Spencer’s “Witch-Pop” Playlist 2023
So much is going on in the world that it makes sense to all but crawl under a rock between responsibilities. But Halloween with kids necessitates coming out. I found my energy through making a playlist themed, “Witch Pop.” If you need to get moving at the end of spooky-season and beyond, you may enjoy my playlist and my reasoning behind each song. The theme beyond the name is: 13 songs that would have gotten these artists burned at the stake in (even more) trying times.
Come to think of it, I’ll add that many psychotherapists would be burned at the stake during witch-trial times. We listen, we know things people tried to cover up. And when we reflect, and support people to do better, we disrupt the status quo. Therapy is very dangerous for powers and systems that want to go unchecked.
My normal person disguise wanted this blog to take the form of a tidy cogent listicle – never veering off course.
But, that’s not how my brain works.
And it’s not how many of your brains work either.
Since we celebrate Halloween with deep meanings about putting on and taking off disguises, I decided to let this list flow the way it wants to. We will see what comes of it.
1. “Same Old Energy” by Kiki Rockwell is quintessential “witch-pop” for the 2020s. It makes the heavy observation that even though the era of actual witch hunts is over in Europe and the US, we are still experiencing the “same old energy,” in culture, laws, and policies that attempt to demonize and control women. And yes, “witch-pop/witch-core” is a real subgenre. Some might say it is the spookier corner of “cottage-core” which takes us back to rural European life ranging in time period from Medieval to pre-industrial revolution. The pop beats incorporate more timelessly folk-ey melodies. Nature and anachronism are big in the lyrics. So, this song, written by a practicing Pagan, mixing pop beats with lyrics to create a sense of past to present circularity is “witch-pop” goals. If I was making a list of songs to perfectly fit the current “scene,” I would follow this sound. But I didn’t do that….
2. “Labour” by Paris Paloma would most likely make it onto a perfect “witch-pop” list, as well, due to its heavy cottage-core vibe and the implied witchy-ness of calling out men. This song is so frustrated with men that I initially wondered if I would offend some clients if I ever wrote about it. My conclusion on this worry is that your reaction to this song says something important about you. The situations and the feelings depicted in this song are, sadly, very real for many people as they navigate the struggle for equity/equality. If this song does not depict your situation, you can at least applaud its accuracy for others. You can applaud yourself that this is not you and your relationship. You can laugh-out-loud at the jarring use of “weaponized incompetence” – so very on-trend. On the flip-side, if this song taps a nerve because it reflects stuff in your own life, there may be some things you need to address. Finally, a warning to the people who want to call this song absolutely “crazy,” and disregard it: you may be missing something….
3. “Kill Bill” – SZA. This is the part of the playlist where I started to expand on the “witch-pop” concept. I like a playlist that becomes an expression all its own. So while SZA’s song is vibing in its own alternative genre, it made me smile to follow “Labour” with the lyrical hook, “I might kill my ex…” Because, after a song like “Labour,” who wouldn’t be thinking it? Of course, SZA would have been burned at the stake just for saying something like that. For daring to sublimate her thoughts and feelings into an epic healing fantasy. If what I have written so far has not been any therapeutic guidance, here is something: Yes, unrealistic fantasies about harming you ex can be part of your healing process. A wildly impossible fantasy in which you are a master martial arts assassin and you kill your ex, is not a realistic plan for harm. I am not worried. If your fantasy is a metaphor for killing experiences, ideas, and emotions you want to release, it’s fine to give all that stuff the face of your ex as let it go. If you are healthily processing your emotions, soon those fantasies will get tired, and be replaced with much prettier ones.
4. “Demons” by Doja Cat. On theme with sublimation and dark imagery to navigate through challenges, “Demons” is a good next track. If I was truly looking for the latest song that would most likely get Doja Cat burned at the stake, “Paint the Town Red” is even more provocative because it sounds more calculated than, “Demons.” The wild explosion that is “Demons” – so over the top its not to be taken seriously – is not as scary as the powerful opener to SZA’s new album, Scarlet. But I decided “Demons” first, so we are committed to “Demons,” as we are committed to the moment. Also, the DJ in me needed a change in dynamics after the first three songs. I want this playlist to be a fun listen!
5. “W.I.T.C.H” by Devon Cole. The song’s acronym alone deserves to make it to this list: “Woman In Total Control of Herself.” Cole did create this acronym, but the song is a great way to disseminate it. It’s a jazzy, poppy, cheekily-resistant anthem about female power. It’s almost too poppy to be prototypical witch-pop, but I may be overanalyzing. This song is so youthful and playful, it may be one of the few songs on this list that might not have gotten the artist in big trouble. If she was lucky, she may have been pardoned for expressing herself, if she promised never to do it again. She may then have learned to second-guess her authenticity, and drown this voice inside her in order to survive. Thinking deeply into that, let’s remember to revive who we are once we have made it to safe shores. Stay the W.I.T.C.H. you always were and wanted to be.
