UT Austin

Goodbye UT, it’s been real!

This is it. My time at The University of Texas at Austin has come to an end. I must say, clicking “end meeting” at the end of my final undergraduate class was probably the most anti-climactic moment of my life.

As I write this article, graduation is in three days so naturally I’ve been looking back at the past four years. Getting to this point has definitely not been a walk in the park. It was more like a chaotic walk down Speedway in which I was run over by multiple bikes, tripped over several bricks, and fought for my life against an albino squirrel. But I’ve made it. My interactive degree audit says 100%. It’s over and I learned quite a lot. So as my parting gift to you, here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned at UT.

It’s okay if you got a 40 on your first chemistry exam

I went into that exam ready. I knew the material. I was confident. I was relaxed. Then we got the scores back, and I did horribly. I got a 40 on what was supposed to be the easiest exam of the semester. Did I cry in my dorm? Yes, but looking back, I wish I could say to myself: “stop being so dramatic, you’re not even going to be a pre-med major.” 

Yes, it sucked to fail but you just have to keep going. You have to see what you did wrong. What studying methods didn’t work? Which ones did? Talk to your professor, and take your time. I kept calm, continued to work hard and then got an 80 on exam two. You’re going to take a lot of exams and have a lot of assignments, don’t let that one bad grade derail you. As long as in the end you understand that topic to the best of your abilities, that’s all that matters.

As one of my favorite underrated Disney movies says: “keep moving forward.”

Invest in pass/fail

This might’ve just been me, but I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the pass/fail option pre-pandemic. This is why I let a D+ in biology completely tank my GPA when I could’ve just pss/failed the class. I highly suggest talking to your academic advisors about how pass/fail works and what it does to your GPA. Especially since classes are going back to in-person next semester, the unicorn COVID pass/fails will not be making a return.

Always remember. Pass/fail is not an excuse to completely stop trying in your class. You should still try your best, no matter what your best looks like. 

Do not take three major intensive courses at the same time

Now you can obviously do this if you so desire, but just know it’ll be awful. Fall semester 2019, I took Reporting: Words, Reporting: Images and Media Law all at the same time, and I’ve never been more exhausted in my life. It’s hard.

The key to surviving taking multiple intense courses at a time is time management and having a friend who will understand your pain (shoutout to Alyssa Crosby.) But the other key is to not do it. I know it may seem like it’s best to get them out the way, but there really is no rush. You’ll end up over-worked and highly stressed when you could be decently worked and moderately stressed. College isn’t a sprint race; it’s a slow jog with the occasional fast-walking.

Talk to yourself

This one is for my fellow journalism majors. As I’ve been studying journalism, the thing I’ve heard the most is; journalists struggle with finding their conversational voice. My tip for this; talk to yourself. I talk to myself like I’m a YouTube vlogger, documenting every single moment of my day. Do my roommates probably think I’m weird? Yes, but it really helps.

Conversational tone is all about writing as if you’re having a conversation with your readers. That’s a little hard to do since as you’re writing, the only reader listening to you is your Google Docs page. This just means you have to be your own reader. Talk to yourself as you write and it’ll come out naturally. If you don’t talk to yourself (weirdo), how do you talk to your friends? This is the key, then through in some jokes and a little sarcasm (with AP style of course), and you’re good to go!

Hook ‘Em

Here is where I throw in random tips because I couldn’t think of a good one to end the list.

Group projects are the worst thing on this planet, and there’s nothing you can do about them. Best thing to do is close your eyes, breathe and pray for the end. Are you really going to use that $200 textbook? Wait until you have an answer before you buy it because most of the time you can survive off lecture notes. If you’re taking a foreign language class, reverso is your best friend, trust me. Lastly, one you’ve heard many times before, join a club – they’re fun. If you’re in need of suggestions, BurntX is a great place to start.

And now I bid adieu to UT Austin, it truly has been real. Next stop – graduate school, please keep me in your thoughts.

