TALIA WILTON JOHNSON: Hi. This is Talia Wilton Johnson (ph), and I'm Parker's bestie. Today on IT'S BEEN A MINUTE, Kate Bush has us wondering, is our parents' music cooler than anything new? Plus, the hit show "Rutherford Falls" reminds us why our aunties are so important. All right, here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
B A PARKER, HOST:
Hey, everyone. I'm B.A. Parker. I'm a writer and audio producer, and I'm very excited to be the guest host here on IT'S BEEN A MINUTE for the month of June. NPR is doing its annual survey to better understand how listeners like to spend time with podcasts. Please help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey. We would really appreciate your help to support NPR's podcasts. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey.
And maybe you're like me and my guest, Rachel Brodsky. On a holiday weekend, you skip the barbecue so you can binge that latest TV drop.
RACHEL BRODSKY: I binged all of the fourth season of "Stranger Things" over Memorial Day weekend. And I turned to my husband, and I was like, I think Kate Bush is going to have a serious moment.
PARKER: Rachel was right. For those of you who didn't binge the show over the holiday, Kate Bush's 1985 song, "Running Up That Hill," plays during a very climactic scene in "Stranger Things."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STRANGER THINGS")
JOE KEERY: (As Steve Harrington) Take it. Take it. Take it.
CALEB MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas Sinclair) Go. Go. Go.
KEERY: (As Steve Harrington) OK, headphones.
GATEN MATARAZZO: (As Dustin Henderson) Now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL")
KATE BUSH: (Singing) And if I only could...
PARKER: And now the song is sitting at No. 2 on the U.S. music charts. I cannot emphasize enough that this song is from 1985. It was released more than 30 years ago. And back then, it barely cracked the charts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL")
BUSH: (Singing) And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God, and I'd get him to swap our places. Be running up that road...
PARKER: And Kate Bush isn't alone. A lot of old songs are getting new life. Who knows which song from the past is going to go viral on TikTok? Also, investment firms are putting big money into the back catalogs of decades-old artists. I'm talking people like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Heck, even Taylor Swift is rerecording her old songs again and making bank. All of this has me wondering, is old music taking over? If it is, what does that say about what we, as a culture, value? And how does the technology we use to listen to music influence what we hear?
Rachel Brodsky wrote a column on the music site Stereogum this week titled, "Everything Old Is New Again, And Everything New Is Out Of Luck," so I figured she might have the answers to my questions. I got her and her editor, Chris DeVille, on Zoom to talk about this. And I promise we didn't plan it, but we were all wearing band T-shirts from decades-old musicians.
BRODSKY: Oh, wow. We're all representing.
PARKER: I'm in a B-52s T-shirt, whereas Rachel's in a Bikini Kill shirt and Chris is in a Strokes shirt.
BRODSKY: I love it.
PARKER: Oh, we do very well in Brooklyn.
BRODSKY: I was going to tell you how much I like your B-52s shirt.
PARKER: Thank you. I think I've had it since I was 19, so...
Now, to have this conversation, we had to set some ground rules. I asked Rachel and Chris to clarify what we're defining as old music and new music.
BRODSKY: Older music could really be anything from, like, the '50s, when pop as we know it kind of was first birthed, and, really, as recently as two years ago.
CHRIS DEVILLE: I like to think that, you know, stuff that came out in, like, 2015 is still relatively new.
PARKER: I would hope.
DEVILLE: You don't expect a song that was released in 2015 to become a smash hit in 2022. And so by that metric, it's definitely old. It would be a surprise, and yet it wouldn't be as surprising now because it's just kind of, like, this random game of you never know what's going to bubble back up.
PARKER: This isn't the first time, like, an old song has risen up to the top of the charts. But the article - like, you suggest that this time is different. And, Rachel, like, why is that?
BRODSKY: Music on the whole - catalogs and catalogs of music, decades past, are so much more readily available than they were thanks to streaming culture. And because those apps want to keep you using the apps, they're going to constantly be suggesting similar-sounding songs, like-minded artists of the same genres because it's that algorithm that, you know, wants to suggest something that will keep you using the app.
PARKER: OK, let's pause for a minute and take a look at the charts. There's Harry Styles, Lizzo, Jack Harlow, and they're all mining decades-old sounds like disco and funk. But I want to take a closer look at Jack Harlow's song, "First Class." Just listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRST CLASS")
JACK HARLOW: (Rapping) I've been a...
FERGIE: (Singing) G.
HARLOW: (Rapping) Throw up the...
FERGIE: (Singing) L.
HARLOW: (Rapping) Sex in the...
FERGIE: (Singing) A-M.
HARLOW: (Rapping) Uh-huh.
FERGIE: (Singing) O-R-O-U-S.
PARKER: He's literally taking an old Fergie song and just singing over top of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLAMOROUS")
FERGIE: (Singing) G-L-A-M-O...
PARKER: And Latto, who's also in the Top 10 with her song "Big Energy"...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG ENERGY")
LATTO: (Singing) Got that big, big energy.
PARKER: ...Does the exact same thing with Mariah Carey's hit song, "Fantasy."
(SOUNDBITE OF MARIAH CAREY SONG, "FANTASY")
PARKER: So, yeah, Kate Bush's song from 1985 is resurging, but even newer songs are just repackaged old songs, too.
DEVILLE: You know, there's always been kind of this hunger for the old - like, people like the old and familiar. You think about, like, in the '90s when, like, Will Smith and stuff were using, like, super obvious samples. And that's something that, you know, has continued now. You mentioned the Jack Harlow song. Now it's like, you even have some examples of people going farther than just using the same sample, where they'll actually get the artist. Like, there's a Summer Walker song where she uses Usher's "You Make Me Wanna..." and then it actually...
PARKER: Oh, "Come Thru." Yeah.
DEVILLE: It also has Usher on it. And so, like, we're kind of getting a, like, nuclear-grade version of kind of using a familiar sample and bringing in the actual artists who sang on the first song. I mean, people have been noticing kind of an obsession with nostalgia and retro stuff for decades. It's more complicated than that, though, because, like, people like us who've been around for a few decades, for us it's the old and familiar. But some of the, you know, kids who are discovering these songs and, like, kind of bringing them back, it's new to them. So that's a wrinkle of it that I don't fully know how to explain, other than the fact that it's just, like, the whole catalog is there. And the new and the old are kind of side by side, and there's not as much of a distinction.
PARKER: Why do you think we gravitate towards the familiar? Or is it just comfort? Or, like, will we come back to wanting new music eventually? Or we still are, but, like, we kind of fall back into, you know - like, I listen to "Quiet Storm" sometimes because my folks listened to it.
BRODSKY: I think that that is something that's always been true. I mean, how many of our parents just shook their heads when, you know, we put on an album that, you know, we were really enjoying of its time? You know, my parents, I'm sure, hated every pop punk album that, you know, I listened to in my teens. And, you know, I think part of what I try to do as just a music journalist is, you know, resist that pull to always just kind of go back to the comfortable and the familiar. And, you know, it doesn't really matter how old you get or what time you're in. You know, things are always going to evolve, and what you used to enjoy is going to, you know, just viscerally take you back to a time.
DEVILLE: Yeah. And then the technology - I mean, all the technology that we have now is really designed to play into your basest impulses, right? So, like, the same way that your phone is designed to keep you looking at it constantly, it's like, well, if you're going to - you know, if you're going to get that dopamine squirt from just, you know, playing through all the albums you loved in college, then the technology is set up to make sure that that's what happens.
PARKER: Hearing this, you might be feeling what I'm feeling, which is a little sad. In fact, one music data firm found that 70% of all music consumed is old music, and that percentage is growing. I guess we all carry a little responsibility for that. But isn't it also the music industry's job to promote and uplift new artists and new sounds?
