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AWKWARD CROSSOVERS: Faye Webster As Theme Music

September 1, 2023

To be a person of faith is to go through life looking for signs. The direction these signs suggest is negotiable, likely depending on your chosen perspective and favored outcome. A sign I learned early in my consumer development was that if you were in a store and came across a pair of shoes that caught your eye, you ask an employee if your size is available. If yes, you are meant to buy the shoes; if not, you move on. There are thousands of parallels, all sparkling with a little bit of optimism that things are meant to work out as you desire them to. You aren't exactly willing these signs into reality, but you certainly aren't ignoring them.

This principle has only become more layered as algorithms are introduced, intentionally tempting us with calculated signs. Its no longer a delightful coincidence if that pair of shoes is stocked in your size - if you choose to forgo them in that instant despite the positive omen, you'll only see targeted ads for the same sneakers conveniently sprinkled into your social media feeds, email promotions, and search browser recommendations. It's becoming harder to trust the spontaneous affirmations from the universe. Now, it seems like everything is an excuse to indulge.

So, indulge I do. Through tedious internal debates and months of passive plotting, I decided to buy tickets to my first festival earlier this month. So much weighed into the decision - the opportunity to reunite with friends, end my drought of seeing live music, a bargain price weighted against the experience, an escape from my claustrophobic reality, an impulsive late-night purchase the night before the weekend kicked off. Above all these reasonable and even logical motivations, I was (perhaps foolishly) following a sign.

Among the names listed on the bill for the festival - Zach Bryan, Maggie Rogers, Alex G, Del Water Gap, Angel Olsen, and more - there was one who's font stood a little pronounced in the lineup poster. A name who stood as the main attraction since the list of acts was announced over 8 months prior. I was a nonchalant Faye Webster fanatic since I was christened with her i know i'm funny haha LP in 2021, an album I both adored and took for granted. There were times in the 2 years following I would have a revelation and play her music as ambiance, subtly soundtracking the mundanities of my daily routine that Webster embellishes wonderfully in her own right. However, in the weeks leading up to her festival appearance, I was enjoying a renaissance of sorts about her music. Transparently and with a tint of shame, this is most attributed to her viral sound on TikTok, which stems from a song from her self-titled EP, "I Know You." Her devastatingly cool and melodramatic, almost disassociated delivery sparked an unexpected trend, and the more I engaged with it, the more Faye I was fed. It is in the midst of receiving all of these "signs" that I pulled the trigger and signed up for the weekend, pulled most forcibly by the gravity of Faye Webster.

And when the weekend was over, and I was no longer interested in whatever direction Webster's music was trying to lure me in, her songs still appeared on my feed, though in the spirit of a new trend. No longer was she trying to encourage me to indulge in my desires - her music led me to something I had no idea I ever wanted.

To watch sports as a child is to watch your superheros every night. Adorned in their uniforms, they fly, they flash, they perform acts of super strength. Remarkably, some even manage to save lives, all under the guise of your friendly neighborhood millionaire basketball celebrity. As a fan at such a young age, it's a wonder that these figures even exist - the athletes that make up the NBA seem just as fantastical as the characters that populate the DC Universe.

