January 15, 2021

"Easy" by Pale Waves: Uplifting romance anthem for the lads-and-lesbians

So many of the ongoing themes of this blog going on here in the new music video by Pale Waves --

Everyone recognizes the Avril Lavigne influence, but it's hard to place when. The sparse instrumentation and mellow vocal energy during the verse is like her songs from 2002-'04, but then the chorus explodes and soars, and it no longer sounds like the early 2000s at all. The tone is way too uplifting and feel-good to belong to the bummed-out early 2000s. More like "Smile" from the early 2010s, and the non-pop-punk song of hers from the late 2000s, "Keep Holding On".

The "mellow verse, intense chorus" contrast is characteristic of the restless warm-up phase of the excitement cycle, when people need to be shaken out of their slumber and forced to get moving. During the early 2000s, it was a refractory phase, and most people wanted to grumpily lay in bed under a protective pile of blankets after the alarm clock had gone off. So it's more like a song from the late 2000s or the early '90s. Something between "I Touch Myself" by Divinyls and "Head Over Feet" by Alanis Morissette.

I immediately thought the lads-and-lesbians crowd would love this one (not so much the girls-and-gays crowd, who likely find it sappy and corny). Sure enough, the singer is a lesbian. They love singing about love, and bonding to just one person, much like their lad counterparts who have a low body count, sensitive nature, and preference for cozy intimacy rather than abject copulation. The cozy groypers from Twitter, and the cottagecore girls from Tumblr and TikTok.

tfw no wholesome goth lesbian bff

But that crowd is painfully awkward at the flirtation and mating-dance-ritual stage of interaction, so their music is not very dance-driven or club-located. One of the funniest things that lesbian TikTok showcases is their inability to take the physical initiative even when they're literally face-to-face. Their foreheads are touching, they're putting on their best seductive eye-narrowing gaze, and yet neither one can bring herself to give the other the slightest peck on the cheek. Lesbian bed death, before they're even in bed. Not because they're avoidant, though -- they love cuddling and all that other intimate stuff. It's adorkable.

The setting for the music video is straight out of cottagecore Tumblr or cozy groyper Twitter as well. In contrast to gays, lesbian aesthetics are consciously anti-metropolitan -- like gays, they live in a densely packed urban shithole, but unlike gays, they pine for a return -- or at least a regular respite -- to a pastoral, idyllic environment. This is true for the music videos of the other singles from their upcoming album Who Am I? ("Change" and "She's My Religion").

After all, intimacy and pair-bonding is not possible in faceless urban cores, while anonymous promiscuity is. And so, cities are magnets for gays and high-body-count girls, but lesbians only converge there reluctantly to find each other, and would rather retreat to a charming small town once they found a gf or wife.

One final impression: the Pale Waves singer was born in the manic phase of the second half of the '90s, a cohort who are starting to stand out more in pop culture (especially as Twitch streamers). Not really the chaotic wild-child type born in the restless phase of the early '90s, and not the sad-girl type born in the vulnerable phase of the early 2000s -- they're more happy-go-lucky, emotionally resilient, and socially autonomous / healthy attachment style (preferring company, but neither clingy like the restless phase births, nor avoidant like the vulnerable phase births). They remind me of my fellow early '80s births (including Avril herself), who were born during a manic phase.

However, they're likely going to grow to resemble those born during another manic phase -- the late '60s births, who turned 25 in the early '90s, which the current zeitgeist is going to resemble more than the late 2000s or the late '70s (all restless warm-up phases). This is because a full cycle alternates between a high-energy and a low-energy state, and the 2005-2019 cycle was high-energy, so the cycle that's just begun in 2020 (and lasting through 2034) will be a more chill and laid-back cycle overall, just like the 1990-2004 cycle.

But the late '90s girls are a topic for another post.


  1. Although not a dance song, the hi-hat accents the offbeat during the chorus, which makes it dance-y. The offbeat is when the body makes a winding-up motion, and the main beat is when it delivers some force. See the posts I wrote on that topic in the spring of last year.

    If you're gently thrusting your body backwards and forwards during the chorus, you're moving back on the offbeat and forwards on the main beat. The hi-hat accenting the offbeat helps guide your body along that motion.

    The hi-hat only rings out on the offbeats before 2 and 4 (the backbeat), not before all 4 main beats as in a disco rhythm (which would be a lot more danceable, but would take away from the chill vibe overall of this song). But they do tap the hi-hat on all offbeats and main beats, to give it a little more body-moving energy.

  2. They've come a long way from their debut several years ago, when they were like late '80s Cure with a funky syncopated bass line. Similar to Paramore of the time ("Rose Colored Boy"), just with a less crazy singer. I didn't really dig it, though didn't hate it either.

