Why We Love Listening To Name-Dropping Songs


On the romantic pleasure of pop specificity

We're used to speculating about the hidden meanings within our favorite songs, and many artists encourage this type of guessing game. That's why Taylor Swift leaves clues in her album liner notes and Carly Simon kept mum about the anti-hero of "You're So Vain" for nearly 50 years. There's joy to be found in the fandom of guesswork, or even when there's no guessing required, and sheer implication affords us the beautiful truth that Joanna Newsom's complicated lyrics about love and mortality center around the guy who wrote "Dick in a Box." But, every now and then, a musician gives their fans insight into a publicly discussed relationship like a gift with a sign out front: This is about exactly who you think it's about.

Such was the case following the brief, glorious starburst of Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, which felt like a perfect encapsulation of the celebrity relationship: ridiculous, over-the-top, both clearly misguided and desperately adorable, at once a promise that true love exists and that the kids are still, after all, fucking idiots—as they should be. And right bang in the middle of it—almost uncannily in the middle of it, when you consider promotion cycles and attention spans—was the new Ariana album, Sweetener, and its 73-second Davidson-dedicated second-to-last track.

The song is all soft pastel aesthetics and utterly untroubled public affection. The lyrics' vagueness, their almost casual certainty ("I'mma be happy") and shorthand romance ("I know you know you're my soulmate, and all that") are tied into the wider, brilliant move of the name of the track itself, "pete davidson." Then, three months after Sweetener was released and just two weeks after Ariana and Pete broke up, "thank u, next" came out, the mother of all name-droppers. Along with the Davidson reference ("Even almost got married/ and for Pete I'm so thankful"), Ariana explicitly checks her three other famous exes: Mac Miller, Big Sean, and Ricky Alvarez.

"Thank u, next" is notable for its tenderness, a breakup song that is endlessly generous and kind. And it names someone else, too: Ariana herself, the new love interest, sketching out her own fears and hopes in sweet, simple detail. Both songs are Ariana giving her fans exactly what they want, a window into relationships that felt at times completely open for public view, though whose outputs were, of course, immaculately controlled.

The relationship between a musician and a fan is an endlessly complicated one, frequently negotiated and renegotiated, new borders drawn and distances set. Songs that use moments of absolute specificity—the specificity of using a recognizable name—briefly erase this distance. They give the song the sense of gossip or confession, a discussion you'd have with your mate over drinks. It's what gives Beyoncé's furious, tragic "Sorry" hope and satisfaction; "Me and my baby, we gon' be alright, we gon' live a good life" in the coda is immediately understood, with our recognition of Blue Ivy and the way she has settled into the Beyoncé family mythology. Or it ups Taylor Swift's "Dear John" bite, the play on romantic tropes working as a perfect callout of John Mayer's tendency to run girls dry and burn them out.

But name-dropping isn't restricted to pop. In fact, pop is perhaps the genre of music that calls on it least, which is what makes it so fascinating when pop stars give into temptation. Hip-hop is, of course, the main arena for pinning a specific lyric on a fan-recognizable person, but to such an extent that the nature of the form is a little different. Specificity is expected in hip-hop, where artists so often populate their lyrics with real people and cultural references, creating a complex network of beefs and relationships, crushes and callouts.

As much as hip-hop is ever referencing one single person, it is also often referencing the form itself. There are, as ever, exceptions, but because it is in hip-hop's character to use specific names ("I never fucked Wayne/I never fucked Drake"), these references stand out less. When specificity does arise, it often goes to exceptional lengths, as in Nicki Minaj's "Barbie Dreams" (itself a play on the roll call of R&B stars in Notorious B.I.G.'s "Just Playing (Dreams)"), which gleefully churns through rappers both personally connected with Minaj and not. Lil Wayne's "Promise" takes an interestingly opposing approach. The track samples Ciara and is clearly, earnestly about Ciara ("And the thing you did with the chair—or stool?—was cool," he breathes, as devoted as a teen) but does not mention her name once, skirting around its subject so effectively that it highlights her in a circle of red ink.