Featured designs courtesy of Kara Fields

kirsten dunst’s underrated filmography

Kirsten Dunst’s Filmography has been severely overlooked due to the discourse surrounding her work being labeled with the deadly term, “chick flick.” In this list I will be providing examples of why the unappreciation of Kirsten Dunst’s talent is a grave misfortune, as her film roles throughout her life, especially in her early career, exemplify the importance of her talent in making these female-driven movies powerful and lively. 

grumpy kirsten dunst GIF
Courtesy of giphy.com
  1. “All I Wanna Do” (directed by Sarah Kernochan, 1998) – Based in the 1960’s at an all-girls boarding school, a group of rebellious teenage girls led by Verena von Stefan, played by Kirsten Dunst, develop plans to ease some of the constraints enforced by the school. When news comes out about the school being in financial trouble and the solution being converting the institution to be coed, Verena von Stefan becomes passionate about doing everything in her power to not let boys interfere with the girls’ education potential. This feminist film is not only fun to watch but also allows the audience to see the varying girls’ opinions and interpretation of letting boys into their school. Kirsten Dunst is incredible in this movie as she convinces the audience that her character is passionate about the mission, while being a complicated, well-rounded person. Her performance is endearing as she is not the “mean girl,” but instead welcomes people into her club for outcasts and encourages others to fight for social causes. I also found the character, Miss McVane (played by Lynn Redgrave), to be incredibly charming and unknowingly sweet in this movie as she showed that boarding school for girls is not about teaching women to be proper and orderly, but wanting them to have the same access to higher education as men do. Miss McVane and Verena von Stefan are alike in many ways, both having a passion for girls to be themselves without the interruption/influence of men. Miss McVane looks at this all-girls boarding school as a place where “you can discover yourself, which is greater than discovering the opposite sex.” 
When Fashion Met Film: Teenage Rebellion: The Girls of All I Wanna Do /  Strike!
Courtesy of whenfashionmetfilm.blogspot.com
  1. “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (directed by Michael Patrick Jann, 1999) – I love this movie for its dry, dark humor – something that is often overlooked when women are at the front of this type of comedy. There is so much blatant irony incorporated into this film to highlight the ridiculousness of teenage beauty pageants and the traditional way to look at a girl’s worth. This beauty pageant becomes deadly as the need to win in some contributors of the contest becomes violent. Kirsten Dunst’s character, Amber Atkins, is a talented, charitable, kind, good girl, who everybody roots for. Dunst plays this character extremely well, showing her passion to leave her small town like all the boys have had the opportunity to do, but with the affordance of a sweet smile on her side. This film is severely underrated; I urge everyone to watch this movie if you’re in need of a fun, humorous time. 
Winning Kirsten Dunst GIF by Warner Archive
Courtesy of giphy.com
  1. “Virgin Suicides” (directed by Sofia Coppola, 1999) – Out of all the movies on this list, this is by far my favorite. Director Sofia Coppola is a frequent collaborator with Kirsten Dunst because Coppola realizes Dunst’s worth and appreciates her talent. This movie is sad, but somehow the sadness is not consuming. It tells the tale of five sisters raised in a religious, uptight household with an anxious, controlling mother and a complacent father. Kirsten Dunst’s character, Lux Lisbon, is the main attraction of the sisters, and arguably the film as well. She is the one with the most rebellious, daring tendencies. Despite the movie having an enormously dark mood, this movie is dream-like, and shockingly relatable for teenage girls. In many teen movies, the characters often live a romanticized life of what it’s like being a teenager. This movie does a good job portraying the teenage girl experience, and the intensity of it all. Early on in the movie, the youngest of the Lisbon sisters is asked by an invalidating male doctor why she is so mentally unstable for a girl who has barely lived life, to which she responds, “obviously doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.” The monologues placed throughout the film are beautiful and clairvoyant. Lux Lisbon really makes this movie for me, she’s cheery and smart and her desire to rebel is charming. To me, I consider this one of Kirsten Dunst’s best performances and she was only sixteen years old at the time.
the virgin suicides GIF
Courtesy of giphy.com
  1. “Bring It On” (directed by Peyton Reed, 2000) – This list couldn’t be complete without this iconic, overly dramatic, fun, sassy film. This is arguably one of Kirsten Dunst’s most recognizable performances. Her character, Torrance Shipman, is unintentionally funny with her consistent outbursts sprung from her determination to lead the cheerleading squad to victory. This movie is simply fun to watch as there are catchy cheers and dance moves incorporated but has unfortunately been written off by the negative connotations associated with being labeled a “chick flick.”
bring it on animation GIF
Courtesy of giphy.com

