Monday, August 25, 2014

Article on Chrono Trigger in Memory Insufficient

I wrote an article for Zoya Street's Memory Insufficient about one of the many, many things I dislike about Chrono Trigger, and you can read it here. Thanks for checking it out.

- Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Drake's "Trophies"

Drake is basically the biggest thing in rap right now. We've all come to accept that right? I think when even Kanye West, the biggest ego and most important rapper of the 00's says now that Drake has overtaken him in sheer popularity that we can crown Drake the king. (Note: I realize also that there's a man who calls himself "King Kendrick" but, personally speaking, I'm not impressed by such blatant power grabs by rappers with so much left to prove.) Even if you hate Drake, you're talking about him, arguing about what he signifies.

The point is, Drake knows this. He knows he's on top. So what do you do if you're Drake? Ruminate on that. Thus, enter "Trophies." The title is already typical rap provocation: he won, now he's collecting, and in the verses he does just that, talking about ordering drinks through a walkie talkie in a house so big that he hasn't seen his friends who live with him for two days.

But the chorus has substantive surprises that make the song a worthy addition to Drake's already canonical collection of self-reflection.

What's the move?
Can I tell the truth?
If I was doing this for you 
then I have nothing left to prove

This line almost comes off as weirdly defeatist, as though Drake has already achieved the best of what he can achieve as an artist, he's already proved that he's "Last name ever/first name greatest," and this contradicts the more jovial tone of the verses. The production reflects this, switching from the glorious trumpet blares to filtered synths, light piano textures and a seeming lack of percussion. Drake continues:

I'm just tryna stay alive 
and take care of my people
and they don't have no awards for that
Trophies . . . trophies
And they don't have no awards for that
this shit don't come with trophies
Ain't no envelopes to open
I just do it cuz I'm supposed to

This chorus is brilliant, and highlights a truth that artists rarely like to discuss: that at some point after great success has insured that art now pays your bills, that the grind of the artistic lifestyle can make it less of a passion and more of a job, even if an artist can continue to create great work. And whereas this revelation might come off as insufferable from someone else, Drake remembers why it is that people choose that lifestyle: he has friends and family who probably rely on his continued commercial success. And that's where he finds his motivation, and that's part of what makes this celebratory anthem, which could've been so bland, so memorable.

- Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On "Rude" by Magic!

"I'm Gonna Marry Her Anyway"

So first off, I’m going to note that this is a lyrical analysis first and foremost. I am neither a particular fan nor particular hater of reggae, and I cannot present any kind of legitimate commentary about the legitimacy of 4 Canadians, (3 of them white, and the lead singer being Pakistani) playing a form of Black Caribbean music. I will say that it is pleasant listening. The entire song revolves around the same chord progression simply being played in different arrangements from the verses to the pre-chorus and the chorus, with the verses being laid back, the pre-choruses emptying out the arrangement to guitar simple guitar chords and the voice, and the choruses featuring driving drums and a strong, but not overbearing presence of horns. In all honesty, there is nothing that special about it as a song, and without it’s vocal hook Magic! would likely still be languishing in obscurity.

“Rude” is also not about Rude Boys, a term used to describe young Jamaican reggae fans that has been co-opted into all sorts of shit. So what is it about?

“Rude” is a about a young dude asking a man for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and the guy says no, prompting the response: “Why you gotta be so rude?” I really like this line. Mainly becomes it actually comes off as something someone might say in this situation. Nothing horribly dramatic, just “why are you being an asshole?”

In 2014 asking a woman’s father if you can marry her is beyond outdated, as more than a few have pointed out. It strongly dehumanizes women in a really creepy way. So why would someone do it?

In the context of the song, it’s because the father of the bride-to-be is an “old-fashioned man,” and our protagonist has some respect for that, putting on his best suit before going to visit the man and ask him quite politely if he may marry his daughter. Despite the fact that he doesn’t need to, he’s making a gesture of good will to the father such that they might have a stronger relationship as father-and-son-in-law.

But the thing is, this is entirely a formality. Our protagonist is “gonna marry her anyway . . . no matter whatcha say.” And the father isn’t speaking for the daughter here either, as clarified by the second verse.

You know she’s in love with me
She’ll go wherever I go

And of course, if the young couple decides to get married, it’s not like the father isn’t going to show up to the wedding. He may be rude, but he’s not stupid.

Love me or hate me we will be boys
standing at that altar

So, again, the idea of even asking if he’s “allowed” to marry her is at best a formality that shows that our hero recognizes a cultural and traditional gap created by the age disparity between him and the father. It is not at all one he is required to recognize.

It begs the question: “Why you gotta be so rude?”

I turn my attention to a particular lyric in the chorus whose meaning is somewhat ambiguous: “And we’ll be a family.” Given the context of the chorus it obviously means that he and this girl will be a family, but of course, given that most of the song is about the relationship between the singer and the father, it could also be taken as implying that he and the father will be family, which is obviously true if he plans on marrying this girl. That only reiterates how nice it was of the singer to make this gesture in the first place, and how genuinely “rude” it is that he would deny his request.

By making this request, our hero is acknowledging something about this father that society is now better for deciding to ignore, but by denying this request, the father tarnishes their relationship before they’ve had a chance to build a strong relationship with each other. This does nothing to mar the jubilance with which the couple will marry, but it is something of a micro-tragedy that one can’t help but wish turned out differently. It’s a small story with a small idea that fits well in the context of a pop song.

- Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2014