Last semester, I posted some of the best writing my Stephens students did for my “Groundbreaking Women in U. S. Music” class, and I’d like to continue this practice. Stephens, alas, did not offer that class in the fall, but I usually infuse my freshman composition instruction with popular music study–I usually learn much more about that from them than they do from me. Here are some of my favorite final exam research papers from that class; the task was to make a case for a woman who is a “figure of impact” in pop music. Note: I feel funny about editing these before posting them, because a) I instructed them on fine points throughout the class and gave plenty of feedback; b) it feels too much like tampering for my own benefit, if that makes sense; and c) it might land a powerful point with the authors about leaning into some of their writing issues harder than they did for me. Any weird margin problems are the result of my failed battle against WordPress.
Again, most of these students are freshmen. And these are their subjects–the essays follow the slide show.
(I could have posted all of Ashley’s essays for this class here. She is a writer of impact.)
Strutting in Your Straitjacket
Many Americans struggle with Mental Health issues. About 20% or 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness yet the issue is still considered taboo on a broad spectrum (mhanational.org, 2022). Even more so in the LatinX communities. It was not until the 1980s that the Spanish speaking communities were even considered to be part of studies that accessed the possible mental health (nami.org, 2022). Language, economic and cultural barriers have led many to mask or bury issues that they are dealing with. Music has always been an outlet for artists to deal with the problems they face. Sometimes it is hidden under metaphors and easily digestible lyrics and for others it is aggressively noticeable that the artist is “unhinged”. Today’s musical artists have been more open in their struggles of the mind in interviews and not just chocking it up to the “rock & roll” lifestyle. As a culture, people have recently come to see that representation is a focal point using fame as a medium in the media. Jessie Reyez is one such artist who has checked many boxes in representation and is an artist who is making ripple effects in both the music industry and fans worldwide bringing to light the authenticity of mental health singing, “I’m trying to heal, but it’s a process. I’m told I should cut my losses.”
Jessie Reyez an up and coming urban contemporary artist was born in Ontario, Canada to immigrant parents from Columbia. Many listeners may not be familiar with her, however she has collaborated with many house-hold names. Calvin Harris, Sam Smith, Dua Lipa and Eminem to name a few. It took just one line from her 2017 EP Kiddo to see that she would be an artist to follow. With a raspy unsteady but guttural bellow she sings “my straight jacket’s custom made!” Not only is she owning her issues she is almost dare one say proud? This is relevant in many ways. The first step to healing or overcoming any kind of substance disorder is admitting you having a problem (casarecovery.com, 2022). Normalizing mental health issues leads to conversations that lead to healing and to hopefully a support group.
Included In her 2017 EP is the track “Gatekeeper”. The song tells the sordid tale of being sexually assaulted by a music producer to advance her career; “Spread your legs open up you could be famous.” (Reyez, 2017). At the time the song came out the antagonist being referenced was nameless. About two years after the song was released, the same producer, Noel “Detail” Fischer, was accused and eventually charged with sexual assault and rape charges. At this point Reyez confirmed the song was her account of their meeting together. Reyez reported that the shame of what happened kept her quiet (Donoghue, 2018). A shame that was not hers to hold. But how many sexual assault survivors tell themselves that “it’s my fault” or fear of judgment that will follow their accusations. To date, Fisher has been accused of assaulting nine women and is currently awaiting trial. Jessie was quoted in saying that she is “standing in my truth and standing in self-respect, to make sure that I’m not accepting anything less from other people.” (Mapes,2019)
One mental health crisis in the LatinX communities is post-partum depression. During the 1980’s there was an “English only” movement. This was an increase in objection to Hispanic people and immigration. During this time there was also an increase in Hispanic poverty and community isolation. Latino women are seen as the quiet “back-bones” of their households. To say that you are unfit at your most basic duty, child rearing, would be unheard of in the community. Since the Hispanic women were huddling together because of the nation’s poor treatment of their community, they would gravitate to each other which may ease symptoms but left little room for problem solving a “cure”. One must also consider the language barrier. Only in recent history have Spanish-speaking people have access to various translating options. In the 1980s parents would rely on their English-speaking children to relay information. Could you say in front of your child that you did not know why you were unable to love her? The Spanish speaking population now have the option of having a translator assigned, they have to go to a third person to get their message across to a doctor. Could you tell a stranger how your mind is failing you?
While Reyez hails from Canada, her roots are traced to the country of Colombia. As raw as her emotion is in English the same can be said of her Spanish lyrics. She takes command and is upfront with her listeners in “Un Vuelo a La” with Romeo Santos\ that she has 20 personalities and is unapologetic about it. Latino culture is a very prideful one. Not often do you see person admit to having mental illness, especially a woman. What Reyez is able to do lyrically is to give voice to these women, especially in the LatinX communities building truth and honesty around her lyrics almost as if to say, “I am here, I hear you, and it is ok to speak your truth.” This is a drastic change for voices to be heard compared to only a few decades ago. It was not until 1982 that a survey was conducted to evaluate Hispanic mental health disorders and barriers to treatment (Kanel, 2002). The research ran from 1982 to 1984. Only in the last 25 years has there been an increase in Hispanic health in the United States. Latinas that elevate their voices to share their pain hopefully will give young Latinas the courage to come forward and ask for help and know that they are brave for doing so.
My own experience with Jessie Reyez music is very personal. While on my first military deployment I was left heartbroken. If I were state-side my experience may not have been left with such guilt, anxiety, or depression. However I was in a foreign land, suffering in 130 degree heat, wiping tears that were mixed with sweat as sand met my face like beestings. I felt completely abandoned. I was on duty though and could not succumb to my natural instincts. An emotional breakdown translated to failure. I was sent the song “Shutter Island” from a friend and the lyrics resonated with me instantly. “My straitjackets custom made… for a second I forgot I was a bad bitch!” That song played on repeat the rest of my deployment. I couldn’t let myself slip and forget who I was. I was in a foreign land fighting for my country. I was THE definition of a BAD BITCH. I saw in Reyez this young Latina. Messy hair, thick eyebrows, she could have been my sister telling me to embrace my hurt, sit in it, then LET THAT SHIT GO. There she was reminding me that I had the power to give myself grace and was strong enough to move on.