5. “Marie Antoinette” (directed by Sofia Coppola, 2006) – This is the latest film on this list but I had to include it because it was snubbed by critics disregarding the film’s excellence and beauty. Like most of Coppola’s films, the aesthetic is dream-like, making you feel entranced as you are drawn into the movie’s plot. The film gives humanity to the historical figure, Marie Antoinette, played by Kirsten Dunst. The pastries, dresses and shoes in this movie are so eye-catching and desirable that it makes the film incredibly attractive to look at. This film doesn’t have much action in it, and could be easily written off as being “slow,” but I believe this film is a solid essence of life piece, even if it’s an extremely wealthy life being portrayed, I find it to be still highly entertaining and humanizing. Dunst gives personality and humanity to her character, showing how young, innocent and naive Antoinette was when she was moved to France to become the queen in waiting.

marie antoinette period piece GIF
Courtesy of giphy.com

A Recap of Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil

Trigger Warning: This article includes topics of sexual abuse, drug addiction, and eating disorders.

On July 24, 2018, we all received the news of Demi Lovato’s overdose, wondering how they got to that point. Lovato then took a step away from the spotlight while they worked on recovering, not performing again until the 2020 Grammy’s performance of their song “Anyone”, which I vividly remember watching: Dressed in a long white dress under a spotlight, and Lovato’s pause to stop themself from crying, their first performance back was a powerful and emotional one.

It was not until the release of “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” on Youtube, that Lovato finally revealed what really happened the night of the overdose, and what they have been doing to make sure it never happens again. With four episodes worth of emotion-packed scenes, Lovato, their friends, family, and team, discuss Lovato’s addiction, sexual assault, and eating disorders – topics they were scared to shine a light on because of their Disney past. If you plan on watching this, be prepared to cry, and go down the rabbit hole of listening to the Dancing With the Devil album, and understanding the references behind their songs- and crying even more.

Episode 1: Losing Control

Kicking off the docuseries, the first episode reveals how during the “Tell Me You Love Me” world tour, Lovato put up a facade of being perfectly fine, while they were being consumed with guilt over their estranged father who had passed away alone, relapsing back into their eating disorder with over-exercising and extreme dieting, and getting hooked back into drugs and alcohol.

The end of the episode dives into the night before the overdose, and how Lovato had become physically dependent on heroin and crack cocaine. It was worrisome to see how even Lovato’s closest friends and family had no clue of them relapsing again because of how good Lovato was at hiding the addiction. Knowing that Lovato was going to overdose later that night and hearing Lovato recount the moments building up to it was anxiety-inducing, knowing nothing could be done.

Watching Lovato compare themself with the sketches drawn up for their tour costumes, which are typically elongated and skinny versions of artists donned in elaborate costumes, showed me something I had never thought of- just how we ourselves may compare ourselves to these celebrities on Instagram, they are comparing themselves to others, so remember that the next time you catch yourself comparing yourself to a celebrity or influencer who is probably doing the same thing.

Episode 2: 5 Minutes from Death

Episode two dives into how close Lovato was to death. It was revealed that had Lovato’s assistant, Jordan Jackson, waited a few more minutes before entering Lovato’s room and calling the ambulance, Lovato would’ve not been here today.

After watching the series, I recommend watching the Dancing With the Devil music video which shows Lovato re-enacting the night and morning after the overdose. After binge-watching the entire docuseries, watching this music video right after had me bawling at four in the morning.

Episode 3: Reclaiming Power

Episode three helped me see just how much fans can overstep into celebrities’ lives sometimes. Though it’s perfectly fine to admire an artist and follow up with their lives, this episode opened my eyes to how much we as fans tend to see celebrities as not human. When the news of Lovato’s overdose had broken out, superfans referred to as Lovatics, sent about four to five thousand death threats daily to Lovato’s friend and backup dancer Dani Vitale, being pointed to as the cause of Lovato’s overdose.

This episode also showed just how much Lovato struggled with having been taken advantage of by their drug dealer the night of the overdose and left for dead. During their relapse, Lovato tried to take back power by having consensual sex with the drug dealer. What shocked me the most, though, was Lovato revealing that this mirrored what had occurred to them when they were younger. At 15, Lovato lost their virginity in a rape, but because they were part of a Disney crowd, Lovato never revealed this part of their life. Though we may be curious as to who it was, as I saw in the many YouTube comments, it is not something that we should be questioning Lovato about. Also, hearing how Lovato’s abuser was never punished or taken out of movies he was in, showed me why Lovato never bothered to shed a light on his identity.

Episode 4: Rebirth

During quarantine, Lovato had time to work on their mental health and explore their identity after a failed engagement. Since the release of the docuseries, Lovato has come out as nonbinary. Lovato has now made a big change to their looks, chopping off their hair to be free of trauma and cut off the gender and sexual roles that were placed on them.

Growing up watching the Camp Rock movies and Sonny with a Chance, having idolized Lovato, watching this four-part series was incredibly sad, yet eye-opening in the fact of just how much Disney tends to want their young cast members to be the perfect role models, something actors such as Bella Thorne and Miley Cyrus have spoken out about since leaving Disney. While we as children were idolizing Lovato and their Disney costars, there is probably so much they have had to hide, making it even more difficult for them to heal.

Let’s Taco ‘Bout Veganism

No one can relate to the feelings of a baby cow more than Lauren Ornelas can. 

“My mom was taking care of my sisters and I and she would have to leave me places and I would miss her,” Ornelas said. 

“I would see the cows in the fields and I would think, ‘I don’t want to be responsible for their suffering and their pain,’” Ornelas said.  “You know, the baby waiting for the mom or mom waiting for the baby, and somebody decided to eat them.” 

Photo by Doruk Yemenici on Unsplash

Ornelas is the founder of the Food Empowerment Project and Vegan Mexican Food Recipe site. Latinx vegetarians/vegans like Ornelas are used to receiving gasps and skepticism from family members after shifting to a plant-based lifestyle. For years, a certain image has dominated the vegan and vegetarian world, and that image didn’t always include people of color.  

“I think it’s because a lot of what has been brought to people talking about these issues have been white people,” Ornelas said. “But (it) hasn’t been the brown or Black people whose cultures didn’t consume a lot of animal products, or were (already) vegetarian or vegan.”  

Even though the Latinx community and other communities of color have started to break through the white noise of veganism, the relationship between veganism and the Latinx community is strained, which makes life as a Latinx vegetarian a bit… complicated. 

Lauren Ornelas: Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

The complication starts with the word itself. Ornelas said part of the reason why the words vegetarian and vegan scare some Latinx people away is because of who’s been in the spotlight. 

“I think that (vegetarianism) seems kind of a white thing, because that is what is always presented and part of that’s right because we don’t get the same platform,” Ornelas said.

While food is a big part of Mexican culture, Ornelas added there’s a misconception that meat is also a big part of Mexican culture. She said many of Mexico’s Indigenous people weren’t big on meat and the idea of Mexicans and a plant-based lifestyle isn’t as far-fetched as people tend to think. 

“Our ancestors weren’t vegan by any means but they weren’t consuming animals that much,” Ornelas explained “They just weren’t eating (meat) like people do today and they certainly weren’t doing dairy until…Columbus, who brought the cows and the goats over.” 

Indigenous people weren’t exactly vegan, but a lot of what they ate would’ve been beans, corn and a whole lot of plants. 

Veganism and culture is still a complicated thing with many parts to it. Ornelas and her sites are trying to make the parts into smaller bite-sized pieces for people to understand. While the sites were created to share recipes for vegan Mexican food, they also share information on systematic food barriers, farm worker issues and more problems connected to veganism.

“We work to show that these issues are connected. The food system harms many and so our work is trying to get people to make these connections, and also to use their food choices as a way to create change,” Ornelas said. 

Now, she hopes that Vegan Mexican Food can be her way of giving back to the community she loves so much. She hopes to change the fact that many Latinx people suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and other health issues. 

“It’s one thing we can give back to our families, right?” Ornelas said. “I mean, to be able to give these recipes that are actually healthier for them, so that we can lessen the diabetes rates and heart attacks.”

La Vegetariana 

In her four years of being a vegetarian in a Mexican household, Stephanie Nunez, a biochemistry sophomore, has had to learn a thing or two. 

