REVIEW: Lorde: The Solar Power Tour – Detroit

After a week of rain and snow, the sun launched its revival just in time for the first week of Lorde’s Solar Power Tour. 

This was her second show in four years, and man was she in good shape. From the live vocals that went off without a hitch, to her insane range, the two-hour experience in Masonic Temple Theater felt surreal. Lorde’s groovy dancing and laid-back body language made the whole thing feel like a casual jam session between friends – the perfect space to let loose and feel the stress of the semester fall off of my shoulders. An encouraging hurrah before finals kicked in; a celebration in anticipation for summer right around the corner.

My seat was perched up in the nosebleeds – the literal last row in the house – so high up that I could physically touch the peeling ceiling with my fingertips if I just reached up. I somewhat mourned the state of my view, especially upon seeing the GA pit get showered in confetti during Solar Power. But thanks to the intimate size of the theater, I could see Lorde with perfect clarity.

Thoroughly exhausted from staying up late in the sewing studio to finish the top for my concert outfit, I took a quick nap after the opener, Remi Wolf, finished her set. Lorde is one of my favorite artists, but I wasn’t feeling nerves, excitement, anything. It didn’t hit me until the house went pitch-black, her silhouette appeared, and I felt all my tiredness detox itself from my body as a beast awakened within. I was up on my feet and screaming at the top of my lungs like everyone else before I even registered that I had woken up from my nap. 

The emotions were running high this Tuesday night.

As Lorde crooned the opening song, Leader of a New Regime, I burst out bawling, unprovoked. I continued to nurse a tissue in one hand, and shakily record in the other during Ribs, and blew my nose through the chorus of Liability. 

The mood boosted when the band started to pump out the vivid strums of Mood Ring and psychedelic colors filtered through the set and on screen. Harder hits like Perfect Places, Supercut, and Green Light had everyone jumping like the place was one giant house party. 

There was such good energy in the venue. You could tell that everyone in the intimate audience (Lorde’s idea) were big fans who genuinely loved her so much. The noise in the crowd was no joke. With every body screaming to the best of its ability, I felt twinges of pain deep in my ears. They started ringing at one point, as if my eardrums were creating reverberations in attempts to shield themselves. Several scream-worthy moments included Lorde’s two outfit changes – one where she disrobed directly on stage (behind a piece of the set that kept a spotlight on her silhouette) during the Secrets From a Girl interlude. Her adorable dancing – where she kinda punches the air and wiggles around (but makes it look good) – also raised hoots. Finally, the finale. I had scoped out the setlist ahead of time to mentally prepare (and last minute memorize some lyrics) but the encore song, Team, was unexpected. See, this song and I go waaay back. In 2013, my family would blast it on the car ride to school, light up when it came up on the radio. The derailing intro that repeats the lyrics “send the call out” fades out in a rhythm that makes the order actually sound like “the call out send,” which my family always jokingly mis-sang as “the cold Allison,” during the height of my emo middle school years. To hear the wholehearted chorus of a few thousand people singing “and you know, we’re on each other’s team,” followed by Lorde flouncing away with a cute skip off stage, left me reeling.

We drove back from Detroit with sore throats, sleepy and sated, hugging overpriced merch in the back seats.

REVIEW: Turning Red

Turning Red was an adorable, true-to-form triumph. The pixar film deals with everything from generational trauma, female friendships and relationships, to teenage independence – it’s a hysterical joy to watch.

Leaning into telling a deeply personal narrative that draws heavily on the director Domee Shi’s background and childhood experiences made the film all the more charming and insightful. I made many points of connection and felt truly heard through some of the sentiments, frustrations, and challenges depicted throughout the movie. There were even a few that felt a little too spot on.

Set in the early 2000’s, the movie gushed out an onslaught of nostalgia for a time I wasn’t even familiar with. From the flip phones to the girls lining up at an actual ticket box office right before the show, to Bootylicious, the movie is riddled with small shout outs to this era.

