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Beyoncé can’t make being a black woman popular. Despite being arguably the world’s biggest musician, she can only hope that people look beyond her race rather than celebrate her blackness and other black women like her. This was made apparent when her video for “Formation” dropped: here was this empowering, unabashedly Southern song with a video that celebrated and reveled in being Black, being a woman and being “country” and it was met with critiques of not being inclusive enough or daring to throw a political statement of pride in one’s race in people’s faces. Beyoncé had committed the sin of reminding anyone who hadn’t been paying attention that she was indeed a Black woman from Texas.

About fifteen minutes into “Lemonade”, Beyoncé’s HBO-helmed visual album, there’s an excerpt from Malcolm X in which he states that, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman”. The excerpt comes in as a reminder of the Black woman’s burden of having to live in a world that would rather do without them. They are the neglected wives, the unwanted children and the mothers that have been taken for granted by lovers, brothers, fathers, children, employers and elected officials and Beyonce has used this moment to give their pain voice.

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On its surface, “Lemonade” feels like the deeply personal story of betrayal, heartbreak and anger that has replaced a once-loving relationship. Throughout, you feel like you’re invading her privacy by being an audience member to this show; going from bug-eyed wonder about the juicy details of the tawdry affair Beyoncé keeps teasing about in each song to genuine concern for Jay Z’s safety as you watch his wife gleefully stroll along the sidewalk, twirling a baseball bat or walk slowly while a room is engulfed in flames behind her.

Step back for a second and you begin to realize that this is not just about Beyoncé but it’s about every Black woman. It’s about those mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers and aunties; these are all their personal stories that they share amongst themselves out of earshot of the men who’ve either caused the pain or shown no inclination of caring about it. Her lyrics interspersed between the poetry of Warsan Shire with the stark, lingering images of black women in the Louisiana bayou–at once stoic, at other times fiery–make for a haunting, unshakeable Southern Gothic tale of the Black woman’s burden in not just America but the world.

Since the out-of-nowhere release of her 2013 self-titled album, Beyoncé has been re-energized  –not just in methods of creating an event out of the growing irrelevance of album releases, but in subject matter. Where self-titled was an incredibly sexual and liberating expression of love, “Lemonade” is on the opposite spectrum: a claustrophobic, relentless testimony of a woman scorned. However you might have thought this event was going to go, you probably anticipated something more vapid; more congratulatory of the celebrity of Bey. Instead you got a deeply Southern, specifically black, Toni Morrison story with some great songs attached. Maybe it was the sequence in which Beyoncé was drowning underwater or the images of Louisianians interspersed throughout or the moving sequence of mothers of slain children (including the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown), but at some point this movie hit you in a way you weren’t prepared for. At some point you had to reckon with the things we’ve done to Black woman and the ways we’ve made their lives harder.

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The best art is borne out of honesty. Whether that honesty manifests itself in an abstract expression or a concrete but indirect performance, art that is true to who the artist is is the more pure manifestation. It’s what drove me to become a writer: an aching need from a young age to find the best way to get out the naked vulnerabilities and anxieties that consume me in a healthy manner.

Reflections In Real Time is as straightforward a title as you can get with regard to the subject matter on the latest record by the 25 year old singer-songwriter Kilo Kish. The album is a direct, brutal, hilarious and existential self-examination of a life lived so far. From a dazzling, musical theatre-style opening about growing up with the name Lakisha and the associations it carried in both school and work to a delicate culminating number that sees her making peace with the life she’s lived and feeling comfortable in her current existence while remembering all those emotions and fears she spent the album pouring out.

