News about coronavirus is coming hard and fast, and the Portland Monthly staff is working to bring you up-to-date information about how the crisis is affecting Portlanders. It’s vital we all stay informed and figure out how to help each other through this surreal, challenging moment.
It’s also vital that we take some breaths. Every week, in lieu of a “top things to do this weekend” post, we’re going to pause and share the pandemic-free content that’s keeping us sane (or somewhere close).
Ever heard of it? Right when we all started staying inside, British cipher (and *checks watch* Grammy winner, I guess) Dua Lipa dropped Future Nostalgia, a straight-up disco record that launched her from lightweight to heavyweight basically overnight. Packed with elastic synths, loving homages to Nile Rodgers and Olivia Newton-John, and the kind of dumb, towering choruses designed to be screamed when you are streaked with gin and glitter, Future Nostalgia was a bittersweet blessing: an airtight 40 minutes of necessary escape best suited for venues that remained out of reach.
As stay-at-home wore on, the hits kept coming. A few weeks ago, robo-pop hero Charli XCX dropped how i'm feeling a now, an incredible 11-track album that she conceived, recorded, and produced entirely in lockdown (often turning to Zoom and Instagram Live for fan input). Songs like "Pink Diamond" and "Anthems" capture the frenetic, caged-animal feeling of being stuck inside, while softer cuts like "Claws" and "Forever" assess infatuation from a distance. All of it sounds typically incredible—production from PC Music's A.G. Cook and 100 gecs's Dylan Brady keep both feet in the future, and Charli's knack for nursery rhyme hooks remains razor sharp (I dare you to shake the "I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you" hook from "Claws"). Plus, the accelerated writing period means everything hangs together emotionally in a way that a more workshopped product might not.
And then LAST week, patron saint of antiseptic pop Carly Rae Jepsen dropped a full steaming batch of 12 new tracks, outtakes from last year's Dedicated, in a "Side B" collection. They hardly feel like outtakes. After 2015's E•MO•TION, which turned Jepsen from "the Canadian girl who sang 'Call Me Maybe'" to a cult hero beloved by the cool kids and beyond, she settled into a groove: clever, joyful pop songs about falling in love that can dip into the saccharine or the obsessive. Every song on Dedicated Side B fits the bill, and a few, like "This Love Isn't Crazy" and "This Is What They Say" rank among Jepsen's very best. No one does pure, undiluted feeling like she does—no bells or whistles, just white-hot crushes so divine you might start hovering if you think about them too long.
All of this to say: I've been listening to a lot of pop music lately. Loud, crystalline, danceable pop music. It makes my walks easier, my head clearer, and reminds me that sometimes my emotions are not as complicated as I would like to believe. Maybe I'm just feeling lonely or would like to get drunk with my friends; that's OK. It's beautiful, even.
I recommend you do the same. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor
Smart-yet-accessible literary fiction where the plot moves right along is my jam. I get impatient when things get too mystifyingly meta, or when there's page upon page of descriptive prose, luscious and pregnant though it may be.
For years, I've been recommending American Wife, author Curtis Sittenfeld's novelization of the life of Laura Bush, that devoted cypher of a woman who nevertheless always seemed to be hiding the tiniest of insouciant streaks. So naturally, when Sittenfeld's follow-up, which imagines what Hillary Clinton's life could have been had she only left Bill and Arkansas in her rearview mirror, debuted last week, I dived right in. The book is divided into three parts, the first of which sticks pretty closely to what we known about Bill and Hillary's early courtship at Yale Law School and their subsequent move to Arkansas, over the objections of pretty much everyone who knew Hillary Clinton at the time, ending when she discovers the worst of his serial infidelities. This portion includes some disarmingly hot sex scenes—as a former reporter for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, I don't think it would be a good idea to get that distracted when driving through the winding roads of the Ozark mountains—but the book really takes off in the post-Bill era, in the coulda-woulda-shoulda version of Hillary's life.
In this alternate universe, Hillary's political career is rooted in Illinois, not the carpetbagging New York ("To tell the truth, I've always been a Yankees fan"), and she ascends the ladders of national power from there. Bill's shadow looms large, though, and it's genuinely suspenseful as to whether the secrets she's kept for him all these years will be what brings her down in the end, as they did in real life. (And should they be her undoing? I vote yes, but of course, there's no such thing as perfect in politics.) No spoilers—you'll just have to binge-read for yourself. —Julia Silverman, news editor