Music Review: Charli XCX’s “Sucker” Is Rude, Crude, but Pretty Good

Charli XCX

Charli XCX

I wouldn’t want kids to listen to Charli XCX’s most recent album, “Sucker,” but if you don’t mind an F-bomb here or there, it’s great stuff–punk-flavored, hard-edged pop with retro-80s styling.

Madonna might have sounded like this, if she was starting her career now and if she were starting with as much musical talent as she acquired over the years. It’s aggressive, unapologetic pop, and every song sounds gloriously distinct from every other song on the album.

Ironically, the song that gave the album its name, “Sucker,” is probably the weakest of the lot.

The second song and second single released, “Break the Rules,” is better, a sort of middle-finger salute to school that revels in its own obnoxiousness. That shouldn’t be a good thing, but if Charli XCX can get the biggest square in town (me) to appreciate a rebellious attitude, she’s doing pretty well, I’d say.

“Breaking Up” is a bouncy, upbeat tune about having dated someone who’s really easy to break up with for an apparently inexhaustible list of reasons, some of which are funny and some less so.

I feel like I’ve heard “Boom Clap” before, possibly on the soundtrack to “The Breakfast Club.” Well, we know that’s not it, but the song would fit right in that era with its wavery synths.

Then there’s the song that doesn’t sound like any of the other tunes on the album, “Need Ur Luv.” Its title may have been deliberately designed to aggravate grammar nerds like me, but it’s like someone took the backbeat of “The Hey Song” and wrote a new song for it. A song that appears to be about an unhealthy relationship, whose upbeat tune doesn’t match its gloomy lyrics. And that’s before the little-girl voice Charli assumes partway through it, which makes it all even more disturbing–and wonderful.

That song happens to have been produced by Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, by the way, and Charli shares a writing credit with Batmanglij and others on it. It’s the best of the album.

There’s plenty here for those who enjoy defiance-infused punkpop. Just chase any kids away before you play it, because there’s bad language and less-than-subtle references to sex and drugs, too.

Cute Shirtless Guy

Every swingin’ bachelorette pad needs a picture of a cute guy with no shirt.

Luckily, I got one for Christmas.

William

William

I got one for my desk at work, too!

That’s my nephew, William, who’s about 5 months old now. He’s pretty cute, and apparently he likes not having a shirt on, which puts him in agreement with most of the babies and small children I’ve met over the years.

Escalators and UND Hockey at the Ralph

Escalator

Escalator

I finally got to go to a UND hockey game Friday, and I took this (grainy, awful) picture of one of the Ralph Engelstad Arena escalators with my cellphone. It was a pretty shiny escalator!

Watching the hockey game was great fun too, and I almost lost my voice by the end of it.

Hockey

The View from Our Seats

Our tickets were in one of the “worst” places in the arena, but the view was awesome–we could see everything that happened and every slap-shot and every check was clearly audible.

I haven’t been to a hockey game in a long time (think “North Stars”), but it was still great fun. We were treated to a bout of facemasking and assorted hockey-related violence at some point, too.

I was disappointed that UND lost, but they didn’t seem able to control the puck very well that night, and with a wobbly passing game and a weird hesitation about advancing the puck onto the opponent’s side, UND was not able to make enough headway to overcome Miami. Miami, on the other hand, had scored twice in the first five minutes of the game, which you don’t see that often in hockey unless you’re playing NHL ’95 or something.

Final tally was 3-2 Miami. Still an enjoyable game, though!

Speak Up and Be Heard, Geeks and Gamers!

It’s not okay to threaten a school shooting.

It’s not okay to threaten to kill someone’s family.

It’s not okay to find someone’s address and post it online without consent.

It’s not okay to try to induce someone into committing suicide.

It’s not okay to threaten someone with rape.

None of these things is okay, and yet all of them are happening to people in the video games industry and its offshoots, and by people who claim to be speaking for gamers and acting on gamers’ behalf.

I don’t believe they do speak for gamers, though. I know way too many people who play video games–doctors, programmers, nurses, lawyers, writers, photographers, stay-at-home parents and retired grandparents. None of them would think these behaviors are okay.

Those of you who like to play video games: Is this what you want done on your behalf?

If it isn’t, speak up, and let it be known that you don’t feel it’s acceptable. Don’t give this kind of behavior a pass–speak up and let others know it’s not cool. Say something on Twitter, say something on Facebook, say something on your own blog.

Call people out when they do these things, no matter why they claim they’re doing it. Don’t let it pass as if it were normal and sane, because it’s not. Speak up. A lot of people are speaking up now, but more are needed.

You are all needed.

Be heard!

Why Do Victims of Domestic Abuse Stay?

No one else will ever want me and I’ll die alone.

It was my fault he hit me.

He promised not to do it again.

I’m the only one who cares about him, I can’t leave him now.

I love him.

He’s really sweet most of the time, he only hits me when he’s angry.

