It’s ME, It’s WE, it’s TEMPEST

Rookie K-Pop group TEMPEST discusses their debut

A storm’s brewing at Yuehua Entertainment and K-Pop septet TEMPEST is here with “Bad News.”

TEMPEST debuted just a month ago with their first EP It’s ME, It’s WE, but they’re an experienced group of rookies. Leader LEW (21) and vocalist Hyeongseop (22) were contestants on season 2 of Produce 101 and later debuted as a duo in 2017 while independently making appearances on variety shows and as actors.  Hanbin (24) was the leader and founder of a viral dance team in his native Vietnam before becoming a contestant on I-LAND. Hwarang (20) was a contestant on Under Nineteen and a backup dancer for KARD. Main vocalist Hyuk (21), vocalist Eunchan (21) Taerae (19) complete the group. 

TEMPEST follows popular Yuehua Entertainment acts like UNIQ, WJSN, EVERGLOW, WOODZ, and YENA (Iz*One) with their dynamic title track “Bad News.” Co-written by LEW and Hwarang, this anthem is a perfect introduction to the members’ unique talents and charisma. LEW’s confidence, Hanbin’s sunny disposition and distinct voice , Hyeongseop’s passion, Hyuk’s golden vocals, Eunchan doe-eyed elegance, Hwarang’s charisma, and Taerae’s deep vocals all make for an impressive debut song. 

Through the magic of email, The Concordian interviewed the members of TEMPEST to talk about their debut. 

THE CONCORDIAN: Describe your feelings about debuting in one word.

HANBIN: Amazing.

HYEONGSEOP: Second chapter of my life.

HYUK: Bliss.

LEW: True beginning.


EUNCHAN: Growth.

TAERAE: Emotional.


TC: Who or what inspires you?

HYUK: Recently, we’ve been watching a lot of the senior artists perform whenever we’re on standby on music programs. I’ve been learning a lot and getting inspired by just watching their performances.


TC: LEW, how did you become the leader?

LEW: I naturally became the leader. I gained my know-how through my long trainee days which made me often lead the practice sessions. Also, the members were cooperative and treated me as a leader and I was able to learn and grow through the process.


TC: How did you build teamwork?

LEW: I think teamwork builds up naturally while spending time together. I think we create our own solidarity through active communication in the process.


TC: Hyeongseop and LEW, what did you learn from Hyeongseop x Euiwoong? Will the duo ever make a comeback?

HYEONGSEOP: We are currently focused on TEMPEST’s promotions for the time being, but it would be great to make a comeback as a duo should the opportunity arise. And no matter what form, we are still TEMPEST. During the promotion, I was able to learn my strengths, stage presence, and a lot more.

LEW: If given the opportunity, I think it would be possible as a unit group within TEMPEST. I think the promotion would be a gift for the fans who liked Hyeongseop x Euiwoong.


TC: Hanbin, how has it been adjusting to living in Korea and learning the language?

HANBIN: When I first came to Korea, it was difficult for me as it was my first time with everything. But now, I’m fully adapted to everything. The experience became easier, especially after joining this group. Thanks to my members, who are always by my side and thoughtful, I’m having way more fun with everything.


TC: Pre-debut you uploaded a few covers on YouTube, what song or artist would you like to cover next?

HWARANG: Before our debut, “Horangi” (Korean for tiger) was one of the choices for my stage name. In that sense, I would like to cover SuperM’s song “Tiger Inside”


TC: A lot of you participated in survival shows pre-debut, what was the biggest lesson from your experiences?

HANBIN: I think being on an idol survival-reality show is a valuable experience that trainees cannot easily experience. Through the experience, I learned to understand myself better and realize what I am capable of. As a result, I gained more confidence.

HYEONGSEOP: Enjoying is the best thing to do. It is best to enjoy it as you please since you started it because you liked it.

LEW: Opportunity comes to those who are ready and I should be grateful and humble every moment.

HWARANG: The memories and emotions that I felt on my first stage were just the beginning.


TC: How were the preparations for your debut, what was the biggest challenge?

EUNCHAN: Before our debut, I had a challenging time because I didn’t have faith in myself. But thanks to the support and advice from the people at our company and our members, I gradually gained faith in myself. I think I have improved a lot now and I’ll continue to believe in myself and work hard.


TC: LEW and Hwarang, what’s your songwriting process like?

LEW: We spent a lot of our time and effort participating in writing the lyrics. We prepared five to six verses each time and spent hours writing the lyrics when other members went home. I’m thrilled to see that our efforts have paid off.

HWARANG: While writing the lyrics, I think I drew a mental picture from the emotions and feelings I got from the song. I would make the basic sketches of the song in my head and then continue to develop the picture by filling it with colours through my lyrics.


TC: Are the other members interested in songwriting, composing, or production?

HYUK: As the main vocalist, I help out with the details and vocalization when we practice the songs for our album. So, I would love to try composing or producing in the future.

HYEONGSEOP: I have a keen interest in writing lyrics and I’m quite emotional. So, people around me encourage me to write lyrics. I also read in my spare time to build the foundation for writing lyrics.


TC: What concept would you like to try in the future?

HYUK: I want to try various concepts that are new and fresh. For example, something like a vampire concept or a cyberpunk concept would be interesting.


TC: What’s your favourite song on the mini-album and why?

EUNCHAN: “Find Me.” I like it because I think it is a B-side track that shows TEMPEST’s powerful energy.

TAERAE: “Just a Little Bit.” I chose this song because I like songs with warm feelings.

HANBIN: “Bad At Love.” I have liked this song ever since I heard the demo version. It has a very cute and catchy melody. We had a good time practicing this song, and the lyrics and choreography are very cute as well.


TC: What are your goals for the rest of the year either as a group or personally?


Courtesy of Yuehua Entertainment



Keep your eyes on LUMINOUS

 Rookie K-Pop Group LUMINOUS talk about their first comeback “All eyes down (advance)”

K-pop quartet LUMINOUS shine bright — wear sunglasses if you need to.

Youngbin (23) is the leader, lead vocalist, and a dancer. He was a contestant on the popular reality survival competition show Produce X 101 . Suil (22) is a rapper, dancer, and sub-vocal in the group. Steven (22) is Korean but hails from Sydney, Australia. He’s a rapper and sub-vocal, and like Youngbin, he was a contestant on Produce X 101 . Woobin (21) is the main vocalist and “maknae” (youngest) of the group. 

During our nearly 40-minute talk, the guys seemed genuinely close, they laughed, interrupted each other and fit on a single couch. Actions speak louder than words though, or an interview with a journalist. LUMINOUS was once known by a different name and they were meant to debut under a different company. While the details aren’t clear, whatever happened, they left and stayed together to end up at WIP Company, run by Kim Sung-eun who has been a vocal coach for acts like BTS and TWICE.

Finally, after their years as trainees, reality show stints, a few company changes, and a case of COVID-19, they debuted with their first EP YOUTH and the lead single “RUN” in September 2021.

They’re back now with their new project Between Light and Darkness (Self n Ego) which, as the title suggests, echoes Jungian concepts of persona, self, and ego through confusion, loneliness, and anxiety, to represent youth struggling with some of the big questions in life. 

With help from a lovely translator, The Concordian sat down with LUMINOUS to talk about their comeback, debut, and hopes for the future.

TC:  I read that originally you were going to debut in 2019 and you, of course, debuted in 2021. There was a two-year period, what was that time like for you guys?

Woobin: So although we were supposed to debut in 2019, because it got pushed back we were disappointed and wondered ‘When are we going to debut?’ When we finally did debut it was almost like a relief. It was like turning over a new leaf so that was really exciting.

TC: How did you all originally become trainees? Did you audition? Were you scouted?

Youngbin: I auditioned.

Suil: I received a DM asking me to come in.

Woobin: I went to an arts school so I was doing a lot of auditions so I got contacted by the previous company. The current one, I met with the CEO.

Steven: I first got casted on Facebook. They just DMed me like, “Oh, we’re in Australia, we’re nearby, do you want to try to audition?” So I thought it was a scam [at] first. So I was like “Okay yes, let’s meet up here,” and then I was scared so I brought all my friends to be with me in case I got kidnapped [laughs] but yes, I realized it was actually real. So I took the audition, I somehow passed and then later on… connections with the company right now and the CEO.

TC: Does anyone remember what song they auditioned with?

Steven: This company I don’t think I did an actual audition or anything, but then my previous company I think I sent a Taylor Swift song [everyone laughs]. I didn’t know how to sing or anything so “I like this music, I’m just gonna sing it,” and yes, I sang it spoken. I don’t know what the song was, it was Taylor Swift… “Star Struck”? “Star…” I’m not sure, I forgot.

