Capricorn Moon – A Lyric Review: Pop Music Matters, Nelā’s (knee-Ah) Blackness Brightens The Pop Stratosphere
By Corey Anthony Tucker
Consider this. Ariana Grande’s music has been characterised as pop for several years now, with writers Victoria Monet and Tayla Parks having co-penned some of her biggest hits to date. But when pop singer, Normani, released Motivation, it was classed as R&B/ Hip Hop, despite its being the brain child of pop hitmaker, Max Martin and Minaj-proclaimed pop queen, Ms Grande herself. The message is clear. Crystalline, even. Black voices can, and often do, inform and influence pop, but Black faces are antithetical to pop.
It’s ironic given that two of the biggest, brightest pop stars to ever pop – Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, were Black. The sheer radiance of their supernova-esque shine is still giving rise to and guiding new generations of stars. Despite, or rather because of Jackson and Houston’s hyper-visibility as pop stars; Black singers are systemically pigeonholed as being pop resistant, are habitually classified as any ‘urban’ genre but pop, and worse still, can be characterised as betrayers of their Blackness should they actively pursue a pop sound.
‘When we collide/ I’ve thought about it over a thousand times’ – Nelā, Collide (2020). There are an inane amount of institutions set up to rob Black women of their right to choose the path that is authentic to and serves them, and music is no different. Any white artist could be bandied about as a pop star, simply via the virtue of being white. With her break-up EP Capricorn Moon, Nelā, a Black artist, has broken through the internalised expectation of only being able to thrive as an RnB or rap girl. Through genuine consideration, Nelā found that the most complementary and comfortable space for her to step into and soar, is pop.
On the seductive trap-synth of EP opener Just Let It Go Nelā deals with the difficulty of a relationships dissolution. Sonically the track is airy yet anchored, testifying to Nelā’s being her most transcendent self now that she is rooted in the pop realm. Nelā suppress the urge to assert her would-be-role as her lover’s guiding light, recalling that the object of her affection isn’t an actual object, but a subject. A subject entitled to decline Nelā’s desire to guide him – a non-verbal communication can still be assumed to be a no – should that be his choice, ‘no matter how many times I ask you/ To give me a chance to guide you’.
This choice is what prompts Nelā to enter a difficult but necessary headspace. Letting her attachment to her lover go; and sticking like industrial glue to her proverbial guns when her now ex finds himself in need of a beacon, ‘he gon’ find me, when I’m doin’ good/ He gon’ ask me, if I wished that we could go back to/ How things were’. Just Let It Go is a bonafide bop with a cerebral charge, one that consciously challenges Nelā’s listeners to never rob their love interests of their agency, and to resist the passivity of waiting around for an ex-lover to be ready to receive and reciprocate your love.
On the grounded grooves of Why Would U Run? Nelā’s instinct to be her ex’s saviour wasn’t derived from a need for recognition like it is with men, ‘it’s something I never told you’. Rather, it was born from a want to maintain and hopefully build on a connection; one that, in Nelā’s case, was abandoned by a man terrified of a tangible love with the power to grant complete emotional insight, ‘you couldn’t hide, see I could feel you, ugh/ Feel you inside, boy you could reach through’.
Nelā confessed that she too was afraid of her seemingly intrinsic connection to her ex, ‘boy I swear, we were living in a world, just the two of us/ And I must admit that I got scared’. But unlike her ex, Nelā’s fear was founded in the high stakes of rooting herself in emotional honesty, rather than the low stakes of running away from it, ‘I fall in love hard/ When it all starts I can’t even hold it in […] But it didn’t make me run/ So why would you run?’.
The cascading, choral rush of EP centrepiece Collide finds Nelā discerning that destiny is as futile an idea as it is fickle. Collide so lusciously hybridises pop and RnB; its DNA being dually comprised of the former’s catchiness, so serrated it hooks itself inside our heads, and the latters resonance, excavating emotions, dormant and active, that will erupt long after the song’s runtime. Collide’s crossover appeal to pop and RnB lovers alike only lends to its emergence as the anthemic supreme of Capricorn Moon.
