Valentine’s Day isn’t just for people in relationships. It’s another opportunity to show yourself some love, too. Whether you’re currently entangled or free as a bird, there’s comfort in knowing that music will always hold your hand even when it’s clammy and unmanicured. As we know, listening to music can completely alter your mood and trigger certain memories. When I started this series, it was with the intention of combining two of my favorite things: music and psychology. So, what better way to study human connection than to start a dialogue about love and how it presents to different people? So I took to the streets to research– and by the streets, I mean social media.
I asked a varietal group of people what their favorite love and breakup songs were and what those songs meant to them. There were some contrasting variables to what each person claimed to value in a relationship– things that were specific to them as individuals, but at their core, their standards were very similar. In some fashion, each person expressed concerns with emotional vulnerability and sacrificing ego, understanding and practicing love languages, and healthy or insecure attachment. Even those who claimed to have never been in love understood the ethics of intimate and romantic relationships, with specifications of how they envision receiving love. I don’t have any real words of wisdom for you today, but consider what Aniah had to say about the songs she chose: “These songs put me in a magical headspace in which vulnerability not only feels reachable, but freeing.”
UK soul singer-songwriter, Celeste released her debut album, Not Your Muse just in time for Valentine’s Day. From the romantic cover art to the project’s overall themes of love and loss, Celeste and her team knew what they were doing when they released in late January. Celeste, who has been on the radar since 2018, has seen a steady and gradual career incline, with accolades building in her treasure chest by the pound. The 26-year old is bringing back sounds of old with jazz and blues influence and a one-of-a-kind voice. The artist credits the loss of her father as motivation and inspiration to further her passion for purpose and music, telling Evening Standard, “Until that point my life had been rosy to an extent. It shocked me. Then after that I had so much more drive to do something I cared about. I focused everything on doing music from that point.”
On the album’s intro, “Ideal Woman” we have Celeste’s velvety voice singing against societal standards of what embodies an ideal woman. Coincidentally, the track just so happens to be constructed just like my version of an ideal woman: unexplainably sensual and almost effortlessly commanding of attention with humility and grace. The track, produced by Josh Crocker and Charlie Hugall, is the perfect foreplay for the main event that is the rest of the album. From the slow creep of guitar and gentle, modest chimes to Celeste’s smooth-as-butter voice, “Ideal Woman” lets you think it’ll do one thing just to do something different entirely. Just as you expect a sonic or vocal swell, production slows and Celeste takes a right when you’ve anticipated a left, resulting in the unavoidable tap of the “repeat” button.
Following the intro is the project’s lead single, “Strange,” which was originally released in 2018 on the artist’s EP, Compilation 1.1. The track, which was previously featured on TGG, is what propelled Celeste into the spotlight, incurring international discussion of the artist’s future endeavors. The deluxe version of the album features the original, extended version of this track with an additional chorus and bridge. Recorded in LA during a wildfire, Celeste gives credence to the smoke in the air for the rasp heard in her voice at the time of recording. Those gravelly vocals gracefully escort us through a somber tale as old as time: the evolution of love and loss, by choice or by fate. Picking up the pace and picking our jaws up off the floor, upbeat singles, “Tonight Tonight” and “Stop This Flame” come next on the project. The video for “Stop This Flame,” a tune about keeping love alive, sees the colorful city of New Orleans painting the scene.
On Not Your Muse, Celeste brings different varieties of love– romantic, familial, self– to the forefront. The album’s title track is a slow burn that gradually grows into a raging fire. The zenith of the project, the song is placed smack dab in the middle of sequence. The record deconstructs the dated damsel-in-distress and manic-pixie-dream-girl tropes with a delicate nature and beautiful simplicity only Celeste can dispense. Tugging gently on our heartstrings, “Beloved” is a declaration of longing. On the track, Celeste croons a letter written to a love unrequited. With its almost adolescent yearning fueled by the purest of intentions, “Beloved” holds its place as my favorite track on this project.
Immediately following the gentle plucky instrumentation on “Beloved” comes horn-infused ear-candy “Love Is Back.” The impenetrable swagger heard on this track is succeeded by the haunting, drifting mystique found in “A Kiss.” Continuing the trend of romance, the next track, “The Promise,” is a pledge of recommitment to an old flame. The transition from one track to the next here is an example of what I like to call “peaks and valleys” in a body of work. Where there is a rise, there’s sure to be a fall. It’s almost as if Not Your Muse is its own breed of love story, with a prologue of self-love and self-acceptance, love coming and going throughout until finally, bittersweet acceptance with the project’s outro, “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos.” With a damn near perfect debut, Celeste has managed to bust down the doors of 2021 with lyrical finesse and a natural talent that’s yet to be matched. Not Your Muse will remain in my personal rotation until further notice. If you’ve got time to sit down with the album, without distraction, I would highly recommend doing so.
Inspiration for today’s relationship topic of discussion is brought to you by Nigerian-born, New York-based alternative R&B artist Toulouse’s “Reach Out.” Written, performed and produced entirely by Toulouse, “Reach Out” is a desperate call for the raw and the real that comes with relationships.
The concept of emotional vulnerability is much more appealing than its practice to some, myself included. The hesitation of being forthright with your innermost thoughts and feelings with another person stems from a fear of rejection– that what we feel or think is wrong or will be ill-received. This fear of rejection may be derived from past experiences and their perceived outcomes. If you focus on the root of the mental blockage in this case, you might see how unfair that is to not only you, but to your respective partner. It’s important not to punish those who are willing to receive all of you for the actions and transgressions of other people. One of the many ways self-sabotage manifests in relationships is by clinging to the notion that emotional vulnerability equates to weakness. This notion is fueled by ego. There’s nothing weak about unadulterated authenticity– it takes strength and fortitude to trust another person with your most personal business. By giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, you allow both parties the freedom and security to be 100% authentic in the relationship.
Be afraid and do it anyway.
On the other side of laying it all to bare is the willingness to receive and process another’s innerworkings with humility and compassion. This is where choice comes in again. By practicing empathy with the people we love, we plant seeds of trust and mutual protection within our relationships. Establishing a safe space with whom you desire this level of intimacy can open doors to deeper understanding of the relationship and each individual involved. Receiving information and acting on information are two very different things. Sometimes, people just want to feel heard, no action required. Use emotional intelligence as a guide to understand the best way to receive your partner’s vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to ask them how you can show up for them or how they would prefer this information to be received: “Do you want a solution or do you want comfort right now?” Actively remember that there is no wrong answer to this question. Try not to allow your ego to cloud your ability to receive delicate information.
With all that being said, not every person in your life deserves unadulterated authenticity; be selective and use your best judgment to discern who in your life is worthy of receiving those parts of you. Try not to waste your energy on being heard by the wrong people.
Chicago native, Femdot provides nostalgic New York sound and the inspiration for today’s love topic: the difference between attachment and love. Whether they’re still pillars in our lives or in the rearview, “Happy Breakup Song,” magnifies the goodwill we should wish to those we love. Just because something doesn’t last forever, it doesn’t negate the growth, happiness or success brought on by the experience.
Confusing love with possession or attachment is one way insecurity rears its ugly head in relationships. In the early stages of a romantic relationship, it can sometimes be easy to fall completely in line with your partner, becoming totally enveloped in the relationship and really not much else. Things that are deserving of your time and attention can fall to the wayside, like hobbies, friends and family, or responsibilities. According to a scientific study led by Dr. Helen Fischer at Rutgers, “Attraction involves the brain pathways that control ‘reward’ behavior, which partly explains why the first few weeks or months of a relationship can be so exhilarating and even all-consuming.”
But what about after the initial phases of love? We’ve all either been there or seen that, those relationships where one person fears being without “The Other Half” for longer than a minute. Consistent insecure attachment in a romantic relationship is indicative of emotional dependency. Dependency such as this occurs when an individual feels less than whole prior to coupling, seeking wholeness within the relation. When emotional dependency like this is apparent in a relationship, the union becomes less about equal partnership and more about serving oneself to fill an imaginary void within. Dependency can look a lot like addiction that’s led by, you guessed it– ego.
