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You've probably been told at some point in your life that things are not always as they appear.

And it's generally a good idea to keep in mind how easily we can be fooled by appearances. But that lesson is never more needed than when we're scrolling through instagram.

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MUSIC

Elton John Is a Timeless Musical God (with Walking Pneumonia)

Over the weekend Elton John pushed his devotion to his fans to new limits before his illness forced him to cut a concert short.

Dave Simpson/Getty Images

Elton John has been producing incredible music and putting on high energy live shows since the 1960s.

He's a timeless musical icon. He could easily have called it quits 40 years ago, and the world would still be singing along to "Bennie and the Jets" and "Tiny Dancer" and a dozen other hits. Instead, he has continued putting out hits into his 70s.

Just two weeks ago he was awarded his second Oscar for his song "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," from the soundtrack to the Elton John biopic Rocketman, and he put on a powerful performance at the ceremony that had viewers googling his age. He's 72 years old now, but his voice betrayed no sense of decline—as forceful and vibrant as ever. From the Oscars he almost immediately got on a plane to the other side of the world to perform for stadiums full of devoted fans as part of his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" worldwide tour.

www.youtube.com

What is it that keeps him going at a pace that would drain men half his age? Is he a greedy man? No doubt the ticket sales make the travel worth his time, but over the weekend he made it clear that he's not in this for himself. On Sunday night in Auckland, New Zealand, John had been diagnosed with walking pneumonia, but he got on stage anyway. He played and sang until he couldn't anymore. He collapsed onto a stool after delivering "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," and medical assistance was on hand with oxygen to help him recover and continue the show. All this drama while the cheering crowd looked on. When, finally, he could not sing another bar, he broke down in tears and was escorted off the stage.

In an Instagram post shortly after, John apologized to concertgoers, saying, "I want to thank everyone who attended tonight's gig in Auckland. I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia earlier today, but I was determined to give you the best show humanly possible. I played and sang my heart out, until my voice could sing no more. I'm disappointed, deeply upset and sorry. I gave it all I had." Despite the fact that he performed for over two hours while seriously ill, he was apologizing to his fans for not delivering the best possible concert. He is not just a musical god, but an icon of devotion and hard work. Elton John is better than we deserve.

The remainder of his Auckland shows have been rescheduled for January of next year while John recovers his health and prepares for the next leg of his tour. This tour is intended as his last, but it's still hard to imagine a man like Elton John ever stopping. He will be performing in Europe, Australia, and North America throughout 2020.

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:

Frank Ocean

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


Lorde

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

Stevie Wonder

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

Billy Joel

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


Kanye West

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


Pharrell Williams

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

Duke Ellington

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

Tori Amos

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


Dev Hynes

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


Charli XCX

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


Marina Diamandis

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

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


Franz Liszt

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

Culture Feature

Complicity in the Age of Streaming

Is PewDiePie complicit in the New Zealand mosque shooting? Absolutely not.

Before murdering 49 people across two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the unnamed shooter announced via live stream: "Remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie."

In the aftermath of mass shootings, it's natural to want to assign blame. Of course, first and foremost people blame the shooter. But a man doesn't just massacre 49 people in a bubble, so for most, blaming the individual isn't a good enough response. After all the individual is a product of society. So then what parts of society influenced the shooter's actions? In what corners did his hatred grow? Sure, he did the shooting, but who else is complicit?

In this particular shooting, we have some leads. First, the shooter posted a 73-page manifesto full of racist, white nationalist, and anti-Muslim rhetoric on 8chan. This offers insight into his mindset and the potential source of his radicalization. Second, the shooter streamed 17-minutes of the massacre on Facebook, the footage of which then spread around Reddit, Twitter, and various -chans. This action suggests he planned around social media – in other words, would he have pursued the attack if he didn't believe his message would receive adequate reach? And finally, there's his mention of PewDiePie. Let's start there.

Regardless of your personal opinions on PewDiePie, he bears absolutely none of the responsibility for this shooting. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous. Regardless of any prior controversies due to racist jokes, regardless of any suggestions that PewDiePie harbors alt-right sentiments, his brand does not revolve around sewing racial discourse. Whatever his personal views may be, he has never once publicly spread anti-Muslim rhetoric. That's not to say that some of his more controversial jokes and statements shouldn't be taken seriously, but rather that even the worst of them couldn't possibly make PewDiePie responsible for one of his 89+ million subscribers going on a rampage.

This is also decidedly different from an agitator like Alex Jones being considered complicit (at least in the public eye) when one of his listeners invades a pizza parlor or harasses the parent of a school shooting victim. The difference, of course, is a solid link. When an Alex Jones listener targets the parent of a school shooting victim over lies Alex Jones publicly spread about that same parent, that is a clear link. PewDiePie has never suggested that Muslims should be targeted in any way, shape, or form. Regardless of this shooters name drop, there is no clear link.

