Issue #20: Fish Tank and TWICE (again)
Okay, enough people told me they read these, so the subheads are staying🎉
Um… yeah… no newsletter last week. No notice, even. A first in HB/LB history.
Listen, I’m not perfect. Shockingly (and much to my chagrin) writing this newsletter isn’t the only thing I’ve got going on in my life. I’ve got a big writing project I really need to finish by the end of the summer. Until that gets done, HB/LB will become a bi-monthly newsletter.
*holds for ear-busting shrieks of intense and all-consuming grief*
Listen, it just be like that sometimes. HB/LB will be coming to you once every two weeks or so until the schedule gods decide to smile upon me.
Now with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to the Meat/Meat-Substitute and Potatoes/keto-friendly-alternative.
This week, our HIGHBROW brings us back to the church of Andrea Arnold. Andrea, Andrea, Andrea. You gave me a Shia LaBeouf vehicle that’s actually good (ahem, ahem). You gave me a captivating and messy season of Big Little Lies. But first, you gave me Fish Tank and changed my world.
One thing to know about me is that I’ve developed a taste for a specific type of movie. It’s usually about a teen girl somewhere between the ages of 13-17. She’s typically European. She’s alone a lot. She’s unpolished. She has private hopes and dreams. She’s “dealing with” her body in some way or another. She’s intrigued by sex in theory, but confused and disappointed by what it actually ends up being. She has undesirable qualities: maybe she’s rude, maybe she’s depressed, maybe she whines, maybe she’s a narcissist.
Andrea Arnold hits pretty much all of these points. Fish Tank tells the story of Mia Williams, a 15-year-old girl stuck in a massive public housing complex with a volatile mom and a much-younger little sister who enjoys smoking cigarettes. Mia herself is a handful. She picks fights, she curses at strangers, she gets drunk by herself. With little else to fill her days, Mia spends her time alone in an abandoned flat practicing hip hop dance routines. It’s her respite from the chaos of her life, the thing that propels her days forward. Very quickly, she’s introduced to her mother’s new boyfriend (played by an incredibly snatched Michael Fassbender) who plays an increasingly confusing role in Mia’s life. What happens next is a beautiful and painful story about growing up.
The film is peppered with hits from the nineties and the noughties (think Cassie, Ashanti, Ja Rule, Nas), but the most pivotal song to the film is Bobby Womack’s rendition of California Dreamin’. It appears in the film exactly three times. Each appearance of the song marks a moment in Mia’s coming of age as she travels the arc from youthful optimism to loss of innocence.
I don’t know what it is about teens. I love coming-of-age stories. I love shenanigans. I love the performance of cool. I love the narrative of the “school self” and the “home self.” I love angst. I love intensity. I love being on the precipice of potential. I love being able to see across the threshold of adulthood from the safety of adolescence. I love believing that the future will be better than the present. I love feeling nervous. I love prom. I love blaming adults. I love teen shit.
And Andrea Arnold knows about all that teen shit. She shows us the world through Mia’s eyes, too-cool-for-school at times, painfully naive at others. As always, Arnold keeps you close to her characters. Mia’s face is never too far away. It’s almost like you can feel her breath in your ear. As you watch, you can’t help but notice the details of her face: the way her hair sticks up, the way her pimples sprout up along her temple. It’s almost as if you’re walking through the world with your cheek pressed against Mia’s. I don’t know if that’s creepy for me to say seeing as Mia’s character is 15-years-old. But my piping hot take is this: teenage girls have internal lives and having an intimate peek into that world doesn’t have to be a sexualized experience. Even if that internal world includes sexuality and sexual things (because, HELLO, teens have sex and think about it A LOT MORE), you don’t have to frame her experience with the lens of your sexuality. I’m just mad that the dominant narrative around female adolescent sexuality is like Lolita (if you HB) or American Pie (if you LB).
Fish Tank is a movie I carry with me. It’s always in my brain. It hit me so hard the first time I watched it, it’s imprinted in me. I’ve been Mia. I am her now. I’ve been spurred by passion. I’ve thought I was savvier than I actually am. I’ve been brought back down to earth, cut to size. I’ve been disappointed. I’ve pushed through it. I’ve found peace in growing more grounded and mourned every inch my head dropped beneath the clouds.
Hey, guys. I know I just asked you to convert to the church of Andrea Arnold, but we’re actually converting AGAIN and are now worshipping at the church of TWICE. Yeah, we’re back to K-Pop. Sue me.
This one’s a bit of a repeat, so shoutout to the readers who were around for Issue #2.
I normally try not to recommend an artist more than once, but two very important things have happened since I gushed about TWICE back in March:
They released their greatest work YET (a true feat from an always impeccable girl group).
I went to their concert and it fucked me up.
As a refresher, TWICE is a nine-person K-pop girl group. They debuted in 2015 with the instant smash Like OOH-AHH(OOH-AHH하게) and have been on fire ever since. They are known for their bright and catchy songs, their deceptively complex choreography, their mastery of being cute and hot at the same time and in equal parts.