6. “Vampire” by Olivia Rodrigo. Continuing on the young-pop-artist boat, next is “Vampire” by Olivia Rodrigo. Because it’s Halloween and we are now including anything spooky. Rodrigo has neither confirmed nor denied this song being directly about former idol, Taylor Swift. But if it was not, then this poor singer needs to be more careful of who she hangs around because Taylor’s role in taking credit for many of her hits must have been devastating. If it’s not about her then that means Rodrigo had another heartache of equal or greater value recently, and that is a lot! Rodrigo would have been burned at the stake for daring to challenge the talents of the already established. Well, she has not backed down, and the drama in her music is fantastic.
7. “Piece of Me” by Britney Spears. I wondered if I wanted to include a Britney song because I just read her entire memoir the very day it came out. But then, what contemporary musical artist has been more metaphorically “burned at the stake” by the media, tabloids, nice guy Justin Timberlake, and her family? “Piece of Me,” is a tragic pop masterpiece – especially in the context of her rocking it in 2007 amidst all her personal struggles and harassment. “Piece of Me” reflects the media obsession with her, and its absurdity. The song was an attempt to be whole and strong enough to brush off those who want a piece of her. Her newly released book, The Woman in Me, brings her full circle to achieve that goal. A truth-spewing memoir is her middle-aged version of a this artistic clap-back from her 20s.
8. Niki Minaj’s verse from “Monster” by Kanye West. Once I decided this list could include whatever is “witch-pop” to me, I knew I would include Niki Minaj’s verses on Kanye West’s “Monster” – which is widely considered to be one of the greatest raps of all times. Even as a newcomer, Niki Minaj was so good it was rumored that West considered ditching the track because she upstages him. She would have been burned at the stake for daring to upstage the powers that be. But this was a moment of Kanye acting grown, and he allowed it, thus releasing the fire of Niki Minaj to the world. This verse is inspiration for anyone pacing around, trying to tamp down their awesomeness so as not to intimidate the established. Niki inspires us to hold back for no one. Before there was the blockbuster Barbie movie, there was this rap. It has all of the meaning and none. It’s a meditation. It’s sparkle. I have listened to it on repeat since I added it to this list. Look for the close friend she references later in this list…
9. “Octavo Dia” by Shakira. This is perhaps one of Shakira’s most pensive and provocative songs and performances. The lyrics are imaginative and existential. She wonders what it must be like for God to create the world and return on the “eighth day/octavo dia” and see what humans have done to it, and to each other. She laments world leaders playing war games like humans are just “chess pieces/fichas de ajedrez.” So obviously these leaders would have her destroyed for this if they could. Removed from the specific politics of the time, the problems and the distress of this song are way too current. In her speech during the middle of the song, she emphasizes love as a way to break the cycle of war. The performance is centered around the Jimi Hendrix quote, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then we will know peace.”
10. “Diamonds” by Rihanna is next. And what I really mean to put is every Savage X Fenty fashion show. But that’s beyond what’s possible in a playlist. Rihanna is a wonderful musical artist, but she truly actualized as a businesswoman. Especially in 2018 with Savage X Fenty. Her intimate apparel company has been considered a major player in destroying Victoria’s Secret, a company by men that catered to and created women’s insecurities for decades. That is until Savage X Fenty came along and took over the market. Rather than host fashion shows parading impossible beauty standards for all but very few, Savage X Fenty shows are celebrations of music, movement, and the beauty of ALL bodies. They are also, creepy and creative; very witchy. They inspire us all to shine bright like diamonds, or whatever we want to be.
11. “Bad Girls” by MIA. The accompanying video to this song is so much more than a “hanging out with my girls in cars” scene. It was made in solidarity with the “Women to Drive” movement which is still ongoing in Saudi Arabia. Many women in this movement have put their lives on the line in effort to gain the right to drive. M.I.A.’s music is rich with perspective from her upbringing in the middle of the Sri Lankan civil war, and then as a refugee in London, raised by a single mother. Her father was so focused on his activist work he was mostly absent from her life. MIA would be burned by Xenophobes, for her activism, and for daring to reflect the negativity cast against her back into a banger of a song.
12. “Lilith”by Halsey, SUGA. Next to last, is Halsey’s “Lilith,” because I wanted a self-destructive song on this playlist and Halsey is great at those. This song struggles with balancing survival and soul. The lyrics, “the more that you give away/the more that you have/the more that you have the more that they take” echo the circular conundrum of whether or not to trust the world. They outro shows and attempt to be hopeful, repeating the idea that if you are open, then connection will come, but it keeps landing back on the idea that being vulnerable is also a way to get hurt. Like with any person in that loop, it’s normal to feel a desire to pull her out. But she’s the only one who can save herself.
13. “Girls Like Us” by Zoe Wees. Zoe Wees’ heartbreakingly raw, “Girls Like Us” ends this list. She expresses what it feels to be a girl like her: she knows she not alone, but the system often colludes to isolate her and others. Therefore, she has some trust issues. Her broken heart is her open heart. Some may be tempted to immediately call her strong and brave, but on a healing timeline, that’s premature. Strength comes with time, and with rebuilding. Strength comes after acknowledging each important part of you, and connecting all these parts together. They have to be examined carefully to connect them into strength. She and girls like her will certainly get there. And when they do, they will rise from the ashes on their own terms.
If you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed this playlist and my rationale. And I hope that you have a safe, moving, and contemplative fall.