Culture Feature

7 Times David Blaine Tried (and Failed) to Escape the Apocalypse

Most of David Blaine's "stunts" are actually elaborate attempts to escape humanity's dark fate.

This week, magician and death-defying early-2000s icon David Blaine failed to escape our planet's inexorable hold.

Many are reporting Blaine's Ascension—dangling from helium balloons that pulled him nearly 25,000 feet above the earth's surface—as just another "stunt," like the time he held his breath for 17 minutes, or the time he encased himself in ice for 63 hours. But in truth, Blaine's latest spectacle reveals the uncomfortable reality that these supposed stunts always contained: David Blaine is trying desperately to escape humanity's inevitable collective doom.

Keep Reading Show less
Music Features

Lorde, Sia, Pearl Jam, and More Demand Politicians Stop Playing Music Without Permission

A new letter from the Artist Rights Alliance demands that politicians receive permission for the political use of music.

Update 8/4/2020: Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young has filed a copyright infringement suit against Donald Trump's presidential campaign for the use of his songs "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Devil's Sidewalk" without a license. The Trump campaign reportedly played the songs at the June 20th rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where it's suspected that the late entrepreneur and Republican political figure Herman Cain contracted COVID-19.

The suit states that Young "cannot allow his music to be used as a 'theme song' for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate." The lawsuit will serve as a test case for license exclusions in the case of political events.

Imagine pouring your hard work, your talent, and your heartfelt emotions into a work of art for all of humanity to enjoy, only to have it co-opted by a symbol of hatred and division.

For a stunning number of musicians who vehemently oppose Donald Trump's presidency, that is exactly what has happened in recent years. Despite repeated statements that they don't want their music played at his political rallies, Donald Trump's re-election campaign has continued to use music from artists like Adele, Rihanna, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Pharrell Williams, Axl Rose, and honestly too many others to mention.

Keep Reading Show less
CULTURE

Gisele Bündchen, Pharrell Williams, and 10 Other Celebrities Fighting Climate Change

Billie Eilish, Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more are all speaking out against the existential challenge of our time.

There's a lot of hypocrisy to many celebrities' purported support of climate change.

Much of their activism is just big talk, and many fail to use their wealth and power where it actually could make a difference, instead just showing their faces and airing their support for the climate movement when it's convenient, failing to spark legitimate large-scale change.

Keep Reading Show less
New Releases

Jhené Aiko Fumbles with "Chilombo"

The singer's third album is filled with lyrical meandering, and not much else.

Back in 2017, Jhené Aiko sat down with Billboard to discuss the tepid reception to her sophomore album, Trip.

"I was working so long on it and there's so many layers to it–it did feel a little like, 'Oh, hey, no one noticed all [that] hard work..." she said. "At the end of the day, I have to check in with myself and ask why do I really make music?... It's not about accolades and attention." The day before, Aiko had released her first-ever poetry book, 2Fish, and was gearing up for a supporting book tour. "I think that there is depth in simplicity. I feel like there's genius in simplicity," she said of her writing process. "At the same time, it's very personal and very much so comes from my heart."

www.youtube.com

On Chilombo, Aiko's third outing, she embodies these statements quite literally. Her two lead singles, "Triggered" and "None of Your Concern," border more on spoken word poetry than sultry R&B and were poorly received as a result. "When is someone gonna have an honest conversation about the mid that Aiko is dropping?" said Joe Budden. As a pair, the tracks were indistinguishable from each other; both relied on soft 808's and breezy piano chords, both thematically dissected her tumultuous on-and-off-again relationship with Big Sean, and both hooks were heavily camouflaged, bogged down by Aiko's lyrical meandering. The songs sacrificed their musicality for Aiko's message.

