10 Years On from Riot!: A Birthday

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I always used music to travel. I’d trawl forums for albums which, a dodgy download later, would transport me a continent across the world and to lives alien to my own. Growing up in the sweet spot between Edinburgh, West Lothian and Fife, it didn’t take much to feel gloriously consumed by things bigger than me. I never felt trapped by the confines of my small town because I was spending my formative years getting to know what was beyond, content knowing that there was plenty out there waiting for me.

So while I was a silent spectator, it was Paramore who signalled back. As an insecure preteen, it felt like going from being the seer to being the seen. I wasn’t eavesdropping on conversations any more but being reached out to and invited to the dialogue.

I remember quite vividly buying Riot! on CD (round, shiny, plays music without eating up your data). I was at the top end of twelve, maybe just thirteen, on a Saturday afternoon trip into town with friends. One of my first without parental supervision. I had birthday money to spend and, like we did back then, headed straight to HMV.

What I don’t remember is getting to know it, identifying favourite tracks early on, growing accustomed to the lulls and rises of it between pressing play over and over again. I, quite honestly, don’t remember much of myself before that album. Music is a great way of characterising chapters in life but I struggle to remember Riot! just not being there. Sometimes you’ll meet people who, when you cross paths, it’s like they walked in and switched the light on. Very quickly you forget that moments ago you were sitting alone in a dark room, and that you were ever unaware of their impending arrival. There aren’t many albums I’d apply that experience to, but Riot! is one of them.

While All We Know Is Falling lamented betrayals it didn’t understand, Riot! had found its fight. It pointed the finger with more righteousness but really earmarked a visceral kind of introspection that’s now so characteristic of Paramore. Hayley always gave herself a hard time lyrically, and gave herself a hard time for giving herself a hard time – a teen just like the rest of us, she was navigating the waters of self worth at an age when we don’t really have the means.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning today, and one in a series to which I didn’t really connect until Hayley wrote them. She demonstrated that the best of us can struggle to keep our heads above water during periods of figuring-ourselves-out, but that we can find peace in it too – that we don’t need to make it to the other side before we can see value in ourselves.

To be a young girl knee deep in a genre so saturated with men, men’s takes and men’s talents and men’s power, having Paramore in my emotional arsenal was a game changer. That Hayley became an icon for girls and women is no breaking news, and she’s already up there with the Gwen Stefanis and Shirley Mansons and Joan Jetts.

She isn’t the Patti Smith of my generation, though. She’s the Hayley Williams of my generation. Right place, right time, right message. The fact that thousands of us feel so similarly shaped by having the privilege of growing up alongside her is, on one hand, a sad indictment of the genres we grew up on and the gender imbalance of platforms held. But god, it has been a privilege.

I was young, still developing my world view and my view of myself, and I heard Hayley feeling things like I did. I also saw her as an incredible, creative, stomping and unapologetic force. That she didn’t shy away from vulnerability, championed the weird and cultivated self expression as no less than a moral stance completely set me up for adolescence.

Riot!, now, represents painful adolescent experiences that I wish I could live all over again. It’s not my favourite of theirs – if they’d stagnated over the past decade I likely wouldn’t be writing this – but it was a vehicle for my own development like no other Paramore record. You don’t realise, at that point in your life, that you’re feeling things in the most raw and earnest way you ever will.

I’m ten years older now, hopefully ten years wiser. I still turn to Paramore in the knowledge that they’ll hold a mirror up to me until I’ve had a chance to put myself back together. Next week I’ll be spending my twenty third birthday at one of their shows with my best friend, a girl who accompanied me to HMV and spent the subsequent years by my side listening to Riot!, traversing our emotional common ground. I expect those on stage will strike me as old friends, too.

 

 

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I Love Pop Punk, and That’s Why the Scene Needs to Die

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I have had a draft sitting on this account for months, decorated with half-formed thoughts on the Parker Cannon drop kick incident and where it stood within the culture of the scene. It lay unfinished primarily through anger – I rely on being able to write to express myself, yet in this instance I found myself in the grip of a frustration-based writer’s block. No matter how many rewrites and phrase alterations, I couldn’t articulate why I had grown to feel only contempt for a community which shaped my adolescence.

