Melanie Martinez’ music is a recent edition to my life, having first listened to her album only a month ago – but boy am I glad I discovered her. The first time I heard Cry Baby I didn’t think much of it, yeah it had a catchy chorus and the music was good, but if I’m honest I prioritised other songs from the album and neglected it somewhat. After a couple more listens though, Cry Baby really got to me – because for the first time I was hearing something that validated what I have struggled with for most my life; crying. Which is something that many people find amusing or write you off as being immature for doing. She sings –
You try to explain
But before you can start
Those cry baby tears
Come out of the dark
This verse stood out to me because it summarises perfectly what often happens to me. I’ll get really angry and end up crying before I can get my point across, I’ll try and stand up for myself and again, more often than not I’ll cry. It’s a frustrating response and an aspect of myself that I do not like much at all. What makes it worse for me is that my depression mainly manifests itself in excessive anger and sadness – both of which lead to me leaking like a tap on the regular. Listening to her say that it’s ok to let it all out in front of everyone and to not care what people think because it is nothing to ashamed of has definitely had an impact on me and forced me to look at how I view this aspect of myself in a different light. Being a crier of sorts is not a sign of weakness, in fact, it is anything but – and Cry Baby is helping me realise this.
Throughout the modern age we have been bombarded with band after band, some become iconic and leave a lasting impact on the world and music and others falling into insignificance after their initial success has faded. To me, far too many girl-groups fall into the latter category – they find success but it is short-lived and then they are all but forgotten. However, there is one girl group in particular whose legacy and importance is just as large as it was when they were originally about; the group is TLC.
TLC changed the game in a big big way, even their critics cannot ignore the fact that they sold a huge amount of records in the 1990’s and paved the way for many female artists to come. Their debut album is fifteen tracks of solid gold, covering a multitude of topics, rather than the usual boy orientated songs that are churned out so regularly. “Oooooooh…… On the TLC Tip” is proof that T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli weren’t about generic songs and vague lyrics – they arrived on the scene with a bang and continued to excel. It is songs such as What About Your Friends that highlight their value as female role models and as an alternative source of information on what it means to be a girl. The track is all about having a strong, dependable group of friends that you can depend on through anything and how those relationships are one of the most important things you can have in life.
I first fell in love with them after hearing the now iconic track Waterfalls. The song is nothing short of perfection in my eyes, once again managing to open up discussions on topics that most artists shy away from – such as death and illnesses like AIDS and the devastating consequences it has. The combination of such subjects with Left Eye’s heart-breaking yet also hopeful rap about finding yourself and not giving up makes it, in my opinion, one of the best songs ever written and is monumental in regards to teaching young people about growing up and the obstacles that they may face. On a different note to Waterfalls the group have a large catalogue of tracks all about empowerment and female independence – topics that are still desperately important to talk about. What makes them so great to me is that their unique sense of style and big personalities really make you warm to them and in a way, when listening to their songs and what they have to say about all of these issues it’s more like a big sister telling you rather than a seemingly distant pop group.
The group’s third album FanMail continued in the same vein as their previous offerings, discussing issues such as self-esteem and learning to love yourself. One song stands out to me as being of great importance to young women and that is Unpretty. Society constantly bombards us with strict expectations on how we should dress, look, behave and love – things that are sadly often brought into relationships too, where women can often be made to lose the confidence they had previously due to these expectations being placed upon them by their partner. This is what the band is singing about in the track – how, sometimes even if on the outside a person projects an image of happiness and confidence, underneath they can be lonely and think very little of themselves.
It is TLC’s attention-to-detail with their lyrics and their desire to educate their young audience on the importance of safe-sex that elevates them to true greatness in the field. They managed to create an image of female independence and still show young girls that being feminist is not only important but also nothing to be ashamed of – even in a society that more often that not tells us it is, all while being uber cool, super stylish and making brilliant music. Although Lisa’s tragic death meant we were only blessed with four albums – their legacy lives on and I hope that many more young people like myself will continue to discover TLC and their message.
Gimme Shelter has had a seriously profound effect on me – to the extent that I have the lyrics from the first verse tattooed on my thigh. What makes it such a big deal to me is the fact that it can be relevant and applicable to anything you want. Now, I know that it was originally written about the tumultuous, war-stricken world everyone was living in in 1969, but I really do believe that the indirect nature of the lyrics allow it to become far more personal to each individual listener than it may first seem.
The reasons towards my great love of this song are two-fold, firstly I adore the backing vocals of Merry Clayton – the moment her voice cracks due to the strain and emotion she is putting into each note always gives me chills and her voice compliments Mick Jagger’s perfectly too. The strength of her emotions when singing the line “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” is to this day, incredibly powerful. This line is one of many in Gimme Shelter that is sadly, just as relevant today as it was in ’69. It’s lines like that one, that force you to reflect on the world and what is going on in it – and to me that makes it one of the most intelligent and thoughtful songs ever made. Not only because of its longevity, but because no matter what generation you’re from, you can connect the lyrics to the uncertainties and fear of what’s happening in the world around you.
The first lines of the song “Oh, a storm is threat’ning, my very life today, If I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away,” exudes anxiety and gives the impression that the band and most likely a lot of people felt a great sense of foreboding when thinking of the future. To me it also represents the notion that you have to be able to get away from it all every now and again; otherwise you’ll just burn out. Therefore, on a more micro level, I identify with it because for as long as I can remember, not knowing how things will pan out has always majorly stressed me out, often to the point where I feel like I’m going to break. So Jagger’s plea for respite rings home in a big big way.
