It's been a while, hasn’t it? I remember how much I used to fear the feeling of endlessly talking into a void. Incessant yapping. Empty and dark. Not even an echo. The thought kind of makes me chuckle now ‘cause isn’t it so funny how everything is so straightforward? Our hyper-aware, overthinking brains get so complicated but surprise, surprise; the solution to the void I feared was by filling it with me. I’ve moved beyond the thought of “oh, perhaps one day someone might come across my website!” and have grown comfortable with the thought, “I’ve made this website for me to look back on, to like, to dislike, to criticize, to edit, and to create!” I’ve begun to create for myself, and that’s essentially what I’m here to talk some more about.
I’m about a semester away from graduating and getting my Master’s, which will hopefully be the last diploma in a while. The idea of leaving school is great…it’s wonderful, even. But that means I’m about a semester away from figuring out what I want to do with “the rest of my life.” The rest of my life is, in retrospect, a bit of a far stretch. But when I’ve only ever known school and school and school, the prospect of looking at my own career outside of academia suddenly seemed very real—like, gaping canyon real. Empty, dark void real.
So, I started in a place I knew best; YouTube. Upon watching Damon Dominic’s video on self-help books, I thought, why not try it out? I’ve always been into self-improvement, and although YouTube is a great place to learn, my track record says I learn so much more when I’m immersed in a book. By chance, the only book on his list that I could find for free was The Art of Nonconformity by Chris Guillebeau. I’m still making my way through it as I write. The book is meant to be a light-hearted approach to the big life questions (what is my true purpose? What am I meant to do with my life? What kind of impact could I leave on the world?) And yet, despite the approachable stories and language, it is still a heavy world to step into. There is, of course, the underpinning annoyance with the fact that most of these self-help books are often told in a very masculine and privileged voice, but that’s a huge story for another time. Regardless, it’s heavy ‘cause it meant I was making a promise to step into a realm I had never really fully been to before, at least not like this.
On top of reading, I am also heavily driven by spirituality. Since I had been doing my shadow work, my spirituality has taken the front seat, which hasn’t always been the case. I used to make decisions based on my pragmatic (overthinking) brain and adjust based on intuition later, once discomfort starts trickling in through conflict, tension, and ominous dreams. But my recent tarot readings had all been loud and clear, providing a unified message; I need to let my spirituality lead my decisions because I am at the turn of a new chapter. And it makes absolute sense once you think it through rationally. As I finally leave school, I can no longer remain on autopilot and rely on dreams and aspirations I had built in the midst of puberty and the convoluted process called growing up. I had goals and manifestations before this whole thing started, but I had never actually sat down with myself and fully confronted why I’ve wanted the things I’ve told myself I wanted for so long. Essentially, my brain was on sleepwalking mode, filled with fog that I and others have put in there, so I was going to have to trust a different sense this time around.
It surprised me that most of the things I wanted were merely vague outlines of culminated internalised indoctrinations and expectations of others. When was the last time you did something for yourself, without the advice from or company of others? When was the last time you bought or did something because you simply wanted to, not because it’s a good investment for the future? When was the last time you actually asked yourself what you want to do with the rest of your life, instead of listening to what others tell you you should do? When was the last time you did something just for the sake of doing it, and not to get “better” at something?
I knew that so many of what I thought I wanted were actually just automated responses to fears people instilled in me. I think at my core, I am a creative, a community-helper, a healer, and learner. I want to make art, I want to write, I want to become connected to the people in my communities, I want to travel and learn about other people’s ways of connecting and creating, and I want to grow and reflect for the rest of my life. Yet, when it came to manifesting my “dream life,” I was playing a game of chicken with myself, running around in circles. I would start to get obsessed with numbers, manifesting a certain amount of following so I could get the audience and community I wanted. I started manifesting awards and acknowledgements within the artistic and creative fields I was interested in. But who is it all for? If it is for the “fame” and “fortune” that society tells you to want, I was on the right track. For me? There was not an ounce of me in my manifestations. I was manifesting based on the fears that had been instilled me; not having enough money, not being successful enough to live a comfortable life, not being recognised enough to have my ego satisfied, etc etc etc. Once I locked myself in my room for the whole weekend and wrote everything down with pen and paper, I realised I didn’t want any of the things I had been manifesting at all. In fact, when I am musing outside of societal fear, I actually don’t want many material things at all. Also, not that material things are bad things either. If you want a million dollar mansion then manifest and work towards it! It just wasn’t what I wanted. So why was I manifesting and working towards it?
Then I watched the Social Dilemma on Netflix. Yep, this is where it all goes down hill. I knew it gave everyone an existential crisis, but I doubted this millennial obsession with being “unplugged.” I considered myself to be a curatorial online consummer. I had followed the “rules,” so to speak. I only followed people who inspired me, empowered me, motivated me, and allowed me to learn the knowledge I wasn’t getting in my syllabi. I followed artists, activists, teachers, healers, psychologists, and friends and family that I actually care about. I barely spent over an hour on Instagram everyday. And yet, when I deleted Instagram for the first time, I felt like a piece of my life was retreating back to me. I suddenly felt a little less stress about not having enough time in the day to do my thesis. I felt like I was falling asleep when I was telling myself to fall asleep. I gravitated towards books more often than my phone. And even then, with the little dependency I thought I had, I was still fighting this urge to scratch an itch beneath the skin. Every time I saw a pretty sunset I instantly wanted to put it on my story. I took a nice selfie and immediately started editing the colours of the photo for a post. I worried that one of my friends had been waiting on a DM to be answered while I was away. I began growing nervous about not keeping up to date with recent political events. At some point, I even thought, “well what’s gonna’ happen if I decide that I want to make money off of Instagram?” when I had literally no intention of being an Instagram influencer. Clearly, I was a little more dependent than I thought. And I redownloaded Instagram…like five times. And then I deleted it again. I even noticed that once I deleted Instagram, I started getting lost in other apps just for the sake of scrolling, just as The Social Dilemma had predicted. Suddenly I was back on Tumblr for an hour straight as if I was fourteen again, or I would watch TikToks until over midnight, which I hadn’t done in almost a year. It was grim. At some point, I was refreshing my emails every hour just to find something to do on my phone. Who does that?! It’s no wonder so many of us are sleepwalking, there’s too much noise!
