With cliché behind and austerity ahead, where can performers turn?

When submission to stereotype promises an audience, who could say no?

The public has been positively groveling for more Critical Party Studies. Well, clean yourself up. The blog is back.

Revisiting Rich the Kid at Brooklyn Steel

Reading Simon Reynolds’ Retromania has made me feel kind of bad about how I wrote about mosh-pit trap in my last post. There’s another way to look at the incessant “turn the / fuck / up”-ness of rap performance in the late 2010s, and that’s as a response to the brutal economic margins under which artists operate their live shows these days. The relative austerity (for artists) of the streaming landscape has forced artists to look to touring to get their bread buttered, and if you’re not Kendrick Lamar, the instrumentalists are likely getting cut. It may seem merely easier to pay a DJ and some dudes from down the street than it is to develop a “production” in the sense that we’re used to, but it’s also cheaper, which is often more important. So, rappers have embraced the austerity of the empty stage, expanding more frugally in the dimensions of energy and persona. And it can work—Kanye did it best, by taking it to the extreme: on the Saint Pablo Tour, he cut out a piece of that void, an inversion of John Berger with his razor blade in Ways of Seeing, and piloted it into the crowd. Then there was nothing but void. The directionality of the concert was abolished, leaving behind the unity of nothingness. Just Kanye and all of us, together in negative space.

So, that’s one way to do it: reduce performance to its sinew and instrumentalize the inherent tension of a vacuum. Fuck a light show, open up the pit. Not every artist has the charisma to survive this tension without leaving their production seeming merely undercooked, though, as was the case with Rich the Kid.

Carly Rae Jepsen plays the Hammerstein Ballroom

I was thinking about this while Carly Rae Jepsen played the Hammerstein Ballroom.

There wasn’t a lot left on the table by the time Carly Rae Jepsen showed up. The world was beginning to realize that it wanted the right edge of left field more than it wanted the left edge of center field (congratulations on the Grammys, Billie).

At the Hammerstein Ballroom, it was clear that Jepsen, arriving as she did at the twilight of an age when white women could get away with making pop music without straight-backs or Air Jordans, was operating under an austerity not dissimilar to that which trap artists are experiencing.

Her strategy for producing connection with her audience, though, was more traditional.

For someone like me who never shuts up about nostalgia, Carly Rae Jepsen is simply a gift. Her music is an assemblage of millennial unmemory (I get to write like this on the blog), Reagan-era rebellion on aspartame, a guiltless 1987, joy as an act of resistance, but without all the resistance.

At the center of this mosaic, Carly Rae Jepsen can assume her role as a figurehead—here are all the trappings of the pop queen: the dances, the outfits. But rather than her queendom emerging from her own idiosyncrasies, Carly Rae Jepsen has been shunted into a stereotype, a collective imagining of divahood.

It’s pandering, in short, which doesn’t make it bad! It’s a lot to ask for an artist to invest in being singular in times like these.

Other Stuff

  • Since I last posted I’ve written some reviews and previews for The Bowery Presents. I’ve done write-ups for them about Mitski, Flying Lotus and more.

  • Again, don’t problematize me on my own blog.

  • I’m fascinated and captivated by this track off of Ted Hawkins’ Watch Your Step, which seems to be a never-used jingle for the now-defunct airline TWA:

    It may be presumptuous of me to read a deep sadness into it, but reader, that’s never stopped me before. And if you’ve never heard Watch Your Step, it might be the greatest blues album ever recorded.

  • For the love of God, listen to the new album While My Father Sleeps from Olympia, Washington band Oh, Rose (and pay me to write about them if you have the power to do so).

That’s it! Can you believe I do this for free? Me neither—pay me to write by clicking here. As always, the Instagram for this project is @CriticalPartyStudies and you can e-mail me at criticalpartystudies@gmail.com if you want to talk. Subscribe and tell your friends if you think it’s good!