Reflections In Real Time is a concept record about coming of age. The awkwardness, self-consciousness and fretting over the big things like finding meaning and the small things like being cool. The album is littered with an anxiousness about “getting things right” and being “okay” and Kish spends a good deal of the record trying to convince herself of her worth. On “Fears Of A Dilettante”: in the midst of feelings of imposter’s syndrome and wavering self-esteem, she sings the refrain “I’m blowing a good life” in an exasperated panic; “I don’t know where to go/ That’s life I suppose” she resignedly sings at the end. She wants to believe in herself but the voices that counter any confidence or good measure feel louder. It’s a constant battle: one that she’s also aware of as being a part of living; a series of emotions conflicting, merging and fighting within us, daring to swallow you whole.

Reflections In Real Time is almost embarrassingly personal and honest about its subject. The type of brutal openness that can make someone feel naked in front of a large audience. It is the album as personal essay; a fitting product at a time when the personal essay market is oversaturated. The desire to tell ”your story” is both tempting and horrific: putting yourself out there to be judged by strangers is never comfortable but the release of that story and the feeling that you’ve said something new and worthwhile is an incredibly freeing act.

A byproduct of this and social media is that discussion of anxiety and depression are more open than they’ve ever been. The expression of mental health issues on the internet feels prevalent at a higher volume than anyone who grew up without social media or in an environment that stifled such talk could ever imagine.  Reflections dabbles in depression in its constant quarreling over societal and existential anxieties. The fluttery “Existential Crisis Hour!” interlude features a series of questions like “If I can’t choose to be born and I’m meant to make my own rules but I must die, Is there a point?” addressed to her own subconscious. The worrying over whether or not anything in this life is actually worth doing is a legitimate fear for a lot of people. A constant thought that can consume a person especially as the negatives of life overpowers or just overshadows any positives.

Kilo Kish doesn’t explicitly address depression on the album but there’s plenty of fragmented confessionals found to connect with those subsumed by it. The beauty of the record’s frankness is that it feels like a conversation. Listening to the album can be like seeing a therapist just as much as getting therapy; more importantly, it feels safe. Even with a more open environment for vocalizing depression, there hasn’t been much done to feel safer about it. What was once simply dismissed, ignored or “prayed away” is now moving into a new arena of concern trolling and diagnosing. No matter the intention: there’s a know-it-all, armchair psychologist attitude taken by people who feel fit to decide that there’s something wrong with you and that “someone” should get you help that’s less sincerity and more “bless their heart”. I found more peace listening to this record and having my fears and concerns identified and made to feel valid than I ever could have by anyone else looking down on me like a sick puppy. Depression comes in many packages and manifests in different ways, but a record like Reflections In Real Time feels like a powerful tool of self-care and relief simply by saying: I see you.

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Let’s first discuss what dancing is: Wikipedia says that dance is a performance art form consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value, and is acknowledged as dance by performers and observers within a particular culture. Seems simple enough, dancing is expression using the human body, often times reflective of a particular culture. It’s a very simple point that simply needs to be brought up anytime the western world has a heart attack over black people dancing suggestively.

This week Rihanna did a thing, which usually means that the internet is full of loud, unasked for opinions. This particular thing was the release of two separate music videos for her single “Work” featuring Drake: music videos that featured Rihanna destroying the boundaries of time and space by being too fine to make logical sense –or as many others have put it–affirming the restrictive shackles of patriarchy and The Male Gaze™ by parading herself as a sexual object and “grinding” on Drake or something.

If this sounds stupid, that’s only because it is. If there’s something the internet loves as much as slander, it’s probably falling all over themselves to use big, scholarly tumblr words and concern-troll the state of women or people of color in any given moment. I’m not going to make the case that shouldn’t have to be made that Rihanna is her own woman with control over her image who cannot objectify herself or point out that if there’s one object in these videos it’s actually Drake or hell, even make the case that using Rihanna’s past relationship with Chris Brown to shame her for being openly sexual is beyond gross and the most perfect example of people using faux-concern to push their own flimsy, bullshit agendas onto other people or celebrities that feel that they are entitled to (but seriously this the fucking worst thing of all). Instead, I’m going to use this time to explain what dancing is.