Jessie Reyez has many times over been that iconic artist for me in the short amount of time that she has been on the music scene. So many lyrics that I could pull to place in the pages of my own life. From my military involvement, to love, even politics the lyrics in both Spanish and English helped me understand my pain and start a journey to share my truth. What would a world look like if we embraced our flaws? It was spring of 2019 that my military supervisor told me that she was sexually assaulted in the military. Only two weeks later I came to her crying sharing my own traumas. In that moment she called our local veteran social worker and had a session with me at 7 o’clock at night. Looking back Reyez’s music has been part of my journey helping me taking charge of my life, the willingness to share my truth, my story, to encourage others to do the same. We are NOT living in a world set back in the 1980s, we are here, now and have voices that are no longer silenced, or judged due to mental illness, trauma, or stigma. We are changing what is known and are a part of a movement, like Reyez, that will see future generations take hold of what “has been” and what “will be”. For me, that has led to three years of sobriety and my mental health being managed. Everyone’s story is different, however we all have the ability to take ownership and take control of our lives. I feel more empowered today that I have ever felt in my life, and I can look back on how a single lyric, “My straitjacket’s custom made” has paved the way for change.
https://mhanational.org/issues/2022/mental-health-america-adult-data, retrieved December, 2022
https://www.nami.org/mhstats, retrieved December, 2022
https://www.casarecovery.com/stages-of-mental-health-recovery/, retrieved December, 2022
Reyez, J., 2017. Gatekeeper
Donohue, C., May 2018. https://remezcla.com/music/jessie-reyez-detail-sexual-misconduct/
Kanel, K., February 2002. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0739986302024001005
Mapes, Jill. “The Chorus of #MeToo, and the Women Who Turned Trauma Into Songs.” pitchfork.com, 23 Oct. 2019, pitchfork.com/features/article/2010s-on-women-singing-openly-about-abuse/.
2006 to the Present: The Era of Taylor Swift
There is no talking about the 21st century, without talking about Taylor Swift. Swift is the most influential artist of the 21st century. She has been in the industry for more than a decade. She started her career and to the day continues to make headlines and break records. Taylor Swift is long past being a household name, she is a historic pop icon.
The country music genre is well-known for its themes of trucks, heartbreak, and farm-living, and while Swift may not have escaped these tropes, she was staying true to her experience. Taylor Swift grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania (a fact she shared gleefully in her 2019 holiday single aptly named “Christmas Tree Farm”). She developed a love in music early on and by the time she was eleven she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game (Ray). At thirteen years old, her family made the decision to sell their farm and move out to Tennessee, close to Nashville, so Swift could pursue a career in music (Ray). It wouldn’t be until Swift was sixteen years old that she finally released her self-titled debut album. As of now, following her debut, she’s proceeded to release nine more albums: Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989, Reputation, Lover, Folklore, Evermore, and Midnights. This is sure to still be only the beginning of Taylor Swift.
One of the reasons Swift is such a force in the music industry, is her domination when it comes to award shows. According to her page on IMDb, she’s a ten-time nominee, five-time winner at the American Country Music awards. A one-time nominee, twelve-time winner at the American Music Awards. A thirteen-time nominee, five-time winner at the Grammys. She’s even been nominated for three golden globes and has won an Emmy. On top of that, her newest album Midnights broke more than seventy records (Young). One of those records being that she was the first artist ever to sweep the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 for herself (Unterberger). This is only to name a few of her achievements, the list goes on and on. Swift is sixteen years into her musical career and shows no signs of stopping or even slowing down. She will continue to break records and boundaries with her music.
Along with making headlines for accomplishments, she’s also made headlines for controversy. Most notably, her conflict with popular rapper Ye (Kanye West). The first butt heads when West ran up on stage and took the microphone away from Swift during her acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2009 Music Television (MTV) Video Music Awards (VMAs), and famously said “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” (Gavilanes and Dodd). A few days after the incident Swift claims West called her and apologized (Gavilanes and Dodd). Up to 2015, the pair seemed to have reconciled, with Swift even presenting West with the MTV Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV VMA’s with a reference to his interruption, “So I guess I have to say to all the other winners tonight: I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all time!” (Gavilanes and Dodd). This unfortunately would not be the happy ending it
seemed to be. In 2016, West debuted his song “Famous” in which he name-drops Taylor, calls her a bitch, and later uses a wax sculpture of her naked body in his music video for the song (Gavilanes and Dodd). West’s then-wife Kim Kardashian claimed Swift approved the lyric in a phone call with West, and while Swift agrees there was a phone call, she says she never approved the lyric in which she was called a bitch (Gavilanes and Dodd). In 2016, Kardashian leaked an edited recording of the phone call in question on her snapchat, which lead to Swift’s social media comments being spammed with snake emojis, calling her a liar (Gavilanes and Dodd). Instead of simply letting her haters push her out, she decided to take that bad publicity and run with it. In 2017, she announced the release of sixth studio album Reputation, in which she seemingly references the feuds in many of her lyrics. The full phone conversation was later leaked in 2020, which revealed Swift really was not told the full lyric and had been telling the truth (Gavilanes and Dodd). While, the importance of this controversy is certainly debatable, the impact it has had on pop culture is undeniable. It’s hard to think of any other celebrity feuds which has been able to consistently make headlines for over a decade. Even now still, people question if Swift continues to reference West in her music, and with West’s recent fall from fame with his spiral into far-right politics, it’s no wonder Swift sings so confidently about “Karma” in her latest album Midnights.
Swift has always been a staunch supporter of artists’ rights to their work, and while she’s certainly not alone in this belief, few are able to actually put it into practice. To do so could mean rejecting the very record labels that could make a small artist a star. Swift however, was in an extremely lucky position in which she was able to challenge the big corporations against her. From 2005 to 2018 Swift was signed with Big Machine Records (Bruner). When her contract expired, she switched to Universal’s Republic Records, where she was able to get ownership of all her future masters (Bruner). However, Big Machine Records retained the rights to the recordings of her first six albums (Bruner). Big Machine Records decided to sell these recordings to Ithaca Holdings, which is owned by a man named Scooter Braun (Bruner). Braun later resold them to another company, Shamrock Holdings, all of this without the involvement of Taylor Swift (Bruner). While Swift figured her previous recordings would be sold, she did not know they would be sold to Braun, who she claims has always been a bully to her (Bruner). Understandably upset, she decided to rerecord her old albums, so that she could – in a way – take back ownership of them, and discourage the profit of the originals, since it puts money right into Braun’s pocket (Bruner). This move has opened the eyes of the public to the atrocities of recording label contracts and brought awareness to the movement of artists fighting for the rights to their own work. Her decision will and has already affected the music industry in a huge way as she brings up these questions of the autonomy of artists.
Swift’s lyricism is unmatched. She has jumped from genre to genre effortlessly and continues to challenge herself in every way possible. She has an extensive discography that’s hard to describe in only a paragraph. But, there is one standout album of hers which completely changed the game. That album is Folklore. Folklore was released in the middle of the 2020 pandemic. It’s best known for being very different from Swift’s previous albums sonically, as well as lyrically. This album has a folksy and acoustic sound, as opposed to her usual bright pop hits. Her inspiration for her music has typically come from her personal life, but in this album she decided to writer her own stories, about experiences that weren’t her own. For example, there are three songs within Folklore which truly exemplify her creative ability for storytelling and songwriting. These songs are “Cardigan,” “Betty,” and “August.” Each songs tells the same story, through a different perspective. Betty, a girl in high school, gets cheated on by her boyfriend James over the summer. In “Cardigan,” Swift sings through the eyes of Betty, as she copes with the heartbreak. In “Betty,” Swift steps into James’ shoes and sings of regret while begging for Betty to forgive him for his mistake. In “August,” Swift lets us in on the thoughts of the girl James’ cheated with, as she grapples with the fact that she was in love with James, even though she knew his heart really belonged to someone else, Betty. The songs give each other small nods through similar lyrical phrases, but besides the fact that they all tell the same story, they have their own distinct sounds. Taylor is, at her heart, a poet. She has grown lyrically in ways no one could have ever imagined, and she continues to mature with each song she drops.
I have listened to and loved Taylor Swift for basically my entire life. I’ve grown up with her and continue to grow with her. Though it’s always hard to pick favorites, I have to say my favorite song of hers is probably “You Are In Love.” This song might just be one of her cheesiest love songs ever, but it is perfectly Taylor Swift. One lyric in particular from the song has always stuck out to me, “And why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words.” Here she is referring to love. As a Creative Writing Major, I’m not necessarily a romance genre writer, but I still relate to this lyric a lot. The whole point of writing really is to put our crazy, confusing, and sometimes stupid feelings and experiences into words. Though I haven’t done even half the things Taylor has, I’m still transported to her world every time she sings. I hope to one day have the same effect in my own writing and be able to communicate every emotion in a way everyone can understand and feel themselves. So, while Taylor certainly has all the awards and power to make an impact on the music industry. To me, the biggest impact she has is on all the young writers of the world. From the newer hit artists Olivia Rodrigo, and Conan Gray, to me, and maybe even to you.
Taylor Swift has overcome sixteen years in the industry, and here’s to hoping she’ll continue to dominate sixteen more. She’s moved states, switched genres, had celebrity drama, and taken ownership of her art, all in the name of her love for music. The music industry is lucky to have her, and would not be the same today without her. Suffice to say, she has proven her spot as the most influential artist of the 21st century.
Bruner, Raisa. “Here’s Why Taylor Swift Is Re-Releasing Her Old Albums.” Time, 25 Mar. 2021, time.com/5949979/why- taylor-swift-is-rerecording-old-albums/.
Gavilanes, Grace, and Sophie Dodd. “Inside Kanye West and Taylor Swift’s 10-Year Feud: A Truly Comprehensive Timeline.” PEOPLE.com, 2 Sept. 2022, people.com/music/kanye-west-famous-inside-his-and-taylor-swifts-relationship-history/.
Mapes, Jill. “Taylor Swift: Folklore.” Pitchfork, 27 July 2020, pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/taylor-swift-folklore/.
Ray, Michael. “Taylor Swift | Biography, Songs, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 9 Dec. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Taylor-Swift.
“Taylor Swift.” IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2357847/awards.
Théberge, Paul. “Love and Business: Taylor Swift as Celebrity, Businesswoman, and Advocate.” Contemporary Music Review, EBSCOhost, 2021, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=152759008&site=ehost-live.
Unterberger, Andrew, and Andrew Unterberger. “Five Reasons Why Taylor Swift Was Able to Make Chart History with Her “Midnights” Debut Week.” Billboard, 31 Oct. 2022, http://www.billboard.com/music/chart-beat/taylor-swift-midnights-chart-history-hot-100-1235163645/.
Young, Alex. “Taylor Swift Broke 73 Records with Release of New Album Midnights.” Consequence, 31 Oct. 2022, consequence.net/2022/10/taylor-swift-midnights-records/.
Possibility of Truth in a Sea of Hypocrisy
Shannon Sims for The New York Times “Loved icon on an emblem of gender fluidity” (2017); Dom Phillips for The Guardian “Symbol of resistance for a minority that recently had a number of achievements in the country’s cultural war” (2017); Andrew R. Chow for Times Magazine “One of the next generation leaders” (2020). That is Pabllo Vittar. But just the tip of her impact on the world as a performer and human being. This research paper intends to prove that her contributions representing the LGBTQ+ community, putting Brazilian rhythms in the international market, and playing a big role in the political storm the country faced, makes her of extreme relevance and importance to culture on a global scale.
To achieve this goal, the paper has been organized into three sections. The first section will be focused on how Pabllo Vittar was a pioneer in the music industry by advocating and amplifying the LGBTQ+ movement in different ways. In the second section, I will present a more political in-depth analysis on the importance of Vittar against the conservative movement in Brazil. Last but not least, the third section goes around a take on her impact on showing rhythms that are part of Brazil’s history to the world, specially in her 2021 album Batidao Tropical. Before the study begins, however, the artist’s background is of great importance to understand how she became the drag queen she is today.
Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva was born in Sao Luis, Maranhao, on November first, 1993, and started dance lessons at a very young age. In the next few years, he joined the church’s choir and started to make covers of famous artists like Beyonce, falling in love with music (Soutello). However, living in a poor rural small city made him a target of constant bullying in school because of his high-pitched voice and delicate gestures. “Since I was a little boy, I have always known I was different and that I was not going to follow the steps of a conventional man,” said Pabblo in 2018 in an interview at the show “Encontro com Fátima Bernardes” (Noticias Financeiras 3).
When he was 17 years old, Phabullo had his first contact with the art of drag after watching the show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Impressed with the versatility within drag, he immediately was enchanted by the possibility of externalizing and expressing his essence with makeup and production (Soutello). The singer always knew he needed to leave his mark in the world, and becoming Pabllo Vittar was the best way he could have done it.
CHANGING THE LGBTQ+ MOVEMENT IN THE INDUSTRY
From the beginning, just by sharing her art with the world, Pabllo Vittar was a symbol of resistance against homophobia, gender intolerance and every prejudice against the community. She gained national recognition with her song “KO” in May 2017, and just two months later she successfully launched her international career with a feature on Major Lazer’s song “Sua Cara” (Aires 10), a fact that is hardly accomplished that early in anyone’s career. Since then, she has dominated the world: [she] was the first drag queen to perform at Coachella in 2022 (Cooper 55); [she] was in the Cover of Vogue Magazine in 2017; [she] was nominated “Person of the Year” 2017 on Rolling Stone Brazil (Aires 28); [she] was the first drag queen to be nominated for a Grammy in 2018 (The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences); [she] is the most listened drag queen in the world on Spotify; [she] did world tours with only six years on her career (Aires 42); [she] was nominated 2018 “Sexiest women of the year” (IstoE magazine); and 2020 “Men of the year” (GQ Brasil magazine).
All her achievements happened because of her music, performance, and what they translate to today’s society. Firstly, her lyrics mostly celebrate sexual freedom and self-love in a world that could be safe and happy for people like her (Codinha), but one song has the biggest impact from her repertoire. “Indestrutivel” speaks of hope, positivity, and
overcoming—or bypassing—the hardships of life that are a common experience for many people living under threat (Silva 241-242): “Everything will be ok/ And my tears will dry out/ Everything will be ok/ And these scars will heal up/ If I receive pain/ I give love back” (Musixmatch). Every queer people that listens to this song can identify with her words and starts seeing Vittar as a role model. The well known Brazilian pop music critic Ed Motta said: I really cried seeing her, because I didn’t imagine this musicality, beautiful timbre in low notes and strong quality in the high notes. […] Her talent is truthful and genuine […] but the hatred army is profoundly bothered with what it represents in the obedient and close-minded society we live in. (Qtd. In A Tarde)
Secondly, when it comes to her performances, Pabllo breaks down the social stereotypes that reinforce the binary as the rule, normalizing all the versions a person might have, and spreading the comfortableness she has with her body and gender fluidity as an expression of freedom, character, and art (Aires 33). Vittar defends diversity in the media and brought her queerness to the big names.
Historically, black people, women, and the LGBT+ community have been mistreated by brands and the media in general. So, having inspiring and representative content from artists like Pabllo Vittar is an enormous step (Aires 24). As a big mediatic influencer, her channels can elaborate opinions and shape minds, a fact that has been capturing the attention of different brands such as C&A, Coca Cola, Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Trident, Instagram, Calvin Klein (21- 22).
The omnipresence of Vittar as an artist is jaw dropping. She participated in the biggest programs on national television, covered magazines, had her own talk show, several international appearances, and created partnerships with big brands. That said, her importance and fierceness representing the LBGTQ+ community in the music industry and in the media is unmeasurable as she opened the doors for other drag and queer artists to pursuit their dreams.
Pabllo had and still has a big importance in the fight against the conservative movement in Brazil, considering that the continuous regress that has been showcased in politics is worrying, and powerful people like her are much needed to a brighter future. According to the data collected by the NGO Transgender Europe in 2016, Brazil is the country with the most transgender and transsexual murders in the world. In 2019, the Forum magazine stated that with the victory of Jair Messias Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential election, the country went from 55th to 68th on the safest countries to LGBTQ+ people rank (Aires 11). The openly racist, sexist, homophobic and misogynistic ex-president stated that homosexuality is a result of drug abuse, and it should have the same punishment as pedophilia (Codinha); [he] prohibited, during his mandate, the use of any word from the LGBT spectrum in political campaigns; and removed the restrictions on conversion therapy (Aires 33).
On the face of fear for the community, Vittar fights for the deconstruction of hateful and prejudiced thoughts that became part of not only Brazil’s, but the world’s culture. In an interview to Epoca Magazine in 2018, the artist said, “I will always be showing that, regardless of your sexual orientation, you can do everything you want.” Pabllo ended all the brand partnerships that declared support to Bolsonaro and, in 2022, she dedicated her social media with over 12 million people to support the new president, Lula Inacio da Silva, preventing the reelection of Bolsonaro (Aires 33). “Good music creates Union,” said the drag queen to Epoca Magazine in 2018, but her effect on the political context was the actual factor that successfully united the community for a greater good.
BRAZIL IN THE MAP
Even though the main movement she represents is the LGBTQ+ community, Pabllo Vittar also has a big role in the popularization of native music genres throughout the world. As a big star, the singer brought Forró, tecnobrega, and Carimbo rooted anthems such as “Ama Sofre Chora ” and “Zap Zum” to the spotlight. Her 2021 album, Batidao Tropical, was created as a homage to her origins and a dive into the brilliant rhythms the country has to offer (Soutello).
From a bittersweet romance to a happy dancing song, Vittar’s team produced a musical landscape referencing famous songs and melodies inside her own creations. Her high-pitched timbre altogether with exciting powerful instruments not normally used in pop music such as Accordion, Triangle, Berimbau, Afoxe, Pandeiro, Reco-Reco, turned the eyes and ears of the world to a previously unknown and underappreciated side of Brazilian music (Ribeiro). The happy and contagious energy on the album makes it impossible to stand still and not smile, especially if it is the first time in contact with the piece. Batidao Tropical was Pabllo’s way of showing the pride she takes in her background, and she did it astonishingly. The album is a key landmark for Brazilian pop music, once it was presented in an accessible and appealing way to a wider public by the best-positioned artist to take it to the next level (Facchi).
Growing up, I had a hard timing coming to peace with the fact I was queer for several reasons, but the main one was I did not have someone like me to look up to and say, “It Is ok.” TV shows, movies, music, cartoons, and no one like me was presented as a successful, happy person. Identifying with other people’s struggle and seeing I was not alone felt like taking weight out of my back, and Pabllo Vittar had an important role in all of these. I remember watching her first music video and thinking I want to be as free, joyful, and confident as she was, not caring about other people’s hatred and society’s norms. Pabllo Vittar is a synonym of respect, inspiration, and courage, with a life changing importance to young queer kids like me, proving how relevant she is to the world and future generations. Pabblo Vittar is an example of talent, perseverance, and representation that has made one of the biggest impacts in the music world, by bringing visibility not only to drag queens and other LGBTQ+ members as serious artists, but also to Brazil and what it has to offer. In addition, she had unimaginable value to the political war and the positive outcome the country experienced. Many may argue that her influence did not cross borders, but the countless awards such as Social Artist of the year 2022 in the Latin American Music Awards (Weinberg) or Musical Artist 2020 in the British LGBT Awards (Butterworth), on top of many appearances in big concerts, magazines, rapidly disputes them. Putting on the drag is much more than just fun: it is an act of resistance and expression that creates union and, with Pabllo Vittar, is a historical world culture event.
Maturana, Joao. “Entenda a importancia de drag queens como Pabllo Vittar e GloriaGroove no topo”. PRBK, 2022. https://www.purebreak.com.br/noticias/pabllo-vittar-gloria-groove-e-a-importancia-das-drag-queens-no-topo/105579%20%20%20%20%20Accessed%2029%20November%2022 Access 29 November 2022.
Soutello, Gabriela. “Pabllo Vittar: Conheça a trajetória de vida e a carreira na musica”.Deezer, https://www.deezer-blog.com/br/pabllo-vittar/ Access 4 December 2022.
Codinha, Alessandra. “O que Pabllo Vittar, super estrela pop, significa para o Brasil (e oresto de nós) atualmente”. VOGUE, 2018.https://empoderadxs.com.br/2018/11/29/vogue-americana-ressalta-a-importancia-de-pabllo-vittar-para-o-brasil-e-o-mundo/ Accessed 29 November 2022.
Aires, Jonathan. “A Visibilidade de Pabllo Vittar na Midia”. Julia Maass, UniCEUB, 2019, pp. 10- 44.
Silva, Daniel. “Papo Reto: The Politics of Enregistrement amid the Crossfire in Rio de Janeiro”. Signs and Society, volume 10, number 2, edited by Asif Agha, The University of Chicago Press for the Semiosis Research Center, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, 2022, pp. 241-242.
CE Noticias Financieras: Portuguese, sec. News, 23 Apr. 2019. NewsBank: Access World News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&docref=news/172FDA1BF AB5D4B8. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.
Cooper, Alex, et al. “12 More People of the Year.” Advocate, no. 1124, Nov. 2022, pp. 50–61.
Butterworth, Benjamin. “British LGBT Awards 2019 nominations”. 2019 https://inews.co.uk/inews lifestyle/people/british-lgbt-awards-2019-full-list-of-nominees-254245
The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. “Nominados 19a Entrega Annual del Latin GRAMMY”. 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20181201115609/https://www.latingrammy.com/es/nominees. Accessed on 4 December 2022.
Nunes, Caian. “Pabllo Vittar se emociona ao receber prêmio de “Drag Hero”. 2019 https://portalpopline.com.br/pabllo-vittar-se-emociona-ao-receber-premio-de-drag-hero-em-premiacao-britanica-no-brasil-nao-esta-facil-mas-ainda-estou-caminhando/amp/ Accessed on 4 December 2022.
Weinberg, Lindsay. “2022 Latin American Music Awards Winners: The complete List”. 2022. https://www.eonline.com/news/1327910/2022-latin-american-music-awards-winners-the-complete-list Accessed on 4 December 2022.
Antunes, Rodrigo. “Letra de Indestrutivel”. Vai Passar Mal, Bmt Produções. 2017.
Ribeiro, Ana Clara. “Pabllo Vittar shines light on brega music with ‘Batida Tropical’”. Pop Matters, 2021. https://www.popmatters.com/pabllo-vittar-batidao-tropical-review Accessed on 10 December 2022.
Facchi, Cleber. “Pabllo Vittar: “Batidão Tropical”’. Música Instantânea, 2021. http://musicainstantanea.com.br/critica-pabllo-vittar-batidao-tropical/ Accessed on 10 December 2022.
Estadao. “Ed Motta elogia a voz de Pabllo Vittar: ‘Talento verdadeiro e genuíno” ‘. A Tarde (Salvador, Brasil). 2018.
 State on the Northeastern region of Brazil
 Music genres born in poor peripheral regions far from the epicenter of Brazil’s mainstream industry
 Musical instruments very popular in the Northeastern region of Brazil.
The Impact of SZA’s “Love Language”
“Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?” SZA asks in the fourth track of CTRL titled “Drew Barrymore.” So, why is it so hard to accept when something such as a relationship or a monumental event ends? SZA explores this through her music and other issues such as growing up, bad relationships, vaginas, and much more. By talking about these subjects, SZA makes her own version of R&B catered toward people who don’t fit in, people who need a space to feel seen and understood. She also advocates for different causes such as the elimination of environmental racism and even has her own sustainable clothing line. Through her music, SZA pushes the boundaries of R&B and creates a space for people who don’t fit in while advocating for causes such as sustainability and mental health awareness.
