On DNCE and the freight train that is January 20th.
This is my second essay of the #52essays2017 challenge, and I’m very late in posting it. I’m late in posting it because I couldn't put my finger on the pulse of what it was I was trying to say last week (now, this week). What is in my heart and mind for this second essay of 2017 that needs to be said.
I started writing about DNCE because I’m so fascinated by them, for some reason. Then I started writing separately about George Michael, and then I put the two together, and tried to find a way to braid together my thoughts on Joe Jonas and George Michael and sexuality and sensuality and objectification and sex positivity and some snarkiness about the DNCE bass player who has a mohawk.
And then it started to feel like a Cones of Dunshire situation.
Yes, that was me, on Saturday evening, looking over what I had written and thinking, "This is nothing, isn't it?"
So my essay about George Michael is going to stay separate (as it should have always been), but I’m going to follow the DNCE thread and see where it takes me.
Maybe what I mean when I say I’m fascinated by DNCE is that I can’t stop listening to them. It was a slow conversion. Over the holidays, while shopping with my mom, I heard “Toothbrush” in nearly every store we went into (literally).
Now, when I first heard of DNCE over the summer, I saw their album cover and thought, That guy looks like Joe Jonas. Is that Joe Jonas? I looked up DNCE and didn’t see any mention of Joe Jonas or the Jonas Brothers at all. (Granted, I didn’t look that hard.) So, I shrugged and thought, I guess that’s just a guy who really looks like Joe Jonas. I felt like the world was maybe a bit off its axis, though, because that guy really looked like a Jonas brother, but maybe I was wrong.
When I first saw the “Toothbrush” video, I was like
What went through my mind:
Yes, that’s definitely a Jonas brother, and it’s definitely the one that wore a purity ring.
Joe Jonas is making out with a woman with a normal-ass body?! EXCUSE me?!
WHO is this badass woman guitarist?!
WHO does this mohawk guy think he IS?!
Does Joe Jonas not know how to do this, the unchoreographed dancing and being a cool lead singer thing? Why is he so awkward? What is happening right now?
I thought maybe it was a fluke. All of it. Joe Jonas making out with a normal-sized woman, Joe Jonas not knowing how to be cool. This weird group of people making a song that legitimately moved me to get down in the middle of a Forever 21.
So then, I watched “Cake By The Ocean.” (You should skip to 0:37 because who needs a lengthy intro to a staged cake fight right now?)
(M finds the image of eating cake by the ocean unsettling. I find it delightful. Decadent. Syrupy-sweet. Could I handle that much sugar and sunshine in one go? I don’t know, but I’d be willing to try.)
So, in this video, there are lots of women in bathing suits, and some of them are normal-sized. There are lots of shots of butts, but the women are all wearing functional bathing suits and they're using their bodies in ways that are athletic and realistic.
Okay, I thought. So maybe that’s not a mistake. Alright, I see you, DNCE.
And then there’s Joe Jonas. Wearing all white. And still being awkward as hell. (Him saying, "Fucking delicious" -- please. Awkward af.)
So then I thought maybe I was being a jerk. Maybe my expectations for pop band lead singer swagger are too high.
Then I watched “Body Moves.”
There are other things happening in the world. The Republicans are already voting to gut the ACA with no replacement, no plan, no foresight. The President-elect’s cabinet picks are showing how truly inexperienced, ridiculous, and self-serving they are. Total abortion ban legislation has been introduced at state and federal levels. Once the President-elect takes office, he can fill that empty Supreme Court Justice seat with anyone he wants. And he's also apparently going to start building that wall bordering Mexico. How it will be paid for is anyone’s guess and we all know who will be building it.
The list of things that are looming on the horizon doesn’t end there. It goes on and on and on and…
Every time I think about it, my chest starts to get tight. At every headline that pops up on my phone, I can’t do anything but laugh. Out of desperation, helplessness. It’s a nervous laughter. It’s the kind of laughter that happens when I see something fucked up and I don't want to let the anger take over. My Twitter feed is overwhelming, but also a comfort, at times.
Right now, it feels easier to be weirded out by how Joe Jonas doesn’t seem to know how to be a lead singer.
Here’s the thing about Joe Jonas. I don’t mind his outfits, and I don’t mind his look. It’s that his look over promises, and his act under delivers. For god’s sake, he’s wearing a goddamn Freddie Mercury outfit in “Body Moves.” Or, I should say, the outfit is wearing him. Joe Jonas does not currently have the swagger to pull it off or pay homage or reinvent. It seems like he doesn’t know how to be in his body. How to use it, how to inhabit it fully.
The truth is that, aesthetically, DNCE has a template. They know how to perform like rock stars, but without the grit. They perform like boy band stars who want so badly to be bad boys. They lure you in with that sweet boy band voice and those high notes, the lead singer who looks really attractive when he's motionless, funk-ish (?) guitar action, the fun vocal details (like that wolf-y "Ah-woo!" in "Toothbrush"), the ever-catchy hook.
The “Body Moves” video is full of sex. I get what they’re going for — a fun, sexy, orgiastic video that’s full of youth and nostalgia (for the early '00s, but it's nostalgia, just the same). It’s also full of bodies that are being objectified, mostly women’s bodies, all thin. No normal bodies here. The only Black body that is prominently featured is that of a Black woman, and we only see her ass as she twerks. Also featured in those shots is the bassist, the white guy with the mohawk, with his face next to her ass, with a look of goofy astonishment.
So it turns out that DNCE is just like all the others. The music is so much fun and it’s so catchy.
And their videos reach toward something refreshing, but still leave so much to be desired. Just like so many others.
We’re about to enter a world where we have a President with no scruples. No experience. No empathy. No idea what it takes to be the leader of a supposed democratic country, not a corporation. The crew that he’s bringing with him are equally unqualified, unscrupulous, and lack any sort of empathy whatsoever.
This is not to say that Obama was perfect. He is certainly far from it. There are things to celebrate, and there are things to condemn. There is a complexity to Obama’s presidency that I am comfortable sitting in, that is less overwhelming to think about. It feels manageable to me, to contemplate the last 8 years, and to reckon with the things that deserve celebration and the things that deserve closer examinations and calls for justice.
With the upcoming administration, I am quickly buried under the avalanche of everything that is to come. With all the things that are possible. I am stunned at the lack of nuance in the rhetoric of our President-elect and all those who are banding together in support of him.
I’m not going to stop listening to DNCE. Yes, they’re saccharine, they’re slick, they’re plastic. They’re formulaic, they are filling in the blanks on a template. (That mohawk guy could be a dealbreaker for me, but I just won’t look at him, even though he tries so hard to be different from the rest of his bandmates.)
But goddamn, is this shit catchy.
We have to find joy in whatever we can these days. Sometimes, it feels like joy is an act of resistance. Turning our back on the impending future for just a moment, and finding the light and love within to be able to dance, to smile, to laugh, in the face of so much that vows to crush us.
So I will continue to crank that business up and sing along as I put on that eyeliner, slick on that lipstick, and get ready to smash the patriarchy every day.