First off, I understand that we live in America: a place where the idea of outlawing dancing isn’t just a terrible idea for a movie but also a terrible idea for an actual law in places. Obviously, this isn’t the only country that does it but as a self-professed “christian nation”, it always seems to come back to the idea of dance as a satanic ritual whenever cases like these are found. This may shed a strong light on why so many people turn into your middle school teacher running around the gymnasium with their separation ruler at the thought of even the most suggestive bit of dancing. Naturally, these same people watch just a modicum of Caribbean dancehall/dutty wine and turn into the dowager countess from Downton Abbey. I know you’re scared and confused and feel like children will be corrupted or the male gaze has something something something, but I promise it’s ok.

Both dancehall and wine are dances that are well-known in caribbean culture as energetic expressions against vivacious island music. Despite how sexual you might paint it in your head because of your own repressed sexual desires that you can’t keep a lid on, it is not inherently sexual. It’s dancing and regardless of whether someone brings a ladder to the dancefloor, climbs it and then jumps off into another woman’s crotch (which I’m sure has happened), it does not become sex until it is actually sex and your personal fixation or objectification of this type of dance has everything to do with you and not the actual dancers.

Is there a sexual-ness being expressed in these dances? of course, but there is a big difference between someone putting out their own sexual energy and you deciding what kind of sexual deviancy is on display. In simpler terms, objectification is less to do with the subject than it is with the people watching.

So maybe keep the hashtag thoughts you have about Rihanna or any woman (and they’re always women) dancing how she chooses to dance to yourself. You’re not deep, nobody believes your concerned and you’re not an ally. All you’re really doing is telling on yourself and exposing the fact that you can’t keep your shit together when a woman does a physical activity. And hey man, I get it; I lose my shit when Rihanna dances too but maybe you should just let the moment wash over you like the baptism it is than running to the internet being irate because “such dancing is unbecoming in our society, my stars”. Stop thinkpiecing and fucking go outside, or go learn how to dance yung footloose.

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I didn’t appreciate A$AP Yams while he was alive. I wish I had. I wish I could pretend I stanned for his tumblr and that he became my internet guru like a number of kids who showed up to Yams day in NYC on MLK Monday (a full year after his death) or the ones who celebrated him all over social media. The truth is, I found him to be a pretty cool makeshift record exec who was funny on twitter.

In death, his life came out in full color through people’s reflections on him. He’d touched so many people in so many different ways: through music, through everyday New York living and through social media –all at the young age of 26. He was an internet phenom –the real “pretty muthafucka” who stayed Coogi down to the socks. His tumblr site RealNiggaTumblr blew up by being expertly curated, cared for and unapologetically nerdy about rap music and he parlayed that into a platform for his artist A$AP Rocky that eventually lead to a $3 million record deal. He was a brilliant and hilarious hip-hop nerd that embodied early 90s Puff Daddy’s ingenuity and cunning; and he was also lost in a debilitating drug habit.

Yams wasn’t shy about his drug use or about wanting to quit. He entered rehab in July 2014 with the plan to kick the habit for good. I imagine he gave his all to fight the urges to use heavily again, but life will ruin your plans often. And so it goes: a young, charismatic and talented self-created mogul was taken from the world too soon thanks to drugs –or at least seemingly, thanks to drugs. Drugs are certainly the easiest scapegoats in stories like this; ultimately though, for many, they’re just a release mechanism for a hard world that crushes its inhabitants. Yams had demons and he had pain that he wanted to cope with –he also liked to party hard and the two things often coalesced until he had nothing left. And so, like that, Yams aka Eastside Stevie aka The Puerto Rican R. Kelly was gone, and all we have left is our memories to propel him into an internet martyrdom.

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I lost my uncle January 2013. His name was Samuel. I remember when my sister called to tell me. I was crashing on my friend’s couch, saving money for an apartment I was getting the next month. I was alone, and when my sister told me that he’d passed, I felt even more alone. It’s a curious thing feeling self-centered in the face of a death in the family: you feel bad for the immediate family and the deceased’s siblings and relatives, but you also feel bad for yourself. What am I gonna do without this person in my life? The truth is, my uncle probably felt more peace after death than he’d felt in the past few years prior.