My first foray into pop punk, punk rock, or whatever you’d like to call it (by “the scene” I also refer to post-rock, emo, etc.: it’s the people who make a difference, not the niches) happened when I was around 9 or 10. My mum was childminding full-time, and the dad of one of the kids brought me a couple of burned CDs one evening when picking his daughter up. I have a lot to thank the man for (Jim Bailey, you’re a hero) – that introduction to music via Dookie and The Green Album defined the next decade of my life. In 2005 I discovered Fall Out Boy, and in 2015 I had some of their lyrics tattooed on my shoulder. I found friends, love, and a community through going to shows. I moved in with a guy whose band shirt collection looked like Jason Tate’s inbox. I spent days on trains, on buses, and in cars travelling up and down the country for gigs. Friends I made at my first Fall Out Boy show in 2007 are still good friends, and coming to stay with me for their set at Bellahouston Park this month. I saw The Wonder Years play to 20 or 30 people in Ivory Black’s in 2009, and had the time of my life seeing them at Stereo a couple of weeks ago. Slam Dunk North gave me some of the happiest memories I’ll ever have. I saw bands like Set Your Goals, Fireworks, and Four Year Strong on the same bills, and when they were actually in their prime – a notion which is very much a thing of the past. I made life-changing decisions during New Found Glory sets. I went to a Jacks Mannequin show and saw Andrew play Watch The Sky. My high school English folders were covered in Get Up Kids, The Movielife, American Football and Brand New lyrics. I was lucky enough to visit the States, and picked cities based on where the musicians I respected most had gleaned inspiration. I got to know Glasgow through its wealth of live music, and ultimately decided to get myself out of high school after fifth year and to university through there, which is the best choice I ever made. The music I grew up on really shaped everything.

And now, I hate it. The majority of the bands which were the fabric of the scene have disbanded or are dormant, and the ones which are left are either shadows of what they once were or are assaulting their fans. The scene discourse now centres almost exclusively on the inappropriate behaviour of men given power by their place in it. As a woman I feel wholly uncomfortable with the culture that exists within the genre, and am happy to be mostly removed from it.

This scene is one which has always boasted about itself as a champion of equality, but it’s really just a boy’s club like everything else. Straight white guys wear Hostage Calm ‘I support same sex marriage’ shirts and pat themselves on the back for it, pleased that they’ve done their bit. Parker Cannon can violently kick a fan off stage, with countless voices insisting that she deserved it and with The Story So Far remaining one of the biggest bands still around. Warped is the best representation of the scene we have, Kevin Lyman claiming that inclusivity and safety for (primarily female!) fans are priorities, while pro-life stalls are given a space on the tour. It took almost ten years of involvement for me to realise that the role I had perceived myself and other women to have in pop punk was entirely toxic. Women highlight the imbalance in genders represented on stage at shows, and men argue that girls just aren’t as interested in starting bands. And that might be the straw that broke the camel’s back, in terms of my relationship with the scene – I could count on one hand the number of guys I know who went so far as having an opinion when someone prominent in pop punk was shown to have been sexually inappropriate with a minor. If that had been different, I might have felt a fire in my belly and been obliged to stick around to make a change to the environment which I know so well – but most are silent. I usually interpret this to mean they want to defend the successful guy in question, but know better. If you don’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem in pop punk, know that it at least appears that you don’t care. Your privilege lies in your ability to distance yourself from this. For the rest of us, we’re not bringing this up because we enjoy a good discussion – we’re talking through our lived experiences. Pop punk is a microcosm of patriarchy to an extent which it absolutely does not have to be.

The scene is in a weird place these days, though, diluted and struggling for relevancy; in a way, it’s reminiscent of what was to be witnessed in the time between kids obsessing over Living Well Is The Best Revenge and kids getting The Upsides tattoos. The wind is changing direction, and today’s Kerrang! generation is more interested in the lo-fi sensibilities of Moose Blood, The Hotelier and Modern Baseball. There was a certain identity associated with the crop of bands which really exploded around 2009, though – pop punk branded itself very well at that point – and to me, that’s something which is missing now. It seems more like something happened when pop punk met The Wave, and now we’re left with the crumbs of whatever that created; free of any formula, and yet somehow still a little bland and unimaginative.

Maybe pop punk is dying, and maybe that’s okay. Big league legacy bands like New Found Glory have enough ground to stand on no matter what goes on around them, so we needn’t worry about losing the bands that are worth holding on to. Maybe what’s happening now is downtime for us to reassess our priorities, elevate our women, and educate the next generation of bands before we put them in a place of authority above crowds of impressionable fans. I think that’s what we need. The next Dan Campbell will be here before long.