The last straw was watching a video on this guy who deleted social media for a month and began to explore nostalgia through traveling across Portugal without wi-fi and capturing the moments through an analog camera. I had never watched a single video from his channel, but it popped up in my recommended page and it brought me a feeling I hadn’t felt in a very long time. The video instantly brought me back to summer and winter holidays in my oma’s home in Bali while I was growing up. Spending months in a house without internet or a working laptop other than the old PC set up in her office, dedicating a whole week to sitting on the patio with a really thick fantasy book, and only having access to an old Blackberry and a nice polaroid camera to capture my moments with. The guy said something about how, due to technology and the information overload it has caused, we no longer have the space to remember. Because we have so much space to capture things with our phones and social media, our memories are fleeting. They are encapsulated in a few seconds and a few thousand pictures we never filter through anymore. But when we don’t have the ability to capture that many moments at once, it forces us to stay in the moment so that we can engrave it in our minds. His theory is true to my experience with my vacations in Bali. I don’t have many pictures other than the ones my mother took on the family digital camera, but I vividly remember the sound of the birds flying around my grandmother’s home at two in the afternoon, I remember the feeling of hot sand under my feet with the sun throbbing on my shoulders, I remember the smell of sunscreen and chlorinated pool and grilled fish near the ocean. I can conjure these memories and they come to me so quickly and deeply, I’m always a little disoriented when I come back to my present surroundings.
So…what does this have to do with confronting my current self? Intentional living. That’s what’s securing me on my path towards my Higher Self. Kloee Taylor, one of my favourite spiritualists on YouTube talks about how you are always on your path. Even if you somehow find yourself driving down a different road, you were meant to go through it so you can get back on the road you need to be on. Thus, you never actually go “off” your path. Despite some insecurities back in high school, social media has done immense things for me, my growth, and my learning. It had always been a part of my path, and it did great things for it. But now, I’m deleting all of my social media apps not to “focus on being more productive,” I do it so that I can have as much space in my mind to do the things I actually want to do with my life; figuring it out, being reflective, creating, trying, failing, and doing those things with mindful intention to ensure that I am making the most of every single day I get. It’s fine if I re-download the apps six hundred times, but now I have the awareness and sensitivity towards knowing when they’re taking way more space in my brain than I can afford. And it’s also not revolutionary. Growing up traveling, I spent so many months away from my own country, without a local number to get constant wi-fi with. I know this deep reflection and being present on a day to day basis. I do it almost every year. I think it’s also probably why traveling with my family while growing up was always extra magical. So what’s a little more intentional living everyday?
In conclusion, I leave you with these questions:
What is more magical, peculiar, whimsical and curious than being a teenage gxrl? It’s an experience that is fleeting and so quick it almost feels like it never happened in retrospect, yet feels like a lifetime when you’re in the midst of it. I talked to two teenage gxrls whilst in Hong Kong, Elsa and Guenevere, who are both turning fourteen this year and have gone to school together for two years now. We spent the day in Central, the city area of Hong Kong, where people wear tailored suits and branded bags. Being a teenage gxrl is a ‘if you know, you know’ type of thing that allowed me to start a conversation with the gxrls the second we met at the fast food restaurant. I think the sheer experience of it gives fellow teenage gxrls a very specific language that’s only for us, and it’s probably the reason why we started talking about boys and astrology (Elsa is a Sagittarius and Guen is a Leo) the minute we sat to eat our food.
I’ve always been passionate about what teenage gxrls have to say. Guen and Elsa prove that they’re welcoming by nature, and are almost always willing to open up, if someone would just ask the right questions. The gxrls talk about drama at school, and both mention how they seem to get dragged into drama that isn’t theirs. “It makes life harder, makes going to school harder,” Guen shrugs. We even talk about crying at night, “I cry about my insecurities and people I’ve lost in the past,” says Elsa. “I tend to keep it bottled up, too, since I don’t want to bother anyone,” Guen admits.
We talked about rebellion, honesty, and passion. Earnestly, Elsa tells me that the most rebellious thing she has done is shoplift. I instantly asked her if she was scared, and she was, “but I did get away with it,” she laughs after. Guen, on the other hand, is occupied by societal issues, “I grew up with activism around me, so I’m passionate about gender equality and feminism,” and she notes that standing up for the queer community is kind of like rebelling against her parents. They both wish people understood them better. “I wish people knew that I’m not mean, and that teenage gxrls are just trying to figure out life. We really don’t care about what you look like, we just care about what we look like,” Elsa explains. “I wish people knew that I’m tough, that I work hard and I’m passionate, even though things don’t come easy to me,” Guen says. “I wish people knew teenage gxrls are all going through something, too. Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean it’s dramatic.”
They are multificated people, and I know they have worlds within them, but being a teenage gxrl almost always seems to depend on the way you look. I asked them what they would wear if there were no restrictions, and Elsa admits that she’d wear something out of her comfort zone that makes her feel good, “my insecurities stop me from wearing what I want to wear, and I’m trying to get over that,” she says. Guen shares a similar sentiment, saying that she wishes she could wear clothes like cropped tops and shorts whenever she wants. “It makes me feel the most me, it’s my style.” Finally, I asked them for a song that makes them feel alive. They both chose Drake; Elsa’s is Trust Issues, the remix with Justin Bieber, and Guen’s is One Dance.
Watch the short film here:
Look, I can sugarcoat my experience at my predominantly white university all I want. Yes, I was both a student and an employee (so they were paying me whilst studying). And yes, I am definitely afraid of getting into legal drama if I were to be fully honest of my experience. Gaslight all you want, but the last time I spoke up, the experience was explosive and they literally dragged me into this weird, toxic cycle of questioning whether I was losing my sanity or they were actually being racist, which is a form of racial aggression. So yes, them profusely denying my opinions to the point of making me feel threatened is in itself a form of abusive behaviour, especially since they are authorities in power and I was a student coming forth with mere complaints gathered from students.