In the summer of 2011: I  graduated college, I was dating a girl I liked a lot and I’d just gotten a job offer in Maryland –about an hour outside of Washington, D.C.. I had gone up there one weekend with my mom to look at apartments. It was a nice break from being stuck in Tallahassee all summer dying of heat. My mom was proud of me and supportive of this big adult move, but she was worried about me. While we were driving around the Hanover area, my mom talked to me about depression and falling into addiction. We’d never talked about my own depression before –she was a Christian woman who felt it was a matter of feelings and circumstances, not a disease. Despite this, she knew enough about her son to know he was prone to volatility.

And so, she told me about my uncle. She told me what happened when he retired from the company he’d spent 20+ years as a faithful employee. She told me about the retirement fund that ran out, the bills that kept piling up, the wife who suddenly had to do all of the work, the kids who still needed money for college and the things he could no longer do for his family as a retired worker. She told me about the alcohol and drugs that began to take over his life, the control he lost, and the money that was spent on his habit. She told me about how he used my cousin’s college money to buy alcohol and about how he finally pushed his family away once and for all. She told me about the people in his life who tried to reach him and help him to no avail. He didn’t want their help because he was ashamed, but more than that because he was sick.

A year and a half later, I stood frozen in my friend’s apartment as I got the news that he had overdosed. They found him, alone and already dead. He was gone and all I could think about was the retirement that started him on this journey like the first domino being pushed over to cause a ripple effect. I should’ve thought about the substance abuse that killed him–that’s what I was supposed to do, like everyone else–but instead I thought about the job he gave his life to doing and the spare change he got in return. I thought about that same fate for myself and others when our time comes to retire from a job that doesn’t love us… and I thought about his brother, my father. Drugs and alcohol took my uncle’s life and yet the bitterest part is that drugs and alcohol was a temporary relief for his pain and his demons.

His name was Samuel. Samuel like in the bible. The story of Samuel is that at a young age he realized that he could talk to God, his name translates to “God has heard”. The cynic in me wishes God had talked to my uncle and helped to save him, yet there’s another part of me that wonders whether or not God did talk to him in his last moments and really did save him the only way God could. I couldn’t tell you which one of these makes me feel better. Maybe none of it is supposed to.

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I don’t know that I’ve ever found any value in “the cautionary tale”. The idea of using the bad things that happen to people as a map for how to better live my own life has never worked for me –less because of its self-centeredness and more because of my own incompetence. My mother told me about my uncle because she wanted to use it as a cautionary tale before I stepped into the real world, but it didn’t work the way she wanted it to. I wasn’t scared away from drugs and especially not from alcohol, instead I was scared of working. I was afraid to give my soul, my youth and my energy to a faceless corporation that had already determined my worth to be close to nil.

Having a 9-5 job hasn’t done much for me except to see why my uncle tried to find peace in a bottle. Other than the occasional joint and maybe taking 1 or 2 pain pills when I’m not actually hurting, I’ve never been much for drugs, but alcohol–a substance that 6 years ago I never thought I’d touch–became the only constant in a time when things seemed to only get worse for me. I was out of a job sooner than I ever expected, I’d lost the only girl I’d ever loved, I’d lost friends and I was miles and miles away from anyone familiar to me. Drinking calmed my nerves until it became my only recourse –spending weekends getting swimming pools full of liquor and then diving in it. It’s then that I knew I was beginning to spiral (self-awareness might be my greatest strength in circumstances like this).