The thrilling pleasure of specificity leaps from hip-hop to pop and settles comfortably in indie, where a subject doesn't have to be an SNL star or famous rapper to still have meaning for both musician and fans. Father John Misty's wife, photographer Emma Elizabeth Tillman, forms an irresistible heart in his music, appearing onstage at his performances and in his interviews and profiles. Fittingly, she is the first word in "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)", where the song begins with "Emma eats bread and butter/ Like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine," in an enthralled, exuberant burst, transforming the tune into a love letter.

Wives feature frequently in the indie male discography. Of Montreal's frontman's now ex-wife Nina Aimee Grøttland recurs in name throughout their albums, and the National's Matt Berninger's wife Carin Besser appears in "Carin at the Liquor Store" in such explicitly angsty content that, as the Telegraph wrote, "listeners are essentially invited to sit in on the couple's marriage counseling." In a lighter, more hopeful touch, Perfume Genius' song "Alan" dedicates the nameless lyrics to his husband and sometimes-touring mate, a wistful, caught-breath of a love song that announces, "You need me, rest easy/ I'm here, how weird."

But the specific joy of knowing who a musician is talking about doesn't have to be contained to romantic relationships, as Beyoncé proves. In 2005, then-emo heartthrobs Panic! At The Disco covered The Smashing Pumpkin's "Tonight Tonight" and changed the line "the place where you were born," itself a reference to Chicago, to "the place where [then-bassist] Jon [Walker] was born." The lyrical change became a moment poured over and beloved by fans as a marker of the band's internal friendships; indeed, the very romance of a band itself.

In actual fact, the romance is very often not between the musician and the person they're singing about, or the internal politics of a band, but between the musician and the fan. The moment of specificity is both generous and careful, a way for fans to glimpse exactly as much as the artist wants them to. For a moment, the fannish pleasure of interpretation and ambiguity gives way to sure knowledge, like being invited into a private conversation. The dream of Pete and Ariana is dead, but the romance of "pete davidson" and "thank u, next" live on. "love u," Ariana Grande tweets to her fans, and closes the door.
Photos by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

This photo proves that they are the chillest onscreen family

Sophie Turner just posted a photo of herself, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright—aka the Stark siblings—to her Instagram, showing just what the three used to get up to when the Game of Thrones cameras weren't rolling.

The photo shows Wright looking quite pleased with himself while sitting on a makeshift throne, wearing no pants. As he should be, seeing as (spoiler) his character, Bran, won the Iron Throne this weekend. Williams, meanwhile, is looking way too cool to be involved in the shenanigans, wearing a pair of black sunglasses and staring absently off-camera. As for Turner, she's looking away from her onscreen brother, too, nervously smoking a Juul.

"The pack survived," Turner captioned the photo.

This photo just goes to prove that the Stark siblings are the chillest onscreen family. (It also proves, yet again, that Turner's social media is an absolute delight.)

We're actually a little sad that this footage didn't make it into the final season, considering how many modern-day objects have been spotted in the show's last few episodes.

Photo via @mileycyrus on Twitter

Meet Ashley

Miley Cyrus shared the trailer for her forthcoming Black Mirror episode, and it's basically Hannah Montana set in a dystopian future. Cyrus is a pink wig-wearing pop star named Ashley who is rolling out an in-home virtual assistant, named Ashley Too, that looks like her and shares her voice. But, as is the case with every Black Mirror episode, this technology is not as cute and fun as it's advertised to be.

In the trailer, we get the idea that Ashley is all about wanting fans to "believe" in themselves—but underneath that pink wig, maybe she doesn't feel that same self-love. After Ashley Too introduces herself to fan and new owner Rachel, promising to be her friend, we get a look at Ashley's darker side. She's depressed and tired of the pop star life. A record label executive says to several people in the room, "She doesn't understand how fragile all this is." As they consider upping her dose of medication, Ashley's life is on a downward slope. "It's getting so hard to keep doing this," she voices over glimpses of a police car chase, performances, and breakdowns backstage.

