Cynicism is a growing phenomenon in music. Real love songs are hard to find these days. Named after Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Yellow Diamonds is a lyric series in which VIBE editor Austin Williams celebrates songs that sound like love found in a hopeless mainstream.
“I want to hear you craziest RnB takes”, a Twitter user declared Sunday (April 10). In a quote tweet, I responded noting how loveless the genre has become. “It’s whole projects these days with not a single song about being truly in love,” I wrote. That might sound like a harsh assessment of a genre that’s been in the best critical and commercial spot for years, but the statement is nonetheless grounded in truth. Sadness is overrepresented in today’s R&B, with few albums venturing to portray the love that often precedes heartache. An exception to this rule is Syd’s broken hearts club.
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broken hearts club it doesn’t sound like that I expected most other heartbreak R&B albums to sound today. A dividing line could be drawn near SZA CTRL, released in 2017, after which albums about insecurities, romantic disillusions and ni**as not being shit began to omit the love stories that precede loss. As resonant as these post-CTRL the discs work like those of Summer Walker Above and always on it and Jazmine Sullivan Tales of Heaux distilling a dissatisfaction with dating that filters much of the fun out of looking for love in the first place. Outside of the occasional sex song, the harrowing albums of the past five years have rarely had much to say about the original bonds that eventually faltered.
That’s why I’m so smitten with songs like Syd’s “Out Loud” broken hearts club. Like “Sweet,” a bent-knee ballad I covered earlier this week, “Out Loud” is a chapter of the album’s narrative detailing the beginning and middle of what was once thought to be a worthwhile relationship. . Writing alongside Kehlani about people who are reluctant to love their partner in public the way they do in private, the duo aren’t completely happy. But it contains frustration subtle enough to serve as a seamless transition to the album’s saddest records.
Because of songs like “Sweet” and “Out Loud”, broken hearts club the final three tracks – “BMHWDY”, “Goodbye My Love” and “Missing Out” – land with more weight than they would if despondency dominated the track listing. In a recent Uproxx interview with Wongo Okon, Syd explained his decision to give the album a lighter touch.
Responding to a question from Okon about how she avoided making an album that sounded “bitter,” Syd replied, “What happened was I wrote a few songs, I thought I was going to take that grief and channel it, and it just didn’t go over well. It looked mean and I was like, ‘Okay, no, I think I have to heal first.’ »
The result of this healing is a project that tells a holistic story about what happens before and after grief. Essentially, the 29-year-old needed to step back and turn her phone sideways to take in a bigger picture of what she had just been through. Though she’s one of the few big-name artists to do so in today’s R&B landscape, Syd joined a decades-long tradition of stars who dug deep enough to deliver three-dimensional takes on the heartache of ‘love.
At Beyoncé Lemonade (2016), an album written in response to Jay-Z’s infidelity and the broader plight of black women, there are songs like “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” that contemplate reconciliation. Frank Ocean’s Blond (also 2016), an album so sad that people joke about the state of the world every time it re-enters the Billboard 200, there are bright spots like “Pink + White” and “Godspeed” – the former is a song about learning to love and the latter celebrates the resilience of love even once it’s gone. is more within reach. And on Here my dear– Marvin Gaye’s 1978 divorce album, initially panned, which later garnered retrospective praise – the acrimony of a bitter breakup is briefly interrupted by the uplifting track “Everybody Needs Love”.
At the risk of exaggerating how broken hearts club Living up to these classics, it’s fair to note that what they have in common is the belief that there’s more to heartache than the feeling itself. This belief is skillfully detailed in the anxiety, and ultimately love, expressed in the lyrics of “Out Loud.”
I was wondering
Are we anything?
Or is it just out of my hands?
Out of my hands (Mm, ooh)
I can’t ignore it (ignore it)
Do not understand
Why didn’t you tell your friends
I would like you to call them
tell them all about me
How do you feel around me
How do you feel about it
You can’t live without it
Tell them what I do for you
Let them know that I adore you
Tell ’em, baby (Tell ’em, baby)
Tell ’em, baby (Tell ’em, baby)
With most of the production on broken heart club Inspired by the brilliance of ’90s R&B music, “Out Loud” is one of the few songs on the album that deviates from this sonic formula. On an acoustic guitar, Syd begins her verse feeling uncertain about her relationship status. After songs like “Fast Car” and “Sweet,” “Out Loud” comes to a point in the album’s narrative just outside of the honeymoon phase, when it’s time to introduce your new relationship to the world. .
