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Author: Victoria Shell
Epileptic Singer-Songwriter & Independent Music Journalist.
The Art of Making a Playlist
Playlists are a communication tool in music, from the highest level artists to the average listener. In this article, I will talk about the art of making a playlist & how I curate music based on the vibe. That’s what curating music is all about (for me) – an understanding of a vibe translated into music. However, everything about music is an individual experience and there are millions of ways to make playlists. This is just one of them.
So, my first rule of making a playlist is that there are literally no rules. There is no right or wrong way to make a playlist. It’s not about if a song is good or bad; it’s about if the vibe is right.
The vibe is the room’s energy, the car, or the setting in which music is shared. The moment someone passes you the aux cord, you aren’t just in charge of the music – you are officially the vibe controller. You have to tune yourself in to the vibe of the setting and choose a piece that either fits in the vibe or transitions the vibe into what you/the group want it to be. Questions to ask yourself to pinpoint the vibe are:
How am I feeling?
How are the people around me feeling?
In what setting is music being played?
What are we doing or going to do?
What is the purpose of the music being played?
Is it just for the background, or will people be actively listening, singing, dancing, or crying?
What do yall need to get from this music on this playlist?
Now let’s talk about the order of the playlist. I have playlists strictly for shuffling and others that I put together the same way albums are put together, so it’s intended to be played in a particular order. I also have playlists that can be played in order and on shuffle because some people don’t give a fuck either way, which is totally fine.
If you want to put something in order, here is my thought process when I do that.
Start with one song, and from that song, follow the vibe. From beginning to end, listen to the energy projected through that song, how it’s hitting your ear, and where your ear wants it to go next. There’s a moment at the end of listening to a song when you’re waiting to hear what’s up next, and in making a playlist, you aren’t waiting – you’re choosing. So you get to decide where the vibe goes, and if you trust your ear, you just kind of follow down the rabbit hole of the song you started with or the situation you started with – whatever sparked the idea of the playlist. Whether it’s a song, a problem, or a moment in time – you are curating the vibe through music based on that concept.
Music is ultimately a language, and playlists are like journal entries. They are picture collages of moments or thoughts in my life that I get to replay and live in every time I press play. Sometimes they are stupid, occasionally sad, and sometimes purely for shaking my ass. Still, they always feel good because I curated them for myself and for the feelings I was experiencing reflected in that music. Thus, when I share them with others, they feel that energy, too, making a playlist good.
Playlists are little music communities in themselves. Sharing your community with other people is what has allowed music to develop throughout all of history. From sending handwritten sheet music via messenger bird to burning illegal CDs from LimeWire to now making playlists on streaming services, it’s all a way of connecting.
Another part of playlist making I find important is the playlist cover. You eat with your eyes, right? When your food is coming over, and your mouth starts watering because it just looks so good – that’s how I feel about playlists & album covers. That’s the first taste you get of the vibe, and it’s so much fun to play around with what you can do on a playlist cover. If I am not drawn in by that, I probably won’t even look at it unless the name is funny or something. It doesn’t mean the playlist is terrible, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve been invited into it if that makes sense. When I can see that someone took the time to match the vibe from the music, to the cover image, to the title – the perfect trifecta of playlist making just sweeps me right into it. That is really what a good playlist boils down to, in my opinion – the vibe being curated, not the music itself.
I hope you walk away from today’s write-up with a newfound love of playlists and how they function in music. Below you’ll find some of my favorite themed playlists to check out if you’re interested. I would love to see what you listen to & how you think someone else should listen to it. You can submit playlists on Instagram (@yallshouldlisten) via DM or leave a comment here. Happy Listening!
The word ‘small’ in music is really subjective, depending on the context and the method of consumption and a million other things – but in this context, all the artists on this list have less than 300k listeners on Spotify. From hyper pop to soul pop and everything in between, here are 22 of my favorite small artists I’m bringing into the new year.
All of these artists bring a special something to the table for me, and I had a blast putting all my favs into a playlist just for you.
Check it out here:
The Bedlam in Goliath by The Mars Volta.
The Mars Volta is a progressive rock band that came out of El Paso Texas, primarily made up of 2 members. Lead guitarist, producer and band director Omar Rodrigues Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala, who was the groups lyricist and lead vocalist. You also have other band members that we will talk about through the story.
The album we are talking about today, The Bedlam in Goliath, was released in January 2008 as their fourth studio album, but the path to release was a nightmare for everyone involved. It all started 2 years prior, in 2006, when Omar took a trip to Jerusalem for inspiration for the band next album. While exploring his surroundings, he happened upon a small shop of curiosities from the area, filled with antiques, mementos, and at first glance looked like just another shop for tourist. However, upon closer inspection, they also sold sacrilegious items and artifacts. Omar was drawn towards a very old ouija-type spirit board, but not like one of them toyrs r us carboard things. This was made of wood and inscribed with texts in ancient languages. Omar purchased the board as a gift for his band mate, Cedric, and brought it back to the states. They hired two translators to decipher exactly what the messages were on the board.