We use all sorts of things to fill the hole in our lives. We all want a little peace in a world that feels too hard to cope with. Sometimes the things we do to escape can become addictions and those addictions can kill us. I didn’t understand drug and alcohol addiction until it made its way into my family. It’s easy to blame the victims for their own problems and get on a pedestal about falling to weakness and routinely poisoning your body with things that are known to do harm but fuck anyone who thinks like that. Self-righteousness is just as addictive as any drug but without the deathly side effects. People will turn to anything to escape from a harsh reality. Addiction is not an overnight creation but a steady building mountain that fills a missing void for awhile before it engulfs an entire life until there’s nothing left.

I wish the drugs hadn’t been the only solution to so many people’s pain. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it happens enough that a real conversation should happen beyond pointless finger-wagging and “afterschool special” sermonizing. I think about my uncle all the time: I think about the sweet man that I used to talk to on the phone. I wish Yams was alive, along with Pimp C and Whitney Houston and so many others lost to addiction. My one hope more than anything though is that in their dying moments, they felt free from their demons.

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At the End of The Sellout, Paul Beatty’s merciless satire of the intersection between black culture and America, there’s a moment when the main character stands up in a room full of other black people and poses the question: what exactly is “our” thing?”

For much of 2015 we’ve seen a surplus of rappers grapple with their identity. From how they look at themselves to how they look at their people to what fame has meant to their lives within this context; the music has been a reflection of the internal conflict these artists face.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is the most obvious example of this. Both for its obvious uses of symbolism to talk about fame and for its explicit college textbook insight on Blackness. Kendrick’s purposefully uncomfortable, erratic record finds him jumbling guilt and success and the concept of duty. “What does Kendrick Lamar represent” is a question that weighs heavily on his mind and it’s a question he is constantly working through. A song like “The Blacker The Berry” rages against systemic racism before confronting intercommunity violence by veering dangerously close if not right into respectability. And yet, you have a song like “Alright” that promotes the idea that no matter how bad it gets for black people in America, we will survive. It’s our “We Shall Overcome” and its usage in protests and parties signify such. Kendrick uses the desolate environment from which he came and his newfound fame as a springboard to express his turmoil, much in the same way that Vince Staples does in his major label debut: Summertime ‘06. But where Kendrick is ultimately motivated by religious faith and hope, Vince comes off mostly jaded and hardened; choosing to personify the various characters spiraling towards the same dead end that is urban plight.

On the album’s most melancholy track “Summertime”, Vince laments: “my teacher told us we was slaves, my momma told us we were kings/I don’t know who to listen to, I guess we’re somewhere in between”. These are lines that pierce the heart and get to the root at the tug of war between what blackness means to society and how black people have to counterbalance it. There is no benevolent God in Vince’s world. The moral arc of the universe bends towards chaos and Vince expresses an acceptance in this fact while still chasing after any beauty that may be left. Instead of hope, Vince gives you the stories of dealers, crackheads, gangsters and those who mourn to remind you that there are people living in ruin that deserve to be heard. There’s survivor’s guilt in these raps much as in the same way there’s survivor’s guilt hidden passed the decadence and thrill in most trap music. Maybe the biggest example of this in 2015 is found in Future’s music.

I’d argue that there isn’t anyone in music who had a more eventful year than Future. For Future, his 2015 started in October 2014 with the release of his Monster mixtape; a tape that saw him backtrack from that pop direction of his last album Honest and return to a grimier, street aesthetic while still maintaining just as much vulnerability. “Throw Away” is a breakup song in the truest sense: full of anger, defensiveness, passion and tears. It’s at one moment completely ridiculous (“fucking these hoes mean too damn much to you”) and the next extremely open-hearted (“if loving me in public ain’t safe, you can take my love and hide it”). “Codeine Crazy” is just textbook depression: an open admission to taking drugs to feel better about life. Future followed Monster up with 2 more great mixtapes (Beast Mode and 56 Nights) that follow this same trajectory before releasing his 3rd album, Dirty Sprite 2. DS2 is one long sad party: the musical embodiment of being in the coolest place imaginable: bottles popping, money being thrown around and beautiful people everywhere and yet still feeling like shit because you realize you’re still empty inside. What separates Future the most from the other artists mentioned in this essay is that his feelings are rarely explicit. They come out in fragments and bursts during songs that on the face feel like party records or drug glorification. When Future raps that he’s “an addict and I can’t even hide it”, it’s nothing short of a cry for help hidden in your favorite chest pumping, turn up song. This is even more apparent in his collab record with Drake, What A Time To Be Alive. Both rappers more often than not, seem to be recording two different albums.

