Live a little
if your label lets you
Listen: WONDERING, WAITING by Sam Gendel & Antonia Cytrynowicz
Listen to this track and you’ll be charmed; learn its backstory and you’ll melt off your chair. As the tale goes, Sam Gendel, a cool-kids’ jazz musician, was at a backyard hang where his partner’s eleven-year-old sister Antonia started improvising this little song. It struck him, for reasons you will understand shortly; Gendel recorded it as a voice note; and after he made that little improv into a full song of its own, the two went on to make an entire record together. Now, here we are with LIVE A LITTLE, a work that combines Antonia’s palpable innocence with the life experience of a seasoned Los Angeles jazz musician who’s collaborated with Vampire Weekend, Maggie Rogers, and Moses Sumney all in the last year. The album's allure sits in the blurry line between their two sensibilities: He honors her songwriting simplicity to an almost subversive degree, while she takes on his worldliness, singing knowingly about existing on earth. This ought to crack something open in you, the same way it must have for each of them. Get in here.
Traveling as far afield as possible from the Gendel magic, I sort of can’t get over Halsey’s label allegedly forcing them to engineer Tik Tok hits. “I’ve been in this industry for eight years and I’ve sold over 165 million records and my record company is saying that I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok,” Halsey said, explaining that Capitol Music wanted them to get enough views on other Tik Tok videos before they debuted the new single they were trying to release (also on Tik Tok). Finally they did let Halsey put the song up, and indeed it went viral, but now no one can tell if it’s the song itself that was popular or if the controversy generated the interest (maybe even as a ploy?). Predictably, annoyingly, Taylor Lorenz has the line: “I feel like ‘the label is making me’ thing is also just a format that artists trying to go viral use.” Surprise! Nothing is pure.
But actually everyone is already tired of Tik Tok music, explicitly because it is engineered to go viral. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bitch,” by an artist named Leah Kate, is a prime example of a song created to catch fire: layer a nostalgic melody underneath lyrics containing swears and you have a hit (see also: GAYLE’s “ABCDEFU“). It’s a formula that hasn’t gotten past the sophisticates among us, who call it lazy and contrived. “We’re confusing the initial ability to imitate — and then maybe throw in some words for shock value — with artistry,” said Andrea Stolpe, who teaches composition at Berklee and USC. I don’t want to be a bummer here, but… duh? When has popularity not butted up against quality in the music industry? (Looking at you, Spotify.) This is the way, and it will continue to be the way until we measure value in a way that extends beyond what we can monetize. Until then, twinkle on, bitches.