Bartees Strange Gives In To Lawless Creation

By Danielle Chelosky

Over a span of five years, friends and bandmates pulled musician Bartees Cox Jr. aside to tell him, You need to quit those bands you’re in and start your own. “I had multiple friends who were like, dude, what are you doing? You’ve got to focus on your own stuff,” Bartees recalls as we talk on the phone early in September. “I was like, no, it’s not good enough.” He had put himself in a box.

His main gig was as guitarist and vocalist in a New York-based emo quartet called Stay Inside, founded in 2016 when future bandmate Chris Johns answered Bartees’s Craigslist ad, and they discovered they had the same birthday. “I was like, oh, wow, super cosmic, we’re both Aquariuses,” Bartees says. Along with Vishnu Anantha and Bryn Nieboer, who worked with Bartees at a 3-D printing company, they started churning out noisy, idiosyncratic post-hardcore anthems and played what Bartees considers some of the best shows of his life.

But in 2020, Bartees stands on his own under the name Bartees Strange. His debut album Live Forever, out October 2 on Memory Music, proves that his friends and bandmates were right; he is at his most powerful when he is in full control of his art, and when he is refusing to be put in a box or categorized as a genre. From the energetic, post-punk essence of “Mustang” to the poignant, acoustic ambiance of “Far,” the album inhabits a multitude of sonic spaces, including rap on infectious tracks like “Kelly Rowland” and “Boomer.” Still, it took a lot to get to this point.

His eclectic musical background helps to explain the diversity of Live Forever. Bartees grew up in Oklahoma around music, surrounded by “church choirs, country music, and hardcore bands,” as the press release puts it, since he was young. “I could hear similarities,” he says about the three. “I always felt like I wanted to show how they were connected to my friends.” His heart, though, belonged to the Midwest emo scene: “When I started rolling around with friends in high school and meeting punks and hardcore kids and people playing thrash, I felt like I fit in somewhere,” he explains because, in the punk community, no one is interested in boxes or limitations — the point is to go against the current, to do something new. “Everyone looked crazy. Everyone had piercings in their face and crazy hair and they were drug addicts and people dealing with shit like I was dealing with shit. No one was staring at me all of the time.”

Something clicked in the midst of the madness of hardcore. “To see people break form and make sound without really knowing how to use their instruments was really refreshing and showed me how lawless creation could be,” he says. “I fell in love with that.”

His temptation toward this “lawless creation” contrasted with his previous notion of what he was supposed to be. He worked intense jobs in New York — where he moved in 2016 — felt drained, and ultimately hated himself. This caused tension for years. “I was trying to be this successful, young, smart, Black person that is just kind of a fairytale,” he says. Things were off musically, also: “Brooklyn was an amazing place to play and learn, but I didn’t think anyone was gonna hear my music if I stayed there,” he says. “It’s too noisy. I kept getting distracted. I wanted to play in every band and I want to record every person and produce every little thing. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the rat race.”

One day, he got to his job in Midtown Manhattan to find it swarmed with police and fire trucks. Two people — a married couple whom Bartees was friendly with because they owned the office next to his — had jumped out the window. “I had just seen them the day before, and then they were dead,” Bartees says. The opening lyrics of the extravagant “Mustang” are his poetic contemplations on this moment: “A man bled out this morning, I’m the antecedent / This was not the first time I fell in my arms.” He translates: “I felt like I hadn’t done enough for someone who passed away. Those feelings go back to when I was very young and losing people who I wish I would’ve been there for.”

He left New York for Washington, D.C. on a mission. “I started slowly rearranging my life,” he says, giving himself over to that lawless creation and giving up on what he presumed was expected of him. After five years of advice and encouragement, he finally started his own band, Bartees and the Strange Fruit, later to unfurl as Bartees Strange.

Even before Live Forever’s release, Bartees Strange has become a known quantity. The groundwork was laid earlier this year on his first EP, Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, a set of covers of songs by ornate indie-rock stalwarts The National. His reverence for the source material blended with a bold reimagining of it, earning praise from frontman Matt Berninger, Hayley Williams, and even more surprisingly, Ryan Reynolds. “Uh, no, I didn’t expect any of that, at all,” Bartees says, bursting into laughter, and then giving the chaser: “Ryan Reynolds sent me a selfie this morning.” He is in a seemingly never-ending state of bewilderment, and reasonably so.