Future isn’t even hiding his depression most of the time here: going from heartbreak and sadness in “Digital Dash” to survivor’s remorse in “Live From The Gutter”. WATTBA is not a great record but it is an interesting one full of more pain that was probably expected from casual fans of Future (and from the album title itself). A fun activity that many people who are charged with writing about music seem to be engaging in is the contrasting of Drake and Future as the story between an opportunistic, vain sycophant (Drake) and a nihilistic, pure street rapper (Future) but these labels are unfair to both men. Drake has spent an entire career wearing his heart on his sleeve for better or for worse. Regardless of whether or not you think the music is good, Drake is an artist who expresses everything about himself. He’s an open book: we know when he’s in love, when his heart aches, when he’s being passive aggressive or condescending and when he’s just committing to the “business of rap” in order to sell himself as a product.

Drake’s album/mixtape If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late didn’t signify a change so much as it allowed Drake to fully embrace the Jay Z lying inside him. Full of calculated bangers, cockiness and joie de vivre, the album felt different from Drake’s previous work in that it focused less on emotions and more on the moment. That’s not to say it’s completely devoid of insight, one of the best lines of the whole record comes from “You & the 6”, a personal conversation between him and his mother, where he raps “I used to get teased for being black and now I’m here and I’m not black enough”. There’s always been an inherent whiff of this attitude in the criticisms levied at Drake, whether it’s about his persona, his musical acumen or his brand. Drake’s blackness for whatever reason (be it how he carries himself or his racial makeup) is allowed to be dissected and, at least for this year, Drake has addressed it at many points in his music this year. Drake may be Disney at this point but it seems silly to pretend he’s never exposed his soul for his audience.

For my money, the best exploration of blackness in terms of fame and inner torment was made by Earl Sweatshirt. Earl’s third album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, picks up where Doris left off: exploring a celebrity that Earl never asked for and resents while trying to figure out what kind of person he wants to be. I Don’t Like Shit is filled with the ghosts of personal demons floating throughout. It is everything that To Pimp A Butterfly is without the pretense or the theatrics; punch your soul music over punch your face beats. Earl is the most fascinating person in rap to me because he seems to openly hate being a rapper while loving rap. His music is guarded and purposely uninviting in order for him to feel comfortable enough to actually share himself.  Celebrity is hell and for a black artist, it can feel even more intolerable; if there was a theme amongst many rappers in 2015 it was that music could allow for a way to cope in this prison. More important to that blackness, these artists proved that the question of what “our thing” is is more prescient than ever.

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As a millennial, excuse me Willennial, I have been a fan of Shia Labeouf since he was on the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Back then, Shia was all spastic, silly ball of energy in a show that was weird, crass and always funny. I wanted a friend like Louis and, because I was a child, I thought that meant I wanted a friend like Shia.

So I followed his career the whole way: from that awful Dumb and Dumber prequel to Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, from the secret gem of a movie A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints to *shudders* the Transformers series. The movies varied in quality sure, but I felt like his proud best friend the moment he became a movie star and it hurt my heart the most to see what that kind of fame did to him…. at first.

I’ll be the first to admit: I don’t actually get Shia Labeouf. He’s still charming and irreverent in TV interviews, as though he’s still a kid just happy to be there. He seems to resent celebrity but I mean everyone hates celebrity, so it’s not much of anything to note. He has daddy issues which I can relate to, he dresses like your divorced uncle going grocery shopping which is a look I can get with and he does things that feel like purposely sarcastic commentary on life which is also right up my alley.