TC: It might have been “Starlight”?

Suil: Tom Odell.

Youngbin: Maroon 5.

TC: And who are your biggest musical or performance role models?

Youngbin: Baekhyun (of EXO). He’s so bright, can always capture the stage, and he’s cool. I really respect him.

Steven: For me singing wise it’s IU “sunbaenim” (Korean honorific for someone older or with more seniority in school or the workplace). And then for rap, Eminem got me started rapping. And then I think I got more interested in rapping with Logic and Joyner Lucas, and Tory Lanez.

Woobin: Kang Seung-Yoon (of Winner) has great melodies and songs that are really my style. 

Suil: I don’t have a specific role model, I respect so many artists and I look at what they’re good at, kinda digest that, and try to put it in my own music and style.

TC: As a group, what do you hope to do with your music?

Suil: As artists, we’d really like to bring comfort and good vibes to everyone who listens. If you’re in a bad mood or you want to cheer up we hope you listen to LUMINOUS. But at the same time, the members want to have fun, this isn’t just a job but something we really enjoy.

TC: This is your first comeback, congratulations by the way! It’s been a few months since your debut now, how have you guys changed and grown since then?

Youngbin: We’ve become a little more mature and our… aura has become cooler.

TC: The new EP is called Between Darkness and Life (Self n Ego). What’s the concept?

Suil: In the album, we’re looking at the fake self versus who you really are. And LUMINOUS fighting through going through those motions to really figure out “Who am I?”

TC: I read that “Joker” inspired the performance, how does he fit the concept?

Steven: We kind of tried to get that beastly vibe from the Joker. Like a werewolf kind of vibe. So that’s what we tried to put into our choreo. And then for our concept, I think the Joker has two sides, and he’s just struggling to be himself. 

TC: The first song on the EP is “MATRYOSHKA.” Steven, you co-wrote that song, do you want to talk about it a little?

Steven: It was one of the songs that I wrote quickly because I was short in time so I couldn’t really, you know, spend time on it and be like, “Oh, I think this will be better and then try to improve these parts.” It went by really quickly.

TC: What’s your favourite song on the EP?

Steven: Mine is “Want it more?” When I hear that song it just gets me motivated, it makes me wanna work harder for the things I want.

Woobin: I like “MATRYOSHKA.” I’ve been listening to it a lot lately, I feel a bit more hip when I listen to it. One of the fans said it would be a good song for a bride to walk down the aisle at a wedding [collective laughter].

Suil: I really enjoy “Trouble.” When we were recording I thought it was so great it could be a title track if we didn’t have “All eyes down (advance).” 

Youngbin: “Scintillation” really brings an innocent unique feel to the EP. 

TC: As individual artists and as a group, what are your goals for the rest of the year? 

Steven: For me as a group and personally I think my goal is to stay healthy, not get hurt. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. If we’re sick or hurt we can’t make music.

Youngbin: I hope everyone listens to LUMINOUS and looks to us for healing. And like Steven said I hope all the members and staff stay safe and healthy.

Suil: As LUMINOUS since we’ve received more of the fans’ love, we hope we can become deserving of all the love the fans give us and really show our best side as artists. Personally, I’d like to participate in writing one of our songs. 

Woobin: We’d love to have a world tour, perform in front of everybody, if we can do it we’d love to. My personal goal is to be the best. 

TC: To finish off, do you have a message for your fans? 

Youngbin: Thank you so much for all your love and support, we’ll work towards becoming a better LUMINOUS. 


Editorial Note: Youngbin, Suil, and Woobin’s answers have been translated from Korean to English with help from a translator. Editorial liberties were taken not to change what they said but to account for translation. Unfortunately certain details and nuances have likely been lost in translation. Global PR & Marketing by MJTONZ.


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Netflix and Chappelle can’t play harmless

Whether they like it or not, media has always been influential

In 2021, it feels strange to still see debate around the influence the media has on real world events. I think of the 1994 movie Natural Born Killers, which was suspected to have inspired a slew of copycat crimes. I think of Stephen King’s 1977 novel Rage, which he allowed to fall out of print after incidents resembling those in the plot occurred after publication. And as a journalism student, of course I think of the industry’s mistakes. How perpetrators of mass violence have been sensationalized, then idolized and imitated. Or what about all the harm the media has caused Indigenous peoples, while ignoring the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirits, Even if a case is covered, the media usually perpetuates racist stereotypes through their coverage.

If you have any doubts about how powerful media can be, might I remind you about how misinformation helped elect Donald Trump in 2016, then caused a domestic terrorist attack at the U.S. Capitol? Or how about how misinformation about COVID-19 has led to confusion and resistance to public health measures? And, combined with centuries-long racist media, led to a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

That’s why Netflix Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’s recent comments about veteran comedian Dave Chappelle’s controversial new Netflix special The Closer are so ridiculous.

Saraondo said, “With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm. The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse — or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy — without it causing them to harm others.”

Chappelle’s The Closer spends a lot of time (more than you’d think for a 48-year-old straight man) talking about the LGBTQ+ community. Chapelle’s last special Sticks & Stones was similarly controversial, with jokes (or “jokes,” depending on your perspective) about the LGBTQ+ community, abuse allegations against certain celebrities, and his defence of admitted (but unprosecuted) sex offender and comedian Louis C.K.

Chappelle is undoubtedly influential. He’s an Emmy, Grammy, and Mark Twain prize winner, and arguably one of the most influential comedians of the 21st century. While The Closer does not encourage violence against the trans community, it is harmful.

He fixates on the private parts of trans people, mocks the appearance of queer people, uses slurs, and compares trans women to white people wearing blackface.

Chappelle jokes about rapper DaBaby, who recently made homophobic remarks about HIV/AIDS. Chappelle says DaBaby, “Punched the LBGTQ community right in the AIDS.” He goes on to reference an incident where the rapper shot and killed another Black man in self-defense, which did not negatively affect his career. Chappelle says, “In our country you can shoot and kill a n***** but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.” This is the self-proclaimed central idea of The Closer

“I have never had a problem with transgender people… my problem has always been with white people,” he says. But as Black gay activist and writer Kenyon Farrow points out, Chappelle is playing into, “a 30 year-old campaign carried out by Christian Right groups to use LGBT rights as a cultural wedge issue with African-Americans,” and forgetting how many people belong to both groups. Chappelle posits these communities against each other with stories about encounters he’s had with white LGBTQ+ people. He says he is jealous of the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made over a hundred years, and jokes that “If slaves had oil and booty shorts on, we might have been free 100 years sooner.” It’s clear to me that Chappelle is frustrated. I get the impression through his stories that he thinks the LGBTQ+ community is a way for white people to victimize themselves, get away with racism, and distract from the ongoing struggles of the Black community. I understand why Chappelle thinks this way given his age and the life he has led but it’s still unfortunate to see minority groups still be pitted against each other by white supremacist, Christian, and right-wing structures.

As the National Black Justice Coalition points out in their criticism of the special: “With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States — the majority of whom are Black transgender people — Netflix should know better. Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence.”

It’s such a shame that Chappelle’s standup in the last few years has come to this. In his early career, Danielle Fuentes Morgan, who teaches a course on African American comedy at Santa Clara University, says that he “punch[ed] up, to speak truth to power, to focus his ‘attacks’ on injustices and institutions with discernibly more power than he had.” Punching up or down is a concept usually discussed in the context of comedy. Punching up means criticizing and mocking a person, group of people, or institution with more power than you. Punching down is the reverse. In Chapelle’s case punching up would be white people, the police, the government for example, trans people decidedly belong to a group with less power than the cis-het millionaire. In The Closer, Chapelle acknowledges that he’s been accused of punching down, and wonders what the phrase means. As Morgan writes, “In teaching Chappelle, it’s become increasingly important to address how a person can be marginalized while also marginalizing others.”

I’ve written about the real world impact media has on minorities before, but comedians are a special case. Culturally, comedians have a bit of an outsider/underdog complex that many can’t shake, even when they become famous millionaires. There’s even a common joke that comedians are themselves a minority group. And so they think they can joke about anything, forgetting they have influence, especially in the era of mass-produced, mass-streamed Netflix stand-up comedy.

Many have pointed out the irony and hypocrisy of Sarandos’ recent claims “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm” even after the platform released Disclosure in 2020, a documentary about the impact of ignorant and inaccurate portrayals of trans people in American cinema. This is the same documentary Sarandos cites in statements following the Chappelle controversy about Netflix’s commitment to inclusion.

