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Song of the Week: FKA twigs and Headie One Unite Social Movements in “Don’t Judge Me”

Two kindred artists struggle through personal pain to raise awareness about sexual abuse and systemic racism

FKA Twigs, photo by Matthew Stone
FKA Twigs, photo by Matthew Stone
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    Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist.

    The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements may have different origins, but they share certain goals: among them, making certain that those who suffer sexual abuse and racial injustice, respectively, are acknowledged, listened to, and believed. Only when those things happen can healing begin, changes be implemented, and true justice be attained. In this week’s Top Song, British artists FKA twigs and Headie One bring their own survival stories together and, in doing so, unite these movements under a common anthem.

    This collaboration, which also includes Fred again.., actually began as the “Judge Me” (interlude), which featured twigs as a guest on Headie and Fred’s 2020 album, GANG. The original track, more a chance to breathe than anything else, takes on far more meaning this time around. Both twigs and Headie bravely put themselves out there as Black artists. In the case of twigs, the song can be seen as her response to the mental, emotional, and physical abuse she suffered in a previous relationship with actor Shia Labeouf and, as we’ve more recently learned, the racism she endured from fans of Robert Pattinson while dating the Twilight star. In Headie’s case, he’s gone on record (and verse) about the prejudice he’s encountered as a Black man in the UK, facing both racial discrimination and police brutality.

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    The updated version picks up where the previous one left off: Headie and twigs repeating and trading the phrase “don’t judge me” over a heartbeat-like thump before going into the details of their respective stories. That simple phrase heartbreakingly serves as a shield throughout the song. It’s a plea for compassion and open-mindedness, both the singer and the rapper knowing that confessing these stories can be painful and open up the teller to ridicule, even from those they trust the most. “Don’t judge me/ Take care of me/ Hold me in your arms,” pleads twigs, seeking a relationship that reciprocates her love with kindness, safety, and compassion rather than the cruelty and manipulation she’s known too often. Headie details the ugliness he faces on a regular basis, beginning all the way back with his hard-working parents: “Born in the gutter, know well my choice to be here/ Funny how both my parents done the most to be here/ We can walk free, but are we really walkin’ free here?/ How can this be home when I feel I wanna flee here?” His verse takes him right through the same perils and fears that Black men in America face, in one instance asking a police officer if he’s allowed to breathe and, in another, alluding to Mark Duggan, in many ways, a British equivalent to George Floyd.

    Accompanying the single is an incredibly powerful video directed by twigs and Dutch filmmaker Emmanuel Adjei. It stars Headie and twigs, in large part taking advantage of the latter’s skills as a dancer. As we watch both engage in violent movements alone, twigs explains that they are fighting — and in some cases losing the fight — against their “invisible oppressors.” These are extremely powerful images and a reminder of what victims are often made to endure alone as they merely seek to be heard and believed by others. It’s a pain that both twigs and Headie have been willing to relive and risk again in order to raise awareness. Consequently, this is a song that deserves to be heard, a video that should be seen, and a message that should be embraced.

    And most importantly: Don’t judge them.


    Honorable Mentions

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    Old Sea Brigade – “Day by Day”

    Nashville songwriter Ben Cramer, bka Old Sea Brigade, recently sat down with Consequence for an Origins spotlight on “Day by Day”. Cramer pointed out the irony that the song’s impetus dates back nearly three years to the strain and loneliness he felt while being on tour and away from family and friends. Like Shamir’s “On My Own” and several others, Cramer’s new single may inadvertently become a COVID anthem of sorts, because so many will identify with the toll of seemingly never-ending isolation. In a true case of art imitating life and life cruelly reciprocating, the blur of Cramer’s ticker-tape vocals and the song’s steady heartbeat will no doubt resonate with anyone — not just artists on tour — who feels life becoming one lonely day fading into another. OSB’s latest full-length, Motivational Speaking, is due out May 14th.

    Carla Geneve – “Dog Eared”

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    “I’ve been listening to screamo/ I’ve been feeling real emo again,” admits Australian singer-songwriter Carla Geneve in the opening lines of “Dog Eared”, the inclusion on this week’s list guaranteed to have you head banging in your living room. Playing off tried-and-true, soft-loud dynamics straight out of a ’90s suburban garage, Geneve shifts between blunt reflection and agitated eruption in what might be considered an anthem to, cringe, “adulting.” It’s a song that finds Geneve in that catch-22 of wanting to return to simpler times, which she can’t, while also wanting to figure life out (“‘Cause I don’t wanna have no excuses/ Why do I always feel so useless?”), which she finds herself ill-prepared to handle. It’s a messy, exhausting paralysis that leaves so many of us feeling stuck, dog-eared like a page we can never quite finish and turn. Geneve’s debut album, Learn to Like It, arrives April 23rd.

    Charlie Hickey – “Ten Feet Tall”

    We’re starting to see a theme in the songs that speak to us these days. Carla Geneve, meet Charlie Hickey, a fellow songwriter finding out that life might be tougher than anticipated. “I want to live in a shoe box house under your bed/ With your liquor, Snickers, and strawberry moons,” he sings in a room-filling, earnestly pure voice. Like Geneve, he’s unhappy, and the retreat in mind to happier, or at least more manageable times, of course, can’t really happen. Our 2020 Artist of the Year, Phoebe Bridgers, a longtime friend of Hickey, joins him on the choruses, only lending scope to the sentiment that so many of us feel right now: alone, alienated, and unsure of how to make it better without magically retreating to a simpler time we know how to navigate. Hickey’s debut EP, Count the Stairs, comes out February 26th.

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    serpentwithfeet – “Fellowship”

    And now for something completely different — well, kinda. Baltimore experimental musician serpentwithfeet (aka Josiah Wise) has found a way to cope with life’s rigors and the present’s isolation by embracing what he refers to as “the blessing of my thirties.” And that blessing has a name: his friends — or at least the memory and appreciation of their love. While so many of us feel the pains of isolation and loneliness, Wise relates softly over light, organic percussion how he falls back on life’s wisdom: “I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love.” Yes, he might be in our boat, but Wise is wise enough to count his blessings and wait for the storm to pass. It does help that he had two friends — Sampha and Lil Silva — helping him write and produce “Fellowship”. serpent’s sophomore album, DEACON, will be available March 26th.

    The Colleagues – “Gimme the Loot” (feat. Freddie Gibbs)

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    The Colleagues are led by Karl “KP” Powell, and their credits include the likes of T-Pain, Nipsey Hussle, Gucci Mane, and 2 Chainz. They’ve spent some time in Korea toiling in the K-pop mines, and they joined forces with underground king Freddie Gibbs once before, on the 2020 loosie “Red Vans”. For “Gimme the Loot”, KP and crew have built a beat based on eerie music box synths and a percussion section that alternates between expectant silence and furious hi-hat rips. Gibbs opens with one of his trademark hair-trigger flows while his hook of “Gimme the loot, bitch, gimme the loot,” is as simple and catchy as anything in his discography. –Wren Graves

    Top Songs Playlist

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