Whats the word of the week? Aesthetic!! Get ready for me to say it a lot. Before reading this I would also suggest watching this highly educational video about aesthetics.
Frank Ocean’s Blonde made headlines and topped the charts of the world. The arrival of his hotly anticipated album also opens up the question, has he just opened up a new genre of music? And is that genre… Aesthetic?
Trying to word this in a way that makes sense to someone other than myself is hard, but imagine if Instagram had a soundtrack. A soundtrack to all those perfectly curated photos of a cactus in front of plain white walls, photos of pretty girls smoking in dark forests, photos of two hot dudes kissing in the middle of a house party. Would Blonde not accompany any of these scenes perfectly? This isn’t a backhanded way of me saying that I think the album is pretentious, or that Frank hasn’t worked hard over the last four years to give us this. This is the idea of social media being able to aid music production and vice versa. With this album came along a 40 minute film that has also done well to have screenshots of it plaster people’s social media accounts for aesthetic purposes (I’m not exempt from this look at my fb cover photo teehee) ALONG WITH the promised first issue of Frank’s magazine Boys Don’t Cry (which arguably looks amazing) and much like the pages of Dazed and Confused or Crack, it’ll probably end up all over your very expensive bedroom wall (because that magazine is pricey. I bet boys do cry when they see how much it’s going for on eBay)
AND the video for Nikes. I watched it, and every single second of it was screengrab worthy and wouldn’t look out of place on a fuck-off sized canvas in the Saatchi. But it’s not just Frankie redefining how we view and hear art, Dev Hynes of Blood Orange/the world also springs to mind when you think Instagram-Aesthetic-Wonder-God. Who actually also disappeared for a bit and came back cooler than before.. listen to his new album Freetown Sound for reference.
Type in “frankocean” into your Instagram search bar and up will pop the most Insta friendly album cover in all of existence, about a billion times. You’ll also find his eery, sensitive lyrics sprawled through bios and captions across the world. “But this has been going on for years!” you cry, fondly remembering that selfie from 2010 that you’d creatively written the lyrics to Fireflies in the photo caption. It may have, but Frank Ocean and other recent artists seem to have finally put a sound to the Instagram aesthetic.
But why is it so appealing to sad millennials that seem to have drug/drink problems and like documenting it online? It’s really interesting to see how artists are becoming more free and experimental and in so they’re giving us the soundtrack to the aesthetically pleasing lifestyle of fun and sadness that so many seem to desire. In recent times it has become easier to talk about our own issues through the help of art and music, which is something trans riot gal Mykki Blanco did last year with a visual album tour Mykki Blanco Presents C-ORE, or more recently the storyline behind the music video for High School Never Ends, all the while standing up for LGBT rights and being very open about living with HIV.
There’s science to this too. Dopamine, the organic chemical in your brain is behind the feelings of adrenaline and euphoria, and a 2011 study accredited by Music psychologist, Dr Vicky Williamson of Goldsmiths showed that music and the chemical have a direct link. Basically meaning when you hear music your like, dopamine levels can go up by 9%. So if music makes us happy, why are we still putting on a sad face? I find theres a strange comfort in giving in to your emotions and allowing yourself to let it all out while listening to sad songs (If you’ve never cried to Kelly Clarkson you’re only lying to yourself). And maybe there’s even more comfort in building a whole persona to go with it. Switching genres slightly, lets look at Sufjan Stevens. Carrie and Lowell was one of the most highly ranked albums of 2015 according to Pitchfork, NME, Clash and most importantly myself. It was a beautiful nightmare with a backstory of mental illness and drug addiction. Yes it was critically acclaimed, but would it have been the same if the album’s history was slightly more chipper?
As a society, we are constantly blurring the line between romanticising mental illness and treating it with the severity it deserves. With Instagram and social media sites alike this is made even easier. And its had a direct impact on millennials. More or less the Skins generation, which is a good ‘for instance’ of where to date this ‘sad is cool’ fascination back to. We’ll call it the Cassie Effect. Generation one, 2007. I’m 13. Cassie, this beautiful, whimsical fairy-like creature with anorexia floats onto our screens and is absorbed into our sponge brains and leaves a heavy impact. All of a sudden, a new world is opened up to me. Doing drugs are supposedly cool now prior to what my parents and teachers had told me. Being a general absolute fuck up is rad, and having a mental illness is totally in. Fast forward 10 years and the same little girls and boys that sneakily watched Skins behind mum’s back are now the epitome of these characters, complete with a soundtrack and a platform to document their aesthetically pleasing lives on.
The more social media is entwined in our lives, the more open we are about our insecurities. The more blankets we will need to keep us comfortable. And if those blankets so happen to be in the shape of aesthetically pleasing music videos, soundtracks and a well put together Instagram post, then who are we really hurting? But at the same time, are we putting a price on our own mental stability just to look cool on the internet?
Words by Laura Copley