a skeptic’s guide to spring weekend
a breakdown of the artists and their most recent work
Pop music has evolved pretty far. With internet weirdos seemingly unbagging any remaining possibilities, it’s hard to imagine ever being surprised by a song again. But, when in doubt, there will always be one surefire way for artists to catch ears: Combine two sounds that belong nowhere near each other. Enter Yaeji, whom history will remember as an innovator because she made sarcastic, novelty club music that was nonetheless easy to sleep to. Imagine The Chainsmokers’s “#SELFIE” if it were on Ambien and also not a crime.
And, like the fate that would no doubt befall us if we actually fell asleep at the club, there’s something sinister lurking in the gentle throb of Yaeji’s tracks. Draining her baby-soft voice of warmth, life, and resonance, she typically recites some hilariously inane party-girl mantra (“In the German whip, counting all my guap” or “Make it rain gurl, make it rain”) as the beat ebbs hypnotically around her. Some will find the combination uncomfortably lulling—like being fed cultural ideology through a vibrating massage chair. Others will likely bop ahead unperturbed. All will be glad they drank.
Still, there’s at least mild cause for concern. Though Yaeji builds her brand on irony, she’s clearly restless with the distance it imposes on her music. Her most recent EP collapses in bookending attempts at emotional directness; a ghastly cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit,” in particular, writes a check Yaeji’s breathy singing can’t cash. Hopefully Yaeji can accept that, like the best artists, her music makes the most sense at its least logical.
Though sometimes mistaken for a real human being based out of Portland, Aminé Bot is actually one of hip-hop’s most sophisticated music generation algorithms— capable of seamlessly dis-appearing into millions of unrelated streaming playlists. The formula’s success lies in its originality; before Aminé, who would have thought to swipe the friendly introspection of Chance the Rapper AND the f*ckboy braggadocio of Drake (as well as scattered saliva and hair samples from both)?
Though its expressive range spans the extent of human emotion—from I f*cked your bitch with my chain on to give me death—you can trust Aminé Bot’s flow will never be too laid-back or too aggressive, and its production will be kept consistently warm and bouncy for bangers and ballads alike. So strong is the algorithm’s appeal that tracks like “Caroline” are actually expanding hip-hop’s audience base; indie kids hesitant to enter the house of hip-hop will feel welcome upon hearing references to Björk, Quentin Tarantino, and the Spice Girls. Thanks to Aminé, they’ll move on to investigate more challenging rappers—like Logic, or perhaps even Macklemore!
Aminé’s weaknesses are exposed whenever the algorithm is tested outside of Spotify playlists and forced to carry multiple songs on its own. Without a stable personality around which its diverse trend-hopping can orbit, album listeners might suspect they’ve inadvertently put RapCaviar on shuffle. When the Aminé Corporation sends one of its many Aminé surrogates to perform Aminé songs at Spring Weekend, it’ll be interesting to see how long they can sustain the illusion.
For those attending Daniel Caesar’s first tour in 2017, the website Fader reported there was a 12 percent chance of witnessing a marriage proposal. Though their means of statistical precision was unclear, one thing was: Caesar had been crowned the new King of Love. And for good reason. His earnest, pleading odes to true affection and romance were easy on the ear and heavy on the heart. After the many years—or rather, the Weeknds—where R&B had stood for racy & brooding, Caesar was proving that having a pretty voice didn’t mean engaging in unhealthy sex (or at least singing about it). You could make out to these tunes AND play them for your old-school grandmother. Indeed, the only thing more retro than Caesar’s classic soul sensibility is his politics (seriously, Google Daniel Caesar politics).
But that’s beside the point. The trouble with Caesar is that his songs are so wholesome that they’re more smitten with the concept of love itself than any individual person. Though the two artists are frequently compared, a single Frank Ocean verse will boast more proper nouns than Caesar’s debut album does in its entirety. Considering his record is titled Freudian, it’s curious how little importance the singer’s personality has in his own music. It doesn’t help that his work runs amok with vocal—not hip-hop—duets (all women, by the way; if Caesar were truly into the inherent beauty of love, he’d ditch the heteronormativity and sing a babymaking duet with Jeremih). It’s as though Caesar knows his airy falsetto isn’t quite enough.
One could argue that Caesar’s love songs are deliberately vague, like a musical Hallmark card.
His songs are voided of personality so that the world’s (straight) couples can easily find themselves and remove Caesar from his own work. Considering his politics, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Kari Faux is by some distance the least famous artist playing Spring Weekend. This is important; after the Brown Concert Agency announced her participation, hundreds of students were performing first Google searches simultaneously. This likely meant the single image dominating Wednesday morning bandwith was the cover of her latest EP: Faux posed on her knees, *ss raised in the air, legs spread wide, a middle finger held right where you’d think it would be, all aimed at the viewer. If they dare to investigate further, they’ll learn her big hit is called “Leave Me Alone.”
