If you could change your fate…would you? That’s the question posed by Merida in Brave, a movie that probably didn’t want the fate of being considered the runt of the recent Disney line-up of CGI animated princess films.

Disney princesses are practically their own genre. They’re role models for kids of varying ages. Their films combine a mixture of adventure, romance and just enough drama without getting too heavy. They’re often musicals, though not always. The formula is pretty tightly woven into Disney’s commercial fabric, so it’s really the smaller changes that separate them from one another. Merida is interesting because she’s neither the least popular (sorry, Pocahontas) nor the most iconic (hello, Ariel). She exists in this weird limbo between ‘oh, yeah, the one with the huge curly hair’ and ‘…who?’. Merida is a princess I find myself liking and not because I view her as some shining beacon of independence in a female character.

In fact, this is one of the most baffling interpretations I see made about her on the regular and one I want to take a deeper look at. Let’s start off with the checklist. She’s ‘tough’ (usually a shorthand for being physically active and/or able to throw a punch), is ‘independent’ (another shorthand for doing whatever one wants) and is basically a girl who’s got a brain and always speaks her mind. Basically, a stockpile of traits we’ve seen before. What makes Merida stand out is how she seems to be a critical eye on all of the above while remaining a flawed and dynamic character in her own right. In layman’s terms, a rich white kid whose rich white kid mannerisms aren’t cute or funny — they suck!

You see, Merida’s ‘tough and independent’ personality is what gets the kingdom in trouble and her mom turned into Baloo.

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Alternative R&B And Soul

Fell behind on these, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of songs. In fact, I’ve found far more than I even know what to do with. I’m learning more and more about all the varied categories, sub-categories and what-the-fuck categories as I go. Terms for specific genres I didn’t even know existed are popping up left and right, making it easier than ever to find songs that make my eyes glaze over with delight. That’s not just me, right? That can’t just be me.

If this isn’t your style, check out my last post where I looked at hip-hop and jazz!

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1. “Gooey” by Glass Animals

Damn if it doesn’t feel great when you find a new group and discover they don’t just have a few decent singles, but their entire repertoire is addicting as candy. With only a few years to their name and an incredibly varied sound that gets more eclectic with each hit they put out, I can see Glass Animals only getting more successful from here. (They’ve actually got another fantastic single that I’ll have to put on another list for its entirely different genre)

‘Gooey”s title fits the song’s style perfectly — it’s like if melted butter was put to sound, almost bizarrely smooth and utterly sultry with each whispering note. A dreamy harp and the signature hissing croons of the lead singer create a brilliant atmosphere right off the bat, eventually pulling you into a rhythm that sways like a lullaby. I looped this song without mercy the first time I heard it, with each listen progressively better than the last to the point I had to share it with everyone I knew as soon as possible. It’s one of those.

I mean, when it comes down to it you just can’t go wrong with lyrics that include the lines ‘peanut-butter vibes’ and ‘icky, gooey womb’.

Ride my little pooh bear, wanna take a chance

Wanna sip this smooth air, kick it in the sand

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Hip-Hop & Jazz

I’ve got some real good stuff this week. Songs that get me jazzed up (heh) are ones that blur the lines between genres, bringing in the best of each and something entirely new all at the same time. Some of the hip-hop picks here are going to have some distinctively jazzy influences, but there’s bound to be something here for fans of both genres and all the little overlaps. Let’s just get to it!

If you’re interested in past posts, check out the last one where I revisited more of indie and acoustic.

 

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1. “Rose Golden” by Kid Cudi ft. Willow Smith

 
It’s a damn good feeling when you click on a song and know it’s gonna be good from the first few seconds. Kid Cudi and Willow Smith’s talents have crashed into one another like two planets, creating a result that’s as bombastic as it is unique.