The first translator looked at the board, and swiftly returned the money and said that he wanted nothing to do with that board or the band ever again.
The second translator didn’t transcribe the text word for what, but he said the messages were written as if they were songs or chants, and that the band would find out what it meant soon enough. Cedric was going through a really bad bout of writers block at this time, and Omar hoped this would maybe be an opportunity to get some inspiration. They weren’t wrong..
At the time, they were on tour with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the board quickly became apart of their after-show ritual. Cedric called the board The Soothsayer. The more they used the board, the more information they got from the spirit held within it. They were contacted by an entity called Goliath, who presented in three different forms: A Man, A Woman, and a young girl. Golaith would give the band stories, names as well as make demands.The demands started pretty innocently, a bottle of rum here and some flowers there. The more they met the demands, the more material they were given. As Goliath was sending messages, Cedric was using them to write most of the music that makes up the album. A lot of the songs are based directly on those messages, specifically the interpersonal relationships between the 3 identities that made up Goliath. The sessions with the board became more and more frquent, and we know if supply is low, and demand is high, the prices go up. Goliath knew that too, and as more and more music was being transcribed, the more severe the demands got. To the point of Goliath directly rewuesting to switch places with someone outside of the board so that they could roam. Omar and Cedric refused, and this is where everything really starts to unravel. A plague of bad luck swept over this band in close succession, so here is a shortlist of things I could find:
- Their drummer at the time, Blake Flemming, quit the band in the middle of tour unexpectedly and left them in a really bad financial position.
- Cedric suffered a freak foot injury that was so severe he later had to have surgery, and re-learn how to walk.
- Their bassist, Juan Alderete, was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.
- Omars studio flooded not once, but twice, and suffered multiple power outages at random times throughout recording.
- Audio files would dissappear in the midst of a session, as they were actively working on them.
- The engineer who was working on the album had a complete mental breakdown, saying directly to Omar, “I’m not going to help you make this record. You’re trying to make me crazy and you’re trying to make people crazy.” The engineer stole the tapes and files they had worked on thus far, and they were only retreived when the band hired someone to break into the mans home and get them back to complete them. I’d like to add here that he didnt know anything about the board, as it was only used in private writing sessions and kept on the low.
Now Omar had reached a breaking point. They had cycled through studios, engineers, drummers, and a laundry list of paranormal phenomena that put everyone in a bad position. Omar had been raised in a family that practiced Santeria, a spiritual religion originating from Cuba. He decided to make a plan to rid themselves of the bad luck brought forward by the board. The first thing he did was take the board to an unknown remote location, break it in half, wrap it in cloth and bury it. He then considered scrapping the album entirely, and starting with something new, but came to the conclussion that what they really needed to do was combat the negative energy with positive energy within the music compositions. Towards the end of 2007, He returned to the studio with a new engineer, Robert Carrannza, and a new drummer Thomas Pridgen. The three of them, and Cedric, then began a three week stint in the studio. They would record no more than 3 takes an hour, as a way to juice out every bit of material. They took what had been created so far, and Pridgen started incorporating upbeat rhythms with Cedrics traditional Santeria lyrics that he believed would act as a veil of protection over the band and the album. The idea was that any bad luck that had come through the soothsayer into the music would be cancelled out by the later additions to the album.
The album was finally released on January 29th, 2008. It was very successful for them, and they did many interviews about the creation process and all of the madness that ensued. They even sold a ouija board planchet reminscent of the board as merch. The band continued until 2012. Omar and Cedric would have a falling out, which Cedric said was “4 years in the making.” They now make music separately, and the tale of Goliath is forever solidifed in music history. There are of course many skeptics in the world, and a lot of people didn’t buy the story. Claiming it was either a publicity stunt or the band on drugs. I have two counter-points on that. The first of which being that they were sober at this time, as years prior to any of this happening they had a bandmate pass away from an overdose and had been clean ever since. regarding it being a publicity stunt, it’s possible, but the actual physical ailments and process of this album being created were not fabricated. The floods, the accidents, the production was very well documented even by people who never knew about the board itself. I suggest you go listen to the album, and you tell me what you think. Could a work like this have been written without the help of a powerful spiritual entity?
Many fans of The Mars Volta regard this as their favorite album, and while I was deep diving on reddit for information for this video I came across a very curious post I’d like to share just for some thoughts. A year ago on a subreddit called r/shadowpeople, a woman shared a peculiar story which just so happened to involve this album. The story takes place in Canyon Lake, Texas.
“My ex’s parents were divorced and they awere in the process of selling this house that they had lived in when my ex was a teenager. It was nestled in the hill country off the road. It was pretty isolated, and their was always a strange energy to the house. Almost like you could feel it breathing. Like it was alive. The hill country surrounding the home was filled with an inexplicable darkness and quiet at night that was eerie. It felt like we were being watched. One particular instance, my ex, my friend and I were hotboxing the car and listening to The Mars Voltas The Bedlam In Goliath. Things got pretty intense for us, to the point where we all felt like there were groups of shadow people standing at the edge of the woods next to the driveway watching us, surrounding us. The moon was bright and you could see the blackness of the tree line, the shapes of the people almost visible. We all fell really silent out of nowhere, until my friend stated that we should go inside. We all agreed, the energy was almost stifling at that point.”