And it’s not just that Bartees’s National covers are good; they prove something. “I was really trying to assert that the way the music industry exists — that there are so few successful Black rock bands or Black indie bands that have had careers like The National — is a problem, considering our contributions,” he explains. “It’s, like, really fucked up.”

Julia Leiby

This idea carries over into Live Forever. On the intense “Mossblerd,” which Bartees describes as the “mission statement of the record,” he reckons with representation in not only the music scene but in life. It’s about the limitations of genres, stressing “how important it is that contributions from Black artists in rock, and other spaces that aren’t stereotypical, are normalized.” But the word genre works on a larger level — “like a stereotype, almost like a role you’ve been assigned,” Bartees says — especially when he raps about the incarceration of his older brother.

“If you grow up and you live in a poor neighborhood and you’re Black,” says Bartees, “and the only things you’ve seen on TV and the only songs you’ve heard and the only examples you’ve ever seen are poor Black people or crime or horrible news stories — in my mind, they all roll up into a genre.” He laments how his nephew, his older brother’s son, is inevitably falling prey to this cycle that is almost impossible to break: “I see that he’s a brilliant kid and has so much to offer, but he’s only seen what these genres tell him he is. And it limits him.”

Live Forever is, in many ways, Bartees transcending the boxes he’s been put in. He learned how to engineer and produce to overcome his struggle with bringing his visions to life; he accepted his fate as an artist rather than working a stable, prestigious job that he felt pressured to hold; he is asserting his place in a music scene where he rarely sees representation. “I want to fly close to the sun, too, even if I flame out,” he says. The 11 tracks that make up Live Forever show Bartees in flight; he is free and ambitious, dipping in and out of indie rock, rap, and jazz — exploring as much territory as possible in order to express himself.

“There are so many things that are so completely uncontrollable,” Bartees says, “but I feel like making this record was an exercise in learning more about who I am. I can build any world I want — whatever music, whatever art, whatever I want to make,” and he adds, “even if it doesn’t fit into a little box.”

Taylor Swift’s Folklore Just Netted The Artist Her Latest Career Milestone

Earlier this year, Taylor Swift reached a big milestone with her surprise eighth album, Folklore, when she became the first artist in history to debut at the top of both the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and the Billboard 200 album chart. And the accolades keep coming.

On Sunday (September 27), Billboard reported that Folklore has once again become the No. 1 album in the country, replacing YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s Top. In once again assuming the top spot, Folklore celebrates its seventh nonconsecutive week at No. 1 — and Swift herself has bypassed Whitney Houston to become the female artist with the most cumulative weeks at No. 1, across all of her albums. Swift has now spent 47 weeks at the top of the chart.

Billboard notes how Swift’s strategy of sending signing CD copies of Folklore to smaller, independent record shops — as well as her offering them through her own online store — has paid off. She’s also kept busy promoting Folklore even during a time when the live-music industry is effectively shut down; she performed “Betty” at the 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards on September 16 and has released “chapters” of songs from the album on social platforms, creating another kind of listening experience.

Swift’s first No. 1 album was 2008’s Fearless, and each subsequent LP she released hit No. 1 as well. Her new running total of 47 weeks at No. 1 across her discography beats Houston’s previous record of 46, which she had held since 1987.

Billboard points out that Adele is right behind at 34 weeks — and even despite fans’ hopes that a new Adele LP might be in the cards for 2020, the singer shared on Instagram in August that she had “no idea” when her next album might drop.

SuperM Unite: K-pop’s Avengers Call For Togetherness On Super One

Halfway through Super One, the first full-length studio album from the South Korean band SuperM, something unexpected happens. After the breakout single “Tiger Inside,” a fearsome composition of guttural growls and clapping beats, cools off, its fiery sound gives way to the twinkling piano keys of the group’s first ballad, “Better Days.” It’s a hopeful song about overcoming hard times collectively, and with its slow-burning, ‘90s-tinged nostalgia, it seems at once outside the group’s typically boisterous sound and perfectly placed. The dichotomous arrangement of the two tracks resonates as the sonic equivalent of reaching the peak of a mountain, then looking out over a cloudy expanse, off to “better days, better days, better days” — and toward forever. You realize the world is so small.

“The lyrics are, kind of, very healing,” the 24-year-old Thai singer Ten says of the track during a Zoom press conference. After he speaks, his six collaborators — Taemin, Baekhyun, Kai, Taeyong, Mark, and Lucas — clap and cheer wildly in response. “I think people, when you listen to ‘Better Days,’ you can get that energy that we, us together, can make a better day.”

The “Avengers of K-pop” have been making history since they arrived on the circuit less than a year ago. The first K-pop supergroup, comprised of seven key members from acts under the parent company SM Entertainment (SHINee, EXO, NCT 127, WayV), their eponymous EP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first Korean artists to do so with a first release. Their sound became synonymous with the electricity of their earliest, instantly iconic single, “Jopping,” a formula followed by “2 Fast” and “Super Car.” That inherent energy is perhaps what made their work immediately appropriate for big-stadium tours: They embarked on their first world tour, We Are the Future Live, months after their debut, concluding at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden. It’s also what makes their first ballad such an outlier within their catalog, albeit perfectly at home on Super One.

“We all need to come together and unite,” 27-year-old Taemin declares of the LP’s core message with the help of a translator. “We all need to come together to overcome rather than just the individuals.” That notion resonates immediately and poignantly while the group speaks to a group of journalists separated by continents and a global pandemic; at the end of the chat, they pose for selfies with smiles and peace signs for the digital grid of writers. This experience, a yearning to be together while being forced apart, is framed on the bumping, radio-ready English closing track “With You,” which was previously performed during Global Citizen’s Lady Gaga-curated One World: Together At Home benefit livestream. But the notion appears throughout, as on “Tiger Inside,” about unleashing one’s inner strength.

Courtesy of SM Entertainment

Though collective healing might be the driving theme of Super One, it’s equally defined by its eclecticism. It grooves into R&B on “Step Up” and “So Long,” while the album’s titular opus, “One (Monster & Infinity),” a hybrid remix, is an all-out banger with a gooey techno beat. The track might give SHINee fans flashbacks: It’s the first medley of its kind from an SM group since “Sherlock (Clue + Note).” “When I recorded ‘Sherlock’ with SHINee back in the day, at that time, it was like one of the first times we were doing this, so it felt very experimental,” Taemin adds. “At that time, I was a little worried but not worried about how this would end up sounding at the end of the recording process… A lot of people might think that mixing two songs together is, kind of, quite tall of a task, but we were able to do it, and I’m really happy with the results.”

A debut album is a symbolic, defining moment for an artist’s career; on Super One, SuperM are both the sum of their parts while also transcending that, a unique symbiosis among larger-than-life singular talents. And yet, there’s still more for the boys to learn along the way: “I’m sure everyone feels the same way but, as artists, when we start out our careers, I can’t help but to feel that a lot of the moments that we go through feel like we’re still trying to get there, like we’re not fully there yet,” 25-year-old Taeyong says. “There are a lot of moments where it might’ve felt like a failure but actually, everything was like a step to build up what they have now.”

Zayn Sounds Happy On ‘Better’ — And Looks Like A Million Bucks In The Video

A day after announcing that he and Gigi Hadid have welcomed a baby daughter into the world, Zayn has welcomed another creation into this earthly realm: his latest single, “Better,” a lovely slice of R&B pop anchored by Z’s massive, massive voice.

The breezy, endearing song debuted alongside a sparse but stately video, where the heavily tattooed new daddy Zaddy dresses himself in fine menswear and stares moodily out the window of a nice house — all while he’s being spied on. Like a celebrity. Or an actual spy.

As Zayn sings with red highlighted hair, “Your dad probably loves me more than he ever did now / ‘Cause I finally got out / Yeah, we finally knocked down,” there’s a palpable air of second chances throughout “Better,” and it’s tempting to read his on-and-off relationship with Hadid into it, especially now, given their new beginning as parents.

On the simple cooing pre-chorus, Zayn repeats “I love you” over some thoroughly nocturnal and subterranean guitar lines. In the video, he does little more than slowly put on a shirt and a jacket while delivering the song’s climbing melody, but it’s Zayn, so it’s worth watching.

“Better” is the first new bit of music from Zayn since last year’s “Trampoline” remix with SHAED and “Flames” alongside R3hab and Jungleboi. His most recent album, Icarus Falls, dropped at the end of 2018.

