Me with Zoey, Samira Winter’s cat. Samira took this photo.
Every year there is an album or two, generally released in the spring or summer, that I have a natural affinity for. I play them ad nauseam, and if they survive the process, they become etched into my mind for years. There are few to no rules to the phenomenon—I have been known to gravitate toward doom folk (Aldous Harding) and orchestral pop (Violents and Monica Martin) and political art rock (Everything Everything). This year? Mainstream rap.
That was overly dramatic. I’ve written about hip hop every year, though it is always from the underground, like Jay Stone and Monster Rally’s collaboration, Foreign Pedestrians, or Emay’s personal artifact, Ilah. I would never claim to be an expert in the genre (at literally no point in my life could I), but like with any other genre, the interesting and experimental piques my interest. So in a way, my sudden love for Future is not all that surprising.
I had only been developing a surface knowledge of his releases for research purposes earlier this spring, based on the verse he spits in “King’s Dead.” That song is stunning, exemplifying not only his talents but Jay Rock’s too. But Future’s verse was more dense than I expected. The Three Six Mafia reference, his inventive and polarizing delivery, and maybe especially his ability to reference sex while locked and loaded and two films in the same phrase—all these factors led to my deepest respect, which softened to a childlike admiration after the release of BEASTMODE 2.
I put on the record as a whim one night when I caught wind of this surprise release. (I love listening to Friday releases on Thursday night, and wish I had a consistent album to look forward to every week. Unfortunately that is not how it works.) The very first piano movements from producer Zaytoven hooked me immediately. I listened to it probably three times that night while I worked.
This seems like the most unremarkable night in the life of a music journalist. I listened to new music and actually enjoyed it: shocking! But I never usually give artists of this magnitude the time of day. Sure, I’d allow myself to enjoy a radio single or two, but I used to think that my standards couldn’t adapt to the effortless success of an already-famous artist, with resources and blind support on their side. But in Future I heard something different. I heard distinct, open pain. So I allowed myself to feel just as openly. (The effect of a Scorpio on a Cancer, go figure.)
And maybe that is exactly the permission I had to grant myself in order to fall for another record that meant a lot to me this year. (There are numerous other albums that have had an effect on me, but you’ll just have to wait for my top ten list coming in January.) If the water signs didn’t give it away earlier, yes, I cling to Sweetener with everything I’ve got.
Only Ariana Grande could handle her life circumstances. I suppose in a related way, I can only handle my own life and wouldn’t want to take someone else’s on, but Grande’s unique traumas have dug into my soul. I don’t know what it’s like to survive a terrorist attack, and I would be even less capable of comprehending my own responsibility for the lives lost as a result. She took a lot of time away after Manchester, and came back with “no tears left to cry,” which turned out to be only the start of her tributes to her late fans.
Around the time that the song came out, she had recently broken up with Mac Miller. Without thinking ahead to what that meant mere months later, the pain of pulling oneself from an unhealthy relationship, especially when drugs are involved, is overwhelming to imagine. She pressed on. She even found herself in a joyous new relationship that became the subject of at least a dozen incredibly popular memes. She declared herself the happiest she’d ever been. We’ve all known the high.
The record on a whole empowers, like a pop record should. But unlike her mainstream peers, Grande goes the extra mile with two “covers” and a dozen more messages of self-worth. She is an optimist to be sure—she’s have to see the silver lining to be capable of the break-up bop she’d release in mere months—so it’s possible all the haters are simply cynics. Consider the type of person that could hate something as pure as “thank u, next.” They don’t have a quarter of Ariana Grande’s strength.
Though my problems paled in comparison to Grande’s this year, my 2018 had a generous amount of ups and downs.
I just adopted a sweet, grey cat. I wrote an article that remains the piece I am proudest of thus far in my career. I got to interview artists I love, including people I feel lucky to now call friends. Other wonderful people have helped me pursue and achieve opportunities that I had serious doubts about.
On the other hand, I lost my job on my birthday. Cue several months of stress, though that’s really every month. Usually, it’s spread among stupid small things, but this month my stress had one reliable source: every form of insecurity. Even still, I couldn’t help but wonder if all this was the universe’s way of telling me to stop being so timid in my life. What the universe didn’t take into account is that
media journalism is imploding and I do not stand a chance in a paid writing role in this city, with my sad hodgepodge of experience. But I refuse to let that stop me.
Losing my job forced me to learn new forms of blog writing. I won’t lie and say it’s some of my best work or even something I enjoy all that much, but it is pushing me further than I’d really ever gone. My career progress is moving ahead gingerly at best, not that I’m worried about the optics of it. If I’m critical of anything I’ve been doing, it’s that I often feel that I’m not doing enough, while doing actually quite a lot on any given week. It’s hard to believe one of my best traits is being rational.
When I look back on this year, I’ll swell with reverence for what it meant not for me, but for the people around me. I suppose the feelings I’ll remember are my pride and mourning for friends I loved and lost. I made new friendships that mean more to me than I think I’ve been able to properly articulate. I attended weddings for two of my best friends. After a couple of years as a confidant, I was an indirect witness to a friend’s formal coming out. I went on a road trip. (Road trips always prove to be defining moments in my friendships.) I explored new places and embarked on new adventures.
I also hope to never forget the loss of a friend to a drunk driver. The memorial with family, friends, and community moved me so much that my memories of Emery Becker are deeper and more meaningful than they had been when I only tangentially knew him. In a feeble attempt to keep his spirit alive, I wore a shirt with his likeness on Halloween and to local music fest Echo Park Rising. I like to think that he remains a part of the scene; he would have celebrated these moments and more if he’d had the chance.
I like to say I’m fond of my community here in LA, but that isn’t quite correct. I’m awed and humbled by it. I can’t say I’ve been this connected to other people ever, even when I was in college. (I’ve also never worked so hard in my life, and yes, that includes when I was in college.) I think that life continues to surprise me, though that in itself shouldn’t really be all that much of a surprise.
As much as I enjoy listening to “thank u, next,” I prefer to silently ruminate on (or argue with my terrible date about) its premise. The song is an overt act of reconciliation. Many refer to it as a break-up song, and fine, it is, in a literal sense. It came out of her split from Pete Davidson, but it contains so much more than that. This is the message I hear: after spending the requisite time cycling through and comprehending your emotions, you should continue to love everyone, including, and most importantly, yourself.
My main foe is myself, and though I’m not quite done with my internal battles (will I ever be?) I am ready to forgive myself and others who still occupy my mind. May we all benefit from forgiveness in the new year.