Across all multiverses prevails one universal truth: every superhero needs his theme music, and in the highlight culture of the 2000's/2010's, NBA stars were awarded just that. As the remarkable feats of a player played onscreen, likely the result of a YouTube search, they were always soundtracked by an appropriate song of the time. The song choice was more than an auditory filler - in many cases, it said as much about the player as his highlights. The chosen track was meant to reflect the player's tempo, his aura, his attitude, his reputation. Though a mostly dated practice, this can easily be done with today's stars of the league. For example, pair any NBA Youngboy song with Ja Morant and you'll get the same effect, or reference the self-produced mixtape of Bones Hyland, where he partners his smooth bucket-getting with the sultry tunes of Marvin Gaye. Nothing has ever looked more like jazz than Kyrie Irving's salacious dribbling and finishing displays. Still, perhaps this is best illustrated by the material: take into account Allen Iverson's mixtape, soundtracked by "Gangsta's Paradise," entirely reflective of AI's persona and street-culture swagger; a Derrick Rose reel from 2012, perfectly capturing the excitement that surrounded his relentless energy, effortless excitability, and undeniable charisma by Lupe Fiasco's "The Show Goes On"; Jamie Foxx's "Winner" is entirely representative of Dwayne Wade's collection of big-time plays. There are countless compilation videos made of Kobe Bryant, one's I indulged for hours as a young admirer of his work, but a forever iconic highlight tape has to include his signature fadeaways and footwork fueled by a song of his name, performed by Lil Wayne. These were the songs you wanted to have playing in your headphones as you headed to a court, hoping they would inspire you to perform in the spirit of the athletes you could watch but not quite believe. Play their theme music and they just might appear.

A new collection of trends has overtaken this nostalgic piece of my basketball fandom, all in compounding and utterly satisfying ways. As most trends tend to do these days, they exist in their most realized forms on TikTok. Of all there is to criticize the app for, only thanks will be offered to the algorithm for assembling a truly full-circle array of videos for me to appreciate.

The first of these trends, which has been ongoing for awhile but only recently made its way to prominence in my media, is a parody of the very idea expressed above. This includes highlights of NBA players, in the same structure and narrative, but differing in stature. No longer is it required a player be a star or household name - now, all it takes is a couple eyebrow-raising flashes from a player to assemble a 1-2 minute montage of convincing work, supported by the same intense theme songs you'd expect to hear coupled with the NBA's most prominent players. While some are certainly more obscure than others, they all succeed in bringing a twisted smile to my face.

Building on this concept is the music choice for these particular videos, which introduces the parody label to this brand of content. For as much as these videos mock the art I hold so dear, they do still provide quite a sense of pleasure to me. A non-comprehensive list of player highlights-soundtracks that I frequently revisit: John Wall mixing fools to Outkast's "Hey Ya!"; Russell Westbrook tearing the rim off as "Rock Your Body" by Justin Timberlake plays; Kyle Korver raining threes to Twista's "Wetter"; of all the fouls Ben Wallace has ever committed, the most flagrant of his career is layering his highlights on top of Sade's "Kiss Of Life"; even with his comedic prowess, there's nothing funnier about Steven Adams than watching him play basketball as "Birthday Sex" plays. While mostly fun and games, my blood pressure did spike when I came across a similar video of Robert "Bane of My Existence" Sacre repeatedly embarrassing himself to the tune of Meek Mill's "I'm A Boss." It was at this point things had gone too far.

In the casualness of this trend and its accompanying videos, the creator's of these mash-ups would occasionally hit the mark, I presume unintentionally. Re-introduce Faye Webster, who, among all the chaos and foolishness associated with this brand of parody, finds a way to turn the trend on itself in a way that is wholly and genuinely beautiful. By the means of which can only be explained by fate (read: an invasive algorithm), I found myself in the most self-fitting niche on the entire app. Time was no concern as I scrolled through these assorted videos, most of which can be attributed to creator CalmNBA, a pioneer of the art. Among his masterpieces: Josh Giddey's pretty-boy persona paired with Taylor Swift's "Style"; Giannis Antetokounmpo punishing anyone in his path to "Kyoto" by Phoebe Bridgers; Khris Middleton somehow managing to be rigid and smooth at the same time as Soccer Mommy's "Circle The Drain" plays. The creator's eye-ear coordination is top-notch, but where they really earn their applause is in their most unjustified selections.

