A few years ago, psychologists studied the correlation between seasons and romantic relationships. They concluded that the colder the weather, the more likely a relationship had a chance to thrive, hence, "cuffing season." Nevertheless, the warmer the weather, the more likely a relationship is to fail, consequently creating the term, "uncuffing season." "Uncuffing season" is defined as a period, usually the spring and summer, when "people who were previously in relationships during the winter break-up to be free for the summer and warm months." The idea is that once the relationship has concluded, one is able to play the field and not be tied down by the pestering obligations of a relationship. And unfortunately, this seems to be the case for the artists this week.
No longer singing about the best parts, we've entered in the phase of summertime sadness; and boy, is this summer scheduled to be a doozy. Between Leon Bridges' constant questions in "Why Don't You Touch Me," Nao's refusal to return to "Messy Love," and Cynthia Erivo choosing to remember only "The Good" parts of her relationship, it seems like everyone is being "uncuffed" and sent to enjoy their summers alone. Though, there might be light at the end of this tunnel yet. Why? Well, because if they're sent to join their summer's alone, chances are you are, too.
If that's the case, you'll have a couple of new ballads, and upbeat songs, that can help you make it through your summer blues, before finding yet another in the fall and winter months.
1. "Why Don't You Touch Me: Part 1" - Leon Bridges
With his new album Gold—Diggers Sound coming out July 23, 2021, Leon Bridges has arrived with part one of two singles, "Why Don't You Touch Me: Part 1" (you can listen to "Part 2" here). Like all of his other singles, Bridges' music feels like it has been written and sung by someone beyond his years. In "Why Don't You Touch Me: Part 1," Bridges wonders the title amongst other things, particularly why his lover doesn't seem to love him anymore.
Despite "dressin' to the nines" and his desires to do whatever to improve the relationship, Bridges' lover is distracted by the glitter and gold and continues to fade away. It's sad that his lover doesn't seem to be in love with him anymore, but the saddest part might be the fact that his relationship is ending and he doesn't even know why.
2. "Mad" - Hope Tala
To avoid the "Heartbreak Olympics," I won't say that one heartbreak is worse than the other. Although, when it comes to heartbreak, nothing quite matches the sting that comes from unrequited love. In Hope Tala's newest single "Mad," the 23-year-old London artist sings about having a lover fall out of love, while she is still head over heels. The song plays with an enticing allure, combining an acoustic guitar with a groove reminiscent of Bossa nova and a slowed samba, instead of a piano ballad.
As if her rage is simmering, Tala doesn't raise her voice, but allows her repetition of her wanting to tear her hair out to show her frustrations and sadness to her lover's sudden change in mind. At the end of the song, she is left with more questions than answers, which seems to be the new way of breaking up (a la the previously mentioned "Why Don't You Touch Me"). With her lover not answering her calls, it's hard to say if she'll get the closure she needs to extinguish her inevitable explosion.
3. "Messy Love" - Nao
After the early (leaked) release of her newest single, Nao has officially released "Messy Love" from her upcoming third album. Like her single "Make It Out Alive," in "Messy Love," Nao tells of a love that was once cherished turning into a burden. In a trope that I am glad to see artists taking, Nao decides to place self-love, self-respect, and inner peace over the struggles and insecurities created by an unstable and exhaustive relationship.
Old Nao might've had the energy to chase her lover, she might've had the energy to roll around and enjoy the mess of it all. Nevertheless, after one too many heartbreaks, Nao has reached a place in her life where she refuses to return back to "messy love."
She wants her love to know that she cares about him, but in the end, she will choose herself and her progress over everything, including this relationship.
4. "Wusyaname" - Tyler, the Creator ft. YoungBoy Never Broke Again & Ty Dolla Sign
Only Tyler, the Creator would walk up to a complete stranger and use "Aw, you look malnourished" as a pick-up line. Strangely for Tyler, the Creator, this seems well within his playbook and still might have the potential to work. In his recently released single "Wusyaname," Tyler, the Creator falls in love with a woman at first sight. Pursuing the woman, he hopes to get her attention by hurling insulting compliments one after the other. Creator's advancements are so contradictory that it wouldn't be surprising if this woman had experienced whiplash.
Although, after saying, "That's when I met 'She'"—a reference to his Goblin album and "She" track—it is clear to the audience that this woman probably deserves it. As if jumping into a time machine, the audience is given the moment that eventually leads to the chaotic moment that unravels in his and Frank Ocean's "She." In addition to this magic track, Tyler, the Creator's "Lumberjack" and "Brown Sugar Salmon" singles are out, too.