BRODSKY: After my piece ran, my column ran this week, you know, I got a lot of responses and, like, my - you know, my mentions and my DMs being like, oh, I'm so depressed. And while I think it's easy to feel like, oh, like, no one cares about new music anymore, I don't - I write about so much new music every day that, you know, it's hard for me to feel like that's true. And I do think that new music is really prioritized in, like, indie spaces, the most mainstream spaces. I mean, the most mainstream spaces are inherently interested in what works, what's been working. How can we, you know - say, 1 in, like, 100,000 artists breaks through, and they're doing something different and everyone loves them. And it's like, OK, how can we get someone to do something like this so we can kind of capitalize on this trend? And then you do have that - like, the advent of artists organically just taking off on TikTok. I mean, there are tons of new artists on TikTok every day, you know, kind of hoping to go viral.
I compare it in my piece to, you know, going to Vegas at a slot machine, you know, just pumping money in, hoping to win big. And I see that, you know, a lot of industry execs will speak about new music in this way. Like, you never know. It could be you. I do think that there is that, like, possibility, a kind of dreamy possibility waving in the air that, you know, keeps artists hungry to be seen, and, you know, A&R folks at record labels hungry to, you know, find them. It's just that they don't have to pour the same amount of money into developing these new artists because they've already developed them. You know, they've already found their own following on TikTok most of the time.
DEVILLE: Yeah. There's also the aspect where, like, you know, artists famously don't get paid that well from streaming unless they're, like, doing a huge volume of streams. But then they - the labels make plenty of money off of streaming. And so in a sense, for them, it doesn't matter if the music that you're streaming is old or new. And so that - we've got, you know, this huge library of music to pull from, and people are going to gravitate towards, like, you know, their comfort listens and stuff like that. The positive side of streaming is that you can send, you know, pretty much anything up the charts. It's not totally controlled by industry gatekeepers. That's part of why the old songs can become hits the way that they do. It's because they're just responding to, like, the listener activity in real time. So it's kind of, like, this weird flattening of time where, every December, now Mariah Carey goes to No. 1, like - I think it's three years in a row.
PARKER: Every year she gets a check.
DEVILLE: Yeah, and so it's like - if you want to think about it in a positive way, it's, like, a democratization kind of thing where it's like, it doesn't matter if it's, like, the hot new thing that the industry is trying to push. It's like, it's whatever - whatever the people want, they're going to push it up the charts. But it is kind of like - it probably is an environment where it's harder for a new artist to break through when, like, they don't only have to compete with all the singles that are being released in 2022. They also have to compete with the entire history of recorded music up until now.
PARKER: Oh, that last sentence sounded real scary, Chris. Oh, but - OK - because now I'm thinking about the younger generations like Gen Z and the access that they have to all this music and, like, the flattening of time, as you called it, Chris. It's like old music is new for them. Like, what impact do you think this will have on what new music will get made going forward?
BRODSKY: I think that we've already been seeing that reaction play out. I think, you know, a lot of critics like to use the term genreless. You see that with the blending of genres like emo and rap and country, like Lil Nas X, for example. We've never seen more artists - new artists at this time - overlapping so many different, seemingly divergent genres because they have access to that and have had access to that. I think, you know, Post Malone is a very prominent example. I think, you know, a lot of people who have not enjoyed his music historically have just kind of called him an algorithm artist. He's just kind of, like, the internet, like, burped up an artist, and here he is.
BRODSKY: It's not so much about genre for them. It's more about the emotion, the vibe.
PARKER: It's all about vibes.
DEVILLE: I think what we're going to see is a little bit more randomness in, like, what exactly filters in. And, like, even though it's making it harder to break through, it is creating more possibility on, you know, the way things could zig or zag and what could catch on. And so, like, I'm very interested to see, you know, if the "Running Up That Hill" kind of viral moment spawns any kind of imitators or, you know, inspires, like, some sort of - I mean, again, there's been a zillion '80s revivals already, but, like, what will the next one sound like? I think the more that it sounds weird and bizarre to older people, you know, that's probably a good sign of actual innovation happening. One of these rando bring-back things is going to launch, like, a - you know, a whole new wave of - you know, just, like, a new subgenre is going to arise out of some song that was released in 1977, and I just don't know what it is yet.
PARKER: Rachel and Chris, thank you so much for being on our show.
BRODSKY: Thank you so much for having us.
