A Year in Music: Alex Frank

December 19, 2011

It's difficult to differentiate a year in music from just a year. Beyonce exists because we hear her at the gym, Bill Callahan is important because he sings about America while we're abroad, the first time we heard Frank Ocean it was in a kitchen and underwhelming, etc. To us, music exists empirically and anecdotally, not individually and clinically. In that spirit, to wind down the year, five FADER editors sum up their year through music. Or maybe they sum up music through their year. However you want to put it. Today is our style editor Alex Frank, check back each day this week for more.

For the first year ever, I probably spent as much time listening to music at the gym as I did at home. I listened to awful music on the treadmill. Britney Spears and a Thunderpuss remix of Whitney Houston. That is so embarrassing! I stopped being mad enough at Chris Brown that I wouldn’t listen to his music because I wanted to listen to “Look At Me Now” on the elliptical. Rihanna was on every gym playlist I made this year. Every single one.

I spent the year un-admiring old stuff. 2011 was the year I tried to shed myself of nostalgia. Maybe living in New York made me do it: it sucks that 99% of the hip guys in New York are trying to dress like it’s 1963. I really don’t like old-timey restaurants and $18 cheeseburgers with aged cheddar on them. There’s a vintage-y restaurant that opened on my block in 2011 called Post Office that I spent all of 2011 refusing to go to even though it’s so close to my house. There’s an actual post office near my house that might be closing because of budget cuts. I used to be happy Tumblring pictures of Patti Smith in good outfits and Shangri-Las videos, but things have changed. Things in the present should always sound and look better to you than things in the past because things in the present are the only things that are yours. I'd get mad at some of Nicki Minaj’s outfits because I just thought they were so ugly, but then I realized that's what makes them great. A new kind of ugliness is better than an old kind of prettiness. That ugliness is ours! John Waters told me in an interview that Tavi was the only radical dresser left on the planet because she loves looking old and decrepit. He told me that if you dressed like a greaser or a punk now it just wouldn't be shocking anymore, that truly punk people in 2011 wouldn't dress like "punks" at all. Alexa Chung looks classically beautiful and Alexa Chung is also really boring.

I decided I hate Lady Gaga this year. I decided that her incessant need to validate her pop music as art is the definition of phoniness, that the truly relevant artist will make pop precisely because it is pop, not because they’re trying to be artistic. I did listen to Beyonce though. Lots of Beyonce. I cared so much about her, the biggest star in the world, because pop culture was just unavoidably important this year. I didn’t even like “Superbass” until I saw those little girls singing it on The Ellen Degeneres Show. That’s how mega pop culture was this year, that a song became a hit to me once I heard it on a daytime talk show sung by a toddler YouTube phenom wearing a pink dress. When I saw the young girl's parents clapping and sobbing in the audience as Nicki bent down to hug her, I wanted to applaud and cry along with them. This year, for whatever reason, everyone, even children, seemed to need to words of empowerment and encouragement from the divas, and Nicki and B were superheroes for all of our personal crises.

I listened to Clams Casino’s Instrumental Mixtape constantly. When people came over to my house for parties, I decided it was not that cool to play Beyonce the entire night and I’d usually play Clams instead. It became my go-to record—poppy and enjoyable and everyone liked it, but it never became overheard or burned out. AraabMuzik, too. I loved Elite Gymnastics Ruin 1 EP and most specifically the Janet Jackson-like intro track and the song “Little Things.” I loved the M83 single. I loved the Kurt Vile record. My favorite Nicki Minaj verses of 2011 were on Drake’s "Make Me Proud," Big Sean’s "Ass" and her remix of Britney Spears. In 2011, I still thought Trey Songz was the cutest guy ever. Nu Sensae was the best band I saw live this year. I saw Swans in New Jersey and related to Michael Gira so much when he started slapping himself in the face on stage. He's still slapping himself on stage after, like, three decades of doing so. I listened to hours of Psychic TV and even got to interview Genesis P-Orridge, which stands as one of the highlights of my entire life. I told her that sometimes I had a hard time being myself and that her willfulness to be exactly who she is every single day inspired me, and she wrote me a note later saying that she hoped I got to do everything I wanted in life. When Amy Winehouse died I listened to that album a lot for two weeks straight. I listened all the way through once with my mom and we talked about how much we liked Amy. I didn’t care what any music writers had to say about Amy Winehouse’s death, but I did care about what my mom had to say about Amy Winehouse’s death.

So did 2011 suck? No, but all the ups and down meant it could’ve. It was hard to watch the news, easy to ignore Mitt Romney, hard to still like Barack, easy to still love Michelle, hard to truly and completely occupy Occupy Wall Street, easy to visit Occupy Wall Street, hard to stop living in the past, easy to think the present was beautiful. Maybe the point of growing is not caring so much if a moment is good or a moment is bad but that the moment exists and you’re living through it. You will not be here forever, pay attention to the time you are. I hate those fucked up shoes that outline each individual one of your toes, but they exist in 2011 and 2012 and beyond and so I’ll deal with them even if I choose not to wear them myself. I hated Crocs three years ago and there will be new shoes to hate in 2012.

A Year in Music: Alex Frank