The remaining 18-tracks are much of the same. Slow, brooding instrumentals, with Aiko taking front and center with loosely-stitched anecdotes of love, heartbreak, and self-realization. "Life's no fairytale, I know all too well," she sings on Chilombo's most buoyant track "Tryna Smoke." "Gotta plant the seed sometime, then you let it grow." The lyrical content continues as such, much of it reading as corny self-help quotes. "Whenever I'm feeling low, anytime there is a void," she croons on "LOVE," "I choose to fill it with joy." Even some well-placed features can barely resuscitate the album's weakest moments. Miguel and Future, despite their best efforts, can't save "H.O.E."–which stands for "Happiness Over Everything"–from bordering on mawkish, and John Legend's fluttered crooning on "Lightning & Thunder" doesn't save the track from its stiffness.

www.youtube.com

While Aiko has prided herself on her brevity, she minces her words–and often her production– to her detriment here. Trip explored the experiences of grief riddled drug use and described the way different drugs brought on different stages of the grieving process, while Chilombo barely touches on its themes of self-love. Aiko's best moments have come from when she's loosened up, but for now, they'll have to settle for: "It's a party on a boat, somebody make some gumbooo!"

Still, Chilombo feels like a personal step forward for Aiko. She has spoken extensively on how she's grown to really love herself, and the album cover is a testament to that change. She is literally glowing, facing forward, moving forward, and learning to accept her creative process for what it is. It's a beautiful experience to watch, and in hindsight, it seems that Chilombo was created during an epiphany for Aiko as a human being, and that's a very valuable thing.

Chilombo

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

MUSIC

Beck's "Hyperspace" Drags at Times, But Who Cares?

The man is a legend that we're not worthy of critiquing

Chances are no two reviewers have the same opinion about Beck Hansen.

After all, malleability has always been Hansen's superpower. His seemingly endless capacity for amalgamating genres makes it impossible for music journalists to review his work without seeming pretentious. While Morning Phase and Sea Change are (almost) unanimously considered his greatest triumphs, critics have remained divided on what constitutes Beck's worst album. Some think it to be the oddball psychedelic folk-hop of Stereopathetic Soulmanure, while others think the satirical, lo-fi, anti-folk of One Foot In The Grave is well-deserving of the title. In Pitchfork's case, 2017's Colors sucks, but even then, the album was universally lauded and spawned two major GRAMMY victories.

With that said, Beck's Hyperspace is a rather vanilla release from the polymath, considering his rampant experimentation in the past. The project is filled with profound moments that will impress some critics and leave others unphased. It follows a thematic steadiness similar to Colors in that it is one singular mood. Colors was unbridled in its blistering euphoria, while Hyperspace is a thick cloud of bitter nostalgia, heartbreak, and melancholy. It's wrapped in the lush lo-fi production chops of Pharrell Williams, but the project never seems to breathe and ascend above the clouds it creates.

Beck - Uneventful Days www.youtube.com

Beck wants to remain under his cloud for now, and the album slowly caves under its one-sided emotional baggage. "You threw the keys to the kingdom, over a skyscraper wall, sowing seeds somewhere obsolete in the everlasting nothing," he sings over 808's on the dreary album closer. There are stagnant/tepid moments on Hyperspace that are surprising in light of the monumental talent at work here. There are beautiful moments of clarity on songs like "Stratosphere" and "See-Through," but it's difficult to appreciate those amidst the album's exhaustive opacity.

But Beck is also going through a monumental shift in his life, and any of us would look towards the stars for meaning if we were as starved for elucidation as he seems to be. Beck doesn't know how he got here, and he desperately wants to. "I don't even know what's wrong," he sings on "Uneventful Days." The project's honesty makes its dull moments at least feel authentic, and this authenticity inevitably saves the album from itself.

Yet critics, once again, remain divided. NME has already given the project four stars, praising the minimalist production and smart collaborations with Sky Ferrera and Coldplay's Chris Martin, while NPR calls the album stiff and monotonous. But Beck's refusal to be boxed-in is his greatest strength, and no single review can effectively capture all that he is even 26 years into his career Hyperspace is a fine album; it's just not his "best album," and for Beck to have a standard of that caliber as a baseline reminds us how much of a juggernaut he's become.