switch it up, switch it up: victoria monet, little mix, and ariana grande @ madison square garden // 2.24.17

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I was a 90’s child, but I never got into The Spice Girls. I think I was technically a bit too young to have hit them in their “prime,” and I think that the focus for my peers was on Brittney, N*Sync and Backstreet Boys (I will state, for the record, that my preference was for N*sync). I never went to pop concerts as a child – is this why I have become an avid concert attender in my prime? all of those years of deprivation? – however, in saying that, I must divulge that my technical first concert ever was to see Jessica Simpson in Bryant Park for a taping of Good Morning America, right around the time that the Dukes of Hazard came out, as part of a friend’s birthday party. I liked Jessica Simpson as much as a pre-pubescent girl would, but the experience did not make me feel like I had just seen an idol. It was also perhaps a bit underwhelming – a rather bare stage with the musicians and J.S. prancing around in her Daisy Duke outfit; it wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring.

Fast forward probably fifteen years to the summer of 2016. I’d been listening to a lot of Radio 1 at work because admittedly I’m endlessly amused by their coverage of whatever annual shindig they put on in Ibiza (“Ibiza is going to be absolutely massive. I Absolutely Cannot Wait for Ibiza.” god bless and keep Annie Mac). I kept hearing this song over and over and over again: take a sip from a secret potion, i’ll make you fall in love… It was not one of the ones that I wrote down to look up later, but I found it popping into my head quite often. The song was “Black Magic,” by Little Mix, and it is totally and undeniably infectious.

Summer ended, and now we’re at Fall 2016 when I, well, I’d say “stumbled” but I was rather “pushed,” into an unabashed love affair with One Direction. Logic told me that this was the appropriate time to get properly into what I’d mentally cataloged as “the female 1D” so I decided to give “Get Weird” a spin. I was surprised by how I immediately found it to be a perfect album. That is not an accolade that I dole out very often. I became completely and totally obsessed. I loved Perrie and her gorgeous hair (pun not intended). I loved how Jade was absolutely beautiful, but totally quirky. I loved, maybe more than anything, Jade’s Natalie B. Coleman heart dagger sequined shirt that she wore in the bestLive Lounge ever!(!!!) I loved how well their voices blended, and how they were four bad-ass beautiful women that I felt were impossible to not admire.

I began totally indoctrinating my friend/coworker with Little Mix and was pleased when she grew to love them. I remember cheekily messaging her approximately once a week to say “but WHEN are they going to go on tour???” Finally, Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour was announced with them as a supporting act, so we jumped on seats for Madison Square Garden. It was funny to us – we thought, alright, we *guess* we’ll stay for Ariana Grande, since we’re paying for her, though neither one of us were particularly interested.

Obligatorily, we started listening to Dangerous Woman. I remember hearing “Moonlight,” the very first track, for the first time and immediately instant messaging M to say “I cannot believe this, but I am impressed – you have to listen to this right now.” We both started to play the album and Ari’s back catalog and pretty soon it became unclear to me who we were more excited to see.

This was in November, I believe, and the concert was end of February, so the subsequent months were completely and totally centered around the event to come. We discussed a Plan of Action™, we curated our outfit visions. We expressed disbelief that we were going to be in the same room as our girlband heroes. We spent an entire preparatory weekend at my friend’s house in New Jersey. We went to the mall to shop for outfits, we drank wine and did face masks, we squealed over and over again because the concert was in two short weeks! Our friendship revolved around this show, and it was pure madness. I’d never had this type of experience when I was younger, so I was thoroughly enjoying it.

The night before the show, I had the intense feeling of anticipation and excitement that I previously only ever felt the night before traveling. I could not believe that sort of feeling could be applied to a concert, and a pop concert nonetheless. Who would’ve thought? I felt like a child; it was wonderful.I realized that I don’t really feel pure unadulterated excitement over indie shows. That doesn’t shock me, but it was nice to know that I still could feel excitement over a concert. The day finally arrived, and my friend and I spent the entire day in a teenage dream – we watched the latest episode of Riverdale, had afternoon coffee to get us ready for our long night, and danced around my room to a playlist of Little Mix and Ariana Grande while we got ready, as girls are wont to do. We walked out of my apartment feeling like a million bucks. The day was as perfect as we knew the night was going to be.