But you shouldn’t. Faux’s an incredible performer—casually gripping in her story-telling and with a worm’s ear for melody. She’ll drip attitude but never as a means to call attention to herself. It’s like she’s making music the only way she knows how, like she doesn’t need anyone watching her. Her earliest work was skillful for what it was, mellow funk-rap unobtrusive enough to work into your bus ride (and, it would seem, catch the remix ear of Childish Gambino), but she’s since launched off the higher platform it granted, making a deep dive into her own past.
“Here we go again…she’s rollercoasterin,” 2019’s Cry 4 Help EP begins, and the beat sounds just as woozy, like it’s warning us to get off the ride. Throughout, Faux’s drawly delivery mirrors that feeling, sounding both stoned and foreboding as she tells tales of youthful misadventure. The songs are catchy, vibey, and terrific for all the substances mentioned in the lyrics—but something feels off, so you hold on to your juul pods and listen. You’re right; everything shifts in the final track—a harrowing narrative of a sexual assault that resulted in Faux’s pregnancy. The title, the cover—everything about the project coheres into an intimacy rarely found in modern music. It’s bracing, uncompromising work. This is your Spring Weekend star.
Poor Mitski, we’re told. She writes a couple of indie rock hits about unrequited love, and the world treats her diverse body of work like it’s a collective emoji. Snapchat screenshots of her album covers communicate feelings of unbearable longing and isolation. Publications upload lists like “SEVEN MITSKI LYRICS THAT WILL MAKE YOU YEARN DESPERATELY FOR THE TOUCH OF ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.” Her true fans fight losing battles as they insist “I’m so lonesome for lonesome love” is not a representative lyric.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Even when Mitski’s not working through life’s unbearable sadness, her art feels designed to treat it. Like musical Lexapro, the short songs forego standard structure for the quickest possible route to your ailing heart—a free-verse, Emily-Dickinson-style take on rock music as nervous breakdown. With few repeating choruses, her singing rarely changes pitch; even when screaming, its volume is often overwhelmed by the roaring guitars. It’s as though Mitski wants us to think her instruments are like her emotions: She’s not controlling them, and they’ve conspired to swallow her.
Listeners compelled to follow should first know that Mitski’s work breaks down into a few different periods. Whichever one you require depends largely on your own emotional state. Bury Me at Makeout Creek, her first “rock” album following some boring folk excursions, is an asocial, self-involved, and maybe even upsetting piece of work. Catchy hooks and intriguing lyrics briefly surface only to be smothered by self-sabotaging punk rock breakdowns. If you’re truly sad, listening may feel like sinking into quicksand while watching somebody else drown in the ocean. If you want something suited for more than 12 percent of normal human moods, Mitski’s breakthrough Puberty 2 is the best balance between anthemic and despondent. Some songs even have jokes! They’re self-deprecating, sure, but jokes! It’s not until her latest record, Be the Cowboy, that Mitski starts to leave herself behind. Signature guitars are replaced by plinky keyboards and Coachella-y electronics—switching up style so often the record can seem like a survey of dated pop music tropes. Mitski herself is still despondent, but, in an inverse of Makeout, her wailing seems more for our benefit than her own; the highlight is a disco sing-along that goes, “No-bodyyyy, no-boddddddy, nooooo body.” If you’re the type of Mitski fan who’ll Instagram caption lyrics when your avocado toast gets burnt, this is probably the ideal soundtrack.
Kamaiyah doesn’t move her voice around a whole lot, but, hey, neither did Dr. Dre. The Oakland rapper brings it back 30 years to the original sounds of Gangsta rap—deep, funky bass; trebly keyboard hooks; laid-back, sing-songy flows; and annoying, album-disrupting skits. In fact, it’s almost too perfect that she’s entering the Spring Weekend lineup as a last-minute replacement: Familiarity with Kamaiyah’s music isn’t necessary when her grooves are already classic. Even the most inebriated fool—with just a little borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’90s—should be able to pop and lock along without missing a single step.
If that makes Kamaiyah sound as one-dimensionally retro as her (admittedly awe-some) monotone, know that she’s at least a thoughtful curator. Any old-school hip-hop fan can tell you the genre was rarely an inclusive space; West Coast rappers especially took aggressive stances against women, gays, other rappers—anyone they construed as weaker. Though Kamaiyah has copped sonics from these influences, she’s left out any nasty static that might scramble her positive wavelength. Instead, you’ll find an ingratiating and charismatic humility; in my opinion, her best song is “Freaky Freaks”—a.k.a. the one where she decides she’s too high to drive her Jeep. Hard to imagine Snoop showing that kind of restraint. And if Kamaiyah doesn’t yet have the tracks to move her off the nostalgia circuit, that’s nothing a little “Gin and Juice” won’t help you overlook.