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Stepping Into Dreamgirl's Dream World

Music
Photo by Kaley Stephan

The band premieres its new single "Weekend 4 The Girls"

In this day and age, digital presence is often make-or-break for up-and-coming bands. But, when Dreamgirl released their breakout EP Illuminaughty in 2015, they weren't really focused on branding. "We didn't really think about marketing when we started as a band, and we hadn't put any of our songs on YouTube," says vocalist Lacey Hopkins. And they didn't have to, thanks to a kid from Belgium who uploaded the band's music to the video streaming platform and garnered tens of thousands of views. "It was really what catapulted our listenership, I think," says Hopkins.

The band's newfound YouTube presence, combined with the mysterious workings of streaming website algorithms, thrust a handful of their songs, such as "Teenage Blue" and "Stranger Feelings," into the spotlight. Dreamgirl, who are based in Kansas City, Missouri, racked up millions of listens and a global fan base, no small feat for an indie act operating outside the L.A./New York fishbowl. "The Kansas City music scene is really just like this diamond in the rough with all this raw talent," says drummer Ian Dobyns. "People are really starting to notice the music that's coming out of the Midwest."

"Most of our listenership is not regional or local to us," says Hopkins. In fact, Jakarta, Indonesia, appears on the band's "Where people listen" section on Spotify before Kansas City. At number one on this list is Los Angeles, where the band's surf rock vibes almost seem more at home than in their Middle American home base. "People don't really care about surf rock a lot here. They're starting to care about it more, I think, but most of our listenership is in those larger cities," says Hopkins.

According to Spotify, one of the most popular playlists the band's music has been featured on is called "Trippy music for being high," which boasts over a thousand listeners and a title that minces no words in accurately describing its content. Dreamgirl's songs seem to all operate within the same ethereal soundscape, drawing from a hazy reservoir of overly-saccharine adolescent sentimentality. Their music leaves one longing for loves never lost, to begin with, tapping into a brand of indulgent melancholy that feels almost like it's from another time.

On their social media, the band is continually described as "a family of friends lost in a dream." Hopkins' voice, simultaneously lilting and commanding, does indeed sound like a dispatch from another realm. She traces her influences to jazz standard singers and the Catholic hymns she sang in mass growing up. "I was actually really timid about singing until after high school," she says, citing a teacher who told her that her voice would "never leave the coffee shop" after she wrote and performed a song for a school project. "His daughter married my brother, so I see him from time to time. I was like, 'You know that you said that to me, and it really kind of messed with me.' He apologized. We're cool now," she adds.

A far cry from any coffee shop, the band soon had momentum with the international success of its EP. "By Illuminaughty performing so well, it really gave us a cool platform as far as releasing new material," says guitarist Austin Marks. However, a series of lineup changes hindered a quick follow-up. On New Year's Day this year, Dreamgirl finally released their self-titled LP, a collection of songs saturated with the band's characteristic undertones of summertime yearning. In the bleak dead of winter, it was a breath of fresh air. "I was worried that people would not care for the album, especially since we sat on the songs for so long. I still worry about it," admits Hopkins.

Having done their accumulated material justice with the album, the band was primed to move forward with new music in 2018. Earlier this summer, they released "American Blonde," the drawling lead single from their upcoming EP, Post-Cool. "We've learned a lot, grown a lot, and it's nice to be releasing something that we haven't been sitting on for the last two years," says Marks.

Now, the band is premiering its new single, "Weekend 4 The Girls," with NYLON. Despite its playful title and tempo pick-up halfway through, it's a deceptively shattering song inspired by Hopkins' falling out with a childhood friend. The band has retained its signature bittersweet blend of jangly guitar and Hopkins' wistful delivery while embodying a newer, more realized incarnation of themselves. "The nice thing is Dreamgirl seems like Dreamgirl's still Dreamgirl, just an evolved version, I guess you could say," says Marks.

The band is about to embark on a West Coast tour in February and will be touring with Computer Magic in April, in addition to playing SXSW for the first time in March. Post-Cool comes out in 2019.

Listen to "Weekend 4 The Girls," below.



1 track album

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.