Our favorite things this week include bilingual house, pop-R&B, and new episodes of "Steven Universe" that bring Steven down to Earth.
The romanticization of the house music dance floor often falls flat. The mecca where party goers connect to one another through shared and sacred music and movement can be a pit of sweaty limbs and pumping hips. There are moments where we pause to look around, overcome with a disorienting feeling of distance and loneliness.
This is the experience that Yaeji taps into on her second release, EP2. Yaeji’s hushed voice raps, murmurs, and sings over beats that fall somewhere between house and hip-hop, and she switches between English and Korean to keep the audience at a distance. That remoteness may stem from being born in New York but moving to South Korea when she was 5 because her parents thought American music and culture was having a negative affect on her. She returned to New York to go to college studying art, and it was there that she found a passion for producing music. Still, Yaeji is caught between her American and Korean identities. On the track “Drink I’m Sippin’ On,” Yaeji repeats the refrain “that’s not it,” in Korean to reflect the aspect of her culture that she feels connected to without being fully accepted and immersed in it.
The dichotomy between genre and subject matter in Yaeji’s music is contradictory, but it speaks volumes. Even in instances when we are most connected with one another, we are all innately trapped in our own minds. Her cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit” reveals Yaeji’s central paradox. She is “Passionate from miles away,” she sings. (Lisa Chupp)
Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe tells the story of a young teenaged boy being raised in a small town by three female superbeings, The Crystal Gems. He inherited powers from his rebel leader mom who brought them together, and their adventures with Steven are the engine of the show. It’s a coming of age story, and Steven’s social development comes from his interactions with the people who live in his small town, Beach City. Those relationships are the focus of the six new episodes of the show that dropped last Friday on the Cartoon Network app as people in his world are going through changes.
In the last year, the 14-year-old Steven (who looks much younger) became a little emo as learned more about his mother, and he shocked the Gems and his friends when he gave himself up to his mother’s enemies from another planet. The new six-episode arc deals with the consequences that radiated from that decision, and creator Rebecca Sugar and the writing team have created characters with inner lives that can bear such exploration. You can think about past episodes and know why Connie responded the way that she did, just as previous episodes give Sadie’s decision dramatic weight.
The show works best if seen from the start because, as this note suggests, it does a lot of world building, and I’ve simplified my description to keep things moving. Steven Universe added characters and back story judiciously within the confines of 11-minute episodes that are fun and kid-friendly, and now the show has become a satisfying show that rewards multiple viewings while dealing intelligently and sensitively with notions of gender and family.
The new episodes will premiere on Cartoon Network in December, and while they’re news for fans who have been waiting impatiently, they’re definitely not the place to start. If there is a knock on the series, it’s that it has evolved like the Harry Potter franchise to a place where new developments mean less without the accumulated background. Fortunately, episodes are short and the first three seasons are on Hulu, so catching up is fun, painless and emotionally accurate. (Alex Rawls)
These are good times for pop-infused R&B with Adele, Lorde, and Sam Smith, but if she were better known, Yebba’s “Evergreen” could be the face of this brand. The song marries impressive vocals with a light, relaxed beat that doesn't feel as heavy as traditional R&B. The song opens
Kissed my penny and I threw it in
I prayed I'd keep my soul
Went down to the river where the water bends
The only place I know
but the real treat of the song comes with the chorus as she asks, “Will you wait for me? / will you wait for me? / my evergreen.”
Yebba riffs each of these repetitions and renders the actual words unimportant. She demonstrates her impressive range as she repeats the line, and the smoky quality of her voice is mesmerizing as it serves up raw emotion but stays light enough for casual consumption.
Yebba—“Abbey,” the singer’s name backwards—is just 22 and from Arkansas. She is best known for being featured on Sam Smith’s “No Peace,” where she doesn’t just back up but matches the British vocalist. She is the only other artist featured on the album, and this nod from Smith follows an endorsement by Ed Sheeran. “Evergreen” is Yebba’s only single as of yet, but just this taste of the singer is worth a listen. (Lexie Kirkwood)