If 2020 is indeed the start of some new chapters for Zayn — both in his music career and his own family — then things seem to be going quite well. Check out “Better” above.

Sad13’s Power-Pop Memories, Anthony Ramos’s Feel-Good Exhale, And More Songs We Love

Every now and then, I get this itch to drop everything, change my hair, and become a dancing gay Brooklyn bartender à la Coyote Ugly, never mind the fact that I can’t dance. I thought I might be alone in my disputatious daydreams until I heard Chappell Roan’s “Pink Pony Club.” The rising pop starlet has been charting her takeover since signing with Atlantic Records as a teen, and the dusty yet decadent single is a promising sign of what’s to come. In a rhinestone cowboy hat, Roan starts off slow with visions of “a special place where boys and girls can all be queens every single day,” letting the soft keys give way to a triumphant electronic chorus reminiscent of Kacey Musgraves’s “High Horse.” Her voice reads as hallowed as the halls she sings about, and there’s a palpable electricity in its glitzy video, as she gives a stadium-ready performance to a group of bored barflies. Add in a couple of cameos from RuPaul’s Drag Race legends like Meatball and Porkchop, and she’s got me already booking my ticket to L.A. —Carson Mlnarik

The Glam Grief In Sad13’s Haunted Painting

By Caitlin Wolper

Sadie Dupuis and a fellow poet were looking for ghosts. Rooming at the same supposedly haunted hotel, they took photos and stayed up until 4 a.m., but found nothing. It wasn’t until the next day that Dupuis — a vocalist and guitarist for Speedy Ortiz, who performs solo as Sad13 — came across a presence in Seattle’s Frye Art Museum. She was immediately obsessed with it.

It was a portrait of the dancer Saharet by Franz von Stuck. Dressed in green, a red flower in her hair, Saharet appears benign at first. But after a moment, you notice the dark circles under her eyes — a stark contrast to her very red lips and intensely pale skin. The utter weariness of those circles adds a hyperrealistic depth, a whisper of sorts: She’s seen something. This portrait primarily inspired Dupuis’s new album, Haunted Painting, out September 25.

While a painting is tethered to one moment, to call it haunted imagines an entire life behind it. Haunted Painting is much the same. Beneath a veneer of synth pop, bubbly beats, and deft lyricism hides loss, mental health struggles, and environmental disasters.

“When my dad passed away in 2015, I basically went right back to work: I had a record that was about to come out, and I was in a shocked state of grief — not in denial about it, but not really ready to process it,” Dupuis tells MTV News. “I remember doing a big interview the day after the funeral. I remember going to SXSW maybe two weeks later, going on tour for most of the next two years, and not really sitting with that or processing it … I just kept creating work for myself so I could be working all the time and not have to deal with my mental health.”

That’s particularly clear on “Good Grief,” where she bemoans the distance between them, singing, “I’m taking the loss best I can.” Dupuis wrote the song while he was still alive, as a way to say, “I’ll be OK, Dad!” but unfortunately, he passed before she completed it.

Death and grief haunt these songs. Dupuis recorded two of Haunted Painting’s tracks — “Good Grief” and “Oops…!” — at New Monkey, the Van Nuys, California studio of deceased singer-songwriter Elliott Smith; one of Dupuis’s musical heroes, he’s the first whose passing she remembers. It was after that studio session that, stuck in a 22-hour layover at LAX in August 2019, she heard of the death of David Berman, a musician and poet, best known for his band Silver Jews. From this compounded grief came “The Crow,” a creeping track with arresting, gritty guitar interludes and jarring lyrics: “The future just confounds me / He’s dead, I’m drinking at Taix / Faint-hearted bottle blond hiding out ‘til the smoke just passes.”

“While the record’s about grief, it’s also partially about having to reconcile with the fact that love is not enough to keep people with you all the time, and your heroes can make beautiful art but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be here forever, and trying to learn to understand and cope with those kinds of losses,” Dupuis says.

Haunted Painting also reckons with the loss of Dupuis’s friends to drug overdose. Specifically, in 2019, three of her friends died within a couple weeks of each other; she found this reactivated OCD symptoms she hadn’t experienced since childhood. She explores this resurgence on “Ruby Wand,” perhaps her most lyrically direct work, orchestrated with mathematical synths she feels echo her experiences with OCD. As she sings “I need control,” the song explodes into cacophony; she compares it to musical theater.