The post goes on to talk about more experiences on the property, I’ll link it at the end of the article if you’d like to read for yourself. First of all, no one but Omar knows where the board is buried. Not sayings its on that property but ya never know, just a thought. But really what got me was maybe it’s not about where the album is buried, but where its being played. Perhaps when Omar broke the board and buried it, he gave Goliath got the escape he had demanded at the beginning, removing the spirit attachment from the band and sending it to the masses through the distribution of the album itself. I guess you’ll just have to play the album, and find out for yourself. Just be careful, you never know who’s watching.
For an audio/video version of this post, check out the YouTube Channel:
Elizabeth Eaton Converse was born on August 3rd, 1924 in Laconia New Hampshire. Laconia is a smaller city, and I’m sure it was even smaller back then but it has been classified as a city since 1893. She was born into a pretty strict religious family, her father Ernest Converse was a Baptist preacher. She had one younger brouther named Phil, and an older brother named Paul but I couldn’t find much about him at all, as well as her Evelyn. Phil said that they were pretty isolated from their parents growing up, like they were there but uninvolved outsite of discipline, which wasn’t uncommon for that time period.
She hated the name and Elizabeth as well as the accompanying common nicknames. She doesn’t get the Connie nickname until later, but that is what I’ll be referring to her as.
Connie was creative and curious in childhood. She enjoyed painting, writing short stories, and exploring music. She and her brother would quiz each other on world history, invent games, and re-enact Shakespearean plays. Phil said he learned more culture at her knee than he ever did in school. However, she always had a certain air of sadness around her. A close friend of Connie had committed when they were younger, and while everyone else was speaking about it in the community Connie was quiet. She felt that it was a private matter that shouldn’t be discussed and that taking one’s life is very personal. Her brother quoted her to say, “If anything should be left up to a person, it should be whether or not to live.” She was enlightened in a way that few other people could understand, which always left her on the outside looking in.
Connie was also very intelligent. All throughout school, she had high marks and even graduated valedictorian from Concord High School. She also was given various academic awards, and at the ceremony, as they were reading out the awards, Connie’s parents were actually embarrassed instead of proud. They felt as though the awards should have been spread out more fairly…
After high school, Connie set out for college at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the school her mother and grandmother attended before her. At college, she was introduced to a whole new world, having her first taste of life outside her strict religious upbringing. She began going by Connie.
During this time she began drinking and smoking, as plenty of people do at college. for her parents this was unacceptable. It was even more unacceptable when she dropped out of college in her second year to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. Connie’s parents refused to support her and were devastated by the choices Connie had made at that point. Her father specifically was so upset that he died without ever hearing her music. Despite protests, from her parents, Connie carried forward with what she wanted, and thank god for that.
Connie moved to New York City and got a job at the Academy Photo Offset Printing house. In her free time, she was writing and performing her music, hauntingly comforting tunes accompanied by herself on the guitar. Connie’s music was nothing like anyone had heard before, she had no idea that one day she would be looked back on as one of the first prolific singer/songwriters. Her brother Phil said that Connie wrote because she had to, as a form of coping with life. She had over 40 songs within her body of work, consisting of original lyricism, poems put with music, feminist anthems, and her own experiences spun into metaphorical melodies. Her music left a lasting impression, and in 1954 the right person finally heard Connie.
Gene Deitch came across Connie at a performance was struck by her sophisticated writing and evocative instrumentation. He said there were many better singers, but few were as intelligent, literate, or beautiful as Connie. That year, Gene brought Connie to his home studio and they recorded several songs. She soon after had her first and only television appearance, on the CBS Morning Show with Walter Cronkite. Unfortunately, the world wasn’t ready for music like Connies. She truly was one of the first artists in the singer/songwriter genre.
She carried on for a while, but in 1961 Bob Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village and swept up the audiences Connie had been trying to capture for 10 years. At that point, Connie was tired. She hadn’t gotten any contracts or deals, always met with rejection letters telling her she wasn’t sellable. Later that year, Connie leaves New York City and her musical dreams behind. She moved to Ann Arbour Michigan to be closer to her brother, got a job as a Secretary at the University of Michigan where her brother was a professor. She then moved to work as a writer for the Journal of Conflict Resolution. Slowly, she stopped writing or recording any music at all. She slipped heavier into her drinking and smoking, and despite liking her job, Connie was a generally sad person at this point. Her brother said she was depressed in ways nobody understood.
She wasn’t satisfied. All of this just got worse in 1972, when the journal she worked with for 10 years had been auctioned off to Yale without her knowledge. Her colleagues were so concerned about Connie’s state that they raised money to send her on a trip to London to boost her spirits, and she did go, but on her arrival home nothing had changed. The trip did not magically cure her dissatisfaction with life. Nonetheless, her mother decided to give the trip idea one more try and took Connie on a vacation to Alaska. Connie was miserable, and when they got home and she saw her mother already planning round 2, it only pushed her further into the hole.