Care-to-detail made all the difference. Tiny mementos like the stick-on star earrings Mei adorns because her mom probably doesn’t let her get them pierced and the pastel neon lofi-like sunsets oozed with familiarity. The soothing yet brightly-colored scenery felt like a love letter to classic Ghibli films, another essential from the watchlist of my adolescent years. From the obsession with sparkly eyes, to making ‘eraser crumbs’ by rubbing the dead skin on your hands, this film brought up so many details of my childhood that I had forgotten myself.

Turning Red focuses mainly on Mei’s bumpy but trying relationship with her mother. Mother-daughter relationships are complicated from the get go, but this one hits extra close to home. The beginning of the film shows Mei and her mother setting up their family temple together – like mother, like daughter, they’re so in sync.

As a 13-year old girl, Mei is really hard on herself. With a mom who still treats her like a child, and an absurd amount of pressure on her shoulders, even puberty is put on the backburner. Mei juggles the fear of letting everyone down and the desire for her mom’s approval, all while wanting the simple teenage pleasure of being obsessed with a boy band. As if her body going through changes isn’t enough, Mei feels like “all her [mother’s] hopes and dreams are pinned on me.”

Mei truly knows what it’s like to have a mother with no chill. The mortification of your mom performing overprotective and intrusive things along with the pressures as one becomes a teenager, especially in Asian households and families – it’s no easy feat. “The daisy mart has lost a loyal customer today.” I’ve definitely witnessed my mom using that exact phrasing, and it gets no less nails-scoring-palms each time it’s recited. And the Powerpoint presentation is so… I’ve been there. I’ve gone through notepads of pros and cons lists and had my fair share of compelling speeches at dinner time. The movie gets it so right – it’s right around 13 when you graduate from amateur efforts like begging, and these tactics start to finally work.

   

But in these relationships where fear tactics and ultimatums are regular occurrences, something, someone, is bound to snap.

It was funny to watch this with my family (a trio of a mother and two daughters), because my sister and I made sure to make our mom use this as an opportunity for self-betterment. That weekend, my mom had just had a huge fight with my sister about going to a concert (“Mom, are you seeing the parallels??”), and we were trying to utilize this film to help us all learn the value of perspective.

Despite the film heavily following Mei, we also come to understand Mei’s mother by meeting her as a teenager. We learn that there’s a pattern of sorts: Mei’s mom fears her own mom, and there are ritual feelings of insufficiency passed down with each generation. And yet, Mei’s mom also expresses that there is a lot of guilt that comes with hurting your own mom. She is fighting to not let the same thing happen between her and her daughter. 

Through Mei’s mom’s point of view, both Mei and the audience are able to empathize with the mom, rather than antagonize her. “I’m not good enough for her or anyone,” teenage Mei’s mom says. The two connect in that aspect. “But it isn’t true,” my mom tearfully said, which Mei says not 60 seconds later, verbatim. My sister and I laughed with each other at this, because maybe Mission Reflection was a success.

The film is not a letter of resentment, but a holistic picture of three generations of women. Turning Red accurately documents the growing pains of maternal relationships. Because no matter how strained their connection, the grandmother is fiercely set on “not losing my daughter.” Their family needs each other and cares for one another more than anything. But luckily, they learn that this love cannot interfere with autonomy and self-agency. As one of the auntie’s says: “It’s her life, now move.” – to all of our thoughts!

Mei and a younger version of her mom

Maybe my shared experience with the characters is what made Turning Red stand out to me. But whether or not you identify as an Asian woman or have a helicopter parent, I deeply recommend giving the film a try. In a Wired review, Amit Katwala notes that, “predictably, some reviewers didn’t get it—after movies about robots and talking cars and clown fish, they felt a story about a 13-year-old Chinese girl was too unrelatable, too “narrow” and “limiting in scope.” But ultimately, the whole point of cinema is to transport you into the head of someone you’ve never met and teach you something about yourself in the process.”

Superhero shot of Mei poofing through the city to get to the 4town concert – iconic.

And this movie took risks – several times, I caught myself with mouth hanging open, just thrilled by the audacity these creators had. Specifically, Mei’s worst-nightmare-come-to-life is animated in such a way that my family truly believed it was a dream, so the second-hand embarrassment we were suffering from would surely get reimbursed, right? Just wake up Mei! 