If anything, the shooter's name drop of PewDiePie was most likely an attempt to distract, bait, and sew further social discord. The shooter's manifesto is not worth summarizing. The content of his ideas is not worth discussing. His name is not worth mentioning. Don't let him accomplish his goals by siding against another person who was not involved in any way, shape, or form. You may not like PewDiePie, but this is not on him.

But if PewDiePie isn't complicit, who is? 4chan? 8chan? Facebook? Reddit? Twitter? The answer here is murkier.

Social media allows anyone and everyone to share ideas and content on an unprecedented scale. This is a great boon in many ways, giving people the capacity to connect and share interests, no matter how niche, to an extent that would have been impossible at any other point in history.

At the same time, social media, especially the kind benefitting from anonymity, allows hatred to spread at an alarming rate. People with sick ideas nurture and spread that hatred to others, using the targets of their rage as scapegoats for problems both real and imagined.

This malfeasance breeds and replicates, largely unchecked, across corners of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and the various -chans. The free market of ideas means that a lot of those ideas are poison, and all too often, ingesting poison results in death. So does that make social media complicit? Probably.

One potential solution is shutting down the spaces where hate speech breeds. There's a precedent here too, as Reddit banned a large number of hate subs on their platform in 2017 and, as a result, saw a decrease in hate speech on their platform as a whole. That being said, banning communities like these from congregating in one specific place doesn't necessarily mean they won't find each other somewhere else. Short of coordinated censorship across all major social media platforms, banning hate speech entirely would be impossible. Even then, what's to stop similar sites with like-minded admins from rising up as an alternative to mainstream platforms? And is censorship the road we want to go down, even when it comes to detestable speech and ideas? After all, who decides what is and isn't right?

In that same vein, good ideas are being spread through social media too – ideas about acceptance and tolerance, exposure to new ways of thinking that unite people instead of dividing them. But is that enough? Are terrorist attacks like this one inevitable in an age where white supremacy, racism, and racial tension seem to run rampant? I don't know.


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com



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Music Features

BAYNK On His First North American Headlining Tour

The EDM artist opens up about his personal life and professional journey.

Jock Nowell-Usticke, aka BAYNK, first made waves in the EDM community when he released "Sundae" on SoundCloud and headed off on a backpacking trip around Europe. When he came back from his trip, he was surprised to find out that the song had been picked up by popular music blog HillyDilly, and BAYNK had consequently been booked for several festival performances. He rode his surprise success to the creation of another 2016 single, "What You Need," that quickly rose to number one on Hype Machine, cementing his place among the biggest names in EDM.

Now, BAYNK is preparing to head out on his first headlining North American tour, with thirteen stops from coast to coast. He's also planning to release his new EP this spring, featuring "Settle (ft. Sinead Harnett)" and "Off Limits (ft. Glades)". Popdust sat down with the music maker to hear about his process, chemical engineering degree, and new found passion for the stage.

BAYNKAmbient Light

Your new tour is starting very soon, what can fans expect? Where are you headed?

Very soon. A little more of everything. The production is quite a step up from anything I've done before and involves sitting inside this LED frame thing. Heading all around the states playing some newer, older and a couple of unreleased songs.

How did you get into the saxophone?

I started when I was 14 I think. I'd just quit playing the piano because I didn't think it was cool enough and saxophone is the logical instrument to try if one wants to be cooler. I played for about two years in bands before giving it up and getting back into piano. Only once I got into production and playing shows did I feel the need to take it back up again.

What was it like collaborating with Glades on "Off Limits"? How did that come about?

I heard Karina's voice pop up on the radio one day and fell in love with her tone. The same day I got in touch with them they happened to be working on their album in Hollywood, five minutes up the road from where I live. The whole band is so lovely and the song really just came together like magic.

Do you see performing or song production as your biggest passion? Would you rather be on stage or messing around with beats in your bedroom?

About a year ago I was a very nervous live performer but relished locking myself away in the bedroom and messing with sounds. Just recently it's switched to the polar opposite. I love performing more than I do music creation. It comes in waves.

How'd you come up with the name BAYNK?

I thought of it in the shower.

How did growing up in New Zealand affect your development as a musician? Do you still spend a lot of time there?

I go back at least once a year for a couple of months. It'll always be my home. I think being so far from musical hubs and having a sort of isolation helped me develop a sound for myself relatively quickly. No-one I knew produced music and I didn't even understand what production was until I had finished university so everything was very DIY and a lot of the production & recording methods weren't necessarily correct but they were helping to build a strange palette of what I was going to sound like.