No matter what Chapelle, Sarandos, or anyone who whines about cancel culture says, art has impact. Jokes cannot just be jokes, especially not ones aimed at minorities. No, The Closer is probably not going to directly cause someone to go out and commit a hate crime, just like author J.K. Rowling’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) essay didn’t. But when hate and ignorance is given a platform, it is normalized and perpetuated and that is what leads to violence and discriminatory legislation.


Photo collage by Catherine Reynolds

“That Girl”: capitalism’s new cheerleader

The nefarious new inspiration porn

“That Girl” wakes up at 6 a.m. for her morning exercise of choice, often yoga, jogging, or weight lifting. Then when she’s done, she showers, performs an elaborate skincare routine, makes her white bed, meditates, drinks a yummy homemade smoothie, puts on some bike shorts and a crop top, and, if she has some time, writes in her gratitude journal.

That Girl” is the latest internet lifestyle trend popularized on TikTok. Aimed at young women, this trend is supposed to encourage girls to be their healthiest, most productive, and #empowered selves — to become “That Girl” who is cool, skinny, and successful. The trend, like most things that live on the internet, has faced some criticism. So let’s unpack why “That Girl” is sort of problematic.

For starters, “That Girl” isn’t anything new. She’s the evolution of girls of the past like the #girlboss (popularized by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso). The #girlboss was simply a confident successful woman, particularly if she was an entrepreneur or her own boss. #Girlboss feminism was synonymous with pithy hashtags and sayings that you could slap onto a t-shirt, like #freethenipple and #girlssupportgirls. She has to operate in a “man’s world,” and so she’s encouraged to take charge, be unapologetic, and hustle. This brand of feminism was particularly championed by millennial women, has been accused of being superficial, promoting patriarchal capitalist attitudes and structures, and focusing on skinny, white, conventionally attractive cis-het women.

This leads us to one of the biggest pitfalls of both the #girlboss and “That Girl.” They’re not inclusive. Like at all. If you look up “That Girl” on TikTok or YouTube, you’ll see the same kind of girl participating.

  1. She has disposable income. Those fancy salads, candles, journals, and gym memberships aren’t cheap!
  2. She’s usually thin, white, and cis-het. And if she’s not all of those things, don’t worry. She’s still conventionally attractive!

On the surface, this isn’t so nefarious. Sometimes certain trends and lifestyles just happen to appeal to a certain demographic, right? But this lack of diversity becomes more troubling when you consider that “That Girl” carries connotations of moral virtue.

Throughout history and across cultures, religions, and philosophies, self-control has been valued. You see it in the writings of influential thinkers, including Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Confucius, and the Buddha. Asceticism is the practice of denying your desires in order to achieve a certain goal and traces of it can be seen in most major religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Buddism. Denial of food, sex, comfort, luxury, or even sleep are all seen as admirable sacrifices to achieve moral and spiritual purity, common ascetic practices include celibacy, fasting, and meditation. Ascetics, or those who successfully complete an ascetic practice are more moral than everyone else because they have overcome “temptation.”

Capitalism has a bit of asceticism in its DNA, maybe because of its links to Christianity. Though capitalism loves excess it’s quite strict. Give up sleep, give up a social life, give up being treated like a person… whatever it takes to be successful. Don’t get distracted by your desires and weaknesses, just focus. Anyone can be successful through hard work. If you’re poor, it’s your own fault. You should suck it up and hustle, to the point of exhaustion or even injury if necessary. Sacrifice and discipline is just what it takes to be a “good” and “successful” person in our society. This mentality doesn’t only apply to one’s career and finances, it also applies to health and fitness. Overweight people are shamed for supposedly being indulgent, lazy, stupid. There is no consideration for genetics, lack of resources, or other health problems. Culturally, thinness has long been associated with virtue, and fatness has been associated with decadence and failure.

Ascetics, thin people, the traditionally successful, and “That Girl” have all denied human desires in order to be superior.

“That Girl” is just a new form of the centuries long human desire to feel in control through self-discipline and strict routines. You can’t control the plague, earthquakes, famines, oppressive leaders, or the family you’re born into, but you can control what you eat, when you wake up, if you exercise or meditate, etc. But it’s a cycle of shame, guilt, and self-hatred when you “fail.” The trend serves capitalism, both with the luxurious lifestyle it worships and the attitude it embodies.

In all fairness, I do see value in these attempts to “romanticize your life,” enjoy the little things, touch grass, and be mindful. The trend also professes the importance of mental health, albeit in the most superficial, aesthetic, and pleasant way possible. “That Girl” does not go to therapy or need medication, she takes a bubble bath, puts on a face mask, watches only one episode of Friends, bakes… This self-care trend encourages you to spend money on certain products and is incredibly individualistic. If you are burnt out and depressed it’s your fault, not any system’s. Haven’t you been practicing self-care?

I urge you to aspire for something, anything more fulfilling and genuine than “That Girl.” Trust me, she’s not all that.


Feature graphic by Madeline Schmidt

When fashion and music meet queerbaiting

Why I’m critical of Harry Styles’ fashion

At 27-years-old, British singer Harry Styles is already a universally recognized fashion icon. In his post-One Direction career, he adopted a more flamboyant and fashion-forward dress, wearing pink suits, pearls, sheer tops, dangly earrings, nail polish, and high heel boots. He’s earned significant praise for breaking away from the strict (and boring) confines of traditionally masculine clothing. The culmination of Styles’ rejection of toxic masculinity through fashion was in December 2020 when he became the first man to grace the cover of Vogue solo — wearing a Gucci gown.

Others have already pointed out that he isn’t exactly a pioneer; his fashion is inspired by musicians David Bowie and Prince, who were also known for “gender bending” fashion before he was even born. This trio’s fashion isn’t exactly unique or revolutionary either, however. These three are just those who have been uplifted by the industry, and our culture, because they have been deemed more palatable.

Bowie was white, and although Prince was a Black man, for part of his career he was presented as multiracial due to his lighter skin tone, and his role as a biracial musician in Purple Rain. Bowie and Prince flirted with rumours about their sexuality, with Bowie even stating that he was gay and bisexual in the 70s, but both were ultimately presumably straight, as Bowie later said he was “always a closet heterosexual,” while Prince became quite conservative.

Despite this, Prince and David Bowie are widely considered to be gay icons. In contrast, Little Richard, a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer remembered for his “fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona” who inspired Prince and Bowie musically and stylistically, has not been afforded the same status even though he referred to himself as gay and omnisexual throughout his life. Sylvester, an androgynous and openly gay singer best known for his 1978 disco hit (and LGBTQ+ pride anthem) “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” has also been largely forgotten in this discourse.

Styles has kept his sexuality ambiguous. And while I respect his desire to keep certain details private, there is a long history of bisexuality being used by musicians to seem more interesting and transgressive which has ultimately contributed to stigma that continues to surround bisexuality. He’s denied “sprinkling in nuggets of sexual ambiguity to try and be more interesting,” but I’m admittedly a little weary. Even if Styles is queer, right now, his sexual orientation is ambiguous and he’s only ever publicly dated women. This allows him to benefit from queer aesthetics and allows queer people to identify with him, without Styles having to deal with nearly as much homophobia as other entertainers like Lil Nas X or Billy Porter, who also sport very feminine and androgynous fashion on red carpets and are both openly gay men.

Styles’ rise as both a fashion and queer icon shows how, despite more representation and diversity in our media, we haven’t made much progress since the heydays of Bowie and Prince.

Actor and singer Jaden Smith was featured in a womenswear campaign for Louis Vuitton at age 17, wearing a skirt. This made him the first man to model women’s wear for the fashion house. Smith has been wearing outfits similar to Styles for years, once wearing a skirt to his prom and even launching a gender neutral clothing line. But as one Twitter user pointed out in response to someone commenting on Styles’ impact on the fashion industry, “its the way jaden smith has been wearing the outfits harry styles has, but yall called him weird and made fun of him.”

Fashion similar to Styles’ is common among male K-pop idols, who are frequently criticized for “looking like girls” in the West. G-Dragon, a 32-year-old South Korean rapper and the leader of hip hop group Big Bang, has been called “a chameleon who often makes peak-era Lady Gaga seem staid.” Though, for much of his career, G-Dragon has dressed quite traditionally masculine (albeit much more fun and fashionable then the average male celebrity), he’s also been unafraid to wear makeup, heels, skirts, and drop earrings, or sport long hair and look beautiful. He’s gone way beyond anything Styles has ever done in terms of gender-fluid fashion, but in his more toned down moments he’s dressed very similarly to Styles.

Despite this, male K-Pop idols like G-Dragon are not considered queer or fashion icons, and neither is Jaden Smith. While there are other factors besides race or xenophobia at play, it would be irresponsible to totally ignore that.