I was unfamiliar with Victoria Monet and we arrived about halfway through her set. To be honest, I found her performance a bit awkward. Much like the Jessica Simpson concert, it was a pretty blank stage (this time completely devoid of musicians), and she just sort of danced provocatively and sang. I liked her voice, but her show didn’t cinch me.

Begrudgingly, I’ll admit that I felt Little Mix’s set was short (just six songs) and blatantly catered to their most accessible hits. It was a little disappointing. I cannot say that I blame whoever made this decision, but as a huge fan of theirs I really would’ve appreciated at least one deep cut. However, there’s no denying that they performed their songs to perfection, and it was a mix that I think showcased their talent. I think the part I loved most about their performance was that you could see very apparently that they are first and foremost friends. I remember Jesy first addressed the Garden by saying, “I want to introduce you all to my three best friends.” It was so heartwarming.

And then there was Ariana. She is a powerhouse. Wow. Her set was nearly two hours and she just kept going and going and going. I thought she was really impressive, although I have to say that for one of the largest pop stars in the world, I think I expected a bit more from her stage design. There were moderate pyrotechnics and plenty of lasers, but the stage itself was rather stationary. I do have to say that I appreciate the points made in this NYT article, so I’m still rather torn on this subject. But I loved her set, and she blessed us with”Jason’s Song (Gave it Away)” which came out of left field but I was so excited!

I could probably say something more insightful about the music or concert – I mean, I feel like I glossed over it all a little bit – but when I think about it, for me this event was primarily about anticipating and experiencing seeing really awesome,strong, and talented women kill it on stage with one of my closest awesome, strong, and talented friends by my side. That’s all there is to it.

And if there’s even a slight chance that I can repeat this sort of pure fun and empowering experience by continuing to go to pop concerts, then I well and truly want to go to all of the pop concerts. Every last one.

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Survivor Man

I’ve recently seen several articles about artists that are battling assorted types of loss pop up on my radar. I think I’m most looking forward to Richard Edwards’ new solo album, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset. The first single, “Disappeared Planets,” paints a pretty accurate picture of the massive feelings that are associated with losing something; in Edwards’ case it’s a relationship. But feelings of loss translate to and permeate other types of loss, which is why I think I’m particularly drawn to it as a theme in songs.

Begrudgingly, I am not a musician. I don’t have a catalog of songs that speak my own emotions, but I like to think that I’m pretty well-equipped to carve out paths for myself in other musicians’ works. I think the same can be said of any music lover.

This playlist is something that I’ve been working on for the past five months and some change. It is simultaneously personal and impersonal in that only a few songs speak directly to the subject of my own grief. I sort of couldn’t bare to include artists or songs that were too relevant. The rest of the songs speak only to me – they quantify the huge emotions that I have felt in this last near-half a year of my life. I guess the criteria for this collection was any song that thematically or in a single line shook me to my very core, made me think, Yeah, they get it. If it seems like the entire thing is a tribute to Sam Phillips, well, I can only say, she gets it.

I don’t usually configure playlists in a specific order, but I’ve tried to achieve some sort of narrative here that covers all of the major waves: confusion, dissatisfaction, anger, sadness. It covers emotional black holes like being jilted, misguided elation, facing an impasse, feeling forced to reinvent the wheel. It twists and turns and loops back around to the beginning, because surviving loss is as much a process as it is a journey.

 

“Survivor Man” is:

  1. Hole in My Pocket – Sam Phillips
  2. Kicking Roses – Benjamin Francis Leftwich
  3. Unfucktheworld – Angel Olsen
  4. Okkervil River R.I.P. – Okkervil River
  5. The Industry – Okkervil River
  6. Broken Stones – Paul Weller
  7. One Less Bell to Answer – The 5th Dimension
  8.  I’m Not a Part of Me – Cloud Nothings
  9. I Did Something Weird Last Night – Jeff Rosenstock
  10. I Love You, What Are You? – Gene
  11. Working Titles – Damien Jurado
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