 
Drawn in with classic harps and crooning only to suddenly swing into a pounding beat, the song all but grabs the listener by the proverbial hand and leads them on a journey — hip-hop, classical and indie are just a few of the influences on full blast here and make for something that’s as interesting as it is plainly catchy. Their vocals are fantastic — I’ve become a huge fan of Willow Smith over the past few years and Kid Cudi’s voice has taken a turn for the gravelly, providing a stellar contrast for an overall stunning piece.

 
It’s a full-package song through and through. I was drawn in by the lush instrumentation, swayed by the fascinating lyrics and left tingling by the sheer personality of all the incredible talent on board. There’s just so much to talk about to the point I risk overhyping. Just check ‘Rose Golden’ out — you won’t regret it.

 
Oh, since I was young, been grooving to my own drum

 
Ain’t that many teachers show me my potential

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Tales From The Borderlands: Redefining Unconventional Families

Tales From The Borderlands is more relevant to the average twenty-something living in America than most shows on television.

 
Here’s why.

 
The United States is a rough place to live in when you’re part of a marginalized group. Even more so when you’re part of two or three. This is seen in more fruitless job searching, lack of healthcare and ongoing workplace or day-to-day discrimination getting in the way of financial stability and proper mental health. This is even more evident in ongoing trends of more and more twenty-somethings moving back in with their parents for reasons relating to shifting healthcare norms, chronic illness and/or disabilities and lost jobs. Not everyone can afford to get their own place and even a roommate can be off-limits depending on your background.

 
Media, however, is pretty disinterested in acknowledging this beyond the occasional mean-spirited quip. Stereotypes in popular culture aren’t kind to adults who live with their family — there are plenty of films and shows with one-off characters used as walking punchlines due to living with their parents or even having them in the regular vicinity. Heck, one of the most common insults flung around the Internet is the ‘loser who lives in their parents’ basement’. The lofty and idealized ‘accomplished twenty-something with a degree’ and American nuclear family (established as white, Christian, middle-class, able, heterosexual and cisgender with the occasional ethnic variance) are the standards and fuck you if you dare deviate from it!

 
When I hear ‘conventional’, I don’t really think of a four-bedroom house with an immaculate lawn and white-picket fence in secluded suburbia. My mind more runs along the lines of the twenty-something juggling a studio apartment and two part-time jobs with no health insurance wondering if they’ll get jumped for a hate crime on the way back home. What can I say, I’m biased!

 
The onslaught of tone-deaf shows like Big Bang Theory and Girls and countless romantic comedies reinforce day-in and day-out the myth that to not be financially independent is to be burdensome or a raging loser. What makes Tales From The Borderlands stand out amid the pack of ‘tee hee you live with your mom’ commentaries and ‘why are Millennials so lazy and dependent’ thinkpieces is the more nuanced approach to ‘unconventional’ families and living situations.

 

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Indie & Acoustic

Let’s face it. It can be really hard getting through the week with so much bad news pouring through social media and public programs like a stubborn leak. The kind of music I like to listen to in order to further my mood during rough times varies quite a bit — sometimes I want pounding, angry rock to offset hopelessness, while other times I seek out sugary pop to perk me up. As of this week? Indie and folk can be the ticket you need to pull out all those seemingly elusive artistic emotions when you need to create or just get a good cry going.

I’ll be putting a touch more emphasis on the acoustic part of folk in this list, if only because we all could use some low-key, wind-down music once in a while. If this is a genre that tickles your fancy, check out my previous indie and folk recommendations.

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1. “Wanna Be On Your Mind” by Valerie June

With one of the most charming set of pipes I’ve ever heard, Valerie June is a new favorite that’s found a permanent place in my playlists. You could even say she’s regularly on my mind! I’ll stop.

Her work is a vibrant blend of country and folk, leaning toward the latter with certain pieces and leaning back with others. If you’re like me and aren’t overly fond of country’s general sound, rest easy knowing Valerie June is versatile enough to cover a wide variety of approaches while retaining a strong identity. ‘Wanna Be On Your Mind’ is a jaunty acoustic-folk number, the almost earworm hook supplemented with a gentle keyboard and quirky chimes. I’ve even put on this song for a few friends and their organic head-bobbing only confirms what I already know.