For me, TWICE is K-pop in its purest form. They don’t try to “emulate” Western artists (ahem, ahem, AHEM). They don’t hop onto trends and fads. They take their visuals very seriously. They are consistent yet inventive. They have forged a path of their own. Their only competition is themselves.
I thought TWICE were going to continue down the path they’ve been traveling: cute and girly bops, cute choreo, the occasional piercing sexy stare. And I would have been totally satisfied with that. Suffocate me under a pile of Sana singing “shy, shy, shy” and I will die a blissful death.
But because TWICE are TWICE and therefore QUEENS and therefore INNOVATORS and therefore GENIUSES, they’ve blessed the world with a new era: FANCY.
I can’t really put my feelings about this song into coherent sentences, so I will list a few keywords: SEXY, BOP, MATURE, ELECTRO-POP, FASHION, HOT, CHAEYOUNG ESPECIALLY IS HOT, AESTHETIC, SNATCHED, DISRUPTION, INNOVATION, REINVENTION, CHOREO, CHAEYOUNG USED TO LOOK LIKE A MUSHROOM NO OFFENSE AND NOW SHE’S A SEX GODDESS DAMN PUBERTY IS POWERFUL, CATCHY.
FANCY truly a perfect pop song: sexy, fun, catchy, highly danceable and NOT BORING. Someone finally dared to have one original thought, and I thank them for it!
You can watch the music video for FANCY here, their gorgeous dance practice video here, and this cover by rookie boy group Stray Kids here. The rest of their Fancy You EP also very good. Check out Turn It Up (co-written by shy, shy, shy Sana!)
So that’s that on FANCY. However, there is more to discuss.
A few weeks ago, TWICE came to “New York” (actually Newark) as part of their TWICE World Tour 2019 ‘TWICELIGHTS.’ And yeah, I spent a stupid amount to go see them. And yeah, it was absolutely worth it because Tzuyu waved at me and now we’re dating, actually. And yeah, all I have are these shitty iPhone photos. YOUR POINT?
Moving on… some Good Things and some Sad Things happened at this concert.
I saw TWICE in person and, guess what, they’re all really hot and have very toned legs.
(this is worth repeating) Tzuyu, my fiancée, waved at me .
Nayeon, Chaeyoung, and Jeongyeon sang a cover of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.
Because of the aforementioned cover, Nayeon sang, “No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgendered life” and is, therefore, an ally and an LGBTQ rights activist. This also means that Chaeyoung, a Korean woman, was forced to sing the word “Orient.” Please direct all complaints to Stefani Germanotta.
Tzuyu, Sana and Dahyun covered Beyoncé’s Dance for You. There was a hair fan. My wife Tzuyu said she’s going to put her body on my body. Her (and Beyoncé’s) words. I’ll oblige if I must. Happy wife, happy life.
Seriously, they looked SO GOOD.
TWICE looked so good that my body dysmorphia made an enthusiastic comeback🤘🏾!
It was so hot out that day that, as we were waiting in line to enter the venue, I started to sweat in that little crevice where my butt cheek meets my upper thigh. I had to watch TWICE with two little streams of sweat trickling down the backs of my legs. Not ideal.
Many of the members seemed very tired, and when they weren’t “on” they looked pretty out of it
One of the members, Mina, has been sitting out the bulk world tour, including all TWICE’s American dates. JYP Entertainment, TWICE’s management company, released a statement that she has been suffering from intense anxiety and is stepping away from promotions for the time being. This breaks my heart. A lot of K-pop groups are overworked and heavily scrutinized. These are kids in their teens and early twenties, they’re not sleeping properly, they’re constantly, they rarely see their families, they’re pressured into maintaining a very specific (*coughSKINNYcough*) look. This is on top of also being full-time pop stars. Mental health is seldom discussed publicly in K-pop. Despite the circumstances, it’s encouraging to see an effort to treat and destigmatize anxiety. The members of TWICE have been talking openly about Mina at their concerts. At the Newark concert, they cried and expressed how much they miss her. Mina’s absence was definitely felt.
I didn’t leave the concert feeling quite so happy and light as I had expected. There was a heaviness to the whole affair. Being a K-pop fan also means being confronted with the many ways the industry can be problematic and exploitative. It’s drooling over the bright colors and happy faces and stunning choreography while understanding that sweat and tears and pain went into the making of it. Take care of yourselves, y’all—it’s a privilege.
My final word on TWICE (for now) is that a nine-person pop group is not too big. You can hold nine names and faces in your brain. Just wait till I tell you about IZ*ONE and their twelve asses. Nine is a good number. Fight me.
Thanks to everyone who responded to the last newsletter. Even if I don’t reply to all messages, I definitely read them all and your words of encouragement are appreciated!
I’ll see you when I see you.