When it comes to male celebrities — whether we’re talking about Styles, Prince, or Smith — feminine, androgynous, flamboyant fashion is usually exotica. Rarely do they actually dress that way off stage or off the red carpet or magazines. When they dress outside traditional gender roles they do deal with criticism, but they also get attention and praise while regular queer people who dress like that are at risk of violence when they walk down the street. So when our culture puts men like Styles on pedestals, it feels like a way for society to pat itself on the back as super progressive while ignoring the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly queer POC.

I think Styles is helping to make fashion less binary and showing a different type of masculinity, and I’m happy he’s dressing however he likes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical and have an intersectional perspective that helps us realize why his fashion is so hyped up. There is a long history of queer and Black culture being appropriated by privileged white cishet people who are celebrated for these aesthetics. And queer people are often so desperate for representation that they will idolize the crumbs they’re given even when it’s obvious queerbaiting.

So the solution seems simple: you can love and appreciate Styles’ fashion, but make sure you’re uplifting the true pioneers.


Photo collage by Kit Mergaert


Sia’s new movie is dangerous and offensive

Why activists are calling Sia’s Music ableist

Australian vocal powerhouse Sia’s directorial debut Music has finally been released, despite the fact that many wish it hadn’t.

The film stars Kate Hudson as Zu, a newly sober drug dealer who becomes the guardian for her autistic half-sister, Music (Maddie Ziegler). Over the course of the film, Zu learns to take care of Music with the help of Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.), and musical sequences take place inside Music’s mind showing how she sees the world.

On the surface, the film might look like the perfect recipe for positivity, great musical sequences, and representation. After all, the autism community is typically portrayed in only one way: a savant white man who is awkward with women (Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor). Sia also called the film “A love letter to caregivers and to the autism community,” and claimed she spent three years researching for the film. And yet Music, and Sia, are still being called out for ableism.

The most obvious issue with the film is the casting. In case you were unaware, Maddie Ziegler is not autistic. Ziegler and Sia first collaborated in 2014 for the singer’s viral “Chandelier” music video and Ziegler went on to star in eight other Sia music videos, tour with the singer, and perform with her on shows like SNL, Ellen, and The Tonight Show.

Despite this longtime collaboration, Sia said, “I actually tried working with a beautiful young girl [who was] non-verbal, on the spectrum, and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie … Casting someone at [the character’s] level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community. … I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie.”

In a video about the film, Paige Layle, a young autistic woman who has over two million followers on TikTok said, “What Sia should be promoting is accommodating autistic people,” and, “If you’re saying that anyone can act autistic, it’s just acting … you need to recognize your own ableism there, and why you think that autistics are not good enough at being autistic on their own, that they need to fit your level of what autism looks like and they need to perform to what you know.”

Ziegler’s performance has also been called a caricature of autistic body language. One Twitter user explained that:

“It is deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic and developmentally disabled people for the ways we move. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ways autistic people move, or the ways we make facial expressions. Some of us roll our eyes and put our teeth over our lips as a stim or just because it’s comfortable. But we do those things naturally. Maddie Ziegler does not. The fact thneoat Ziegler is not autistic, and the fact that her performance is so heavily exaggerated, turns the entire movie into one long display of mockery.”

On the first day of filming, Ziegler, who was 14 at the time, reportedly cried, worried that people would think she was making fun of them, to which Sia promised her, “I won’t let that happen.” 

The film has also been criticized for using the character of Music as a prop. David Fear for Rolling Stone called it “a sort of neurodivergent equivalent of a Magical Negro.” While doing press for the film, an interviewer even compared the non-verbal Music to an inanimate object, to which Sia agreed.

“There is a caricature of autistics which relies on depicting us as headphone-wearing, gaping innocents who are symbols of purity there to remind us of selfless sacrifice,” said autistic teen Niko Boskovic in an essay.

The other massive issue raised by activists has been a scene in the film that shows Music being forcibly restrained by Zu and Ebo who “crush her with their love.”

“[Music] doesn’t just promote harmful stereotypes about autistic people — it shows restraints that have killed members of our community as necessary and loving acts,” said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

In response, Sia promised that the film would add a warning ahead of the movie, and that future printings would remove the scene. She also clarified that the film does not condone or recommend the use of restraint on autistic people. Online however, people say that the scenes have not been removed and there is still no warning.

The film’s musical sequences also use strobing lights, bright colours, loud sounds, and quick camera movements, which are very overstimulating. As one online petition points out, “About one in four autistic people have epilepsy, so the movie can cause seizures and is also very uncomfortable for those without it. Despite making the movie ‘for’ autistic people, Sia has made it in such a way that a majority of us will be unable to watch it.”

Sia has not responded very well to her critics, personally attacking a few before deleting her Twitter account. When one autistic actor expressed their ability and willingness to act in the film Sia replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

The singer also said, “I cast 13 neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

For the film, Sia also collaborated, to an extent, with Autism Speaks, an organisation that has been called “A eugenics-promoting hate group.” Over 60 disability rights organisations have condemned Autism Speaks. Sia could have learned that by simply looking at their Wikipedia page and yet she said, “I had no idea it was such a polarizing group!”

The singer also referred to Music as someone with “special abilities,” language generally found to be extremely patronizing and derogatory in these contexts. Sia’s resistance to the term disabled, which has been widely embraced by many autistic people, has also been called ableist because it implies that being disabled is a bad thing.

Sia eventually admitted to being ableist to a degree and said she’d learned her lesson, but also said, “I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a shit I’m a shit, but my intentions are awesome.”

Later, however, she said, “I realised it wasn’t ableism — I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it’s actually nepotism, because I can’t do a project without [Ziegler].”

Despite Sia’s seemingly good intentions and some supporters, Music remains at best problematic, and at its worst dangerous. Its nomination for two Golden Globe awards is both confusing and concerning. A petition for the Golden Globes to rescind the nominations currently has over 120,000 signatures.

In her video, Layle claims, “This was not for autistics. This is for caregivers, to feel like some inspiration porn, saviour complex.”

For full disclosure, I haven’t seen the film. The film’s reviews, messages from disability organisations, and videos and tweets made by autistic people have almost universally shared the same message: don’t watch this movie. It’s bad, offensive and dangerous. So I did not feel the need to waste $6 and two hours to confirm. Instead, I think I’ll look at the work of actual disabled creatives and I’d recommend you do the same.

The ethics of altering your photos

Are you part of the problem?

It’s no secret that it’s easier than ever to alter your photos. No need to know your way around Photoshop or Lightroom anymore; with a simple slider, you can adjust your photo’s saturation, contrast, brightness, or even completely change how you look. Whatever it is you’re insecure about — your skin, teeth, stomach, or butt — you can easily fix it without going under the knife thanks to apps like Facetune. Even celebrities and influencers do it, with the Kardashian-Jenner clan particularly guilty of editing fails.

Collectively we seem to agree that it isn’t okay for celebrities and influencers to edit how they look in photos and pretend they look that way naturally. This is because social media has been shown to have a negative effect on body image, particularly for young women. If we agree that it’s wrong for celebrities and influencers to do it, then is it wrong for anyone to edit their appearance in photos?

After all, most of us aren’t famous. So, for example, if you follow 100 people and 10 are celebrities or influencers, then isn’t it more harmful to see the other 90 people’s edited photos? Aren’t we more likely to compare ourselves to our friends and peers than to Victoria’s Secret Models or NFL athletes? I want to know: is it unethical for you and I, “regular people,” to alter how we look in photos?

Geneviève Laforce, a Concordia student with over 35,000 followers on Instagram, and over 200,000 TikTok followers, told me she has mixed feelings about photo editing.

“I feel as though the most important thing is to be transparent with it. Like, if you actually do do it, don’t just do it and then not acknowledge it. For example, if I edit my skin, then I say I edit my skin, I will actively tell people,” she said.

“I definitely think that diving into social media at such a young age really did affect the way that I saw my body and see my body now,” says Amanda Wan, a Concordia student and content creator. “I understand that people want themselves to look a certain way. But on the other side, if they’re an influencer or celebrity, they’re lying to their audience because they’re saying ‘this is what I look like’ when in reality, they don’t.”

Wan says we should hold celebrities accountable for how they can affect followers through photos which portray perfection. These photos can be particularly harmful to the body image of younger people who follow them. In Canada, between 12 to 30 per cent of girls and nine to 25 per cent of boys aged 10 to 14 report dieting to lose weight.

Laforce mentioned the role that capitalism plays in creating a cycle of insecurity and impossible beauty standards.

