Character Spotlight: Owain, Hero of Ages

Defining an all-time favorite anything is not an easy task. I know this to be true from experience. Picking a favorite song, favorite book, favorite movie, favorite artist, etc etc etc is nearly impossible. The pool is too big. I love too many songs and books and movies and artists and etc to choose just one that is, all around, the best.

However, there is one category for which I can pick one definitive favorite without a hint of hesitation.

My favorite fictional character ever in anything is Owain from the Fire Emblem series.

That’s a bold statement, I know. Even if you’re not familiar with the character, you may be wondering how he can be so good that he is the definitive best in any series. How can one character possibly rise above so many other great characters I love to claim the throne as the best?

Well… that’s a complicated question, and one I hope to answer in this post. So come with me and let us explore what makes humble Owain, hero of ages, such a fantastic and deep character.

Meet Owain

Owain first appeared in Fire Emblem: Awakening, the revival of the near-dying Fire Emblem series. His role in this game is pretty small. (In fact, his role in both games he appears in is small.)

Owain is one of the many future children the player is able to unlock over the course of the game. He is available for recruitment once the player marries his mother, Lissa, to any one of her potential marriage candidates. He starts out a myrmidon with a slight affinity for magic from his mother, but nothing about his recruitment or role in the game sets him apart from the rest of the recruitable children.

He’s completely unnecessary to the plot of the game. The player could, feasibly and easily, go through it without recruiting him at all.

Now this isn’t terribly uncommon. Only one of the recruitable children is required to finish the game, and that’s Lucina. All the rest are simply add-ons, fun little rewards for playing with the support system in the game. And yet, for Owain, this detail is incredibly important to what makes his character work so well. Keep it in mind.

From first impressions, Owain is a ridiculous character. He’s over-dramatic. He yells dumb catchphrases and pretends he’s an unstoppable and legendary hero. He gives weapons flashy and superfluous names. He claims to have an “unquenchable bloodlust” and a magical sword hand that constantly aches for battle.

The game makes no secret of the fact that Owain is delusional. Other characters treat him like a joke, and he constantly fails to do the things he claims to be able to do. For all intents and purposes, the audience is encouraged to consider Owain a comic relief character and to not take him seriously.

This too is not unusual for Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem is a game that requires a lot of unique characters for the game mechanics of assembling and commanding an army of heroes to work. And in order to ensure the player is able to remember details about as many of these characters as possible, they tend to all have some sort of memorable schtick and not much else to their characters on the surface. This is a topic I’ll probably end up going into in more depth in another post, but basically Owain is just a weird quirky goofball in a whole army of weird, quirky goofballs.

Yes, Owain is completely ordinary for Fire Emblem. Like all the other filler units in the game, he sticks to his schtick. He’s got some decent fighting stats but he’s overall unnecessary to completing the game.

So what makes him special, exactly?

He’s Not Special…

There’s some other information about Owain I didn’t tell you and it’s this – Owain, no matter who his mother Lissa gets married to, is of royal blood.

This is not a shocking statement. His mother is a princess, the younger sister of the main character and eventual king, Chrom. Because of this, he is also a member of the Exalted bloodline, the bloodline around which the story revolves.

Both Chrom and Lucina, (that one child I mentioned earlier who is necessary to complete the game) have character arcs that rely heavily on the fact that they are of Exalted blood. It makes them royal, but it also gives them special story powers – the ability to slay the Big Bad™, Grima.

Lissa’s character also revolves around her Exalted blood. Almost all members of the bloodline get a characteristic birthmark somewhere on their body. On Chrom, it’s on his tastefully exposed shoulder. On Lucina, it’s in her eye. On Emmeryn, Chrom and Lissa’s elder sister, it’s on her forehead. However, Lissa never got hers, and her anxiety over this fact is an important part of her character, and something that is brought up as a point of self-consciousness for her.

Although it’s apparently not unheard of for a member of the Exalted bloodline to never get their brand of the Exalt, for Lissa it means she’s unsure of whether or not she is actually a legitimate royal. For all she knows, she could be a bastard child. The only way for her to know for sure is to hope that one day her descendants inherit the mark.

And thus, lo and behold, enter Owain. If you’re wondering, yes, he does have the mark of the Exalt on his arm, proving definitively that Lissa is actually a member of the royal bloodline. This fact is established early on as one of the reasons Lissa is so close to her son. His very existence proves her legitimacy and puts one of her worst fears to rest.

So that’s cool and all, and it’s definitely one of the reasons why I like Owain so much, but there’s something else about Owain’s blood that makes his character so deep and fascinating.

…Yet Special-ness Flows Through Him

So this Exalted blood, right? It’s a big deal. Like I mentioned before, the two mainest of the main characters have their special main character powers because of this bloodline they belong to. And as the son of the now-proven-legitimate princess Lissa, Owain also shares this blood.

And yet… Owain is not even close to a main character.

He has the blood, he has the brand, but Owain is the only member of this bloodline to not make it into the main cast of characters.

So, think about it. You’re Owain. You’re a prince. You belong to a bloodline of incredible warriors, warriors with the power to slay a giant dragon made of malice and pure evil. Your very existence proves to your mother that she belongs to this bloodline as well.

And yet, you don’t play a main role in the slaying of the Big Bad™ at all.

Don’t you think that would be a little disheartening? To know that your mother, your cousin, and your uncle all played a huge role in the slaying of a legendary beast and the saving of your world because of the very same blood you also possess and yet you aren’t a part of it at all?

Wouldn’t it make you want to be a part of it?

And Thus, Theatrics.

So, taking all this information into account, let’s take a look at Owain’s personality, his schtick, one more time.

He’s overdramatic. He’s a ham. He demands attention. He’s delusional. He pretends to possess a great and unique power, one he can barely control. Well, you don’t have to even wonder where this behavior comes from. As the one member of the exalted bloodline not to play a direct role in the plot of the game, it makes sense why he puts on such a show.

His entire family is composed of legendary heroes, and so Owain pretends to be one.

With this connection, everything about Owain’s character makes perfect sense. Of course he would have a reason to put on theatrics constantly. He has an entire bloodline to live up to. It even works on a more meta game level. Not only in-universe is Owain not a “main character” but he is also literally not a main character in the actual game. His character works both in-universe and out-of-universe and that is cool.

But Wait! There’s More

But of course, Awakening wasn’t the last time we saw Owain. He made another appearance in Fates under the moniker “Odin.” Once more, Owain was not a main character, but he was a normal unit this time, with his own child unit, Ophelia.

I think of the three Awakening kids that got teleported into Fates, Owain got the most interesting character development. While, yes, he’s still the goofy comic relief character from Awakening, there’s a certain maturity to his character that wasn’t there before.

There are two reasons for this slight growth of character. The first one is that Owain, for the first time, is special in regards to the game. He was teleported into this new world for the express purpose of helping them. He and his companions are the only characters with this duty, and while they don’t ultimately end up playing that huge of a role in the plot of Fates, I think the idea is that Owain, for the first time, is a special hero. A hero of time, sacrificing his home and family to help a group of strangers. It’s definitely a reason for him to feel for the first time that his charades might have some actual heroic backup to them.

The second reason is his daughter, Ophelia. Ophelia shares a lot of similarities with her father in that she too has a theatrical personality and likes talking about her secret hidden powers. But unlike her father, Ophelia is not really pretending when she talks about her legendary abilities – she believes in them wholeheartedly.

Where Owain was aware of his normalcy and used theatrics to hide his embarrassment over it, Ophelia only knows her father as a legendary hero, and as an extension, only knows her bloodline as one of magic and heroics. Ophelia is like what Owain would be if he was a main character, or at least was unaware of his relative unimportance as compared to his family members.

So, in that way, their interactions become very fascinating when taking a look at Owain’s character. It does a lot to confirm what I already suspected about his mindset in Awakening. He seems reluctant to crush Ophelia’s dreams, and goes along with her tirades with the same enthusiasm as she, but when it comes to telling her about his actual home, he seems sad and unusually reserved. It really adds a level of depth and growth to his character that I appreciate.

In Summation

Owain is just… a really excellent example of how a side character can be given depth without having to go into too much explicit detail. And that’s why, I think, I can so easily call him my favorite character. I’ve always been attached to side characters, and too often I see them pushed to the side and not given the depth and development they deserve.

And while, yes, I don’t think Owain’s development is probably entirely on purpose by the people behind Fire Emblem, regardless, I believe he stands as a lovely example that side characters can work on multiple levels.