DEVILLE: Thanks for having us.
BRODSKY: Glad we could give you some optimism around new music.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PARKER: That was Rachel Brodsky and Chris DeVille. They both write for the music site, Stereogum. Coming up, we're headed to "Rutherford Falls" and talking with the TV show's writer and star Jana Schmieding. And, no spoilers, but maybe put your auntie's number on speed dial because Jana is about to tell us why our aunties are so important.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
PARKER: So my next guest - she's a writer and star of one of my favorite new sitcoms. If you haven't been watching it, you should be. It's called "Rutherford Falls."
JANA SCHMIEDING: It's about a small town called Rutherford Falls that sits alongside a fictional tribal community, the Minishonka Nation.
PARKER: That's Jana Schmieding. She plays Reagan, a Native historian and best friend to Nathan Rutherford, a white historian played by Ed Helms.
SCHMIEDING: It's about friendship and forgiveness and identity and how friends support each other through the various challenging shifts that we go through in our lives.
PARKER: It's also an ensemble following all of the other characters in the town as they navigate its complicated history and its future. I talked to Jana about physical comedy, the wide breadth of Indigenous stories yet to be told, and the love we share for our aunties.
I love your show.
SCHMIEDING: Oh, thank you.
PARKER: I feel so seen. I was, like, oh, there's, like - there's a pretty, big, brown girl in glasses. This isn't really a spoiler, but I think in the first episode of the second season, it's, like, you carrying one of those big, like, LIFEWTR bottles around.
SCHMIEDING: Oh, my God. I know.
PARKER: And I was like, oh, now I really feel seen and slightly embarrassed.
SCHMIEDING: (Laughter) I know.
PARKER: So let's talk about the show. I love it because it's like - it has the loving community and the ensemble of, like, a "Parks And Rec," but I get to see more beautiful brown people on the screen. And that is a plus in my book.
SCHMIEDING: Yes, me too. We are - the writers room was made up of a lot of people of color. We had Black writers and Latine writers, and we had half of a Native writers room. And all of the Native writers on both seasons came from different tribal nations. So within the, you know, kind of cohorts of Native writers that we've had on the show, we have diversity within us, too, and that is reflective in our show.
PARKER: While I was watching, I saw - was it Azie Dungey's name on there?
SCHMIEDING: Azie, yeah.
PARKER: And - Azie - and I just - I remembered her story about working at Colonial Williamsburg. And then I was like, oh, she's great for this show...
PARKER: ...Because it centers around a museum.
SCHMIEDING: Yes, and Azie is Black and Pamunkey. She's Afro-Indigenous. And she's really, like, you know, very vocal about her identity and her own history. She's a historian herself. But she's also a comedy writer. She's written on "Girls5eva," "Twenties." She has been here.
And so, yeah, like, we're really pulling from a lot of the stories from our writers in this season. A lot of our - and we were in the first season, too, but especially this season, we're sort of doing it in a little bit more of a specific way where we get to pepper in our love - you know, for example, Taietsarón:sere Leclaire - he really wanted to do a Halloween episode.
SCHMIEDING: He loves, like - you know, he loves, like, holiday episodes of sitcoms. So...
PARKER: I do, too.
SCHMIEDING: I know. We all do. And so he was, like, really pushing for a Halloween episode. And honestly, the Halloween episode ended up being one of my favorite episodes, too. And I got to write an episode - Episode 5 is an episode called "Adirondack," and it's about Terry and Reagan going to consult on a contemporary Western TV show. (Laughter) It gets pretty hairy, but it was sort of my homage to Native writers in Hollywood and what we have been experiencing as writers trying to, you know, sort of come up in this industry - an industry full of white executive producers who do not know how to write for us and only hire us as consultants and not writers. So our input is not valued to the same degree. We're saying a lot this season through comedy, and we're pulling from our own experiences doing so.
PARKER: I mean, we're not going to name shows, but there is, you know, some very big shows right now that place Indigenous people as the other, and it's very big and they get, like, prequels. And it's like...
PARKER: ...What do you do with that? Like, I don't know what to do with that. Like - it's everyone's watch - I don't know.
