TO FEEL ALIVE – A Lyric Review: Kali Uchis’ Need for Connectedness Arrests the Numbing Affects of Quarantine
By Corey Anthony Tucker.
We are social creatures. Our subconscious built-in with a want to seek out and satiate others that challenge and complement our character for the better. And with the ample advances in communicative technology, it’s that much easier to satisfy the human need to socialise without sacrificing the human need for our physical space to be undisturbed, however frequently or infrequently this mode may occur.
Coronavirus however – at least for me – has unearthed that, although phones provide a means through which to feel connected, connectedness without the potential for contact has the capacity to grate on ones anxiety. Quarantine and self-isolation is making a lot of us feel more insular and untethered than ever before. This is largely because contacting loved ones without the prospect of seeing them in real time can feel tantamount to taking a breath, only to find you can’t exhale.
‘I just wanna feel something/ I just wanna feel alive’ – Kali Uchis, To Feel Alive (2020). In a time teeming with worldwide and personal strife, rather than tune it out, Kali wants to feel it all. She needs to feel it all. To feel is to be connected. To be connected is to be alive. To Feel Alive’s deconstruction and critique of Kali’s connections, romantic and otherwise, with others and herself, demonstrate that connectedness is what makes her and her music so alive.
On EP opener honey baby (SPOILED!), a luscious lullaby, Kali opines that the more her lover reveals about himself, the more likely she is to question the legitimacy of their connection, ‘just don’t talk right now/ If I think too much I might come up with/ Reasons to have doubts’. A burgeoning celebrity, Kali knows to let any media scrutiny – rigorous or otherwise – roll off her back in order to give her love the breathing room necessary to blossom, ‘I see everybody talking/ But I cannot hear a sound/ I see shadows in their eyes/ We’re chasing sunshine out the clouds’.
More than her lover spoiling her with overt affection, ‘…love the way you touch me/ Love the way you feed me like I got the munchies,’ Kali adores that her lover not only acknowledges, but encourages her autonomy, ‘love the way you say I can go whenever I want’. His appreciation of Kali’s agency translates to his being appreciative of her time, which he reaffirms via verbal and sexual intimacy, ‘you respect my time, and, damn, you wanna spoil me/ Treat me like a queen, he know this pussy royalty’.
Kali grounds the romanticism of her lovers near perfect complementation of her with the reality that remnants of a prior, soured relationship reap over Kali’s current one. Kali’s fear of, once again, placing her heavy heart in hands too hollow to hold it, is all too relatable, and directly responsible for her reluctance to completely relax into her current connection, ‘honey, baby, please don’t play me […] Hope this lasts a while and you never turn an enemy’.
Boasting a throbbing baseline, the buoyantly bubbling angel finds Kali’s heart aflutter with infatuation. Kali and her lovers connection has deepened, with the latter drawing closer to her hearts core as a result. That said, Kali isn’t the type to eschew her common sense for external security, and as such, maintains a modicum of caution so as to protect her heart, ‘can we take it slow?/ Telling myself to be patient’.
Likening herself to Pablo Escobar and her lover to a drug functions on two tiers, the first of which alludes to her lovers effect on her mirroring that of being in a chemically altered state, not dissimilar to the effects of recreational drug usage, ‘psychedelic visions, honey, raising up my temperature’. The second tier identifies Kali as a subject – the drug dealer – and her lover as an object – the drug, and thus, acts as an assertion that Kali possesses the agency in their relationship, meaning they predominantly operate on her schedule and her terms, ‘you’re just like a drug, can I be your Pablo Escobar?’.
On the serenely immersive shuffle of i want war (BUT I NEED PEACE) Kali muses how former, frayed connections had a detrimental affect on her connectedness to and understanding of, herself. Here, Kali disassembles the ideal that a woman’s arsenal solely consists of their beauty – perhaps a sentiment her former lover believed in – with Kali identifying her ‘mind and my [her] soul’ as ‘weapons’ of invaluable worth to her. Kali knows that opportunities for her betterment lay in learning from her L’s, but, being that she’s only human, she grieves the time and effort she expended on her ex, ‘and every failure was a lesson […] I wish I had the time you’ve taken’.
Kali’s ability to feel, her sense of external and internal connectedness, is what fuels her art, and so, her ex’s attempt to rob her of the capacity to do the former ran the risk of directly infringing on her ability to create the latter; almost cutting Kali off from a function as fundamental to her as breathing, her art form, ‘I don’t wanna get numb to the feeling’. Kali’s ex clearly withheld affection when he felt she wasn’t deserving, a reality that is especially cruel considering she didn’t require grand displays of affection, rather, romantic and sexual intimacy in lieu of support and security, ‘I just want some head and a few wet kisses/ To make it all better’.
Here, Kali reclaims her sense of self by identifying that what her spirit needs takes precedence over what her heart wants, ‘cause I got needs, yeah, I got needs/ I want war, but I need peace’. She may want to wage war on the man that raided and ravaged her heart, but that course of action would only serve her in the short term. In the long term, peace, of mind and matter, is a necessary prerequisite for ridding herself of the remnants of her ex’s God complex, as well as his mistreatment and mischaracterisation of her, ‘and they kept on calling me crazy/ But maybe that’s how God made me/ Take a look at what you made me’. With the apparitions of her ex expelled, Kali freely admits that her wish for her and her ex to work it out could’ve been realised – had he not been so wotless, ‘you know it could have been you and me/ That’s all that I wanted it to be/ That’s all that I wanted it to be’.
Strings and harp combine, bearing a harmonious healing quality on EP closer TO FEEL ALIVE. Kali is enthused that her connection to her ex is entirely severed now, with no chance for reattachment, ‘I love the smell of you burnin’ your last bridge with me/ I love it, yeah, I love it/ I love it, yeah, I love it’. Like most women, Kali was conditioned as a young girl to be grateful for and good to her man, no questions asked, ‘and I was raised to give my thanks and hold my baby down (Hold you down)’.
A young woman now, Kali knows that she could never truly fulfil this ideal, as it is staunched in patriarchal fantasy, and as such, she knows that even if she were docile in nature, her proposed docility could never live up to the fantasy, ‘cause it’s never enough, never enough’. This isn’t the only patriarchal ideal Kali is resistant to. She also disengages with the ideal that her value is determined by how well she mirrors the patriarchal models of what a woman should be.
Kali refuses to operate within the mould of these models because they don’t serve her sense of self, ‘I’ve never been a Saint, baby, how does a sinner taste?’. Kali will not let the patriarchy weaponise her beauty to reduce her to a two dimensional, vapid version of herself, ‘I’m not the perfect pretty girl up on the magazine/ With no opinions’. Most of all, Kali is keenly aware that the patriarchy would praise her for being strong and silent, ‘she’ll never show her heart and they’ll all call her brave’. Knowing that her emotional suppression would serve the patriarchy’s systematic oppression of women, Kali couldn’t care less about the pressure to be complicit, ‘how can I give a damn when I don’t give a fuck?’.
Quarantine, the loss of connections before their time, ‘I miss my family, things will never be the same,’ and collective emotional anguish at the systemic oppression of Black persons, has induced a numbing agent with seemingly irreversible effects worldwide. More than any external connection or love could serve her, Kali’s commitment to being connected to her most authentic self, and thus, her most authentic love, ‘all of the things I’ve lost, all I can do is love’, arrests the aforementioned numbing agents – if only for a short time – emboldening her music, and her listeners, like never before.