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How Booksmart Writer Katie Silberman Created A Teen Classic For The Harry Potter Generation

Katie Silberman likes to describe herself as a Molly sun under an Amy moon with a Jared rising, “but little elements of all of them,” she adds. The Booksmart screenwriter is calling me from her apartment in Santa Monica, where she is staring at a Jane Eyre poster she stole from Amy’s room, just above…

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How Booksmart Writer Katie Silberman Created A Teen Classic For The Harry Potter Generation

Katie Silberman likes to describe herself as a Molly sun under an Amy moon with a Jared rising, “but little elements of all of them,” she adds.
The Booksmart screenwriter is calling me from her apartment in Santa Monica, where she is staring at a Jane Eyre poster she stole from Amy’s room, just above the fictional teen feminist’s desk. It now hangs above her own desk in an homage to a film — and an experience — that she calls truly special. These teen characters are so much a part of her that she now talks about them like astrology, which to any Millennial is to say that they are ingrained in her very soul.
But Booksmart is more than a modern teen classic, a tale of two precocious overachievers (played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who try and cram four year’s worth of teenage debauchery into one unforgettable night. It’s a touching, frequently hilarious story of female friendship and, essentially, a breakup movie rolled into one. But it’s also what happens when you let women tell the kinds of stories they want to tell. Helmed by actor Olivia Wilde — her directorial debut — Booksmart boasts four credited writers, a handful of producers (including Silberman), a production designer, an editor, a post-production supervisor, and a sound mixer that all have one thing in common: they’re women. “There was something special about designing a teenage girl’s bedroom with someone who had been a teenage girl in a bedroom,” Silberman says.
Annapurna PicturesBelow, Silberman talks about how Booksmart honors the teen movies of the past while carving out a unique space of its own, what the actors brought to their roles, and why the film’s most outrageous scene is so essential.
MTV News: I’m curious, what were you like in high school?
Katie Silberman: In so many ways this is a very autobiographical story for me. I would say in high school I was probably closest to a Molly in that I really prioritized school and wasn’t super social. I didn’t really experiment or try or have the kind of wild fun that I think high schoolers should have. And I had convinced myself it’s because I was focusing on school and I was focusing on the future and I was making the responsible choice. Then when I got to college I realized that everyone that I thought had chosen to have fun instead of focusing on their future were just as smart — if not much smarter than me — and doing much better than me in all those ways. It wasn’t responsibility that was stopping me from doing all those things, it was fear and insecurity.
Annapurna PicturesWriter Katie Silberman, actor Austin Crute, director Olivia Wilde, and actor Noah Galvin on the set of Booksmart
MTV News: So much has been said about the authenticity of the film, and that even extends to their rooms. I feel like you would learn so much about Molly just by looking at what’s in their room.
Silberman: Totally. There was a shorthand about the way girls live in their spaces and it’s so layered. I mean, there were so many elements of Molly and Amy’s room that no one will ever see in the movie, but that Katie Byron, our production designer, layered and created and gave such a great texture to. There are all the different posters and frames and awards between the two rooms, and notes between them. And little knickknacks! Molly loved Harry Potter. There’s like a tiny little Snitch hiding in her room somewhere that you should see if you can find next time. It’s so cool.
MTV News: This is definitely a film for the Harry Potter generation. 
Silberman: I’m 32, so I kind of grew up with the books at the perfect ages. When Harry was 10, I was 11, and when Harry was 18, I was 20. So I got to grow up with him in a way. It’s become this qualifier in terms of making young people identify those qualities about themselves. Like, am I a Hufflepuff? I’m pretty thoughtful, but I also like academics. Maybe I’m a Ravenclaw. There’s a shorthand too that we understand, like you’re being a little Slytherin right now and I need you to take a step back. I’m also thrilled when someone is a self proclaimed, very proud Slytherin. Noah Galvin, who plays George, is like out-loud Slytherin all day. I love it. He owns it.
