"A Rational Conversation" is a column by writer Eric Ducker in which he gets on instant messenger or the phone with a special guest to examine a music-related subject that's entered the pop culture consciousness.
With another year down the drain, now comes the inevitable need to try to make some sense of it. In a three-part look at how we listened to and thought about music, Ducker had a series of discussions about the big topics and bizarre minutiae that made 2015 whatever the heck it was.
Today's conversation happened over Gchat with Melissa Broder, the Venice, Calif.-based writer and poet who revealed this year that she was behind the existentially dark and hilarious Twitter account So Sad Today. Broder also writes a column for Vice (including the sub-interview column, F*** Music, Let's Talk About Feelings, with acts like Neon Indian and Oneohtrix Point Never) and monthly horoscopes for Lenny Letter. In March of 2016, Grand Central Publishing will release Broder's first essay collection, also titled So Sad Today, but for now read her takes on J. Cole's incredibly popular/insecure sex song and being judged on your immaculately curated Spotify playlists.
Did you approach listening to music any different this year than you have in the past?
I listen to the radio now. When I lived in New York City for 10 years I was like. "Who listens to the radio?" My first year in L.A. was all about the curated car playlist. And I'm still deep in the Spotify curation game, but I'm also very deep into a few radio stations as well.
Real 92.3, L.A.'s Hip Hop N' R&B, is my fave. That's number one on the dial. Number 2 is 93.5 KDAY, which is like retro rap. And number 3 is Power 106: Where Hip Hop Lives.
Why do you think you're listening to the radio so much? It's seems counter intuitive to the direction that listening is going these days.
I'm such an avid curator on Spotify that listening to my own playlists can feel like work sometimes. I'll start editing that s*** in traffic. Don't edit and drive. So the radio feels like ultimate freedom and rebellion. It's rebellion against myself, my own perfectionism. Also, sometimes I feel so watched listening to music on the Internet. Everything has followers now. Nothing isn't watched. With the radio you are set free.
I like the lack of intentionality of it juxtaposed with the knowledge that 92.3 is going to play my jams. Like, the J Cole song "Wet Dreamz." I probably listened to that song 200 times this year. It was one of my favorite songs, but it took me a month to decide whether to put it on a playlist. With the radio it was just on every hour. The choice was made for me. Same with, like, "Planes" by Jeremih.
We'll get back to your particular love for "Wet Dreamz" in a minute, but when you say you feel like you're being watched, what is more troubling to you: other users judging your choices or the companies that make the apps turning your listening preferences into data to give to other people?
Definitely being judged. I wish I could say that I find big data more troubling than my own interpersonal insecurity, but nay. Though as I say this, I know I will be judged.
What do you worry more about, being judged on your writing or your listening habits?
It's all contextual. If I'm public on Spotify, I forget that I even am a writer. Any skillset I have is deleted by the fact that I could be judged for being a failure at something else. Likewise, if I'm reading a review of one of my books, I'm not thinking about whether it's weird that "World Princess part II" was probably my fav song on Grimes's Art Angels (besides "Realiti" and "Flesh Without Blood"). Any situation I am in, even if not physically, I may be judged at any point within that context, and all other contexts are negated for me by fear. It's a great way to live!
I really liked a lot of Art Angels. I also loved the new Arca album, the Oneohtrix Point Never album, Future's Dirty Sprite 2, the A$AP Rocky album, much of the Kendrick album, the Vince Staples album and the Jamie XX album. I'd say those were my favorite albums as a whole. Oh also I really liked Tyler, the Creator's album and I don't know why it didn't get great reviews. And yesterday I got deep into Jeremih's new album (a great excuse to revisit "Planes") and am sooo happy it exists.
I'm old, so by the time I figured out what it was, it was sold out. But even when I was young, I was late for everything.
When you say your Spotify playlists are deeply curated, how do you organize them? Theme? Mood? An idiosyncratic organizing principle?
Let me give you some names. Pile of Good S*** is all my favs. It's a multi-year curated list. If I DJ'ed Starbuxx is my playlist for working, or maybe making out — mostly electronic. Angels is for meditation, sleep, daydreaming — also lots of electronic, but more chill. Heavy Rotation is the s*** I'm on right now. So, Pile of Good S*** is my catchall, but then I have different playlists for different moods.