I read that you usually direct your own videos. How did you get into that?

I had always been interested in music videos. They always looked so fun and I didn't know anyone who made them so I just tried it myself and got obsessed after that. I have a fantastic team of people I work with now who are all much better technically than [I am] and help [me] realize some ideas that I would have no idea how to create on my own.

BAYNKOnestoWatch

You have several songs featuring other artists. Do you like that kind of collaboration? Or do you prefer working solo?

It's much easier to experiment and try new things when working solo but working with new people is also exciting and yields unexpected results. I enjoy working solo more because I love experimentation, which is harder to do when you're with someone you've never met.

What can you tell us about your songwriting process?

It varies from song to song but I generally start with the piano just because I've been playing for so long and it's comfortable. I never write down any lyrics I just freestyle until I have something I like.

I read you actually have a degree in chemical engineering. Is that still a part of your life?

I do. It's not and I don't think it ever will be.

Is your onstage persona similar to who you are in real life?

The same person just more exaggerated.

What would you say to a young person who wants to have a career like yours?

I would say go for it. Just prepare for 1-3 years of no results. The music comes first but it's not all about the music.

For more from BAYNK, follow him on Facebook, Instagram, or Spotify.

Or catch him on tour:

  • Feb 15 // Boulder, CO @ Fox Theater
  • Feb 16 // Salt Lake City, UT @ Soundwell
  • Feb 21 // Santa Barbara, CA @ EOS Lounge
  • Feb 22 // San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
  • Feb 23 // Los Angeles, CA @ Teregram Ballroom
  • Feb 28 // Portland, OR @ Holocene
  • Mar 1 // Seattle, WA @ Barboza
  • Mar 2 // Vancouver, BC @ Celebrities Underground


Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.


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Music Features

NOURI: From Refugee to Superstar

The New Zealand singer opens up about her early life, musical inpsiration, and upcoming EP.

New Zealand based singer-songwriter and breakout star, NOURI, released her debut song, "Where Do We Go From Here" just two months ago and hasn't looked back since.

The music video has received over a million plays on YouTube and hundreds of thousands of streams across all platforms—and for good reason. The song is a classic pop song made unique by NOURI's rasping, infectious voice lamenting the loss of a love that comes at the wrong time. The production is exquisitely minimalistic, with soft guitars and a dance beat that perfectly complement the singer's emotionally charged performance.

NOURI - Where Do We Go From Here (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

In a phone conversation with NOURI, she shared that the song came to her in a single moment of inspiration. "I was sitting in one of my friends houses one day and we were just messing around with a beat, and in my notes I'd put down 'where do we go from here?' Later, when I was looking back through my notes, I was like I actually really like this line, I'm gonna try to use it when I start singing to the melody."

From there, the song reached its fruition in just one hour. "It's so relatable, and I just felt such a level of honesty in writing it, so when I say that I wrote it in the car, it literally took me about an hour to write, and then it was finished...It came from such a personal place, which is what I always want to aim for in my music, so that my fans can really feel me in the music."

The hit music video perfectly reflects this idea, following NOURI and actor Bennett Jonas through the story of a tumultuous love affair, featuring stunning desert scenery and sizzling moments of chemistry and conflict. NOURI confirmed that the on-screen connection was very real, saying, "The actual day of the shoot was just so much fun, everyone was great and happy to be there. Bennett and I just immediately had great chemistry. He made me so comfortable and made it so fun." The steamy performance wasn't the only part of the music video that can be attributed to NOURI's talent. She confessed, "Nobody really knows this but I edited and color corrected the whole music video myself. I edited for 48 hours straight."

The singer's control over her own work and drive for perfection is part of what has made her upcoming 2019 EP so widely anticipated by fans and critics alike. When asked what we can expect to hear on the EP, NOURI laughed and said that it'll be a collection of songs that "somehow make you want to dance and cry at the same time."

Despite what her infectious enthusiasm and optimism may lead one to believe, NOURI's road to the spotlight wasn't an easy one. She spent her early years in a Syrian refugee camp before immigrating to New Zealand, and she views that time as one of the most transformative periods in her life. "I feel like I've been put in this position to be able to be a voice for people who don't have one. I want to make sure I help make everyone aware of situations like the refugee crisis, something that affected me as a child but is still happening to this day all over the world. I want to inspire people to realize you really can make it out of bad situations, you can make a change, you can make your dreams a reality."

The singer hopes that, as her career progresses, she'll be able to use her voice for good, raising awareness for important issues, but also creating music that people can connect to and, of course, dance to.

For more from NOURI, follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or Spotify.


Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.



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