It was around this time as well that Connie found out she would need a hysterectomy. This was devastating news to Connie, who had always been fond of children. After the hysterectomy, Connie was at an all-time low. She truly could not catch a break, so she decided to make a break for it.
In 1974, her brother invited her away for the summer but Connie declined. She spent June and July packing up her belongings and storing them in her brother’s attic, and in her Volkswagon beetle. Among the things stored was a filing cabinet filled to the brim with every label rejection Connie had ever received, labeled and organized, and left for the dust.
In August, around what would be her 50th birthday, Connie wrote letters to all of her loved ones. In these letters, she detailed her deterioration and her loss of passion for life and spoke about how she was going to pursue a new life. She said all efforts thus far by friends and the people of Ann Arbour were appreciated but failed to make her feel better. The full letter will be linked in the description below, but I would like to read an excerpt that I found to be the best representation of the tone of the letter.
“Let me go. Let me be if I can. Let me not be if I cant…To survive it all, I expect I must drift back down through the other half to the twentieth twentieth, which I already know pretty well, to the hundredth hundredth, which I only read and heard about. I might survive there quite a few years – – who knows? But you understand I have to do it by myself, with no benign umbrella. Human society fascinates me and awes me and fills me with grief and joy; I just can’t find my place to plug into it. So let me go, please; and please accept my thanks to those happy times that each of you has given me over the years; and please know that I would’ve preferred to give you more than I ever did or could – – I am in everyone’s debt.”
By the time these words reached their recipients, Connie was already gone. At 50 years old, she packed up her Volkswagen and disappeared. Neither she nor her car was ever seen again.
There are many theories about what happened or didn’t happen to Connie, and why or why not it happened. Connie before she left had asked Phil to continue paying her health insurance. Beyond that, allegedly a friend of Connie’s had received a phone call from her sometime in 1975 or 1976, at least a year after her disappearance. In this phone call, Connie apologized to the friend for setting her up with a man who the friend had recently divorced. This was the last time anyone even claimed to hear from Connie. There were small leads, even a private investigator at one point, but to this day we don’t know what happened. Her brother had lots of thoughts about it and suspected she may have committed suicide by driving herself and her car into a body of water. Her letters could be interpreted by many as a certain type of goodbye.
It wasn’t until 2004 when her legacy would be reignited again, by the only man to ever give her a shot, to begin with: Gene Deitch. In January of 2004, now 80 years old, Gene appeared on a radio show hosted by music Historian David Garland, where he brought along a scratchy recording of Connie’s song ‘One By One. Two of Garland’s listeners, Dan Dzula and David Herman, were so enthralled by the music that they tracked down the rest of Connie’s Discography. Some of it is in Genes collection in Prague, as well as a library in Ann Arbor where they found tracks Connie had sent to her brother in the late 50s. The two new Connie Fans created a music label called Squirrel Things Recordings, the name being a lyric from one of Connie’s most famous songs Talkin’ Like You (Two Tall Mountains). In 2009, after decades of collecting dust, Connie’s music was finally heard and appreciated when her first album was officially released.
How Sad How lovely was first released in 2009 as 17 songs, then re-released in 2015 with 18 songs. Since then, we have also gotten an album of Connie’s piano songs and a new single just this year. I find it so interesting how Connie’s album title eerily is a summary of her own life story before she knew it. How sad it was that it happened how it did, but how lovely that even in her absence her music has solidified her legacy as one of the most important and mysterious songwriters in all of music history.
For an audio/video version of this story, check out the YouTube channel and this video on Connie:
My Controversial Music Opinions…
I am a very opinionated person, but here is the thing: opinions are opinions, not fact, so if you disagree with me that’s okay! Feel free to make your case in the comments, and if you agree, make sure y’all are debating with me down there. This is a mix of opinions, serious ones, some hot takes, all based on the wiring in my specific brain ok? With all that being said, let’s get into it.
- First things first, there is no such thing as a bad taste in music. If you are someone who shits on someone elses music taste unironically, I hate to be the one to tell you this but you are annoying. Let’s break the word taste down first, okay? Taste is defined as a persons liking for particular flavors. In food, every single person on the planet has different taste preferences, ingredients and meals that just don’t sit right with them, it all depends on your personal taste buds and the reaction your body has to what you’re consuming. Why don’t people look at music taste that way? Everyone has different flavor preferences, that doesn’t mean your musical taste buds are any better than mine, it just means we don’t like the same flavor profiles babe. You should listen to music like you’re exploring a new food.
- I might be bias on this next one, but let me say my piece. I will take a phenomenal alto over the worlds greatest soprano every single day of the week. Altos never get the appreciation they deserve in choirs, in theatre, in any application of harmony the altos are carrying and the credit is overdue. Altos deserve all your love and attention, always. The vocal range of an alto is so gorgeous and luscious and velvety, it works in every single setting and vibe whether it be a campfire acoustic little get together or a national stage, an alto in their prime energy strikes your soul. If you put me on a deserted island and I had to choose between an alto or a soprano, im choosing the alto because honestly I think they are more reslliant. The social structure of being an alto toughens you up, and thats a fact.
