The overlap between the audience and the fan base for the musical guest — the Internet, a six-piece band of black alt-kids playing retro-futuristic R. The women in attendance seemed especially mesmerized by Sydney Bennett — better known as Syd tha Kyd — the frontwoman, whose Tiger Beat sex appeal gave her performance a depth charge. As she sang, she roamed across each quadrant of the small stage, staring deep into the throng, as if to find out whether her crush had bothered to make an appearance at the show.
To create her stage presence, Bennett studied the R. It showed. Bennett flirted with the crowd, peeking at them through her heavily lashed eyes, shooting sly smiles at fans and gently lifting her chin to acknowledge those she knew — among them, her mom, Janel, and her godmother, Sheryl. The TV appearance was a rarity for the members of the Internet, who, as their name suggests, live online and work from home. Aside from a few big-name acts, most artists are doomed to languish in relative obscurity with middling profits. This is usually seen as a tragedy — the death of a musical middle class — but it has also presented an opportunity for artists to avoid the suffocating effects of the label machine.
And so the Internet has carved out an entirely new corner of R. After the performance, a small constellation of cousins, little sisters and girlfriends milled about, snacking on doughnuts in the greenroom and helping the band pack up. After the equipment was loaded into a caravan of modest sedans and S. As the smoke drifted overhead, the conversation turned to the next day. The group needed to practice for the first stop on their upcoming tour, which would start a few days later in Japan.
There was drama to discuss, too. The year-old guitar player, Steve Lacy, had been photographed smoking weed, and someone had texted the picture to his mother, who was not happy. In , a journalist interviewing the crew asked one member, Vyron Turner who goes by Left Brain , where he was from. Turner may have been reacting to the banality of the question, but his answer also illuminated a changing dynamic for rap, which has historically been categorized by regional sounds.
Odd Future was the epitome of this new statelessness: They were neither engineered by a label nor hometown heroes, but something wildly different. Odd Future dominated many conversations about pop culture and the future of music by the end of They had released all of their early work — a barrage of clever mixtapes, striking artwork and bizarro music videos — for free on Tumblr and YouTube. Their sound was prodigious. And not only was their music different but they also looked different too, a bunch of black weirdos who skated in their free time and moshed onstage.
The frenzy surrounding Odd Future reached its peak in Cartoon Network gave the group their own television show; plans for an Odd Future retail shop were in the works.
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Labels were desperate to sign deals with the group, and Sony Music Entertainment succeeded. The crew had the upper hand and persuaded the label to give them their own imprint, and to award each member a cushy solo record deal. Bennett, the D. Music came naturally to Bennett. Though her parents are 9-to-5 people — Janel is a city clerk and her father, Howard, owns a manufacturing company based in China — her uncle, Mikey Bennett, is a producer in Jamaica. When she was 16, her parents let her transform their guesthouse into a studio, where she worked on her own songs and recorded local musicians.
In high school, she took music-technology classes and piano lessons; at night, she devoured beat-making tutorials and messed around with music software. Bennett gravitated toward artists who had pioneered brand-new sounds: The sonic spaciness of Missy Elliott, the stanky soul of Erykah Badu and the acid jazz of Jamiroquai.
Pharrell Williams, the original black skater weirdo, is her patron saint. And like most kids interested in music and living in Los Angeles in the mids, Bennett knew about a teenager named Tyler Okonma who called himself Tyler, the Creator. He had a sizable following on MySpace, where he released his music. She browsed through his page, listening to the songs he posted, too. She admired his ability to create deeply complex soundscapes, and she eventually messaged him, seeking advice on ways to advance her own style. And when Okonma needed a place to record the early Odd Future mixtapes, Bennett offered up her home studio.
In old footage of early Odd Future shows, Bennett plays songs from a laptop on a table at the back of the stage.
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Tomboyish, in a muscle tee and a short haircut, she crackles with the manic energy that Odd Future shows were famous for. She was generally indistinguishable from the boys in the group. From the beginning, Odd Future was meant to be a galaxy of loosely knit projects; the whole point was for the members to collaborate and spin off solo efforts. After all, they liked the same sounds: jazz, old-school slow jams, neo-soul. So they began experimenting, and these experiments would eventually lead to the formation of the Internet.
The band is artistically cocooned, trying to create, as she sees it, an entirely new style of R. Bennett thought this was a bit unfair given that, as the D.
I looked up to him. He was a very artistic guy, and I saw past the few words that he chose to use, and I never really felt any kind of way about it. She made tearful calls to her mother from the road, wondering aloud whether she should quit. Bennett also struggled with depression, worsened by the stress of touring and feeling disconnected from her family and her girlfriend at the time.
She says that no one in the group — other than Martin — seemed to care. One morning while Odd Future was on tour, when the group was watching the sun crest over a beach in Australia, Bennett broke the news that she was leaving. She says it was not well received. It felt like a divorce, like a family — however dysfunctional — falling apart.
She felt ostracized by the band for a while, but a few years after the fallout, any lingering resentment or hurt feelings appear to have faded. Okonma compared the space Bennett occupies now to Lauryn Hill at her peak. Musicians like Wiz Khalifa and Jaden Smith have been photographed wearing skirts and dresses.
But being openly gay can still feel especially difficult in the world of hip-hop and R. Lesbianism is often fetishized, made into a hypersexualized performance. While Young Thug can get away with wearing nail polish, female artists who give off an even slightly masculine air, like the rapper Dej Loaf, are hounded about their orientation. Minya Oh, the hip-hop journalist who goes by Miss Info, thinks Bennett has benefited from upheaval in the industry.
If anything, Bennett seems to have attracted an audience that appreciates the way her onstage presence transcends any particular gender. During the handful of times we met, I repeatedly tried to talk to Bennett about the importance of her visibility as a gay singer.
And every time, she seemed uneasy with the idea that she was a symbol. The last time I saw her, we were having breakfast at the Hotel Hacienda Cocoyoc in Cocoyoc, Mexico, a few hours before the Internet was scheduled to play a local festival in a forest, and I picked at the topic again. Did she see herself as symbolic of something larger than herself?
You know? The cloud lifted. Now we saw each other clearly. The Internet — the network — has a way of normalizing fringe ideas, marginalized identities and emerging artists that old media tends to ignore. It has done such a good job, you could argue, that people like Bennett — black, queer and weird — can exist without the burden of having to represent something larger.
Later that night, as thousands of Mexican teenagers rushed the stage, singing along in English and screaming her name, Bennett looked completely at home, and completely herself. How does a song work?
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What does it actually do? In my favorite songs, this stance-causation is essentially moral-ethical — it makes me feel more able to go out and live. How does the song accomplish this? Was that the intention? This led me to assume the song had to be a result of weeks of arranging. But reportedly the band recorded it in one take, learning it from the songwriter Jeff Tweedy as the tape rolled.
The song starts with a catchy eight-note guitar riff, to which it keeps returning, like a well-intentioned guy steering back to his mantra. Via inventive instrumental fills and a false ending from which it rejuvenates with renewed purpose , it manages the strange task of seeming contemplative while escalating like crazy. What does the song mean? Well, a great song means beyond simple sense. It means by how it sounds.