He’ll hurt himself if I leave, and it’ll be my fault.

I deserved it for being a bad spouse.

This just means he’s passionate about me.

Maybe he’ll change.

I can’t leave because he has complete control over our finances. The checkbook, savings account, house and cars are all solely in his name.

Everyone will say they told me so.

I’m a stay-at-home parent. But with no income I wouldn’t get custody of our child.

If the above text made your skin crawl, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re not a sociopath.

The Ray Rice incident has a lot of people wondering why domestic violence victims stay with their abusers.

I have been privileged in my life in that I have never experienced domestic violence, but I have spoken with those who have, and I have listened to what they told themselves when they were suffering abuse. These are reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, but really, I suspect they’re just excuses.

The real reason people stay in abusive relationships is that the abuser brainwashes them and victimizes them so constantly that they have no self-worth anymore, and the abuser strategically removes every resource the victim has to prevent them from escaping. It’s all about removing independence from the victim.

It’s a common tactic to cut victims off from family and friends. It’s a common tactic to remove access to money and finances to create dependency. It’s a common tactic to make the victim believe the abuser is the one dependent on the victim. Abusers may get victims to quit their jobs, stop visiting family, drop their friends and stop going out.

These are deliberate choices by the abuser, deliberate manipulations that get the abuser what he or she wants. It’s not some sort of accident that victims think this way. It’s not an accident that victims often stay. That’s what the abusers want; that’s their goal.

In other words, the real reason people stay with their abusers is that they are being abused. It’s not what the victims say to themselves, it’s what the abuser is doing.

Don’t put the onus on the victim, here. Why do they stay? Because they’re being abused, that’s why, and it’s messing with their heads.

And another thing?

Never think this couldn’t happen to you, because that’s probably the one thing that all victims of domestic violence do have in common.

It happens to men and women alike and some victims are very smart, very strong people whose strength has been deliberately, strategically eroded over years by abusers.

A Crummy Month for Geek Women

The last few weeks have been a tough time to be a geek woman, heavy with victim-blaming, brutalization and creepy gender-based harassment and lameness on a number of fronts. All of it has been fraught with victim-blaming.

1. Culture and video game critic Anita Sarkeesian, of Feminist Frequency,¬†was terrorized into leaving her home. It’s one thing to call people names over the internet; it’s another thing to write graphic rape threats along with a person’s address. I don’t care if you agree with her, no one deserves that. (But I agree with her.) Sarkeesian does videos criticizing video games from a feminist perspective, and her last one was really good, albeit extremely hard to watch. You barely notice two minutes of violence against women in an otherwise-also-violent video game, but when those two minutes are strung together with 2 more minutes from dozens of other games over and over again… well, it turns your stomach. And it should. Sarkeesian was right, and the misogynistic abuse she has received since merely reinforces that–but people are blaming her for the abuse.

2. Video game developer Zoe Quinn became the target of a concerted campaign to destroy her career, organized by a small group of people pretending to care about games journalism. However, logs of their conversations have been released showing that it was never about journalism ethics–it was always about destroying what those people call “social justice warriors,” who want to see women and minorities positively represented in video games. People blamed Quinn for daring to produce a video game that became popular and used the old “slept her way to the top” gimmick to explain it–even though the journalist she dated did not, in fact, write a review of her game at all.

3. A major comics company hired a porn artist to create a cover for a comic book led by a female character– a book that was supposedly targeted at women. The image the artist came up with was of Spider-Woman presenting her butt like a baboon, yet the company didn’t see anything wrong with it either before it was published or afterward when women pointed out how creepy that was.

4. Someone hacked into Jennifer Lawrence’s phone and got naked pictures of her, then released them to the public. Other stars were also hacked. Rather than blaming the sex offenders who posted or passed on the photos, people are blaming the celebrities who took photos of themselves–often for loved ones. In some cases the photos were almost immediately deleted, so the criminals had to go to some effort to get the photos. If you leave your window open a crack while you are home, it is still a crime for someone to enter your home and steal from you; this is not different from that.

5. The video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious was released. Rather than focusing on the professional football player who struck a woman so hard she had to be dragged away, much of the conversation has focused on how terrible the woman is for still marrying him afterward. Comments have included how stupid she is or how greedy, with speculation centering on how much money Rice makes. Women suffering domestic violence often convince themselves they are helping the abuser, that they are the only ones who truly understand and love the abuser and that they are worthless and incapable. And abusers often cut off their victims financially–exerting financial control is a common abuse tactic that squeezes off a victim’s options of escape.

Not all of these incidents involve geekery or the geek community at large, but they do all have one thing in common–women were blamed in every single circumstance.

It was Sarkeesian’s fault someone threatened to rape her to death. It was Quinn’s fault people tried to get her fired. It was women’s fault for not liking the Spider-Woman cover, because it’s a comic and they should be used to being sexualized all the time even in work meant specifically for them. It was Lawrence’s fault for taking a naked picture and keeping it. It was Janay Rice’s fault for being greedy.

