Thanks to Ms. Rona, we’re all trapped at home with nothing to do. Even Netflix is getting boring! But never fear. While they’re technically out of work, our favorite entertainers are still out here bravely making virtual content in a scary new world. Going to the club or the theater is out of the question right now (self isolate! Ariana Grande says so) but here’s PAPER’s ongoing guide to the latest livestreams — featuring comedians, actors, musicians and more.
Who? Brooklyn-based electronic duo, Spirit Twin, have teamed up with IMVU for the platform’s first official virtual music festival. Boasting an impressive lineup with headliners like Pussy Riot, Yves Tumor, Hannah Diamond, Cakes Da Killa, Catnapp, Sonikku, Cowgirl Clue, Fee Lion and more, Spirit World’s roster of underground artists is not one to miss.
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When? Spirit World takes place July 23 through July 25 and will be streaming on IMVU’s official Twitch.
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Why Watch? Spread across three days with six different stages, Spirit World promises to deliver a mystical immersive experience paired with a healthy dose of 2000s-era cyber nostalgia. Now that we’re several months into this pandemic, it’s safe to admit that the initial novelty of virtual shows and festivals has quickly worn off. With larger promoters and mainstream artists looking to get in on the action and co-opt these spaces, it’s important to remember the underground collectives and scenes that originally pioneered the formats and made virtual shows a viable alternative. It’s nice to see IMVU officially sanction a lineup of exciting and diverse underground artists as a refreshing return to the bedrock of the platform.
A few years ago, one specific term started hanging around descriptions of Charli XCX‘s music: futuristic. When her SOPHIE-produced Vroom Vroom EP dropped in 2016, it felt as if critical consensus had been reached overnight — this music was, supposedly, what the pop records of coming decades or centuries will sound like, and Charli was a star prophetic enough to beam these sounds into the 2010s. Since Vroom Vroom, fans and critics have latched onto this descriptor, and heaped it upon her fawningly with each successive release: a recent profile decrees that Charli is “pop’s reigning futurist;” The Guardian lauds her “mischievous futurist agenda.” A subsection of Spotify called “Hyperpop aka the future” features a cohort of artists adjacent to Charli — Slayyyter, A. G. Cook, gupi, 100 gecs, Caroline Polachek, Hannah Diamond, Kim Petras.
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It’s not hard to see how the “futurism” label stuck. When Cook, SOPHIE and their PC Music compatriots debuted a new mode of glossy pop music in 2013, there were few words to describe it: loud, sure; strange, absolutely. Shiny and uncanny, seemingly against nature, it appeared to foreshadow new and weird ways of communicating. What was this music, if not futuristic? When Charli named her Cook-produced 2017 mixtape Pop 2 — as in, a sequel to pop itself — it felt like the term was carved in stone. Charli did predict pop’s trajectory for the next two years: 2019 saw the release of her much-awaited third album, as well as critically lauded releases from Polachek, Slayyyter, 100 gecs, and Diamond that solidified those industrial whirrs and abrasive shrieks as signifiers of the pop’s new guard.. When you’re declaring that a certain scene is decades ahead of the pack, the headlines write themselves. (I have been as guilty of using these “futurism” cliches as anyone else.)
Camp, outsized visions of the future in pop culture are nothing new; the futurists of the early 20th century glorified a new world order where technology eradicated the organic, while The Jetsons planted ideas of flying cars and quirky aliens in the minds of baby boomers. Describing synthpop as futuristic has been a hallmark of the genre since its inception; computer music has always tended to confound critics. To me, though, there’s something jarring about classing the current wave of Charli-adjacent pop as futurist, in large part because it sounds so much like the crushing, industrial present. It absorbs the clamor of our current moment — the clatter of factories, the constant buzz of gentrification-inducing construction, the crush of landfill — and warps it. Perhaps PC Music copped the “futuristic” tag because it actually did sound futuristic. Or maybe the alternative was just a little too upsetting to comprehend: that this music, born in the same era as sanitized steel condominium towers and smartphone-induced disconnection, was actually an all-too-real reflection of our current state. Each era gets the pop aesthetic it deserves — excessive grandeur in the accelerationist ’80s, corporatized rebellion in the ’90s, and so on — so it’s fitting that the late 2010s and early 2020s gets a sound nihilistically steeped in the worst byproducts of disaster capitalism: isolation and discontent, incessant noise, the gradual dehumanization and degradation of voices of authority.