The whole performance art thing was easy to dismiss at first. The “I’m Not Famous Anymore” stunt was ridiculous and hilarious. When he turned up on a red carpet with the paper bag over his head, it irritated people (which felt like the point) and it seemed to be the latest in a long line of signs that Shia Labeouf was spiraling towards the bottom. Then it became one big performance art piece titled #IAmSorry at an art gallery in Los Angeles, where anyone could come in and interact with Shia in anyway they wanted to. Shia himself had the bag over his head and refused to talk or move. What was sure to be one big joke of an event, where any reporter who could nab the story could go in order to make fun of the ludicrousness of this social experiment, instead turned into an empathetic moment of connecting with a celebrity. The reviews were pretty positive but it didn’t signify much of anything other than people who mocked Shia now hoping he found a little happiness.

After this, there were other stints at performance art, including one in which Shia made a motivational video in front of a green screen reciting statements sent to him by fans, but none of it compared to Shia’s latest production: #AllMyMovies. The idea is simple enough: Shia shows up to an open movie theatre and watches every single movie he’s ever been in reverse chronological order while a camera records his reactions the entire time.

On its face it may seem like a narcissistic endeavor into self-voyeurism, but it only seems that way because it is –in a sense. All of Shia’s performance art seems to be some sort of metamodernist exploration of our self-aggrandizing, internet-fueled and celeb obsessed culture. Where “I’m Not Famous Anymore” put the onus on the people to gauge a reaction, #AllMyMovies was 100% about Shia. In a sense, it’s like watching all your home movies with strangers, in another it’s essentially taking in all you’ve accomplished with your career up to this point and assessing where you came from.

It’s the same sort of fixation we all have with ourselves–our tweets, our instagrams, our bodies, ourselves as brands–exacerbated to a fuller extent. Also, it’s an excuse to go back to the oeuvre of Labeouf: the good, the bad and Eagle Eye. #AllMyMovies has been a hit with critics and has provided the internet with the currency it loves the most: memes. But what was it really?

 “In that room it was egalitarian. Yes, I was being stared at and I’m the focal point and the pointing is happening, but the pointing is happening for me too. If we’re all pointing, then we’re on the same level. Yes it’s a film festival where you’re watching all of my movies, but a lot of this stuff—especially Even Stevens…the Even Stevens Movie was interesting, it’s all of our childhood. It’s mine and it’s yours. It wasn’t just me smiling like that. If you look at the freeze frames, everyone is smiling like wow, I remember Beans. I remember that stupid-ass song. We were all looking at our yearbook together and we’re all in the yearbook. It felt like family, we were sitting there like a high school class.”

This was one of the more insightful statements made by Shia in his Newhive interview with his collaborators Rönkkö and Turner. What he’s ultimately getting across in this and many other portions of the interview is connection. Celebrity is a bubble and being an actor forces you to have a technical outlook on filmmaking; in this moment he was an audience member, especially late into the project when the novelty of Shia in the audience wore off and it just became about the movies.

This response is probably a little disappointing to anyone looking for some sort of detached commentary on modern self-obsession and performing for audiences. But while I’m sure there’s a sliver of this in the formation of the project, isn’t all of that about secretly about connection anyways. Living in a bubble (whether imposed or self-created) is lonely  and being disconnected from people for so long causes you to recede further into yourself to the point that you’re always on defense. It’s short-changing to say that Shia got to be human for 3 days, instead he got put in a position to be communal in a way he’s never had to be. Shia confirms as much, “I just know if I can explain a feeling, I feel lighter today. I feel love today.” 

Shia found love by confronting himself head on and embracing everything that it entails. We should all be so lucky.

shiablog

Twitter killed its fave feature and joined the ranks of instagram and facebook in utilizing “likes”. So now, what was once a star is now a little heart and because the internet is deathly afraid of change, people were not happy.