Have you ever seen a cute kitten or puppy and had the overwhelming (and slightly concerning) urge to squeeze a little too hard? I’m talking hard enough to maybe unintentionally inflict a little pain? Why would we want to squeeze the life out of something that brings us so much joy and comfort? This is where fear comes into play– fear that what we have now, we may not have forever. To combat this fear of loss, we may cling on for dear life– applying pressure in order to feel in control, squeezing so hard that what we love eventually suffocates. Similar to love, fear is complex; it’s been societally ingrained in our minds to fear loss, because to lose is to lack, and a feeling of lack can negatively impact our self-esteem.
The most effective way to combat fear of loss is through acceptance. The moment we relinquish the need to control, we can acknowledge and appreciate the beauty in that what we think we have cannot actually be “had.” Whatever will be, will be. A more romantic way to view this is to imagine your loved ones as open air– impossible to capture entirely and flowing freely. Assume the position that no one, not even your partner or family, is obligated to live up to your expectations. (Expectation can be an especially vicious instigator as it tends to lead to disappointment, guilt and anger more often than not.) Recognize that your loved one is an individual, inside and outside of the relationship, and celebrate their sovereignty. Remember that to love without possession is to wholeheartedly root for our loved ones’ happiness, even if that happiness doesn’t include or involve us. There is incomparable value in knowing that every person reserves the right to just exist, including you and your partner.
We’re cracking love open and taking a peek inside today– a look behind the curtain, so to speak. Inspiration for today’s installment of TGG’s Valentine series arrived in the form of UK-based soul singer-songwriter, Celeste’s “Strange.” With the aid of producer Jamie Hartman, Celeste perfectly encapsulates the emptiness love can leave behind and the ways in which love can evolve or deteriorate between two people. The lead single from her debut album, Not Your Muse, was released with an equally evocative music video. The video opens and closes with the artist standing in the middle of a dark road, surrounded by smoke and embers, symbolizing the sometimes cataclysmic aftermath of romantic love.
The Triangular Theory of Love, developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg suggests that the recipe for perfect love consists of three ingredients: intimacy, passion & commitment. According to Sternberg’s theory, different combinations of these components result in 7 varieties of love: infatuation (passion), liking (intimacy), empty love (commitment), romantic love (passion & intimacy), companionate love (intimacy & commitment), and finally, consummate love (intimacy, passion & commitment). The Ancient Greeks also had 7 words for the different varieties of love. It’s entirely possible to experience each and every variety of love over the course of a single relationship. Say a couple begin as friends (liking), until a mutual attraction forms (infatuation, romantic), they decide to become exclusive with one another and traverse life together (companionate, developing into consummate), but then somewhere along the line, the passion and intimacy may disappear (empty).
What can we do to avoid love becoming empty? In some cases, unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. As scary as change may be, it is the only constant in life. We are forever evolving– mentally, emotionally and physically. Over time, we may grow into entirely different people altogether. This is where we come to the intersection of loving and choosing to love. Actively loving someone takes work, patience, and dedication. A step in the right direction is determining yours and your partner’s love languages.
Dr. Gary Chapman developed the concept of the five love languages with his book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. The theory is that each individual has an internal hierarchy of how they like to give and receive love. The five love languages are as follows: 1. Words of Affirmation Someone whose preferred method of receiving love as words of affirmation finds comfort in verbal validation, encouragement and compliments. This could be as simple as letting your partner know how nice they look today or verbally expressing gratitude for your partner. 2. Quality Time Quality time is defined as “time spent in giving another person one’s undivided attention in order to strengthen a relationship.” Put your phone away and enjoy time together, distraction-free. 3. Acts of Service Giving love via acts of service can be as simple as accomplishing a household chore without being asked, warming up your partner’s car before they go to work, or even just plugging their phone into the charger. Any small act of service can speak volumes in love. 4. Gifts Gift-giving doesn’t have to be as grandiose as it may sound. This could be any small offering: “I was at the gas station and got your favorite candy bar” or “I saw this at the store and it made me think of you.” A lot of little things over a long span of time can be more meaningful than a few big things. 5. Physical Touch Physical touch doesn’t necessarily mean sexual intimacy. It could be as simple as carving time out of your day to just lay with your partner, a hand on the small of your partner’s back in passing or a squeeze of the shoulder.