But back to the technology: Does Ashley's breakdown also mean the breakdown of Ashley Too? Looks like it. We see Rachel's virtual assistant screaming, "Get that cable out of my ass! Holy shit! Pull it out," breathing a sigh of relief as soon as they pull it out. A title card then reveals the episode name, "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too."

Watch the full trailer and get a full view of Cyrus' cyborg-esque pop star look, below. Black Mirror returns to Netflix on June 5.


Photo by Paras Griffin / Stringer / Getty Images.

Several actresses allegedly had "issues" with him

Lena Waithe's Showtime series, The Chi, just lost one of its main characters. Jason Mitchell, who was also set to appear in the Netflix film Desperados, has been dropped from both projects following multiple allegations of misconduct. He has also been dropped by his agent and manager.

Hollywood Reporter heard from a source "with knowledge" of The Chi, who says that Tiffany Boone, the actress who plays Mitchell's girlfriend on the show, is just one of several actresses who had "issues" with him. She eventually told producers at Fox21 that she could no longer work with him after filing several sexual harassment complaints. Apparently, her fiancé, Dear White People co-star Marque Richardson, would join her on set when she would shoot with Mitchell.

While news of Mitchell's alleged misconduct is just now beginning to surface, it looks like the ball started rolling on the fallout weeks ago. He was dropped from Desperados and replaced by Lamorne Morris before filming began. A source from the production team said that the producers received "specific information" that they reviewed and acted on quickly. Similarly, a source familiar with Mitchell's former agent, UTA, said the decision to drop him a few weeks ago was very quick following the allegations.

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Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Prior to the college admissions scandal, she said she doesn't "care about school"

Apparently, Olivia Jade wants to go back to school despite all those YouTube videos that suggested otherwise. Back in March, it was revealed that her mom, Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin, and dad, Mossimo Giannulli, had scammed Jade's way into the University of Southern California. Now, Loughlin faces jail time, and Jade lost out on plenty of lucrative ad partnerships.

According to Us Weekly, "Olivia Jade wants to go back to USC," per a source. "She didn't get officially kicked out and she is begging the school to let her back in." Another source though ousted Jade's real motivation to the publication. "She knows they won't let her in, so she's hoping this info gets out," they shared. "She wants to come out looking like she's changed, learned life lessons and is growing as a person, so she for sure wants people to think she is interested in her education."

Jade previously shared in a YouTube video she's in college for the "experience of like game days, partying" rather than the education. She also said, "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend... I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Though these statements were made prior to the scandal coming to light, her brand partnerships didn't come into question until her parents were indicted.

Right now, despite previous reports that Jade and her sister would both be dropping out of USC, Jade's enrollment has been placed on hold—meaning she cannot register for classes, or even withdraw from the school—until her parents' court case comes to a close. Then, the school will make its own decision as to how Jade will be affected. I think, either way, she should have to pay off a few of her classmates' loans for all the BS she pulled.

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

He'd previously said he wanted to punch Jackson's 'Leaving Neverland' accusers in the face

Aaron Carter has been one of Michael Jackson's fiercest celebrity advocates in the aftermath of the Leaving Neverland documentary in which two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, alleged that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. In a new clip from People, however, he seems to walk back his defense.

People reveals that Carter will be joining the upcoming season of reality TV show Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars Family Edition with his mother. It's noted that he will be revealing more thoughts regarding Jackson following the documentary and the sneak peek specifically sees him alluding to a negative experience with the singer.

Carter, who has previously said that Jackson was never inappropriate toward him, says that Jackson "was a really good guy," though he does note that this is only true "as far as I know." "He never did anything that was inappropriate," he continues before stopping himself, as though remembering something. "Except for one time. There was one thing that he did that was a little bit inappropriate."

Carter does not provide any more detail after this statement. He has previously said that he would stay at Jackson's Neverland estate and sleep in the same bed as the much older star when he was 15 years old, though he hasn't seemed to understand then just how creepy that is. He also said earlier this year, in a clip from TMZ, that he would be telling a story of something that happened between them in an upcoming book about his life.