And they all got called the same crappy gendered insults that women always get called.

What can you do? Sure, you could speak out and take up the cause, but at the least, at the very, very least, at the smallest possible level of humanity, there is this: Stop blaming the victims. Stop finding reasons Sarkeesian or Quinn or Rice or Lawrence deserved it. Stop. Just stop.

It is time to stop.

(And to that end, I’m going to be tougher about moderating this particular post. Normally I’m pretty lenient, but any victim-blaming is not going to be posted here, and if it gets through, it will be removed. Sorry. I’m tired of hearing it, and there are plenty of places you can post that sort of thing to if you like.)

The Frost Giants: A New UND Nickname?

The Sioux nickname issue is over for the University of North Dakota, but it has left UND without a nickname and a mascot.

Last week, UND grad Lisa Monte wrote a letter to the Grand Forks Herald suggesting a new nom de game: The Frost Giants. That’s pretty clever, actually–it’s right out of Norse myth.

Ymir, Frost Giant

Ymir, Frost Giant

The downside might be that people don’t immediately recognize what a Frost Giant is. Someone asked about them on the Herald’s Facebook page, so I got out my “D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths,” an introductory guide to the subject meant for children, and tried to answer the question.

I’ve always loved the book for its beautiful illustrations, made with loving detail in colored pencil by husband-and-wife team Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, so I thought I’d post some of the pictures here to introduce others to the D’Aulaires’ beautiful work. I really can’t recommend this book enough.

 

Ymir and Trolls

Ymir and Trolls

That’s a six-headed troll sprouting from Ymir’s feet, and another male and female jotun (frost giant) sprouting from his armpits.

Ymir Gets Beaten Up

Ymir Gets Beaten Up

Ymir is a bit like the Titans of Greek mythology, really. Here, Odin and his god-buddies are slaying Ymir, and after the frost giant is dead, they build the world from his body. No, seriously, he was that big, apparently. I love how the illustration shows the remnants of Ymir:

Standing on a Nose

Standing on a Nose

As to whether the UND teams should call themselves the Frost Giants, I’m not sure. They’re usually– but definitely not always– pictured as ugly, and they’re usually–but definitely not always– the antagonists of what we’d think of as the “normal” Norse pantheon.

However, they are also scary, intimidating and large, all traits one normally wants in a sports team.

What do you think?

Public Art, Fountains, Terrifying Weather Drawings: A Tour of Downtown Grand Forks

Freezing in the Frozen North

The thing is, it’s actually not always cold in North Dakota.

I generally have to explain this to people who aren’t from the middle part of the continent, because their mental image of North Dakota usually comes from “Fargo.” Which mostly took place in Minnesota anyway.

Neither state is a desolate barren wasteland filled with snow in the summer. In fact, because we don’t get any mediating effect from water bodies it can get unbearably, painfully hot in Minnesota and in North Dakota.

Normally it’s not too bad, but there’s almost always one week where the heat reaches unbearable levels, and reporters start calling hospitals to see if anyone has keeled over from the heat, interviewing doctors to find out what people should do and chatting with vets to find out what humans can do for their pets. And we have pretty high humidity, too, so even breathing becomes a serious effort.

This week of punishing heat often hits about now, toward the middle or end of August.

Except today is Aug. 25, and it’s chilly enough out right now to warrant a hoodie or a light jacket. And the low for today is 44 degrees, if you can believe that! Somehow we’ve skipped right over September and gone right to October, as far as weather goes.

I don’t know why I didn’t wear a sweater today. More importantly, I don’t know how I’m going to explain this one to the out-of-towners.

“It’s not always cold in North Dakota! In the summer, it’s… okay, actually it can get really really cold in the summer here too. … why are you walking away, I thought you were interested in living in North Dakota! They hand out free parkas at the border! Come on! Awww…”

Leaving Jamestown

Just when you thought it was safe to go on the internet, I’m ba-ack!

But I’m not sure how long, exactly, I’ll be back for, or in what capacity. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow, Thursday, is my last day as staff writer for the Jamestown Sun, and on Saturday, I am moving to Grand Forks, N.D., where I have accepted a job with the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia content producer.

Even I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing up there, but it will definitely include social media, video and updating the Herald’s nifty website. It will probably include some writing and photo editing, too! I’m hoping to continue with this blog as well, because writers gotta write, right?

I’m sorry to be leaving Jamestown, where I have worked for four years and where there are so many wonderful people who have been so kind to me and so helpful to the Sun.

My coworkers are truly wonderful people, and every single one of them works hard and yet is still willing to lend a hand when you need it, both in and out of the workplace. They have rescued me so many times–when I needed help moving, when I popped a tire, when I needed a place to stay. This is a wonderful place to work because of them.

Thank you, everyone. I have really enjoyed working here.