Throwback Thursday: Nelly Furtado – Try

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Full disclosure; I’m not a fan of Nelly Furtado (musically speaking, don’t have anything against her personally) and really loathed the song that made her famous, I’m Like A Bird. But, since the winter of 2004 was still a time when MTV played music videos (at least in Italy), I came across her video for her second single from her second album called Try.

The video was directed by Sophie Muller who just happened to be one of my favourite music video directors (she’s directed a lot of videos for Garbage, No Doubt, Gwen Stefani, The Kills, Mika’s amazing Grace Kelly, Hole’s Doll Parts, and a bunch of other awesome bands). In other words, in typical Sophie Muller fashion, this video is simply stunning.

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Now, I don’t know if Muller was inspired by the 2003 film Cold Mountain for the colonial vibes of the video (Nelly Furtado is seen decked out in a traditional Portuguese dress as she faces various hardships), but it did seem to have the same wintery pioneer rural life aspect of the movie.

But apart from the stunning video, what really drew me in were the lyrics. There’s something fatally tragic in the lyric, “Then I see you standing there/Wanting more from me/And all I can do is try.” Nelly stated that apparently it was a song about true love (although it’s very dark to me) and for me, it seemed more like a song about wishing you could please someone you love, but also knowing that you’re incapable of doing so for a myriad of reasons.

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Revisiting this song kinda took me back to that winter of 2004, which felt very dark and lonely. There were so many things in my life what I was uncertain about, and love was one of those uncertainties. Sure, I was in love with someone back then, but if you’ve read My Bad Romance series, you kinda get the drift of how most of my loves have played out (Spoiler alert: unhappy endings). The strange thing about music and scents is that they can take you back to places at times that you had purposely pushed back in the forgotten zone of your brain. And let’s just say, there’s a reason why your brain had pushed those memories back.

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But the song is still tragically beautiful, as is the video, and even fifteen years later I fell in love with it all over again. For the record, I never became a fan of Nelly Furtado’s music, but I can admit that this one was a little masterpiece.

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1995 Alanis Was My Spirit Animal

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A week ago, the internet was set on fire when someone dared to criticize Alanis Morissette’s multi-Grammy winning album, Jagged Little Pill. Now, I’ll admit that I’m not a current Alanis fan, however, there was a time when I fiercely loved that album and her. So, much like when things have ended with an ex, and you may not currently be in love with them, there will always remain the good memories of your time spent together, and in a way, you will always defend those memories. That’s exactly how I feel about Jagged Little Pill. Living in southern Italy during my youth, it meant that I was bombarded with female musicians who only sung of their broken hearts, begging for ungrateful exes to return to them, or images of TV hosts where they were barely dressed, showing off huge breasts and silicone enhanced lips. To be a woman meant to be passive and beautiful, almost like a pretty Christmas ornament.

But I couldn’t relate to those women, and thus felt very much an outsider living in a town where men stared at you like you were a pretty piece of flesh and that you were obligated to think that cat-calls were compliments in disguise, cause, after all, it only happened to the pretty girls. It also meant having nothing in common with any of the girls living in that town, who would spend hours sitting in the town plaza waiting and hoping for their crushes to pass by with their mopeds. When I’d declare that I wouldn’t wait for hours for a guy to show up I’d be seen as “weird”. Other times, people assumed I lacked passion simply because I refused to be a human doormat for men. I was very passionate as a teen, especially when it came to the guy I was majorly in love with, but I also loved myself enough not to be willing to wait six hours in the town plaza in hopes that maybe the guy would show up, to only be stood up. Cause more often than not, that’s how events played out for my friends.

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I don’t remember exactly how I came across Alanis, but probably it was through the radio (southern Italy didn’t get MTV) and I believe it was the song, You Learn, cause in patriarchal Italy, that was the least offensive song of the album. But for me, You Oughta Know was my jam. I remember playing Jagged Little Pill uber high that the walls would shake and my neighbors complained. They couldn’t understand the rage I felt, after all, I lived in a society that expected me to just be pretty passive. I was considered a freak for wearing dark blue nail varnish, fishnet stockings with Docs, and coating my lips in dark shades of Vermillion. In other words, I didn’t look “safe”.

