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‘We Can Fight From A Position Of Strength’: Stacey Abrams On Battling Voter Suppression

Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images “Voting is not an event. It is a process.” So says former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in our conversation following the select-theater release of All In: The Fight for Democracy. In the film and in our conversation, the former state rep makes the case that that process…

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‘We Can Fight From A Position Of Strength’: Stacey Abrams On Battling Voter Suppression

Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

“Voting is not an event. It is a process.” So says former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in our conversation following the select-theater release of All In: The Fight for Democracy. In the film and in our conversation, the former state rep makes the case that that process involves voting in midterm elections, engaging in local politics by attending community forums, and supporting advocacy groups like the one Abrams founded, Fair Fight, which calls for free and fair elections and more resources to educate voters.
The distinction between voting as a “process” as opposed to an “event” is an important one, Abrams says, arguing that while a historic number of voters flocked to the polls for Election Day 2008, their lack of participation in the midterm election two years later cost former president Barack Obama the congressional majority he needed to execute his first-term agenda.
Remaining engaged in the process may be challenging for some young voters disillusioned by the results of the 2016 election and jaded by the tedious, painstakingly slow nature of American politics. That perspective is ever present in “My Vote Don’t Count,” a viral video name-checked by Abrams (and no, we never thought we’d get solid hip-hop recommendations from a politician, but 2020 has been nothing if unpredictable) where up-and-coming artist YelloPain raps: “I don’t think I ever had a president make my life better / Did it all on my own, ain’t no politician ever do a nice gesture / … Tell me, how is she gonna help the city? What am I supposed to do? Write letters?”
Abrams has at least three answers in mind for that question: One, make a plan to vote and make sure you know that you’re registered. Two, young people can sign up to be election workers. And, as she told MTV News, “Number three, we need folks to sign up to be volunteers, to defend the right to vote around the country.”
MTV News: What was the vision behind putting this film together? Why did you do it and why now?
Stacey Abrams: In the wake of the 2018 election, I had some time on my hands and, of course, as folks know, I really wanted to focus America’s attention on voter suppression, not just what happened in my election and to the voters in my state, but what was happening around the country. A few months later, I was having a conversation with a young staffer who made a comment about how using the phrase “poll tax” didn’t make a lot of sense to her. Shouldn’t there be a better way to describe it? And it occurred to me that she literally, despite being very steeped in voter suppression and the work that we were doing, she didn’t have the historical context for why a poll tax really is a cost for being able to cast your vote, whether it was in the 1960s, an actual tax you paid, or in 2020, what’s happening in Florida to those returning citizens, or the folks who were standing in eight hour lines in Georgia. When you have to pay to be able to vote, that’s a tax. And so, the notion of All In: The Fight for Democracy began with wanting to tell the story of the history of voter suppression, and connect it to the present of voter suppression. And luckily, I was able to work with extraordinary directors, Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortez.
MTV News: What I loved about the documentary was that it showed how subversive in the city some of these tactics are: Oh yes, you should bring an ID to vote, but then when you really dig into it, you find out all how it’s used to block out certain segments of the population. What can we learn about voter suppression tactics back in the day and how they inform what’s happening right at this moment?
Abrams: We have to remember that voter suppression has been a part of our story from the beginning of our country because it’s a fight for power. Who has the right and the power to shape our future? And, you know, it began at the very beginning with only white men who own land being allowed to vote. We saw small bits of progress with reconstruction in the 15th Amendment, allowing black men to vote. The 19th Amendment that let white women vote and the Voting Rights Act, which for the first time, really expanded the right to vote, to include everyone. But all along the way, there have been rules that have been put in place that, whether blatant or subtle, have been designed to block you from participation and where we stand today, we’re just watching new iterations of those rules.