MTV News: I love that Molly gets turned on by the fact that Nick correctly identifies her as half Slytherin, half Ravenclaw. 
Silberman: We added that after we started shooting because Beanie and I are both such rabid fans. It was really fun when we realized that the thing that would arouse Molly most in the world is someone correctly identifying her house and also that that’s the thing that really for the first time makes her take a second, rethink how she’s been talking and feeling about Nick, that if Nick could recognize that he’s a much different person than she thought.
AnnapurnaMTV News: When Molly and Amy arrive at the party, they’re nervous that no one wants them there when in reality everyone is like, “We’ve been waiting for you! We’re happy that you’re here.” I thought that was a really lovely way to subvert so many stereotypes. 
Silberman: That’s so meaningful that you noticed that scene because that was kind of one of the most important scenes to us when Olivia and I were developing the arc of this, of how we wanted the night to take place. I was the fourth writer on this project. There were two earlier iterations, one by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, and one by Susanna Fogel, who are all really talented writers. And there were differences between the drafts, but at the core it was about two smart best friends. And even that, focusing on smart girls who might’ve been, a tertiary character, a side character in other stories and putting them at the center was such a wonderful way to reframe that way.
And when I came on, that was the big thing I was so excited about was to tell a story with no villain. We were very purposeful about that. I feel like, traditionally, a character like Triple A or even George can play one note in that they’re a villain or they’re an antagonist in those ways. But we were very purposeful about wanting to give everyone that moment of grace at the end where you get to see them for who they really are.
MTV News: And that scene in particular really captured that warmth. 
Silberman: I still think that the kindest, the most exciting and warm environment I’ve ever been in was at the end of school, because the nostalgia, that last party is everyone being like, “We’re best friends.” That’s the night that all boundaries, all relationships turn into one and everyone is so fond and affectionate of each other. It distills the journey that Molly and Amy go on, which is that they’re very brilliant obviously, but they’d had so much to learn in terms of how much they had been projecting on everyone else. It’s totally understandable why they think people wouldn’t be happy to see them, but if they had taken the time or prioritized getting to know people and things outside of the classroom, they could have maybe benefited from that their whole high school time.
AnnapurnaMTV News: The characters are also so fully realized. There’s not one character who’s a teen stereotype. 
Silberman: In high school you’re forced into a lot of boxes, and it’s very easy to make someone one-dimensional because it makes more sense and it’s easier and it’s safer. We were excited about telling a story that revealed the many dimensions of everybody you go to high school with and try to crack open those archetypes and remind everyone to really look at people and see beyond that. In addition to some more specific anecdotes from our own high school experiences that we got to put in throughout and characters from our high school experiences. I think everyone has a Gigi. Gigi is named after Olivia’s real Gigi who I’m waiting to hear from when she sees the movie.
MTV News: Really!
Silberman: Yeah. I had a different Gigi, but she was extraordinary. Someone described Gigi as a magical party coyote, which is the exact right way to describe the girl I went to high school with as well.
MTV News: Was there a character that you were writing that you were surprised or maybe even a little frightened by how easy their voice came to you?
Silberman: I would say it probably should be frightening how easy Gigi’s voice came to me. Who I love more than anything. I would say Gigi and George were two characters that I had so much fun writing. I could have written a thousand pages for each of them even before we started.
MTV News: How much of Gigi is Billie Lourd?
Silberman: It’s always a chemical equation. There are some moments, like the line that she gives on the top of the boat, where she says she lost her virginity in what she thought was a park but turned out to be a graveyard. That’s the kind of thing that was on the page, but when you hear it coming from Billie, you’re like, now I understand the entire character. Now I get everything! She’s 150 percent Billie Lourd. She just infuses it in every way and brings such an unbelievable energy. Also, things like her popping up and seeing Molly at the bar at Nick’s party. That’s something that we came up with on the day, and Billie agreed to hang out all night so that we could film that little scene, which is one of my favorites in the whole movie.
MTV News: The film also honors a lot of the kind of teen movies that we’ve grown up with. In one of the opening scenes Molly’s walking with her lunch tray, but she looks like Alicia Silverstone in Clueless dressed in plaid.
Silberman: Absolutely. They were in our heads the whole time. We talked so much about the movie Clueless. If you’re a young woman of a certain age, Cher is your patron saint in a lot of ways. And that movie in terms of the tone and how much it establishes the ’90s. We talked so much about Clueless, about Dazed and Confused, about Fast Times, about the movies that made us want to make movies. And how we could honor them, not just in terms of trying to do what they did in accurately reflecting a generation while still telling a timeless story, but actually honoring them. What’s so great about Jake Ryan leaning up against the car in Sixteen Candles is that everyone can imagine that feeling of like, your crush, the person you like more than anything, and you walk outside and they’re waiting for you. Our homage to that is at the end of the film; there’s a character waiting outside another character’s home, and it’s that same feeling.
AnnapurnaMTV News: The scene between Molly and Amy at the airport reminded me of Lady Bird in a certain way. 
Silberman:  Olivia and I first realized we had cracked the version that we were so excited to tell was when we realized it was a breakup story. It’s about the end of a relationship as you know it so far, because even if you stay as close to your high school best friend your whole life, which I think is kind of a miracle, it’s never going to be the same as when you’re seeing each other for 50 hours a day, every week. You’re going to move on, you’re going to evolve into the person that you need to be as an adult and you can’t ever be as co-dependent as you are when you’re in high school. There’s a real heartbreak to that friendship ending, even if you don’t think the friendship itself is ending, but that version of your friendship having to end just because you’re getting older and moving on.
MTV News: One of my favorite scenes was the animated sequence because it was so unexpected. How did that come about? 
Silberman: That was in Olivia’s original pitch deck when she pitched to direct the movie. So when I came on, it hadn’t been in any previous drafts and she was like, “I have this idea. I want to do a stop-motion Barbie sequence, I think it should be a drug trip.” It was my unbelievably fun job to try and find the best place to put something like that into the movie. What got us so excited about it was that this is a story about such ardent young feminists, and the worst kind of drug trip is the nightmare. And the nightmare for these women would be to be stuck in the body of a Barbie, like the thing they’re most against, this body that they think is not only unrealistic, but literally unlivable. And then the true nightmare is that when one of them’s in it, they kind of like it, they’re like, I might stick around in this body.
AnnapurnaIt’s one of those things that you can’t see it until it’s done, and so it’s a very easy thing for a studio or a producer who’s looking to cut time or to cut costs to say, “Do we really need that?” And it doesn’t seem like it’s essential to the plot necessarily. But Olivia was so adamant and fought so hard for not only its purpose in terms of the arc and what these girls are learning as the night goes on but also the reason you go see a narrative movie is to take big swings like that.
MTV News: I’m glad she fought for that sequence. 
Silberman: Totally. And that’s what made me so excited to want to be a part of the movie. Her original pitch was that she wanted this to be Training Day for high school girls, because she was like, as adults, it’s so easy to kind of patronize to how passionately high schoolers and teenagers feel everything, but when you’re in it, it is that intense. High school is war when you’re in it. So this movie, if it’s truly going to honor what it’s like to be in high school, it has to feel that intense. It has to be bold.