SZA grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, and her birth name is Solána Imani Rowe (Carmichael). She wasn’t very popular in school and stated “I wanted to be liked and have a good time, but it just wasn’t in the books for me (Carmichael).” Her lack of connection with peers led her to skip prom and party in a club in South Beach instead, which inspired her (Carmicheal). After the trip, she said “Fuck this, I don’t have any friends anyway. There’s nothing to stick around for. I might as well go chase more (Carmichael).” She went on to write her first studio album CTRL in 2017. She won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding New Artist for CTRL in 2018 (The Hollywood Reporter Staff).
SZA’s music is unique and filled with references and packed full of emotion. Emma Carmicheal from The Rolling Stone described CTRL as “…a vulnerable twentysomething’s stream of consciousness, brimming with anxieties, discontented love stories, and a range of pop-culture references one can only absorb from growing up on the internet.” “Doves in the Wind,” the third track on CTRL, is all about vaginas. SZA, along with Kendrick Lamar, sings:
Real niggas do not deserve pussy
Meaning it’s more, you see right through walls
Ain’t talkin’ about pussy
Meaning you deserve the whole box of chocolates
Come with me, Forrest Gump had a lot goin’ for him
Never without pussy, y’know, Jenny almost gave it all up for him
Never even pushed for the pussy
Where’s Forrest now when you need him?
Talk to me, talk to me, hey, ayy, hey
Through the references to Forrest Gump, SZA explains that men don’t deserve her because she has a lot more to offer than just sex. Her lyricism is clever and witty and she uses pop-culture references to back up her points. She’s confident and sure of herself, and she seems very powerful. However, in “Supermodel,” SZA expresses insecurity. She sings:
Leave me lonely for prettier women
You know I need too much attention for shit like that
You know you wrong for shit like that
I could be your supermodel if you believe
If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me
I don’t see myself
Why I can’t stay alone just by myself?
Wish I was comfortable just with myself
But I need you, but I need you, but I need you
SZA shows a sensitive, insecure side where she is unsure of her looks and needs reassurance from a man. She knows she has flaws and sometimes they get the best of her, which is what makes her human. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates said “When I hear SZA’s lyrics, it feels like it’s definitively her — this really human, young, black woman who is sometimes insecure about her body, other times feels really sexy, sometimes falls really hard,” Coates says. “That’s what an artist is supposed to do. Once they get into that specificity of who they are, that’s when they’re touching the most human aspect of it (Carmicheal).” She pushes the bounds of R&B with her music. SZA is relatable and touches on topics many people don’t discuss. She stated “I’ve spent most of my life being really unpopular and nerdy in school. I’ve always been super empathetic. My main goal is to make everybody feel included (Mlaba).” SZA is dedicated to making a safe space for her fans to feel included and understood.
While SZA makes the world a better place through her music, she also is dedicated to helping save the Earth by fighting against environmental racism and making her own sustainable clothing line. She has partnered with Tazo Tea and American Forests to plant trees and give jobs to people in marginalized communities (Finley). This hits close to home for SZA, she said “I think I’ve always been super aware of the inequity and experience. I always thought growing up in Maplewood, a place that’s named after its trees, that it was super weird and, like, not commonplace for other Black children to have access and exposure to the beach, to trees. Even though we live in a coastal city, whether it’s New York or New Jersey, Black children still have an uncomfortability with water and with outdoorsy activities. I feel like I just recognize the difference even between Maplewood and Irvington. I guess the taxpaying dollars only pay for a certain amount of trees? Literally a one-block difference, and all of a sudden it all disappears. It’s just straight concrete, and it smells different (Finley).” Environmental racism is a significant cause to her and she is doing her part to combat it. SZA is also working with Slow Factory to create a sustainable line of merch (Kia). The clothes will be made of landfill fabrics and recycled clothing and there will be patchwork tops, embroidered pieces, and sweatshirts (Kia). SZA also is dedicated to mental health awareness and has “…teamed up with shoe brand Crocs, to release a
limited line of shoes during Mental Health Awareness Month in the US in May. The brand and SZA partnered with advocates for mental health awareness in Black communities to help drive positive change in their own communities and around the world. With every shoe purchase, Crocs donated to the mental health organizations of their choice (Mlaba).” SZA struggles with anxiety and depression and wants to help her fans and others going through similar experiences. Through her music and creative lyrics, SZA has had an important impact on my life and my music taste. She has shown me that you can be a powerful, confident woman who still has insecurities and problems to work through. Her music has also helped me get over my past relationship with someone who wasn’t right for me. While writing this paper, I was anxiously awaiting her second album, SOS. It came out on December 9th and did not disappoint; from talking about killing her ex in “Kill Bill” to the iconic lyric “my pussy proceeds me” in “Blind,” I absolutely adore this album. By using her personal experiences and being emotional and open in her music, she allows us to cope with our experiences and relate to her struggles and successes. I believe SZA is pushing the boundaries of R&B and creating her own space in the genre. Her impact cannot be ignored and I am sure she will go on to win many more awards and get more recognition for her new work.
Through SZA’s clever lyrics, pop-culture references, and emotional delivery, she has not only created her own space in the genre of R&B, but she also formed a place for people who don’t fit in or feel alone to come together and feel seen and understood. Through her own struggles with her mental health, she has become dedicated to helping others going through similar things. Her care for the environment, sustainability, and improving life in marginalized communities shows just how much she wants to use her platform for good and change. While SZA is a relatively new artist with only two studio albums, her positive impact on people, the music industry, and the world cannot be ignored.
Carmichael, Emma. “SZA.” Rolling Stone, no. 1337, Mar. 2020, pp. 48–51.
Finley, Taryn. “SZA Wants to Turn Your Attention to Environmental Racism.” HuffPost, 17 Feb. 2021, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sza-tazo-climate-justice_n_602c44c8c5b62767c0aa9dbc. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.
Kia, Kara. “SZA’s Clothing Line.” POPSUGAR, 4 Mar. 2021, https:// http://www.popsugar.com/fashion/SZA-Clothing-Line-46210169. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.