“My own OCD symptoms are very much about wanting control and wanting to do homework for things that aren’t homework, just to have a place for my brain to focus,” Dupuis says. “A very over-the-top, guitar-heavy, out-of-control moment feels like what it’s like to go through these intensely obsessional, invasive fixation periods when things feel out of control.”

And it’s not just death and loss that are out of her control. Dupuis also reckons with the climate crisis on “WTD?” and misogynistic, offensive comedians on “Hysterical.” She challenges: “You’re in it for the fight, right? / You clamor for the gore / You can’t hide that lust anymore.” It’s a world’s worth of outrages packed densely into the album — all that keeps it from bursting is Dupuis’s careful attention to language, fitting words like “mellifluous” and “febrile” in her songs so seamlessly that neither the emotional takeaway nor the accessibility of the music itself are interrupted.

But despite its ghosts, Haunted Painting can be ecstatic. “With Baby” is a glittery track that hinges on “kissing the hero in the photo booth.” In the music video for “Oops…!” Dupuis is a saccharine vampire dressed in her mod best, baking with blood; in “Hysterical” she watches nonchalantly, ordering a pizza, as her friends are murdered by ghosts over video chat, her YouTube sidebar exclusively populated with Wallace Shawn.

These splashes of humor, especially in the “Hysterical” video, are essential in maintaining balance and levity among grief. And it’s so clear in Dupuis, the person, too: Merch for the album has ranged from your standard vinyl to a haunted hot sauce, haunted breakfast tea, and haunted hazelnut spread.

In part, she gets to make such silly, winky products because on this album, Dupuis is fully in control of everything from production to promotion. She’s releasing Haunted Painting herself through indie label Wax Nine. While she finished mixing the album in December, she did say that “the slowing down that is a necessary byproduct of being in a global emergency has made me look at different aspects of the release cycle in a way that’s special.” For example, she plays nearly every instrument on the album — that makes livestreams an interesting challenge.

While she’s not sure if she’ll write deeper into this grief in the future, environmental and economic disasters are still top of mind. “WTD?” was inspired by an article she read about “housing in the ocean that would be impervious to rising sea levels, obviously for the uber wealthy — [I felt] anger at the idea that the benefactors of huge industries that are causing the greatest impact to our climate will be the first to be able to colonize another part of not only our planet, but also space.” After all, these issues are ongoing.

“While it’s a nice utopian fantasy to imagine a world where we’re not constantly working against so much,” she laughs wryly, “I imagine that’s probably too optimistic.”

But don’t read Dupuis as pessimistic, either. In “Good Grief” she sings to her father, “Anytime I make a big sound, that’s when I feel you.” Haunted Painting serves in many ways as a memoriam, but it’s also a tribute to the memory of those lost, and a commitment to keep moving forward.

BTS Bring Fall-Ready ’70s Disco Threads To Intimate Tiny Desk Concert

Last month, ahead of their staggering set of wins at the 2020 VMAs, BTS broke down their latest smash, “Dynamite,” to MTV News. “It’s a really fun disco-pop track about doing what we can do, even when things don’t work out as planned,” RM said.

But even as 2020 has been the year of things not quite working out they way we planned them, BTS has continued to thrive. “Dynamite” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The group picked up four VMAs, including one for Best Pop. And now, even if they can’t rock stadiums with their live spectacle, the group is still making it happen: Their latest performance for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert series is proof.

The group brought “Dynamite” to life to kick things off, seated in a row and bedecked in their best ’70s attire — flared collars and pant legs and a sea of fall-ready earth tones — from a record shop in Seoul. It’s cool to see the group perform this way, backed up by a band behind them for what’s essentially an intimate in-store moment. And it’s the first time they performed the track with the band to accompany them.

BTS take advantage of that added muscle. For “Save Me,” the piano-led rhythm and live drums lend the track a stadium-grandeur quality, even as the action remains grounded in the diverse vocalizations between all seven members. After, “Spring Day” ends their set on a note of hope, thanks to a preface from RM: “This has been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come, so let’s go together.”