For example, she’s learned that with the right seasoning and a good amount of patience, mushrooms can taste pretty darn good in enchiladas.

“Quite honestly, with mushrooms, if you season them really well you can try and get them to taste like meat,” Nunez said.

She’s also learned that while her Mexican, mean looking, mustache havin’ dad may look like a tough guy, his search history exposed his soft spot for Pinterest feeds and Youtube videos of old white women cooking vegetarian food. 

“My dad’s a mechanic and has a mustache and it’s so funny to see him on Pinterest.” Nunez said. “He got really excited, because the other day on YouTube he found this Mexican woman who does vegan recipes and vegetarian recipes. But sometimes he’ll be watching these, like old little white ladies on Youtube and he’ll be taking notes.” 

She’s learned how to overcome a lot over the years, like all the jokes from her brother about being a bunny and the speculation from family members about it.

“The conversation would go the exact same way, I would tell them, ‘Oh, I don’t eat meat anymore’ and they’d be like, “Why? Because of the animals?’’ Nuez said. “And then I’d be like, ‘Well, I guess, but also just makes me feel really sick so I just decided to stop eating it,’  and then they’d be ‘That’s really weird, but like, why?’ and we just kind of continue that way.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

However, one of the hardest parts of her journey wasn’t learning how to tackle mushrooms. She said the hardest part was learning how to find new ways to connect in her culture’s love language.  

In Mexican culture, food is a type of love language. For me, every time I come home from college, my mom always serves me more than I can chew just to remind me that she loves me more than I’d ever know. For many other Mexicans, it’s not uncommon for an “I love you” to be disguised as a “Let me make you some food.”

For Nunez, it was hard to gauge how that love language would change, especially when she wasn’t able to eat a lot of the foods that conveyed love.  

Nunez remembers the times she was sick and the only thing that would make her feel better wasn’t any type of medicine. It was her mother’s caldo, a soup made with chicken. Being vegetarian meant letting go of food with meat in it, but for Nunez, it also meant letting go of the memories and love that went with it.

“My dad and my mom would make it for me if I was feeling sick, or if it was cold, or if I had a tough day, like, my family would make it for me because it was my favorite,” Nunez said. “And there’s really no substitute for that so it’s kind of hard to let go of dishes like that.” 

While Nunez said food has always been a big deal in her culture, the ability to cook for loved ones is an essential part of the Mexican love language, mentioning how her grandma’s recipe books serve 12 people for that reason.   

“That’s just so beautiful to me,” Nunez said. “It’s like you’re anticipating that you’re going to be taking care of that many people and you’re wanting to feed that many people and it’s just, I think food is really important in Mexican culture.” 

Before she was able to find recipes with her dad, Nunez said her mom had a hard time cooking for her, making it a little tricky to express love through food. 

“My grandma, my mom would get kind of stressed out about it (and say) ‘Well, what am I going to cook for you?’’ Nunez said.  

Despite this, Nunez said the challenges helped her family realize that cooking is simply better together and that maybe an “I love you” can also be translated to “Let’s make dinner.” 

Although they haven’t quite perfected mushroom tacos and they’re still dabbling with tofu tacos, Nunez said the effort is what matters most. 

“It just means a lot to me to have my parents supportive about it,” Nunez said.  “It’s really touching that they care so much about me that they’re willing to learn a lot of new things that were foreign.” 

Food continues to be a love language for Nunez and her family. It just looks more green and less lean. 

“We’ve been able to create kinds of new foods that have helped me still connect to my family like they’re still Mexican food,” Nunez said. “I don’t feel like I’m severed from my culture. I still feel connected to my family and my culture through the food.” 

THE EXECUTION

Tacos and traditions look a little different at Sergio Tamez’s food truck. Sure, food lovers can order the usual kind of tacos — sizzling carne asada tacos, fiery fajita tacos and even crunchy chicharones. 

But, inside the tacos, is anything but traditional. Every option on Nissi Vegan Mexican Cusine’s menu is completely plant-based. The “meat” is a soy protein Tamez makes homemade—even their queso is vegan.

https://www.instagram.com/p/COQnLcAl9zU/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

In a culture where sometimes an “I love you” is said through a home cooked meal, Tamez understands the impact traditional Mexican food can have on people’s lives. He said it’s part of the reason why he and his wife opened up their food truck. 