Alanis was my gateway drug to Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani (No Doubt heyday was angry, not like today’s pop persona), and Shirley Manson, women who were even angrier and far more outspoken than her. I’m not trying to say that Jagged Little Pill saved my life, but it made it more bearable. It made me feel that there were other girls out there who had a similar rage and outspokenness. That there wasn’t anything wrong with me for wanting to reject the notion of what a woman should be, whether or not others agreed with me.

In 1995, Alanis was pretty much the rock goddess of angry rock that we all needed (I know I did), so to compare her legacy and efforts to a childish song like Baby Shark is not only insulting but downright cruel. I may not be into Alanis’ music nowadays (she’s too mellow for me now, and I never outgrew my anger and angst), but I’ll always defend the woman and the album that made an outcast not feel so much alone. I may have been out of place in Sicily, Italy, but I knew that belonged somewhere. Where the legions of angry girls resided.

1995

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Throwback Thursday: TLC – No Scrubs

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When the single NO SCRUBS came out twenty years ago (February 2, 1999), TLC was the best-selling girl group in the world and fierce feminists at a time when the music world was suddenly getting overrun with Lolita-esque divas like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

I chose this song for my Throwback Thursday because when the song came out I loved the message it promoted. For the first time, you had women who were confident enough to say, “NO.” No, they didn’t want a man who had no ambitions and was a deadbeat parasite. And if you think that this message wasn’t bold, you’re gravely mistaken. For centuries women have been groomed to always say, “Yes,” that stating a “NO,” loud and clear, for women to actually have standards of which men could pursue them, this was a big deal.

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Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes were known for being bold, independent, and outspoken young women. They were no damsels in distress, these women were ambitious and hardworking and didn’t expect anything less from their men. This song actually had men questions themselves for the first time, ask themselves if they fit the “scrub” list or not. Ironically, usually, the men who did fit the “scrub” list were the ones who got the most upset over the song.

Of course, this song wouldn’t have been the same without Hype Williams amazing futuristic music video, especially in an age where music videos could make or break a career (this was back in the day when MTV still predominantly only aired music videos on their channel). Hype Williams at the time was considered to be one of the best music video directors around with his bold colours, anime style sequences, and notorious for his fish-eye view which distorted the image in central focus. In his vision, Chilli, T-Boz, and Left-Eye were futuristic warriors that could be both sexy but ferocious, in other words, they were fierce.

The video went on to win the MTV Video Music Award for that year, beating out the all-male competition of boy bands like Backstreet Boys and Nsync at their career highs, which was no small feat.

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Listening to this song twenty years later only emphasizes how much this message is still relevant today. Not that long ago when just idly chatting with my boyfriend in the car, he said he couldn’t understand my need for all this ambition, that he’d still love me even if I were a slob who’d spend all day at home and wait for him to return and he said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t you love me still the same way if I were like that?” And I replied, “Look, as TLC taught me, I don’t want no scrub. I’d never date someone with no ambition or dreams to be better.” Probably not the kind of response he was relying on (after all, most men would hope that women are “romantic” enough to like them even at their worst), but it’s the truth.

I expect a lot from myself and would never dream of being someone who’s just looking for a way to get out of work to stay at home. So for anyone to think that I’d expect less of them just because out of romantic notions is kind of absurd. TLC taught many girls the power to say no, and that’s a lesson that many of us took to heart. I know I did.