And with that, I leave Owain. For now. But who knows when my analysis hand will twitch again…

“In Flesh and Blood and Self-Hate” – Top 20 “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Songs

On recommendation from two different friends, I recently sat down and watched the CW’s TV show, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and… let me say, it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. It’s basically everything you could want in a show – funny and dramatic with a cast of diverse, well-rounded characters who develop and change. Plus it’s a musical! I couldn’t recommend this show enough, but in lieu of an actual review, I decided I’d count down my top 20 favorite songs from the show. I thought it would be a fun way to talk about the show as a whole by focusing on arguably the best aspect of it – the music.

This was… a difficult list to say the least. There’s a lot of fantastic songs in the show, and I made some cuts from the list that honestly broke my heart. So I wanna do a quick shoutout to the songs that didn’t quite make the cut: I Have Friends, Research Me Obsessively, Ping Pong Girl, (big spoilers for the last two and nsfw language on the last one) Rebecca’s Resprise, and It Was a Shit Show. I also want to say that some of these songs will contain spoilers for the show. If you plan on watching the show, (which, oh my god, please do, it’s on Netflix, do it), I would advise overall to skip this post and just go watch it, since I can’t promise even the non-spoiler songs will stay clean when I get to talking about what makes them great. In addition, I’ll tag all nsfw content, including language and sexual content, you know, for the kiddies.

Without further ado, my personal Top 20 songs from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”!

20. Where’s the Bathroom

I think one of the strongest aspects of this show is its characters. While there are a lot of characters with… ahem, flaws, every character in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is relatable and understandable. There are no true villains.

Still, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” spends a lot of time hyping up Rebecca’s mom before we even see her, mainly through Rebecca’s own perspective. For a while, I expected her to be the villain. After all, before even offically meeting her, we learn she was a controlling, overbearing presence in Rebecca’s life, who accepted nothing less than perfection from her daughter. She’s a pretty negative force in the show, even before the audience meets her, so when the episode rolled around that introduced her it only made sense that she would have a spectacular entrance. And… yep, she did, with this boisterous, hilarious song.

I think Rebecca’s mom is one of the underrated characters of this show. While she never really gets a redemption for her role in Rebecca’s past trauma (nor, arguably, does she really deserve one), her role in Rebecca’s current life is fascinating. I think this song does a great job at reflecting her well-meaning but ultimately jarring and misguided attempts to help her daughter. It also works so well in this incredible episode, the one that establishes the rocky but ultimately positive present relationship between Rebecca and her mother.

This song is hilarious, introduces a really fascinating character incredibly well, and maintains that, I guess, Jewish flair that I’ve come to expect from Rebecca’s family whenever they’re involved in musical numbers? It’s all very charming.

19. Love Kernels

Warning: Kind of spoilery, very light sexual references

This video is kind of astounding in its quality. I mean, the video even jokes about how much production budget was spent on this one number… but holy crap is it ever worth it. This video is beautiful, and nails the genre it’s trying to parody. I love the mix of absurd and serious imagery in this video.

Speaking of that, though, I think one of the strengths of this show as a whole is its ability to seamlessly mix comedy and tragedy. It’s one of the greatest examples of dark comedy I think I’ve ever seen, and while I don’t think this song is the best example of this, it certainly could be categorized as such. Rebecca is so earnest in her joy over her relationship with Josh, and yet it’s clear to the audience that she knows deep down that he’s not as into the relationship as she is. And that’s… tragic. To think that Rebecca puts all the effort and optimism into it anyway, even knowing that it’s mostly not reciprocated… well, it makes this song hurt a bit.

This is not by any means the most tragic song of the bunch either, but enjoy the beautiful aesthetics and slight heart tug this song provides anyway. Also… the song is just great overall. It just sounds really polished and… yeah, this is a good song.

18. Math of Love Triangles

Warning: Slight sexual references, kind of spoilery

I think it’s a hard sell to say one particular song in this show is the funniest, but this song made me smile at so many points. It’s really layered, so I’m gonna go into it all briefly. On the top layer, they absolutely nail the parody, as usual, because Rebecca looks and sounds just like Marilyn. The video itself is such a specific visual but it works so well – the striking blue of the background and Rebecca’s dress plus the obviously nerdy garb of all of the background singers… visually, it’s unique and memorable.

On the second layer, we have Rebecca’s delusions. A lot of songs in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” play with the idea that Rebecca is not always totally in touch with reality and this song is… overt. The whole humor of it is Rebecca is clearly not seeing the reality of the situation and is blinded by her excitement over her imagined “love triangle” with Greg and Josh. That’s symbolized by her exaggerated stupidity regarding triangles and her focus instead on making them into some sort of sexual symbol. It’s an odd metaphor, but it really works well in this context.

And finally, shimmering beneath the surface is that slight criticism of the idea that women are the most sexy when they’re dumb and naive. The baby voice, the obvious playing dumb, coupled with the really childish sexual language in this song makes fun of the idea that women are at their sexiest when they’re most childlike and innocent, and I’m super glad that’s being called out for how ridiculous it is.

Plus… puns. Gotta love those puns.

17. His Status is Preferred

Warning: Slight sexual references

I really love Paula, and I’m sad she didn’t get more songs that made this list, so I had to include my favorite of hers. Paula tends to go for the big showstoppers, but I love this one for her because it’s still got that showstopping quality but it’s paired with the smooth, jazzy instrumentals. Her vocals are gorgeous and I just love her.

The song is in reference to a one-off fling she has with a minor character, but I still think it has a lot to say about her character as a whole. It speaks to her boredom, and her longing for an adventure, for something more, something exciting, in her life. I think that longing is what makes her a lot more than a sidekick to Rebecca, and makes her a really relatable and wonderful character in her own right.

I don’t have much else to say about this song… it’s just good. It’s good and you should listen to it, and then watch the show. Watch the show.

16. Women Gotta Stick Together

Warning: Some swearing, sexual references

Ahh Valencia. How you play with the audience’s emotions. I know I said earlier that Rebecca’s mom is the first villain of the show if there is one, but Valencia also kind of is too. But also not? It’s pretty nuanced. While she’s clearly set up to be an antagonist of sorts – rival for Josh’s love for Rebecca, in the same vein, her first episode sets her up as a surprisingly sympathetic character.

It’s no secret that Valencia’s distrust of other women is based on her negative experience as a teenager with other girls tearing her down. Valencia has had no prior proof that other women will help her in any way, and that belief drives her negative behavior in the present.

So this song? It’s… well it’s kind of tragic, actually. You can read into it for it’s humor, and yeah, it’s funny, but it’s also really sad in a way? Even as she symbolically leads a crowd of women in song, it’s clear in the lyrics that Valencia doesn’t trust any of them. And considering how her character develops throughout the show, the show as a whole seems to take the stance that women are human – they aren’t saints, but they aren’t demons either. Valencia learns to overcome her mistrust and this song remains as a criticism of using either extreme as fact.

15. We’ll Never Have Problems Again

Warning: Spoilers

Remember what I said earlier about Rebecca’s delusions? Oh yeah, here we are again with the delusioniest of them all. Now, Josh is along for the ride! I think the disco genre is perfect for this song. It’s delightful and happy, yet the whole time you can tell that there’s anxiety beneath the surface.

That’s what I love about this show though. Nothing is just one thing… none of the songs exist only for the sake of songs. This song drives home Josh and Rebecca’s delusions and unhealthy belief that their relationship is invincible with every part of the video – the flashy set, the way too extra outfits, Rebecca’s really heavy makeup… it all comes together to tell the audience something about the characters and the situation.

Plus, it’s a catchy song. I keep saying that they nail the parody, but, I mean, they do here too. They always do.

ALSO that live fade out though.

14. I Gave You a UTI

Warning: Sexual references, like, a lot of them.

Okay so this song… this song is… okay, yeah, yeah I know. It’s gross. And it is the first Greg song on this list! Get ready to see a lot more of him in this list. I think this is kind of the wrong song to sing his praises, so I won’t since we’ll get to that, but… yeah I love Greg.

And this song had to grow on me a bit. It came across the first time as kind of just a funny, absurd song, and that it certainly is. It’s stupidly catchy too, and it’s really fun to see the normally cynical and sad Greg so happy and excitable. But there’s… a bit more to it than that.

First of all, I love Greg and his vocals and they’re on full display here. But I also think this song is characterizing. Like I’ve talked about with Rebecca a few times, there’s a note of delusion to this song. Even as Rebecca continuously lectures him on the fact that her UTI is nothing for him to be excited about, he’s excited anyway. That speaks to his insecurity – he wants some reason, any reason, to believe he’s in control and in power when in reality he’s always been the one chasing after Rebecca. Also, that toxic masculinity being pointed out and made absurd. Yep.

But… you know, all that being said, I’m happy to see him happy too. I wish I could say it was because of the deep metatext or the social commentary but gosh I just am glad to see that boy happy, dumb and slightly problematic as it may be, ha ha.

13. What’ll It Be

See, Greg can (and most often is) serious too. I sort of forgot all about this song when making this list initially, but I came across it again and it’s so earnest and beautiful I had to include it. Greg’s character is unique because – more or less – his arc is complete in the show as it is. He desperately wants to get out of West Covina, and he does. He escapes, and on top of that, is shown to be aware of and working on combatting his alcoholism.

Compared to all the rest of the characters of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Greg seems to be the only one so far to actually address and really work to solve his problems. However, up until that point, he acted sort of as an audience stand-in. He’s cynical and aware of the absurdity of the situations presented in the show, yet he carries an admiration for Rebecca that even he admits is misguided. I think this song really shows that latent relatability to his character.

While I doubt most of us have been stuck slinging beers to “soccer MILFs” in a town near but not that near to the California coast, I’m sure all of us have had moments where we felt the world had failed us. I know personally I think all the time about how the world is a game that seemed constantly rigged against me, and this song perfectly reflects those frustrations and those longings to break free and find something more.

It’s beautiful, powerful, and sung by one of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” best vocalists in my humble opinion. What more do you need?

12. JAP Battle

Warning: The video says explicit for a good reason, and also some sexual content.

I know I have a problem with admiring songs for my deep interpretations of their inner meaning, but I promise the top of this list has some just… purely fun songs here too. Like this one!

I really, really like Audra Levine. She doesn’t show up very often and gets more mentions than actual appearances, but she’s a really interesting foil to Rebecca in the fact that while Rebecca was off chasing her “California dream,” Audra lived the life that the audience could suspect Rebecca would have lived had she stayed in New York. And Audra is… well, certainly proud of that life, but the show seems to suggest that there’s something missing.

Sure, from a societal standard, Audra is more successful than Rebecca. She works for a more prestigious law firm, she’s engaged to another successful person, and she ultimately wins the court case in this episode. But it’s heavily suggested that Audra’s outward happiness does not equal inward fulfillment.

But all that aside – this rap battle is hilarious. It’s filled with clever wordplay, it’s engaging and exciting. I think if you want to jump into any of the songs without having seen the show first, this one is a good one.

(Also, mad shout-out to the West Covina crew behind Rebecca during this whole video. That one part that Josh scoots past on the rolling chair… and Daryl basically, like, the whole video. Just, Daryl.)

11. The Sexy Getting Ready Song

Warning: NSFW Language, some sexual content.

This song is one of the first in the entire show and it was this song that really convinced me on the show’s philosophy and format. I had never never seen the process of a woman getting ready depicted in such, honestly, gory realism. (Literally, in some cases). I mean, the backup dancers and Rebecca are shown dancing in spanx! Honest-to-god spanx. Have you ever seen spanx shown on mainstream television ever?

For real though, this song is hilarious. It’s so real, so relatable. It’s clear in this song – and, really, in the whole show – that the best and most realistic stories about women are written by women. Plus, they can be enjoyed by everyone, not just women.

Soapboxing aside, this song is catchy, smoothly written and has a great music video to match. (Especially the scene with Rebecca awkwardly dancing in her undergarments while the rapper freaks out about her getting-ready process.)

10. I Could If I Wanted To

Remember how I talked about how great Greg is? Well… a lot of what’s good about this song is due to what I’ve already said about Greg. His struggles to be something beyond a bartender in the town he grew up in conflict with his inherently lazy nature and his alcoholism, and this song addresses that conflict. It explains a lot of Greg’s mindset, and in an honestly super entertaining way.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have an actual name for the genre this song is parodying, and yet I enjoy this parody of that genre anyway. It’s honestly hilarious. My friends and I like to quote the part with the dad to each other all the time. Plus, that final comedic beat… “You’re an idiot.” This song doubles not only as a comedic part of an already hilarious show, it’s also a character study.

Works on multiple levels? Yep. Memorable and amusing? You bet’cha?

Clear bias for Greg? What-

9. We Tapped That Ass

Warning: NSFW language and sexual content (…obviously). Also, spoilers.

There’s a pure and simple reason why I enjoy this song, and there’s a deeper reason. I’m gonna start with the deeper one, just because.

As I’ve talked about a few times, one of my favorite parts of this show is the balance between dark drama and comedy. This song represents a really dark part of Rebecca’s life. It’s also right before she literally burns her apartment down. You couldn’t tell that just by listening to this song though – it’s gleeful, hilarious, and upbeat. And yet this song hits on a very specific type of self-consciousness. A gleeful, joking, inward sort of self hatred that manifests at your lowest point. It’s the act of laughing at how terrible you feel you are.

This song is the epitome of that feeling. In the depth of her self-loathing, Rebecca imagines the ghosts of her mistakes and is unable to mistake their gleeful “tap-dancing” all over her house.

That’s the deep reason why I enjoy this song. The simple reason, though, is because of Greg and Josh. While they’re not actually *there* in the context of the show, it’s still a joy to see them sing together because they never do in the actual show. Watching them sing and dance together is a rare treat and one I sincerely enjoy. Even if the humor is crude.

8. West Covina (Josh Reprise)

The original “West Covina” was the first song in the entire show, and it’s a delight, but I really, really love this reprise of it. It’s a turning point for both Josh and Rebecca. Before, Rebecca’s obsessive admiration for Josh seems one-sided and unlikely to ever be reciprocated. Yet, after her moment of coming clean to Josh and his friends, he is the only one to remain behind and relate to her longing for a place that is sunshiney and happy.

And, knowing West Covina, knowing Rebecca, the audience knows that both of their points of view are… well, they’re slightly over-optimistic. And yet it is this beautiful, hopeful reprise that makes the audience see their point of view. In a world that so often normalizes cynicism, it’s rare to see two spots of bright hope.

Are Josh and Rebecca in the right? Well, not entirely, and the show doesn’t try and depict them as such. Yet, their opinions, misguided or no, are shown in this song. Rebecca’s blind love of Josh and Josh’s blind love of West Covina… both are perhaps misguided, and yet they’re sincere.

7. I Give Good Parent

Warning: Explicit language, sexual content.

I’ve heard this song a million times at this point and I still couldn’t possibly explain to you what the title means… and yet this song is delightful. The music video is hilarious and such a well-done parody (as I… keep saying). The rap is hilarious and clever, and the chorus is so honestly and legitimately catchy that it gets stuck in my head.

Huge major shoutouts to Josh’s mom, who is just a riot in this song. Lourdes Chan is a lowkey fantastic character. There are so many visual and auditory gags in this video that I can’t even begin to praise them all. And honestly, I would love to, but it’s really better to just watch the video. Get the song stuck in your head. Join me.

6. I’m Just a Girl in Love (Season 2 Opening)

So listen up. Here’s my hot take. The season one intro is great. It’s charming. But it can’t even hold a candle to the season two intro. The season one intro certainly sums up the premise of the show well, in a very straightforward, no-frills kind of way. This intro takes it to a whole new level.

It represents so many core themes of the show. On a surface level, love in popular culture, and how it’s so often used as a handy excuse for so many unhealthy behaviors. And then there’s mental health, the key word being “crazy,” and the all-too-common view that mental health issues are quirky or cutesy. And then, of course, there’s the delusions of Rebecca herself. Her own rationalizations of her behavior.

It’s multi-layered and represents the show perfectly. Plus, the video and song itself are fun and never get stale or tiring. Simple, effective, meaningful. That’s what you need for a perfect intro. And this intro is perfect.

*BLAM!*

5. You Stupid Bitch

Warning: I’m unsure whether or not this constitutes as spoilers so… better safe than sorry? Also, NSFW language, obviously. Look at the title.

It’s not often that you find a song that feels like the songwriter dove into your thoughts and plucked out a piece of your inner dialogue, so when you do, you gotta talk about it. Or, at least, I do.

And no, I don’t say that to illicit sympathy. I don’t think I’m alone in relating to this song. I think it’s a fairly common thing for one negative thing to set of a spiral of unrelated negative thoughts in people. And yet I’ve never seen this phenomenon represented so brutally and honestly in a TV show or… anywhere, really.

Rebecca is an incredibly real character. I think this song is one of the best examples of this. It’s in the little things – the song itself, of course, but also the way she wears the slim-fit dress even without the tiny waist that usually is seen as a requirement to wear that kind of dress. Or in her little interjections, the “Sing with me!”, the “Yes! I deserve this!”. I’ve met Rebecca. I am Rebecca. I know so many Rebeccas. I think we’re all a little bit Rebecca.

And that’s the beauty of this show. It takes a character who is so very flawed in so many dramatic ways like Rebecca Bunch and makes you see yourself, your own flaws, within her.

