All Our “Secrets”

Whenever we have an English class on a Friday, my teacher, Mrs. Jansen, does what we like to call “secrets”. Every student gets a chance to write down an anonymous secret onto a slip of paper, which goes into a large tub. Afterwards, everyone who contributed a secret draws one out of the container and reads it aloud to the class. These secrets can be funny or serious. Sometimes they’re about the class itself, or about school, or about life.

While a small handful of people opt not to participate in this biweekly activity, most of us do. I mean, what’s the harm? After all, we’re all protected by a sort of unspoken moral code. To belittle or criticize the person who put in the secret would be immediately condemned by the rest of the class. To confess who actually put in the secret is besides the point of the activity, regardless of how innocuous that secret might be. The anonymity of the whole affair is a huge part of the fun of it. The feeling of hearing a juicy secret and realizing that anyone around you could have put it in is what makes it all exciting.

But the shallow excitement of gossip is nothing compared to the almost therapeutic effect it has on me (and I assume) all of our class. As we go through each secret, we turn the secrets into discussions. We voice our support, our concerns, our advice, for each person who confesses something on a slip of paper.

To unrequited lovers hoping to work up the courage to confess, we offer encouragement. To those stressed, we offer our own tips and stories about our own stressors. To those left heartbroken by rejection, we offer sympathy. To the confused, guidance. To the funny stories, laughter. And even to those with problems too difficult to address, too outside of our realms of experience to advise, we snap our fingers and let them know that they are heard.

I’ve put in all manner of secrets, both silly and not-so-silly. I am, not really on purpose, kind of a wealth of closely kept thoughts and worries. As much as I know I have a strong support system of people who care about me and want to help me… they shouldn’t have to always hear the things I worry about. Sometimes there’s nothing they can do. Sometimes those worries are about them. Sometimes they’re too hard to say aloud.

But for those sorts of things, there’s a white slip of paper on my desk at the end of Friday IB English class. There’s a classroom of people who don’t know who I am but still care about what I’m going through.

These aren’t really scary or dangerous secrets, don’t worry. But they’re embarrassing sometimes, or hard to explain, or don’t align with the way I want to present myself. Sometimes they’re things I’ve told close friends already, but never aloud. There’s a real benefit to hearing your own thoughts echoed aloud, and having others acknowledge and comment on them.

I, for very obvious reasons, don’t want to get too specific about any of the secrets I’ve confessed in this activity, but I will say that one of my more recent ones garnered maybe one of the most positive responses I have ever received. To be vague, it was the story of the disappointing result of a very uncharacteristically huge social risk I took.  I was expecting a few finger snaps of sympathy, but instead Mrs. Jansen told us she was proud of the writer of the secret for being mature about their disappointment, and lots of other classmates agreed that it was an admirable response to a difficult situation.

And I… almost seriously burst into tears. I didn’t, thankfully, but it was incredible to hear a classroom of completely unbiased people validate the, for lack of a better term, sucky situation I had found myself in.

No one solved my problems, of course. They didn’t have to. But what they did was provide me feedback to a difficult decision I had made without being influenced by their knowledge of me or of my situation. And that, I think, is the beauty of the “secrets” activity.

(And just as a small note, the situation I’m talking about has since more or less resolved itself into a far more positive thing, lest you all begin worrying about me.)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that trusting the feedback of others is difficult. Contrary to what a lot of millennial thinkpieces like to claim, having a childhood of “everyone’s a winner” is not only not really the truth, it also doesn’t really make you feel entitled, it makes you skeptical of every piece of praise you receive. I’ve been told I’m smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good so many times that it’s hard to believe any of those things. I mean, all throughout elementary school I was in a class of kids who were smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good.

Taking a compliment from someone at face-value is pretty rare. Most of the time I brush them off as a result of having friends and family who love me and want to make me happy, or as a result of somebody mistakenly thinking I’m more put-together than I am.

But with the secrets… I get guidance and suggestion without the fear of having things sugarcoated.

Plus, and this is kind of an important thing too, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in even the most embarrassing of things. The negative things in my life are not the sort of thing I want to wear on my chest like Superman’s S, but being able to quietly let them out and see people in the same situation is really helpful.

And that, I think, is the beauty of “secrets”. The anonymity that comes with it is a safety blanket, a place to confess hard truths without fear of getting hurt. There’s a lot of value in that.

 

And I’m Part of the Problem Too – Concerning Women in Music

I’ve been spending an embarrassing amount of time watching Top Ten videos on Youtube lately. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s my obsessive love of lists and analysis. They just hit a certain place in my soul that’s very satisfying.