I wanna be on your mind, stay there all the time

You can’t call my name

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Good Girl, Bad Girl: A Videogame Regurgitation

You eat something enough times, you’re going to get used to it no matter how much you dislike it.

That’s mainstream media in a nutshell. Our visual diet is composed of clichés and tropes that have spanned for decades across countless mediums and can be consumed in a matter of minutes or hours. While we can all stand to indulge in a little junk food now and again, there comes a time we need to get more critical of what we’re putting in our proverbial mouths. Media can influence the way you interact with your neighbor or talk to the barista behind the counter. At its best it connects people together and shares everyone’s innermost thoughts and desires. At worst? Our prejudices, willful ignorance and unfounded anxieties.

One such prevalant and ugly way of dividing and conquering people is what I like to call the Good Girl, Bad Girl cliché.

Used to take women of different backgrounds and juxtapose them against one another as competition, romantically or platonically, the Good Girl, Bad Girl is a classic mainstay. It manifests in petty cat fights to titillate the presumed straight, cisgender male viewer. It crops up as positive or negative narrative framing, giving one more screentime and the other an unceremonious death. It reduces women to a proverbial buffet to be mused over, selected and readily devoured (as you can see, this food metaphor has a lot of mileage). Don’t confuse this piece for a bare and basic defense of ‘all women’, however. The Good Girl is frequently a woman from privilege, regularly uplifted because she’s ticked off most of the requisite boxes to be ‘deserving’ of attention, protection and respect. While she does face misogyny and objectification, I lean toward defending the Bad Girl. The one rejected in fictional narratives and the real world.

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This has become common in recent titles, making it clear these rotten societal scraps won’t be cleaned up any time soon. I’m going to explore the dichotomy presented between women in videogames — the inherent misogyny/ethnocentricism/whorephobia present in these roles and what they mean for an industry overwhelmingly dominated by a specific kind of person. Three guesses as to who those might be and the first two don’t count!

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Alternative & Chill-Pop

Alternative has always been a mainstay with me. It’s a slapdash of everything, the best of rock, pop, electronica, synth-pop, hip-hop and just about whatever it needs to hold your attention and lift your heart. A veritable delicious stew where you can’t figure out where one genre starts and the other ends. It’s just brilliant. If you’ve got a hankering for some quality soul and funk instead, check out my previous post here.

Since alternative is such a broad category, I’m going to switch it up a little with future Sharing The Goodness posts. Alternative and electronica or alternative and jazz, for example, are likely candidates for the future! ‘Til then, let’s take a look at the smooth and more relaxed end of things — alternative and chill-pop.

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1. “Sly” by Polographia ft. Winston Surfshirt

Double-feature time! I found this band pretty recently while browsing different playlists. With the political landscape getting more hectic by the second, I am in a constant need for something to slow down my heart rate and put me in a better headspace. Polographia’s fantastic old-school melodies and delightfully relaxed approach have since weaseled their way into my own ongoing playlists and I don’t think they’ll be leaving any time soon.

Don’t confuse relaxed with boring, however — their single ‘Sly’ has enough zest to get you moving, but is low-key enough to be as comfortable in a car radio while speeding down the highway as a temporary snooze on a warm beach. Alternative really is a little bit of everything! For those that want a solid first impression, ‘Sly’s throwback sound and vaporware music video are a prime place to start.