Phew, deep, right?

4. Santa Ana Winds

Warning: Big, big spoilers in the second clip onward. 

Best character in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is undoubtedly Santa Ana Winds.

Okay, I’m mostly kidding. Mostly. But the Santa Ana Winds episode is such a unique framing for an episode, and it only makes it more perfect that it’s “narrated” by the very winds that incite all the incidents in the episode.

Santa Ana Winds guy is so charming though. I love his dancing, his outfit, his weird little gait as he walks down the street, the way he plays the “prankster (tee hee hee hee)” role so well. It’s all so charming. Plus, the song is just… it’s so good. I feel bad not being able to say more about this song but… ugh. It’s just so good. It’s just so, so good. Words fail, and the wind speaks… and also makes things weird.

3. Friendtopia

You know… I think I praised this show before because I felt like all of the songs had really deep and important roles in the show and there’s no filler songs. But… this one kind of is a little bit. But you know what? I don’t care.

I love this show for how it depicts a range of female friendships between diverse and well-rounded women. I wish that wasn’t such a precious rarity, but it is, and so I must celebrate it where it exists. This song, I think, exemplifies the positive attitude this show takes toward female friendships, and that’s why I love it so much.

Plus, I mean, god, that Spice Girls reference. It’s so funny. So good. The clipped British accents, the prancing around in front of the camera, everything. And while I don’t really understand the “dystopia” reference in the context of the episode, I really enjoy it. It gives rise to such glorious lines as “We’re gonna braid each other’s hair, then cut each other’s braids, connect the braids to make a rope to HANG ALL OF CONGRESS” and “Squad Goals: Take control of the banks.” What could be better?

Also there was that one time White Josh stood in for Heather in a live performance of this song and it was beautiful.

2. Oh My God I Think I Like You

Warning: This song is about sex, and therefore is basically entirely sexual references. Also, spoilers.

I feel like I don’t have to make much of a case for why this song is so good. Are a lot of the scenes in this music video kind of ridiculous and humorous? Oh, totally. Completely. But watch it and tell me you aren’t moved. Go on, do it, I dare you. Bet you can’t.

This song is just so completely earnest and sweet. I feel like the two weeks of sex these two have in the show would be a really easy window for crude humor, and yeah there is plenty of that in this song, and yet it’s also sweet. This show makes a two-week sex marathon seem earnest and sweet just by framing it in a unique manner, showing Rebecca’s thought process throughout.

And it’s just brilliant. It’s incredible. It’s taking something that would be an easy road to a few sex jokes and turning it into a characterizing moment for Rebecca, a real turning point for her. Where once she was single-mindedly devoted to Josh, it’s a revelation that she might have feelings for someone else, and the show expects the audience to be right along with her in her amazement over this development. It really shows how the show prides the emotional connection between the characters and the audience, and I appreciate that.

Also, the song is just good. It’s radio-quality. A great pop song. 10/10.

1. Settle for Me

So, when I started writing this list, I had a really hard time picking the order of the songs. It was a painful process full of doubt and second-guessing, because so many of these songs are incredible and all deserve a number one spot on somebody’s list.

And yet, I knew in my heart from the very start which song would take my number one spot. This song comes super early in season one… episode four, I think. And yet, it’s remained with me for the entire show. It’s just a showstopper.

It hits all the checkpoints for me. Characterizing? Yup. For Greg, of course, it’s a thesis statement of his relationship not only to Rebecca but to his entire world. Of course Greg would approach his relationship with Rebecca with the same sort of cynical realism with which he proceeds to approach everything in the rest of the show. But for Rebecca, it shows her difficulty in seeing reason, the way she clutches tight to fantasy.

Technically well-done? Of course. The video is delightful. The choreography is wonderful, without even taking into account the beautiful, sweeping music. Lyrics? Perfect. Humorous and yet also bitingly tragic at times. Just the way I like ’em. Aesthetic? Spot-on. That black-and-white, those outfits, god, it’s all so perfect. Hint of social commentary? Oh yes, definitely. Greg’s masculinity is kind of one of his biggest issues, and this song makes that blatantly obvious.

It’s dark and funny and beautiful and you probably knew it was going to take my number one spot from the cover picture and title of this post alone, but I don’t care. I love this song. I’ll scream it to the heavens, repeat it as often as you’d like. It’s a triumph. Just like this entire show is a triumph.

Anyway, tl;dr, watch “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s good and you won’t regret it. Season three comes out soon. Do it.

 

 

The End

We’re 26 weeks into the year. Doing my math correctly, this is the perfect mid-point of the year, weeks-wise. I’m halfway through my promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I would write one blog post per week.

So let’s take stock. Where are we? How has Absoludicrous grown since I made my pledge on January 1st of this year? What have I done? What have I accomplished?

Well, I can say that this blog has gotten a lot more views than I expected. I started this not really thinking anyone would read it besides people I know in real life. While that still remains the majority of the views, I do get a constant trickle of views from people all around the world. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know me in real life – thank you so much. You exceed my expectations just by giving this blog a glance.

Not to say my known viewers aren’t appreciated – of course you are – you’re just more or less expected. I know a lot of really kind people who, against the odds, support me in so many ways and your support is something I count on.

Don’t be alarmed by the title of this blog post. This isn’t the end, far from it if I can help it. But it is something I wanted to talk about. I want to talk about the end. Specifically, the end of creative projects.

This blog is a creative project. I am not doing it for a grade or monetary gain. I do it because it gives me a weekly creative outlet. And you know what? On my end, it’s been a smashing success. It’s kept me writing more consistently than anything I’ve ever done, and ya’ll seem to enjoy it so there’s no losses anywhere.

It’s this blog, however, that caused me to make a real connection to a video I watched recently made by one of my favorite Youtubers ever, Dan O. of Folding Ideas.

It’s kind of a long video (but really good), so I’ll summarize. In it, Dan is asked on his stream how best to find motivation for finishing creative projects. Dan speaks frankly on a number of topics regarding motivation and creativity but ultimately comes to one overarching conclusion – finish your work.

I know it sounds useless answering the question of “How do I finish my work?” with “Finish your work,” but honestly, it’s astoundingly good advise. Creative work is unique in the fact that it is never really done. There is always a way to improve. There’s always a few more tweaks to be done, a few more edits, and some chopping and skewing to make it just perfect.

And that’s noble, in a way. The idea that something is never quite done, and so the artist must work tirelessly forever and ever to perfect it, hoping for that one day that it’s flawless and beautiful and everyone who sees it or hears it is brought to their knees.

The reality, though, is that if you were to work on something until it is perfect, until it is done, you will never finish. As I said, there’s always something, some improvement. And so Dan advises self-imposed deadlines. He speaks about giving himself a week to finish a project and then letting it go at the end of that week, regardless of where it is in its production.

And watching this video, I found myself really resonating with this message. I’m a perfectionist. I hate when anything I do is less than great. I want all my writings to be showstoppers, to be hits, and in the past that’s bit me in the butt. When I was younger I was a serial project-starter, but I almost never finished anything. I would start something, bright and motivated, but by the end of the arduous process of trying to make it perfect, I would lose interest, or, alternatively, I would just keep it on a backburner, for a rainy day. Locked in creative purgatory, forever and ever.

There were only a handful of projects I actually finished and all of them were finished because of deadlines. NaNoWriMo was the big one. The self-imposed deadline of 50,000 words by the end of the month was the first thing that ever spurred me to finish anything. And beyond that… is this blog.

This blog is a series of self-imposed deadlines. If I fail to post something every single Sunday, nothing really happens. I don’t lose out on a prize or reward, I’m not physically punished. The world continues to turn. Yet, these deadlines still exist… emotionally. Mentally. Every week I post something new, or else I let myself and anyone who wanted to read that post down.

And even more helpful, the deadlines give me a reason to stop working. To declare something finished. I can’t tell you the number of weeks that I despised the post that finally came out on Sunday. 99% of the time, the post that’s in my head is a million times better than the post that eventually gets written, and yet my deadline forces me to stop tweaking in search of that perfect ideal and post it anyway.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because instead of me working and working and working to perfect one post that may or may not ever come out, I now have over 26 posts – some of which I’m really proud of – that are here for everyone to see. 26 posts in the hand are better than a million in the… bush, I guess?

And how do I find the motivation? I don’t, I guess. As sad as that sounds, the motivation is the deadline looming at the end of the week. As much as I wish I could be fueled only by pure-hearted love of writing and chutzpah, it’s the deadline that gets things done for me. It’s the deadline that has caused this blog to exist and keep running week after week. It’s how I keep the motor running.

These 26 weeks have been a blast. I’m not even close to being done yet, so stick around for 26 more and beyond.

