” got the English crooner herself excited—and has been making New Orleans dip for almost two years.

Photographed by Patrick Melon.

“When did the song come out?” I ask, checking my timeline. “November 2015,” she confirms. “And I’ve been booked literally every weekend since.”

Aware that bounce, just like the city that birthed it, suffers from a lack of infrastructure working in the interest of the people who make it what it is, she hopes to set the tone for how industry folk engage with artists in the future by packaging herself differently and having the business side of things on lock. “That bounce-soul shit? That’s Denisia and HaSizzle,” she tells me, giving props to the New Orleans artist whose 2005 song “She Rode That Dick Like a Soldier” was recently sampled by Drake on Views. Together, the pair wake fans up every day with The Morning Beat. “We remix and cover popular songs—I sing, HaSizzle improvises the bounce piece by beatboxing and drumming on whatever’s around. It showcases how raw bounce is, but also how familiar.”

“I get, like, three hours of sleep every night, trying to Trojan-horse bounce into the mainstream culture, wrapping it up in sounds everybody can understand. And I have all my copyrights in order, I attend all my own meetings, I ask questions and stand up for myself. I’m tired of bounce—the sound, the artists, the culture—being taken advantage of. Being disrespected,” Denisia continues. She believes that simultaneously familiarizing people with and legitimizing the genre is one way to protect it.

“[People] love bounce music whether they know it or not, because it’s mixed in with half [their] favorite songs,” Denisia tells me. “Like with Beyoncé—a majority of her fast records is bounce. Listen to this one right here—” she sings the chorus to “Check on It” while clapping along so I can distinctly hear the Brown beat in the track’s structural foundation. “Oh! It’s Beyoncé, it’s magical!” she imitates a reaction. “No. It’s New Orleans. And I want people to know.”

Things might not be all good in Denisia’s hood right now, but she’s still out to shake for it.

Dragonfire can't melt steel memes

I'm not quite ready to talk about the amount of time I wasted hoping Game of Thrones would live up to its drawn out hype with the series finale, but I am ready to dive into all the memery that came out of the disappointment. And I'm not alone: Maisie Williams—aka Arya Stark—summed up what we were all thinking in one single tweet: "just here for the memes."

After Daenerys had almost as lackluster a death as Cersei, dying with a quick stab wound, it was pretty clear that it would all be downhill. But hey, at least she's reunited with her BFFs Missandei and Jorah in the afterlife.

That opened up the question of who exactly would be king or queen of the seven kingdoms. Poor precious Samwell thinks we should try democracy, but it's not Game of Popular Vote, it's Game of Thrones.

Apparently, everyone at this point had totally forgotten about the fact that Jon Snow actually was a Targaryen, and the rightful heir to the throne. All the characters who, up until this point in the season, had been obsessed with this fact totally pretended it never happened, and never considered him for the new ruler because he... killed the mad queen.

So what do they do? Choose the one person who always said they never wanted throne and that he never even wanted anything: Bran Stark. Arya didn't save everyone's ass from the Night King to be disrespected like this!

And, with all his pre-existing knowledge and newfound power, Bran still just chilled in his chair. Arya is going into uncharted waters, no idea what danger lies ahead? Nah, don't share the information you have on it. Jon is sent off to the Watchers on the Wall just as his younger brother gains absolute power? Forget about pardoning him, Bran doesn't care.

And who would've guessed that Ser Brienne of Tarth would just go and become a blogger, writing anonymous glowing messages about the dude that screwed her over. I'm not a huge fan of the editorial decisions she made while finishing Jaime's story, but I am a fan of the memes made out of the scene.

And back to Jon Snow: All this potential, all this hype on his real name, and once he kills Dany he's shipped off to the Night's Watch like a sad, discarded puppy. There's not even a real reason for the Night's Watch anymore, so he's basically just being sent off to be out of sight, out of mind, for the rest of time.

But hey, at least they finally made right with Ghost. The goodest boy in all of the Seven... or, rather, Six Kingdoms deserved all the pats, and he finally got them when he was reunited with Jon in the North. It almost made me forget all the nonsense that happened throughout the rest of the episode... almost.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Our favorite collections from 2019's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia

It's hard not to love Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, an annual exhibition of some of the best in resort dressing, that has Sydney's various cityscapes and beaches serving as its backdrop. For five days, we hopped all over the Australian city to check out the Resort 2020 collections from some of Australia's most established designers and emerging newcomers through an assortment of runway shows, presentations, and parties. The result? An extravagant display of beach-ready fashion, elevated streetwear, and signature Australian style.

