Certain musicians are blessed with the ability to hear, see, feel, or taste music, a variant of the neurological condition known as synesthesia.
While you don't need to have synesthesia in order to be a great musician, there seems to be a significant correlation between musicians capable of creating exceptionally impactful tunes and those who perceive sound in color. Here are some of the most noteworthy musicians with synesthesia:
Anyone who's heard Frank Ocean's Blonde knows that the album exists in more than one dimension, and this isn't an accident. Ocean sees colors associated with his music, and his album Channel Orange was inspired by the color he saw when he first fell in love (which was, obviously, orange).
Pink Matter www.youtube.com
Extra Minutes | How Lorde sees sound as colour www.youtube.com
Lorde has described synesthesia as a driving force behind all her music, and like Ocean, she has sound-to-color synesthesia, which means all music has a color in her mind. "If a song's colors are too oppressive or ugly, sometimes I won't want to work on it," she once told MTV. "When we first started 'Tennis Court' we just had that pad playing the chords, and it was the worst textured tan colour, like really dated, and it made me feel sick, and then we figured out that prechorus and I started the lyric, and the song changed to all these incredible greens overnight!"
Lorde - Green Light www.youtube.com
Even though he's blind, the musical legend and innovator Stevie Wonder can see the colors of his music in his head, which might explain why his music sounds so vast and rich.
Stevie Wonder - Moon Blue www.youtube.com
The "Piano Man" singer can see the colors of the music that he plays, and it sounds like his perception is influenced by tempo and mood. "When I think of different types of melodies which are slower or softer, I think in terms of blues or greens," he said. "When I [see] a particularly vivid color, it is usually a strong melodic, strong rhythmic pattern which emerges at the same time," he said. "When I think of these songs, I think of vivid reds, oranges, and golds."
Billy Joel - Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Official Audio) www.youtube.com
The brilliant musician and recently born-again Christian once said that all his music has a visual component. "Everything I sonically make is a painting," he said. "I see it. I see the importance and the value of everyone being able to experience a more beautiful life."
Kanye West - All Of The Lights ft. Rihanna, Kid Cudi www.youtube.com
For West, visuals need to be compatible with the colors he hears in his head. "I see music in color and shapes and all and it's very important for me when I'm performing or doing a video that the visuals match up with the music – the colors, y'know," he said. "A lot of times it's a lonely piano [that] can look like a black and white visual to fit that emotion, even though pianos are blue to me and bass and snares are white; bass lines are like dark brown, dark purple."
No Church In The Wild www.youtube.com
The "Happy" singer (a yellow song if there ever was one) has been open about his synesthesia, and he has a very in-depth way of perceiving musical color. "There are seven basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet," he said. And those also correspond with musical notes…White, believe it or not, which gives you an octave is the blending of all the colors…" So that means chords would be blends of different shades, and harmonies would likely involve the blending of compatible colors. For Pharrell, synesthesia is instrumental to his creative process and to his worldview at large. "It's my only reference for understanding," he said. "I don't think I would have what some people would call talent and what I would call a gift. The ability to see and feel [this way] was a gift given to me that I did not have to have. And if it was taken from me suddenly I'm not sure that I could make music. I wouldn't be able to keep up with it. I wouldn't have a measure to understand."
Pharrell Williams - Happy (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
For the jazz great, individual notes also have different colors—but their exact shades depend on who's playing them, not the note itself. "I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it's one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it's a different color," he said. In addition to associating music with colors, he also sees sound as texture. "When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures," he added. "If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin."
Duke Ellington - Blue Feeling www.youtube.com
From the sound of things, Tori Amos experiences music in a very dreamlike and psychedelic way. The singer-songwriter and piano prodigy has said that songwriting feels like chasing after light. "The song appears as light filament once I've cracked it. As long as I've been doing this, which is more than 35 years, I've never seen a duplicated song structure. I've never seen the same light creature in my life. Obviously, similar chord progressions follow similar light patterns…try to imagine the best kaleidoscope ever."
16 Shades of Blue www.youtube.com
After hearing Blood Orange's saturated, vivid sonic craftsmanship, it's not hard to believe that its creator is synesthetic. However, for Dev Hynes, synesthesia isn't a walk in the park. "Imagine color streamers just bouncing around," he explained. "It's hard for me to focus at times because there's a lot of things floating around, pulling me away. Situations can become very overbearing and overwhelming."
Blood Orange - Dark & Handsome | A COLORS SHOW www.youtube.com
Synesthesia helps Charli XCX curate and shape her songs, and apparently, the pop queen favors sweeter, brighter colors. "I see music in colors. I love music that's black, pink, purple or red - but I hate music that's green, yellow or brown," she said.
Charli XCX - Silver Cross [Official Audio] www.youtube.com
Mary J. Blige
"I have that condition, synesthesia. I see music in colors. That's how my synesthesia plays out," singer, rapper, actress, and legend Mary J. Blige explained succinctly.