A Story in Song

While talking to my friend Marie, she mentioned listening to a classic song with her mom and dancing around. She highly recommended this song, (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies) to me, and because I’m not one to turn down a song recommendation, I looked up the song on Youtube.

Marie’s taste in music is a little different than mine. I would say in general she’s more appreciative of the “classics” than I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it whenever she throws an older gem my way, and this time was no different. However, I made the terrible awful mistake of scrolling down into the comments, where I found this gem.

YoutubeComment

And, unsurprisingly, I was peeved. My problems with people like this is one of the biggest reasons I’m not more into classic music. I’m no stranger to music elitists. One might call me one, to be honest. But as far as I’m concerned this commentor has never even heard a modern song before.

See, I’m a huge fan of music that tells stories. And, as a caveat, I should say, most songs tell a story. Even your cookie cutter radio hits tend to follow some sort of plot. I mean, just cherry picking from the current Billboard Top 100, the so-called scourge of music according to classics fans like this person, “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars tells a distinct story of the narrator wanting to shower their lover in luxury goods and experiences, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran recounts the singer’s physical attraction to their lover and tells the story of their first date as well as several sexual encounters… I mean, even the most vapid 2008 pop has some kind of story. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a clear story about the singer’s lifetime devotion to partying! To say modern songs don’t tell stories is ridiculous because all songs have to have some sort of story, or else they’re just incomprehensible gibberish.

But, okay, I’ll bite. Maybe what this commentor means is that no modern music tells such a romantic story as the one in “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”. And not romantic in the love, coupley, sense, but more along the lines of a novel put to song. And even then, this commentor is wrong, as I will prove today.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I really love lyrics. They’re probably my favorite aspect of music. Whenever I get into a song, I like to delve into the lyrics and discover their meanings and the story behind them. So, why not talk about some of my favorite musical stories? So, here we go, five songs that tell fascinating stories… true or not.

In Another Life – Vienna Teng

I’ve touched briefly on this song before in my Women in Music post, but I didn’t get to focus specifically on what it is that makes this song magical. Vienna Teng uses her usual theatrical style to tell the tale of two lovers over the course of many different lives. The song traces these two lovers through various points of history and through various occupations. I think the story is told just beautifully, with some really poignant images, and even though the song never directly states that the two subjects of the song are in love, it is clearly conveyed through the tiny details in the way they interact.

I love the tone of this song. It’s really disconnected, very objective. You get the feeling that although the singer of the song identifies themselves as living all of these very tragic lives, they are happy and distant enough from the tragedy to describe it objectively. Even when this song gets morbid, the narrator remains disconnected and simply describes the scenes.

And the subject matter of this song gets… well, really morbid. I mean, we go from mine shafts caving in to Tiananmen Square to stillborn children yet the same up-tempo style continues, which really drives home the bittersweet message of the song. Even through the death and suffering these two lovers experienced over the course of their many lives together, the song is ultimately a positive one. Ultimately, the lovers end up happy and together in modern times.

The Mariner’s Revenge Song – The Decemberists

The Decemberists is no stranger to fantastical stories told through song (part of the reason I keep meaning to familiarize myself with more of the music). I also considered discussing their equally fantastic song “O Valencia”, but I decided this one fit the song storytelling category in a more straightforward way.

This song is a shanty fit for a pirate ship, and that makes sense considering the subject matter. The story is told at the end first, with the narrator stuck in the belly of a whale. From there they go into the tale of how they arrived there. What follows is a tragic tale of revenge after the singer’s mother is cheated by a rakish young man and left to die penniless and heartbroken. The singer follows this man all the way to sea, where the two are ultimately swallowed by a whale, bringing the song back full circle.

I think this song is an absolutely beautifully told story. The instrumentals always match the emotion of the story. Plus, I think the story itself is loaded with some great dramatic irony. I mean, the fact that the singer’s quest for revenge leads him to dying himself alongside the man he swears revenge on, in the belly of a whale, a tried-and-true symbol for hopeless and self-destructive quests. (Think Moby Dick). Plus, the repetition of the mother’s voice, and her sweet, singsong tone contradicting the violence she wishes upon the man who did her wrong… it’s all so great. I always get chills at the end.

Jenny Was a Friend of Mine – The Killers

This song is actually one of a three-part series of songs, all of which describe a man murdering his lover. Yep, some real happy stuff, I know, but trust me, this song is really fascinating. While the other two songs tell the story leading up to and during the murder, this song recounts the questioning of the murderer afterward. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a murderer, and the way he justifies his actions and proclaims his innocence.

Paired with the police sirens at the beginning of the song and the tense, dark instrumentals, the repeated admission of the man that his lover Jenny was a friend of his becomes sinister and chilling, and that’s the mark of a really well-told story. This song always gets me singing along and then feeling bad about it because the lyrics are just that twisted.

Unfinished Business – White Lies (Mumford and Sons Cover)

I always feel bad recommending the Mumford and Sons version of this song because it’s not the original, but to be honest, the jangly banjos just fit this song so perfectly that I have a hard time with the original. The title is a play off of the idea that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business – in this case, the narrator is the confused ghost of someone who has just been murdered by their lover (… yeah there’s a bit of a pattern here, I know).

The interesting thing about this song, though, is the narrator is completely unfazed by their own demise. Instead, they seem more concerned about their lover, noting their fearful oaths to God and urging them in the chorus to “get off their low” so they can “dance like they used to”. This song is tragic and also somewhat beautiful – the murdered lover vows to wait for the one they love in the afterlife.

The reason I recommend the Mumford and Sons version over the White Lies version is I think the upbeat instrumentals match the ultimately positive tone of the song better. Sure, the situation described is dark, but the real interest of the song is the singer’s positive attitude over their own demise, so I think the jangly banjos fit this perfectly. But hey, to each their own.

Cleopatra – The Lumineers

And finally we arrive at one of my favorite songs of all time. This song took my number one spot in my top 30 songs of 2016 list, and that’s hugely because of the beautiful and tragic story told within its lyrics. Based on the real life of a taxi driver the lead singer met, “Cleopatra” is the story of a woman who refuses to marry the love of her life and how she lives with the regret. It’s told as if the woman is telling the story herself, and hits that perfect combination of tragedy and hope as the woman struggles to live her life to the fullest despite her sadness over the loss of her lover.

The song is warm and nostalgic, and I’ve yet to find a single person who isn’t touched by the real-life story behind the lyrics. I have a hard time describing it here, so I’ll just advise you to give it a listen and read through the lyrics yourself.

But this isn’t even the half of all of the songs out there that tell poignant stories within their lyrics. I advise people like that youtube commenter to give more songs a chance – to really read into their lyrics. You’ll find some fantastic stories there.

 

Guest Writer: Feeling the Heat

Note from Gillian: Hello hello! I’m very excited to bring to you Absoludicrous’s very first guest writer post! This is something I wanted to happen from the very beginning of this blog, and thanks to a school project, it’s finally happening! 

Our guest writer for today is Kirby Fleitz. (I assure you, this will not be his last appearance on this blog if I get my way.) I ask you all to pay him the same sort of kind attention you always pay me, and to please share this post! Kirby will tell you more specifically why… but it’s important, I promise. Far more important than the usual content of this blog.

Anyway, enough from me. I’ll let Kirby take the reins.


Hello there reader! I’ve had an outstanding invitation to write something on this blog for awhile. After going back and forth on what to write for longer than I want to admit I settled on what to write thanks to a school project. A shocker I know! To give you a hint, this project is for an Environmental Science class and polar bears are involved.

Some of you may have seen the above image before. It was used by many environmental groups to raise awareness for a recent phenomenon known colloquially as global warming technically Global Climate Change. By now the subject of this post should be apparent but to state it definitively it is how GCC affects us, specifically in Carmel IN, my hometown, and ways we can address it (because despite what some groups might try to argue, this is our reality).

For all of the skeptics reading this I will include multiple sources demonstrating that this unfortunate change is occurring. Here is a site explaining the increase of both carbon dioxide levels and temperature. Here is a site covering species extinction, broken down by type of animal. Here is an overview of all types of evidence directly from NASA.

The major effects of GLC are as follows: rising sea levels, decreasing biodiversity, ice sheets melting, glaciers melting, increase in vector-born diseases and other adverse effects. Clearly some of these do not apply to the landlocked paradise known as Carmel. Instead, let’s focus on two major consequences: decreasing biodiversity and increase in pollution. Before addressing why losing biodiversity is really, really bad let’s define biodiversity. Biodiversity is the variety and adaptability of organisms and the natural systems they interact with and the ecosystem services they provide. Basically it’s the amount of living stuff in an area. While it might not be totally apparent this has been decreasing lately. Why you might ask? The answer is a combination of habitat loss, from urban sprawl or more land needed for development, Invasive species, pollution, increasing human population, climate change, and overharvesting. For local examples think about the recent increase in road and roundabout construction. While this might be beneficial for transportation, many species are displaced or separated both during and after construction. While losing species through extinction is bad two larger issues exist. The first is that many crops we depend on, like soy or corn, are at an increased risk of disease due to losing genetic diversity. The second major negative is that the ecosystem services, like storing harmful carbon or lumber or filtration of toxins from groundwater, are being lost daily.