Yet, in the context of the record, that did not happen. Instead, Syd wonders why the love she gave was kept a secret for so long. What’s remarkable about this verse, as well as the rest of the song, is that it contains no presumptions. Syd’s partner’s reluctance is not met with an accusation of cheating or even a suggestion that such reluctance is intentional. Rather than letting her confusion escalate into confrontation, Syd offers heartfelt reassurance and affirmation.
“Tell ’em what I do for you / Let ’em know I adore you,” she sings. These are not the words of a person yet disillusioned by disappointment. Making sure someone who isn’t doing the right thing knows how much you love them requires subtle optimism. A much more cynical approach would be to completely cut off access to affection. Although with a little more vigor, Kehlani also maintains a certain tenderness in the following verse.
Why are you suddenly silent?
Why are you suddenly shy?
Suddenly you’re not mine anymore
You’ve been mine for a while
Make sounds all night long
I took you too high
You could never deny me to your neighbors’ ears
The eyes of strangers watching us as we pass
Because I liked you
So what is all this silence?
Baby, you ain’t gotta hide at all
It would be remiss not to recognize the importance of two queer singer-songwriters encouraging their partners to love them out loud. Along with Syd’s ambition to avoid making bitter work, this may be another reason why “Out Loud” sounds more anxious than angry. Like internet singer Kehlnai, who recently revealed she responds to the pronouns she/they, also implores her partner to remember her love whenever he feels the need to hide.
The slickest part of Kehlani’s verse hits near the end: “You could never deny me in your neighbors’ ears / The eyes of strangers watching us as we pass.” This is perhaps the best writing of the song.
Although a person can hide the exclusivity, intention and even the origin of their relationship, there is little chance that they can hide the love of said relationship. Because when true love is there, people notice. Even if your walls are thicker than Kehlani’s and you’re a bit more conservative about PDA, the people closest to you—those who probably matter enough for you to cheat on them in the first place—will still know when you are in love. Whether it’s in your eyes, your cryptic social media posts, or your curious absences from group gatherings, there’s always a sign that someone new is entering your life.
As they sing, “I used to like you / So what’s with all the silence? / Baby, you ain’t gotta hide at all,” Kehlani seems interested in creating a space that’s just as affirmative for their partner as he is for them.
go ahead and say it
Go ahead and say it out loud
I want you to tell me now
Usually you run your mouth
I don’t know what you running
I don’t know what you running from now on
I know where you come from now
I just wanna hear it out loud (Say it out loud)
The chorus of “Out Loud” is sung three different ways: by Syd and a choir, then by Kehlani and a choir, and finally by both singers and a choir. Each take sounds more triumphant than the last, as if the listener were meant to assume that each singer’s call had been heard and met with a happy resolution (of course, that would later prove not to be the case).
When I think about how attached R&B fans are to albums that validate their love pain, I think about how the opposite seems to be true in Hip-Hop. Most emotionally mature rap fans would agree, no matter how cathartic Drake and Future’s music can be, there’s something annoying about hearing them lament the same failed relationships album after album. At various points, I’ve found the two men’s songs to be mildly likable, if not entirely relatable, but never enough to argue that the “Toxic King” music doesn’t have the potential to feel a little banal. I think sad boy/girl music should be held on a similar level.
Perhaps the reason it’s not viewed that way has more to do with the average person’s actual experience than their taste in music. Earlier this year, I interviewed Muni Long about “Hrs and Hrs,” her 2021 viral hit and signature love song. Speaking about the making of the record and how it challenges the cynicism that has gripped the genre, Long explained, “It’s true. I have been married for eight years now. It will be eight years in June. And I really appreciate the privacy. Like, hanging out, non-verbal communication, all those things. And I don’t care if people feel too cool or if they feel like it’s cheesy or whatever. Because you wouldn’t say that if you had actually experienced it.
If this lack of experience explains the lack of love in R&B music today, then the world has a larger problem that can’t just be thought of in terms of songs and albums. As VIBE’s R&B reporter Mya Abraham cleverly observed in a recent essay, singers who bravely share their pain offer a “sympathetic embrace” to those who connect with such stories.
As someone who has experienced an abundance of love in their life, all I can do as a listener is keep looking for music that embraces my good fortune. Today happens to be the snapshots of joy throughout broken hearts club.
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