 

 

Male Feminists and the Safety Net of Cynicism

Like many women, as a teen I was internalised misogyny personified. I took great satisfaction in my guy friends telling me I “[wasn’t] like most girls”, that I was straightforward and low maintenance, that “most girls are just so much drama”. Looking back, I realise that what this really meant was that no one was particularly interested in winching me in the playpark across the road – my somewhat limited romantic interaction with my small-town peers meant that there was little opportunity for me to require much emotional investment. It wasn’t as necessary for us to navigate the emotional minefield that are relationships formed within the bubble of your local high school. But, regardless, I was proud that I stood out from “most” girls, the ones who dared to expect a certain level of respect and kindness from the boys who wanted a stake in their girlhood.

I grew up, of course, moved away, found a community at university, and was introduced to intersectional feminism (though I guess the internet deserves a bigger shout out for that one). Unfortunately, the role I had subconsciously identified for myself – a sounding board for men – followed me into adulthood, and it’s something I try to shake off even today.  I have to consciously remind myself that my value doesn’t lie in my ability to be a blank slate with ears and no voice, ready to listen to a man’s woes and coo softly until he feels validated. I’m often told that I’m appreciated for my understanding nature, but rarely for my opinions, and that’s a problem. How do I know when I’m offering a friend unconditional support, like I absolutely want to, or when I’m trying to prove my worth to a man by absorbing his issues as if they are my own?

It turns out that being surrounded by self-proclaimed male feminists doesn’t make this any easier. Many of them seem to consider themselves a sort of neutral observer, meaning they have a free pass to comment on whatever they wish without it holding the same weight as if it had come from, y’know, an actually misogynistic man. This has resulted in me (and lots of the women around me) having developed a new kind of wariness around our male feminist pals, particularly the most outspoken ones – the ones who are by saying they are, rather than by doing. The ones who will post feminist article upon feminist article, before turning to me at a party and calling a mutual friend a “slut”. The ones who admit that they “don’t really see the point” in body positivity. The ones who seem to project the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope onto every woman they get close to. Some men have a way of speaking to women which errs more on the side of lecturing regardless of conversation topic, and it tends to be those ones.

Bizarrely, recent pop culture shenanigans involving a Mr & Mrs West and a Ms Swift were what really brought this to the forefront of my mind. All three could (and have) inspire(d) thousands of think pieces in the name of intersectionality, but what really got me was the insinuation by more than one “male feminist” that any criticism directed towards Taylor Swift by a woman is a sure symptom of internalised misogyny. This is, at best, a lack of self awareness; or worse, an unsurprising but still disturbing example of how men use feminism as a tool, twisting it to suit their agenda and winning themselves brownie points in the process. It’s not even a necessarily inaccurate observation – Taylor Swift is pop’s ultimate sweetheart, with a career plagued by misogyny on a level astronomical enough to match her record sales. But she has also branded herself as the face of white feminism, has a willingness to throw others under the bus in order to advance herself which has been proven time and time again, and is the biggest pop star on the planet. Chances are, a lot of people are talking about her because she’s a topic – a piece of pop culture escapism – which transcends well beyond the edges of your familiar internet echo chamber, and incites an opinion from many more people than just about anything else.

So is she at the receiving end of a lot of gender-based malice? Absolutely. And I might be less insulted by men’s accusations of internalised misogyny if I believed for even one second that if Beyonce, or Rihanna, or any of the other countless women of colour in the spotlight were in the same position, that men would also be running to her defence in the name of feminism. But I don’t, and they wouldn’t, and as women we don’t spend years un-learning disdain for our gender and allowing men into our movements just to be told that they know best.

The reality is that they will never completely ‘get it’ – ‘it’ being experiences unique to being a woman, the mental gymnastics girls have to do to deconstruct everything we were ever taught about femininity, as well as the almost obsessive preoccupation with our own motivations as a result of this self analysis – which is fine as long as they don’t take it upon themselves to overlook that in a quest to be Twitter’s Next Top Feminist.

Plenty of people would respond to this by pointing out that at least they’re trying. Surely it’s better to be supporting feminism in a misguided way than to not do so at all? How do you expect to win people over as feminists if you can’t even be grateful when people try to back your cause up just because they’re not perfect? Well, that works on the assumption that we only have two options, and I won’t accept that. While once I treasured my outspokenly feminist guy friends like I had struck gold, I’ve grown cynical and suspicious. I’d now say that the most feminist men I know are some who have never actually uttered the F word to me – I know from our conversations, our relationships, my knowledge of their intelligence and respect for others that they are reliably feminist (or feminist allies), it just being a facet of their personality instead of something they’ve latched onto as a branding technique. I know many, many, many men in whose company I’d feel far too intimidated to voice any gender equality-based opinions, but these days I feel similar about a lot of these feminist men: I’m too uncomfortable to bring it up if I can help it, in case I’m spoken over or put in my place.