From one depressing topic to another, let’s move onto pollution. While water pollution is a major issue many areas, unfortunately developing and low income areas suffer the most. Therefore, for Carmel it is not a major problem. We have a great waste treatment plant and practices in place already. Instead I want to focus on air pollution, primarily from automobiles. Industry is a major polluter, usually nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, Carmel does not have much industry to pollute our air. Automobiles are a much larger concern. Just think about how many people you know that do have an automobile. Unless the person you are currently thinking of uses an electric car they are emitting pollutants constantly as they drive, primarily nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. Air pollution is usually a respiratory irritant and incredibly harmful to human health. In addition to harming humans, air pollution can also harm animal species if they inhale enough emissions, contributing to a decrease of biodiversity.

Time for some hope! Luckily there are solutions to decreasing biodiversity and pollution. Even luckier, Carmel has already taken steps to address this issue. You know the roundabouts that seem to multiply and appear someplace new every couple weeks? In addition to the traffic benefits roundabouts help cut down on automobile emissions by reducing the amount of time the automobile is idling, waiting to move. Pollution has also been somewhat addressed by our waste treatment facility on the white river and partnering with Fishers to help clean up the Cool Creek watershed.For those who are not aware, a watershed is basically all of the water that flows into a certain area. The major concern with watersheds is pollution from the sources going into it such as synthetic fertilizer. While these steps are great, in addition to having a mayor that recognizes the threat climate change poses, a few more simple solutions can be made. On a personal level simply reducing consumption of non-renewable items, like getting a reusable water bottle to use, can help reduce your footprint. In addition, in a roundabout way you are helping protect biodiversity by reducing demand for resources taken from land. Also on a personal level reducing automobile usage, perhaps by using this awesome local trail we have here called the Monon trail helps reduce your emissions by a little amount. In addition, growing some plants in your own backyard, even just a few, can help conserve some biodiversity and produce food for you. It’s a win-win.

Personal contributions are great, and many are not massive lifestyle changes. However, getting those around you involved would help even more. While awareness of GLC is increasing, many are not aware of ways they personally can help reduce it. Governments can help but a multitude of local movements is both easier to create and can more quickly improve quality of the environment in the community.

I implore you to share this with at least one person and prompt them to spread it. Global Climate Change is threatening but through many people coming together to combat it I believe we can persevere over the challenge. Thank you for reading.

 

In the News

It’s the end of senior year, so as befits my position as someone on their way out from… basically everything, really, it feels like I’ve been going through lasts at the speed of sound. Last marching season gave way to last semester of high school gave way to last jazz season gave way to last band concert and on and on and on ad nauseam. But I mean, it is my last year, so it makes sense that along with that would come a cornucopia of other lasts.

This week was yet another last for me: my last production week on the school’s newspaper, the Hilite. Like every other production week for me, it included coming in early to the newspaper room every morning to make changes to my spreads, copy-editing other spreads, and tweaking and re-tweaking every aspect of my pages until everything looked perfect for our Friday deadline. Unlike every other production week, however, I also was responsible for mentoring next year’s two new Perspectives editors as they learned the ropes and prepared for taking over my position next year.

Mentoring them reminded me of how I felt in their position next year, and it’s made me reflect on what this newspaper has been for me over the years. So because this blog has been an outlet for my nostalgia lately, I’m gonna talk about it.

Newspaper was the one thing I was sure I was going to be a part of, even before I started high school. Writing has always kind of been my thing, you know, and I thought newspaper would be the best way to put my skills into practice. Of course, like most things, I was horribly misinformed on what exactly being on staff of the Hilite would entail, but it didn’t matter at all my freshman year since I had no room in my schedule for the prerequisite class.

I was devastated by this, by the way. I was assured I would be able to take the prerequisite as a sophomore and join staff as a junior just fine, but I felt like that would paint a big fat target on my forehead that I didn’t really care about the newspaper or something. I think not joining staff my sophomore year like most people did did affect my time on the staff negatively in the beginning, but I also feel like my stress regarding this fact was increased a bit by the fact I was just overall stressed about my high school schedule.

Still, I eventually did take the prerequisite, and it was one of my favorite classes. Our advisor, Mr. Streisel, had a way of teaching that made me feel very capable of all of the aspects of media. The fact that I wasn’t great at the graphic or design portions of the class didn’t bother me at all. I knew for certain I was going to be a reporter and only a reporter once I joined staff, so there was no need for me to worry about photography or graphic design. I was a writer. It was what I was good at, and there was no need for me to diversify my talents.

And then I actually joined staff. And that idea very quickly vanished. My first few weeks on staff involved me sitting at a computer with the creeping feeling that I had no idea what I was doing and everyone else did. Everyone else seemed to have a purpose, a job, and I was just sitting there, twiddling my thumbs. My title was listed as “Feature reporter,” but I didn’t get a story assignment there for a few issues.

So, on a whim, I attended the planning meeting, known as a maestro, for Perspectives, the opinion section of the paper. I took with me two carefully researched column ideas and got to engage in several debates about the topics of all the columns going into that particular issue. In the frenzy, I received my very first Perspectives assignment, a column addressing the then-viral video “Dear Fat People,” where some JennaMarbles wannabe insulted fat people for eight minutes under the guise of “concern for their health.”

Getting my first assignment was one of the most beautiful things that had ever happened to me. Suddenly I had a purpose on staff, something to do while everyone else was working. I did exhaustive research and put a ton of time and effort into my very first column. And then, when it was published, I floated on air.

Since then, I’ve written a few regular articles but mostly my time on the Hilite has been spent dedicated to the opinion section of the newspaper. I found a lot of joy and purpose in taking part in these discussions. So, by the end of my first year on staff, I was encouraged by the current Perspectives editor to apply for her job. So… I did.

Being a Perspectives editor was great in a lot of ways, for sure. I loved being able to lead the discussions that I took such joy in taking part in as a reporter. I loved enabling others to speak out on their opinions. But, there were aspects of the job I didn’t quite love too.

See, I came on staff to write, but I quickly found out that being an editor meant not a lot of writing. More often it meant making graphics and designs, and for a while I felt like I’d made a mistake.

But then, partly spurred on by necessity (deadlines continued to loom no matter how confident I felt about them) I started to get used to the graphics and design aspect of my job. Towards the end I even started to enjoy it. (I’m not much of an artist, but tracing things in Adobe Illustrator is actually really calming).

And that’s really, in a nutshell, what Hilite was for me. Something unexpected, different than what I thought it was going to be. It always challenged me to try new things, and think of myself in ways I never could before. When I joined staff, I was intent on writing and only writing, staying quietly behind the lines and doing work every so often. When I left staff, I was an editor, mainly responsible for design, doing constant work every month.

Even more importantly, Hilite opened my eyes to the idea of journalism. I always sort of knew I wanted to write someday, and had considered journalism, but the idea had never been solid and real until I spent time on staff. It’s the reason I’m going to study journalism at IU next year. It opened the door for me to be an Ernie Pyle scholar… and sure, it was stressful and frustrating a lot of times. But I’m so thankful for it.

I’m going to miss it.

At Last – “Humanz” Review

It’s a good time to be a music fan. Fall Out Boy is pushing their new album, “Mania”… Walk the Moon is back in the studio… and the band that taught me how to love music finally released a new album.

It’s been seven years since Gorillaz last released an album, and in that seven years I had more or less lost all hope of ever seeing them again. I’ve definitely mentioned how important they were to me in my formative years before, but it’s worth restating. It was in a car listening to Feel Good Inc. when I decided to ask my dad why there were people cackling maniacally in the background. My dad had no idea, but he did know that the band was made up of cartoon characters, which was the CRAZIEST THING EVER to my small brain. I went home and immediately looked them up.

Several days of Wikipedia and Youtube surfing later, I was a dedicated fan. I familiarized myself with the lore and fell in love with the fictional 2D, Noodle, and Russel. (I wasn’t too fond of Murdoc. I’m still not.) And there was something about them… maybe it was their off-kilter style, something different than what I usually heard on the radio. Maybe it was Damon Albarn’s characteristic mumble that drove me to take pride in figuring out the lyrics and their meanings. Maybe it was the fact they were the first band that was all my own, something I discovered for myself and enjoyed on my own terms. Either way, Gorillaz has stuck with me for years.