For those of you not familiar with the resort season—sometimes referred to as cruise or holiday—it's the in-between seasonal offerings of summer garb that typically hits stores in time for the winter months (you know, right about when we're ready to take those vacations we've been dreaming about). And while we're gearing up to head into summer over in America, these collections also serve as the perfect inspiration for warm-weather dressing—even if we won't be seeing them hit stores until much later this year.

From Aussie staples like Double Rainbouu and Alice McCall to emerging brands like P.E Nation, we rounded up the best Aussie collections we saw this week. Take a closer look at each of them, below.

Aje

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia kicked off with a bang, the bang being Aje and its glorious Bloomscape collection. Whimsical pieces inspired by the native flora and natural landscape of Australia made their way down the runway, from billowing, sculptural dresses with hand-painted floral prints to rugged, masculine tailoring inspired by the soil, the trees, and the nation's rocky wonders.

Alice McCall

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Alice McCall has been a longtime favorite in the U.S., known for its whimsical and quirky pieces that never skimp on sequins, feathers, and tulle. For Resort 2020, McCall was inspired by the treasures once found in her mother's "dress-up box" of the late '70s, creating her own take on vintage silhouettes but modernizing them and making them new. The result? Romantic, feminine, and glitzy pieces that are sure to turn heads.

Hansen and Gretel

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Good news for anyone who's into the whole sea nymph thing: This trend is not going anywhere, anytime soon, according to label Hansen and Gretel. The Aussie brand's Resort 2020 collection, Venus, celebrated femininity and womanhood while nodding to this very trend with seashell knit crop tops, slinky slips, pastel summer knits, and plenty of shimmery pearlescent fabrics.

Lee Mathew

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Lee Mathews Resort 2020 runway show was a special one: a celebration of the brand's 20th year. And, with that came a retrospective collection taking inspiration from the brand's archives over the past two decades. The collection presented the perfect mix of feminine and tomboyish pieces, mixed and matched and layered with extravagance. Ruffled, tulle skirts were paired with tailored shirting, while in-your-face prints such as polka dots, brush strokes, and bold stripes were used throughout, showing up on flowing silk dresses and structured, oversized shirting and separates.

Bondi Born

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Resort 2020 saw Bondi Born, the ever-chic sustainable swimwear line based in Sydney, debut its first full resort capsule collection. The brand saw its sustainably produced fabrics take the form of knotted and bow-adorned swimwear, breezy seaside dresses and separates, and clean, simple eveningwear—all stunningly timeless, surpassing fashion trends and to be worn for seasons to come.

Double Rainbouu

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

In just a few short years, everybody's favorite Hawaiian shirt brand Double Rainbouu has grown beyond its playful shirting assortment with apparel, accessories, and more. For Resort 2020, design duo Mike Nolan and Toby Jones were inspired by the hippie travelers of the '60s and '70s, and a utopia where all creatures live together harmoniously. Set in Sydney's gorgeous Chinese Garden of Friendship, the brand's show featured model "tourists" who wore worldly prints, hippie tie-dyes, and plenty of linen alongside colorful zebra prints, sporty polos, chambray jumpsuits, and classic hoodies, making for a playfully diverse, yet wearable, collection.

P.E Nation

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

This season saw emerging Aussie label P.E. Nation present its first solo runway show, Physical Education, for Resort 2020. The brand took its signature spin on sporty '90s activewear and elevated it, incorporating bold, oversized silhouettes, denim, and all of the bold neons we covet. Bonus? The brand announced a killer new collab with Speedo, presenting its vintage-inspired swimwear at the very end of the show. Even bigger bonus? The brand's been upping its sustainability efforts, debuting its first-ever recycled active set, using recycled yarns and organic cotton. It will also be moving to biodegradable packaging by July.

Leo & Lin

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

One of our favorite collection this season came courtesy of Leo & Lin. Celebrating the designer's love of history, the romantic "Imperial" collection was a nod at both ancient Rome and the Victorian era, which saw sweeping, bulb-sleeved and high-necked floral dresses and suiting walking alongside flowing, draped Roman-inspired frocks. A modern flair was also sprinkled in, seen in the form of vinyl trench coats and fishnet fabrics.

Ten Pieces

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

One of the most buzzed about shows this season was Ten Pieces, the contemporary sportswear collection born from the collaboration between founders Maurice Terzini and Lucy Hinckfuss and designer Allan Marshall. For Resort 2020, Terzini was inspired by his time as a teen in Italy in the late '70s and the disco freak era. A bit punky, a bit hippie, and set in the drained pool of Sydney's iconic Icebergs Club with Bondi Beach as its backdrop, the collection's sporty streetwear pieces—unisex, and meant to be mixed, matched, and layered to its wearer's delight—felt more apt for the beach than a bustling city.