“I think that we’ve created a problem for ourselves, but it’s like a cog in the 21st-century machine. We’re caught up in it, you can’t really get out of it. I think that it’s a problem that’s deep-rooted into society. And it’s gonna take some time to dismantle. But for now, it’s an issue that we’ve created,” Laforce said.

Today’s marketing is focused on making you insecure about how you look, so you need makeup, clothing, teeth whitening, plastic surgery, a gym membership, or laser hair removal. Insecure about your life so you need a car, a house, a puppy, kids, a big wedding, a trip to the Bahamas, a university degree. Capitalism depends on your insecurity and desire for more.

To help solve this problem, Wan suggests that platforms like YouTube feature more diverse creators. Laforce suggests that Instagram start telling you if an image has been altered, “Because although you may not pay attention to it, acknowledge it, your subconscious does if it sees that.”

However, what if altering how you look in pictures actually hurts your own self-image more than it hurts anyone else?

“You need to kind of know your truth,” Laforce said. “Why do I feel the need to alter this photo of myself? Is it to please the societal regard? Why is it going to, in turn, make you feel better about yourself?”

There are no easy answers; navigating social media is complicated. So I don’t think you should be too harsh on others or yourself. This minimizes larger systemic problems which create this rampant insecurity and desire for perfection. This implies that the individual or even the internet is at fault, which creates guilt and doesn’t lead to real solutions.

The truth is that people were insecure about their bodies before the internet, which has only allowed people to perform perfection for a wider audience. So what I’m saying is: do whatever makes you happy, let’s be more open and transparent about curated perfection, and let’s work on challenging the corporations which profit off insecurity.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Is this the end of the Grammys?

This year’s nominations reveal an industry struggling to reflect the pulse of contemporary music.

Whenever award show nominations are announced you can expect controversy. Especially in recent years as the general public (i.e. white people) have become more aware of systemic racism in the music industry, which manifests itself at award shows. Think Beyoncé losing album of the year to both Adele and Beck, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly losing to Taylor Swift’s 1989, or Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE losing to Mumford & Sons.

But the nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards are outright confusing.

In the general category, which holds the most prestigious awards, there were the expected nominees: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Post Malone, Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, but nominees also included Black Pumas, Coldplay, Jacob Collier, and Noah Cyrus. While Coldplay is a recognizable and successful group, it’s safe to say their relevance has diminished in recent years and their 2019 album Everyday Life flew a bit under the radar. Noah Cyrus is also a name many might recognize, albeit perhaps due to nepotism more than her actual music. Black Pumas has a, “relatively low commercial profile” and “negligible critical profile” as Jon Caramanica put in in The New York Times. You’ve probably never heard of Jacob Collier but he’s already won four Grammys for arranging.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to throw in some more unconventional or unknown nominees, of course. However, these kinds of choices become more questionable when you realize who wasn’t nominated: The Weeknd.

Despite having one of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed albums of the year, and a massively successful single, he didn’t get a single nomination. This makes The Weeknd the most snubbed artist of the year.

For some perspective, Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” got a nomination. Bieber actually scored four nominations despite his album Changes being met with negative reviews from critics. On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, it received a score of 57 compared to The Weeknd’s 2020 album After Hours’ 80.

Many have theorized that The Weeknd might have been snubbed because of his Superbowl performance, which will air on the same network a week after the Grammys. Another theory is that After Hours was snubbed because it is a distinctly pop album and the Grammys prefer to put Black artists in R&B, urban, and hip hop categories. Notably, in 2020, Tyler, the Creator criticized the Grammys for placing “guys that look like me” in rap and urban categories.

After the nominations were announced, The Weeknd spoke out on Twitter saying, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…”

Halsey, who received 0 nominations for her album Manic, said in an Instagram story, “The Grammys are an elusive process. It can often be about behind the scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine — with the right handshakes and ‘bribes’ that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as ‘not-bribes.'”

Nicki Minaj also took to Twitter saying, “Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had seven songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver.”

Though the Chairman and Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy claimed that the nominees would “reflect diversity of race, gender, age, region, and musical genre,” during the nominee announcement, it seems like the Grammys just decided to nominate Korean band BTS and call it a day.

Though this makes BTS the first South Korean act to be nominated for their music (after they were nominated for Best Recording Package in 2018), BTS was only nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their song “Dynamite” which was coincidentally their first all-English song. Their album Map of the Soul: 7, which received a score of 82 from Metacritic, was named by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of 2020, and had over four million pre-orders, received 0 nominations.

It seems the Recording Academy thought nominating one Korean group, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, DaBaby, and Beyoncé would be enough to appease their growing list of critics, but the tokenism and performative diversity fell flat on its face.

The Recording Academy has repeatedly failed to be as “diverse” and “inclusive” as it claims to be, and to recognize music that is actually, by all measures, good and popular. This is hurting their credibility and relevance. If things don’t change I think the Grammys will be totally obsolete in the next few years.

Why should I even care about the Grammys? Are these awards really necessary? How does this contribute value to the lives and careers of musicians or to our culture?

These are questions the Recording Academy might want to consider.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Once A Tree says ignorance is bliss in Fool’s Paradise

We sat down with Once A Tree to discuss their backstory, making music while in love, and the release of their latest EP.

The Toronto-based electro-pop duo composed of Jayli and Hayden Wolf definitely has a fascinating backstory. Both grew up in British Columbia, raised Jehovah’s Witnesses but met while leaving the religion, and eventually excommunicated. The two bonded over their love of music and fell in love, moving to Toronto after Jayli won a songwriting contest.

Thus Once A Tree was born, releasing their first single “Howling” in 2015, and their first album Phoenix in 2017. The album earned the duo a 2018 Indigenous Music Award win for best electronic music album. They’ve since been covered by Rolling Stone, Billboard, People, and

Once A Tree are multidisciplinary artists who have directed, produced, and edited the majority of their music videos. The “Howling” music video is cinematic and occult. “Hide” features dancers writhing artistically. “Worth” is a metaphor for bullying through a little girl who looks like a monster. “What You Say” has Jayli carrying a skeleton around San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in a red suit, and this summer’s music video for “Rush” has Jayli wandering around Los Angeles.

Outside of music, Hayden has worked as senior photographer for Drake’s OVO clothing brand and produces for other Toronto artists. Jayli is an actor who is set to star in The Exchange, from director Dan Mazer (Borat) and writer Tim Long (The Simpsons), alongside Justin Hartley, Ed Oxenbould, and Avan Jogia.

In 2020, Once A Tree has released singles “Rush” and “3 Day Trip,” as well as an acoustic version of “Rush” which features Boy Pape. Their latest EP Fool’s Paradise is out today, so I sat down to chat with Jayli and Hayden about the EP, working during the pandemic, their musical journey, and mental health.

Our full conversation with Once A Tree can be found below:

The Concordian: When I was listening to the EP I found a lot of connections between the lyrics and the state of the world. In “Rush” Jayli sings, “You should take your time with me,” and COVID has put a lot of things on hold. We live in a very fast-paced world, so I think that has really affected people.

Jayli Wolf: Yeah. Last year, I was filming back-to-back and I was so caught up in work. And this year has been so different whereas I have the time to ask really important questions and kind of just reevaluate everything about my life and make sure that I’m on the right track.

Hayden Wolf: The things that are really important to you.

JW: Yeah! Because especially living in a city, it’s just so fast-paced, and I feel like I’m always just living for the future and never in the moment. So that’s definitely where that song came from. And paradise is a play on that saying, “ignorance is bliss.” Because we were just kind of playing with the idea that there’s some songs about infatuation on there but then also Hayden and I, you know, we were raised in a doomsday cult. So, when we left it was really hard to realize ‘holy, we’re not going to live forever on paradise Earth, we are going to grow old and we’re going to die.’ And so, realizing that we were like, was it kind of blissful to be ignorant of the reality of life like did we enjoy it? Do we regret kind of waking up sometimes? So some of the songs are about that too, I don’t know, it can be blissfully ignorant and we can kind of get lost in our own little worlds and sometimes we don’t even know it.

TC: Can you tell me about the process for making Fool’s Paradise and how it was different from making Phoenix

HW: I think it’s way more upbeat and lighthearted in terms of the sonic direction, which is actually a good thing for how hardcore this year is. It’s more on the lighter side and a happier side. Yeah, we had a very similar process creation that’s a lot like Phoenix, we wrote on the road and … we’ve been working on this one for a little over a year.

JW: We wrote some in L.A. We had way more fun with this project because we would just get in the studio in a really good headspace and just literally have fun, it wasn’t about ‘let’s create something with a direction in mind,’ we just went in and had good energy.

