big eyeballs, confessional voice notes, dashed divorce rumors
Welcome to Digestable, your mouthful of things happening in the world.
No reads yet from me this week - just over here feeling like this crab. Here’s to a hopefully smoothish beginning of the week!
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
There seems to be a trend lately of artists interspersing little confessional voice notes and snatches of casual conversation into their albums. Alexis Petridis notes in his review of FKA Twigs’s recently released Caprisongs that Twigs, Adele, and Jazmine Sullivan all use this scratchy scrapbook audio in their latest releases. These spoken bits serve to connect the artist’s personal life with their songs: Adele telling her child “mummy’s been having a lot of big feelings recently” on My Little Love clarifies the emotional weight of 30. Hearing Twigs’s astrologer exclaim “I was just taking a look at your chart and oh my goodness” deepens Tahliah’s use of astrology to frame for her mental state. But the inclusion of spoken interludes has a longer historical trajectory that, in my mind, starts with the hip-hop skit.
One of the originators of the skit, according to Jeff Weiss, is Long Island trio De La Soul whose 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising spoofed a daytime TV game show in interludes throughout the album. The purpose of these goofy skits was to link the album together and to give the band a sense of identity. Skits took off through the 90s and the aughts with rappers, singers, and musicians of all stripes using these little radio plays for laughs or for fully fleshed concepts like Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers which, in Weiss’s words, “transported listeners into the middle of a movie that you scrambled to glue together from stray clues and dialogue.”
I personally know skits from their percolation into the poppier side of music, like Nicki Minaj’s cavalcade of alter-egos, and Janelle Monae’s Metropolis album cycle. I’ve been revisiting some MIA recently and thoroughly enjoyed the dated skit on Matangi where the critic she voices threatens to “Kony2012 you!” But to get from theatrical and often humorous skits to Adele talking into her phone we have to talk about Dev Hynes.
Hynes, otherwise known as Blood Orange, makes music like no one else. His albums combine music, field recordings, poetry, and interviews into something that is at once documentary, essay, and art. Hynes never makes work alone and his collaborations go far beyond what you’d expect of a “feature.” The skit-like spoken pieces of a Blood Orange album do more than help identify the listener with the artist or break up the album, they advance the artist’s ideas in ways that compliment and expand upon the musical elements. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, I would check out By Ourselves whose two minutes include a Charles Mingus sample, a poem by Ashlee Haze, a field recording from Washington Square Park, guest vocals from Ava Raiin and Ian Isaiah, and saxophone solo by Jason Arce.
Hynes’s style of album assembly has been incredibly influential, due primarily to the closeness of his collaborations. You can see his influence in the works of Solange, Empress Of, Beyonce, Frank Ocean, and many more. These documentary-style skits combine the lived experience of the artist with interviews and source material to say something more than music alone can.
The 20/20 Experience
I haven’t mentioned Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales yet, the third album mentioned in Petridis’s review, but I think the album goes far beyond what 30 and Caprisongs do with spoken interludes. Heaux Tales uses interviews with an ensemble of women to inform and give weight to the album’s songs. Sullivan’s songs bloom out of these women’s tales and the album is stronger for their inclusion. This, to me, is more in line with Dev Hynes’s style of documentary assemblage whereas Adele and Twigs’s albums use voice recordings like a traditional skit, to help the listener identify with the artist. This doesn’t hurt the album, but it’s flat in comparison to the fun of a creative skit or the polyvocal potential of a more assembled album. To conclude: Sagimoon, Pisciveen, Caprisun.
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.
Towards the end of 2021, there were a lot of rumors that Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra would be divorcing in the new year. I actually don't know how those rumors got started but a lot of Tik Tok gossip pages really latched onto this theory and ran wild with it. The rumor also made it into Gawker's article of celebrity couples most likely to split up in 2022. As far as I can determine, there wasn't really any evidence to support these claims, and most people went with it because the Chopra-Jonases were giving off a "divorcey vibe." Part of it might have been attributed to the fact that the couple was so quiet last year that people thought there was trouble in paradise. Well, we were all wrong -- because the couple announced last week that they had welcomed a new baby girl via surrogacy!
I feel like Nick and Priyanka have been planning and preparing for this child for a while now, and that was why the two of them were relatively lowkey for several months. I also just checked and the two have been married for three years now! Time just moves so quickly and it feels like only yesterday that the Chopra-Jonases had their multi-day wedding in the United States and India, where Priyanka is originally from. This is Nick and Priyanka's first child together so I'm sure the pair will continue keeping a low profile as they enjoy their first moments with their baby.
I grew up with the Jonas Brothers everywhere -- literally every girl in my school was a huge fan of their music and movies, and one could hardly escape their songs being heavily played on the radio every hour. It's sweet to see the Jonas Brothers becoming Jonas Fathers and I hope the Chopra-Jonases are doing well. Yay for beating divorce rumors!