Mary J. Blige - Be Without You (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
The former star of Marina and the Diamonds (who now goes by only Marina) apparently can see sound as color, but she also associates certain colors with days of the week. Her synesthesia also sometimes causes her to associate music with scents. "Mine usually only expresses itself in color association but I do smell strange scents out of the blue for no reason," she's said.
MARINA - Orange Trees [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com
Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell
In Billie Eilish's technicolor universe, every sense bleeds into everything else, and things like numbers and days of the week have their own color palettes. "I think visually first with everything I do, and also I have synesthesia, so everything that I make I'm already thinking of what color it is, and what texture it is, and what day of the week it is, and what number it is, and what shape," she said in a YouTube Music video. "We both have it [she and brother, Finneas O'Connell], so we think about everything this way."
Billie Eilish - Ocean Eyes (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Alessia Cara thought that synesthesia was just something everybody had, until she realized not everyone could see sounds. "I didn't know that synesthesia was something that was, I guess, only a thing for some people," she said. "I thought that everybody kind of experienced it. So for me, it was just a natural pairing to my music. Everything audible was visual to me, and it still is. And so I think when I write, it's kind of cool to listen back and say, 'Well, this song feels kind of purple' — if a certain drum sound sounds purple and the song feels purple, then I know that they kind of match. It just really helps me figure out the whole package of a song." And like Kanye West, her synesthesia influences her visual content. "Even with videos — it helps me figure out what I want to do music video-wise," she added. "So it's definitely a strong aspect of my writing."
Alessia Cara - Ready (Lyric Video) www.youtube.com
Synesthesia isn't reserved for 20th and 21st century legends. Many classical musicians possessed synesthetic abilities, such as the composer Franz Liszt, who apparently used to ask orchestra members to make their tone qualities "bluer" and would say things like, "That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!" While orchestra members thought he was joking, they soon realized that the musician could actually see colors in the music he created.
Franz Liszt - Liebestraum - Love Dream www.youtube.com
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Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.
Villains always have the best outfits.
From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.
Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com
But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.
Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.
Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.
Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com
Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.
As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.
History of Nazi Chic
For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.
The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.
Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it
Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.
The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.
Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.
Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com
Nazi Chic in Asia
Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.
A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.
In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.
OF COURSE. i.imgur.com
That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.
In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.
So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?
The answer is not so black and white.
On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.
But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.
Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.
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Let's take a walk down memory lane...
Popdust's Time Machine series will take you on a journey through the best, worst, and most nostalgia-inducing pop culture events of each year of the past decade. This is not a definitive or comprehensive report; instead, it's a trip down memory lane as we near the onset of our own roaring '20s.
"Tik Tok" was on the radio, we were all obsessed with Sarah Palin's family and Snooki, and Obama was president. It's hard to believe that all happened a full decade ago; so much (and somehow so little) has changed.
Where were you back then? Take a moment to close your eyes and let yourself remember. Can you hear it—a mosquito's whine? It's getting closer… Wait, that's not a mosquito... It's the sound of a prepubescent Justin Bieber singing his heart out in harmony with a million vuvuzelas. Welcome back to 2010.
2010: The Year of Oddly Violent Yet Playful Pop Music
In 2010, pop music was generally rather terrible, and a 16-year-old named Justin Bieber was dominating the charts. Bieber rose to prominence around 2008, but by 2010, he was one of the first supermassive social media success stories.
Justin Bieber - Baby ft. Ludacris (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
That same year, another, very different star named Adele released a song called "Rolling in the Deep." Robyn also released the iconic "Dancing On My Own," a glitter-covered party girl named Ke$ha released a banger called "Tik Tok," and Rihanna also released her Eminem collab "Love The Way You Lie," a song that still slaps but probably wouldn't be acceptable in 2019. Another great collab, Hayley Williams and B.O.B.'s "Airplanes," soundtracked middle school dances everywhere.
Adele - Rolling in the Deep www.youtube.com
Ke$ha - TiK ToK (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
"Like A G6" inspired incredible aggression in middle school volleyball games (can you tell I was in middle school then?). Cee Lo Green had everyone alternating between "F**k You" and "Forget You," and Willow Smith dropped "Whip My Hair."
Cee Lo Green - Forget You www.youtube.com
In 2010, Janelle Monae dropped her first LP, The ArchAndroid, and Katy Perry's Teenage Dream topped the charts. Kanye West joined Twitter and unleashed the magnificent My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on the world, and music was never the same. The same year, Taylor Swift found a stadium-filling pop audience with the release of the album Speak Now (and all this while from her 2009 confrontation with Kanye West was still reverberating through the faltering blogosphere).
Katy Perry - Teenage Dream (Official) www.youtube.com
Kanye West - Runaway (Full-length Film) www.youtube.com
Television Gets Queerer and Even More New Jerseyfied
On TV, Glee reigned supreme, giving us heart-wrenching moments such as Kurt's rendition of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and Archie's "The Safety Dance." (Remember when a simple queer declaration of love felt almost impossibly subversive and inspiring to your younger, gay heart?)