Voter suppression has three things: Can you register and stay on the rolls? Can you cast your ballot? And does your ballot get counted? And so, to your point about voter ID, voter ID is one of the ways they stopped you from casting your ballot, especially if you’re young. In Texas, and Wisconsin, and Georgia, you can’t use your student ID as a way to vote. You spend thousands of dollars in those states, you pay your taxes, you put in your money, but they won’t let you use your one form of ID. We know in Florida, they tried to pass a law that said you can’t vote in your polling place, on your campus. And so, we know that part of the challenge is that young people are seen as a threat to power and therefore, they are doing what they’ve always done, which is find ways to block you from being heard. We also know young people are five times more likely, in some states, of having their absentee ballots rejected. The goal is to say, don’t bother trying to vote that way. Our response has to be, we’re going to vote that way, we’re just going to make sure we track it and make sure it works.
Part of the way we connect and juxtapose the former existence of voter suppression with the current iteration is we’ve got more knowledge, we’ve got more technology, and we know what’s happening, and we are willing to fight back because 21st-century voter suppression may look different. It may be, as you said, more insidious and more subtle, but it’s just as deadly, and that’s why we can’t let it stand.
MTV News: You say in the documentary, “The fundamental power of democracy lies in the right to vote and if you protect that right, you create possibilities for everything else.” Let us know what some of those possibilities are and why young people shouldn’t be disillusioned about exercising that right.
Abrams: Voting is hard and it’s not a magic solution. It doesn’t solve problems. We don’t elect saviors. We can elect people we really like, and we really trust, but we’ve got to remember, it’s part of a system, and this is a process. Voting is not an event. It is a process, and the extent to which we treat it as an event, then people are not wrong when they say, “The event didn’t work.” But if you think about it like a process, like learning to play a sport or play an instrument, it takes time. You’ve got to do repetition and you’ve got to stay on top of it, and if you miss a few weeks, you fall back and you’ve got to get back to where you were.
For many of the issues that matter, if you care about climate change, criminal justice reform, if you care about reproductive health, if you care about health care at all, you’ve got to start at the bottom. The president doesn’t solve America. Many of the challenges and many of the issues [where] we want to see change happen at the school-board level, the city-council level, your county commissioner, your state legislature, your DAs and your judges, and so, we have to connect the dots. So one, no, it’s not instantaneous, two, connect the dots, and then three, tell the truth.
MTV News: You’ve got municipalities thinking about police abolition, or defunding the police, and how that all bubbles up into a national strategy. What is it that young people can do after the election to make sure they remain engaged in local politics?
Abrams: It’s a three-part process: Protest in the streets, protest at the polls, and then protest through your participation. And your participation means showing up at those committee meetings. … When I was in college, I used to go to zoning meetings, which are probably the boring meetings you can attend as a 17- and 18-year-old, because they were putting liquor stores in my community. I lived on Spelman [College’]s campus, which was lovely, but when I walked out of that gate, it was easier to buy malt liquor than it was to buy an apple. Zoning committees are where they make those choices and the reality was wealthy people showed up and said, “Keep this out of my neighborhood.” Poor people, people of color, did not show up, and so, often, all the worst things showed up in their neighborhoods. Young people, you’ve got the technological ability, not only to get there, but then to tell everyone you know about what’s happening. And that’s what’s different. The secret is, and you know this, if you get 10 people to show up, you’ve now overwhelmed the meeting.
MTV News: It’s clear how you were able to galvanize so many voters down there in Georgia during your run, and unfortunately, you met that opposition because Brian Kemp was Secretary of State, as he was running for governor. In your concession speech, you spoke truth to power about how these conflicts of interest disrupt the very essence of American politics. What can we do to address some of these structures that sometimes make these problems feel so big for people?
Abrams: There’s this proverb that says, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” And that’s what we’ve got to do. Part of the way suppression and just power mongering works is it overwhelms you with the scope and scale that you think you can’t do anything about it. I began by figuring out where can I stand and what can I touch? When I was 17, when I was 18, I wanted to change the world. I set up a table at Manley Plaza at Spelman College to register students to vote. When I was 35, I became Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives, but I also started an organization to register 86,000 people to vote. And when I ran for governor at the age of [humorous mumble], in 2018, that was 43, when I didn’t become governor, I set up three organizations: Fair Fight, to fight against voter suppression; Fair Count, to ensure we have an accurate census; and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, to translate progressive policy into [the South].
