"Heartbreak Weather" never quite finds its footing.
I have a confession: When I was a tween, Niall Horan was my favorite member of One Direction.
I'm almost ashamed to look back on that now. Harry was so obviously the only choice. His gender-queer look and love of 60s psychedelia and generally mystical aura should've been apparent to me even then. On the other hand, I was severely in denial about my own bisexuality in those days, so maybe I just wasn't ready to embrace Harry quite yet.
It's taken me a long time to get to the healthy place where I am, stanning Harry Styles and loving people who actually love me back and that sort of thing. Once upon a time, I only wanted people who wouldn't love me back, I thought everybody hated me, and I was slightly in love with Niall Horan.
I'm not exactly sure what was going through my mind during those times. I liked Niall in the vague, floaty way that I liked anyone in those days—only in the abstract, refracted a thousand times through my own self-perception.
Maybe liking Niall was just an effort to fit in. During conversations about One Direction (there were many), I'd merely say "I like Niall" and that was it. I think I picked him because of his hair, which made him look different from the rest of the One Directioners.
Maybe it was because he seemed less egotistical than the rest. In a way, that last one still holds true; Niall feels less pretentious than other members of the former band. Or he did. Sadly, none of this, nor the strength of my lukewarm teenage devotion, could save Niall's new album.
The new album is called Heartbreak Weather. It surpasses regular supermarket pop—generic, shiny, relatively soulless stuff—to become supermarket-during-coronavirus pop: overcrowded, oddly familiar yet disorienting, and mostly empty.
Some songs are more painful to listen to than others. The title track, "Heartbreak Weather," comes complete with a corny 80s-style drum thrash and a bouncy bassline that inexplicably reminds me of fast food. "Small Talk" starts promisingly thick with dreamy reverb, but it builds up to a bouncy chorus that shakes you out of whatever restful state you may have slipped into.
I don't want to compare Niall too much to Harry, but let's contrast the low guitar riffs on Small Talk to the similar riffs on Styles' She. The "Small Talk" riffs sound heavily compressed and packed into a tiny space, whereas the lines on Harry's track sound liberated and oceanic in scope. The whole thing feels like Niall's effort to be Harry Styles, but it comes off like he's wearing his older brother's clothes, trying them on and trying to be hot while he's always been just cute.
The production and songwriting on Heartbreak Weather feel anachronistic, from a former era when songwriting wasn't so nuanced and we took the bus to school. There are hints of squelchy funk that, while not danceable, are far from relaxing.
"Nice to Meet Ya" is an unfortunate track through and through. Its chorus feels too chaotic and overloaded with sound, and the use of autotune is a travesty and a sin. The piano riffs and generic lyrics remind me of some of the performers I've seen at the many, many open mics I have sat through in my life. It's not that it's bad. The piano and songcraft are full of potential and earnest enthusiasm; but this is a major record label album, not the Tuesday after-hours show at Jolene's.
Heartbreak Weather would've fit in better during the 2000s, but music is so fiercely innovative now, and there's just so damn much of it that it's hard to imagine a place for this kind of generic, innocent pop. "Put It On Me" is a nice song, though, one I could imagine coming on the radio as I'm driving around in silence with my mom, or during the "stretching" part at the end of an exercise class. It's suburban, quotidian, from a former era, from another life. Along with the rest of the album, it exists in such brutal contrast to the rest of the current online discourse and the state of the world that hearing it today just feels jarring.
Maybe Heartbreak Weather actually comes from a parallel dimension. Maybe it slipped over from a different timeline in which people are sensible and things are boring, in which disasters are few and far between, in which we pool our resources and use them to take care of everyone like practical people.
In this dimension, Niall probably should have stuck to his original shtick, to the kind of innocence and simplicity that initially drew me to him and that defined his classic tear-jerker "This Town." Instead of trying to create a complex, funky, sexy, multi-genre pop album, Niall could've gone in an acoustic direction, honing his gentle persona into an early-Ed-Sheeran-type of balladeer and eventually graduating to more mature folk.
But that's okay—I forgive him. I forgive everyone. Because what does it matter if an album is good or bad, if it makes people happy? I'm freaked out about the virus, I'm chilling in self-quarantine, it's a Friday night, and I truly hope that Niall never sees this.
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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