Long story short, my experience with my university has been one long exposé that occurred pre the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has now (thankfully) empowered students of colour to fully call out their institutions; BS-free; if it feels gross, it is gross type of thing. With the information I know now, I would come forward, look into the eyes of the Whites in power and say "if you so much as make me uncomfortable, that is your responsibility to unpack, detangle, and dispose of." In fact, a Western higher-education institution is by default a form of institutionalised racism, just through the ways in which these institutions gain funding, gatekeep education, and (only) teach eurocentric ideals, so...how is this even a debate?
But you don't need me telling you any of this. That was just the disclaimer for any of the energy-sucking cockroaches who might want to invalidate anything I have to say. No, if you're here, chances are you need to be given positive energy instead of given another lecture. So before ado is in anyway furthered, let's get into some helpful guidance.
I write for this magazine called NUKS at the university and every year, we publish the novella equivalent of our usual work for the introduction week. It's a nice ice breaker for the new incoming students to get to know our studies, our study association and the culture at our university/town. These pieces are usually fluffy, filled with favourites, city tours, and advice for scoring high grades in difficult first year courses. Not to say those aren't fun, but I felt a little dishonest trying to think of a Fun n' Fresh piece for the newbies. I felt a little lied to when I first came to the Netherlands, with the assuring promises of open-mindedness and tolerance (which I've come to find is a false self-narrative) and I didn't want to perpetuate the silencing "sure, I guess the Netherlands can be progressive." Thus, I bring you tips on how to create a safe space as a student of colour in a predominantly white institution instead!
1. The culture shock is real
Let's get this out of the way: your cultural identity will be challenged, questioned, awarded, tokenised, and who knows what else when you’re a part of a marginalised group in a space with non-marginalised people running the show. You will run into people who have views that you’ve never even heard of. This can be terrifying, but it can also be exciting. While university is a great time for you to experience new things, it can also be a great time to deconstruct your values, morals and what being you means to you. Although talking about identity in unknown environments can get harmful very quickly if people do not respect your basic existence and human rights, talking to your fellow intellectuals who are open and respectful can be a great and fun way to practice debating opinions, worldviews, and perspectives.
Just remember, no one else gets to define what your race, culture, or identity means to you. If someone tries to invalidate you or speak over your experiences, draw a boundary and get the hell out of there.
2. Find your space
All the good, meaty debate stuff is only good when you're completely safe. Establish this space for yourself. Find likeminded people, find the people you can consider your home away from your home. Go to on-campus events, go to open lectures and seminars, go to seasonal celebrations, watch local film screenings, attend the international student association get-togethers, strike conversations with random people in class or at the gym, and see what the campus has to offer. It can be a little awkward at first, but there is no better time to practice social skills than at a place dedicated to learning.
3. Speak up!
One of the best ways I’ve found my own circle is by speaking up in class or during audience commentaries. Being outspoken can be terrifying, especially in the face of professors and peers who may make you feel judged, but this is how you make yourself and your views known to your fellow peers without actually coming up to them. Don't let the ignorant and small-minded silence you, especially not in a space you've literally payed to be educated in. Bloom, regardless of the hatred, confusion or negativity.
4. Correct others, if need be
Opening yourself up to more casual and academic political conversations means you will have to discern those trying to get a rise out of you, playing "the devil's advocate" out of sheer disrespect, are plan racist and those who want to educate themselves but may be too privileged to understand the systemic oppression others experience. Once you can figure out who's who, you'll be able to decide if you want to give your energy to these people by explaining or if you want to leave the conversation/the people. Both are completely okay.
I hope it doesn’t happen to others, but I myself have run into peers and professors that say things that are ignorant or disrespectful in the classroom setting. This goes for every intersectionality of identity. If someone uses a word that is outdated, calls you by the wrong pronouns, or makes you feel silenced, correct the people around you. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake and you can always help your peers understand certain topics they might not have as much experience with. If kindness doesn't work, I suggest walking away. You do not have to carry out the emotional labour of educating those around you.
5. Don't stick to the status quo
Look, I went to a Catholic, mostly white university, where I studied the Western canon extensively. Suffice to say, it was not a diverse study. But that doesn't mean it can't be. Challenge the system if you believe something is problematic. Initiate conversations about course materials with your professors, seek course coordinators if you believe there is a structural issue, bring suggestions to the student councils and communities so that they can bring real change to your study if need be. The best things in life always evolve and you shouldn’t be afraid to create change in your own community.
The PooTube endeavour continues. Yesterday, I spent the whole day streaming my own videos on YouTube and encouraging other people to help me out. My mom had videos running in the background all day so that I could meet the minimum 4,000 watch time hours in order to get reviewed for monetisation and....WE DID IT! I am now under review, which I've found out can take quite a long time considering what's happening in the world right now.
I basically began watching a bunch of people on YouTube who approached the platform like a business, which is something I've always been skeptical about as an Arts and Cultural student who often discusses the moral-ethical implications of social media platforms in an academic setting. But, once I started getting a grip on keywords, click-through rates, and other super technical almost mathematical things the YouTube SEO offers, it's beginning to click for me. Of course, I'm still trying to be as mindful as possible because staring at social media like it's a game of numbers can be veeery damaging for one's mental health, and it's what a lot of YouTubers/Instagram influencers have spoken up about before. Regardless, there is no harm in educating yourself in order to get the best results from the content you already make.
1. Maximising Viewers
I used to only promote my YouTube videos on Instagram, but now I'm starting to dabble in promoting it on Facebook again. It's super interesting how our actions change the minute our perception changes. When I started looking at my YouTube channel like a business, during my last YouTube Diaries entry, I started to think about it more actively; where can I share this? What can I say about it to make other people interested instead of just "new youtube video, link in bio!"? What kind of title should I give this to make sure other people will watch my stuff? How are other people marketing their content?
Turns out, every little detail counts. Yeah, we know how thumbnails and tags work, but there is a whole other world out there when it comes to the algorithm. There's an app called TubeBuddy that I downloaded to help me track keyword searches and to see how good the traffic/competition is for these words. If they're bad, I don't use them in my titles/tags, if they're good, I figure out how to truthfully incorporate them.