I remember being on a date with a man, and him mentioning something about misogyny in passing. I felt immediate relief, thinking oh thank god he knows that’s a thing. He spoke about it like it exists, like it’s not a joke. The bar is really too low, and yet we practically fall over ourselves to heap praise on any man who seems fairly liberal. He calls himself a feminist, we’re suddenly desperate for his approval. He tells us that even though he respects all women, we’re “not like most of them”. We’re suddenly fifteen again, and the cycle continues. I’m sure this could be construed as confusing, certainly contradictory, but it’s not women’s responsibility to make this easy. It’s not easy and it’s not for men, so if they want to be part of the movement then it’s up to them to find their place as a source of support and an educational voice within the male population, rather than attempting to become a leader.

Just, please, for the love of god, avoid any man with ‘feminist’ in his Tinder bio.

In Defence of… Bisexuality

Originally published as part of my ‘In Defence of…’ column in the Glasgow Guardian, April 2015.

I have one very specific memory of being a young teen, watching Skins, seeing Naomi and texting my older friend to ask when she knew she was a lesbian. I remember berating myself for being silly – I had never come close to being romantic with a girl – before realising that I wasn’t old enough to have been romantic with a boy either, yet no one questioned the posters of various successful men adorning my walls. In fact, no one told me I wasn’t old enough to know what I wanted when I was five years old and decided I wanted Ronan Keating to be my husband. (An offer which still stands.)
My question was not ‘how did you know?’ but came from a place of seeking validation – and wanting to know when I would be considered experienced enough to give myself that validation with total credibility. Nearly a decade later, it turns out that those studded belts and fingerless gloves really were just a phase, but this wasn’t – yet still any casual mention of my bisexuality catches in my throat.
The battle to be taken seriously is one that the bisexual community must confront on all sides, as they can often be marginalised just as severely in LGBT spaces – including, but certainly not limited to, accusations of straight-passing benefits directed at those in heterosexual relationships and the consequent implication that their sexuality is defined by who they are dating at that moment rather than by who they say they are. The LGBT community is permeated by the attitude that bi people just aren’t enough of one thing for their identity to be authentic, resulting in alienation and difficulties integrating with a population which should serve as a sphere of emotional refuge. If I had a pound for every time an outspokenly bisexual friend of mine in a relationship with another woman is referred to as a lesbian, I would have enough money to found a service dedicated to eradicating those worryingly high bisexual suicide rates. Research has shown that both in the UK and internationally, bi people are significantly more likely than other sexualities to suffer poor mental and physical health, live in poverty, or become victims of domestic violence. It’s important to note, however, that this is no case of competitive discrimination – what is crucial is that we understand that our struggles differ, affected by unique intersections of prejudice.
Stereotypes related to promiscuity fuel epidemic levels of hypersexualisation, plaguing bisexuality’s attempt to find its footing in a society which refuses to acknowledge it as anything beyond a grey area. Visibility in both the media and in legislation plays a vital role in the legitimisation of bisexuality, but also proves to be something of a catch-22; bisexual representation will increase as it finds greater society-wide acceptance, but that’s a tough thing to do without the helping hand of visibility along the way. The very definition of bisexuality faces controversy (in this column it assumes that of ‘attraction to ones own gender and other genders’), while there is pressure for all genders to fill equal percentages in a person’s attraction quota before they are entitled to the label. Even the process of ‘coming out’ can be an area of difficulty for bisexual people in a way that varies from the experiences of others: the lack of acceptance of bisexuality as a standalone orientation can lead to questions regarding whether it is something they should do at all. If someone does make the decision to announce themselves as bisexual, ensure they feel that they are enough no matter where they fall on any spectrum.

I Dance to Purple Songs [playlist]

One of my favourite things to do is make themed playlists (tip: my Spotify library is a riot, don’t even bother), especially when they’re for other people, and especially when I think I’ll be expressing something or other with this little collection of tracks I spent hours selecting and agonising over. I also really wanted to do enough of something to at least be able to convince myself that I had been mildly productive on this sleepy Sunday, but I have a bad habit of second guessing myself when it comes to blog themes (I’m still working on how to be somewhat interesting). I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, both for publications and to be stored away on my hard drive never to be seen by human eyes again, and all I’ve really wanted to discuss is music. Which is the case most of the time, really. So I spent the afternoon throwing together a playlist of, well, my favourite songs right now. I did toy with a few theme ideas – themes make things a hell of a lot easier – but nothing sparked my imagination much, and the internet doesn’t need another ‘Songs to listen to when you’re surrounded by mush on Valentines Day’ playlist which consists solely of Beyoncé songs. Because mine would. I promise.