Nelā’s ex is uncompromising where his emotional unavailability is concerned, and his unwillingness to let up is a secondary source of emotional downward spiral, ‘will I ever be over all the hurt that I/ Had gone through by loving someone who let me die?’. The trauma Nelā’s ex has inflicted on her is so pervasive that it prompts a direct dialogue between Nelā and God himself, ‘I’m triggered and God all the anxiety/ Is pushing me further into insanity’. This dialogue unearths that Nelā’ has arrived at an emotional impasse of sorts. She’s kind of over the hurt her ex saddled her with, and yet, she’s kind of not, ‘… I’ve had enough/ I know i’m still hurting/ It’s been so tough’.
Nelā isn’t a glutton for punishment, and so it should come as no surprise that her self preservation – an ideal integral to any adults re-socialisation – subverts the overt meaning of the song. How and why would Nelā be destined to end up with a man so content with causing her despair? She disassociates herself with the patriarchal wet dream that women chase after men that reject or emotionally ruin them. Nelā’s destiny is what she chooses. What she manifests. And what she manifests is peace of mind, a state she assumes via her communion with God, ‘I need peace of mind/ Cause I know that I felt it/ And I know that you felt it/ It’s destiny I won’t give up’.
Collide’s outro gives way to the most almighty genre inclusion on this track, neo-soul. Complete with a church organ accompaniment, Nelā, inching closer and closer to catharsis, takes her listeners to church with her rapturous riffs. Mirroring her ability to make genres assimilate to her artistry, Nelā’s closing riffs are pitched up high enough to traverse and transcend the heavens. ‘Woah’, she blurts out, in awe of her awe-inspiring vocals, letting out chuckle that is as infectious as it is informative. Nelā is right where she needs to be. And she knows it.
Nelā is the engineer of her own closure on contemplative kiss-off track Sorry. The productions cascading punchiness feels attuned to the pangs of Nelā’s realising that her worth is something that is inherent and constant, not something to be earned, ‘I shouldn’t have to second guess whether I’m worthy’. The only person Nelā owes forgiveness is herself for investing her time, energy and care into someone so unwilling and unready to reciprocate, ‘yeah you taught me what I needed by not giving things/ Like honesty, communication scoring at 3 […] So I’m sorry for the way I loved you right’.
On the skittering, synth affected bump of closing track Ego vs Self, Nelā wrestles between letting the former, or the latter win out in the war of how best to move on from her ex. The songs spoken intro features actor-singer-rapper, Austin Crute, vocalising the most violent variant of Nelā’s ego, ‘I want his feelings hurt/ I want him to know that he ain’t shit/ But that’s just my psychopath in me’. Nelā’s fury is palpable and revelatory in an industry and world that systematically fuels Black women’s rage, only to rob them of their right to feel and express it.
Nelā’s anger, a close associate of her ego, is undercut by none other than her self, ‘I was so mad that I still really loved you/ Even tho you were still fucking that bitch/ She ain’t a bitch/ I was just mad’. Nelā’s self strives to proclaim and thus, process her frustration at her and her ex’s incompatibility, ‘I was just mad/ Mad at the fact you were loving your past/ You were my present and part of my future/ But she was the one that was part of the plan’.
Ego allows self some leeway via Nelā’s resisting the urge to ‘[…] hurt him witcho violence’. It’s too obvious and would ultimately be a self-imposed obstacle to moving on. Instead, self offers ego her blessing to ‘go show the world he loved you’. It’s a truth that Nelā’s ex sought to deny her, and her declaring it allowed her to live in it, and more importantly, achieve peace in letting it go, ‘then move on witcho life bitch/ And that’s what we did’. Nelā has moved through and moved on from heartbreak, and her listeners will too. Should they need any guidance, they need only look up and follow the boundless ascent of Nelā’s star as she brightens up the pop stratosphere.