2. Market Research
I then did a little viewer recon as I took to Instagram and asked for people's opinions on my Insta Stories. Not all of my viewers follow me on Instagram, but many engaged subscribers go there as a way of personally contacting me to ask their questions, usually pertaining their own university careers. I asked them which of my videos they like the best, what other kinds of videos they'd like to see from me, what kind of videos they watch other YouTubers for, and what kind of content YouTube is lacking overall. Here are some of the answers:
By doing this brief research, where maybe only 10 people answered, I already got 10 new video ideas. I think the key to treating YouTube like a business is foregrounding the art part of it all. I don't particularly think my weekly vlogs are art per se, but it is genuine content I am interested in making, interested in watching from others, and want to actually share with people. If I'm instantly unenthusiastic after reading a video idea, I won't do it. There's no point in talking myself into doing something I'm not passionate about?
Another corner for me to journal in? What a surprise! Basically, I wanted to document my journey with YouTube for myself. I've wanted to be a Youtuber since I was maybe 11 years old, maybe younger. I started watching older girls go through they acrylic makeup organisers and high schoolers unrealistically decorate their lockers (funfact: the only time I decorated my locker was when I stuck a sticker-photobooth-picture of my friends and I doing embarrassing poses with the words "unicorn" drawn all over them and it stuck so well that it never came off. That picture is probably still on the #15 locker in my old middle school).
In 2013, I found the courage to make a YouTube channel. I called it SelWantsNutella because I was 14 and I grew up writing things like "unicorn" all over my pictures, so go figure. Junior year of high school I posted my first makeup tutorial where I tried to mask my awkwardness by dancing to Drake songs as I applied $3 e.l.f makeup on my face at 9 pm. In 2018, I posted my first sit-down video where I answered questions about university people had sent to me in my DMs. That Q&A now has over 44,000 views. It's an embarrassing video because you can tell I was nervous, and it was the first time strangers started picking apart at me on the internet. Now, in 2020, I've posted a controversial video where I get hate in the comment section almost everyday for speaking up about racism, I've posted a video that's only 1 minute long, and I had no issue with posting a 30 minute video of me just talking.
The growth has been slow because of my insecurities when it came to YouTube. I don't really curate my Instagram and I have countless hilarious pictures of myself on Facebook, but something always hurt my self-esteem when I imagined myself in my videos. It was always too much or not enough, no personality or too much weirdness, over-explaining or not talking at all. It honestly took people like Emma Chamberlain who weren't afraid to go bare-faced and make jokes about being yucky for me to realise that no one cares. Or, maybe they did when I was growing up, but they really don't anymore.
Right now, I actually am so close to being able to finally monetise my videos. I need 60 more public watch hours and there has been a shift in my energy towards it. I've always wanted YouTube to be a side hustle and a passion, but these last months it's been growing the way a job opportunity might. I've been doing more research, I've been getting into abundant meditation, I've been surrounded by people who are starting their own journeys, and I've only been wanting to edit and write down ideas. I don't like writing about stuff like this beforehand because my insecurities believe these daydreams are too far-fetched and my attitude is too self-congratulatory, but like, that's exactly what manifesting is! You're supposed to act like you already got it. And why not? If you're going to be boastful, at least do it about something you're fully passionate and have put your honest hard work into, no?
Even though I'm cringing as I'm typing this, I believe I can get big on YouTube. I think I have a lot of interesting ideas for a market that is still niche enough. I think I'm getting better at speaking in front of a camera, and that will grow (no pressure). I think I have all the skills necessary: internet lingo, videography, and editing. The last piece to this puzzle is my ego getting out of the way and allowing my spirit to shine so that it can connect to people. I won't lie and say that thinking of having a million, or even more, subscribes isn't scary...it's mortifying. But I know that I have the ability to get there if I'm willing to put in the work.
Wish me luck.
These past few years have been an uphill battle for minorities on the big screen. What with the rise of female/queer/POC-centric stories, the ongoing fight for what kind of sensitive content films should or should not show, and the endless platforms the divided public now get to post their opinions on, things can get pretty messy. Comic book films, in particular, have tried their best to be at the front lines of the movement. Female directed films like Wonder Woman, majority black casts like Black Panther, and films that push the artistic boundaries of the genre like The Joker have dominated the buzz amongst movie buffs on the internet. With this sensationalist formula in mind, how did DCU's Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) dir. Cathy Yan, a female directed film that promises women's solidarity, POC representation, and a unique cinematic style, ultimately flop as the weakest grossing DCU film?
The “minority” argument is not one the film world is most sensitive towards, but we can’t deny that it affects the experience of many viewers, whether positively or otherwise. But why is the representation thing so important? Simple answer: the things we consume form our reality. It’s true, identity politics within films may not be the root of the patriarchal system feminists try so hard to fight, but we can’t deny that it perpetuates narratives formed within the patriarchal context. The language used, the images shown, which actors are chosen, what they wear, how they’re presented; all of these aspects accumulate, perpetuate and reconfirm myths society has imposed on people, whether we realise it or not. It’s why stereotypes and cinematic tropes exist. These “stereotypes [then] become problematic when they lead to expectations about one social category over another or restrict opportu- nities for one social category over another” (Grau and Zotos).
Scholarly theories aside, identity politics might not be your cup of tea. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take an academic genius to know that all-woman, feral action-packed sequences are revolutionary when it comes to Hollywood cinema. Black Widow, who is played by the ever sexualized Scarlett Johansson, kicks butts while the camera trains on her actual rear, Wonder Woman, a literal Amazonian warrior goddess, walks the trenches like a Victoria Secret Model whilst dodging bullets, and even the former Harley Quinn herself fights in glorified underwear and a jacket that reads “Property of The Joker” with only one worry on her mind: making sure her hair is perfect for her criminal, abusive boyfriend. Identity politics or not, I can’t think of a single male character from the genre portrayed in a more ridiculous manner than what these female characters have to go through.