HW: The track “Have You Ever,” we were in L.A. and we were about to go for a walk, and Jayli bent down to tie her shoe and you started to hum in this melody and then I grabbed a guitar. And she pretty much freestyled all the lyrics on that.

TC: Well that leads to one of my questions actually, because I had noticed that the EP is a bit more light hearted and upbeat than your older music. I was wondering if that was the result of what’s going on in the world or if that was just a natural evolution for you guys.

JW: Yeah, I think it’s just where we were in our mindset, because we started writing this right before COVID really hit. So it was January in L.A. and we were in a good headspace. We were just really grateful for everything that’s coming to our lives and where we’re at in our personal journeys. And I think that that is reflected in the music because we’re literally just having a really positive time.

HW: Phoenix is really therapeutic for the stuff that we’ve been through in our past and this is more in the moment; we’ve come to a much happier place in life. So I think it’s a natural evolution. I definitely want to play again with ballads.

TC: The EP is sort of about falling in love against the odds, slowing down to enjoy the little things in life, getting rid of toxic people. Why were you guys drawn to those topics?

HW: It’s all really personal stuff.

JW: Stuff we’ve been through and stuff that we’re going through.

HW: When we left the religion we lost so many people in our lives that were like our family. And so it made us kind of jaded or just really more aware of who we want in our circle and, you know, the people that really wanted to champion you and support you and love you for who you are. Yeah, so I think that was also a big key part of the lyrical content.

JW: Yeah, we’re definitely coming to that place, and more conscious of who we spend our time with. And just always wanting to have that real love for each other — that unconditional love, even with our friends, where we just uplift and support, and there’s not that negative energy and there’s not that hierarchy feeling of competition. We just love each other and we’re just on the same wave, and we want healthy relationships in our lives now, whereas before we weren’t even conscious of that.

TC: Can you describe Fool’s Paradise to me in 3 words?

HW: Ignorance is bliss. In our case it’s just kind of funny to look back and be like, wow, we were living in a fairytale and as weird and fucked up as it was, that hope was really beautiful. Even [in] society sometimes we can get caught up in that.

JW: I mean obviously it’s so important to know what’s going on and have that awareness so we can change the world, but sometimes I was just getting really overwhelmed, and it was to the point where I couldn’t do anything because I was so stressed out and overwhelmed about trying to do everything. It’s great to keep bringing more positive headspace and take care of yourself so that you can bring that love and good energy to the world.

TC: How did COVID-19 and quarantine affect your art and creativity?

HW: We’ve definitely had days where we’ve been feeling overwhelmed or our mental health has really taken a hit. But I think overall we used this time to really focus on the creation process and honing in on really where we want to take the direction of the music and the type of music we make — which one makes us feel the best or the most organic.

JW: Just like everybody else, we lost our live shows that we had set up this year, but I think it’s been a very beneficial year creatively for us because because of that we’re getting into a new headspace, and I started meditating and I started therapy and I’m doing things to really take care of my mental health, whereas I never did before — I never really took the time to. Of course it’s affected our mental health. We’ve definitely had hard days.

HW: And I think if you can have something even that you do once a day that makes you happy during this crazy year, that’s so important.

JW: Most of my family’s still in the doomsday cult I was raised in, and they’re determined that it is the end of the world and it’s coming any day and we’ve always been taught that. But now with 2020 they’re so hyped on the end and a lot of them are talking to me more. Which is weird because they’re not really supposed to be, but they’re really encouraging me to come back to the religion, so even though it’s not a super healthy relationship, they are talking to me — which I find is a positive because I’ve missed them a lot. So it’s just been a really weird year.

TC: Over the summer you guys released a music video for “Rush.” What it was like to be making a music video during a global pandemic?

HW: We actually shot that just before COVID started, the beginning of March.

JW: Yeah, we were still in L.A. and nothing had really broken yet on the news.

HW: The creation process was really fun, because it was just me and Jayli running around the city and exploring different communities in L.A.

JW: I’m working on my solo project right now though and we just shot a music video a couple weeks ago and it was a very different experience with social distancing and making sure everyone’s got a good temperature and the map. It’s a completely different vibe on set.

TC: I had heard you were working on a solo project Jayli, and Hayden you’re producing that, so is working together on this project any different than working as Once A Tree?

JW: Yeah, I think it’s completely different because I feel like I’m having way more of a direction, even in the production just because I have a very definite vision of what I want sonically and visually as well. I have a very different direction that I want to take. So Hayden has been so good at just listening to what I want and taking notes for me. I’ve also got to work with a couple of other producers in L.A., and it’s more of a personal project.

HW: The songwriting is way more on your side. Once A Tree we usually write everything together but this was way more Jayli … really pouring out her soul. And then I was giving my little ideas here and there, but it’s definitely a very personal project.

TC: You guys mentioned live shows earlier, which were obviously cancelled. But I got to see your virtual set for imagineNATIVE Film Festival’s The Beat series, so what was it like to perform with no stage or audience?

JW: I liked it, there was no stage fright. We just got to be so creative with the editing too so we liked it. I think it was really fun. It was really cool and it was interesting to sign in and it was nerve-wracking to see what everyone was gonna say. It was cool, a really new way to interact.

TC: Jayli, you contributed to Beans, and Trickster, both 2020 TIFF projects which center on Indigenous youth. Do you actively seek out those kinds of projects which tell Indigenous stories or was that a coincidence?

JW: I mean, I definitely am so excited when things like this come across. I really wanted to be part of this project. I actually am really good friends with the director Michelle Latimer, and so when she was telling me about it I was like, “oh my god I hope I get to audition for this.” Just so pumped up because the novels are amazing and I don’t think I actively seek it, I think just as an actor hopefully I try to be ready to jump into any role. But yeah, I’m always excited when things like this come my way.

TC: After the success of Phoenix do you feel pressure to live up to that and one-up yourselves, or did Phoenix just give you the validation to be like, “Oh, we got this no big deal?”

JW: No, I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life like “I got this” (laughs). I feel like more than ever, I just want to go back to the drawing board. I just feel like we’re really wanting to take a new direction with the music and that is to be more authentic … in everything that we say. Phoenix was authentic to what we were going through at that time, but we were really both depressed and suffering from a lot of mental health issues, and so I feel like now we just want to go back to the drawing board as who we are and get more authentic in a different way.

HW: I think every project is cool to see the evolution of where we are in our lives. So, each project is a cool archive of what we were going through.


Feature photos by Once a Tree


An analysis of J.K. Rowling’s transphobia

How J.K. Rowling weaponizes white femininity against trans people

In a year of general tragedy, disappointment, and chaos in all regards, I didn’t expect a pillar of my childhood to be destroyed.

This summer, while people across the world were protesting against police brutality and systemic racism, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, decided to get on Twitter. She mocked a headline which used the phrase “people who menstruate” following up with a tweet about her fear of biological sex being erased.

Rowling received backlash from LGBTQ+ organizations like GLAAD who called her tweets “cruel” and “anti-trans,” and cast members from the Harry Potter franchise criticized Rowling or spoke out in support of trans rights. Rowling did not see the error in her ways, however, nor did she have the wisdom to keep quiet. Instead she wrote a 3,000+ word essay published on her website in response to the criticism where she posits herself as a brave defender of women against radical trans activists.

There’s too much to get into, but there is a great thorough rebuttal and critique of the essay you can read from Mermaids, a gender non-conforming children’s charity.

The comment that struck me most in the essay was when Rowling stated that, “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman … then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside.” Here, Rowling proves that she is a product of the media she has been exposed to.

This idea partly emanates from a variety of very harmful tropes in media about trans women; that they are “men in dresses” (perpetuated by the casting of cis men as trans women), that they are men dressing as women to get something (Some Like It Hot, Mrs. Doubtfire, White Chicks, Tootsie, etc.), or that they are crazy and violent (The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, Dressed to Kill). With such a historic lack of representation, especially when Rowling was growing up, these types of representation form a lot of negative and incorrect ideas in people’s minds about who a trans person is.

Trans women, particularly trans women of colour, are disproportionately murdered every year. In a survey of trans Americans nearly half said they had been sexually assaulted, and over half had experienced some sort of domestic abuse. There is a correlation between this violence and fears created by these representations.

Representation of trans people as the butt of jokes also dehumanizes them, or portrays them as gross. In Ace Ventura: Pet Detective there is a scene where, after finding out he has kissed a trans woman (or a man depending on how you see it), Jim Carrey as Ventura throws up, induces vomiting, brushes his teeth, scrapes his tongue, and burns his clothes. A similar revelation happens in The Crying Game, in which the male lead hits a trans woman and throws up. When trans women’s killers are actually brought to trial they frequently use what’s known as the “trans panic defence.” This defence attempts to justify the murder by saying that the discovery of someone’s trans identity is that upsetting and shocking. This is an extension of homophobia in many ways because in these cases killers view trans women as “men in dresses.”