Discuss love languages with your partner to better understand each other’s preferred methods of giving and receiving love. Communication is a building block for all relationships. Love languages sometimes make it easier to say what can’t be expressed with words. Express gratitude for your partner (and others!) as often as possible and be active in showing love.
Additional inspiration: Charlotte Day Wilson’s “Work”
Hello and welcome to the first installment of TGG’s Valentine series. Although Valentine’s Day may be a cash cow for the capitalist regime, the now-contorted sentiment behind the holiday called to me. Combining psychology and music, I’ll be writing about all things regarding love and relationships leading up to the holiday.
Today’s musical inspiration is brought to you by Philly native Santigold in the form of “Can’t Get Enough of Myself,” the first track on 2015’s 99 Cents. Consider the song’s chorus and remember to always invest in yourself.
If we’re gonna be discussing the mechanics of love and healthy relationships, there’s really no better place to start than with the self. If you’re alive and breathing, you have probably heard some variation of the phrase, “You can’t love someone else without loving yourself first” once or twice in your lifetime. The validity of this statement is debatable, mostly because love is not black and white. Similar to any other complex emotion or frame of mind, love can ebb and flow based on varying circumstance, environment and other things beyond our personal control. Compassion for self, although ultimately fulfilling in practice, proves to be exceptionally difficult to execute at times. We are often our own worst critics because, for some reason or another, we may hold ourselves to higher standards than those we love. We may forgive someone we love for making a mistake without granting ourselves the same forgiveness. Expressing the same tenderness for ourselves that we show for others can enhance our self-esteem and change the game altogether.
Unfortunately, there’s no rulebook for self-love, but an article written by Dr. Deborah Khoshaba in Psychology Today suggests a “7-step prescription” for executing self-love. This 7-step prescription consists of the following: 1. Be mindful of your own feelings and thoughts. Being consciously aware of your own desires and concerns breeds emotional maturity and intelligence. Acknowledge that what you feel is valid– don’t let your emotional welfare take a backseat. 2. Act on what you need rather than what you want. Avoid impulsive desires for instant gratification, which sometimes manifests as self-sabotage. Instead, commit to personal necessity. Take a step back and look at tempting situations from the perspective of “Will this help or hurt me?” 3. Practice good self-care. “Self-care” is a term that gained recent popularity which, in turn, has distorted its true definition. Self-care is defined as providing yourself with the basic needs to function day-to-day. This includes getting enough rest, proper nourishment and exercise. 4. Set boundaries. A lack of boundaries is a betrayal of self; without clearly stated boundaries, we allow room for others to take advantage and rob ourselves of the right to object the infringement. Setting boundaries for ourselves is just as important as setting boundaries for others. 5. Protect yourself. It is no one’s responsibility but your own to ensure your safety and well-being is preserved. Sever ties, if possible, with people who intentionally or unintentionally bring harm or discomfort. Never forget that you are your first and last line of defense against harm. 6. Forgive yourself. This one is definitely easier said than done, but as stated previously, we must grant ourselves permission to make mistakes and to learn from them. Would you scold your loved one for making an honest mistake the same way you scold yourself? Take your lumps like everyone else, acknowledge but don’t dwell, and do better next time. 7. Live intentionally. Life is simply more enjoyable when living with purpose. Being 100% intentional in how we operate, interact and move in our day-to-day lives can create magnetic energy, and attract others with similar purpose.
I can tell you from personal experience that practicing self-love isn’t always easy but I can guarantee that it’s rewarding. You start walking different, talking different– a palpable, gradual energy shift takes place over time. When you love yourself the way you want others to love you, an exciting, dangerous thing happens. You realize that you lack nothing needed to be enough and that you are indeed plenty all on your own. Everything else is an added bonus, a reward for your hard work. The key word here is Time; when you plant a seed, you have to nurture, water and care for it diligently and patiently in order for it to grow.