Contrastingly, in Birds of Prey, Harley is allowed to go...for lack of a better word, crazy. While trying to rescue Cassandra in a warehouse, Harley fights off a biker gang and she does not hold back. Using her signature bat, she isn’t worried about how she looks when she fights. She grunts, screams, she’s aggressive, goes for the gory and gritty like busting a guy’s knee caps. She’s still wearing her shorts and heels, but Yan does it in a way that isn’t disrespectful or sexualizing in any way. Her goal isn’t to look pretty, her goal is to keep a young girl safe.
Looking at the reviews, so many people brought up the argument that the movie was bad, and that “Social Justice Warriors” would use the “female-centric-film-card” as an excuse to argue otherwise. According to CNBC, the film debuted $48 million internationally, “bringing its worldwide gross to around $81.3 million” (Witten), making it the weakest opening of a DCU movie. Forbes speculates that the movie’s marketing, including trailers and sneak-peeks “may have turned off general moviegoers who still prefer somewhat conventional blockbuster fare, at least in terms of visuals and surface-level content” (Mendelson). While DC themselves believed it was the title of the film, and later changed it to 'Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey'.
Take a look at other recent male-dominated Hollywood action films. Mission Impossible, James Bond 007, Fast and Furious, Bad Boys, Transformers, all of the Avengers movies, and even Deadpool, who has often been dubbed the unorthodox Marvel equivalent of Harley Quinn. This brings me to my pont; all of these movies tick the same boxes Birds of Prey does - excess, explosions, unrealistic chases, wild stunts, bone-cracking sound effects, diabolical villains, oversaturation, fourth-wall breaking, punching, kicking, weapons, superpowers, flashy costumes, tongue-in-cheek humour, conventionally attractive actors. The only difference is, Birds of Prey is the first all-woman ensemble comic book film, which was enough to make people opt out of seeing it in theatres.
Because it was an all-woman ensemble, people also automatically associated the film with politics (feminism this, representation that...even though that stuff is real). When really, Yan has just done what so many other action films have done before. Birds of Prey is a Hollywood spectacle at its finest, but people seem to automatically shut down when they saw the word “emancipation” and realised it was probably going to be non-sexualised women's action. When in reality, if you know cultural studies, then you’d know that nothing is neutral. A male-dominated action film sells politics too, just not the politics we stereotypically associate with 'identity politics'. The straight white man isn't neutral. This whole thing only further proves the myths that women shouldn’t step out of line, and must only behave wildly if it is consumable for the heteronormative and objectifying male gaze, whereas "boys will be boys" and are naturally drawn to exploding cars. Why are viewers so afraid of an unruly woman, but are comfortable with an unruly man?
As a final statement: who cares if Birds of Prey is any good? It’s not about whether this film is worthy cinema since it centers around women. I can argue that The Joker was actually trash and deserved none of the Oscar buzz when compared to its contenders. But it's not about that, it’s about trash politics. Hollywood is about doing the most, going above and beyond, and doing so with an almost tacky flare...but who gets to indulge in that? Who gets to blow up the cars? And who gets to look pretty in the driver’s seat? Art is subjective, so we can sit here for hours debating whether or not the movie was good, but you can’t tell me that it wasn't innovative and feral eye candy, and sometimes that’s all there is to these mainstream action movies.
"Subway shoulders", as Tía Tefi calls them, are those little boddy jiggles we do on the public transport when a song is so good that we're willing to risk possible major embarrassment. Since most of us are staying home, I thought I'd give you some Quarantine Tunes that are so good, you'll be willing to risk your loved ones (or the ghosts living in your empty home) walking in on you dancing in the kitchen.
F I N E L I N E
Look, not writing about Harry's new album is proving to be a very difficult task for me. Plus, I don't have anymore music analysis classes to use as a stan vent so here I am. Irregardless of my undying love of this Aquarius man (shocker), this album is so good. This time around, Harry is leaning in to his 70's, Fleetwood Mac side even more than he did for his debut record and I am here for it. It's drugs, it's heartbreak, it's an evolved Aquarian. Young, old, human, gremlin, you'll enjoy 'Adore You'. There's no doubt about it.
D I R T Y C O M P U T E R
Dirty Computer makes you feel like the last song your inclusive girlfriends all out dance to before drifting in the wind on the car ride back home. You know that last song when you're all sweaty, arms over each other, huge grins because it's the perfect song that all of you know all the lyrics to? Every song on this album is that song. This is as close as we're going to get to tasting that good pre-quarantine life. I watched Janelle live in the Netherlands a while back and I have to say it was one of the most moving shows I had ever seen, and her energy translates through her audio too. Highly recommend.
F U T U R E N O S T A L G I A
Well, I wasn't going to not write about this one. Future Nostalgia is pure Postmodern deliciousness. Dua Lipa has never recorded a bad song, and now she's back with new stage presence, choreography, and hair envy. She transports every listener to the feminist Tron-themed car chase in 3035 and I honestly can't complain. I think Dua is bringing Lady Gaga, Katy Perry in 2010s level of flavour and I'm going to be baffled if people don't take advantage of the bread the music industry is FINALLY feeding us.
M E A N G I R L S
They call those girls the Plastics, they're shiny fake and hard....and they must be tired from carrying the whole show on their backs. No hate to Cady, Janis, or even Damien, this is just my songwriting and composing preferences. Every single Plastics song is to die for. My favourite Regina is a loving pair between Taylor Louderman and Renee Rapp, but there's something particularly devious about Taylor's more high-pitched, borderline Disney Princess voice she puts on to amp up the Femme Fatale schpeal. Also, that "Regina, Regina, Regina" ensemble scream in Revenge Party is my absolute favourite thing right now. Would it be a dream come true to be able to angry-sweet belt while a bunch of dudes carry me across the stage so that I won't have to walk in my heels? Definitely.
C A L M
We are being fed. FED. Luke's little "I don't think I like me anymore, would someone tell me who I was before" part in Thin White Lies? Oh my goooood. Get out of here. I wish the whole song was just that part. A whole track led by Calum's vocals? Leave. Leave now. I've been following 5SOS's music since I had to hunt for livestream screen recordings of them playing an acoustic version of Voodoo Doll and I have to say this is the best album they've released, solely based on their growing willingness to step out of their own idea of them. Does that make sense? (Tell me in the comments below!) There's something gritty and unnerving about CALM and I am pleasantly surprised by it. I hope to see more of it in the future. But for now, listen to Red Desert.