The first time I ever listened to Purple Rain was, and I’m not making this up – in the rain. I was in the back of the car, at night time and in the rain. Whether or not this contributed to how strongly I feel about it I don’t know – but what I do know is that no song up to that point in my life had ever affected me like it did. The second those iconic chords started I was mesmerised. What makes Purple Rain so special to me is its sincerity; the lyrics take you on this journey of yearning and angst, culminating in Prince almost wailing, “I only want to see you” repeatedly.
I interpret the song as being about how time always changes things and takes it toll on relationships. It’s this theme that led to Purple Rain being a song I have relied on a lot throughout my life – whenever I am consumed with uncertainty, or my anxiety is playing up I listen to it. When listening it’s as though for a few moments someone else is relating completely with my life and how I feel – which gives me great comfort.
On a more surface level, Purple Rain has everything you could possibly wish for from a song; banging chorus, soulful vocals, emotional lyrics and atmospheric music. Prince created something truly beautiful, which will resonate with me forever – and even with all his diva-ish behaviour (the latest being removing all his music from every streaming service except Tidal – thanks for that), I will always be thankful to him for giving the world Purple Rain.
Lion Babe is a duo made up of Jillian Hervey and Luca Goodman that hail from NYC and are my current obsession. I first heard their brilliantly catchy track “Jump Hi” around a month ago and was instantly hooked – if you’re looking for soulful vocals (courtesy of Jillian) and punchy beats then they are definitely for you. “Jump Hi” features Childish Gambino who happens to be one of my favourite rappers, which helped reel me in – although by the time he hits the track I was already more than impressed. Their self-titled EP really shows off their musical range, as you’re transported along a musical journey that includes a mesmerising slow-jam “Jungle Lady” and the super rad “Wonder Woman” which makes you feel like you can take on anything and be your baddest self.
Their music is the perfect accompaniment to so many situations; laying in bed chilling, city living, getting ready to go out and most of all, summer. If you need something to listen to in the car with your friends or while you sunbathe as their minimalist yet super-catchy vibe makes them a great artist to listen to if you need to relax and un-busy your mind – because it’s impossible to feel tense when listening. Jillian’s voice is beautiful and really compliments the music, adding an extra layer of emotion to the songs, which takes them a to new levels perfection in my eyes.
The two cover tracks that are on their SoundCloud page prove again how genius they are – their re-style of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” is pure genius. The barely there beat showcases Jillian’s vocals and forces you to focus on the lyrics and the inclusion of the chorus from Drake’s “Furthest Thing” makes it extra special and in my humble opinion; flawless. I can’t wait to see what they bless us with next because let’s face it; it will be on repeat for days on end.
I remember the first time I heard Unfinished Sympathy because it was whilst watching a music channel on TV, also for the first time (I was hyped). The video for the song is gorgeous and that was not lost on me – I could watch that vid on loop for eternity and never get sick of it, but it was the haunting vocals of Shara Nelson accompanied by a hypnotic slow beat, strings and occasional chords that drew me in. I think it’s the simplicity of the track that got to me – the period in my life when I revisited the song after that first encounter was a difficult one. I was attempting to deal with a mess of feelings and emotions that were consuming me and I didn’t know why (in a few months all became clear as I would be diagnosed with quite severe depression and put on the required medication, thankfully). Everyday was a struggle and I felt filled up with rage, despondency, and apathy – I needed something that could calm me down and for a few precious minutes, transport me away from my life of turmoil – to my own private oasis, where everything was beautifully simple and tranquility was the order of the day. Unfinished Sympathy became that oasis – I spent a lot of time tuning in and then tuning out.
Even now, with my depression kept at bay I’m always drawn to the song when feeling a bit low, or when I need a little piece of time to reflect on things and collect myself. Yet I can also immerse myself in the song during happier times – it accompanies me on walks, doing university work, and when I’m writing. Unfinished Sympathy changed my life in a multitude of ways and I will forever be grateful.
Ten months ago, if someone was to ask me whether or not I liked The Smiths and their music, I would have scoffed in their face and spewed hatred about “his annoying whiny voice” and “dull songs”, which is ironic as until 6 months ago I had never even listened to one of their songs in full. I had created an entirely incorrect and unfair assumption and I can’t even remember why – proving how ridiculous the whole thing was.
Fast forward to around three months into university – at this point whenever I was at my friends flat, she would invariably play The Smiths at some point, because, to be clear – she is obsessed with them. At first I would grumble and air my grievances at being “forced to listen to this shit” but as time passed I found a small part of myself humming along to some of their songs. I quashed this down because there was no way she could find out about this – her smugness would go through the ceiling! I attempted to occasionally enquire about the band or what the song on the radio was about from the fountain of all Smiths knowledge that she is. She always obliged as if there is one thing she loves to do, it’s talk about them – and to be honest I like listening to people talk about things they are passionate about so it was a win-win really.
By learning more about them and actually giving them a chance I have now become partial to a few of their tracks; in particular The Queen is Dead, Panic, Shakespeare’s Sister and Accept Yourself. These songs proved my preconceived ideas of The Smiths wrong, because they are anything but a dirge. I have built up a moderate collection of their songs on my Spotify and what draws me to them is that despite how much I still cannot stand Morrissey – he really knows how to write relatable songs. It is refreshing to every now and again listen to music that really speaks to you, after being bombarded with current day songs that are so often about dancing, getting off in clubs, love, and being rich – that as he states in Panic “say nothing to me about my life.”
Therefore to The Smiths I say sorry. I’m sorry for writing you off so quickly and taking so long to appreciate your great songs. Proving that basing an opinion on ill-judged presumptions is stupid and could deny you something that turns out to be pretty brilliant. And when it comes to music it is always worth giving an artist a chance – as you never know what you could be missing out on.