And then, “Humanz” came out. And I’ll be honest… I was a little worried. It’s always hard when something you loved as a kid comes back. Nostalgia can really change the way you view something. I figured there was no way this new album could ever rival the band I fell in love with when I was younger and full of wonder. And, yeah, I was right. My first listen through of this album didn’t excite me except when it reminded me of “Demon Days”, which is my favorite album of theirs.

But then, I kept listening to it. And I gave it a chance on it’s own. And I realized… “Humanz” is really good. It’s really, really good. Its got a voice all it’s own, but it also really stays tuned to some of the things that made Gorillaz really great. I’ll talk about this specifically for each track, but if you hear people putting this album down for not living up to the hype, don’t listen to them. This album deserves to stand on its own.

Also, I wanted to address two other major criticisms I’ve seen floating around around this album. One, that it’s too feature-heavy. To that, I’d argue that Gorillaz has always been a collaboration. None of the members are actually real, and the only consistent contributor music-wise is Damon Albarn. So to say a Gorillaz album is too feature heavy… I mean, dude, just go listen to Blur or something. Plus, Damon/2D gets lots of great parts on this album!! In almost every song!! Chill!!

Second, that it’s too political. Which… ugh. I don’t even really want to argue against this point, because it’s idiotic. Gorillaz has always been political. ALWAYS. They’ve done songs about gun control, about urban decay, about the dumbing-down of media… hell, their entire last ALBUM was about global warming! It was called “Plastic Beach”! What else would it be talking about?

Too political… god. The complete idiocy…

Uh… where was I? Oh yeah, Gorillaz! “Humanz”! The new album! I’m sorry, I’ll actually get to the review. What follows is a quick little track-by-track review. I skipped the interludes because they’re mainly just quick flavor or sly little statements, and there’s not much for me to say about them. (But, The Non-Conformist Oath is hilarious and I adore it, and I can’t help but give it a shoutout)

(((But, hey, if you’re not super familiar with Gorillaz yet, that’s cool! Before I dive into the new album, why not take a look at some of their old stuff too? It’s all really good. There’s of course their three hits, Feel Good Inc., Dare, and Clint Eastwood. They all deserve their popularity, of course (I love Dare with every fiber of my being, and of course Feel Good Inc. was the song that started it all for me), but I’ll just give you a quick little list of my other favorites in case you’re interested: The SwaggaEl Manana, Broken, Empire Ants (***MY FOREVER FAVORITE***), To Binge, and 19-2000 (Soulchild Remix).)))

Ascension (Feat. Vince Staples)

“Ascension” is a deep, scathing commentary on the state of police violence in America. It’s angry, it’s desperate. And… that’s all I feel I can really say about it. See, firstly, this song is very rap-heavy. Gorillaz has always had a pretty solid rap presence, but I’m not the most knowledgeable about rap. I enjoy this song, but I don’t feel like I have the language or knowledge to criticize it. Plus, it’s not made for me. I’m a white girl living in an affluent society, and Vince Staples is a young black man who has had to deal with racism, hatred, ignorance, and violence I will never have to deal with.

For that reason, this song is worth listening to, and reading in on the lyrics. But as far as my own personal commentary goes, there’s not much I can (or should) say.

Strobelite (Feat. Peven Everett)

Now we get into the songs I actually feel capable speaking about. (Well, mostly.) “Strobelite” is an upbeat, funky little number about the unpredictability of life. So dance!!!

Jokes aside, this song (and really most of this album) is surprisingly hopeful despite its heavy focus on the end of the world. It’s borne of a world where things are going really bad, yet people feel the need to cling to hope and keep fighting. It’s a message I really appreciate from this album, and something I found myself resonating with again and again.

Shoutout to Peven Everett, who adds his really gorgeous vocals to this track. Vocal-wise, I also really like the subtle backup singers.

Saturnz Barz (Feat. Popcaan)

Before I say anything else, I wanted to talk for a second about how much I like the “z” motif in this album. HumanZ, SaturnZ BarZ, MomentZ, etc. etc… it’s a cute little nod to their name, and I love cute things like this. I’m possibly overthinking this, but what if it’s also a reference to the end of the world this album is so focused on? Z is the last letter of the alphabet, and this album is about the last gasps of humanity, joyous or no, before the end of the world… Yeah, I’m definitely overthinking this.

“Saturnz Barz” is a real auditory shoutout to the sound of “Demon Days”, and for that reason it’s like a familiar friend to me. If you’re an old fan of Gorillaz, this is a good track to hop back on board with, since I think it pays homage to their old style while also having a certain unique polish they’ve picked up through “Plastic Beach”.

The tone is somber and slow, and possibly even a little creepy. (I mean, after all, the music video features a haunted house.) Plus, 2D’s part is so gorgeous and subtle, adding to the ethereal quality of this track, like it’s pensive. And while Gorillaz certainly isn’t a stranger to reggae, it’s always a nice style to hear from them.

Momentz (Feat. De La Soul)

Speaking of shoutouts… I know I said I wanted to give this album a chance to stand on its own… but it’s De La Soul! You know, De La Soul, those guys from Feel Good Inc.! They’re back! And once more they’re here to make you dance.

This song has a great beat and I mean… what else does it really need to have? It’s got that swagger-y “I’m the best” type of lyrics and it just makes you feel good.

The ending is somewhat confusing, I’ll be honest. If you had told me that an upbeat party song where De La Soul returned to chill with Gorillaz again, I would not have guessed it would end with a tongue-in-cheek KKK joke… but hey, this album is full of surprises??? I’m all for belittling a white supremacist terrorist group, of course.

Submission (Feat. Danny Brown and Kelela)

Rather unsurprisingly, my favorite Gorillaz member has always been Noodle. For that reason, whenever “Noodle” takes over the vocals of a track, I’m instantly in love. “Submission” is the latest in a long and prestigious line of Noodle songs. Kelala’s voice is smooth and pleasant, and although Little Dragon will always and forever be my favorite Noodle, she holds the mantle really well.

This song is sad and pensive, but never loses a certain drive. It grabs you from the very beginning with the gorgeous vocals and keeps you along with it with the subtle electronic instrumentals. It’s not a large or bombastic song by any means, but it leaves a lasting impression. Probably one of my favorites off this album, for sure.

The rap part… kind of threw me off though. The somber, powerful tone felt kind of thrown off by Danny Brown’s unusual pronunciation in his rap bridge. But, you know, I’ve listened to it a bunch of times now, and I think I’ve grown used to it.

(At least he’s not Shaun Ryder in “Dare”)

Charger (Feat. Grace Jones)

This is a super weird song. And yet… I really enjoy it? I’m unclear on what exactly this song means, but I’m fairly used to Gorillaz’s lyrics being puzzling so that’s not too horrible. I could make a guess that this song is about the all-encompassing effects of technology on our lives… but that’s a guess.

It’s one of those Gorillaz songs that makes you really confused on the first listen, intrigued on the second, and absolutely hooked on the third. It’s relatively simple, mostly just a guitar riff, some electronic noises, and 2D’s and Grace Jones’s vocals echoing off of one another. The lyrics certainly don’t reveal anything about why this song exists, and yet, it works. It fits, as a catchy, oddball little track.

Andromeda (Feat. D.R.A.M.)

This is a really cool song. Has a nice, fast, walking beat, and a pretty strong focus on 2D’s vocals. I know I talked earlier about how much I appreciate the featured vocalists, but I’ll always love 2D, and it’s nice to see him prominently featured here. I think it’s a great song to match his subdued, smooth tone.

The instrumentals focus on an atmospheric tone, to match the astronomical title, and it’s a sound that just really works for Gorillaz. They’ve done clean electronica, dirty rock, reggae, rap, hip-hop, and even beach-side tunes… but once more they’ve found a new style to fit their music seamlessly into. A style I’d best describe as futuristic? Stellar? Who knows, words are hard.

(I also just really like the background vocals. But then, I always do.)

Busted and Blue

And finally we’ve arrived to the single, solitary Gorillaz-only track on this entire album. And god, is it ever beautiful.

It’s quiet, and features nocturnal sound effects, as well as some sort of strange beeping sound that could be a rusty windmill or an alien spaceship… and beyond that it’s up to 2D’s quiet vocals, the backup singers (always killing it), and some minimal instrumentation to carry the listener through.

I can’t help but read into the choice of having the one non-featured track be this slow, wistful ballad. I’m not sure whether it’s confirmed that this album will be the last for Gorillaz, but if it is, I’ll feel satisfied, I think. This band has had such an incredible impact on my life, and this album, while standing on its own, is also a beautiful homage to everything I love about Gorillaz. The collaboration, the bold political statements, the slightly off-kilter music, the odd and memorable lyrics… and I think “Busted and Blue” is a poignant illustration, at least to me, of all this band has done for me.