I’ve been spending the last half hour watching my own vlogs. Sometimes I watch my vlogs back, or scroll through my own Instagram, or even read my old blog posts. Call it Gen Z narcism, call it being a Leo, but I wanted to shed light on being more honest and vulnerable online. I think i’ve always done my best with being honest to my small group of viewers. I don’t like to glamourise, and I think that’s pretty obvious from the fact that I don’t blur things out or cut out the embarrassing shots of me, like crying or pimple-creamed faces or mid-sneeze noses. But I’ve been watching these videos of me living in my house, back in the Netherlands, and I can’t help but feel the loneliness coming off of them.
In my comment section and DMs, I often get younger people coming up to me and asking me how I do it. How are you always so productive? How do you find the time to keep up with your hobbies? How are you doing it all? Whereas in reality, I always feel lazy, like I’m not doing enough, like I’m running out of time (write day and night…if you know, you know). It’s definitely this weird blend of being a Type A + Impostor Syndrome (yeah, I just Googled ‘impersonator syndrome’) that = a mess. My view of myself as a student and basically employee of this capitalist system is always very warped and I feel both like an overachiever and a failure at all times.
More importantly, I feel lonely. It’s important to talk about the impostor syndrome stuff, I feel like I talk about my weird relationship with being productive all the time. In high school, when I took the International Baccalaureate (will she ever shut up about this? No, call this mental health reparations), I threw myself into my work. I was underweight, my cheeks were sullen, I never dressed up for myself beyond a shirt and jeans and I was a new girl in a new town filled with gorgeous and rich Instagram models. I was insecure and had no real self-confidence. I loved myself, sure (to be clear, I still do). Sometimes I felt good, but then I doubted myself and a person is so subjective, so abstract that it was hard for me to ground my opinions about myself—or anyone, really. But who can say I wasn’t a good, hard-working student if I was studying 24/7? If I really did ate, breathed and slept school, who could invalidate me then?
That changed, thankfully. In University, I learned the value of going out, of having dinner with friends and spending the weekends having fun instead of doing homework. I learned that professors have lives to live too and these experiences were going to go by quicker than I’d ever think. I learned the value of people, of moments, of living. I moved past the worst of my impostor syndrome freshman year of college when I took mindfulness courses and opened up about my mental health to the people around me, but I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling of not fully knowing myself.
Sure, I’ve just started my 20s. Who knows themselves at this age? Who knows themselves at any age? But my god, did it get lonely. I had built a life of being in the moment and of honesty that it felt hard to admit when it was difficult to be alone. My friends and family were more than gracious, constantly checking up on me and asking me if I needed company, but I hadn’t even come clean to myself, so I certainly wasn’t able to share with others what I didn’t yet consciously know. Somewhere along the last moments of my second year, I moved to a house my parents bought for their retirement (and for the rest of the family). It’s in a small village; a beautiful place where young families and perfect newborn babies live. The house is beautiful, with a backyard and three comfy rooms for me to choose from. But it was huge for someone who was living in a 15 meter-square room for two years. Too huge.
Like the Virgo Moon I am, I did a great job; I decorated the space, made it mine, cooked what I wanted, blasted music when I felt like I needed it, hosted lunches and sleepovers for my friends, had cleaning days on the weekends, took bubble baths when I felt like spoiling myself, listened to podcasts when I felt low. I did all the things I was supposed to do. And I loved it. I love having my own space. I love the quiet and the freedom.
But sometimes the quiet gets deafening, and when it’s bad, it gets real bad. Like, I have to make sure I’m on the phone with people at all times, or I start binge watching people’s vlogs on YouTube just so the house can feel full with human noise. Even now, it’s hard to admit these things because I’m quarantined with my family of five loud people (including the voice in my head) in a little apartment and sometimes I think, “I wouldn’t have to read while listening to the sound of my siblings slurping cereal if I was at home alone.” But come to think of it, I would probably start to lose myself if I had to be quarantined alone at home, paranoid and just hoping for someone else to start a conversation with me.
This isn’t a sob-story post, just so you know. Or rather, just so I know. It’s half an admittance, and half an act of honouring my feelings. I’m trying to learn how to do that more often. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written posts like these, only to draft them or delete them altogether, lest I felt like an oversharer. But I can’t imagine what others must go through, going abroad or living alone for the first time, confused and lost and just friggen’ tired of making their third bowl of pasta that week, but too afraid to try anything else. Smiling at their family on video call when they ask because it costs so much just to be breathing in this country. Awkward and stiff in a dorm with strangers, crying from the sheer frustration of not being able to do the laundry in peace. Or worse, living in a mess that isn’t caused by you but they’re not family so you have to figure out how to live with it. Learning how to be a good student, even at university, is a hard thing to do. It’s mentally draining for some. So, consider this a solidarity post.
I know that my loneliness is rooted in my need to grow up, to learn how to love myself enough to be okay with the radio silence - the same thing we’re supposed to do in meditation, right? To know myself enough to be the only reassurance I need, to feel whole enough that I don’t feel the need to fill my space with other people’s energies...but that’s a lifelong journey, and that stuff is not easy, no matter how much we oversimplify it with our “move in day!” vlogs and dorm Insta-stories.
So, next time you’re being a little harsh about this whole adulting thing, ask yourself if you can be kinder. Chances are, you should definitely be kinder to yourself.
I can't lie and tell you that I didn't heavily pack my best outfits I thought I could pull in centres of Hong Kong while on exchange here. Of course, with the trusty COVID-19, it has put my expectations in perspective and right now I'm just thankful I can still buy groceries. Plus, after I traveled to Jakarta for a break with the extended family, I ended up being under house arrest for two weeks, with wristbands for app-trackers and everything. Irregardless, it's not a crime to indulge in harmless escapist hobbies. My favourite at the moment? Pinterest(ing) every dream outfit imaginable and then proceeding to never buy any of the items because fast fashion is bad. But, the Pins can still serve as an inspiration, so I thought I would share them with you! Behold, my most recent Pinterest board additions...