And of course, in line with my own sensibilities, a lot of these Top Tens have to do with music. Top Ten Stupidest Lyrics, Top Ten Saddest Songs, Top Ten Most Controversial Musicians, Top Ten Most Interesting Music Facts… name it and I’ve probably watched a video on it. Music is a vast ocean of interesting facts and I’ve learned a lot from these videos, but I’ve also noticed some… disturbing patterns.

It’s not as if I didn’t already know that women are vastly underrepresented in pretty much all genres of music. But these Top Tens all too often make this fact so obvious that it’s PAINFUL. All of the Top Ten bests seem filled to the brim with dudes, while all of the Top Ten worsts seem to feature every female pop star you could possibly fit. It happens over and over and over again, and I’m really sick of it.

Of course there are exceptions. There are always exceptions, but that’s all there is… exceptions.

And the more I think about it, the more upset I get, because I start to realize… I’m part of the problem too.

You see, my personal favorite genre, Alt Rock, is a genre of music I myself have praised as diverse and interesting. I’ve thought to myself often in a sort of giddy reverence that I’m just so pleased that I’ve found myself a fan of so many open and accepting bands, bands that address real-world issues and open their arms to fans of all types. I often shun other genres like rap and pop and country for being backward and misogynistic, or racist… but then… wait a minute…

How many popular diverse alt rock bands are there really? Okay, let’s quantify this by taking a look at my personal favorite radio station – Alt Nation – and its current Top 18 and its demographics.

  1. Silvertongue – Young the Giant 5m
  2. On Hold – The xx 2m 1f
  3. Down – Marian Hill 1m 1f
  4. Love is Mystical – Cold War Kids 5m
  5. Middle Fingers – Missio 2m
  6. Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists 7m
  7. Send them Off!  – Bastille 5m
  8. Cocoon – Milky Chance 3m
  9. Believer – Imagine Dragons 4m
  10. I Don’t Wanna Dance – COIN 4m
  11. Blood in the Cut – K Flay 1f
  12. Good Morning – Grouplove 4m 1f
  13. Radio – Sylvan Esso 1m 1f
  14. Pork Soda – Glass Animals 4m
  15. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales – Car Seat Headrest 4m
  16. Born Again – Saint Motel 4m
  17. Heavydirtysoul – twenty one pilots 2m
  18. Rhythm & Blues – The Head and the Heart 5m 1f

And the results are… disappointing. Of the 68 total performers represented in that top 18, only six of them are female. That is not even ten percent of the total! I checked! I did math!

Yes, there’s a problem with misogyny in popular music but… that problem is everywhere, and is worse in places not under popular scrutiny. The genre of music I had always through was so open and diverse was really… not at all. Maybe in meaning, it was open and inclusive, but in practice, there is just as much of a lack of female presence as anywhere else. In fact, it’s probably worse.

But that’s not exactly my fault, is it? I mean, I’m just listening to music. I don’t actively seek out all male bands all the time to listen to, do I? It’s not like we’re actively discriminating against female artists, this is just what’s popular within one genre, right?

Well, yeah, I guess. But the problem with that mentality is that it leaves the question of why there is such an unbalance unanswered. Technically, there should be no reason why only ten percent of performers in Altnation’s top 18 is female. There is nothing about alternative rock that says it’s inherently more difficult for women to be successful at performing, except… it clearly is. If it wasn’t, why is there such an inequality?

This leads me to examining my own personal music tastes, where I think there’s a far more even split. Yeah, I listen to a lot of male singers (Walk the Moon, Arctic Monkeys, Saint Motel, etc…), but there’s also a ton of great female musicians I love! And I think the biggest problem with them is that I don’t talk about them enough.

So, why not? Here’s a list of my favorite female artists, along with a few of my favorite tracks of theirs. This women’s history month, let’s take a minute to celebrate them.

Marina and the Diamonds


When I set out to write this, Marina was absolutely the first artist who came to mind. And that’s what Marina is – an artist. All of her albums are statements, incredibly put-together with such a cohesive message and aesthetic that it’s almost magical.

I was introduced to Marina through her album, “Electra Heart,” and the thing about that album is, if you just listen to one or two tracks off of it, you might be fooled into thinking Marina’s aesthetic is just there for aesthetic’s sake. However, take a listen to the whole album and you’ll find it an incredibly insightful deconstruction of the various stereotypes placed on women. From the Homewrecker to the Heartbreaker to the Housewife, Marina shows an incredible insight into the downfalls and shortcomings of every false image she takes on.