… She was not, in fact, sleeping. (You’ll know exactly which scene when it happens.) Instead, she uses the line we all have once or twice: “I’ll just go to sleep and when I wake up this will all be over.” And if that isn’t the epitome of a fresh-becoming teenager.

From the mention of periods to the animations of pads of all sizes and flows, I want to highly praise the movie for throwing in what is a universal burden for so many women with such casualness. That, along with Pixar’s recent few films completely obliterating the Bechdel test by focusing on relationships between women, made Turning Red such a precious gem. After all, where else will the words “stripper music” and “awooga” appear in a children’s movie?

   

Mei performing gyrations in front of her mother to buy time for her family to perform the ritual

REVIEW: Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower… Where do I start?

I believe this was the first opera I’ve ever seen. And I was not disappointed. I laughed, cried, and even had the privilege to sing along. After the show, my friend Anna described Parable of the Sower as the best play she’d ever seen in her life. “I was tearing up basically the entire time… the music was consuming. It was so so fantastic,” she remarked. 

The opera is based on the post-apocalyptic novel written by Octavia E. Butler, written by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon. Despite being published in 1993, the story is set in 2024, eerily close to this year. Already, Butler starts to draw parallels. The play deals with a Christian-esque group in a world that faces environmental degradation on a grand, terrifying scale. The church members essentially live in Noah’s ark – their walled city is safe, while the outside world is gonna end. The Reverend – the main character’s father – is the only one who is allowed to leave the walls and see the city.

Up on the balcony, people chat as the clock ticks down to 4pm. There is a person onstage, already in character; the audience is left unsure of whether the show has already started or not. The lights don’t go down, the cast strolls in, unannounced, and the start just sort of happens.

Opening the play, Toshi Reagon tells us that Butler “burned [Lauren] with hyper empathy.” An element that I missed – until my fantasy worldbuilding class’ post-opera discussion – were Lauren’s magical powers. She feels others’ pain, and there are subtle cues – like a flash of purple when her brother stabs his hand with a pencil to get her attention, or her falling down as other people get shot – that several of my classmates pointed out.  “If I can feel your pain, do I know you better, if I can fly in your joy?” Lauren asks.

The first scene is all auditory: two news channels chirp out overwhelming news, lapping over each other, in a volume-too-loud, ear-assaulting amalgam. This launches into a song, where the talents crooned at different directions of the audience, “What you gon’ do?” Even though I sat all the way up on the balcony, it felt like they were staring, arch-eyebrowed, right at us, and I felt a pang in my stomach. “The world’s on fire, you can’t hide.” The line between fiction and reality blurred once more.

In their situation: a “dystopian America wracked by the violence brought on by unrelenting greed and systemic injustice” (UMS blog), it all boils down to us versus them. There exists a religious dispute between Lauren and her father, the reverend, exploring the scale of beliefs ranging from God is good, God is change, to God have mercy. Lauren devises her own truth while others present the fixed truth that most of her family is invested in. She believes in the need to embrace change and do something different, because it’s only a matter of time before their safety crumbles down. “There’s a new world coming, everything gon’ be turning over,” Lauren sings. While others sing back, “do you really think the world gon’ end?”

I enjoyed how the cast encouraged audience interaction. I didn’t feel shy about bobbing my head, or tapping a foot. When a person in the audience clapped at the words being exchanged onstage, Toshi stopped mid-speech to say, “Hey, I won’t stop you.” Many times, a few people would let out whoops that soon launched the whole audience into applause. The actors had such a commanding presence; they were able to start the theater into a clap, with ease. They also played with breaking the fourth wall. “Octavia Butler is not playing with us,” Toshi remarked, after the first act. She directly asked the audience to naturally join into the chorus of the song – “Don’t let your baby go, don’t let your baby go to Olivar – ” and it was really beautiful to hear the audience participating. Everyone in that large room – those onstage and those spectating – felt more connected. I could feel them sowing the seeds of community with these little moments. 

Every person onstage flaunted their flawless vocals, and the opera doesn’t feature one person too heavily; it feels like each character gets their own moment in the spotlight. I especially loved the electric guitar riffs, or when the guitarist would back a singer’s vocals, perfectly in sync with their inflections.

In the song with the chorus, “Are we supposed to live like this?”, the strings are beautiful and psychedelic; warpy, wonky. I appreciated how this broke my expectation of what an opera had to be: very classical, prim, and proper, with a soprano hitting notes that could break glass. 

The songs that struck me the most were Lauren’s “Has anybody seen my father?” a heartbreaking, repeated chorus where her voice gradually breaks with each repetition, and the more mellow, emotional solo by Lauren’s mom. Both had such intimate lyrics that the theater flooded with it. It felt too heavy to move, or in any way disrupt this moment. I’ll admit that tears bubbled from my eyes, and I stiffly let them run, not even lifting a hand to break the mood.

True to an opera, the second act made me fall asleep. This isn’t to say that the show fell off, or that I was the only one slightly sleep-deprived. While the first half of the show had lights that never dimmed, the lighting was all of a sudden pitch-black dark, spotlights lightly glazing the characters as they entered the hellscape outside, complete with dangerous people and violent criminal elements. Because of the lighting, I couldn’t help feeling that maybe my ensuing drowsiness was purposeful, intentional. When I woke up, I realized we’d all been asleep while the characters were still fighting for their lives – belting through, by far, the most grueling song – through this continuous struggle outside of the wall. But for me, it all kind of turned to background noise, in the dark. As I took care not to wake up on my neighbor’s shoulder, UMS was playing with genre. At the end of the story, the troupe stands clustered together, in a haunting formation. Smoke floats over their heads, like angels, as they stand in ruin. After resting for a long while, the electric started back up, with gusto, and served as a wake-up alarm as multiple neighbors startled awake.

What I saw when I woke up

To finish, every seat in the house was in standing ovation. I was in awe of the amount of talent in the room, trying to digest it all. On the walk back, Toshi’s closing words circled through my head: “We have to fall away from the limitations billionaires have put on us. It will only happen if you give up the lives they have assigned us.” My friend Isabelle pointed out the liminality of how parables are passed – to my point about sleeping, there is a presence through absence. “Their words are gonna fall on people, stick with some, take hold, grow, and spread.” That is the power of the parable.

Read more about the performance here: https://ums.org/performance/parable-of-the-sower/

PREVIEW: Turning Red

Turning Red is a new Pixar movie available to watch on Disney+! The movie was released on March 11th, and features a Chinese Canadian 13-year old named Mei Lee. The film explores the tension between the chaos of adolescence and being a dutiful daughter. Themes of individualism versus family values seem apparent, a struggle many second-gen children of immigrants can speak to. 

So far, I’ve heard mixed opinions about the film. After the trailer came out, there were a few letterboxd reviews that expressed elements of the trailer that rubbed them the wrong way. Specifically, some expressed disappointment with the film’s ancestral magic trope, which may arguably reinforce outdated views of Chinese people. Mei’s illustration also looks somewhat white, and once she gains her ability to turn into a red panda, her hair also turns red, which some expressed, erases any asian features that were there in the first place. This transformation coinciding with her gaining confidence was an aspect some felt uncomfortable with.

However, despite hearing negative reactions, I’m going to go into the film with an open mind. As someone who has a protective, overbearing mom, (like the protagonist) I feel like I’ll be able to relate to this film. I really enjoyed Domee Shi’s short film, Bao, which made her the first woman to direct a short film for Pixar, so when I heard that she’s coming out with a movie, I was super hyped. It’s great to see representation of both women and AAPI creators at Pixar, so I can’t wait to watch this film!

REVIEW: MENDING

 

In the quaint, well-lit corner of the Residential College, Jeanne Bieri’s exhibition of quilts, Mending, spends a three month-stay.

There’s something so intimate about quilts – blankets so well-loved, the material extra soft. The two comforters I flew in from home to my dorm are quilts. Most quilts have been personalized, gifted by a grandmother or someone of the sort.