- Everyone takes genre way too seriously. Every single genre is a subgenre of another genre that came before it, or its a leg off a branch of a tree from a genre that was stolen from another genre, and it goes on and on.When people say, “I only listen to _____ music.” I always wanna say you are lying, because whatever genre they say they only lisen to is always a mix of other genres and filled with so much context that is not captured by the one word genres we use. It is my belief that Genres should be used as a GPS to finding music you like, a navigation tool that points you towards a vibe. If you are only listening to one genre of music, reconsider what genre means. I think I’m gonna make a longer video about this because I could go on about how I think genres are borderline obsolete for HOURS!!! Anyway, onto the next..
- This one is really really important and I need y’all to listen carefully. Nickelback is a fucking good band, and they always have been a good band, and they deserve credit for the absolute bops they gave me throughout my childhood. This is how you remind me, If Today was Your Last Day, Rockstar, Animals, and thats just to name a FEW! The music videos are iconic, the energy is there, and I will forever and always be a nickelback stan. That’s all.
- Artists do not ever owe you a specific sound. Just because you liked what they did on a previous album does not mean they are obligated to stick within that space for any amount of time. Artists are artists, and should have the flexibility to create that art however they want to. This is the only way that artists can truly flow with themselves in their music. I am both an artist and a fan in music. As an artist, my job is to create. As a fan, my job is to consume. I, as a fan, am not entitled to those creations though. It’s my job to listen to it, see the vibe and if its something that makes it into the rotation, or if I’m gonna just stick with the stuff I have liked from that artist throughout the rest of their discography. I can understand the attachment to the sounds that artist develop, especially if you find them during certain times of your life, but the artist isn’t required to replicate that feeling for you. When fans demand or shit on their favs when a new album comes out, it makes no sense to me and I don’t think yall are real fans of the artist, rather than a fan of that one particular sound you got from them in one instance.
- Disco is one of the most fun genres of music and it will always be good. People who don’t like disco should seek therapy, honestly. Out of the whole genre, you can’t get down to one song? No boogie in you at all? Aside from the music, the whole era is everything. The clothes, the clubs, the stars, Disco is everything. There will never be a day that I deny Disco, not on this channel. I don’t even understand why people don’t like it, they just say they don’t and act like thats normal. What’s up with that?
- Next up, the quality of recording does not equal how good or bad a piece of music is. The amount of music technology advancements in the last 20 years is unbelievable, but before that last few decades it wasn’t about the quality of the recording but the quality of the artist and their portrayal of a song. In today’s time, I can understand the desire for the highest of production quality in music, but this contributes so much to how exclusive the music industry is. There are many artists who simply do not have the means to secure a studio space, whhether it be home made or a profesional space, should they wait until they have all that to release their music? I think not. You can always re-record stuff when you get to the next level. Listen for the artist, the lyrics and the instruments, the emotions that person is exploring in that performance. None of that can be defined by the quality o f the recording, in most cases. Obviously if its like blown out and literally messed up, that’s different but I’m talking just about what would be considered amatuer or mediocre recording set ups.
- A piece of music does not have to have significant meaning or or value to be a good song. Songs that are witten just because are unique as they allow you to really give it a meaning for yourself. Attaching your own memories to music is a magical way to widen your music taste and perspective on your life. Not every song needs to be a sweeping gut wrenching tale or fantastical interpretation of the grand meaning of life. Peanut Butter by RuPaul is one of my favorite songs of all time, and the lyrics are not emotionally meaningful to me but the situations in which I have played that song are. This leads to my last and most important controversial opinion.
- This is the opinion on which the principles of my entire brand are built. You do not need to be educated, or good at music at all in order for your opinion and your experiences with music to be valid. For context, I just graduated last month with a music degree. After I have that degree physically in my hand I am going to make a much more in depth about music education, BUT I want to drive home that my love and passion for music has never been found in an academic setting. Music is a feeling that you aren’t going to find reading about it or having someone, even me, talk your ears off about it. All of that is just to point you towards experiencing the actual music, which you do not need formal education for. Babies fresh out of the womb can have opinions on music, they just can’t speak them yet. But I know y’all have had to see those videos of babys calming down when their parents put on a song they like, or the ones dancing around with big smiles on even though they dont know what the hell is going on. It’s a feeling, a transfer of energy. Music is everywhere, and putting boundaries on who can or cannot listen to certain types of music or who can or can not have an opinion on music is not productive to the music community. In this space, if you listen to music and you have something to say about it, I wanna hear it. With that being said, make sure to leave your comments below on what you agreed or didn’t agree with so we can argue about it or celebrate our matching energies.