Mlaba, Khanyi. “5 Times SZA Helped Show the World ‘Good Days.’” Global Citizen, 6 Sept. 2022, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/times-sza-showed-the-world-good-days-activism/.
The Hollywood Reporter Staff. “NAACP Image Awards: Full List of Winners.” The Hollywood Reporter, 16 Jan. 2018, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lists/2018-naacp-image-award-winners-complete-list-1064208/.
Halsey: A Modern Music Maniac
It is not every day that a suicidal seventeen-year-old turns into a singing sensation, but that is exactly what happened in the case of young Ashley Frangipane. Ever since her first song, Halsey has been an advocate in the music industry who has always worked to remain uncensored and unlimited in her music. Her music has broken barriers and built bridges for so many artists who came after her. She is an icon and a beacon of hope in the male-dominated music industry. Halsey’s impact comes from her willingness to utilize her platform and their refusal to conform to what others may want.
From day one, Halsey has incorporated very serious themes into her music and has never once shied away from darker subjects. Halsey’s very first album, Badlands, already supports the dark narrative that Halsey’s music spreads. According to Halsey, Badlands is a concept album focusing on the fictional dystopian society known as The Badlands. A desert wasteland surrounds the city, keeping the inhabitants of The Badlands captive. (Rome) She used the Badlands as a metaphor for her struggles and mental health issues. These issues, according to her, created barriers she could not surpass and held her captive in her mind. (Morris) The Album’s tracks cover topics like insanity, mental health, anxiety, death, and drug use. At the time, most of these topics were rarely discussed and were certainly not subject matter that an artist would want to start their career with; but Halsey did not care. Every song that she writes tells a piece of her story and she refuses to censor herself. (Morris) Ever since that first album, Halsey has never been anything but honest with her fans. She never once hid her mental health issues and has been incredibly open in interviews and when simply answering questions online. Halsey has always been one to prefer transparency. As her music and influence have evolved, so too have the messages she has given. One of her most recent albums, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, is a “concept album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth” (Lawson) Its music explores themes of feminism, abortion, self-control, self-worth, and so much more. It is clear that Halsey’s passion for these subjects runs deep within her veins and burns bright within her heart.
Her support for certain causes extends far beyond her music, however. Halsey has never hesitated to use her platform to support the causes she believes in. In her earlier years, she started small, primarily only posting about the causes on Twitter and other social media sites. Slowly but surely, however, Halsey lost her shyness and became much bolder in her activism. In June of 2017, Billboard magazine hosted a pride issue where artists were able to write letters to the
LGBTQ+ community and those letters would be published. While most of these letters were written from an outside perspective, Halsey was able to write hers as a thank-you letter to the community. She writes about all the people in the community who have helped her and whom she looks up to; writers, musicians, fans, drag queens, and even just everyday individuals who don’t let the hate slow them down. (Halsey) Halsey shows unwavering support for the struggle faced by the LGBTQ+ community because she is a piece of it. Halsey has never hidden her sexuality and has become an idol and an icon for LGBTQ+ fans all across the world. This letter, however, is far from the only thing Halsey has written for a cause. In January 2018, amidst the rise of the #MeToo movement, Halsey wrote a poem entitled “A Story Like Mine.” In it, she tells the story of her own experience with sexual assault as well as the experiences of those close to her. The poem is truly heart-breaking as she tells about her best friend’s rape at age 14, her own assault at age 7, and her continued assaults well into her adult life. (Halsey) She talks about how she thought that fame might protect her and how she was quickly proven wrong, how she realized that no one is ever truly safe, and how “we are not free until all of us are free.” (Halsey) Later, in November of that same year, Halsey unveiled another poem. This one was read at the 2018 Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit where Halsey was nominated. This poem, similar to the last one, is about the struggles and hardships faced by women around the world and is titled “Inconvenient Woman.” (Halsey) In the poem, she tells the stories of women all around who have suffered due to being seen as inconvenient; from work and from home, no woman is safe from being inconvenient. In the end, Halsey finishes her statement with one line that sums up what the poem was intended to say; “You were not put on this earth to make everybody else’s life easier. So please, be inconvenient.” (Halsey)
As years went by, Halsey never stopped being inconvenient to those who tried to stamp out her passion. Both 2019 and 2020 saw her becoming more and more active on various social media sites as she pushed for changes that she believed in. She raised money, raised support, and raised spirits for causes across the globe. In 2020, amidst the rallies and protests originating from the Black Lives Matter movement, Halsey decided to make some things very clear. Halsey herself is of African American descent as her father is black and her mother is European. Despite being biracial, Halsey has readily admitted on Twitter that she is white-passing and that “it’d be an absolute disservice to say ‘we’ when I’m not susceptible to the same violence.” (Willen) This was the beginning of a long stream of tweets and replies in which Halsey speaks about her experience as being biracial and how she feels it is not correct for her to claim a place in the Black community because she has not experienced the same issues that they have. Regardless of the criticism she has faced, Halsey continues to be a very vocal supporter of equal rights and a powerful figure in the fight against racism. Notably, Halsey was seen during the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in Los Angeles as she was treating the injuries sustained by the civilians that were struck by rubber bullets in the ribs, face, and back. (Tannenbaum) Even when the protests and rallies died out, Halsey continued to be vocal on Twitter and other social media. Due to certain circumstances, a majority of her tweets and posts have been deleted or removed but several screenshots and records of them still exist out there in the infinite expanses of the internet.
