Tyler, The Creator’s “November” — Anxiety, lack of focus & growing pains in the modern world
The amount of information accessible to an average human being has never been so big. Concepts such as “curation” (in entertainment, arts etc) have been in vogue due to the need of filtering and customization of so much content — the playlist is the new album, everything can be curated, each customer deserves a different product etc etc etc there’s just too much going on and no ones has time but everyone wants to feel special etc etc etc.
Having so much at the palm of your hand is so amazing because it makes possibilities endless, but on the other side, anxiety and lack of focus are the new generation’s biggest problems. The yearning for exploring and experiencing as much things as possible didn’t replace the desire to be loved and understood, and we’re still in the middle of finding a way to reconcile all this.
Recently, a song that synthesizes all these dazed feelings caught my attention.
It’s Tyler, The Creator’s “November” and for some reason I have the feeling that it lasts more than its 3:45, because there’s just so much going on.
In my first listen, I was more impacted by the lyrics.
By talking about his desire to be taken back to November, Tyler drives the listener to think of their personal November memories too; but there was just something more intriguing about that song that I haven’t yet figured out.
While thinking about it, I had the feeling that Tyler would share some common trait with me, because I could relate to so many aspects of the introverted-dreamy-mentally hyperstimulated-unfocused vibe of the song — would it be that Tyler is a Pisces, an introvert? Also, he really seems like someone with ADHD, I thought.
But, a few listens later, I was able to identify a lot of things that pretty much could be said about every millennial kid. You don’t need to have ADHD to have a short attention span, you just have to be alive in 2017; everything is hypertextual and people get bored really easily. Also, you don’t have to have been born under an astrological sign stereotyped as “emotional” to feel insecure whenever your crush doesn’t text back; you have solid reasons to believe they’re not busy, they’re just not into you, because you know they have their phone on their hands all the time (and you know it because you got yours too).
“November” is, for the most part, a nostalgia-oriented song, but it flows through a myriad of different feelings — like the mind of a millennial: they make the commitment of doing this one thing but in the middle of the way they swing to so many other directions.
First, Tyler is wistfully rapping about past Novembers of “Hawaiian shirts in the winter, cold water, cold water”, then he gets anxious and starts to talk about present insecurities, next minute he’s going back to what was so good about November. He goes back and fourth, back and fourth. In one minute he’s having “deep thoughts, deep thoughts”… then, “naw, take me back to November”.
Anacoluthon is recurrent in “November”, and while it kind of adds a “human” and “personal” touch to the lyrics, it also betokens the anxiety and lack of concentration that are so common in young people today — because, the age of our narrator here plays a crucial role in the song. He’s a young adult still trying to understand the world.
Growing up is hard, you have to worry about mundane things (“What if my accountant ain’t payin’ my taxes?”) when you’re not even ready to deal with your own feelings. You have this pressure to create remarkable stuff (“ I was too busy tryna make classics”). But how to be remarkable in times when everything comes and goes so fast and everyone is constantly exposed to so much? There are just so many possibilities, but which one is the best?
The new times are a little more friendly to celebrate uniqueness, but that doesn’t mean it is easier to feel accepted. People judge quick, life is a Twitter timeline, one second you’re getting likes, next second there’s a better selfie above and no one cares about you anymore. At the end of the day, you’re just 140 characters at the bottom of someone’s screen. How to stand out? And how to stand out without being shallow? But how not to be shallow and at the same time not being a total weirdo? “What if my music too weird for the masses? / And I’m only known for tweets more than beats?”.
I especially like the ending, when Tyler rambles about a song he wrote for the person he’s in love with, and he’s all formally romantic saying “the love I got for you has exceeded appearance”; but when he’s finally about to read the lyrics for the person, he suddenly changes his mind and decides to make a phone call (“the lyrics are… Matter of fact, I’ma just call you, so you can hear it”), even knowing it’s gonna be unrequited again (“Although I already know the response you gon’ say back / At that point I’ll hang up, disappear and just stay back”).
I love the fact that he uses such a cliche statement to describe his feelings. The contrast of his old-fashioned method to reach one’s heart, with the references about technology (wi-fi, tweets) and with the (lack of) pattern for the lyrics and the production, is one of the things that made me think of this song as a cool portrait of people’s dilemmas nowadays, like I said above.
Either for the lyrics or for the production (instrumental), “November” does everything but walk a linear path, which, in my opinion, is very denotative of the decision making process of any individual from generation Y or Z, who’s always floating around this and that, constantly indecisive amongst a sea of possibilities.
But in the middle of this confusion there are feelings, people fall in love, people get scared; behind social media, apps and tech products, people still feel things. Modernity didn’t kill feelings, the access to them just got a little harder (“ Writing all of these songs cause Wi-Fi wasn’t working”).
Another great “timeless human trait versus new era trend” moment happens when Tyler describes the love song he wrote by saying “Opposite of my heart rate, it slows down at the ending”, alluding to his romantic tachycardia and to the very pace and style changes of “November” too. Let’s see these changes:
- it starts with a normal hip hop beat, in an intimate vibe, kinda dark too; Tyler’s rapping about his November memories and his wishes to turn back time;
- in the middle, the instrumental becomes a little more empty, leaving room for the voices of random people talking about their own Novembers;
- then comes a trap beat and Tyler repeats: “take me back, take me back, take me back…”;
- the trap part is followed by another hip hop beat, which over Tyler starts his metalinguistic rap, rehearsing a dialogue with the person he wrote the song about.
So many moments!
It’s more than just the typical songwriting’s dramatic structure; here we truly have a variety of styles. Each one of them could be a song itself, but Tyler used them all in one song only. What’s impressive is: they all arrange very well, resulting in a really good song; it sounds cohesive, even with so many shifts.
If my point is to show how “November”, as a song, can be considered a typical product of an innovation era like the one we’re living, then this blending of different beats and styles is symptomatic of times in which:
- we need curation for the stuff we like — otherwise we’ll be overloaded with too much information and all kinds of content, and we’ll end up not really having an enjoyable experience;
- people have numberless paths to go, and the fact that they aren’t settling to only one might either mean they’re lost and trying to find their way, or that they already made the decision that there isn’t only one right path for them.
We are living times of abundance of information and content, and it leads to uncertainty, because everything is changing really fast. This premise is the core of most modern concepts in economics, behaviour, arts etc. Startups work with business idea validations; streaming service’s playlists add new songs every week; everyone’s testing stuff, everyone’s trying to find out what works.
Uncertainty might either bring good things and bad things. In “November”, I see an uncertain boy, like many boys and girls of today, but he found a great way to combine it all and create a really nice song.