    It didn't fit in well with the late 2010s' dream pop / shoegaze zeitgeist either, not that that matters per se, but is an obstacle to grabbing onto a group's current music. Alvvays' Antisocialites album was more emblematic of "that time".

    (Yep, it's not just a new phase of the cycle, but the start of a whole new cycle, and even the late 2010s are rapidly feeling like another lifetime.)

    Pale Waves' new stuff is not just better but more resonant with the mood. Their album doesn't come out for another month, though! So long to have to wait until I can blast "Easy" out of the car windows... (I'll only own it on CD, not rent it on streaming).

  3. Lesbians are awkward about making out b/c they're more mature and peri-menopausal, whereas gays are defined by neoteny or resembling 5 year-old boys who are still stuck in the "ewww, girls are yucky" stage.

    It's not just that lesbians are two females, neither of whom tends to be the dominant or aggressive side in a physical interaction. If they were straight girls, and in their late teens or 20s, they would have no problem getting horned up and seizing the moment if they were already pressed face-to-face against each other.

    But with lesbians, they feel more like a middle-aged married couple, for whom sucking face and pawing each other would feel out of character. Not that they're morally opposed or prudish, just that it belongs to hormonally crazed youngsters, and not middle-aged folks who have long settled into a mellow groove.

    Certainly if the lesbians are still in their teens or 20s themselves, they've got some natural hormones to get them somewhat worked up. But the lesbian peri-menopausal syndrome deflates a whole lot of that energy, and they remain notably post-horny compared to their young age-mates.

    This is all in contrast to feeling awkward about making out when you're just entering puberty. At that age, you're looking forward to it, and eventually *someone* is going to make the move. But for someone who is psychologically middle-aged, they're not craving it, and are aware of how out-of-character it would be for them to indulge in it.

    "Um, do we really have to pretend like we're about to suck each other's faces off? LOL, let's just cuddle instead."

    They're too adorable sometimes.

  4. Do you have a post where you fully articulate the cycle? Or perhaps a graphic with the various phases and characteristic songs? Trying to follow along and could use something big picture!

  5. I previously linked to J. Bryan Lowder's Slate article on the musical complexity of a song like "Unchained Melody" compared to then-current Carly Rae Jepsen. I thought that worth following up with music producer Rick Beato's take on the musical complexity (including tempo, recall that Lowder chided the study he cited for not taking rhythm into account) of music preferred by Boomers (and born-too-late Millenials like me) to that of the last decade or so.

    Speaking of Slate's music articles, they had a Hit Parade podcast last month on how Nirvana dethroned Michael Jackson in the post-Christmas shopping season. There was supposed to be a part 2 coming, but I think that might have been for patrons only.

  6. To re-cap the model of the 15-year excitement cycle and its three 5-year phases, here are the original posts on each one. Click the category tag "excitement cycle" at the end of this post, or in the sidebar, to see all posts on this topic.




    The basic analogy is an excitable system like a heartbeat, neuron activation, sexual arousal, intense exercise, and the like. There's a neutral stage where activation could take place but has not yet, followed by an excitation stage where the activity flies off the charts, finished with a refractory stage where activity is no longer possible. That stage ends with a return to the neutral stage again.

    Neutral stages: 2005-09, 1990-94, 1975-79, 1960-64, etc.

    Manic stages: 2010-14, 1995-99, 1980-84, 1965-69, etc.

    Crash stages: 2015-19, 2000-04, 1985-89, 1970-74, etc.

  7. Gossip Girl s1 on DVD for only $2 at Goodwill. :) Also picked up Desperate Housewives s1 on DVD for $2 there a few months ago. My goal is to never have to rent / stream anything like a serf ever again.

    Discs are pristine, as is the box. Must've been owned during the sweet spot of pop culture, just before binge-watching / re-watching series became the standard way of staving off those daily thoughts of suicide. Late 2000s, early 2010s.

    Around 2015, everyone burrowed headfirst into the pod, relying on an unending stream of Netflix "content" to keep their brain activity operating. That was when the phrase "Netflix and chill" came out. Before then, Netflix and pod life was not such an obligatory feature of people's routines.

    Before then, owning a TV series on DVD was more like a collector's item (akin to owning a contempo album "on vinyl"). You dust it off once a year perhaps, and then it sits on the shelf to preserve the good vibes and memories (until they develop bad taste, join pod life, and dump it off at the Goodwill).

    Still waiting to find My So-Called Life on DVD at a thrift store, but I may break down and buy it at a used media store for a bit more. The '90s revival is already going on, can't wait too much longer or I'll miss out.

  8. You're more into pop vs rock/jazz relative to me, so this Rick Beato video might be more interesting to you. He discusses the most complex pop (and it was #1 on the charts at the time) pop song he ever played as a gigging musician.
    I'm not sure if I'd heard of Sergio Mendes and/or "Never Gonna Let You Go" before.


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