Given all of the information stated in the previous paragraphs, what genre would fit Halsey’s style and music most accurately? Would her loud, angry songs land her a place in the Rock genre? Perhaps some of her darker songs may land her in the Alternative genre? Quite a few of her songs seem to fit in the Pop genre, so maybe that is correct? No one has ever been able to place Halsey inside of just one genre, not even the artist herself. According to interviews from as early in her career as 2016, Halsey openly believes that the concept of genres is just absolute bullshit. “Half the records on hip-hop radio are pop records at their core, and half the records in fucking alternative radio are pop. And pop radio doesn’t even know what the fuck it’s doing.” (Marsh) In the same interview, Halsey reveals that her debut album, her only album at the time, was being refused by several radio stations because it didn’t fit with the station’s primary genre. Eventually, she went to various alternative-based stations and pleaded her case to have it played there, saying that ”My music is too dark for pop, too pop for alternative, and urban radio won’t touch it — so we have a record that doesn’t fit in. And what is more alternative than that?” (Marsh) Eventually, several Alternative stations did pick up her music and, when it became clear that the audience enjoyed it, several other stations eventually joined in. Her unique brand of music has been nominated for awards in several different genre sections and it has annoyed critics to no end when they cannot confine her. (Visnyei) Eventually, Halsey was labeled as an alternative-pop artist, combining the two genres she fits most. This designation opened the gateway for more artists to push the boundaries of genre norms and create new and exciting subgenres. As the years have gone by, Halsey’s impact has been seen in the rise and fame of so many artists and songs that are inspired by her. Though few artists have outright stated that Halsey was an influence on them, the changes she inspired in the music world are undeniable.
Another thing that is undeniable about Halsey is her confidence and passion. When I first encountered her music in the spring of 2016, I was blown away by the raw emotion that seemed to leak from headphones and infect my brain. I couldn’t get her voice out of my head. I was only 12 when Halsey’s voice penetrated my soul and ignited a fire that burned me from the inside out until I was forced to stand face-to-face with my inner self. When I stared into my own eyes and saw the desperation and fear that I had tried so hard to bury, I couldn’t deny myself any longer. I began a spiraling path that led to new discoveries and a powerful confidence that I almost lost a few times. These discoveries came to a climax when, at the tender age of 14, I discovered a recording from Halsey’s 2014 performance of “Hold Me Down”. (maddi rath) I watched her dance across the stage with a confidence that I could only dream of having when, at the beginning of one chorus, she dropped to her knees and began to move in a way that made my face grow warm. Part of me wanted to look away and spare myself but my eyes were glued to the video as it continued to play unhindered. That one little clip that I found purely by chance sparked a part of myself that I now wear proudly on my sleeve. Looking back, I can clearly see that that moment was what sparked my discovery of my sexuality. I can proudly say that I am an omnisexual. This discovery was kept secret for a long time as I simply didn’t feel safe being out in my hometown or even amongst my own family. As I grew up, I began to use Halsey’s music as a refuge and her activism as a guide. Her encouragement and poems lived in my head and her passion resided in my heart. I used her words, her poems, her music, and even her tweets to guide me through life. I would not be who I am today had it not been for Halsey.
After everything that Halsey has experienced and seen, it is no wonder that she has such a powerful passion for her art and her influence. Halsey has shown no restraint in utilizing her platform and making her opinions known. She is a fearless artist whose impact, not only in the music industry, is undeniable. From the powerful themes that she makes prevalent in her music to the burning passion she has for social justice, Halsey is one of the most influential artists of
her time. She may not have broken records or won hundreds of awards, but she has set the stage for so many artists who come after her and has made a clear imprint on the music industry. She was one of the first female artists to really put her foot down and say that she was going to run her career how she wanted it rather than what others wanted. She is an inspiration not only to me but to artists and fans across the globe, she may not be the absolute most influential artist, but her impact is undeniable.
Daw, Stephen. “8 Times Halsey Boldly Used Her Platform for Social Causes: A Timeline.” Billboard, 21 Dec. 2018, http://www.billboard.com/culture/pride/halsey-8-times-used-platform-social-causes-timeline-8491237/
GILCHRIST, T. E. Hello, Halsey. Advocate, [s. l.], n. 1107, p. 24–31, 2020. Acesso em: 15 dez. 2022.
Halsey, and Ashley Iasimone. “Halsey Delivers Emotional Speech about Sexual Abuse, Rape at New York Women’s March.” Billboard, 24 Jan. 2018, http://www.billboard.com/music/pop/halsey-womens-march-speech-poem-a-story-like-mine-video-8095257/.
Halsey. “Halsey Has a Poem with a Powerful Message for All Women: ‘Be Inconvenient’.” Glamour, Glamour, 11 Nov. 2018, http://www.glamour.com/story/halsey-poem-inconvenient-woman.
Halsey. “Halsey: Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community.” Billboard, 20 June 2017, http://www.billboard.com/culture/pride/halsey-gay-pride-month-love-letter-7833737/.
Lawson, Sydney. “Halsey’s Newest Album Is Their Most Vulnerable Yet.” The Shield, 15 Sept. 2021,https://usishield.com/34398/features/halseys-newest-album-is-their-most-vulnerable-yet/ maddi rath. “Halsey – Hold Me Down.” YouTube, 13 Mar. 2015,www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZuH6T4nx-k.
Marsh, Joanne. “Halsey Slams Genres in Music: ‘It’s Just Absolute Bullshit’.” NME, 10 Feb. 2016, http://www.nme.com/news/music/halsey-4-1203675.
Morris, Jessie. “Halsey Talks Pissing off Her Label, Her New Album, and Her Decision to Open up about Being Bipolar.” Complex, Complex, 10 July 2015, http://www.complex.com/music/2015/07/interview-halsey-new-album-badlands.
Rome, Shelley. “Halsey Interview with Shelley Rome.” Z100, 9 Sept. 2015, web.archive.org/web/20151002045425/www.z100.com/media/podcast-shelley-rome-interviews-shelleyrome/halsey-interview-with-shelley-rome-26337386/.
Tannenbaum, Emily. “Halsey Speaks up about White-Passing Privilege: ‘I’m Not Susceptible to the Same Violence’.” Glamour, Glamour, 4 June 2020, http://www.glamour.com/story/halsey-speaks-up-about-white-passing-privilege.
Visnyei, Petra. “‘Otherness Incorporated: Halsey as the Contemporary Media Rebel.’” Americana: E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary, vol. 12, no. 1, Mar. 2016, p. 1.
Willen, Claudia. “Halsey Reflects on the Privilege She Has Because She’s ‘White Passing’: ‘I’m Not Susceptible to the Same Violence’.” Insider, Insider, 4 June 2020, http://www.insider.com/halsey-white-passing-biracial-privilege-black-lives-matter-2020-6.