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Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video

YouTube “We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.” That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic…

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Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video

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“We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.”
That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic refrain with clear gospel influences. It’s Monáe’s take on a contemporary protest song, a call for a political sea change, in the vein of, say, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”
Courtesy of Atlantic RecordsAnd on Tuesday (September), Monáe released a moving music video — or, as she calls it, an emotion picture — that solidified that message. The visual opens and closes with the singer walking along the beach in a beige trench coat and military cap. At times, she can be seen singing into a retro microphone before an American flag; in others, she moves through staged breakfast scenes, with a family reading through newspaper headlines as they mouth her lyrics. The visual flashes through archival and contemporary footage depicting inspirational figures past and present: Where one scene shows the model and activist Jillian Mercado at a photo shoot, another depicts a conversation with lifelong activist Angela Davis.
What rings true without is a hopeful cry for change and for equality, and a recognition of those who have been leading that fight for decades. Monáe wrote “Turntables” for the new Amazon Studios documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, that shines a light on voter suppression, particularly through the lens of Stacey Abrams’s failed bid for the Georgia governorship. “Right now, I am focused on turning the election in our favor,” Monáe told Entertainment Weekly, “and I hope this song can inspire those who are on the ground doing the work.”

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Joe Keery’s Reinvention, Mxmtoon’s Carly Rae Jepsen Collab, And More Songs We Love

Getty Images/April Blum The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new? Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by…

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Joe Keery’s Reinvention, Mxmtoon’s Carly Rae Jepsen Collab, And More Songs We Love

Getty Images/April Blum

The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new?
Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by genre and can include anything — it’s a snapshot of what’s on our minds and what sounds good. We’ll keep it fresh with the latest music, but expect a few oldies (but goodies) every once in a while, too. Get ready: The Bop Shop is now open for business.

St. Vincent ft. Yoshiki: “New York”

St. Vincent, the intuitive musical goddess that she is, must have sensed our collective need for another quarantine ballad. Enter “New York [Feat. Yoshiki],” a classical arrangement of the standout single from 2017’s Masseduction. An added string section courtesy of Yoshiki, a Japanese multi-instrumentalist, beautifully complements the song’s original piano instrumentals. What more can I say? “New York isn’t New York / Without you, love” just hits different in the middle of a pandemic. —Sam Manzella

Djo: “Keep Your Head Up”

Last year, Joe Keery (of Stranger Things fame) released a glossy solo album under the moniker Djo. It was titled Twenty Twenty, and its sparkling arrangements ended up being quite far removed from the overall vibe of 2020 the year, but who could fault him for his optimism? Keery has also long been a contributing member of Chicago psych band Post Animal, but Djo is simply Joe — and latest “Keep Your Head Up” feels like several Joes ripping open a vortex in the funk-time continuum. This is a groove, peppered with buzzy synths and icy falsetto and an honest-to-god sax part. It’s akin to Todd Terje doing Tame Impala, a lightheaded cocktail rush that feels both clubby and bedroom ambitious. Positively galactic. —Patrick Hosken

Mxmtoon ft. Carly Rae Jepsen: “OK On Your Own”

When Mxmtoon’s Maia said she recorded “OK On Your Own” for the girls and the gays, she wasn’t kidding. The mellow bedroom-pop bop soundtracks a journey of self-reflection after a breakup, complete with the soft ukulele instrumentals that put the 19-year-old singer-songwriter on the map. Is it revelatory? No, but with pop icon Carly Rae Jepsen lending her sugary-sweet vocals to the second verse, it doesn’t have to be. Now I’m just waiting for “Party for Two.” —Sam Manzella

Video Age: “Aerostar”

Pleasure Line, the third album from emerging indie pop quartet Video Age, delivers perfectly escapist ’80s new wave vibes for when you need to get outta 2020 for just a moment. “Aerostar” is its punchy center, a hip-twisting, shoulder-shuffling groove that delivers quirky robot dance commands (“Slide to the left, now! Shimmy to the right!”) over hoppin’ funk synths and a kickin’ drum machine. It all harkens to a simpler time, one where dance floors were actually a real thing. Oh, the ’80s! —Terron Moore

Ruel: “As Long As You Care”

About a year ago, Australian middle-part heartthrob Ruel told MTV News that for him, “songwriting is exaggerating to an extent.” On his latest, the technicolor, soulful “As Long As You Care,” his exaggeration is so seamless, you’d be forgiven for believing the 17-year-old is actually a time traveler. The neo-soul groove he rides propels everything upward, even as the sound cheekily looks backward. “As Long As You Care” has one amazing hook, coupled with sonic candy that makes his upcoming third EP, Bright Lights, Red Eyes (out October 23) one to watch. —Patrick Hosken

Alycia Bella ft. Boogie: “Cue the Sun”

Something magical happens two-and-a-half minutes into “Cue the Sun,” the exploratory new collab between striking R&B voice Alycia Bella and rapper Boogie. After piping in the aural equivalent of stage smoke via jazzy piano and gorgeous vocalizations — “It feel like being lost in the right direction” — Bella’s song enters a more sparkly realm for Boogie’s recitations. By the end, you’re lighter, like your mind’s been cleared of all the cobwebs. Cue the sun. —Patrick Hosken