GLEE - I Want To Hold Your Hand (Full Performance) HD www.youtube.com
Fringe, Breaking Bad, Parks and Recreation, Friday Night Lights, Modern Family, and Madmen were also airing, and the surreal animated hit Adventure Time debuted its first episode. 2010 was the year Lost ended, and American Idol lost Simon Cowell after crowning Lee DeWyze, one of the most forgettable Idols ever. Snooki dominated our collective imagination thanks to the success of Jersey Shore, and The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien aired its last episode. Steve Carrell announced he was leaving The Office and Oprah announced her departure from late night TV.
Jersey Shore cast along with Nicole aka Snooki explains THE PUNCH on Entertainment Tonight 2010 www.youtube.com
Conan's last "Tonight Show" Monologue 1/22/10 www.youtube.com
2010 was also the year of the undead. The Walking Dead and the Vampire Diaries were successful 2010 debuts about undead folk, one bunch far sexier than the other.
Movies Obsess Over Vampires, Cryptids, and Superhuman Heroines
In addition to dominating TV, vampires lit up the silver screen in 2010. That year, Twilight Saga: Eclipse totaled $300 million in sales. (What was with our collective obsession with vampires?)
Twilight Eclipse Battle Vampires & Wolf Pack Fighting Scene www.youtube.com
Another kind of cryptid, Mark Zuckerberg, became even more famous when the film The Social Network hit theaters. (He was also crowned Time Magazine's Person of the Year). Another franchise installment—gloomy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I—hit theaters. Emma Stone won us over in Easy A, and so did Chloe Grace Moretz as the little girl in Kick Ass. Inception had us all questioning reality; the film Precious was an indie hit. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Winona Ryder starred in Black Swan, Toy Story 3 and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World sparked cult followings, The Hurt Locker took the Oscar, and 2011's Oscar winner, The King's Speech, debuted in November.
Easy A (2010) - A Pocketful of Sunshine Scene (1/10) | Movieclips www.youtube.com
People Still Read Books
People still read books in 2010. Amazing, right? That year, two franchises starring very powerful women dominated the public's imagination: The Hunger Games and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. Jonathan Franzen's Freedom also garnered high praise, but Patti Smith's Just Kids won the National Book Award.
Tech Goes Hands-Free and Becomes More Eerily Invasive
Technologically speaking, social media was well on its way to becoming an election-altering superpower. Facebook reached 550 million users, and Twitter also became forebodingly powerful. Fun fact: The top 10 Twitter Trends of 2010 (via blog.twitter.com) were the Gulf Oil Spill, FIFA World Cup, Inception, Haiti Earthquake, Vuvuzela, Apple iPad, Google Android, Justin Bieber, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, and Pulpo Paul.
In terms of gaming, Angry Birds, the game that was all the rage, and PlayStations were everywhere. Hand-free gaming systems like the Kinect and the XBox 360 created new visions of what was possible with gaming. The iPhone 4 dropped, escalating the smartphone wars, and the iPad was introduced in January 2010. Not everyone was happy about technology's rapid intrusion into our personal lives; Net neutrality and online privacy were some of that year's most enduring and prescient buzzwords.
Everyone Loves Betty White
In 2010, America fell hard for Betty White, who starred in a now-infamous Super Bowl Snickers ad. Tiger Woods apologized to the public and made his return to golf. The Demi Lovato/Ashley Greene/Joe Jonas love triangle dominated teen magazine covers, and Lindsay Lohan's shenanigans were plastered all over grocery store tabloids. The video "Bed Intruder" went viral. Lady Gaga wore a meat dress to the VMAs, and Prince William proposed to then-plebian Kate Middleton. Bedbugs took over New York. The population of Greenland dropped from 3 to 2. Sex positivity was all the rage. The word "hipster" became universally loathed.
Betty White Snickers Super Bowl Commercial 2010 www.youtube.com
Lady Gaga Poses in the Meat Dress www.youtube.com
Overall, it seems the general critical consensus on the American pop culture landscape in 2010 was that it was a year of much noise and very little substance. "In popular culture, 2010 was an elephant's call unmodulated, a bleat, a squawk, a low-level blare," wrote Steve Johnson in the Chicago Tribune. "You put your fingers in your ears, and you still couldn't block it out. 2010 was a vuvuzela, all tone, no rhythm, the operational definition of unearned attention."
We had no idea what was coming, did we? Still, looking back, it seems that by 2010, the seeds for what social media and even politics would become had already been sown, though the pop culture landscape was oddly wide-eyed and innocent, even ignorant and uncritical. The political remained quite separate from the personal, at least in terms of mainstream media coverage, and the Internet was still something that was separate and less important than reality. How times have changed… or have they?
- 2010s - Wikipedia ›
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