When him and his wife moved from Dallas to Austin and started their vegan journey, they couldn’t find any food that checked all three boxes — good, vegan AND authentic. 

“We started going vegan and we had a hard time finding places that were authentic, or, you know, something that was something that we liked,” Tamez said. We kind of are picky eaters.” 

Inspired by their family’s cooking and their own passion for it, Tamez and his wife took matters into their own hands and started the food truck in 2018. 

“Cooking was always a hobby so I have my own recipe book, my wife has her own recipe book and we just combine things,” Tamez said. “For example al pastor, that’s her recipe. Carne asada, it’s my recipe. The red salsa is her recipe, the green salsa, it’s mine. So it’s a combination. It’s like a team.”

While the business has been up and running for a couple of years now, the journey was not easy. A lot of their now popular recipes were the results of hundreds of failed experiments and a whole lot of teamwork. 

“You eventually will throw out a lot of food because, (you’ll be) like, ‘Oh, man. I cannot eat this,’’’ Tamez said. “It was like, months, months of trying to and lots of money. Lots of it was a big investment.”

However, once they did get their recipes right, they loved sharing their creations with Austinites.

“I was thinking more on the pleasure of eating, not just eating bland food,” Tamez said.  “I thought about it more by providing a more delicious, or a better tasting food.”

Still, Tamez understands why Latinx people are skeptical when they see things like birria tacos, tacos made out of goat meat, with no actual meat on his menu. He was even a skeptic himself. Tamez said when his cousin became a vegan he didn’t understand why until he started to transition to a vegan lifestyle himself. 

“He went all the way to veganism and then, at some point, I was like, ‘Man, something’s wrong with your head!’’ Tamez said. “But then we watched several documentaries on Netflix. He made me look a little bit deeper and then we decided to start transitioning. It was a long transition but we finally became vegan.”

While he knows the conversation surrounding veganism and Mexican culture isn’t going to change overnight, he hopes that places like Nissi can start to change minds, hearts and feed families for generations to come. 

“A lot of people get discouraged when they see the vegan word,” Tamez said. “But when they try it out and they’re like okay! You know, they really enjoy it.” 

Featured image courtesy of Kara Fields

More to Music Than Meets the Ear

Think about your favorite album. Who’s the artist? What’s your favorite song? These are probably questions you can answer without even thinking. Do you remember what life was like when it first came out? It’s probably an album you can listen to without skipping, so what makes the transition from song to song so enjoyable? Does the album art make you feel anything? These are questions we don’t often think about, but their answers are part of the reason why we love our favorite albums so much. 

Youtuber Nathan Zed created a mini series where he has an honest and humorous discussion about the way we listen to music and how it has evolved in the digital streaming era. As someone with no musical background, but simply a lover of music, his aim for this series was to look deeper into the journey of creating an album and the parts of the process outside of the actual musical production. His series consists of four videos: The Lost Art of Album Sequencing, The Power of Album Covers, The Power of Nostalgic Music, and The Lost Art of Album Rollouts. After watching these videos, I started paying more attention to these elements of an album and thinking about the artist’s creative vision for creating the unique body of work. Now, everytime I listen to music it’s more than just what sounds good, it is an appreciation for the art, talent, and creative vision put into these bodies of work. 

Each video changes your perspective on the music listening experience a little more based on which part of the process Zed takes a deep dive into. For each video, I will give a summary of some of the major points Zed brings up, example albums, and what I learned from the video that influences the way I listen to music to this day.

  1. The Lost Art of Album Sequencing

In his video, “The Lost Art of Album Sequencing” Nathan details the auditory journey of listening to an album from front to back. In his video, Zed argues that the major factors that affect the album listening experience are the sequential order and pacing of songs. According to Zed “Anyone can get people’s attention, but how well can they hold it?”. From beginning to end, a story is being told and each song is like a chapter that just keeps building on the one before it. Like any movie or novel, there is the inception, build up, climax, and conclusion. This isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for having a great album as the nature of some albums can be to defy structure or embrace an energy of chaos, but when done right, these factors can make a good album great. The pacing of the songs refers to the mood and energy from song to song. An example of off pacing would be a banger or fast paced high energy song followed by a slow melodic ballad. There are many ways to pace and sequence songs, but the idea is to have a natural connection from one song to the next through sound or theme. Zed compares the pacing of an album to that of a movie and how a movie with pacing that’s off gets confusing, loses its rhythm, and just feels off. The pace and sequence can enhance the listening experience and play a role in telling the story the artist is trying to express in their album.

Some example albums with excellent pacing and sequencing Nathan Zed references are: 

  • Ctrl by SZA 
  • To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar 
  • Blonde by Frank Ocean
  • Off The Wall by Michael Jackson
  • Dangerously in Love by Beyonce
  • Currents by Tame Impala
  • My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West

After watching this video, I listen to albums differently, noticing the way each song makes me feel from start to finish. I wonder, is the first song drawing me in? What kind of tone is it setting for the album? If the first song is the best song on the album, I’ll probably get disappointed and feel like the rest of the album isn’t even worth listening to. The intro song should be something that hooks me in and makes me not want to let go. And now that I’m hooked, the rest of the story should unfold. The songs should start to build on one another thematically and auditorily. And then there should be a point where I reach the climax of the album. This can be the best song of the album, one that really encompasses the album’s theme, or just changes the dynamic for the rest of the album. By the last song of the album, I should have been able to come down from the high of the climax song and be let down smoothly. The last song should tie the album altogether and leave me something to think about so that it leaves a lasting impression on me as a listener.

  1. The Power of Album Covers

In his video “The Power of Album Covers”, Zed explains how influential album covers can be to the music listening experience. The music should be able to stand on its own, but great album art can elevate the audio visual journey by providing a visual representation of the world the artist created for the album. In a way, a good cover art can make the music better and the music can make the cover art better in a mutually beneficial relationship. The power of album art extends to an artist’s career in that good album art can be so powerful that it becomes a part of who you are and will forever be associated with you. According to Zed, some of the factors that can make an album cover good are their ability to feel like a doorway into the world of the album, be so iconic that they transcend the music or genre, or if you’ve seen the cover even if you’ve never heard the music. An important factor in album art is the color scheme used. There are certain feelings associated with certain colors which can be transmitted in the color scheme of an album. An example he uses is the trend in hip hop music in 2015 where a lot of the album covers used blacks, whites, and greys which had a dark and moody feeling for both the art work and subsequently the subject matter of the songs but towards the summer of 2016 there was a shift to more colorful and vibrant album artwork and upbeat high energy music. When it comes to including an artist’s own image on the cover there is still a lot of creative freedom that an artist can have. It is exciting to see an artist in a unique and interesting way on their album cover whether it be through interesting colors, cool makeup, a unique pose, a unique outfit, or some interesting graphic design. Great album artwork can look a variety of ways whether it be minimal, maximal, captivating or any other adjective, but the biggest thing is for album art to make you feel something and be a good visual representation for the album.

Some example albums with iconic and/or powerful album art Nathan Zed references are: 

  • The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
  • Abbey Road by The Beatles
  • Because the Internet by Childish Gambino
  • To Pimp a Butterfly by kendrick Lamar
  • Kid A by Radiohead
  • 8701 by Usher
  • 2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole
  • The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

After watching this video, I do have a greater appreciation for album art and now judge new albums that are released. Artists have a lot of creative freedom for album art and in a way have more creative freedom than other mediums like book jackets, movie posters, or video game covers, so I would like to see artists take advantage of that. Good album art isn’t the end all be all to a great album, but it definitely enhances my appreciation and enjoyment of said album. I think about recent albums like Travis Scott’s Astroworld or Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy and how their album art was so iconic when they first came out, are an accurate visual portrayal of the album’s sounds and themes, and are just so aesthetically pleasing to look at I could decorate my room with their album covers.

  1. The Power of Nostalgic Music

The pandemic has without a doubt illuminated the power of nostalgic music. We all yearn for simpler times and memories of the past filled with happiness, friends, school, or even pain. Music is kind of like a time machine in that you can listen to a song and instantly be transported to a different time. Zed argues that “Music is only as good as the memories we have attached to it” because “The music can be good on its own, but the memories attached to it can make the music 100 times better”. Interestingly this can still be true even when we don’t have memories to associate. When listening to music that came out before you were born you can still feel nostalgic for a time you weren’t even alive to experience. Music can be nostalgic because we can associate it with memories, people, and even locations. The down side to the power nostalgic music can have is that it can make us feel stuck in the past and it can be harder to create new experiences with new music thus limiting the evolution of artist creativity and our own personal lives. Nostalgic music is different for everyone because everyone has different tastes and memories, but what’s important is to have a healthy balance between reflecting on the past and trying to live in.   

Personally, I’m no stranger to the power of nostalgic music. I’ve listened to music that reminded me of simpler times or fond memories of the past, but I recognize the danger it has too. My relationship with nostalgia is best represented in Dolly Parton’s song “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)” because she can recall memories of her childhood with fondness, yet recognize they were so painful that she would not try to relive them. I think music can be nostalgic in two ways because it can be a reflection of a point in both chronological time and personal history. For example, Drake’s album, Nothing Was the Same, reminds me of middle school because that album came out during a year when I was in middle school. On the other hand, I didn’t listen to The Weeknd’s album After Hours until a year after it came out because it wasn’t until then that I was going through a breakup and some of the themes of the album resonated with my situation. The music made me feel nostalgic not because of the point in time it came out, but because I was at a point in my life where I felt the strongest connection to the album. It’s natural to want to look back on the past and reflect on some of your happy or sad moments through music, but it’s also important to not let that make you live in the past. The future is bright and there are still so many memories you have to make and people to meet. 

  1. The Lost Art of Album Rollouts

In the most recent installment of his series, “The Lost Art of Album Rollouts”, Zed reviews the part of the music process where an artist introduces their new album. Sometimes we see this when an artist themselves changes their look, but in general, it feels like a new era in the artist’s journey. Zed argues that some of the best album rollouts feel like an event. This is especially true for concept albums which have a collective theme or purpose beyond each individual song. Some of music’s greatest albums have a feeling in which a new world was created and the artist themselves might even play a character in that world and little by little, an artist introduces that world until the album is finally released. 

There many strategies artists use to carry out the album roll out and throughout music history these included releasing singles, releasing music videos, and doing interviews that lead up to an album drop, or even surprise album drops. In the digital age where there are so many things happening simultaneously and our attention spans are short it is imperative that an artist capture our attention to introduce an album. In recent years artists have utilized art installations, memes, pop-up events, and live performances to introduce their album and are a great way for artists to build connections with their fans and use other mediums to help tell the story of their album. One way artists can also enhance the album rollout is when the album has a theme or the artists created a new world for that album and then they embody it by dressing up as a character from that album for events they attend or when their music videos also revolve around a central theme and feel connected. Good marketing like this can build up excitement for a new album and a new era for both the artist and the listener. Zed notes that “The music lasts longer than the rollout. The music is what’s going to be remembered, but the rollout is an opportunity to create a moment.”

Examples of well-executed album rollouts Nathan Zed references are:

  • After Hours by The Weeknd
  • Because the Internet by Childish Gambino
  • Igor by Tyler the creator
  • Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae
  • Astroworld by Travis Scott
  • 2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole
  • My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West

I’ll admit, I’ve never really paid much attention to album rollouts before. To me, it was never worth the hype or emotional investment because I never wanted it to alter the way I enjoyed the music itself. I will genuinely listen to an album for the first time at least 3 months after it came out because I need the hype to die down in order to form my own opinions and connections to the music without being influenced by everyone’s opinions online. This method works for me, but Zed presented some really unique album rollout examples in recent history and I feel like I missed out on the moment created by its introduction to the world. Moving forward, I do want to pay more attention to the rollout of new albums. It takes a lot of effort and creativity to build the world of a new album and I want to be a part of that experience. I want to get excited about the new world the artist is creating and appreciate all the effort they do to bring that vision to life. 

I appreciate Nathan Zed for creating this series as a fun way to look at what goes into making an album besides the music itself because it has changed my entire relationship with music. I now have a greater appreciation for the artistic insight it takes to envision an album, create the music for it, tell a story through the songs, and take the vision one step further with album art and an album rollout. Moving forward, I no longer see music as just a connection to my life, but with an appreciation for the creative endeavor each artist undertakes. 

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