Immediately, the first quilt felt too delicate, too personal to touch. With elegant velvet and iridescent silk thrown over a backdrop of military blankets, the collection is an utter gem. With the help of relatively thick thread, fabric in jewel tones, wool, knit, corduroy, dye, and the occasional stain create patternless collages. Mixing the brightly bold with humble rustic, Jeanne describes how “the layering of quilts with army blankets tapped into my notions of duality, the scratchy army blanket and smooth quilt, one made of love, the other for war.”

I went through the gallery, slowly like this: Scooching close to admire smaller details, the windings and coils of string, then backing up to take in the whole thing, before glancing over to the previous ones I viewed too. I had music playing, and the stories within the quilts were speaking louder.

The movement of the pieces are so fun. Orange Dot has my eyes trailing along its seams, up-down, and like a game or an animation, it moves. Some are so long they fold back and forth in ribbons on the floor – like poured chocolate. The different stitch patterns in Crazy Quilt reminded me of animal tracks, while the larger whole was a map. 

  

Night Wash contains two twin rivers flowing over a tattered old oil painting, whose ripped edges ripped off to reveal a more colorful culture and history inside.

Tied feels like a landscape, with living organisms and tribes of centipedes snaking between Earth’s crust and plates. The spots and circles resemble bacteria, or eyes. The stitches dotted around the outline of each shape could be wiggly pili or eyelashes.

Orange Drift is funky and fun. This fresh, dress-shaped quilt flaunts colorful seams and embroidered little things like initials and butterflies, flowers, zigzags along the bottom hem, x’s and loops

My music suddenly glitched out – rewinded, went 3x fast, then skipped to a new song with a bubblier beat – a testament to this quilt’s powers.

Properly spooked, I felt struck. Moved. It might sound silly, but these beautiful blankets also gave me the courage to ask the East Quad pianist what song he’d just played, because staring at those quilts while hearing “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera for the first time was a spiritual experience, man.

I just had to visit them again, the next day. 

I saw scribbles, webs, those circles that looked like viruses blown up through a microscope. Everything was connected, woven together, and somehow this made me think of how the internet has so much info about us, and it’s gross and creepy and dangerous. How traces of someone are always left behind. How even walking in circles can broaden and slowly get you somewhere, out of that hole. How we’re never going nowhere.

I like the spastic squiggling in Clara’s Ribbon and the sneak-ins like the embroidered scene of a bear getting into a barrel of fish, a patch of light-wash pink denim.

    

Back to Orange Drift – where what looked like closed tulips and Christmas tree lights danced along the silk patches. Then in Barcelona Morals, a subtle appliqued then stitched “margin good” and an innocent bee sat, staring me in the face. If I missed that, what else had I missed?

Upon digesting the fact that there were enough covert details for me to create a damn youtube channel dedicated to relaying all of Mending’s easter eggs with a giant yellow arrow in each thumbnail, I gasped, distraught. Just how long did it take Jeanne to make all of these? I longed to send her a coupon to that masseuse I visited after finals season had seriously fucked my back.

  

I was especially touched by the story of how textiles connected Jeanne to distant reaches of her family tree. “When I was given one of my Great Aunt’s quilts, I was put in touch with a group of relatives I’d never met.” Her genetic code revealed a shared creative impulse within these women, and in receiving passed-down quilts, she “sensed a tongue in cheek humor within their group.”

I can speak to the great comfort in hand-me-downs. Fabric and garments themselves, I find awe-striking in their painstakingness of stitches. But wearing my family’s old clothes – especially my dad’s or grandma’s (who have both passed) – is a feeling I hold really dear to me. I may not remember their voices ever clearly, but I can flip through an old photo album and say, ha! we’re wearing the same thing.

I never knew that quilts could carry so much personality; I always just loved the homemade, lots-of-thought-and-care aesthetic of them. As someone who hoards scraps of – you name it – fabric, magazines, old letters – with the intention of collaging old materials into something new and deeply personal, I admire Mending and all of its hand-stitched dedication. There’s a whole world waiting to be explored in each of Jeanne’s quilts; I could honestly spend all day looking at them and the hidden surprises they hold.

Read Jeanne’s lovely personal description of Mending here:

  

REVIEW: BTS PTD ON STAGE – SEOUL: LIVE VIEWING

Pulling up to the theater, with McDonalds tucked under our winter coats, and a barely-secured parking spot (the lot was completely full), we were hyped for the 8:30 PM show. The live simulcast was not actually live, due to time zones. (Though admittedly, I would have readily shown up to the real thing at 4 AM; international fans are used to such release times – something about having to set an alarm for ass-o’clock in the morning makes the whole thing more exciting.) This weekend held BTS’ first concert of 2022, a 3-day show, and Saturday was the only day it would be streamed in theaters all around the world. In the throng of the theater lobby, we kept exchanging glances with other ticket holders, and it was like we could somehow tell who was also there for BTS. Despite all this, our cinema wasn’t a packed one: less than half capacity, a comfortable audience.

What’s different about this concert, is that the entire show included all seven members – no solo songs or subunits – because the band wanted to see ARMY (the moniker for BTS fans) for as long as they could. This, I really enjoyed; their stage presence and energy is best all together, as a group. Existing as seven also allows them to joke with one another. They especially had fun teasing the audience, by trying to trick or provoke them into shouting and cheering past the no yelling/chanting policy, due to South Korea’s COVID restrictions.

My favorite performances were that of Black Swan, a breath-taking bird-like dance intro, followed by contemporary trap-beat choreography. The all-black ensemble is highlighted by the background dancers’ feathered sleeves, which create flowing transitions and haunting waves. During Telepathy, an upbeat retro song the band wrote to “melt down the feeling of not being able to meet with fans” (Genius), the boys rode moving platforms that circle the stadium’s first floor, allowing them to get closer to the second and third floor audiences.

     

BTS during Black Swan

It started raining halfway through, but they sang, danced, slipped, and smiled through it all.

The whole performance was as expected: rigorously well-rehearsed, show-stopping, grand-scaled. I was, however, surprised that there were no English subtitles, since during most of their live broadcasts, there’s usually real-time translations uploaded to the bottom of the screen, letter by letter. My Korean isn’t perfect, but I can understand for the most part. For this, I was grateful. Although most non-speakers can sing BTS’s lyrics thanks to romanization and translation guides, during the speeches, I think most people were lost. When the members asked the audience to clap three times in succession, or for other call-and-responses, my row’s were the only ones ringing through the theater.

During their closing speech, the leader of the group, RM said, “Honestly, I think there are lots of people who find these middle concerts (2nd day concerts) a bit of a shame. The 1st concert is the first, so they feel excited; the last concert is the last, so they cry and it’s touching. So there are people who might think that the middle concerts are a little iffy/ambiguous. But what’s very special about today is, because there is no online streaming, only you all who are here and the ones in the movie theaters are the ones seeing us. And above all, the rain, they said it’s not coming tomorrow. Isn’t this a rare stage effect that you all can enjoy only today? And like the cherry blossoms flying/falling, I think it was even more special, because we got to be together.” 

BTS taking a group photo with ARMY

With twenty-two songs, five ments – “the time when those onstage introduce themselves, speak to fans, and give speeches” (Morin) – plus five pre-recorded VCRs (videos they play between sets), the performance amounted to around 3 hours and 15 minutes. Yet, as people started to file out, I couldn’t help feeling like it all went by so quickly. I’m seeing BTS in person at their Las Vegas show in April; how much faster would that fly by? The girls I went to the theater with would also be my concert buddies that weekend. This was our first time hanging out together outside of church, where we met. The fact that our love for this band brought us together and helped me, an introvert, sidestep the dreaded small talk stage of a new friendship, is so cool. I think that’s what I love most about BTS: their social impact– both breaking the barriers of the mostly white, American music scene, and helping to unify diverse communities of people through their music.

sources:

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/k-pop-music-fans-terms-meaning#:~:text=Ment,to%20fans%2C%20and%20give%20speeches.

https://genius.com/Genius-english-translations-bts-telepathy-english-translation-lyrics

https://twitter.com/haruharu_w_bts/status/1502741265602932737?s=20&t=8yKr5zAL2lCf9keF8TQNBw