If you would like to learn more about the history of trans people in film and television, I’d highly recommend Netflix’s Disclosure, which is executive produced by Laverne Cox.

A lack of, and poor representation, of Black people also shares a history with trans representation.

In early cinema, blackface and crossdressing were often intertwined, as seen in A Florida Enchantment. There is a history of Black men being presented as hypermasculine and aggressive, perhaps seen most notably in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation where an actor in blackface attempts to rape a white woman.

Conversely, there is also a tradition of emasculating Black men dating back to slavery. Black comedians performing in drag (Tyler Perry as Madea, Jamie Foxx in In Living Color, Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, Kenan Thompson on Saturday Night Live, etc.) has also become somewhat of a rite of passage.

Actors in blackface crossdressing or Black actors crossdressing is thus an intersection between racism (frequently rooted in the desire to laugh at Black people), misogynoir (asexualizing Black women, presenting them as masculine, aggressive, unattractive and other offensive stereotypes), homophobia, and transphobia.

Just as trans people are regularly murdered based on the notion that they are predators, Black people (particularly men) have been murdered based on the idea that they are dangerous, particularly to white women. Racism and sexism are both at play here because the “damsel in distress” is always a white woman, isn’t she?

In the Post Civil War era, white supremacists and politicians created racial fear amongst white people by frequently using the fear of rape of white women. So you can see how harmful Birth of a Nation was (also because it romanticized the KKK, leading to its rebirth). The consequences of these fears is perhaps epitomized by the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, after he allegedly flirted with a white woman.

As Mia Brett notes in The Washington Post, “Though built on white privilege, the protection offered to white women against other groups actually serves anti-feminist goals of infantilizing women and using their safety as justification to enact bigoted violence. In cases where women’s safety cannot be easily weaponized against a Black, immigrant or trans person, the figure of the damsel in distress has evoked little societal response, even if a woman is in genuine danger.”

In many ways not much has changed since Emmett Till’s murder. Just this year, white New Yorker Amy Cooper notoriously called the police on Christian Cooper, a Black birdwatcher who had asked her to put her dog on a leash. Luckily, Christian Cooper made it out alive, but incidents like this frequently escalate to violence. In the video you can watch online, she changes her voice to sound distressed and before she calls 911 she tells Cooper “I’m gonna tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” demonstrating she is knowingly weaponizing her white femininity against him. In fact there are plenty of videos online of hysterical white women calling 911 on Black people for anything from barbecuing at a lake, sleeping in a University common room, to simply being in a Starbucks.

Similar fears and dynamics are at play in Rowling’s fears of “erasing sex” and “letting any man who believes or feels he’s a woman” into women’s bathrooms.

I have to acknowledge my own white womanhood and the history and privilege and power that comes with that. Frequently, white women delude themselves into thinking that they cannot be oppressive to others because they have been oppressed for their gender, and this delusion has negative consequences. Even crying to a Black person about your guilt over racism, a phenomenon dubbed “white woman tears,” is oppressive. It shuts down dialogue, puts the focus on the white woman, and forces POC to comfort her.

We must recognize the sources of our fears when it comes to the “other” and realize that unconscious bias is at play, even for those of us who so desperately don’t want to be racist or transphobic.

Rowling’s latest instance of transphobia comes from her latest novel where the killer is a “transvestite serial killer.” The transphobic media which seems to have shaped Rowling’s views is thus perpetuated by her and so the cycle continues. In August, Rowling returned her Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award after Kerry Kennedy, his daughter, called Rowling’s comments transphobic. Again, Rowling posited herself as a martyr for women’s rights, claiming no award could be as important as following her conscience.

I don’t think Rowling believes herself to be transphobic. In fact, in her essay she says most trans women pose zero threat, acknowledges that trans women of colour are more likely to be affected by violence, and says she wants trans women to be safe. But whether she realizes it or not, she is using and perpetuating stereotypes which harm trans people. Her type of transphobia is more subtle but is just as if not more harmful than outright bigotry. She comes across as reasonable and constructs well-spoken arguments, says she has trans friends and rejects the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) label, so her arguments will be more palatable to people.

She has deluded herself into believing that she is being wrongfully attacked because of misogyny, that she is the victim of a witch hunt. Maybe she doesn’t have any malicious intent — she says she doesn’t — but she is afraid. And a white cishet woman’s fear can lead to real violence and oppression. Beware this type of white cishet woman and call her out on her bullshit, especially if you are also a white cishet woman.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


What BTS’s “Dynamite” says about the American Music Industry

Will the success of these global superstars help bring change to a fundamentally xenophobic industry?

After seven years in the music industry, Bangtan Sonyeondan (better known as BTS) have undoubtedly become one of the biggest boy bands in the world, national treasures in South Korea, and a real threat to the historic dominance of English language music in the world’s biggest music market: the United States.

BTS have the Twitter account with the most engagement. They’re the first group since The Beatles to have three Billboard No. 1 albums within the span of a year. In 2019, Time named BTS among the 100 most influential people in the world, and they have one of the best-selling albums of 2020 globally. They have won the most Daesangs in history (a grand prize presented by the Mnet Asian Music Awards, a major award show in Asia). Despite these accomplishments, their literal ARMY of fans, and their undeniable talent, the group has still struggled to gain recognition and respect in America. That might be changing. 

After having already released a Korean and a Japanese album, collaborations with Korean singers Younha and IU and with American singers Lauv and MAX, a song by member V (Kim Taehyung) for Itaewon Class, a song on SoundCloud by member Jungkook (Jeon Jungkook), and a surprise solo mixtape by member SUGA (Min Yoongi) under the alias Agust D, all in 2020, the group released their single “Dynamite” in August.

The music video for the disco-pop infused “Dynamite” broke the YouTube record for biggest video premiere and the most views in 24 hours with 101.1 million views, while the song itself is the fastest to achieve number one on iTunes in 100 countries. It also had the biggest digital sales week for a song since 2017’s “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift, and debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 — an  achievement that makes them the first Korean artists to achieve this feat, and the first Asian musicians to do so since Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” in 1963.

It’s an incredible moment in BTS’s career; a breakthrough for them into a market which has historically been very averse to non-English music. The catch is that BTS sang “Dynamite” entirely in English, a first for the group who have been credited with helping to spread the Korean language and culture through their music, which is why they became the youngest ever recipients of the Hwarang Order of Cultural Merit from the President of South Korea in 2018.

Before “Dynamite,” the highest a BTS song had ever charted on Billboard was at number four with the lead single from Map of the Soul 7, “ON.” What made the difference this time is that American radio played “Dynamite.” The Hot 100 factors in not only physical and digital sales and streams, but also radio play. Up until “Dynamite,” American radio had largely refused to play the group’s music.

In an article entitled, “Radio, Why Won’t You Play BTS?” for NowThis News, writers Brian Patrick Byrne and Ahir Gopaldas found that BTS had only been played 83,000 times in the past year in the United States, in comparison to Harry Styles who received three times those spins, Taylor Swift who got 18 times that number, and Post Malone who got 27 times that number.

When complaints are made, DJs and radio stations claim American audiences don’t like non-English music, which is simply not true. Map of the Soul 7 was the best-selling album of 2020 in the United States until it was recently beaten by Taylor Swift’s Folklore. Furthermore,  BTS had easily sold out venues like the Staples Center, Rose Bowl, and Citi Field.

When it was announced that BTS would be releasing an English single, fans were interested to see what radio stations would do. If they didn’t play a successful English-language song it would be clear the reason was simply that a Korean group sang it. On the other hand, if they did play the track, it would be clear that the reason prior hits like “Boy with Luv” and “DNA” were ignored was that they were in Korean. As it turns out, radio did the latter.

American award shows also have a bad rap when it comes to BTS, or K-pop and POC in general, but we’ll get to that. When it comes to award shows they tend to only be nominated for categories like “Top Social Artist”  — minor categories not related to their music — so shows can pretend to be diverse and inclusive without having to actually award the group for their talent.

BTS is used to being snubbed but some cases are a little more difficult for award shows to justify. At the 2020 VMAs, BTS was not nominated for “Best Quarantine Performance,” despite setting a Guinness world record for the largest audience for a paid virtual concert with 756,000 viewers for their Bang Bang Con: The Live Concert.