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Photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for ASCAP

"It makes my ears fucking steam out of my head"

Billie Eilish isn't taking Alabama's abortion ban lightly. Speaking to Variety, the singer said that she has "no words for the bitches in the fucking White House." She continued: "Honestly, I can't even look at my phone," because the news is always so distressing.

Eilish doesn't call out any legislators specifically, but she doesn't have to in order to get her point across, namely, that it's outrageous that people don't get to have control over their own bodies. "It's so unbelievable," Eilish said. "It makes me, like, red. It makes my ears fucking steam out of my head. Women should say, should do, and feel, and be exactly what they want."

"There should be nobody else telling them how to live their life, how to do shit…" she continued. "It just makes me so mad that if I start talking about it, I won't stop." Eilish did conclude though with this simple, powerful statement: "Men should not make women's choices—that's all I have to say."

If you want to help the people who will be affected by the restrictive abortion bans that the "bitches in the fucking White House" are doing nothing about, these organizations could use your help.

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MORE in VIDEO

We talk to the pop star about her past, present, and future—and why she spoke out against R. Kelly

JoJo has been through it. Any casual music listener who lived through the 2000s knows what I'm talking about. The singer shot to instant stardom in 2004 with iconic hit "Leave (Get Out)" and released two albums, a self-titled debut and The High Road, which ended up being a fitting description of the journey she was forced to take.

Soon after, Blackground Records refrained from releasing JoJo's third album, resulting in a near decade-long period when she could only put out infrequent singles and mixtapes. She filed a lawsuit against the label in 2013, claiming that her contract was no longer valid under New York law, and when she was freed, her albums were taken off iTunes and streaming services, denying JoJo and her collaborators future earnings and disabling fans from accessing their beloved music. She was finally able to release her third album, Mad Love, in 2016, but there was still a huge part of her career that virtually disappeared—until she took matters into her own hands.

Late last year—on her 28th birthday, no less—JoJo surprised us by revealing that she re-recorded her first two albums and released them online for fans to enjoy once again. It was both the end of a chapter that needed to be closed long ago, and one of the most powerful moves by an artist in the music industry, especially a woman like JoJo who has dealt with a level of power struggles and politics we could only imagine. Below, she opens up about the process of this remarkable venture, her newfound freedom, and her next step.

How did you decide that re-recording these two albums was the right move?
My options were pretty limited. Since I had gotten out of that contract with Blackground, I just realized that I didn't want to reopen anything by trying to have any interaction with them. So I saw what my legal options were and that was to completely recreate these albums and basically cover myself.

How long did that process take? Take me through the process of basically putting everything back together.
My managers and I had been talking about it because we saw it in my comments on Twitter and Instagram a lot, and I just hate feeling helpless. When I saw that there was this demand from my fans of wanting to listen to the first two albums, we called my lawyer and saw what could be done legally from that perspective, and then we just started to brainstorm as to how we could recreate the tracks. I came to the conclusion that what my fans wanted was the nostalgia of the first two albums, of how they found it in 2004 and 2006, so we tried to keep it pretty true to that. The process took, I would say, nine months, from the first phone call to calling my musical directors and have them start the recreation of the tracks, sending them the YouTube link so they could refer back to the original songs, because that's what we had. I didn't have a physical copy of the first two albums.

Were there any songs that you were especially emotional about or ones you connected with when you revisited them?
I definitely got emotional re-cutting a lot of them, particularly "Keep On Keeping On," which I wrote when I was 12. That was one of the first songs that I ever recorded that I had written completely by myself. Just to go back and take in the lyrics that I had written then, it's just still a message that I need to hear. It was just emotional being like, Damn, my little 12-year-old self was an old soul. It was emotional redoing all of them for different reasons because I remembered those sessions so vividly. Especially with remaking "Leave (Get Out)," "Too Little, Too Late," and "Baby It's You," I was definitely freaking myself out with trying to stay true to them but also realizing that I'm a grown person now. I was intimidated by having to hit some of the notes that I hit when I was 12 and 14, like on "Too Little, Too Late," because I'm a different singer, your voice changes as you grow. That made me a little bit anxious [but] I just did it.

You recently spoke out about R. Kelly on Twitter and said you heard stories when you were younger and that people you worked with were also working with him. How did hearing this affect you at such a young age?
To be honest, the way that it was being spoken about in the studio normalized it. I'm looking back on it and realizing how perverse the stories that I was hearing were, about how he'd always have young girls around, how he'd be waiting outside of high schools or he'd be hanging out at the McDonald's. I didn't realize since I was so, so young how very much fucked up that is. He really was just in plain sight being a predator. I was such a huge fan of his. I mean his music is incredible, but at this point, there's just no fucking way to separate him from his crime, and it's just wild. It's just wild that he got away with it for so long, but I think we're in a new era of accountability and transparency and I just think it's definitely about time. But in my comment section, it was like, "Okay, so if you've heard these stories, then why didn't you come forward or say something?" I was a kid when I heard these stories, and I certainly didn't know what to do. I didn't even know how to follow that thought all the way through.