I also really like the way this kind of playlist can act as a screenshot into someone’s life at that moment, because these songs aren’t suggestions in the hope of winning cool points nor do they need to adhere to tone or cohesion. They’re the tracks someone keeps going back to as they go about their life, and it’s definitely a fun way to get inside someone’s head when you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are as passionate about music as you are.

That, of course, is far too straightforward a thing for me to do, so I’ll also be using this to talk about my synaesthesia a little. “Synaesthesia is a condition where a sensation in one of the senses, such as hearing, triggers a sensation in another, such as taste. For example, some people with synaesthesia can taste numbers or hear colours.” (Thanks, Google.) I’ve been a synaesthete for as long as I can remember and it’s a cool little personality tidbit that I give heavy credit to for my creative writing flare. The main strand of synaesthesia I experience is day/name/number/object/pretty much anything you can think of > colour (though it goes a lot further, and I’m still discovering them even at this age as ‘not things everyone does’) and so I’ll also note what colour each of  these songs is to me. I have yet to figure out if my enjoyment of music is in some way linked to the colour I see it as. I will use HTML codes, because I am a woman of the times.

Catch the embedded playlist at the bottom of the page!

1. Your Graduation – Modern Baseball

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Yes, yes, I know, groundbreaking choice of Modern Baseball track. It took me a long time to get into this band the way so many people are, and I couldn’t see the attraction much beyond this song, but about a month ago it clicked and now I can’t get enough of  their stuff. I’m really excited to see them play Stereo again.

 

2. Sloppy Seconds – Watsky

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Watsky has been, far and away, not just my most listened to artist this week but of the year so far. He is a master of words in a way I could only dream 0f, and his tunes range from damn great to damn fun. This was actually the first track of his I was told to listen to and it popped back into regular rotation for me recently when a couple of lines really caught my ear in a way they hadn’t before. Show me someone who says they’ve got no baggage/I’ll show you somebody who’s got no story/Nothing gory means no glory, but baby please don’t bore me.

3. Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time – Panic! At The Disco

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I have been asked recently if they new Panic! album is good and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to say. I don’t know if it’s good. Brendon’s lyrics are passable at the best of times and his voice is so good that it’s almost difficult to judge the songwriting independently of that, but I know I have listened to it more than I have since Pretty. Odd. was released. This track is huge, that sample works works perfectly and it definitely satisfies the twelve year old inside me who is still covered in Fueled By Ramen stickers.

4. Dance For You – Beyoncé

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I said the playlist wouldn’t be entirely Beyoncé. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Bey fan, but this has been one of my favourites for a long time and I never grow tired of the way the chorus almost hits you in waves. That beat makes me want to take all my clothes off.

5. Losing Myself – State Champs

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One of the few pop punk bands formed after 2003 that I still listen to, State Champs really do the by-the-numbers thing well and this is always the first place I go when I give the newest album a spin. We attract what we’re ready for.

6. Freakish – Saves The Day

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A classic, of course, but it popped up the other day and it was like I was hearing it for the first time. I knew I had grown out of Saves The Day when they bored me senseless on that Brand New tour, but… this chorus just gets me, in all the glory of its emo.

7. Crumb – Lafawndah

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I was given Lafawndah’s Tan EP to review recently and was very pleasantly surprised. Some of the sounds on this are crazy good and this track in particularly is delicious for the rhythm-orientated part of me.

8. Driveway Birthday – Milk Teeth

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I’ve been digging the lyrics to this a lot lately when I’ve felt down and didn’t feel it could be battled with a one man Nicki Minaj dance party. Awesome band.

9. Junk – Eyedea & Abilities

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I’m still getting to grips with the E&A material but keep returning to this one. Definitely not background music, it demands your attention in all the best ways.

10. Same Ol’ Mistakes – Rihanna

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I’ve really been loving ANTI, and this song is a good example of the moody haziness of the whole album. The production alone makes it worth a listen.

11. We Don’t Believe What’s On TV – Twenty One Pilots

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Again, the album this appears on (Blurryface) is one I’ve been really into recently but this one keeps reappearing on my day-to-day playlists. I don’t care what’s in your hair, I just wanna know what’s on your mind. I struggled to decide between this and Doubt as the Twenty One Pilots feature.

 

So there you have it. I encourage everyone to make similar ‘this is what it sounds like to be me right now’ playlists!

 

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