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A GIRL AGHAST IN AUGUST

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Writer’s know all about comfort zones…we live to destroy them. We chop up our protagonists’ lives and scatter their pitiful feelings to the wind just to sweep up the pieces and solder them back together into hell-fired heroes and heroines. It’s a very messy, emotional process, and yet, it has a simple equation:

Character – Something Valuable = Fear

Fear = Conflict

Conflict = A Helluva Good Story

In today’s ego-based economy, where what we possess determines our worth on the class scale, people break into a cold sweat at the possibility that ‘Something Valuable’ might be taken away from them and diminish their social status. Especially, if that ‘Something’ is fleeting and intangible, like their comfort zones. Americans have seen a lot of change over the past sixty years. The abolition of racial segregation; equal rights for women and minorities; the legalization of same-sex marriage. All of these movements have brought about great strides to empower the oppressed. It’s hard to imagine that some view these victories as defeats. After all, when power is given to one person, it must have been taken from someone else, right?

Imagine Bobo has two bananas and Lulu has one. Bobo has the most banana power. So when Kiki comes in, holds up the newly passed Equal Rights Amendment and gives Lulu a banana raise, there’s much rejoicing. Now we’re all equal! However, despite losing nothing, Bobo feels less powerful, even threatened, because Lulu has ‘moved up to his level.’ His financial situation now improved, Lulu has inadvertently affected Bobo’s comfort zone. This might cause Bobo distress, even anger him. Lulu now becomes the unwitting target of Bobo’s misguided fear, leading to a display chest-pounding and poo-throwing. Great friction for fiction. Bad for Human Resources.

So what is this ‘Something Valuable’ that has the country at odds right now? For a self-riotous few, it is as narrow-sighted as their outdated beliefs and comfort zones of intolerance. The events in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend are a painfully accurate example. Ultra-conservatives are exhibiting the same messy, emotional symptoms of a character in conflict:

Entitled Americans (Alt-Right) – Freedoms & Rights (Power) = Displaced Fear (Discrimination)

So how do we tame the volatile stray that’s barking inside these terrified Alt-Right ideologists? How do we get them to understand the unshakable truth that nothing is being taken away from them? Their precious freedoms are as intact as they’ve ever been. The only difference is, back in the ‘good old days’ they could unethically enthrone themselves on top of the social hierarchy without raising eyebrows. It’s 2017. Now people are raising their eyebrows, their voices and their protest signs and ultra-conservatives don’t know how to handle the pushback.

The Alt-Right’s refusal to acknowledge these changes is what’s led to their own paranoid schizophrenia. Building a pillow fort with Confederate flags in their living room while chanting ‘blood and soil’ does not change the fact that the South lost the Civil War. No doubt we still have a long road ahead, but most Americans have come far enough to declare that people are not property or punching-bags or ladder rungs. The Alt-Right have padded their egos using this superiority complex to punch and fluff the minority ‘cushions’ under their derrieres. But now they are the ones under the sharp focus of (gasp) discrimination. Discrimination against inequality and violent rhetoric.

This bad behavior is being strung up as an intolerable example on social media. And the Alt-Right is feeling the acute discomfort of that mass public rejection. Evolution hard-wired humans to ‘think like the flock’. If you didn’t, you died. That’s led to rationalizations like, ‘slavery is acceptable’; ‘sexism is scientifically proven’; ‘desecration of your neighbor’s faith is honorable.’ This brain-washing machine was, unfortunately, left on the spin cycle for most of humankind’s development. And, it seems, our current POTUS’ development as well. But that’s a rant for another day.

Although intolerance is still gnashing its teeth, the ugly beast is slowly backing itself into a dead end alley. People are talking. People are coming together – just sometimes with too much force. In dealing with every aspect of this divide, the lives sacrificed are unnecessary. It is a loss felt deeper because of the senseless violence. But I hope the country will remain optimistic. The fiery conflicts we see on our television screens at night are proof that we’re squeezing in on the Alt-Right’s comfort zone.

There will be more heated exchanges, more blood, more tears, and this is why the pending years of America’s next big ‘growth spurt’ are going to take all the patience and compassion we can muster. We must continue to lead by example and breathe through those dark, infuriating moments to come; to look to the core of the problem before we become a part of it too. Because the biggest challenge is not the danger of taming a cornered, belligerent mongrel – it’s convincing the damn thing to turn around and see that there were never any walls to begin with.

By: Erica Ruhe

Photo Credit: https://jerkmag.wordpress.com/