Do you listen to these shuffled or do you have to follow the playlist order?
Love the shuffle. You gotta shuffle.
Let's get back to "Wet Dreamz." Explain the love.
I literally just starting singing, "It wasn't nothin' like the first time. She was in my math class..." It's an epic song, like "It Was a Good Day." You go on an odyssey. It's sexy. The sample is so pretty. It's like this pretty sample with the joy of nostalgia and talking about sex.
The first time you listened, did you see the twist coming?
Definitely not. I believed she was experienced. But it's cute. I was rooting for J. What about you?
I guess not. I didn't really know where he was going with it.
I mean, you don't see it coming. He's watching pornos with his palms sweating not wanting to "bust quick." He has a "pocket full of rubbers" (LOL, like how many does he have? Twelve?). But isn't that always the way? That which we fear we will fail at with another person is often their own fear as well. It's the universality of emotion, the human condition. We're all faking like we know what we're doing. No one knows what they're doing.
So, part of the appeal to you is that it's about more than just an unexpected take on the fears and insecurities of sex, but about the larger insecurities of the world.
Well, I don't think about that when I listen to the song. I just sing along to, "Ooh girl don't stop." But it's great storytelling and that's probably part of why it resonates so much.
Have any other songs this year resonated with you on this level?
I was just thinking that there is a commonality amongst my faves. "Realiti" [by Grimes] is longing-y, "Annie" by Neon Indian is longing-y, "Fight" by Nicholas Jaar feels longing-y to me. "Often" by the Weeknd, which I listened to a lot in 2014 and 2015, is sexy, though not longing-y on his part, because I feel like he is in control. "Where Ya At" and "F*** Up Some Commas" by Future aren't longing-y, but "F*** Up Some Commas" is aspirational. "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" by Jamie XX is aspirational. "Jukebox Joints" by A$AP Rocky is longing-y.
What is about songs that are "longing-y" that appeal to you?
Longing is sexy. It's full of devastation, but it's also full of hope. It means you want a future. It means there is something to live for, to move towards, like, this isn't it. Everything isn't over. I grapple with the thought and feeling that "everything feels over" on a daily basis, so longing is shelter from that.
There are a couple artists who put out albums this year, the Weeknd and Lana Del Rey, that I think people would assume you're super into, but from your descriptions of what you connect with, I'm thinking that might not be the case.
I liked the Weeknd's album, particularly "Often," "Can't Feel My Face, "Tell Your Friends" and "Earned It," but by the time the album came out, I felt like I had heard all of it as singles. My bigger twitter, @sosadtoday, gets read as "girly" or "sad girl" a lot — maybe because the avatar is pink, maybe because I obsess — but as I tweeted the other day, "i'm not sad girl twitter, I'm terrified human with wifi." So maybe my taste in music reflects that? I think Lana likes older men and I like younger men? Like, I don't want a daddy, I want a little cousin. LOL.
There's this idea that The Weeknd and Del Rey are emotionally dead inside, though I don't think is quite right. And your Twitter seems to be more about being overwhelmed by feelings. Both of those mind states can result in total and complete sadness, but that's not the full scope of it.
I'm aspirationally dead inside, but am the complete opposite. I would love to be a carefree, unattached f***boy — probably because I am so antithetical to that. It seems like it would be a relief. But yes, both are sad.
All I've ever wanted was to be a skaterboy. Like, just a chill and hot skater/surfer bruh who is just at one with life, or whatever, and not thinking and feeling so much. But then I moved to Venice and sometimes I go out to the skate park and watch the skaters and I'm like, "Wait, this isn't a costume. This really is all that's there. They are actually this into skateboarding"
Do you ever listen to that type of music to try to get into that mindset? Like Jack Johnson? (Is he still a thing? is that the right reference?)
No. No Jack Johnson. Tyler and Earl [Sweatshirt] have some of that though. I like a few Wavves songs. "Soak Up the Sun" makes me feel like the skater/surfer boy I will never be.
LOL. Wait, no, what is that song by Wavves called?
Did you have a favorite Justin Bieber video?
"Sorry" was the best song, but the Jack Ü video was the best video.
Did anything infuriate you about music this year?
No, I just ignore what I don't like.