For an audio/video version of this post, check out the YouTube Channel:
Today we are going to be talking about the Parasocial relationships between fans and artists, and the resulting fan culture that contributes to dangerous sitations such as the Astroworld casualties. Let me first be clear and say that I feel that Travis is directly responsible for what happened at this one particular event. As the headlining and organzing artist, he had the most power in that situation and chose to contribute to the deaths of his fans – and he was caught doing so in 4k. With that being said, there is a larger conversation to be had about how we, as consumers of music, have to change the way we participate in music culture. There was a lack of empathy within the audience that has been curated by social media, idolization of celebrities, and a severe misunderstanding of the real relationship between fans and artists. Fan culture needs a hard reset.
First, let’s talk about what the hell parasocial relationships are. Parasocial relationships are one sided relationships, that can psychologically feel like face to face relationships you would develop in your day to day life. But they aren’t, they are mediated and curated by one side. When you see a celebrity in person, you’re immediate thought might be, “Holy shit, I know them.” or something along those lines. The reality though, is that you don’t actually know them. You recognize them and you have in one way or another looked at their life through the lense that they, and their entire team of management, curated for you to see. These aren’t your besties, they aren’t actually directly speaking to you specifically as a fan. I know that sounds like I might be over explaining, but genuinely, as I sit on twitter and watch hoards of fandoms harass people and artists knowingly inciting behavior from their unhinged fanbases, I feel like it needs to be over explained. The lack of awareness from the fan side of the artist-fan parasocial relationship is a really slippery slope, and is the catalyst for targedies like Astroworld to happen.
You should never be so enthralled by an artist that you would literally trample over the people in front of you just to get that much closer to them. Life is not a fanfic, none of us are actually y/n. We have to understand that our behaviors as individuals within a fandom directly contribute to the culture of that artist and the resulting culture at their events and in their spaces on the internet. If you don’t have that parasocial boundary with the artists you listen to, it allows them the ooportunity to use that to their advantage. Travis Scott has incited this behavior from fans for years. The Barbz have gone to the ends of the earth to try and save whatever is left of Miss Minajs reputation all across the internet, as if this person they idolize is actual family or something. Back in the day, and I was here and participated because I didn’t know better, The One Direction fandom was absolutely unhinged beyond repair. The swifties and the directioners were literally at WAR when RED came out the first time. Fan Culture has only continued to get more dangerous and less empathetic as time goes on, trading the fan to fan personal relationships for clawing at any chance to have a real relationship with the artist when that is not reality. Both fans and artists are in compromised positions of safety when the boundaries of that relationship are not clear. Look at how many artists have been killed because of fans that did not grasp the reality of what a parasocial relationship was. Look at how many fans have been killed. There is no reason why this should be happening, and it is horrifying.
You should never have to go to a concert and be in fear of your fellow fans trampling over you. You shouldn’t be scared to voice a valid opinion about an artist out of fear that their fanbases are going to obliterate you on the internet. Celebrities are people, yes, but they are not your friends. They give you the illusion of y’all being friends so that their careers can continue. Now, this is not to say that no artist actually carees about their fans. That isn’t true either. Of course artists love their fans, they wouldn’t be able to do literally anything without them. You have hundreds of thousands of people who are listening to your art and telling you how much they love you and how much your music has impacted them, and you are sharing that experience with them in some way but you have to know that you’re looking at it from two separate sides of the coin. You are one body in that sea of hundreds of thousands of people. When artists say, I love my fans, they mean exactly that. Even when they say, each and every one of you, yes in theory they appreciate every single person that contributes to them in one way or another. In application, they do not know you individually exist like that. They don’t know your life like you know theirs, but they give you the ollusion of knowing that life through writing relatable misic that really does sometimes feel like it was written just for you. But it wasn’t. It was written for them, and then shared with you as a fan by choice through more hoops and loops of management than you or I could imagine, but all you see is that artist on twitter and insta posting about how excited they are to share this with YOU. But its not you, as in individual, its y’all. All of y’all, including me.
I have to check myself all the time as a fan, like I will be knee deep in the Kacey Musgraves subreddit fighting for my life and then I take a step back and I’m like… girl get a grip you don’t even know her, like I am guilty of idolizing artists just as much as the next guy. Then I take another step back and I’m like… why am I arguing with other fans? We are supposed to be in the same boat, right? You have to question and reflect on your own behavior to gain a better understanding of the dynamics in these parasocial relationships with celebrities. Music is a community, started through shared emotions and experiences. The most important relationship in music should not be the ones betweens fans and artists, but just between the fans themselves. That is your real community, where the shared experiences are actual real. Celebrity artists do not relate to their music in the same way that you we do, they don’t have a normal life experience anymore. The fans, the people who you are trampling over to be seen, are the people you should be looking at. That is where real life frienships and relationships with music are developed. I don’t have any fond memories of me looking at artists instagrams and boosting their algorithms, I have many fond memories of dancing with my friends and crying and laughing and screaming together about our shared experiences with songs. It’s taken time for me to gain awareness after being literally raised in this culture on the internet of idolizing celebrities. Holding the celebrities accountable for their actions and abuse of fan culture is important, but that only addresses the cause and not the symptom, which is this nasty, unwelcoming, literally fight for your life space of music culture that makes musisicians into god-like figures. Every artist youve ever heard was a fan first, they were you and me. I will always have special places in my heart for certain artists and feel connected to them, but I am not actually connected to them. I am connected to the music they shared with the hundreds of thousands of fans, me being one of them. It’s my experiences that define those songs, not the artists that wrote it.