Not to mention, looking past the social commentary and artistry of every song she’s ever created, Marina also has an incredibly powerful voice to back it up. I’ve yet to find a song of hers I don’t like – from the beginning of her career to now.

She’s a unique voice in music, and one I will continue to return to, time and time again.

Grimes

If ever there was a renaissance woman in music, look no further than Claire Boucher, otherwise known as Grimes. She’s not only the face of her musical act… she’s the writer, the producer, the performer. She directs all of her music videos, and illustrates all of the art that goes on her album and track covers. Basically anything you see or hear in any of these videos – yep, that’s Claire Boucher.

Sure, yeah, her particular style and aesthetic can be a little hard to swallow at first. Believe me – it took a bit of listening to get used to her slightly off-kilter approach to music.

But really, all it took me was a few minutes to read the lyrics and meanings of all of the songs on “Artangels” (her newest and honestly most incredible album), to completely hop on board with every strange image she creates. Gorey or adorable or creepy or beautiful… I love it all.

Her lyrics are incredibly in-depth, her songs are unique and authentic… I couldn’t recommend the music of the one and only Grimes more highly.

Vienna Teng

I’m a casual fan of Broadway, but I usually find my specialties and tastes lie more in musicians rather than musicals… but Vienna Teng melds the positives of both styles. Each one of her songs tells a different story in such a meaningful way.

Vienna’s voice is warm and calming, but her lyrics are poetry – mixing gorgeous language with incredible storytelling. Plus, she tends to opt for classical instrumentation, clarinets and strings and sometimes just a simple piano.

It’s maybe contradictory to talk about Vienna’s Broadway appeal in the same breath as her subtlety, but trust me, just give it a listen. She doesn’t need big boisterous numbers to sell the drama of the stories she’s telling. All she needs is her incredible skill with the written (sung?) word.

This is possibly my nerdiest review of a musician yet, but come on. Vienna melds all the things I love together: stories, an attention to detail, and incredibly-written lyrics. Give her a listen, you won’t regret it.

Regina Spektor

I feel like I’ve loved Regina Spektor for as long as I’ve loved music. That’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s just something about her that has appealed to me from a really young age all the way until now.

Certainly, she has a beautiful voice. But it’s what she does with it – the frank, earnest lyrics she performs and the sometimes goofy vocal effects she uses so often to make her point. Regina has the talent and the looks to stand and sing ballads all day long, but she doesn’t.

Instead, she brings a real energy to every song she performs – a dose of humor alongside her sometimes blunt portrayal of life. There’s a lot more to her than meets the eye – and she constantly proves it with each new song.

Regina Spektor has been one of my favorites for years, and I suspect she’ll remain there for a long time.

Haim

A relatively new favorite, Haim is that cool, super chill indie band made up of all sisters that you never knew you needed in your life.

With a really great sound with a foot in both rock and pop, the girls in Haim use their crisp, clear voices perfectly. Listen to those harmonies! Just beautiful.

Plus, and this is very important to me, a lot of their songs are awfully relatable – down-to-earth lyrics. These girls don’t sugarcoat anything, and their tongue-in-cheek views comes through in all of their songs.

And I mean, come on. Next time you need the name of a super cool indie band to drop to impress all your friends, why not try Haim?

Halsey

Halsey’s music just oozes style. Is her music a little angsty? Sure, but it’s in a way that makes me feel like I’m the coolest kid ever, even if I’m also apparently the saddest.

All jokes aside, though, Halsey’s lyrics are beautiful and the music in her songs is beautiful and her voice is beautiful and everything she does is beautiful. She’s got this unique style of singing that’s so hard to describe – but it’s warm and really pleasant to listen to.

Plus, every one of her songs is bursting with meaning and artistry. I’ve spent some time just parsing through her often deeply personal lyrics and they’re all so gorgeous.

So, embrace your deep inner angst and spend some time listening to Halsey. You won’t regret it.

Florence and the Machine

If you want to talk about powerful vocals, look no further than Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine because good GOD can she sing. Every note that comes out of her mouth is 100% pure and perfect and I can’t stress enough how amazing she is.

If her gorgeous voice wasn’t enough, though, she also creates such grand, sweeping tracks to back her vocals, and it’s an experience. Every single one of her songs is a journey, almost gospel-like in its grandeur.