At the 2020 Billboard Music Awards, the group was not nominated for “Top Touring Artist,” despite ranking number three in Billboard’s own year-end chart for Top 40 Tours. The BBMA nominations instead included the number one, two, four, five, and six tours of the year. Maybe someone just needs to teach Billboard how to count.

You could argue that BTS’s music isn’t good enough to be nominated but you’d be wrong, according to critics. 2019’s Map of the Soul: Persona had an average score of 74/100 on Metacritic, while 2020 Grammy nominees Lil Nas X and Ed Sheeran received scores of 57/100.

You could also argue that these awards are meant for American artists, but you’d be wrong again. At the 2020 VMAs, nominees in major categories included The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, The 1975, Harry Styles, and Dua Lipa, who are all Canadian or European. Yet none of them were put in a World or British or Euro category because they all sing in English. When the Beatles got three number one albums in a year they won three Grammys, when BTS did the same they couldn’t even get a nomination.

This leads to another issue when it comes to not only BTS but also K-pop and POC artists at American award shows: racialized categories. In 2019, BTS’s “Boy with Luv” and Blackpink’s “Kill this Love” music videos both broke the record for the most viewed video in 24 hours on YouTube, but they were simply put in the K-pop category at the VMAs, and excluded from Video of the Year. Another nominee in the 2019 Best K-pop category was Monsta X’s “WHO DO U LOVE,” a song sung entirely in English, meaning the nomination was based on ethnicity. Though artists like BTS and Blackpink aren’t exclusively nominated in the racialized K-pop category (both were nominated for best group at the 2019 VMAs), what the “K-pop” category does is help segregate Korean artists and exclude them from major categories.

It says that what they do is different, and implies that this “kind of music” is lesser than. To even lump all K-pop artists together in one category has racist undertones  — there is no sound specific to K-pop. It’s actually known for its incredible diversity and experimentation, but the category implies that it all sounds the same because it’s sung in Korean.

T.O.P. of the K-pop group BIGBANG made a pointed jab in an interview with The Washington Post when he said, “You don’t divide pop music by who’s doing it. We don’t say, for instance, ‘white pop’ when white people make music.”

What these award shows are doing with K-pop, however, is far from new. They’ve been doing it to Black people for decades. Black artists — when nominated at all — have historically been nominated in categories like R&B and hip hop. These genres were unquestionably created by Black people, and have real characteristics. The existence of these categories is not the issue. The issue is that award shows have relegated Black artists to these categories in place of major ones, regardless of the actual genre of the music they make.

For some perspective, Beyoncé is the most Grammy-nominated woman of all time but most of her wins are in racialized categories. Though nominated three times for album of the year she has lost to Adele, Beck, and Taylor Swift.

So winning in categories like “Best K-pop” or “Best R&B” has become a sort of second-place trophy. In 2020 Tyler, the Creator won a Grammy for Best Rap Album but criticized the Grammys for placing “guys that look like me” in rap and urban categories, calling the categorization of his music as rap “a backhanded compliment.”  

A 1999 piece in the New York Times about world music written by ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne feels very relevant to how K-pop, R&B, hip hop, and rap are treated:

“In my experience, the term world music is a way of dismissing artists or their music as irrelevant to one’s own life. It’s a way of relegating this ‘thing’ into the realm of something exotic and therefore cute, weird but safe, because exotica is beautiful but irrelevant; they are, by definition, not like us. Maybe that’s why I hate the term. It groups everything and anything that isn’t ‘us’ into ‘them.’ This grouping is a convenient way of not seeing a band or artist as a creative individual, albeit from a culture somewhat different from that seen on American television. It’s a label for anything at all that is not sung in English or anything that doesn’t fit into the Anglo-Western pop universe this year.”

How BTS is treated is not the exception, it’s representative of an industry built on racism and xenophobia. They have been subjected to both microaggressions and outright racism both to their faces in interviews and in how the media talks about them. Complimenting leader and rapper RM (Kim Namjoon)’s English, asking them if they’re surprised about their success in America, being infantilized, interviewers not learning their names or doing research, focusing on the white people who work with them, comparing them to white people, etc.

These incidents dwell on BTS’s otherness, diminish and discredit their talent. It implies that someone from a non-English speaking country is less intelligent and deserving, and that to be successful a white person needs to be involved.

This language can also flirt with the racist trope that all Asians look alike — during their second appearance on Ellen, the host made BTS introduce themselves again because they had changed their hair. In a segment on Australia’s Channel 9, comedian Jimmy Carr said, “When I first heard something Korean had exploded in America, I got worried, so I guess it could have been worse, but not much worse.” In that same segment, the hosts called their names (half of which are their real ethnic names) “gangster,” suggested that they should get rid of four members, and joked that the group spoke about hair products during their speech at the UN.

BTS have only recently begun to speak out on the racism and xenophobia they have experienced in America. Weverse Magazine (created by the entertainment company that manages BTS) recently highlighted an incident earlier this year on The Howard Stern Show where, days after BTS visited the station, staff member Sal Governale said, “There’s no way those guys don’t have coronavirus.” In a recent interview with Reuters RM said, “Since we’re like aliens to the music industry for America so (sic) we don’t know if there’s a place for us or not.” It’s also incredibly heartwarming to see the group support the fight for Black Lives Matter, making a million dollar donation to the cause (which was matched by fans), and making a statement, cementing their status as socially conscious global artists.

“Dynamite” seems to be changing the tides for BTS in the American music industry: they’re getting radio play, proper media coverage, and being asked about their music rather than their favourite colour in interviews. The success of “Dynamite” is bittersweet for fans. It’s deserved of course, but it’s unfortunate that the group had to sing in English to finally get what they deserve in America, and it exposes the industry’s xenophobia.

To someone unfamiliar with BTS it might seem like they’ve finally caved after years of being asked to make music in English or like they’re selling out to please the western music industry. However, lyricism has been important to members of BTS since their debut in 2013, particularly with rappers RM, SUGA, and J-Hope (Jung Hoseok), who have songwriting credits for most of the 145+ songs in their discography. BTS is also known in K-pop for their lyrical content, which is generally deeper and more clever than the general public in America knows.

From criticizing the rigid school system in Korea, societal expectations placed on young people and generational disparities, to discussing mental health, grief, growing up, self-love, and references to analytical psychology, German literature, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, the legend of the Pied Piper, the novels of Haruki Murakami, The Little Prince, Greek mythology, and the Japanese cartoon superhero Anpanman, BTS sing about it all.

“Dynamite” has a simple generic message of positivity which is the exception in their discography  — as is the fact that none of the members have songwriting credits for it  — so it’s a shame that the general public will continue to believe the group just makes generic happy pop music. At a press conference for “Dynamite,” RM said, “It doesn’t have an overarching macro-level message. Sometimes, simpler messages really get across.”

Language is an important part of identity and art, something English speakers often forget because our language and culture is everywhere. So despite RM’s fluency in English, part of his artistry, and the artistry of the other members, lies in the Korean language with which they create wordplay and poetry that just wouldn’t translate into English, and that is part of the beauty of it. And yet “Dynamite” was completely in English.

After hearing the demo, which was written by David Stewart and Jessica Agombar, the group thought it was perfect as it was, and thought singing in English would be a nice challenge. While doing promotions for the single, BTS have made it clear that they will continue recording music primarily in Korean, that singing “Dynamite” in English was an exception. Thus with the anticipated release of yet another BTS album before the end of 2020, it will be very interesting to see how it is handled in the United States after “Dynamite’s” triumph.

Though it’s important to criticize the industry, we also need to change our perspective that you need to “make it” in America in order to be a successful and important artist — that perspective is deeply western-centric. BTS doesn’t need a Grammy, they have already proven their talent in countless ways throughout their career and been recognized for it by fans, the UN, the South Korean government, and Asian award shows. However, they have repeatedly expressed their desire to perform a solo stage at the Grammys (the group performed “Old Town Road” alongside Lil Nas X in 2020) and to be nominated for and win a Grammy, so their fans are trying to make it happen for them.

Bong Joon-ho’s Best Picture win at the 2020 Oscars for Parasite, and the Recording Academy’s effort to diversify their membership (who vote for the Grammys) by inviting BTS and the CEO of their label to join, are signs of positive change. Not just for recognition and respect for BTS in the west or even for Korean artists, but for all non-English, non-western art. The industry can’t keep the doors closed to non-English music much longer; the world is becoming much too globalized, and fans can easily spot its cop outs and performative diversity. The industry might think that BTS have started playing by their rules, but it’ll be in a tough spot when they drop a Korean album in the next few months, which, like anything BTS touches will inevitably be successful. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled to see what the industry does with BTS in the future.

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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