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This sounds like a dismissal of an entire, increasingly popular, scene, but it’s not: It’s vital that these artists dismantle the sounds of the present. There’s a reason that the past few years have been so obsessed with pop nostalgia: it’s much easier to throw back to the sounds of the ’90s than grapple with the lot we were dealt. At its best, this music can find an inherent humanity in the soulless black mirror; songs like Charli’s “Thoughts” and Hannah Diamond’s “Attachment” articulate a deep, spiritual sense of Gen Z disconnection that’s so rarely articulated. If anything, it is a disservice to these artists to call what they do “futurism,” when it more ably typifies the early 21st century than anything else in recent memory. The most raucous artists among this scene, like Slayyyter and 100 gecs, push the form to absurdist limits, creating chaotic and unwieldy party tracks that harness our common experience of constant overstimulation. Charli’s latest record how i’m feeling now, out today, further platforms the raw humanity in her work, choosing to zero in on genuine true love — often just an unattainable symbol in much of this music — as opposed to sadness or the emptiness of the void. Made entirely in quarantine, it’s an exemplary display of what can be achieved in the face of even the most depressing and constricting conditions.
Wouldn’t it be depressing if this actually were the sound of the future? The Jetsons and the Pet Shop Boys predicted a bright, utopian 21st century; it’s a very different prospect to suggest that the chaos of our current world will get harsher, colder and more abrasive. The fact that so many are so willing to immediately cop to Charli, Cook and co. as prophets speaks to how many of us see the world: as a declining enterprise, as opposed to something that could, theoretically, become warmer and more communal.
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Certain pockets of culture do predict or push towards a less Amazon-ified future. Weyes Blood’s 2019 record Titanic Rising was an impassioned plea for humanity to move away from the disconnected state created by neoliberal capitalism and towards a world fueled by love and compassion. Lulu Wang’s film The Farewell asked viewers to consider a world in which the needs of the community were put above the needs of the individual, while Ari Aster’s so-called horror film Midsommar contemplated a social model where pain is shared, rather than internalized or weaponized. I am thrilled that 2019 sounded like Charli’s Troye Sivan collaboration “2099,” with its rumbling sub-bass and spaceship synths. I hope, for our own sake, that the year 2099 sounds very different.
When it comes to the many ups and downs of love, it can often feel like the whole world is ending and for Chicago artist and producer Shubu, it literally is.
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A known romantic, who released their debut singles “Heart of Love” and “All I Need Is Your Tender Love and Kisses In The Pouring Rain” on Valentine’s Day last year, Shubu is back at it again with a brand new gusher in “Loving U to the End of Time.” Taking cues from the starry-eyed harmonies of early aughts boy bands and the avant-garde pop earnestness of PC Music, “Loving U to the End of Time” is a tender love ballad about undying devotion, but with a fatalist twist.
“I wanted to make a pop song that was half Backstreet Boys, half early Britney about the end of the world,” Shubu explains. The accompanying visual for “Loving U to the End of Time” sees Shubu showing off some of their best teen heartthrob choreo while navigating derelict houses and futuristic doomsday bunkers. “It feels like we’re toeing the brink of global disaster, subjected to the willful violence of those in power. On a personal level, I just want to be with my baby. I wonder how much time we really have left? And whether that time will be cut short.”
For Shubu, love remains constant in the face of uncertainty and human fragility. “I am living in constant fear that preventable causes of death could end my life, or that of a loved one in the blink of an eye,” they say, adding that they took a lot of inspiration from anime death scenes while writing the song. As the track progress, Shubu’s singing comes increasingly under fire with barrages of bullets and explosions peppering its sentimental melody. “Whether it be cars, guns, bombs, natural disaster, or pandemic, it’s hard not to see the probability of an early death rising in this political climate.”
Check out the PAPER premiere of “Loving U to the End of Time” bellow and follow Shubu on Instagram for all the latest: