Drumloop Revenge Body

[Sweat Equity; 2018]

Styles: depthiness
Others: Tati, Tim Hecker, “1979”

YouTube’s makeup vloggers are typecast as oversharers, but this isn’t quite true. Most of them, such as Tati, move through attention economy metrics much more tactically. They pretend to be totally shallow (it helps that makeup is — at least ostensibly — a literal surface) while working in (un)planned moments of nuance or TMI. It’s personality as cliffhanger — are they vapid as they seem or not? — or it’s classic supply-demand logic, baiting a growing viewer base for rare moments of depth. In “Grindable Eyeshadow….OMG,” which currently has 843k views, Tati applies a metallic lavender shade called “EDM” before spontaneously tearing up, holding up a cried-off eyelash — stuck to the tip of her finger — for us to see.

Revenge Body, the debut album by Drumloop (a.k.a. Daffy Scanlan), hardly feels this cunning. As my friend Eyrie pointed out, “Daffy’s work is immensely personal and that’s why it’s affecting.” But the makeup vlog personality model is a useful example of culture that, like Revenge Body, is interested in the way shallowness exists with and next to depth. The album title is pulled from a term that emerged in late-aughts tabloids to describe celebrities — most notably Jennifer Aniston and Britney Spears — who became thin and hot after their breakups. “Revenge Body” was picked up by fitness magazines, and in 2017, Khloé Kardashian used it as the name of her makeover reality show, expanding the phrase from romantic contexts to a generalized desire for vengeance. “Everyone,” the show’s blurb points out, “knows what it’s like to feel alone, left out, different, or just not good enough.” Scanlan binged the entire first season.

Revenge Body is about long-term crushes, isolation, and heartbreak; its songs were also entirely culled from suggestions generated by a randomized lyrics-generator site. Sonically, the album draws from aughts ambient pieces like An Imaginary Country by Tim Hecker, music that’s less “chill” than intentionally pretty and mystical (imagine the soundtrack to an eco theory-themed video game). But unlike Imaginary Country, Revenge Body — in the vein of indie pop artists like Coldplay — is also very much a piano and vocals album. Scanlan grew up taking piano lessons, and songs like “Kiss My Eyes” are built around anhedonic piano loops and her wrenching voice.

“Fredric Jameson once noted that superficiality was the ‘supreme formal feature’ of late twentieth century culture,” writes Timotheus Vermeulen in the opener of “The New ‘Depthiness.’” He continues:

Whether it was in the philosophy of Foucault…in the photography of Warhol or the nostalgia film, [Jameson] suggested, an “exhilaration of … surfaces” had cut short the “hermeneutic gesture,” the reading of a physical or dramatic expression as a “clue or a symptom for … reality,” or as the “outward manifestation of an inward feeling.” Indeed, at the time, Jameson’s suspicions of this “new depthlessness,” as he called the development, were confirmed everywhere.

With the aughts’ widespread adoption of smartphone culture, many argued that cultural superficiality had been put through a particle accelerator, as had postmodernism’s other touch points: the mixing and often interchangeability of high and low culture; irreverent or opaque self-referentiality; the constructed nature of social structures like race and gender. In 2005, the backlash to a (rightly or wrongly) felt notion of hyper-superficiality was New Sincerity. In 2015, Vermeulen argued, the response was what he called “depthiness,” riffing off of Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” For Vermeulen, the question was how to find meaning and truth when, post-postmodernism, meaning and truth were no longer real. Those engaging with “depthiness,” Vermeulen argues, “do not resuscitate depth as much as they resurrect its spirit. They understand that the depth that Jameson referred to — dialectics, psychoanalysis, existentialism — has been flattened, or hollowed out. What they create instead are personal, alternative visions of depth, visions they invite us to share.”

For me, at least, Revenge Body fits with this model of “depthiness.” Scanlan declines “everything is fake” nihilism or its inverse, a brand of wokeness that projects political urgency onto content in decontextualized broad strokes. Instead, to quote Vermeulen again, she “[leaves] the dead corpus of depth untouched, whilst trying to reanimate its ghost” — which is also the ghost of pop music, and of love.

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