F A S H I O N
As you can tell, I'm really interested in the squidgy right now. The sort of wacky and weird; dramatic linings, 70s psychedelic influences, zebra and cow print, soft hues but vibrant colours, cowboy boots, accentuation of the feminine shape, loud but understated. I think it's a very appropriate mood board for the spring time, without it being an obvious remnant of Easter's pastel throw-up. Yikes, graphic. I think after the winter season with it's over-the-top oversized silhouettes, I'm starting to lean towards the tight-fitting, skin-showing cuts again. Pinterest is, of course, dominated by the skinny, white, non-disabled body, but I do believe these pieces would look great on anyone. Out with the Instagram six-pack and in with the whimsical, fun and frilly fashion for all.
I N T E R I O R S
Aside from planning my outfits, I've also been manifesting a great deal. With manifesting, of course, comes the interior decoration. Similar to my fashion interest in the squidgy, I gravitate towards the spherical, the smooth, the groovy mixed with the almost vintage eclecticism that's distinctly European. I think my taste is very heavily influenced by the Scandinavian style but it's a lot more earthy and classic to move away from being too infantile. I've been thinking a lot about pottery, repurposed wood, and brass picture frames. I've also been obsessed with spaces like the Azulik hotel and Javier Senosiain's "Organic House", which you can definitely see here. Oh, and Emily Ratajkowski's loft home.
Hip-Hop was born in the Bronx, out of the art of scratching, mixing and sampling (Swanson). Princess Nokia, a Bronx local, was born out of the very culture that laid foundation for the genre. A Native-American Afrolatina, she represents and explores her identity in her song Brujas. Openly queer and a firm supporter of intersectional feminism, Princess Nokia has been vocal with her stance on numerous sociopolitical issues, especially on social media. Princess Nokia represents the new generation of American artists who come from viral fame on platforms, such as SoundCloud, and use their resulting platforms to discuss current issues. With her identity that literally embodies the American idea of the ‘melting pot’, Nokia’s music is influenced by numerous communities that amount to the American culture. Nokia is currently signed to Rough Trade Records, an independent London-based record label established in 1978. Nokia’s contribution to American music is incredibly vital due to her alternative outlook, brave lyrics, and outspoken presence. Brujas is a song on Nokia’s debut studio album titled 1992. Meaning “witches” in Spanish, Nokia explores how the word witch has been associated with black culture, Latinx culture and women. Thus, the question arises, “how does Princess Nokia use her song Brujas to explore the American identity through hip-hop?”
II. Theories and Methodology
In this essay, Princess Nokia’s Brujas and its music video will be analysed sonically, lyrically, and visually while keeping its cultural dimensions in the foreground. To culturally explore Princess Nokia’s Brujas in more depth, this essay will make use of a few theoretical approaches. Firstly, to analyse Nokia’s own feminist intent, I will use her interview with Alexis Petridis for The Guardian titled “Princess Nokia: ‘At my shows, girls can take up space the way men do’”. Secondly, to analyse the portrayal of POC women in hip-hop and mainstream music, I will use works such as I Got Something To Say by Matthew Oware, in his section titled “Bad Bitches?”, where he explores feminist approaches in hip-hop. Thirdly, to analyse lower-class, black identity, I will use “My City, My ‘Hood, My Street: Ghetto Spaces in American Hip-Hop Music” by Lidia Kniaź.
Nokia and her song largely relate to current developments in American music, especially with the uproar of female and black empowerment-based music that is becoming more mainstream. Radios often play and YouTube’s trending artists often include female rappers and hip-hop/R&B artists such as Beyoncé, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Kehlani, and SZA. Female hip-hop is becoming a part of the mainstream musical canon as of 2019, thus making it incredibly relevant to analyse.
Brujas currently has 6,337,486 views on YouTube and 6,499,656 streams on Spotify as of June 2019. Similar to many mainstream rap songs, such as DNA by Kendrick Lamar and APES**T by The Carters, Nokia uses a riff (consisting of four notes) and a syncopated beat that is repeated throughout the entire song. She creates distinctions between the verses by playing this riff in different octaves, but it is accompanied by a steady sampled beat that is also repeated. To make her voice occupy space in different ways throughout the song, Nokia uses filters and distortions to make it sound deeper, creating a masculine effect when she raps “I’m the supreme” and an other-worldly feel when she raps about “Orisha” (meaning Gods and Goddesses in the Yoruba language). Nokia makes a further reference to her African roots by featuring the African oral tradition in the brief Yoruba song that plays in the beginning of the music video.
Lyrically, Nokia uses a blend of classic rap diction and feminist language while featuring symbols from the various cultures she explores. For instance, Nokia begins the song with the lyrics “I’m the supreme” repeated three times. As many rappers do, Nokia establishes her dominance and power at the very beginning of the song. She goes on to rap lyrics such as “bad bitches,” “long weaves,” “long nails,” “cornrows,” and “baby fathers still in jail”. By listing stereotypical black female iconography while taking the position of the powerful masculine rapper, Nokia subverts the derogatory portrayal of women in rap music. Nokia’s choices are important and radical due to how women artists are treated in the hip-hop world and music industry in general. Fore example, in the interview with Alexis Petridis, Nokia talks of how she is featured in hip-hop blogs. She says “the commentary is really negative [...] because [she speaks] highly of [herself], people think [she’s] really pompous, or that [she’s] really narcissistic. But [she’s only speaking on [herself and her accomplishments], and [she] only speaks like that because no one else is doing it.” This is a huge double-standard when considering how most male rappers approach their lyrics from self-confident or even cocky perspective. By supporting herself and uplifting other black women who identify with her descriptive lyrics, she “[deploys] black male hegemonic rape tropes—violence and bragging—but simultaneously carve out space for their needs, wants, and desires as women.” (Oware 116).
Nokia’s exploration of the black identity also features famed diction. She repeats the same verse four times as she raps “we is them ghetto bitches.” The use of the words “ghetto” is easily recognizable due to how iconic it is amongst rap and hip-hop listeners throughout generations. “Being focused on the ghetto life with all its dangers seems to be an inherent part of the state of mind of all black New Yorkers.” (Kniaz 121) Furthermore, she uses colloquial language and grammar typical of rap music such as “we is them” to position herself within the genre. Through her lyrics, Nokia uplifts herself and other women whilst still staying true to her roots and her upbringing in the Bronx, amongst other Latinx and black people who used the same language in lower-class areas.
