Things I wondered while listening to an indie-rock boy band on loop for months at a time
What I am about to say is embarrassing and I don’t know why. Landmark, the first full-length album from Minnesota-based indie pop band Hippo Campus, came out in February, and since then I have listened to it dozens upon dozens of times. So many times, y’all. Too many times.
Like all the best and deepest of my obsessions, this one has evoked lessons, thoughts, questions. Here are three of the things I’ve wondered hardest in the months since this album wrecked/rebuilt my life…
What gets us hooked on certain music? This question haunted me last summer when I clung to Nick Jonas’ latest record, resolutely, inexplicably. It haunted me in 2010 when I drifted back to Raúl Esparza’s rendition of “Everybody Says Don’t” and Wes Taylor and Matt Doyle’s take on “Lucky” again and again. It haunted me in elementary school, when I discovered my local pop radio station and began experiencing a bone-deep longing to hear “No Means No” or “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy” while I was supposed to be solving equations or composing an essay. I have always gotten “addicted” to music in a way that feels slightly destabilizing, like: why am I like this? Why can’t I stop? Why don’t I want to stop?
There are scientific answers to this question. Musical catchiness can be reduced to measurable variables. But it feels less tangible than that, when it happens. It feels like a particular song or album has become glued to your soul somehow and you just have to live with it for a while — and it becomes sort of pleasurable, in a vaguely codependent way.
RJ Wheaton once wrote, on the process of writing a book about a beloved album, “There’s simply no way I could have handled listening to this album as many times as I have, if I had not loved it at some level that was basically beyond reason. I think it has to be an album that has fused with your life in some way…” I feel that way about Hippo Campus’ Landmark. Last.FM ventures to guess I’ve listened to it over 80 times, and that’s if you don’t count all the times I’ve thrashed it on my phone while walking or commuting. It underscores my 2017. It gnaws at my brain like a loving compliment from someone of whom you’re fond. It’s a comfort and a constant. I wish I knew why. But it’s okay that I don’t.
Is it creepy for me to have a crush on the boys of Hippo Campus? I mean, probably not. I’m probably fine. The boys range in age from 21 to 22, and I am only 25. If I met them at a bar or a party, and we flirted and made out, no one would think anything of it, probably. But, uh, I still feel gross for liking them as much as I do. I feel gross for feeling gleeful when I looked up their ages just now and saw that my number-one Hippo Campus crush, lead guitarist Nathan Stocker, is in fact the oldest member of the band at just two-years-and-a-bit younger than me. Ugh. I am gross. I should stop.
Should I, though? Girls swooning over boy bands is a time-honored tradition, and indeed often the unstated goal of these bands’ marketing campaigns. It sells them more records so it’s what they want.
But I still grapple with this. As someone who is frequently sexualized by internet strangers without my consent, I am sensitive to this plight. Where is the line between moony-eyed idolatry and predatorial objectification? How much do you have to like a stranger before you officially like them Too Much?
There exists more than one interview on YouTube in which Nathan — my nimble-fingered heartthrob — mentions “getting babes” as a benefit of being in a band. It’s difficult to know how serious he is — Hippo Campus has done ostensibly feminist things like raise money for Planned Parenthood — but somehow these comments of Nathan’s make me feel like less of a lascivious crone for crushing on him. Or am I merely taking any excuse to absolve myself of this guilt?
If you, like many, find musicians attractive, it’s hard not to fall into infatuation as you watch them do their thang, whether on YouTube or in person or anywhere else. The intense faces they pull as they sing are unavoidably evocative of facial sexpressions; fingers thrumming tremulous chords onto guitar strings incessantly imply fingers pushed inside me; sweaty mid-concert faces and messy mid-concert hair remind me too much of raucous bedfellows I have known. The parallels between music and sex are everywhere, it seems — and it doesn’t help that Hippo Campus’ lead singer Jake Luppen looks almost exactly like the high school crush who turned me down and “got away.” My heart sighs just to look at him, from some deeply rooted shame and joy still circling through my body.
Everyone I’ve ever desperately loved who hasn’t loved me back — a club with an embarrassingly broad membership — has had some marvelous talent I ached to commodify, to keep. Someone that good at piano/improv/writing, I reasoned, could entertain and uplift me every day with their aptitude if they were mine. I would never stop laughing, smiling and dancing if they loved me back. This is a seductive promise but not an altogether true one: when the sparks of new love settle into something comfortably dusty, we stop showing off for each other — not always, but often. We stop wanting to make each other laugh, smile and dance. Or at least we stop trying as hard.
I wonder, like an idiot, if a Hippo Campus boy who loved me would play me songs on his guitar every night or just roll over and go to sleep.
Why does intense pleasure make me feel guilty? The simple answer is, “Because I am a woman.” We’re told we don’t deserve pleasure — unless, somehow, it exists in service of someone else. The pleasure of getting dinner on the table. The pleasure of existing as a sexual vessel and object. The pleasure of putting in emotional labor so someone else can feel comfortable and happy while I might or might not. You know. Women’s “pleasures.”
Though I have sometimes prided on myself on not absorbing the neuroses foisted on me by my socialization as a woman, it’s clear to me now that some of them snuck in anyhow. I feel guilty about most anything that gives me hair-raising degrees of pleasure. I hem and haw over ordering dessert at restaurants because it’s “expensive” and “bad” and “too much.” I don’t read or watch TV for pleasure nearly as much as I used to, because every moment not spent working feels wasteful. I tell partners not to worry about giving me an orgasm because “it’s okay” and they’re probably “too tired” and “I’m fine” (I’m usually not; I love orgasms!). I am, in other words, a typical woman under patriarchy: mired in guilt for enjoying the things I damn well deserve to enjoy.
It’s this, I think, that scares me a little about Hippo Campus: the notion that I enjoy their music “too much,” that I should keep it quiet, put something else on, quit mouthing along with the songs triumphantly on the subway. A few people have asked me, over the past few months, what kind of music I listen to — and I felt too shy to say, “Lately, almost exclusively this band from Minnesota called Hippo Campus.” It felt silly and un-chill to admit to being so laser-focused on anything. I’m bad at being chill, but it always feels expected. Liking things too much is goddamn embarrassing.
But look. Life is so fleeting, and pleasure so relatively rare. I have never seen the point in pretending not to like someone in order to avoid scaring them off — and likewise, it bothers me that I try to downplay my media obsessions, from Hippo Campus to The Office to Sherlock fanfiction, in order to appear more “chill.” My pleasure exists only within my own body and thus directly benefits only me, but that does not make it a waste of time. A person brimming with pleasure has much to give to the people in their lives, and the world at large. If listening to cute Minnesotan boys croon, over and over, for hours a day, imbues me with the panache to go out into the world and do good things, I say I might as fucking well.
I love Hippo Campus. I’m only a little bit embarrassed about it. But if a close friend was in my shoes, I’d tell her, “Whatever. This band makes you happy. You deserve to be happy. Go forth and obsess, my darling.”