I get it. Things that are new are scary. Starring tweets was comforting: like when your tweet put a gold star on your homework assignment because you did a good job. “Hey kid, that’s a good tweet. Here’s a gold star. I am proud of you.” That’s nice to receive when you’re working overtime to make people pay attention to you online. But I think a heart is even more encouraging: it’s the extra kick you need that encourages you to keep tweeting. The easiest argument against the heart is that it’s too forward. It’s called the like button but it doesn’t really feel like a “like”, it feels like a “love”; as in, you LOVE this tweet. You’re probably thinking to yourself that a tweet is fine, you may even like it… but do you love it, and if you don’t, are you prepared to lie just to keep that tweet around.

Well I say do it. Who cares if you don’t love that tweet? You at least like it enough to consider it so why not entertain this lie. As a bonus, it’ll make the tweet maker feel really good. Also, from an aesthetic perspective, the like button is wonderful. You press it and it explodes in this quick orgasmic burst that just gives you joy. I’ve been liking tweets I don’t even care about just to see it over and over again.

If there is a valid criticism to be had about it, it’s the potential increase in misunderstandings. Twitter is already full of people (let’s be honest, mostly men) who read too much into things such as a woman favoriting a bunch of their tweets. The like feature just complicates that more because now it feels like she LOVES your tweets. Does she love your tweets enough for you to slide in the DMs? Probably not, but you’ll convince yourself that the answer is yes anyways. It’s here that we enter into what I now dub “The Heart Eyes Conundrum”. I’ll explain: every so often, I actually post a selfie on my instagram and sometimes when I do a woman friend of mine will comment with “😍😍😍”. There are a number of ways one could take this: 1) maybe she’s just being nice 2) maybe she just appreciates the fact that I look gorgeous in my photo or 3) maybe she’s in love with me. There’s a good chance that the heart eyes under a pic from a friend doesn’t mean anything at all…. but what if it does. Hence, “The Heart Eyes Conundrum”. But on the other hand, if it is your intention to tell someone you love them in vague, indiscriminate ways, this is perfect. My friend Monique and I, have a recurring joke about the use of faving tweets to hint that you’re interested in someone and clearly someone at twitter was paying attention to us #influencers because now we have a less subtle tool to fire off those sublikes. “Hey great tweet, also I’m in love with you”, “wow I like the way you think, also I can’t live without you”, “haha that’s really fun, we should get married”; the new like button can allow you to say so many more words than ever before.

The other problem here is the use of the casual fave seems irresponsible now. I and many other others used to fave tweets purely as mere acknowledgements that your tweet was read. It was a read receipt that was silently understood. The heart seems excessive for that and could lead to misunderstandings you never planned for. This is what I refer to as “The Ralph Wiggum Paradox”. In the season 4 episode of The Simpsons titled “I Love Lisa”, Ralph is the only kid in class who didn’t get a Valentine’s Day card from the other kids. Lisa feels bad so she just takes one of her leftover cards and puts Ralph’s name on it and hands it to him out of pity. Ralph is understandably excited but he takes this purely nice gesture as genuine interest. The card said “I choo-choo-choose you” and Ralph believes it fully with no real evidence that Lisa has ever shown an interest in him before. Lisa did something to be nice and to let Ralph know that his existence is acknowledged but instead Ralph took the action literally and believed himself to be cho-cho-chose. On the surface it would seem silly that someone might read too much into a “like” for a response to a tweet about a good Jamaican restaurant in the city, but when you see that heart icon show up in your notifications it does something to you and causes you to believe things that make no sense. With great likes come great responsibility.

Of course, none of these genuine concerns are the real heart of the issue. It’s about exclusivity and the specialness of twitter over the instagrams and the facebooks. The star separated twitter and without it, it’s just a reminder that twitter is moving closer to the uncool zone and we’ll all soon be moving on to something else. I mean, I’m sure this is true but at least the hearts are nice to look at before we go.

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