I wanted to talk about the new album you're currently working on. Is there a the direction you're going for?
I want to go back to what comes naturally to me which is R&B, but I think I could care less about genres. I just want to make dope music and release it, whether it's all in one album, one song at a time, however that may be. I'm being super choosy and making a bunch of songs and then narrowing it down from there. I've never been more excited about the music that I'm making. It feels really great, and I think a part of that has to do with closing that chapter of the first two albums, with anything that I did from that time of my career. Now I can move forward and just really be challenged and keep growing and breaking myself down and putting myself back together with the help of my collaborators. It's interesting.

Is your attitude about freedom influenced by the music climate and streaming today? The music world has changed so much since when you debuted.
I guess, but I think, for me, freedom is more of the mental and emotional state. I do think that artists have so many more choices now, whether to be independent, or to do a joint venture like I've done with Warner Bros, or sign to a major but on their terms. I think that there is a lot more flexibility and freedom for us, much of which we've demanded and some that the industry has just had to adapt to. But even when I got off of my former label and knew that I was able to move forward and release music, for many different reasons, I still didn't feel that freedom. I think I was in such a fighter mode that I still felt like I needed to fight things, whether it was myself or... mostly myself.

It's being really hateful toward myself and dealing with a lot of that. For me, this freedom that I'm feeling is just stepping into a new perspective of not recognizing things as obstacles but knocking on them as opportunities, and I think for those who are fortunate enough to be able to get some type of control over their mind, I'm trying to try to do that and to feel as free as possible. I'm excited.

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Photo courtesy of HBO.

We made it

It's finally over. We had a great run—even if the eighth season felt more like a PowerPoint presentation of the show than an actual narrative. But perhaps the most frustrating thing about the show was that it left plenty of plot threads dangling. Still, some of the conclusions that the show left us with were shocking in their own right. Let's revisit.

Spoilers ahead...

Cersei actually being dead

I didn't want to believe it, but it's true. Cersei Lannister, the ruthless Queen that everyone sought to overthrow, is dead. Last week, she and her brother-lover Jaime held each other tight in the bowels of the Red Keep as rocks and bricks fell on top of them. I thought that Jaime would die, once again protecting Cersei, and that she would survive the collapse. This would have provided an opportunity for her to be personally killed by list-obsessed Arya Stark or a power hungry Daenerys Targaryen. But no, Cersei did not survive and I was shocked to see her dead face when it was uncovered by Tyrion.

Jon killing Daenerys

Cersei wasn't the only person whose death came under unexpected circumstances. Daenerys' long, epic journey came to an end at the hands of Jon (also known as Aegon Targaryen, and her nephew-lover). Despite following Daenerys all season, Jon was convinced that she had to go after a little pep talk from Tyrion. And so, what else would a Stark do, other than carrying out a death sentence himself? Jon did it with a blade through Dany's heart. At least it wasn't in her back.

Drogon killing the Iron Throne

If there is one character my heart absolutely breaks for, it's Drogon. Daenerys' death left the dragon motherless and brotherless. He took his grief out on the thing that drove her to the very end, the Iron Throne itself. Drogon melted it into boiling liquid metal before flying away with his mother's body.

Bran becoming King

Since the beginning of the show, viewers have made wagers on who would eventually take the Iron Throne for themselves. Through most of the series, Bran, who hasn't been able to walk since the first episode, was an extremely unlikely candidate. But alas, he was the King when the show ended, and he made a comment that seemed to suggest that he'd known this was his destiny. In other words, he let everyone battle it out while he sat and minded his business, knowing it was all for him to come out on top. A shady queen feels like a more fitting title.

Arya heading "West"

I get it, Arya has already been a free spirit and non-conformist. I also understand that she sent most of Game of Thrones motivated by revenge and with no more to be served, there was little left for her in Westeros. But to send her off exploring the world also felt... odd. Arya said goodbye to her siblings, setting her intentions on sailing to see what's "west of Westeros," so that she can find out what's there. It felt way too soon to assume that she wouldn't still be needed in her homeland, but Arya never was one to stick close to home.

Jon and Ghost reuniting

At the end of the fourth episode fans were furious when Jon Snow prepared to head South with Daenerys, bidding fond farewells to friends and fellow soldiers, but not bothering to pet his direwolf. The show runners said the reason for the impersonal sendoff was that interactions with the direwolves cost too much money to pull off and there wasn't enough budget. So we were all surprised to see Jon and Ghost reunite in the final episode when Jon was once against sent to Castle Black. It was a silver lining in an otherwise dreary episode.

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