SCHMIEDING: It's very hard. I grapple with it myself, which is why I was so happy to write an episode about it. I'm tired of it personally (laughter). That's just me, though. But I'm grateful that it has given opportunities to Native people in the industry - to Native performers. I've seen a lot of my colleagues and people who have come before me, you know, really find their footing and find careers through these shows. So it's - you know, it's complicated. It's complicated.
SCHMIEDING: It's messy. And at least now the sort of saving grace, in my opinion, is that there is an alternative to it. Before, there wasn't really an opportunity for us to see anything by Native people. We have worked so hard in the last few years as writers. And I say we, but I'm new to this industry, so, so many other writers and producers have been working at this for ages. But to sort of reclaim our, quote-unquote, "narrative sovereignty" and to be able to tell our own stories and hire our own people and pull up our own writers has been a huge advancement in Native Hollywood and for Native storytellers. And we're good at it.
PARKER: So good. Now you're in your second season of "Rutherford Falls." You're in the writer's room. You know, like, after you've had that first season under your belt, like, does it feel easier to, like, write Reagan and get into her head before shooting Season 2?
SCHMIEDING: Yeah, I think for all of the characters. And this season we can expand her a lot more, you know? I sort of - I saw, you know, Ed Helms got, like, to do this - this is kind of a spoiler, but there's a bit where he gets trapped in a coffin in an episode (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RUTHERFORD FALLS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You made me so happy, my love. I just can't believe that our song is going to end.
ED HELMS: (As Nathan Rutherford) Oh, I'm so sorry. I really held on as long as I could, man - for, like, 45 minutes. There's no oxygen in these things. I could have died.
SCHMIEDING: It's so stupid - so silly. But I saw that he got to do, like, these really wacky stunts. And I told our showrunner, Sierra Teller Ornelas, I was like, I want to do a stunt. Like, I want to do something so dumb like that - like, more physical comedy bits. And so she, you know, put me in a ketchup costume and lets me get kicked in the face in the Halloween episode.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RUTHERFORD FALLS")
SCHMIEDING: (As Reagan Wells) Listen, matriarch to matriarch...
(SOUNDBITE OF KICKING)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, gasping).
SCHMIEDING: You know, it's like, to have that kind of a voice in a writer's room is, like, really exciting for me as a writer.
PARKER: One of the episodes in the season is an ode to Reagan's aunt at the time of her passing and all of Reagan's attempts to make sure she's honored in the right way. And the eulogies were so funny and beautiful and sweet. And I want to know more about what it was like in the writer's room and how people, like, brought their own memories of their aunties into the heart of that episode.
SCHMIEDING: You know, something that I've been talking about a lot and we sort of were talking about was the understanding as Native people - and I think that this also exists in a lot of African American cultures and in Black and brown cultures in general. There's a different value system when it comes to families. There is this way that we raise our children and our families in our communities that places a lot more value and importance to aunties and uncles. And I think aunties, especially. I say that, like, parents make the world go round, and aunties make the world fun.
PARKER: I know that's right.
SCHMIEDING: You know, you - they take up a - sort of a sacred space in a family.
PARKER: For sure. Like, I come from a large circle of aunties. And yeah, and so, like, at the end of May, I took them all to dinner. It was also because I was trying to flex...
SCHMIEDING: Yes, absolutely.
PARKER: ...Because I'm, like, a radio person. And I was like...
PARKER: ...I can take all of you all to dinner to, like, honor you but also to flex on the shrimp scampi.
SCHMIEDING: Yes. Exactly. It's, like, these are the people that I want to impress in my life - these women who have had a huge part in raising me and helping me develop my sense of humor, bringing laughter into my life during, you know, sometimes tense situations in my upbringing, you know? It's like, these are the people who step in when I don't understand what's happening in my life. These are women who bring that, like, really important knowledge and sort of liberation.
PARKER: The show also really centers on Land Back and what that looks like and - in a way that I haven't seen explored much in other pieces of media except for, like, on my TikTok. But...
SCHMIEDING: Yeah. Totally.