And so I say that to say, if I could only remember where I was when I started, then I only had a table and a form, but that table and that form helped change my community. By the time I was in the state legislature, I was able to affect my state and now, I can affect conversations around our country. We have to remember, especially when you’re young, that yes, these problems seem overwhelming and they seem too big to solve, and the answer is you can’t solve them yourself, but these problems get weaker when we attack them from where we are and when we remember that we’re not in it alone.
MTV News: In your book, you talked about the “new American majority.” Could you break down what that is and how thinking about this idea of a new American majority can make young people, and minorities, and people of color feel empowered?
Abrams: In the book, Our Time Is Now, I try to really anchor us in how much power we have. When this country started, white men who owned land could vote. Black people were considered subhuman. Native Americans weren’t citizens. In fact, they didn’t become citizens until 1924. Women were told to be silent and then the Naturalization Act of 1790, they said the only people who could come to America were white people of good character. If you were Latino, if you were Asian, you were not permitted to come to our country. And so, we’ve got to remember that, from the very beginning, we’ve been fighting against this insistence that we are not enough, but over time, our numbers have grown.
Where we are in 2020 is that we’ve hit this inflection point where, if you are young, if you are a person of color, if you are a white person with progressive leanings, there are enough of us that when we combine our forces, we overwhelm and we outnumber the rest. And that’s what matters. We’ve got to remember in every other battle, we’ve always been fighting from a position of weakness. We have finally hit this demographic number where we can fight from a position of strength. We didn’t have the numbers we have today when Barack Obama got elected in 2008. That was more than a decade ago. Imagine how much stronger we are now, now that we have those numbers, now that we know their playbook.
MTV News: What do you think the significance is of having a Black female candidate for vice president?
Abrams: I think that representation matters, that diversity matters. We need to see change. It’s not enough to have people talk about it. It’s why people don’t trust voting. If they don’t see that there’s some effect and so, we have to make certain that we are not only pushing for the physical representation that we’re going to see on this ticket, we’ve got to push for the actual representation that we see in policies. As excited as we are about the top of the ticket, we’ve got to remember that we also need to elect school board members who believe in our children. We’ve got to elect city council members, who are going to fight for those budgets to actually invest in community. We’ve got to elect judges who don’t believe in just giving you maximum sentences and throwing away the key, and we’ve got to elect DAs who believe that, if you are a first offender, you are capable of being better, and if you are a repeat offender, that redemption should still be a possibility. We’ve got to make certain we don’t get so focused on what we see that we forget what we need to do.
MTV News: What can young people do right now to make sure their vote counts, to double check that they’re registered, and to make sure that they’re up to date on the issues that affect them?
Abrams: One, we need you to make a plan to vote, make sure you know that you’re registered, where you can vote and how you can vote, and you can do that at allinforvoting.com or vote.org. And that website will give you all the information you need because the way voter suppression works best is if they surprise us and we get caught flat-footed. But if we make a plan to vote, they can’t get ahead of us. We vote early, it’s done. We’re good. And once you’ve made your plan to vote, tell everyone you’ve ever met to make a plan to vote, share yours, and ask them to share theirs.
Number two, we need young people to sign up to be election workers, to be those people who sit behind the table and check you in, and make sure your vote counts. Right now, the people who typically do it are over the age of 60, and it’s too dangerous for so many of them to come back, and it’s being used as an excuse to shut down polling places, and make voting harder. So, if young people will sign up for these jobs, you can go to powerthepolls.org and sign up to be a poll worker. They’ll even pay you for it.
And then, number three, we need folks to sign up to be volunteers, to defend the right to vote around the country. My organization, fairfight.com, is the place to go to sign up to be a volunteer. You can volunteer where you live, but we may ask you to help people in states where they don’t have enough support, but we need you to sign up either to be a virtual volunteer and sometimes in person, but no matter who you are, no matter where you are, we need you to help defend the right to vote. Let’s be all in for voting because our time is now.

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Art & Culture

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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