In addition, in her lyrics “North, East, West South shit,” she demonstrates her comfort in identifying with various ethnic groups and communities. Nokia mixes the West Coast “smoother, more laid-back style of rapping” (Starr 501) with the “old school” and “edgy” delivery of New York hip-hop (Starr 501). However, the addition of her Yoruban tradition and ancestry mixed with the calling out of her different ethnic backgrounds in lyrics such as “Black a-Rican,” Africa diaspora,” “Cuba,” “Arawak, that original people,” “Black Native American,” “from an island and it’s called Puerto Rico” shows the dimensions of American identities. Therefore, Nokia shows how complex she is and how she can not be pegged to one identity, category or stereotype. Finding fame in a worldwide audience through the internet, Nokia represents a new generation of rappers that goes beyond the East and West coast of rivalry and styles.
Moreover, Nokia’s exploration of witchcraft, as alluded by the title of the song, is dominant in lyrics such as “sage on the door”, “speaking in tongue,” “shapeshiftin’ bitch,” and “witchcraft.” However, Nokia highlights how she only associates herself with white magic, contrary to the streoetype created by postcolonial and sexist stories surrounding black witch figures such as Tituba that villainize black magic and voodoo. Instead, Nokia uses words such as “good witches,” “light magic,” “cast a circle in white,” “vanquish your spite,” “conjure the light,” “I ain’t no queen of the night” and “Imma’ dress in all white.” This is also evident in the beginning of the music video, which features a visual of Yemoja (Figure 1), a water deity associated with the moon who is “the patroness of motherhood, childbirth, the womb, giver of life and all things relating to femininity.” (Bennett) Nokia references to deity to show that her power is pure and Godly, and that it is entirely connected to her identity as a woman.
The visuals continue to represent many dimensions of femininity as Nokia shows different black women praying, playing, and loving each other (Figure 3). Nokia also highlights how the women embrace not only the nature around them, but also their own natural attributes as they wear their hair in their natural texture - something quite revolutionary as many female rappers and black female artists often wear their hair in Westernized styles. Natural beauty is further shown in shots of an elderly black woman dancing with a snake and a young girl laughing. Therefore, Nokia uses themes that surround purity, anti-hate, and kindness to uplift women, girlhood, sisterhood, female energy and witches while representing women of various ages and in their natural form.
Nokia ends the song with the repetition of the lyrics “I’m the supreme” and a sample from American Horror Story: Coven (2011), an American television show created by Ryan Murphy that is famous for its feminist iconography. The show centers around the descendants “from the survivors of the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts in 1962” (Lonergan) as they compete for the title of Supreme Witch. One of the characters in particular, Queenie, is a descendant of Tituba and the end of the song ends with a sample about the witch.
“Tituba! Voodoo slave girl who graced us with her black magic/ You made her a slave/
Before that she came from a great tribe, the Arawak/ She gave it to your girls of
Salem/ A gift repaid with betrayal/ Maybe you ain't heard the news about civilization
starting in Africa/ We more than just pins in dolls and seeing the future in chicken
parts/ Been reading too many tourist guides, hm/ Everything you got, you got from us”
The sampled excerpt intersects the witch identity with the black, postcolonial identity. The excerpt references Africans as the original people and rewrites Tituba from a passive slave to a powerful witch with agency who indulged in vengeance - a trait that is rarely attributed as lady-like or feminine. Furthermore, Nokia seems to make a reference to the gang of four women from American Horror Story through the group of four women she is a part of. Together, they lean against a wall with bored, empty stares as they mouth “don’t you fuck with my energy” while Nokia takes center stage and raps the lyrics. Later in the music video, they all join to point the middle finger at the camera, and subsequently, the audience. Their behaviour is actually very typical for “the transgressive, rebellious sensibility of the genre” (Starr 495). Therefore, Nokia combines the rebellion of hip-hop with the rebellion of feminists who defy the standards and roles set upon them by society.
Princess Nokia uses her song Brujas to redefine the American identity by giving power to underrepresented and non-”mainstream” voices. The fame of Brujas and Princess Nokia herself is largely attributed to a relatively new development in popular music. Popular music no longer lays only in the hands of large record companies, television and radio stations, or DJs. Through the internet’s democracy of influence and reach, artists such as Princess Nokia are able to achieve an audience that goes beyond the mainstream, or even American, sphere. Yet, the American identity in itself is very much complex as it is rooted in the genocide of Native Americans and built upon the backs of African slaves. Americans, especially Americans of colour, seldom have a distinct, homogenous identity as many people are descendants of different ethnicities and cultures. Nokia embodies this in her song Brujas as she almagalmates and represents her various views and beliefs as a black, Native American, Latinx woman.
Bennett, Humphrey. “Moon Goddess Yemoja.” Liberty Voice, 13 April 2014.
Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. NAACP.
Kniaź, Lidia. “My City, My ‘Hood, My Street: Ghetto Spaces in American Hip-Hop Music.”
UMCS UP, February 2017.
Lamar, Kendrick. “DNA.” Youtube, directed by NABIL and The Little Homies, 18 April
Lonergan, Meg. “Witches, Bitches and White Feminism: A Critical Analysis of American
Horror Story: Coven.” Carleton UP, 2017.
Nokia, Princess. “Brujas.” Youtube, directed by Asli Baykal, 7 November 2016
Oware, Matthew. I Got Something To Say. “Bad Bitches?” DePauw UP, 2018.
Petridis, Alexis. “Princess Nokia: ‘At my shows, girls can take up space the way men do’.”
The Guardian, 8 September 2018.
Starr, Larry and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music. 3rd ed, Oxford UP, 2010.
Swanson, Abbie Fentress. “The South Bronx: Where Hip-Hop Was Born.” New York Public Radio, 2 August 2010.
The Carters. “APESH**T.” YouTube, directed by Ricky Saiz, 18 June 2018.