The line between the Internet and the real world is more blurry and pixelated than ever: a poorly conceived Facebook status can cost you a job, a well-trafficked Instagram can land lucrative sponsorship deals with teeth whitening kits and detox teas, and sliding into one’s DMs can lead to a stroll down the aisle. (Or, at the very least, a decent hook-up.)
Not that everyone isn’t fully aware, but this is the way pop culture has shifted: apps, likes, swipes, selfies, filters, likes, nudes, snaps. And Rina Sawayama, a Japan-born, London-based producer and singer, distills all of the complex, curated digital interactions into song.
For the long distance lovers, the international Twitter besties and shirtless torsos on Grindr you’ve fallen in lust with, “Where U Are” helps to illustrate those virtual affections and very real feelings.
The track, which glides across an early ’90s R&B seductive haze invoking Jessie Ware, Sadé and Blood Orange, plus an interpolation of Jackson 5‘s “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” is an ode to online love.
“It’s kind of crazy ’cause I’ve never met you / Now I’m losing sight of who I’m meant to be in this reality,” she longingly croons. As dreamy as the song sounds (and truly, it’s lush), there’s a lingering sadness that makes the song all the more hypnotic; a sad ghost lingering inside a wireless router.
“Sick and tired of knowing you were never real…”
Technological turmoil isn’t exactly a new theme in pop: from “Video Killed the Radio Star” (“pictures came and broke your heart“) to Adele‘s “Hello” and Madonna‘s “Hung Up” to, most importantly of all, Britney‘s “E-Mail My Heart,” matters of the heart aren’t limited to face-to-face interactions.
That said, the way we’ve come to use our tiny screens, and the amount of time we spend with them especially, has substantially increased. It’s come to the point where Her doesn’t feel like such a farfetched concept at all, really. (What’re you up to later tonight, Siri?)
“Whether you’re doing long distance, or meeting people on a dating app, being catfished, or sexting- the characteristics of an online-based relationship are super interesting to me,” Rina says.
“Online you can present your best edited self, and bypass lots of the messiness and awkwardness that comes with real human interactions. Your overheating phone substitutes human warmth. Weirdest of all – you’re together, but also very alone.”
The video for “Where U Are” perfectly illustrates that tedious, restless, obsessive loneliness (oh, the irony of the term “social” media), as Ri snaps, impatiently texts and selfies her life away by herself in bed. It looks like an all too familiar Friday night in, when not out getting #turnt.
“As much as ‘Where U Are’ is about online relationships with others, it’s also about the online relationship you have with yourself. We live in a culture of self-surveillance that makes us forget who we really are, and what we really should be doing with our time. Ali & I were inspired by Essena O’Neill’s recent departure from social media, alongside artists such as Petra Collins and Arvida Byström, whose work deals with online female insecurity,” she explains.
Speaking of Petra Collins, the Canadian photographer’s video for Carly Slae Jepselegend‘s “Boy Problems” almost feels like a companion piece to “Where U Are,” providing some social critique about our small screen overload; like a tech-filled “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with Scream Queens-esque morbid humor sprinkled in for good measure (#TillDeathDoWeSelfie).
This isn’t the first time Rina’s tackled the theme, either: Last year, she released a song called “Tunnel Vision,” a creeping number vaguely recalling FKA twigs, exploring digital distraction and notification overload: “I know you’re sad and lonely, but I got one hundred tabs open in my mind,” she sings.
As social media continues to dominate our interactions, these songs don’t necessarily play like a desperate plea for humanity or a cynical condemnation of our cell phones and Facebook feeds, but rather an honest observation of The Way Things Are. (First world problems for sure, but still.)
We’ve already got plenty of trashy club bangers encouraging us to post up on the ‘gram and get it on in each other’s DMs — hell, we’ve even got holograms for pop stars. But the message behind the music is like a mirror on our bedroom ceiling, catching us in the act of tapping, texting and swiping ourselves into oblivion. Alone, together.
That could be seen as depressing, but it doesn’t have to be — if anything, they’re an all-too-important reminder to occasionally logout and enjoy the company of others IRL.