The next time you go to a concert or watch one online, take a minute to really look at the picture. The artist, on stage, elevated and separated from the audience delivering the experience to the thousands of people in the crowd. Every single one of those people have their own relationship with music, and these particular songs, just like you do. You are all in that moment together and it’s such a magical opportunity to have that shared experience, those are life changing music moments I have had them. Looking back now though, the artist was only the vessel. The fans and the feeling of knowing everybody else in the room was just as excited as I was, THAT is the magic of going to a concert. Artists are just artists without fans, then they become celebrities. Celebrties cannot share your reality, they have been removed and filtered from it for the sake of developing an audience. Having that knowledge, knowing the boundaries of parasocial relationships as a fan is crucial to making a change in music culture as we look towards the future. If we want a safer, less exclusive music community than we have to make that change ourselves. Idolization makes money for a lot of Artists, which is why you see so many create random business brands. They know people will buy it even if its not good, just because. Industry professionals are not going to be too inclined to change the fan culture that upholds the current standards of the music industry, so it has to come from the fans themselves. We have more power than we think as individuals, but it’s easy to have been convinced otherewise by the internet we’ve been rasied on.
All of this is to say that in the wake of this weeks events, it is time that everybody who listens or makes music re-evaluates their reltionship with both the songs and the artists you have attachments with. Spend some time checking out some forums for your favs and get a reality check on the sub-cultures they are driving within the larger scope of the music community.
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Is country music Good? Well before you can really answer that, you gotta know what country music is, where it came from, and where it’s going. In this article, I want to tell you the real story of country music and how the erasure of its roots in the music industry has contributed to the lack of diversity in mainstream country artists and audiences, which has caused a lot of people to feel like there is no place for them in the genre as a creator or listener. As more black queer artists of color have entered re-entered the grenre within the last few years, the landscape of country music is changing for the better. So if you’re first thought when asked about country music is that it’s not for you, my hope is that by the end of this piece you will have found a place for yourself in the past, present and future of country music.
So before I dive too deep into this, I want to say that there are some resources I found through researching this topic that goes into much more depth into the history and progression of country music, and lots talking about the technicalities of that music like chord progressions and scales and their development in country music. Those resources are linked at the bottom of this post for you to check out, I will be focusing on the concept and history of country music as an experience and as a feeling. Remember that genres and categories are supposed to be used as navigators in music, like a GPS. If this analysis of country music was a roadtrip, we are focusing on the pit stops and the cool stuff you see on the side of the road on the outskirts of country music town, the stuff that really makes you feel like you’re on an adventure. And for us, the adventure starts with a little instrument called: the banjo.
The banjo originated as a descendent of West African lutes that were brought to America by enslaved people. It became an integral part of African American music and culture in the south. Soon enough, it would be appropriated by white artists and audiences, spread throughout the mainstream culture through ‘minstrel shows’ which were blackface musical productions done by white people mocking the lives of enslaved people.They were singing songs of black experience and of black creation, and this progressed into a genre of music initially coined ‘hillbilly music’ which later turned into ‘country music.’ A lot of artists who are looked at as grandfathers of the country music scene were mentored by black artists, like Lesley Carter who taught A.P. Carter of the famous Carter Family. Or, Rufus ‘Tee-Tot” Payne who mentored Hank Williams. Or perhaps Gus Cannon, who trained Johnny Cash. As time went on, white artists, particular white men, became the image of what country music is to the general population. Even though black artists had originally written and performed the songs, developed the sounds and the instruments. Black artists shifted into developing the foundations for all the other genres we know and love today, like Blues, R&B, and Jazz.
When country music was rising to fame in the late 20s and throughout the 30s, surprise surprise , there were queers being erased from the genre as well. The first gay country song is thought to be ‘I Love My Fruit’ by The Sweet Violet Boys, more commonly known as The Prairie Ramblers.
In the latter half of the 20th century we got the rise of a category of anti-capitalistic, anti-governement country music sometimes called Outlaw country, because thats what the message was behind the music. This era of country music is called a lot of different thing but the main point behind all of it is that they were making music for regular people. They were making music for the working class, the poor, the people in poverty and the people who were not represented by the government or their communities. Willie Nelson is famous for his support of marijuana, Dolly Parton has been a huge advocate for the queer community for years. Johnny Cash built his entire career off fighting for incarcerated people and the systematic opression set forth by the prison industrial complex. Now there were black and queer artists here, like Charrley Pride who rose to fame in the 70s and a band called Lavendar Country, who released the first known and obvious gay album in history. Their most famous song is called Cryin’ These Cocksuckin Tears, a direct response to the homophobes who were fighting against the rights of gay people in America. Lead singer Patrick Haggerty laid the groundwork for artists like Trixie Mattel and Oriville Peck to rise into pop culture, as well as experience their own resurgance later, but we’ll get there. These artists were doing what country was made to do: speak up, tell the stories of the people, and put those stories out there to be heard and and felt by the world in a way that felt beautiful and accessible. This category of country changed and shifted throughout the 80s and 90s, but once we get to the 2000s the entire idea of country music was ripped away from its roots and began being used as a political tool on the opposite end of the spectrum.