Who’s counting all the things you tried

Can’t remember how or why but in the end you’ve grown sly

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Thanks For Being Here, Final Fantasy IX – Part Two: Gameplay

The Final Fantasy series has been around a long damn time. While it’s famous for being the face of turn-based battle systems, it has done its fair share of shaking up the formula on its still-continuing line of titles, spin-offs and crossovers. We’ve seen this toyed with in the more chess-like Final Fantasy Tactics, the MMO-inspired Final Fantasy XII and the actual MMO Final Fantasy XI and XIV. We’ve seen this all but tossed out entirely in favor of more spontaneous action-adventure gameplay like Kingdom Hearts and The Bouncer. Even still Final Fantasy XV is looking to shake things up with a more expansive open-world and dynamic, adventure-style gameplay. We won’t talk about Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.

Just like the games it has been a bumpy road full of twists and turns. Final Fantasy XII received a mixed response from some due to its putting greater emphasis on side quests and free movement, while Final Fantasy XIII was nearly a deal-breaker for long-time fans due to its extremely linear and hands-off approach to combat and exploration. That’s nothing to say of all the additional things you can do in the average Final Fantasy game, from playing complex card games in VIII to racing chocobos in VII. So, where does Final Fantasy IX fit into all this?

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Ambient & R&B

Time for the second round-up! The first Sharing The Goodness focused on indie and folk — this time we’re touching on some atmospheric ambient and R&B. Since art is malleable and not always easily categorized, a few of these are going to have some soul and electronica flavorings.

These songs have been kicking around on my playlists for months, so it feels good to take a look at why they’ve affected me so much.

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1. “Message” by Kelela

You can’t go wrong with Kelela. It took me a little thinking as to which song to choose for the list and I ended up picking the one I keep coming back to. ‘Message’ is a piece that invokes the subconscious and steady nature of breathing, incredibly minimalist and slow with its swaying backbeats and emphasis on a strong vocal presence. Coupled with a deceptively simple music video that later transforms into a lush animated experiment, Kelela is an artist that really doesn’t mind playing around with your expectations.

The lyrics are brutally honest. I’m 100% down with a woman who’s fed the hell up with a significant others’ callous behavior, creating a foundation for a song that can either act as smooth catharsis or a pretty warning sign depending on where you stand. Personally? It helped mete out a few of my frustrated feelings during a break-up. Thanks, Kelela!

When you look at me, you’re somewhere else

And all we know is all we got

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Indie & Folk

This marks a new weekly segment: Sharing The Goodness! It’s exactly what it says on the tin — I’ll be sharing songs I’ve come across and feel could use a little more attention. Whether it’s a bouncy disco track I heard a week ago or an obscure acoustic number I’ve been bobbing my head to over the past month, I’ll be rounding them up five at a time every Saturday to help these artists get more exposure and to help you get some inspiration for the work week. Better yet, I’ll be grouping these up by genre(s) so you’ll know what you’re getting into. Not too fond of rock? Want to see more electronica or synth-pop? Just keep an eye out for my next piece.

After all, I want to share the goodness!

Starting off the list: indie and folk. Considering I’m a huge fan of this sound, expect me to re-visit these a lot in future posts. I’ll also occasionally put an artist on the list twice, if I feel their repertoire is just too damn grand to be confined to one suggestion. (Links in the titles!)

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1. “Sing To The Moon” by Laura Mvula

I was indirectly introduced to Laura Mvula by a mutual on Twitter, who then told me she’d make me cry, no less. Well, they weren’t wrong. British-born folk and neo-soul musician Laura Mvula is a tour-de-force, tugging on your heartstrings even as she sweeps you off your feet and ignites your imagination. ‘Sing To The Moon’ is the very definition of a showstopper — a gentle chorus and tender vocals initially draws you in, only to wrench at your heart with fanciful violins and harp strings. Even better? The lyrics are beautiful.

They hearken to a friend or a family member holding your hand through hard times, invoking hope when life is pushing anything but. Too many songs attempting to relate to a ‘general and impersonal audience’ can come off as overly vague or corny, but Laura Mvula knows exactly who she’s talking to and why. The despondent and the depressed, the hopeless regularly beaten down by reality yet turning their faces to the sky for one last look nonetheless.

Sing to the moon and the stars will shine,

Over you, lead you to the other side

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