Viewed through his sophomore album, Illuminate

Shawn Mendes released his sophomore album (Illuminate, 2016) only a year after his debut (Handwritten, 2015). This could be a sign of two things: either Mendes is a prolific writer, or just very eager. Considering the guitar tattoo on his forearm and the fact that he didn’t even co-write his biggest hit “Stitches,” he was probably just overeager. Illuminate fails to showcase any artistic evolution. Mendes probably should have waited a bit longer to release it.

The first issue with the album is its title: Illuminate. Shawn pronounces it ill-um-in-it, as if he thinks he is inventing a new word…


There’s more than one type of wall

Ahead of Christmas 2020, BTS released a holiday version of their number one song “Dynamite.” The generic holiday makeover is an unabashed symbol of how the song trolls American culture. Although one of the biggest acts in the world, BTS has struggled to build traction in mainstream American media. They have dominated sales, streams, and charts, but they’ve failed to break into the popular consciousness.

This summer, their first English-language single went number one in the US, but mainly through streams, sales, and fan promotion. Radio remained an obstacle. Radio play is a boost that many mainstream (read: Caucasian) American…


Her second album failed to live up to the promise of her first

Camila Cabello achieved artistic evolution on her sophomore album, Romance, but not until the final track. Although sonically inventive and catchy, the first 13 songs of the record don’t give insight into Camilla as an artist or as a person. We know she’s working with some new producers and experimenting with rock, specifically on “This Love.” (Why does every pop artist have a song called “This Love”?) But to maintain an upward career trajectory, artists need to show multidimensionality on a second album. They can’t just provide a new take on the sound from their first.

Although Camilla’s first album…


But you shouldn’t let that get you down.

Since our beginning, humans have attributed meaning to inanimate objects and intangible concepts. The Ancient Greeks created myths to explain and personify almost every natural phenomenon. The Greeks personified love as the goddess Aphrodite in an effort to explain and grasp their own human desires. They used the myth of the goddess Persephone, traveling back and forth from the Underworld, to explain the changing of the seasons.

The Greeks’ explanations of the world through mythical and human terms show two essential things about humans: we seek to ascribe our humanness to non-human things, and we seek to assign meaning to…


Most of the time, anyway

The Weeknd — this year’s most notable Grammy snub — headlined this year’s Super Bowl Pepsi halftime show. He now joins a group of the elite- and not so elite- pop stars who have been at the top of the show’s ticket. Most Super Bowl performers have already peaked, well into a decade(s) long career. Often, their Super Bowl appearances precipitate a downhill slide in their careers- unless you’re Beyonce- because booking a Super Bowl performance only comes after an artist has already peaked. That’s how big the gig is (which is hard to understate). Generally, a Super Bowl show…


Joe Biden is more of the same

“No takesies backsies!” The classic schoolyard phrase indicates something essential about humans: we regret things. And there will always be people trapping us within the consequences of our actions no matter how much we regret them.

Many Americans see Joe Biden as a do-over for America after Trump’s disastrous four years in office and the mishandling of the CoronaVirus pandemic. But I can’t help but wonder if the suburban revolt against Donald Trump in 2020- a key demographic he won in 2016- would have occurred if not for the pandemic. It took a virus ravaging the nation to finally expose…


The most self-destructive of our impulses

Humans aren’t meant to find aliens. Maybe we will one day, but that’s not the point of our existence. Of course, there is no point in our existence. But that’s another story.

Humans are social creatures. From the beginning of our civilization, we have imagined “higher powers,” or types of beings that could transcend, guide, and keep humanity company. Most importantly, these projections of higher life forms proved to us, to those that believed, anyway, that we were not alone.

Humans long for the company of others- and so do other species on Earth. My dog follows me around the…


I know it’s a kid’s show, but a lot of people watched it

Outer Banks knows its audience: young adults in a country that can’t stop romanticizing good ole’ treasure hunts. With a little of Riverdale’s sex appeal thrown in there, no one can look away. Forty years after The Goonies, America’s consciousness hasn’t strayed from the same tropes: treasure hunts, a vulnerable white male lead and the whitewashing of a racially segregated setting.

The show fails to acknowledge the racial nature of its violence

In Episode 3, aptly named “The Forbidden Zone,” the show’s preppy antagonists attack Pope (Jonathan Davis), a member of the core four groups of leads on a golf course. Two white men attack a black man “trespassing” on a…


My life went down in flames.

I was 17 when 1989 came out. That year, I had the first taste of adult-ish freedom in my life. I could drive and I started to look at colleges. I began to feel the possibilities in my life expanding outward like the flock of birds on the 1989 CD, parting ways above a beach. When I drove to my friends’ houses that year, I blasted 1989 in the car: the soundtrack of new possibilities.

1989 came out during my junior year in high school. My senior year, Adele released 25, which defined senior…

Matt Dwyer

Recent college grad. I write about pop culture, politics, travel, mental health, and more

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