After 9/11, country music was the vessel for blind and loyal nationalism. You get the rise of what has become known as ‘stadium country’ or ‘bro country’ , which focuses on the idea of a good ol’ american love for your country, trucks, beer, and hot sexy ladies, now excluding the necessary critisism and social commentary that had established and carried the genre for upwards of a century. The genre focused so heavily on pushing the idea of our fantastic patriotic country that inherently the genre became only accessible to a demographic of artists that benefiited from the nationalistic image of the United States. Historically and still now, our America system is not built to benefit people of color, or queer people, and the mainstream country pipeline wasn’t built for them. This is not to say that all of the music categorized as ‘stadium country’ is bad music, or offensive at it core, but it is exclusive to a demographic of people that have benefiited from a system that was literally built for them to succeed. Hunter Hayes, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift 9who has obviously evolved, but started in this genre) all artists that I love and that have some incredible lyricism, and some patriotism in there that even I can relate too as a very harsh critic of our country, especially now. They also write about experiences that evryone can relate too, love stories, and heart break and loss and grief. But the cloud of exclusivity hinders a diverse audience from feeling welcome into those albums, at least in a public way. The image of a patriotic america was now the image of country music, and for the last 20 years that has been the standard. Artists like Luke Bryan, Florida Georigia Line, Blake Shelton, all took over the forefront of country music and anyone who went against the patriotic american country grain was pretty much exiled to the abyss of traitor land in the eyes of the general public. For example, the Chicks. Their career was basically ended (temporarily) after they spoke out against Bush and the war in the middle east. Now here we are 20 years later, and look at the state we are in. Politically, globally, we are yet again at another place of divisiveness in our country, and since country music is perceived as Americas Genre a lot of the time, the genre is reflecting that into the industry. BUT!! The face of country music does not equal the base of country music. The foundation, the pillars, the insulation, the elctricty, that is the base of country music and it is DIVERSE. There is a divide in the genre, in that valley lies the diversity and artistry that country music was built on. It is there, it’s just been hidden away into sub-category-country until the last few years.
As you go through the 2010s, artists began to rise on the scene like Kacey Musgraves, Orville Peck, YOLA, Chris Stapleton, Trixie Mattel, and Mickey Guyton, and Kane Brown. And of course, the resurgance of iconic gay country group Lavendar Country, who is still touring and advocating to this very day. These are just a few of many musicians that are bringing us back around to what country music was always supposed to be. They are making music for the working class. They are making music for their diverse fan bases. They are creating songs that are directly critical of the governmental bodies that were partially responsible for the downfall of country music to begin with. Mickie Guyton is a particular artists that is bridging the gap of what the face of country music is vs what the base of country music is, with her song Black Like Me. In this song she speaks to the mainstream country audience directly about her experience as a black person in America, which had been amplified into her experience as a country artist. Yola, a Black Americana artist who is merging pop and folk and soul music into what i can only describe as an out of body experience. This week on Rupauls Drag race, the final four were challenged with creating a country song that represented America, and at first I was like no thank you. But as I watched it I realized that the patriotism I am looking for and the pride I have in my country is still alive in country music. Here you have a 5 draq queens and, all of completely different backgrounds but all marginalized in America, reclaiming their stake in a country that has tried their best to erase them from it. And TANYA TUCKER, another incredible voice in the community is using her longtime established credit in the industry to put these voices on the forefront of country. If country music is Americas Genre, this is what I want to see and what I think we will continue to see as we go into the duture of Country Music.
In order for country music to continue on this path of growth and change, breaking down barriers of exclusivity, there has to be an audience there. If you are someone who in the past has not felt as if you could find yourself in country music, I promise you there is an artist somewhere in the wild wonderful world of country music who has created their music specifically with you in mind. As a lifetime fan and critic of country music, this is what I believe country music was made for. To speak to the unspoken, to sing for those without a song, and to represent what the mainstream wants to put into a closet. Now the question is… Is Country Music Good? My answer is… Country music is EVERYTHING. Country music is queer. Country music is Black. It’s funky, and traditional. It’s anything you want it to be if you remove the face of country, and you look at the base. Still doesn’t mean you have to like it, music is subjective and up to interpreatation but I feel like a lot of people don’t like country because they have only been shown or have only experienced pieces and parts of it without understanding the big picture.
If you are looking for an intro to country playlist, check out my Your First Rodeo – New Generation Country Playlist. I just know there is something in there you’ll like.
Here are some other sources you should check out if youre interested in learning more about country music!