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From Madonna To Monáe: What It Means When Singers Announce An Instrument

Music
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“Turn it up louder”

If at the end of 2017 someone were to have been asked to predict the one artist responsible for the best singles of early 2018, Janelle Monáe would have been a pretty good guess. And with "Make Me Feel" and "Django Jane" (and now "PYNK") dropping within the last few weeks, so it has transpired. The songs' sounds are disparate: "Make Me Feel" is the more immediate, funk-inflected bop bearing the hallmarks of Monáe's mentor, Prince, whilst being a precious metal all of its own; "Django Jane" feels most significant though—politically incisive, lyrically adventurous, and a clear signal of intent.

It should come as a source of huge embarrassment to all of us that Monáe hasn’t achieved the huge commercial success her music is due. The ArchAndroid reaching 17 and 51 (!) on the U.S. and U.K. charts, with The Electric Lady hitting 5 and 14. However, it does feel like the forthcoming Dirty Computer is being created with higher peaks in mind, evidenced by the presence of Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter ("Good for You," Selena Gomez; "Sorry," Justin Bieber) and producers Mattman & Robin (Britney Spears, Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift) all claiming credits on "Make Me Feel." The question then is, how does an artist with a very distinct authorial voice maintain that, or re-assert that, when working with others? The answer may lie in "Django Jane."  

There is a moment toward the end of the song that illustrates Monáe’s intent succinctly, and follows a long-held tradition of musicians who want to tell their listeners who’s boss, to remind them who’s in control. Monáe sings: “I cut ‘em off, I cut ‘em off, I cut ‘em off like Van Gogh/ Now, pan right for the angle/ I got away with murder no scandal/ cue the violins and violas.” As well as being a neat cap-tip to Viola Davis and Shonda Rhimes, it is also a precursor to a change in instrumentation, as the next verse, which follows a slightly different vocal pattern, is backed by a subtle string section. 

There aren’t many obvious sonic comparisons to be made between Monáe and Bruce Springsteen, but in this case, the line does call to mind the moment in "Thunder Road" where Bruce sings, “I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk,” followed by a distorted guitar lick. That song is Springsteen 101—a Petri dish containing every Springsteen trope you could think of. In a way, that line feels a little out of place, a little hokey even, but it’s important because it reminds us of the link between Springsteen’s narrators, and Springsteen himself. His guitar and his music cast him as a kind of oracle. His stories, written to be universal, are disseminated through the power of his Telecaster. 

Now, Monáe is not signaling that it is she who’s going to be playing the strings, but she’s clear that they are her choice, waiting for her cue, and this feels important. Pop singers have their creative control questioned more than any other genre. The people who start that tired debate over what is and isn’t “real music” are now emboldened by the litany of writers given credits on various songs, as if that were evidence that the person out front is just the final piece of the process. It’s a snobbery that is hard to chip away at, but you may as well try. Previously in the song, Monáe’s signaled her intent to EGOT, foregrounded her ArchAndroid persona, and generally just reeled off her various successes, before getting to this moment. The line is a beautiful flex, a distillation of everything that has come before, a reminder that the band plays because she tells them to play.

In essence, it’s a simple call-and-response structure seen everywhere in music, but particularly in black music—from gospel and spirituals to jazz and R&B. In the former, the response, from a congregation, for example, serves to converse with a preacher or leader, giving them some kind of control over the song’s direction. In the latter, where the call and response is purely instrumental, it is the opening up of a dialogue. In The Hero and The Blues, writer Albert Murray talks of how the instruments in Duke Ellington’s band state, assert, allege, quest, request, “or signify misgivings and even suspicions.” Monáe bridges the gap between these two genres, conducting a conversation with her instruments whilst asserting herself as the leader of her own choir. 

There is also just something quietly satisfying about these moments in song. Often the question of why we love music can feel really difficult to answer, quite intangible, but these moments provide little bursts of logic that subtly break the fourth wall, and help ground the listener. There’s also something climactic about it. There’s a similar moment in Madonna’s "Like A Prayer," where she cries out, “Let the choir sing!” followed by the full church choir coming in on the chorus. Up until that point, the song keeps dropping you back down in the verses. After she introduces the choir, things pick up and stay up. Another slightly different example, albeit one that feels just as defiant as Monáe, came from Bob Dylan, when he told his band to “turn it up louder!” in response to being vociferously heckled at a show in the U.K. 

In recent interviews, Monáe has spoken a lot about timing, how 2018 is the year for freedom and being fearless. It also feels like it’s the year for Janelle Monáe—a true pop auteur who is, more than likely, about to have a lot more people try to clamber on her bandwagon. And hey, that’s cool, there’s still room, but she’s not letting us forget who’s driving it—the same person as always. 

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Photo by Imani Givertz

Premiering today via NYLON

Small Talks, aka Cayley Spivey, has come a long way since starting a band, then becoming the entire band herself and forging her own fan base from the ground up. On her recent album A Conversation Between Us, she began to unpack any lingering baggage with one particular song: "Teeth." Today, she premieres the accompanying music video exclusively via NYLON.

"'Teeth' is about my personal battle with letting go of the past," Spivey tells NYLON, admitting that it's easily her favorite song off of A Conversation Between Us.

Watch the video for "Teeth" below.

Small Talks - Teeth (Official Music Video) - YouTube www.youtube.com

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Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

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Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale youtu.be

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

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Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.

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