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Even in the dark and damp cavern that is the English winter, Valentine’s Day serves as an occasion where literal heart-eyes light up the cloudy days. That being said, it is still an arbitrarily commercial occasion with strawberries and candy-pink hearts polluting Tesco shelves as far as the eye can see. It is easy to forget, amongst intense declamations of romantic love that there are other kinds of love out there: for your friends, for your family and for yourself. Hence, dear reader, as a gift from me to you this LGBTQ+ history month, I have compiled these songs of self-love from artists flying the flag(s). So sit back, relax and let the music wash over you as we all charge ahead with our own journeys to self-love.
1. Holland – I’m Not Afraid
As South Korea’s first openly gay idol, Holland is a burgeoning voice discovering his own sound and place upon the stage. I’m Not Afraid is a track shimmering with layers of vibrant synth overlaying a morose disco beat. The song’s lyrical content is simple, with only two verses and a repeated emphasis on the words: “I’m not, not afraid any more.” The conviction in which Holland declaims this last phrase that drives the song from stagnancy. Repeating the negating term highlights the uncertainty that underlies even the most confident.
Finding your own self-confidence can be a shaky road and it is normal to doubt it along the way,
2. Sawayama – Love Me 4 Me
From Japanese-British artist Sawayama’s eponymous debut album, this crackling tribute to retro hip hop leaves traces of Janet Jackson with strong Noughties’ flavours on the aural palate. The song serves as a powerful anthem of womanhood and the need to subvert expectations: “I’ve gotta do right, be nice, smile just like a lady.” Indeed, who hasn’t felt pressure to act in a certain way to be seen as porcelain perfect? It can carry a heavy toll on the mind. But it is the realisation that “If you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love anybody else?” that really cinches the message of Love Me 4 Me; we have to have love for ourselves in order to pass it on.
3. Raveena – Stronger
Raw and vulnerable, Raveena’s R&B offering of Stronger is part letter of contempt, part letter of self-actualisation. Hailing from the great borough of Queens, New York, Raveena is a bisexual Indian- American artist with a sweet, feather-light falsetto that gently lifts the ear. Stronger, however, plays out in a lower register, lending a deeper tone and gravitas to her pensive lyrics.
Over a trembling synth pad, Raveena’s lyrics seek desperately for a clarity of mind from the embers of a relationship in which her self-value was desperately depleted. This results in a profoundly candid relaying of Raveena’s internal relationship with self and strength, coming to realise her own value and the beginnings of loving oneself. Love, even for one’s self, is about learning and this song reflects upon this lesson perfectly.
4. Janelle Monáe – Lettin Go!
A danceable 70s banger from the early Noughties’ that effortlessly combines soul, pop and R&B with disco – Lettin Go! is a testimony to the sheer artistry of Janelle Monáe. Monáe, a Kansas native, is open about the intersectionality of her identity as both a pansexual and black woman. And in Lettin Go!, she paints with lavish, loose strokes, the picture of someone completely relinquishing any restraints they once felt, both mentally and physically. Her soulful yet animated vocals colour the narrative of doing exactly what it says on the tin – Lettin Go!.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova