By Sophia Simon-Bashall
I have a tendency to see the negative in anything and everything. I could tell you so many things that have been bad about this year, on a personal and political level – the latter of which, I don’t need to list for people to know exactly what I mean, on the whole.
Viewing the world through grey-tinted glasses is draining. Always pre-empting that things will be bad, ignoring what has been good in the past – it impinges on everything. It makes you anxious and pessimistic and it stops you from trying to make anything better.
This isn’t a healthy way to be, nor is it productive. So I’m trying to reflect on the positives more. This isn’t me looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses; I’m still more than aware of the problems, of everything else going on. I’m not ignoring that. I’m just choosing not to focus all my energy on it, all the time. So yes, this year has been painful, but there’s been brilliance too, and it’s not fair to disregard that – let’s celebrate 2015…
The rise (and rise…and rise) of Halsey: Halsey exists and Badlands exists and the world is far better than before as a result. Halsey is everything that pop music has needed for a long time, everything that the world has been in need of. We can connect with her, we see ourselves reflected in her and her music – our pain, confusion, anger, our love. But Halsey is also about power, and in listening to her music, we can find our own power.
The emergence of PVRIS as rock’s (and radio’s!) next big thing: If you’ve been to any big rock music event this year, chances are that either Pvris were playing, or half the crowd were complaining that they weren’t and should’ve been. The Boston band, fronted by the magnificent Lynn Gunn, will soon be unavoidable everywhere – not that anyone would want to avoid them – because there is something about this frontwoman which is truly magnetic. The band call their fanbase the ‘cvlt’, a fitting name, as they certainly attract something cult-like – songs like My House call for a cathartic, collective scream from crowds; plus, the aesthetic and atmosphere created by the band provides a place for the kids with darker minds to have fun, to live. Bands like Pvris prove that rock is not meant to be a boy’s club – girls have noise to make too, and it’s your loss if you don’t listen.
Florence + The Machine. In general: First of all, there’s that phenomenal new album. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is stunning, a masterpiece with wonderful witchy vibes. It gives us all shivers.
Also…THAT Glastonbury headline set. A historical moment. When original headliners of the festival, Foo Fighters, were cancelled and replaced by Florence, there was outrage – mostly, white boys’ outrage. It was questioned whether THIS WOMAN and her band could fill the stage, could gather and maintain a crowd. THIS WOMAN couldn’t possibly match Foo Fighters, why is she the replacement? ANYONE other than THIS WOMAN could take the slot, PLEASE, not THIS WOMAN. Well. Florence + The Machine’s enchanting and glorious set blew all doubts out of the water, and most likely left all the mopey white boys gaping. Watching that set (via my laptop…sigh), I was alight. The magic was so intense and powerful that it transferred through to me. I’m pretty sure a little bit of it got into everyone that night, too.
The return of Tonight Alive: I feel like I’ve been waiting to hear from Tonight Alive for years. In reality, it’s been two years since the last album, and just over a year since the Live On The Other Side shows finished, but the year without their presence has felt odd. Thankfully, they finally returned, and it is a triumphant return. The lead song, Human Interaction (I am aware that Jenna’s hair in this video is an issue…she no longer has her hair this way), from their upcoming album Limitless feels like a personal message, sent directly to me. It came out at a time when I was isolating myself at university, at a time when everything was bad. Hearing this song was like having someone take me by the shoulders and try to shake me into clarity, except this song actually helped lift the fog somewhat – enough to reach out, begin making changes, to take control of what I could. It is the band’s specialty, to haunt yet to simultaneously uplift – a combination of Jenna McDougall’s unique vocals and the band’s positive ethos makes for life-affirming songs like this one. I know that it’s going to be incredible live, to be able to scream “I WILL BE BETTER” with the people that helped me to be better, and other people who feel what I feel.
Demi Lovato is cool for the queer grrrls: This year, Demi Lovato brought out the album that I’ve wanted from her for years. This album, Confident, feels true to who Demi is, and it’s always nice to notice that in the music of an artist you care about, particularly when you are aware of how said artist has struggled with themselves. Demi is empowered, and to hear that feels empowering. The lead single, Cool For The Summer, is especially important as a queer grrrl (particularly one who is TOTALLY HEART EYES for Demi) – the Sapphic vibes are real. “I’m a little curious” is the classic ‘I think I like girls’ line, but if you need something more obvious…”Got a taste for the cherry / I just need to take a bite” is about as clear as you can get. It’s also one of very few pop songs around these days which does not use specific pronouns…it’s the openness to interpretation that’s really refreshing – in a world of compulsory heterosexuality, most artists are sure to make genders clear, afraid of the mere possibility of having their straightness questioned. Thank you Demi, for proving that you really, really don’t care.
FILM, TV & POPULAR CULTURE
Amandla Sternberg being Amandla Sternberg (by Anna): It has been the year of Amandla; her wisdom and her acting ability were already apparent, but now we know that she is a talented musician – check out her great band Honeywater. Most of all, her astuteness amazes us – her video, Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows, covers the important issue of cultural appropriation and how often black culture is loved by white people but black people aren’t.
Melissa McCarthy’s Spy breaking all the boundaries: Films of the spy/action genre are grossly misogynistic – women are objects, woman are stupid and incapable, women are not real human beings. In THIS film, McCarthy takes all the tropes and destroys them. She is a badass, she works everything out for herself, and she puts the male spies to shame. What I especially loved about the movie was that she did not simply adopt ‘masculine’ forms in order to break free of the sexist limitations she is surrounded by – she doesn’t become an indestructible, infallible, iron man on a mission. She remains funny, likeable and relatable – she is distracted and weakened at moments by love, she is indignant at disrespect, she makes it up as she goes along. She is not glamorous, she is not slick – but she still comes out on top. And she chooses her best girl friend over the guy she lusts over. McCarthy’s spy is the first spy character I have considered a true hero.
Kristen Stewart as our new queer grrrl hero (by Yas): Who would have thought a few years ago that Kristen Stewart would become a queer shero of the 21st century? She’s gone from star of the most un-feminist movie to be aimed at teenagers in recent years to gay girl icon on the front cover of DIVA magazine. In her DIVA interview, she says “I love acting more than ever now that I’m doing the kind of work I want to be doing” – well, we love her more than ever now…she’s totally got us swooning!
The Great British Bake-Off and representation: If you’re British, you love GBBO. Fact. This year was a particularly good year, I think. Specifically, two contestants made it, Tamal and Nadiya. A show that boasts Britishness – even if it is somewhat mocking – is not one on which you might expect diversity. Despite the fact that we are a diverse population, British still connotes white. In this series of GBBO, this was not the case, and blimey, was that refreshing.
Everyone’s favourite new superhero, Jessica Jones (by Anna): A female superhero? Yes please. A female superhero with ptsd and a drinking problem and a hell of a lot of strength? YES. PLEASE. Jessica Jones fights against the embodiment of gaslighting and violence against women. Jessica Jones is a badass superhero, even though she is broken – but she is also healing, fighting. The show is very violent and can be triggering for those with PTSD, and for victims of sexual violence – but as someone who is in both categories, it is also an incredibly satisfying show. It’s worth giving a watch, if it feels safe for you to do so.
Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places: When I was first asked about my thoughts on this book after I’d finished it, I genuinely couldn’t form words on it. I just looked at my friend, and my expression said it all. This is a truly heart-breaking novel, and potentially triggering (content warning for suicide). But it is also everything. It is uplifting and inspiring and beautiful and feels so real – the characters are so warm and alive, I truly feel that I know them. I read the book 9 months ago, but I still can’t stop thinking about it, I still can’t shake the intensity with which I connect with Violet and Finch, and with their story. It’s important because I honestly think it has the potential to change lives, even save them.
Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book: Anna and I were lucky enough to attend the launch for this book earlier this year, ft. rainbow cake! It was a celebration of being a queer girl/woman, a celebration of making it through the confusion and the fear of coming out, of living and surviving as a queer woman in a world where non-straight and non-male humans are still oppressed. But it was also a celebration of how much things have come along – Kessler tried to get this story published many years ago, but it was rejected…the subject of gay women was just too taboo, nobody wanted to know. When she told us this, I started to worry – I thought it would mean that the book would feel really dated. But it didn’t. It felt honest and familiar and whilst I am somewhat tired of coming out narratives, this didn’t feel like the typical storyline that I have heard over and over again. It’s a refreshing read, and has a firm place on my shelves.
Non Pratt’s Remix: Remix is such a pleasure to read. It is an affirmation of the power and beauty and importance of girl/girl friendship. It is a celebration of being a teenage girl and all that encompasses – it does not trivialise nor dismiss teenage girls and it does not depict them as petty or hysterical. It is not a deep, ‘serious’ book, but it is nevertheless important, and it will fill your heart with joy and make you feel light and free and invincible.
Kate Scelsa’s Fans of the Impossible Life: If you liked Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’ll love this book. In my opinion, it’s better. The protagonist is a girl called Mira, and she feels close to me in a way that few characters do. I identify strongly with her, as well as admire her in the ways she differs from me. I also adore her friends – each character brings so much to the story, and they are all well developed, multidimensional characters. There is so much to love about Fans of the Impossible Life – honest, unglamorous but non-shaming presentation of depression, a person of colour as the protagonist (casually – her story is not centered around her race…representation matters!), a comfortably out lesbian, bisexual representation…it’s wonderful. It’s a hopeful book, while still realistic, and I like that, because I can take something from the hopefulness, rather than view it as naïve and idealistic.
Robin Talley’s What We Left Behind: I was so excited for this book for so long and it did not disappoint. It follows a queer couple’s struggle with distance, and with the uncertainty of one’s gender identity. It is a touching and helpful depiction of gender dysphoria, and of the confusion that can come with shifting gender identity in relation to sexuality. It is also a sweet queer love story, a funny and painful and beautiful and relatable account of being a teenage grrrl in love, and of trying to establish your own sense of self. It’s a lovable book, certainly, and educational without being preachy – a balance which can often be hard to find with the subjects that Robin Talley touches on here. Bravo.