And Florence herself is almost goddess-like. I mean, it’s no surprise, with vocals like that. But still, I have to love the ethereal image she evokes in all of her music videos – such an absolute joy to see.

Florence and the Machine is another one of my old favorites, and just sifting back through these songs has reminded me once again why I love her so much.

Lorde

Did you know Lorde was only sixteen when her big hit, “Royals”, hit the US Top 40s? Isn’t that 100% crazy? When I was sixteen I could barely stand up straight, much less write and perform hit songs…

Lorde has such a unique tone to her voice, and such a unique, relatable perspective in all of her songs. It’s hard not to pay attention when someone that young has such raw talent, and it’s amazing how she just keeps getting better and better.

(Also, I must confess, I’ve listened to her newest song, “Green Light”, so many times in the past 48 hours and oh my GOD is it ever the most beautiful thing and I suspect I’ll never grow tired of it…)

The hype is real, Lorde is amazing. I can’t wait to see where she goes with her career – I expect great things.

Sara Bareilles

I end my list with a feel-good favorite. I’ve been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for years, and I always find her music bringing a smile to my face. Well, except for one song, “Gravity”, which brings a tear to my eye, but that’s a good thing.

When she’s not singing gorgeous yet tear-jerking ballads, though, Sara Bareilles has the kind of music that makes you want to hop up on your feet, grab someone you love, and dance for like three hours without a care in the world. She inspires such joy and fun.

There’s something so wholesome and good about her music, and it’s something I just love. Deep, tragic meanings are fun in music, but sometimes you just want a feel-good number, and Sara Bareilles delivers.

So, with that, my list of favorite musical ladies comes to an end. This list is by no means all-encompassing, of course. If I had to list every female musician I’ve ever liked, we’d be here all day. But I hope these few musicians will help you find a new favorite to add to your collection this Women’s History month.

It’s Familiar, But Not Too Familiar…

A few weeks ago, I talked about “My Brother, My Brother and Me”, the podcast that is going to save comedy. I took to the webs to say what I’ve been saying non-stop to my friends in real life… that these boys are funny, and good, and deserve your time and attention.

Since then, the McElroys have unveiled their newest creation, the six-episode TV show version of “My Brother, My Brother, and Me,” released via the online comedy streaming service SeeSo.

I’ve now watched the series twice all the way through, and I wanted to talk about it. Not only because I, unsurprisingly, loved it, but also because it made me understand even more what makes these three brothers so special to me, and to so many other people.

The show is essentially the same as the podcast, just a little more focused from episode to episode. The boys are presented a question from a listener, and they embark on a quest to solve it. The difference, of course, is that now the boys don’t discuss the question – they physically venture into their hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, to discover the answers they require. Whether it be starting cults, handling tarantulas, creating resumes, or just simply getting over their social anxiety and talking to people, they work tirelessly (and sometimes distractedly), to solve the problem.

As a huge fan of the podcast, the show is a comfortable extension of what I already know, but has enough little additions and differences to make it something exciting and new. It’s a lot of fun to see Justin, Travis, and Griffin as opposed to just hear them. And the slightly different format of the show, focusing on one problem instead of many, feels like the concept of the podcast but leaves a lot of new room for depth. As the opening theme song states, “It’s familiar, but not too familiar, but not too not familiar…”

I think, though, the biggest positive about the show is its accessibility. Despite the fact that I adore “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” and listen to it all the time, I don’t really recommend it to too many people. It’s kind of a hard sell, telling someone to sit down and pay attention to only audio for an hour. Podcasts, while wonderful, take a little getting used to. A TV series with half-hour long episodes though? A lot more mass appeal. There’s visuals to go with the audio, and it’s significantly shorter.

I was given physical evidence of this fact when, last weekend, I arranged an impromptu viewing party of the entire series with a few friends. I baked cookies and, as tradition would dictate, Totino’s Pizza Rolls (a long time joke both from the podcast). And it was a smashing success. Two of the friends I had invited were also fans of the podcast, but it was enlightening to see how much the three friends who had never heard the show before enjoyed it. I even heard some interest in getting into the podcast from one of them.

And of course it makes sense why. It takes a lot less commitment to sit down, enjoy some baked treats and marathon a TV show than it does to lay face down on your bed for hours and marathon 350+ episodes of a podcast. Yet, the TV show is so good, so genuinely funny, that it makes the viewer want more. The sell for the podcast becomes a lot easier when you already know firsthand you’re in for some great comedy.

