Songs We Love: WILLS, 'Woes vs. Whoas' In his new song, the soulful dance artist (formerly known as Gordon Voidwell) expresses confusion with elegance and intensity. Watching and listening feels like eavesdropping.
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Songs We Love: WILLS, 'Woes vs. Whoas'

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WILLS is a new moniker for Will Johnson, who until recently released music under the name Gordon Voidwell. Those songs, especially the ones he put out on an album called Bad Etudes two and a half years ago, have a healthier relationship with disco than most contemporary dance music that claims the lineage. Real friends. And he's further proof funk never left. His new song, "Woes vs. Whoas," puts demands on the body, as dance music can't help but do, but it's also private. Listening to it feels like eavesdropping, and its video takes that sensation further, most immediately because its performer doesn't ever make eye contact with us.

"I want you to notice me," he sings, and then he complicates the idea of "me" from a physical form that's subject to misapprehension, willful blindness, unasked-for visibility and state-sanctioned disregard. "You got me like, 'Woe is me,'" he sings, and in the video you're forced into the position of observer. He's either ringed by expressionless, shadowed others, or he's in high contrast against a blown-out white background. You have to stare. The art is gestural and heavily emotional while staying clean. It's hard to believe it sidesteps performativity, but it does. It's that rare video that expands the song.

WILLS, WILLS Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

The piece as a whole is an elegant expression of confusion. It's frustrating, being reminded of how endlessly difficult it is to make yourself understood — anybody at all at any moment, but also all of us, largely, right now. It's loud in our heads, these family feuds between our past selves and the next ones and all the trying to figure it out, what's going on and where we go from here. Music that's insistent and dynamic, big moves, can shake us back to an essential version of ourselves. Violence upends daily life, and sometimes a crisis brings a kind of simplifying finality. We crave that answer, in a way: morbid fascination, desperate comfort, and you see it when that box on the right-hand side of the Times website, that "recommended for you" list, is full of other people's tragedies. Things that make you say whoa. "Woes vs. Whoas" reflects all that mess back to us.

We're watching a lot of videos these days. We're watching so many videos, we're now talking about not watching videos, avoiding videos, recovering from watching videos, warning people about videos, wishing we'd never seen videos. Everyone of us is a different person watching every one of them, and this video for this song uses all that disparity to focus. It does what it came to do.

WILLS comes out Sept. 9 on IAMSOUND.