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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: Hayley Williams’ solo project, “Sex Ed,” and more

Jan. 28, 2020
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Listen: Simmer by Hayley Williams

No matter the level of pretension laced onto your current music taste, there’s no way Hayley Williams wasn’t the ambassadress of your pre-teenhood. She exudes an effortless cool that we all tried (and failed) to emulate on our respective MySpaces. Paramore’s rocky history, then, often comes as a surprise: the band behind Billboard hits like “Still Into You” is also defined by tension between (ex-)bandmates, and its animated frontwoman, who joined the band at 13, privately quit for some time in 2015. 

We already see a lot of this happy-sad pop-punk in Paramore’s latest and most critically-acclaimed album After Laughter, but full-on pent-up rage never turns its head until Williams released “Simmer,'' the first single from her solo LP Petals for Armor. “It’s about specific kinds of abuse and revenge,” Williams tells Apple Music. “What I’m trying to do—for myself more than anyone else—is reframe my anger and try to learn from it. Instead of pretending it isn’t there, ask what it wants.” 

Female rage is very often bottled. The song opens with the lyrics “Rage is a quiet thing,” after all; but as it hits the chorus we see Williams unfurl. Anger becomes more defensive—“If I had seen my reflection / As something more precious / He would’ve never”—and then less self-directed, as it should be—“And if my child needed protection / From a fucker like that man / I’d sooner gut him.” Female rage is bottled because once it spills it’s destructive. Suppression flattens the woman so her wrath is compressed, denser. “‘Cause nothing cuts like a mother,” she continues in the second verse. 

Williams came up with Petals for Armor, which are also the lyrics to the song’s bridge, when she had visions of flowers growing out of her, which she described as more grotesque than beautiful. “There was a lot that was trying to grow out of me but it was gonna hurt to do it,” she said in an interview with L’odet. “The lyrics [are] ‘Wrap yourself in petals for armor’ because I kept feeling like the way for me to protect myself best is to be vulnerable and be okay with having a lot of pain.” In After Laughter she taught us loneliness. In Petals for Armor she is defiant and angry—giving in, finally. 

Simmer by Hayley Williams is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music

Binge: Sex Education Season 2

On the night of the premiere of Sex Education’s second season, Netflix wouldn’t let me play the first episode. Apparently it was already playing on too many screens—there are approximately twelve people sharing my four-person account, and we were all trying to watch the same thing. While not nearly as explosive as some of its streaming siblings, Sex Ed has found a format that resonates like no other. It carries on its momentum from the first season and continues to tackle underrepresented themes, still with as much care and thought. It honestly gets a bit frustrating how pitch-perfect this show is: the setting is lush, the characters fully-fleshed and given ample room and opportunity to grow, the story beautifully threaded together in the familiar warmth of the coming-of-age package. It makes satisfying choices without teetering on fan service. With the expansion of not only the world of Moordale but the interiority of each character, Sex Ed continues to be more inclusive—something the sex ed we grew up with never was. 

Sex Education seasons 1 and 2 are now available to stream on Netflix.

Tune in: Ologies Podcast with Alie Ward

There’s something very visceral about asking, in the words of host Alie Ward, smartologists not-smart questions. This science podcast, which focuses on a different -ology (fearology! Molecular neurobiology! Paleontology!) each week, not only provides a crash course in all these different fields, but gives us impassioned answers to many of life’s burning questions. By taking on these varying lenses to examine the human experience, the infiniteness of not our outer and inner lives feel a lot less nebulous. The mythology episode is about rethinking the narrative of our own lives as much as it’s about the myths of Greece and Rome. And the futurology episode, a new personal favorite, serves as a retrospective look at humanity as a whole. It’s a relief to know that at a time when it’s so easy to fall into fatalism, people who have some semblance of knowledge about the future choose to stay optimistic.

It pulls off a balance between humor and total nerdiness (“I tried looking for something about shallow psychology but I realized that’s just brunch”). Ward is engrossing, and her enthusiasm with each expert she interviews—no matter how niche their specialization may be—is infectious. Science is made accessible and digestible, applied to facets of life previously untouched by it. The meaning of life and other philosophical endpoints still remain at large, but with all these -ologies chipping in, maybe we’re nearer to the answers than we think. I hope not, though.

Listen to the futurology episode here and the rest of the episodes here.