On a more surface level, though, watching the “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” TV show through the eyes of someone who had never experienced the podcast before reminded me of what made me a fan of these brothers in the first place. Even if you don’t know them already, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Justin, Travis, and Griffin. I already knew they are sweet and genuine people with an oddball sense of humor, but seeing them interact with the people of their hometown in ways that were sometimes awkward but always good-intentioned reminded me of that fact. I already knew that their brotherly affection for one another provides great chemistry between the three of them in the podcast, but watching them bicker and make fun of each other and hang out with their adorable father, Clint McElroy, reminded me of that fact, too.

All in all, the “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” TV show warmed my heart, cleansed my soul, and reminded me that there is good in the world. It has also provided me with maybe one of my favorite moments in comedic history. If you want to check it out, I highly recommend it! You can watch the whole show at SeeSo’s website. Subscription to the site costs about $4 a month, but the first week is free if you just want to pop in, give it a watch, and then pop out! I promise, you won’t regret it.

 

On Beauty and Self-Love

When I was in elementary and middle school, I understood the people of the world as belonging to two categories. Those who have the capability to be physically beautiful and those who do not.

I considered myself a member of the latter group, and it was with this idea I brushed aside any possibility for insecurity based on my appearance. When I was younger I never spared a second thought to the clothes I wore or the way I did my hair because I assumed any effort in either department was a lost cause. I simply lacked the potential that half of the population had, I decided, and there was no point worrying about it.

And then, in seventh grade, I decided on a whim to cut off about five inches of my hair. It was a split second decision, but one I have never regretted. For the first time I looked into the mirror and liked what I saw. Around the same time my older cousin gifted a lot of her outgrown clothes to me, and I found myself actually enjoying the process of mixing and matching wardrobe pieces.

Still, something nagged at my mind. The fact that I was beginning to find joy in my appearance bothered me. I still held fast to the idea that beauty wasn’t possible for me, so taking interest in it felt shallow and vapid and ultimately pointless. Who was I even trying to impress? It was with these newly shorn locks, mismatched clothes, and confusing thoughts that I entered high school.

My Freshman year of high school was a major disaster in a lot of ways, but in hindsight, a lot of what occurred in that year was vitally important to the person I am today. Along with the many trying emotional experiences, it was this year that I began to solve my beauty conundrum as well. The solution came from a friend, Marie Hamilton, who to this day rightfully claims responsibility for teaching me the wonders of makeup but just as rightfully deserves responsibility for teaching me how to take pride in my appearance.

Marie was the sort of person I would categorize as being in the former group of people, but it was only after befriending her that I discovered that this came from her love of the process of fashion and style, not some sort of genetic predisposition. Her genuine love of doing her hair in crazy styles or digging through Goodwill for unique fashion or attaching tape to her face to get the perfect winged eyeliner inspired me to try some of these things for myself. (Yes, even the tape thing. No, I don’t recommend it.)

I found that I loved it too. Suddenly, weekends were for trying out fun new outfits and eyeshadow palettes became treasured possessions. And through the time I spent trying to achieve personal beauty, I started learning how to love myself. I already loved the things I did and the people I did it with, but I also began to love me too. Even without makeup and pretty clothes, it was through experimentation with my own appearance that I realized that the way I understood the world was wrong. If I was capable of liking the way I looked, then everyone had the capacity for beauty.

This isn’t to say that fashion and makeup is the only route to beauty. I’ve found it to be only one possible method. What it really comes down to is knowing yourself. Learning what makes you feel confident and happy is what beauty is, even if that thing is a certain hairstyle or a comfortable hoodie or a full face of makeup. Everyone deserves to love themselves in all avenues. Yes, they should love the things they do, but they should also love the way they look. I think there’s a major difference between this and vanity, which comes, I guess, in intention.

The issue comes when society both demands physical perfection and shames those who try their best to achieve it. There’s no way to win in that situation, so honestly I think the best thing to do is to do what you like. If you put on your makeup every morning because you want to do it, then there’s no problem at all.

And yes, I know that lots of people put makeup on not to appease society but rather to appease themselves. I’ve met a lot of people who consider themselves ugly and hate going out without hours of prep time before. But I don’t think that’s always the case, and it’s no reason to demonize makeup and beauty as a whole. I mean, just because you like the way you look in mascara doesn’t mean you hate the way you look without it. I wish we could destroy most societal standards for beauty, but I feel like too often this is equated with doing away with makeup entirely.

It’s a hard balance to strike, I guess. For now, I’ll just live by my own truth. I don’t put on makeup because I think I’m ugly. I put on makeup because I like the way I look.