I was going to write about The Weeknd’s new album Starboy, but having heard The-Dream’s new EP Love You To Death, I’m cancelling my earlier plan in favor of this stunning piece of music. I never thought I’d ever even talk about The-Dream. The artist from North Carolina, whose real name is Terius Youngdell Nash, never striked me as special, but this new release blows my mind. Initially it had me thinking of Jeremih.
Keeps it low: The-Dream / Frame from music video for Falsetto (2007)
Bad things first: The visual artwork for Love You To Death is rather disappointing. Recently I’ve seen so many bad artworks (among them e.g. Kuedo’s Slow Knife) that are so bad they hurt your eyes. I can’t help but wonder if everyone involved were blind for approving these uninspired and, let’s not kid ourselves, plain ugly graphics. A 6-year-old could have done a better job there.
Good things: Obviously the content of this record, i.e. the music. I don’t remember the last time I came across something as heartbreaking as Love You To Death. It consists of five tracks, and they all deal with the usual things, such as feelings, sex and drugs, but enhanced with a lot of nostalgia and longing . The difference to many other R’n’B and hip hop artists (like A$AP Rocky or even The Weeknd) is that Love You To Death is not about social status or wealth — something usually accompanied by fancy cars and meaningless hookups. Wealth and money have been a topic to The Weeknd, as he says in this long interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, where he also talks about cars (which is where I started yawning).
We do candy until we’re ill
Isn’t this how love feels
The-Dream, Ferris Wheel
There is so much poetry to this record, it almost makes me cry. You will rarely see so much underlying vulnerability with those artists wearing caps and golden chains. Although of course we needn’t forget that artists like Drake have been attempting to show this kind of emotional realness in their work, all while trying to maintain street cred and confidence. I just didn’t expect this from The-Dream (on the other hand I’m not that familiar with his entire opus). It makes me think about what it is about showing vulnerability that is so beautiful and strange at the same time. The-Dream doesn’t look deep, wise, poetic or even smart in any way, yet his language use has a careful thoughtfulness to it, in a way that is yet to be challenged by most. Drake’s Marvin’s Room is perhaps most suitable to illustrate what I mean by “careful thoughtfulness”: Things like specific memories, vivid depiction of emotions, transport of emotional depth in general. Of course these are just few things out of many things that can be done via artistic expression, but they’re valuable because they are contributing to you learning about people.
Then there are those explicit elements. In fact, one of the most touching pieces on Love You To Death, namely Rih-Flex, is about a body part of a girl that the protagonist considers special, memorable or unique. It seems to be inspired by Rihanna. My jaw just keeps dropping at this almost psychedelic, or dizzying, mixture of emotional depth and sexual fixation. Lines like “Sit back, let it resonate” bear the potential to give you the chills. On the surface, the whole thing still manages to sound like your average R’n’B.
If we wanted to extract social criticism out of Rih-Flex, it would refer to this certain kind of women that successful artists seem to be surrounded with a lot — gorgeous and perfect, but emotionally unavailable and promiscuous. They somehow make it into a group of successful artists, but are not an artist themselves. They’re good at partying. They strike out of the mass of girls that are generally considered to be anonymous, meaningless hookups (“Woke up by a girl / I don’t even know her name”, The Weeknd, Party Monster), as mentioned above. I think The Weeknd sings about such a situation in Party Monster, False Alarm and other tracks. Among the above-mentioned people there might be some that are more ethically questionable than other people from same group, e.g. in terms of materialistic opportunism. The latter, shall we call them the good party gurls, are probably just confused by life. Party gurls are a source of suffering, because they represent the unreachable.
To sum up everything: The R’n’B gaze seems to be wandering from A to B to C, from b*tch to another b*tch, from car to another car. The artist is constantly zoomed in on singular experiences, apparently unable to zoom out to see the meaning of the whole picture, having an underlying identity crisis, being immersed in materialistic thinking, representing the smooth face of capitalism. Is this what cultural ADD looks like? I wouldn’t know, and also this doesn’t make sense, but hell, I love it when there’s all this reverb behind it.
In our age of individualism we are of course in search of experiences that will enhance our picture of everything, including ourselves. We are getting increasingly aware of options and possibilities, and the big picture is overwhelming because it doesn’t immediately make sense in its complexity.