5. "2 You" - Mariah the Scientist
Something is in the water, and apparently it's forcing everyone to confront or end their relationships. Regardless of what it is, "2 You" is the newest single from Mariah the Scientist's upcoming project, Ry Ry World. In the song, the Atlanta-based artist reflects on a failed relationship. Pointing out her ex's flaws, Mariah addresses feeling disappointing in the direction of their relationship and embarrassment from allowing it to go on for so long. Unlike the singles mentioned before, Mariah the Scientist doesn't wonder why the relationship has ended or how they got there. Instead, she wonders why she doesn't feel at peace with this decision, despite knowing that it was for the best.
6. "BYE" - Jaden
Most artists have something that makes them uniquely and utterly them. For instance, SZA has her word play. J. Cole has his storytelling. Kendrick Lamar has his poetic prose and Jaden has his…well, everything? When I say this, I don't mean it negatively, I mean that Jaden is never the same person when a single is released. This is even shown in his name change from Jaden Smith, to just Jaden. For most artists, the constant change between genres, flow, writing, and artistry wouldn't work. It would make the listener feel like they are following too many artists at once. But for Jaden, it seems to be the main thing keeping his artistry afloat.
In his newest single, "BYE" Jaden ventures to the beach in hopes of repairing his broken relationship. Despite its melancholy theme, the song comes off as a light summer pop/hip-hop track, which juxtaposes the song released from the previous album. Although the songs from Syre are hip-hop tracks, "BYE" leans more into the pop genre with its layered harmonies and almost synthetic voice.
7. "t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l" - WILLOW ft. Travis Barker
There is a special kind of wonderful when a Black woman is in the alternative/indie genre. There is an even more special kind of wonderful when she seems like she'll dominate the genre, if given the chance. Returning with Blink 182 drummer, Travis Baker, Willow Smith has released a new hit, "Transparent Soul." The single is mixture of the early 2000s alternative/rock and 80s grunge, with a new 2021 spin. Her voice is powerful and dominating as she sings about being able to see through all of the lies of her subject. Whether she is talking to a lover, former friend, or just an over confident stranger, Willow puts her subject in their place as she tries to navigate between friends and foe.
8. "Pasadena" - Tinashe ft. Buddy
I just can't stop smiling when I hear this song. This is a bop, a groove, a shimmy, and a shake.. Ahead of her fifth album, Tinashe returns with her exhilarating new single "Pasadena." This upbeat track focuses on the pride and joy one obtains when they live freely and embrace the moment. With a fun video filled with group dancing, penthouses, and a beautiful skyline, "Pasadena" has the potential to be a song you need on repeat this summer.
9. "Bed Friend" - Jacquees ft. Queen Naija
With his newest single from his new album P.T.O.F, Jacquees and Queen Naija team up to tell the story of friends who've become lovers. Unlike the typical "friends with benefits" set up, Jacquees talks about falling in love with his best friend while still being in a relationship with another. He knows that his desire for his friend over his girlfriend is wrong, but he can't seem to stop making comparisons and he can't seem to want to invest in his relationship because of this. He is aware that he and his best friend are moving past the boundaries of their friendship, though, despite this knowledge he leans fully in, hoping that the relationship "doesn't end in a dead in." After all, if this doesn't work out, Jacquees is aware that he has more to lose than just "Bed Friend."
10. "The Good" - Cynthia Erivo
The last five years have been kind to Cynthia Erivo. Between her discovery in London, her Tony, Grammy, and Emmy awards, her roles in blockbuster movies (Harriet, Bad Times at the El Royale, and Widows), and the Aretha Franklin mini series, she has shown that hard work truly pays off. Now, she is tackling another milestone, this one in the form of her upcoming debut album. From Ch. 1 vs. 1, Erivo has released her newest single "The Good." The song tells a story about a failed relationship, but instead of mourning its absence, she choose to remember the good times. Despite the somber lyrics, the song is upbeat and almost playful while she sings soulfully and powerfully. Released during Pride Month, Erivo's video has her in a tumultuous same-sex relationship, which is rarely seen between two Black women, unless you're counting the recent season of Masters of None.
Keep scrolling for more singles released in the week of June 18 to June 25!
"Feeling Good" - Chloe Bailey
"Talk About It" - Jungle
"Letter to My Daughter" - NLE Chopper
"Live from the Country" - Logic
"Wish List" - Joey Trap
"Muddy Flow" - Kill Jasper
"Genesis" - Azizi Gibson ft. AKTHESAVIOR
"You the Type" - CJ Fly
DaBaby - "Ball If I Want To"
"LAW OF AVERAGES" - Vince Staples
"Angles" - Wale ft. Chris Brown
"When You Love Someone" - Tone Stith ft. H.E.R.
"Formwela 5" - Esperanza Spalding ft. Corey King
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Taysha Robinson is a writer and high school English teacher, based in metro-Atlanta. A self described philomath, you can find her reading books and articles of every genre, attending educational conferences, and hiking wherever the terrain will allow.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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