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Michael Love Michael’s XO Is A Service To Their Queer Ancestors

Ross Days It can be tempting, as a writer, to compartmentalize, to define by a set of fixed words or parameters. Pinpoint the detail about your subject that most interests you — an unexpected gesture, a prime soundbite pulled from an interview — and flesh it out into a full story. But in the case…

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Michael Love Michael’s XO Is A Service To Their Queer Ancestors

Ross Days

It can be tempting, as a writer, to compartmentalize, to define by a set of fixed words or parameters. Pinpoint the detail about your subject that most interests you — an unexpected gesture, a prime soundbite pulled from an interview — and flesh it out into a full story. But in the case of the New York-based artist Michael Love Michael, who last month self-released their debut album XO, it’s simply not possible, in part because they do so much.
As the former culture editor at Paper magazine, the 32-year-old “Cancer-Leo cusp,” who grew up between Chicago and Gary, Indiana, crafted celebrated profiles of such disparate musicians as Paramore’s Hayley Williams and cyborg sensation Poppy, while also serving up weekly playlists packed with the best bops from Megan Thee Stallion, Yves Tumor, and beyond. One day, it seemed they were stomping a runway in New York in a leather tank top and a cherry pout for the queer designer Willie Norris; the next, they were escaping to a farm to study permaculture at an undisclosed location “out West.”
XO, by design, rejects easy categorization. The collection, which was produced in under a year in collaboration with Michael’s longtime creative partner Rich Dasilva, fluctuates dramatically between glittering power-pop — as on the synth-heavy “6 Jaguars,” which dissolves at the bridge into a biting rap (“They call me bitch if they don’t like me… Does that tell you who I’m voting for, honey?”) — and lush, emotional ballads. Michael’s voice boasts a similarly wide range, whether as a groaning whisper in a spoken-sung segment closing “The Hatred,” or as a looping, crystalline falsetto as they perform as their own backup singer on “Blueberry.”
Their first comprehensive artistic statement, Michael tells MTV News, was intended to dispel any notion of essentialization, particularly as a Black, nonbinary artist making their mark in the industry (in June, they left Paper, citing its treatment of its Black staffers). “I think Black, queer people can sometimes just be lumped together in sort of this really offensive, monolithic way, and it’s just a way of me saying that I have multitudes,” they say. “I am a very tender, spiritual, sensitive person. And I’m also fierce.”
Ross DaysMTV News: Did you record XO while you were on the farm, or was that all done before?
Michael: I basically worked on it from April until late July, so there was part of it that was finished here, but most of it was done during quarantine in New York, four or five tracks. I started recording my vocals on my iPhone and my computer, and I’m really happy with how it all turned out, because, at least in my opinion, none of it sounds like it was done at home. It has a uniformity, and it sounds kind of expansive in a lot of ways.
MTV News: I really connected with the song “Blueberry,” and there was this sound on it that reminded me almost of a dulcimer, though I couldn’t quite make it out. Given that much of it was produced at home, was there a lot of live instrumentation on this?
Michael: So there’s acoustic guitar, there’s whistling, there are actual finger snaps, and then the rest is electronic. So then there’s kind of the 808 bass drone and there’s that sound, which is like a fake electronic guitar. But I’m glad you like “Blueberry.” “Blueberry” is very, very sweet and comes from a sad place.
MTV News: Would you tell me about it?
Michael: OK, so “Blueberry” is about an unrequited love. When I was a teenager, I had this really intense crush on this guy who was closeted and involved with this girl as a way to kind of conceal, as we all do when we’re going through that journey. But we always had a connection, and it was very kind of the teenage lust kind of factor. And then, after high school, he went to the Iraq War and died.
There are lines about going off to war but also being brave and being who you are. There’s this line about purple hearts beating wild with red, red blood — the idea of a Purple Heart for bravery, while also referencing the bravery it requires to be out as yourself. There’s also the idea that both of us are sacrificing something, my jealousy and my self-reflection, and the blueberry gates became a place I would go in my mind when I would think of him. I wanted to find a way to talk about having a closeted relationship full of young lust and love, and to speak about what’s involved when two people sacrifice parts of themselves to make things work that can’t work, ultimately.
MTV News: What are some other songs on the album that feel special for you?
Michael: This is almost like my second coming out, as an artist and sharing my music with everybody. Even though I’ve been making music since I was 16, I’ve never actually had the courage until now to release anything. “XO” is my favorite track, because that’s the thesis of the project. It’s about overcoming some of my own personal demons to love myself enough to realize I had something to share and something to say, like a love letter to a damaged former self.
“Mother’s Day” is another one that I really love, because it’s kind of strange and cryptic. This one is more about people’s relationship to all things maternal, how you have to be a reciprocal give-and-take dynamic with whatever those things are, whether that’s the earth, someone you look up to who is a femme person or a mother figure. It has echoes of my own relationship with my mother and my grandmother. There’s a line about planting a garden — “Every Mother’s Day, I plant a garden for you / Every Mother’s Day, I water your flowers that bloom” — and that was something I used to do for my grandmother as a kid.
MTV News: Do you have a good relationship with your mom and your grandmother?
Michael: With my grandmother, yes. With my mother, that’s something that’s very much in process. It’s a tricky song. It’s really complex, obviously. But I love it for that reason, and I love that I feel like I’m learning how to be really good at writing about things that are personal broader and nuanced ways. I can be descriptive and I can also not be descriptive, and all of it’s intentional. It kind of reminds me of a St. Vincent, Brian Eno vibe. It feels kind of stompy, crunchy, stadium rock or something.

MTV News: What made now feel like a good time to release an album and share this project?
Michael: It was something that I didn’t intend to happen. I was happy with just having some demo recordings and maybe an EP released on SoundCloud, and then I had friends who really encouraged me to think bigger. Also, I had my own aspirations that I buried because I was trying to be realistic and I was trying to hold down full-time jobs and I was trying to be sort of a traditional careerist, and it’s just like, no bitch. Don’t dull your own shine, don’t gaslight yourself just because society gaslights you.
And so, that’s what kind of really motivated me to kind of come out with it all, and I just feel really grateful for the ability to have unlocked this avenue of creativity. Even for this to happening, for us to be talking about my album for MTV is fucking cool. Everything is luxury now, I just get so excited about everything else because creativity begets more creativity. So I don’t take any of it for granted, it’s so fucking cool.
MTV News: Yeah, I can really relate with feeling vulnerable in sharing something creative. 
Michael: This is an exercise in proving something to myself. I really do believe, if you see something missing and you have the capacity to provide or be that missing link, then do that. If you feel empowered and you feel like you can and you have the resources and the energy, do that. Where queer voices are sort of becoming less and less marginalized, people want to hear what it is we have to say. Remember that there are so many people who fought and died for so much of the freedom that I and many of us take for granted. Part of being a person with a voice and sharing it is also being in service to your ancestors who came before you.
MTV News: In listening to XO as a whole, there are songs that are very soft and almost indie-leaning in a way, and then you also have these songs that are very fierce and very hard. I wondered what your intention was, or were you expressing different sides of yourself?
Michael: Well, I love that you picked up on the contrast, because that was the exact point. I definitely wanted to present duality. It’s an introduction to me as a musician and, hopefully, if there ever were any expectations, it surprises, maybe it shocks. Maybe it’s exactly what people expect — I have no fucking idea. I called it XO because I thought of X-O as sort of an expression of contrast, because it’s like hugs and kisses are sort of opposite things, but then so is the idea of being open and being closed.
I think Black, queer people can sometimes just be lumped together in sort of this really offensive, monolithic way, and it’s just a way saying that I have multitudes. I’m a complex, fully realized human being. So it was important for me to show a hard edge and a softer, gentler side, because at the end of the day, I am a very tender, spiritual, sensitive person, and I’m also fierce. The Cancer-Leo cusp is really that, it’s very that.

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