Tosten Burks didn’t go to law school but knows a lil bit.
When Frank Ocean, a few days after sharing on Tumblr the story of his first boyfriend, sang near the end of Channel Orange, “I can never make him love me,” the revelation came out of pain, without ceremony. The singer performed “Bad Religion” on Jimmy Fallon, but after the project’s release he went out of his way to explain the music wasn’t autobiographical, telling the NY Times’, “The work is the work. The work is not me.” Others (understandably) monumentalized, but Ocean’s taxi driver was imagined.
Three year later on “Girl,” the latest single from The Internet’s new LP Ego Death, openly gay frontwoman Syd tha Kyd—as she’s done since Purple Naked Ladies—asserts her identity more directly. In that tender falsetto, over spare 2/4 drums, ominous electronic arpeggios, and gentle pastel-funk synth chords, Syd makes one demand: “If they don’t know your worth/Tell ‘em you’re my girl.” Serenading a discouraged lover, her voice is smoother than ever. And while in-demand boogie-fetishist Kaytranada’s arrangement holds less surprises than the band’s squirmier early days, his bass slaps. The mix obliges. The album drops today.
Frank’s honesty helped him win two Grammys, but he still feared telling his cabbie the truth about his disguise; he still could trust no one. The pronoun “him” was less a salvo than a slip to the obliging Arabic-speaking pretend-shrink running from demons during rush hour. The singer’s love was unrequited, but it also forced him to balance three lives on his head like steak knives. He responded with delicate, emotionally universal (and otherwise gender-neutral) beachfront surrealism.
Syd is more personal, more frank. The DJ-turned-soul-singer purrs about all the typical trappings of love and loss, chasing freaks and feels across Matt Martians’ blunted funkmosphere, offering up confidence-boosts and cocaine. Making out with girls in her videos, putting the pronoun in the song title, her romance has no shame, no sense of otherness. You (yes YOU, straight white male who reads this website) would definitely make love to “Girl.”
When Syd says, “Chapters turning so old fashioned and natural,” it’s likely just a reference to the cycle of life and relationships. Passion burns, pressure builds then falls. But maybe she had a premonition. The song hit SoundCloud three days before the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples can no longer be denied by states the “fundamental right to marry.” With one chapter of bigotry (kinda) closed, we turn to the next.
Justice Antonin Scalia provoked the peanut gallery Thursday after his dissenting opinion in King v. Burwell claimed, “Words no longer have meaning.” On The Arsenio Hall Show in 2013, Tyler, the Creator said something similar about people offended by his use of the word “faggot.” “You can take the power out of that word,” he told Hall. “It’s just another word that has no meaning.”
Both are right of course. Words have no inherent meaning. But we still imbue them with it, nonetheless. I take little comfort in language’s social constructivism when I hear my parents disparage “Bruce.” I take some in knowing “faggot” probably never offended anyone over dinner cooked by Syd tha Kid’s mom. I take a lot in how much more meaningful five justices just made the word “marriage.”
Syd’s main question is, “Would you let me call you my girl, my girlfriend?”—two more words that don’t mean anything, but still do. All love is interpretive jiggery-pokery, applesauce. Syd knows it’s a potion, but her world is rocked. The life you deserve? Just say the word.