PARKER: But what was important about getting into, like, Native land ownership on the show in a serious way?
SCHMIEDING: What we like to depict on the show are, you know, showing the complications of things and seeing it with a sense of humor and giving it humor. So, you know, the idea of Land Back or sovereignty over our homelands, our tribal homelands, our traditional homelands, like, this is a huge concept, and it looks different for every tribal nation, you know? We have tribal nations currently who are buying back their land from private ownership, you know, but a lot of our land is in federal trust. So we don't actually own our land. Reservation land isn't owned by the tribe. It's owned by the federal government.
And so we were excited to sort of showcase the many different hurdles and challenges that both Reagan and Terry engage with in reclaiming their land. You know, Terry goes through the sort of capitalistic route, where he can buy that land from the Rutherfords, or he can, you know, sort of threaten the Rutherford Inc. with using old treaty documents. And Reagan, you know, wants to, you know, get a plot of land. And she goes through, like, the actual tribal bureaucracy. So - which is a real thing. And, you know, it's just like...
SCHMIEDING: ...There's so many different ways. It can look so different. Regardless of how it looks, it is trying, OK? We hear, like, #landback on TikTok. And so it was really fun writing episodes that show you, here's what kind of it looks like.
PARKER: To close out, like, what do you hope fans are able to take away from the season?
SCHMIEDING: I hope that people just have a good chuckle (laughter). I really just hope people laugh and have a good time. I am all about the power of laughter and humor and sort of celebrating Native humor through really challenging times, culturally. You know, the apocalypse is - it's been rough, as you know (laughter).
PARKER: For sure. For sure.
SCHMIEDING: So it's nice to have a little levity now and then. And I also hope that people can continue to take away from "Rutherford Falls" the understanding that Native people exist. We live among you. We work alongside you. We are a funny people. We are a loving people. We have rich internal lives. So, yeah.
PARKER: Jana, thank you so much for talking to me.
SCHMIEDING: Thank you so much. This has been a joy.
PARKER: Thanks again to my guest, Jana Schmieding. Season 2 of "Rutherford Falls" is out now on Peacock.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
WILTON JOHNSON: Hey, it's Talia Wilton Johnson, Parker's bestie. It's time to end the show with something sweet. Every week, listeners share the best thing that happened to them this week. We encourage folks to brag, and they sure do. Let's hear a few of those submissions.
HOLLY MURPHY: Hi, everybody. This is Holly Murphy (ph) calling from Columbus, Ohio. And the best thing that happened to me this week was graduating welding school at age 50 - that's five zero. I am now on my way to making lots of money.
RHIANNON: Hi, this is Rhiannon (ph) in Minneapolis, Minn. And the best thing to happen to me this week is that I just got a promotion after a little less than six months in my new job. I couldn't be happier. I love my team, and I feel incredibly supported and validated. And being recognized for my talents and abilities just feels incredible, especially in this weird era of late-stage capitalism.
JESSE KENDALL: Hello, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. This is Jesse Kendall (ph) from Smyrna, Ga. And I just wanted to share that the best thing that happened to me this week is that I am now fully engaged after proposing to my girlfriend. And it was just all the better to be able to do it in June, during Pride Month, below a sign that said love is love. So it's pretty tough out there for a lot of reasons, but I appreciate the opportunity to celebrate the good things because there are still good things. Thanks so much.
PARKER: Thanks to those listeners you heard there - Holly, Rhiannon and Jesse. Listeners, you can send your best thing to us at any time during the week. Just record yourself and send a voice memo to our email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. And one last time, NPR is doing its annual survey to better understand how listeners like to spend time with podcasts. Please help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey. We would really appreciate your help to support NPR's podcasts. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey.
All right. This week's episode was produced by Barton Girdwood, Liam McBain, Chloee Weiner and Janet Woojeong Lee. Our intern is Ehianeta Arheghan. Our editors are Jessica Mendoza and Quinn O'Toole. Our director of programming is Yolanda Sangweni. And our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. So until next time, be good to yourselves. I'm B.A. Parker. We'll talk soon.
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