In Pre-K 4, my teacher would often hear me laugh in the back reading nook of the classroom with concern. Her concern stemmed from one simple question: was I laughing or crying? At times, it was indecipherable, the laughs shaking my body and tears streaming down my face.
This may seem like an exaggeration, but for the first eighteen years of my life, if I thought something was funny — really funny — I would tear up within seconds of the first chuckle escaping my lips. If it was a discreet laugh, in the back of a classroom or between me and my brother in the backseat of my parents’ cars, I would lose it faster. The waterworks were unintentional and 100% uncontrollable, to the point where I quickly invested in waterproof mascara when I reached a makeup wearing age.
But then, when I was eighteen, something shifted. With the end of my high school career came the end of my tearful laughter. At the time, I chalked it up to a biochemical alteration; I had started taking anti-anxiety medication. I became convinced that I had previously been somewhat uncomfortable in expressing complete joy, and that thought carried me to the conclusion that I was finally free to laugh with emotional abandon.
I did not cry-laugh again — until my twenty fifth birthday. A simple conversation between me and two friends regarding the practices of gynecology drove me to tears over the course of minutes. Since then in the course of two months, I’ve teared up over laughter, gripping my sides, more often than I have in the past seven years. And honestly? I’m so relieved to be tearful again.
Instead of considering it a symptom of discomfort at the display of joy, I’m viewing it more as an uninhibited celebration of joy. It’s a wantonness, a carefree element, a comfort level that maybe I’ve been missing for a while. Maybe, for the first time in a long time, I’m comfortable in my own exaltation.
I hope I continue to laugh like that four year old I once was.
“Hey, Ma, I think this year the band made it.” Those were the last words that the frontman of lovelytheband, Mitchy Collins, managed to say before he turned his back on a cheering audience with a reddening face to wipe his eyes. His bandmates, Jordan Greenwald and Sam Price, both stepped away from their instruments and went to celebrate and comfort him. After all, they had just shared with the crowd that the sold out Irving Plaza in New York City in three days, a stage the members themselves had been to see Billboard greats like FallOut Boy, Ed Sheeran, and Macklemore. Now it was their turn.
I remember the first time I heard lovelytheband’s hit “broken” on the segment “Ear Poppin’ New Music” on SiriusXM’s Hits 1. I was driving to Ocean City, New Jersey with my mom, freshly returned from my first year in grad school in London and finding myself surprisingly at a loss with what to listen to on American radio while, as I like to call it, “driving with Wendy” thanks to my increasingly eclectic Spotify tastes. But if there’s one thing I can never resist, it’s the opportunity to hear new music. I did not, however, expect for my tastes to shift into high gear. I don’t even think the song ended before “broken” was added to my Spotify summer playlist. And when the album was released, it was added to my saved catalog.
It’s now been a year since that highway listen. The band has received decent notoriety, and well-deserved. Their sound is widely appealing, with an audience on Monday night’s concert ranging from families with musically woke middle schoolers to late thirties groups of music enthusiasts. Personally, I went alone, wanting to fully dance and geek out when they played “pity party” (I did) and nearly cry at the end of “maybe I’m afraid” (there were witnesses). And while the opening acts were decent (Jagwar Twin and Flora Cash), if at times muddy, there was no chance of anyone stealing lovelytheband’s thunder that weekday night at Irving Plaza. They owned that stage and fully earned the Live Nation backing that they’re receiving for their finding it hard to smile tour.
DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.
Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.
I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”
And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?
I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.
And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?
Last night, I attended Ones to Watch Presents: LÉON at Irving Plaza. I’ve been onto LÉON’s music since hearing “Surround Me” on The Bold Type in 2017 (yeah, I joined that band wagon), so I was quick on the Ticketmaster trigger when I found out she was doing a tour stop in New York City. I dragged my dear and yet non-fan friend Rebecca along with me to the Union Square venue, paid way too much for those requisite vodka soda, and pushed our way to three standing rows back from the barriers blockading the stage.
I was completely and unabashedly way to excited for this concert. LÉON’s sultry vocals and ballads that, in my opinion, can rival Adele any damn day of the week had been teasing me since I purchased the tickets on February 4th.
I was not, however, equally enthused in anticipation for seeing the opening act. Don’t get me wrong, I typically experience excitement with opening acts — the possibility of witnessing a star on the rise. But I had done my research and been put off by the striking appearance of Morgan Saint’s alt-pop rock (?) album covers and and the synth heavy sound.
I was wildly underestimating the power of a true performer.
While it was clear that Morgan Saint was the real deal from the first step on stage — undeniable from the GaGa command of the space and the swagger of a true musician (think Lorde) — it was the introduction and performance of the song “Glass Houses” that sold me. Morgan Saint started by asking the audience to raise their hands if they had ever had their heart broken. Then Morgan Saint said to keep our hands raised if we had ever broken our own heart. My right hand remained over my head until the first chord rang out.
If I told you I was broken, would you love me still? Shattered hearts, crossed stars, never saw myself…
Won’t you love me now? F*cking love me now It’s all broken, unspoken Just breathe me in, taste me on your lips You can let me go, if you need to let me go
“Glass Houses,” Morgan Saint
There’s something incredibly powerful when a performer strips their experience bare and connects with an audience on a level of raw emotion. I don’t think Rebecca noticed but “Glass Houses” drove me to be misty-eyed. It permeated my skin and made my blood hot with memory of my darkest times. I related to the lyrics on a level I would never have expected, because I had a realization I could never have grasped before. In efforts to move forward from the darkness that was my first six months of 2016, I had made every effort to absolve all of those who had removed themselves from my life under the pressure of the events. But I had not forgiven myself for being the force that opened that door, for being the driving force asking for unreasonable salvation from individuals who could not offer me that rescue. And that is now a mission that I have given myself to work on. In the aftermath of Morgan Saint’s performance, her entire discography has been added to my arsenal of songs to listen to.
Luckily, although a true balladeer, LÉON’s set was filled with infectious upbeats and crowd engagement. LÉON focused on providing grounded, relatable anecdotes about the hardships in love that drove her to these songs of romantic woes — see: “Body” or “Pink.” Her carefree dancing on stage only encouraged the audience to dance more daringly and sing more loudly, even to the point where LÉON could stop singing and the melody would carry throughout the packed venue. While it might seem like I am shortchanging LÉON as the main event by giving her less text space than her opener, there really are no words to convey the contagious joy that spread throughout Irving Plaza as soon as the lamps lit up the stage. It was a shame to watch her go, but to close it out with “Surround Me” and enjoy the moment of communion not only with her as an artist but with the whole crowd as a gathering was the icing on the cake to someone who found her with that very song.
LÉON, keep shining bright. Morgan Saint, I’m grateful.