In the examples already mentioned, there was some redeeming quality to each song that made it suitable for the respective player - whether that be the melody, the tempo, the artist's vocal delivery, there's always a fitting descriptor somewhere in the music. Faye Webster makes no sense with these movements. Nothing of her music resonates with the exclamation of a slam dunk. Her melodies are often herky-jerky, not fluid like the well-practiced aesthetics of an NBA player. Of all the compliments to bestow upon her, "charismatic" is not the first that comes to mind. (As I said before, she is cool, but almost in a reluctant way. One that prevents her from being openly charismatic.) Her tone and cadence and tempo don't lend themselves to the explosiveness or speed of these players. Categorically, any Faye Webster track is a disaster paired with any respectable athlete's highlights.

But then there's the evidence. Andrei "AK47" Kirilenko running up and down the court, blocking shots and dishing behind his back to the elegantly romantic "Kingston"? Checks out. The supremely suave Brandon Roy going to work as "I Know You" plays? A fitting air of melancholy, if you ask me. Yao Ming being tall soundtracked by "Right Side of My Neck"? Looks and sounds good. And then, the magnum opus of the genre: Trae Young stepping back for a three, the ball sinking in just as the instrumentation of "Kingston" begins and Webster holds on to the word "dreaminggg." If nowhere else, in this space it is obvious that the alchemy of basketball mixtapes is not a science but an art.

Even in its mystical formula, there must be some component that is comprehendable. Perhaps the most explainable characteristic that unites Webster's music and these athletic compilations is the sense of freedom shared between the two. When a basketball player is at his best and most pure, it is when he is free, acting on instinct. Many times in Webster's music, it feels as if she is acting on instinct; when listening to her unorthodox melodies or line readings, you get the impression that she is an actress performing a script for the first time and with no rehearsal - she seems to be trying to find her place in the scene in real time, figuring where to take pauses or draw out syllables, filling the space in the best way she knows how. Her melodies come off as improvisational. Even in her off-beat delivery, you feel its a product of her freedom, her feeling confident enough to finesse her way around her lyrics. Through this liberal reading of the text, the weird fit between Webster and NBA players oddly makes sense, seeing that Faye often feels disjointed even in her own music.

Sports can be likened to music in that they are the performer's expression of self. When so much of one's life is dedicated to an activity, it feels suitable to see their body of work as a reflection of the person at hand. So much of Kawhi Leonard's stoic personality is on display when you watch him play basketball, his stone-faced expression unchanged no matter how miraculous a play he's accomplished. The opposite can be said for Draymond Green, who is as demonstrative and confrontational a player as you'll find. His on-court reputation is reinforced by his media appearances, where he will occasionally attack or insult other players. In judging both of these men based on how they express themselves in their sport, it would be fair to be intimidated by them, if even for different reasons.

There's no intimidation when it comes to Faye Webster. She sings in a hushed tone with the temperament of the kid in class who was called on while not paying attention, stumbling to find an answer and piece together the context. The sentiments in her song support this idea, as she will regularly circle an idea or emotion with intentionality but little closure. Her character in her music presents as awkward, like strangers sharing an armrest on an airplane: anxious with an air of romantics to it. And among all of these dynamics, she manages to be cool in the most out of pocket way imaginable. Take, for example, the second verse of "Kingston" as evidence of her inherent charm: "He said, 'Baby,'" she begins, before breaking the fourth wall in a manner not so dissimilar to Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag to offer a disclaimer - "That's what he called me," Webster says, stepping out of the song for a moment before immediately coaxing her way back into her character and finish the scene - "'I love you.'" It's here Webster uniquely captures the out-of-body experience of intimacy, of being loved, of being told you are loved, in a way that is totally authentic to her music. Though some may seem the contrary, all of the above was meant as a compliment to the truly inimitable nature of Faye Webster's songwriting.

When two people come together who are meant for each other, they both bring their own individual histories, their own stories. To other people they mean different things, but together they share a familiarity that's uncommon, perhaps even against logic. These love stories are the most inspirational: when the two people who never knew they needed each other come to realize they're perfect for one another. Well, in this story, there are no people - just songs from an off-kilter songwriter and basketball highlights from some of the sport's best, while an algorithm plays Cupid.

Article written by Kieran Kohorst

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