It’s in keeping with a similar message J-Hope told MTV News in that same pre-VMAs interview about “Dynamite.” “We hope this song can be your energy,” he said. If the electrifying, show-stopping VMAs debut can’t be – or if you need just a little more, perhaps something autumnal and sweet — continue the vibes with BTS’s engrossing new Tiny Desk concert above.

Trixie Mattel’s Twangy Cover, Aquihayaquihay’s Sunny Future, And More Songs We Love

Pop music has a new rising star, and she comes from a pretty impressive pedigree. On her new single “Strangers,” Lulu Simon, daughter of Paul Simon and Edie Brickell, gets breezily bitter about an ex who can’t quite accept that a relationship has met its expiration. Over a stacked production of ’80s synths and electronica pops, Simon’s lyrics read like a diary or a heated string of texts — you know, the unhinged ones you send in quick succession to a friend when you’ve got some feelings and you’ve got to get them out. Considering that her sarcastic yet sweet debut “Wasted” is just as much of a bop, it looks like there’s more where that came from. —Carson Mlnarik

Justin Bieber And Chance The Rapper Sing A Song Of Praise In ‘Holy’ Video

Justin Bieber‘s new era is here — and he’s taken a job working at an oil plant.

At least, that’s the Bieber we see in his folksy new video for “Holy,” a five-minute parable that feels as wholesome as a Hallmark movie. It’s about the trials and hardships of love and life, but not quite in the same way as his 2020 album Changes. Most notably different is the absence of his wife, Hailey, and the fact that the sepia-soaked vision finds Bieber playing a character. No, he’s not playing Drake this time; instead, he’s just a guy trying to keep it all together.

As Bieber said on social media ahead of the “Holy” release, he — along with the creative team behind the visual, led by director Colin Tilley — views it not as just a music video, but as a movie. So, in this particular film, Bieber and his romantic partner (played by Ryan Destiny) are blue-collar, everyday people, he at his oil gig and she in her element at a nursing home. They wake up staring into each other’s eyes and kiss in front of sunset-glowing windows.

It’s all very nice. But some bad things happen: His plant shuts down and his job disappears. She loses a beloved patient. They lose their place to live. Remember, though, that this song is called “Holy,” and that its we-can-make-it-as-long-as-we’re-together refrain goes, “The way you hold me / Feels so holy,” with a bunch of repetitions thrown in. I won’t spoil the ending, but you can guess the general direction of the resolution. (What you probably won’t guess is the presence of Wilmer Valderrama, who arrives just in time.)

Musically, “Holy” revels in mid-tempo gospel-influenced pop, which makes the perfect backdrop over which guest Chance the Rapper can do his thing, including rapping, “I know we believe in God and I know God believes in us.” Bieber himself switches up his singing style slightly, taking a step or two away from R&B to better accommodate the more spiritual new terrain.

It’s been billed in the lead-up as Bieber’s “new era,” and “Holy” does indeed seem to signal a new period for the pop star, who had spent most of late 2019 and early 2020 re-emerging as a reformed bad boy who’d settled into a loving and fruitful marriage (and made an entire album and docuseries about it). Watch Bieber and Chance’s new music video movie, “Holy,” above.

Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video

“We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.”

That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic refrain with clear gospel influences. It’s Monáe’s take on a contemporary protest song, a call for a political sea change, in the vein of, say, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

And on Tuesday (September), Monáe released a moving music video — or, as she calls it, an emotion picture — that solidified that message. The visual opens and closes with the singer walking along the beach in a beige trench coat and military cap. At times, she can be seen singing into a retro microphone before an American flag; in others, she moves through staged breakfast scenes, with a family reading through newspaper headlines as they mouth her lyrics. The visual flashes through archival and contemporary footage depicting inspirational figures past and present: Where one scene shows the model and activist Jillian Mercado at a photo shoot, another depicts a conversation with lifelong activist Angela Davis.

What rings true without is a hopeful cry for change and for equality, and a recognition of those who have been leading that fight for decades. Monáe wrote “Turntables” for the new Amazon Studios documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, that shines a light on voter suppression, particularly through the lens of Stacey Abrams’s failed bid for the Georgia governorship. “Right now, I am focused on turning the election in our favor,” Monáe told Entertainment Weekly, “and I hope this song can inspire those who are on the ground doing the work.”