Carnival (Feat. Anthony Hamilton)

I’ve been pretty complimentary of most of the other tracks on this album so far, but don’t worry, there are some duds coming, this one included. Okay, fine, this one isn’t bad so much that it is forgettable for me. The hook is kind of uninspired and Anthony Hamilton is just alright. There’s nothing here for me, to be honest. Skip!

Let Me Out (Feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T)

I first heard this song performed on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and I was honestly a little disappointed hearing it on the album. I felt like a lot of the raw power and emotion from the live performance was absent from the album version. I’m gonna assume this is just the sort of song that is better performed and enjoyed live! There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and it doesn’t take away from the powerful lyrics and delivery.

Sex Murder Party (Feat. Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz)

Another weird song, but this one didn’t work quite as well for me as “Charger” did. I think it’s mostly that I didn’t really get it I guess? It’s kind of catchy, but I’m not really sure what the point of having this song stuck in my head would be? It’s mostly just the title whispered over some drum beats. It also feels a little too “trying to be edgy” for me, which is not something I usually feel about Gorillaz. 2D has a nice enough part, I guess, but he’s had better parts in other tracks on this very same album. Forgettable. Skip!

She’s My Collar (Feat. Kali Uchis)

Hey, don’t worry, we’re back to tracks I really like. So nice of this album to arrange all of my duds into a little group like that so they don’t detract too badly from the rest.

2D gets some fast-paced, clever lyrics in this song, and next to the upbeat and and catchy hook, this is the sort of song I could see as a minor radio hit. I also really like Kali Uchis! Her voice has the same kind of sleepy quality as 2D, but with a clear and loud tone that makes her stand out from him as well. I’m also a big fan of the bouncy little 8-bit noises in the background. Too fun.

Hallelujah Money (Feat. Benjamin Clementine)

Ahh, “Hallelujah Money”. The first real listen I ever got to this album was when they dropped this song. The excitement of opening up YouTube to listen to a new Gorillaz song for the first time in seven years…

And yeah, this song is weird. But it’s also such a powerful criticism of the culture of the rich that dominates politics nowadays that the more you begin to understand the lyrics, the more Benjamin Clementine’s wandering, wavery tone starts to change from strange to beautiful. It’s a call to arms, a rallying cry against the corrupting power of money. I’m also crazy about the way 2D’s “When the morning comes / How will we know we are still human?” weaves in with the rest of the song, like an overarching question, asked again and again. It’s a question that is never truly answered, not by the song itself, but the next song is probably one of the reasons I love this album so much…

We Got the Power (Feat. Jehnny Beth)

And the answer to 2D’s repeated question from the last track comes in this unabashedly optimistic track about the power of unity and togetherness when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m so happy this song exists. Much of this album struggles with despair as the world around it seems to crumble, to end, and yet this is the song that the album ends with! (Well, the non-deluxe version, that is).

And this song preaches unity. Optimism. Believing that with hard work and perseverance, things can turn out alright in the end. And really, that’s an idea worth singing about.

Is it naive? No, I don’t think so. I think “Humanz” isn’t copping out in answering its gloomy questions with this rallying cry, rather, giving the only answer that has a chance to fix anything. We can talk about how the world is burning all we want and it doesn’t do a thing to extinguish the flames. No, the answer is to get up, join forces, and put it out ourselves. We got the power. It’s inspirational, it’s beautiful, and it’s the perfect ending to this album’s philosophical questions.

The Apprentice (Feat. Rag’n’Bone Man, Zebra Katz, and RAY BLK)

And so begins the five bonus tracks available on the deluxe version of this album. I’ll be honest, I raised an eyebrow at Rag’n’Bone Man being on this track, but it actually really works. I’ll be honest that I’m not too impressed with his song, “Human”, but his appearance on “HumanZ” is pretty enjoyable. (Haha, see what I did there?)

The best way to describe this song is “clean”, I think. It’s really catchy, too, probably one that will get some repeats on my playlists. Beyond that, though, I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s a strong, likable track.

Halfway to the Halfway House (Feat. Peven Everett)

Hey, who is this Peven Everett guy? I’m serious, I really like him. “Strobelite” is beautiful and so is this song. This is my own note to self that I need to go check him out, for sure. I love how this track constantly seems to build on itself, and how the discordant noises in the background play with the beautiful choral harmonies. This song has a really gospel feeling to it.

And mostly because I was curious as to why this song sings about “Cherryade” so much, I went and looked it up, and it turns out it’s a reference to the phrase “drinking the kool-aid”, meaning going along with a doomed or obviously dangerous plan. It’s a pleasant little statement on the status of our society, everyone going along with something that is clearly doomed. In that vein, the “Halfway House” mentioned in the title refers to a place after prison where those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities go for rehabilitation. I can’t decide whether being “halfway” to a place of rehabilitation is a positive statement or not… I suppose that’s up to the listener to decide.

Out of Body (Feat. Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz, and Imani Vonshá)

If you ever thought to yourself “I wonder which track off of this album is Gillian’s favorite?” congratulations, we’ve made it. I’m honestly kind of obsessed with this song. It’s simultaneously a fun party song and also a weird thematic track and that combination just tickles me.

I really like Kilo Kish’s vocals. They fit the weirdly mysterious tone of this song while also keeping up the fun danceable beat. I’ve seen a lot of people compare her to That Poppy, and yeah, I love That Poppy. Plus, shoutout to 2D! His vocals are really fun in this one too.

I love the framing of the seance being related to a party. I’ve heard millions of party songs but I’ve yet to hear it believably and cleverly related to some sort of supernatural ritual, and it’s amusing and clever. I think this song just really encompasses what I love about Gorillaz – they’re unafraid to take on tons of musical genres and make them completely unique and fascinating. This is a typical party dance song, and yet it’s made unique by the interesting supernatural motif and the way it seems to question itself, and the usual “who cares let’s party” mentality of most songs of its ilk (“Where am I going? What am I doing?”)

Also… I can’t stop listening to this song. It’s in my head constantly. Help.

Ticker Tape (Feat. Carly Simon and Kali Uchis)

“Ticker Tape” is a really traditional Gorillaz song, with a heavy focus on 2D’s vocals. I’m a big fan of this one for it’s smooth, slow sound. I like the simple role Carly Simon’s vocals play, and the touch of complexity in the outro as Kali Uchis’ vocals overlay 2D’s.

This song mainly concerns itself with technological progress and the possible negative effects it has on society. I feel generally iffy about this sort of commentary, because I believe a lot of these social statements blame the younger generations and call them brainwashed. I think this criticism is completely useless because it takes the blame completely off of older generations who are also just as responsible for abusing technology. That’s not the whole reason I dislike this sentiment, but it’s a big one, I guess. Thankfully, this song doesn’t fall into that trap and instead focuses on media’s integration into technology and how easy it is to remain inactive in our modern age. That’s the sort of criticism I can get behind – specific and not pointing fingers.

Circle of Friendz (Feat. Brandon Markell Holmes)

The last track off of the deluxe version! We’ve climbed this whole mountain together, haven’t we.

I like how the discordance of the breaking glass and sounds of destruction in the beginning with the repetition of the lyrics “circle of friends” is… surprisingly earnest, actually. Similar to “We Got the Power”, this song doesn’t really seem ironic about its insistence that with teamwork any problem can be overcome.  It’s a short track, and really repetitive, but seems to drive home the point I made earlier about “Hallelujah Money” and “We Got the Power” that this album is ultimately optimistic about the state of society. Even as it critiques where we are and compares it to the end of the world, it isn’t bleak. And at risk of repeating what I’ve already said, I really appreciate that. This song isn’t really a great one on its own, but as a wrap-up for this album, it works.

Overall, I love “Humanz”. I know a lot of people were disappointed, but honestly that’s not too surprising to me. Gorillaz could have churned out the most flawless album in the world and people would still be upset. After all, it’s been seven years since we’ve seen them last, and that sort of a gap makes the nostalgia wall difficult to scale. Personally, I think it’s a worthy successor to “Plastic Beach” and has reignited my love for this band. For real, I’ve spent a lot of time rediscovering all of my old favorite Gorillaz songs thanks to this album, and that alone is enough for me to give two thumbs up to it.

So, whether you’re a Gorillaz fan or not, I strongly advise you overall to check this album out. It’s solid, it has a great message and motif, and it’s just a lot of fun. Or, you know, check some of their older stuff out too. Fall in love with them the same way I did so long ago, I promise, it’s fun.