“You title email ‘Noname thank you for your sweet Telefone / It saves lives’” —Noname, “Don’t Forget About Me”
Noname is actually broken, and that’s a beautiful thing. Beautiful in the sense that she feels what we feel, beautiful in the sense that Noname is a living, reeling person in a world of persona, and beautiful in the sense that we are blessed enough that she chooses to share her broken self with us. Beautiful, too, is that Noname has been blessed with the gift of touching artistry. She has both the language and the musical lens, both the hurt soul and the enduring faith to make enthralling life-music. All at once, Noname stands tall as a celebrated artist and an empathetic woman; however, we as a culture notoriously struggle to parse the two identities.
There is something passively destructive about artists graduating to life-saving music. Too often when artists become the pantheons of our emotions, we leave their humanity at the door like a needless second skin. Somewhere between our cathartic release and pursuit of feeling better, we objectify our favorite artists under the guise of supreme compliment. As we are guilty of doing with life and all manner of beauty, we take these artists for granted. We label them transcendent, and in time, we force them to transcend their implicit humanity. The result is a quietly insidious relationship between fan and performer, one that is too demanding, creates too much pressure, and shirks the very empathy we glean from the music we hold dear.
Yet, our relationships with artists would be far more gratifying, the “saving” far more effective and fair to the artist and the listener, if we resolved to remember these artists are often just hurt people giving voice to other hurt people.
In the case of Noname, she has actively fought for us to not objectify her, or to forget that she is human. Telefone’s aptly titled “Freedom Interlude” contains a brief moment of becoming for Noname, mere seconds on wax that speak to the unfair coalescing of artist and person. “I hope he find his way to Arizona now / I hope he find Fatimah and she hold him down,” she raps, naming herself. As the track continues on, detailing her battle with alcoholism and general brokenness, we are forced to reflect on the shattered barrier between listener and musician. Noname is Fatimah; these are her real circumstances. This is her real life, and we must treasure that in our collective search for wholeness.
The seeds she plants on “Freedom” bloom into the declarative album Room 25, released on September 14, where Noname knows who she is, knows her aching limits—and realizes that’s how she saves lives. She goes from fighting for her personhood to forcing our eyes open. On Room 25’s emotive linchpin “Don’t Forget About Me,” Noname reveals the ugly secrets of her humanity: her drinking, her doubt, her mortality. Her delivery is not fleeting and she pulls no punches in regard to herself. But, still, Noname saves lives. Noname saves lives because she embraces her truth and does not give listeners the space to commodify her. She is still healing, asserting her Fatimah-ness with every lyric, and by proxy, still healing us. The secret is, she’s actually human. The secret is, we must let her be.
“Don’t Forget About Me” is striking because Noname positions herself as aware and accepting of the emotional pedestal she has been placed upon, but not without a few caveats. “I'm the prayer, the hope, bank account wishin' bone for my loved ones,” she delivers in a whisper. Yet, Fatimah refuses to regard herself as infallible and ensures that we do not see her as a glistening and untouched thing. After all, if Noname were shiny and adjusted, would that not spoil the sincerity and depth of her music?
“Tell ‘em Noname still don’t got no money / Tell 'em Noname almost passed out drinking / Secret is, she really think it saves lives” —Noname, “Don’t Forget About Me”
Here, Noname delivers a bit of a role reversal, throwing in our faces the very things we nearly demand of her to produce her “saving” music. There is a weighty two-ness to her writing, as she mounts both a desperate and spiteful stance. We can take her at face value, and see that Noname still has a ways to go before she can feel as saved as her fans.
Or, we can go a step further and see that the “it” of her sentence can not only apply to her vices saving her, but also to her vices being the root of her relationship with her fans. In that admission, there is a fear informed by her somber delivery. At once, Noname reveals the crippling weight of her struggle and the weight she feels making music born of struggle. If Noname must hurt to save us, will we ever let her heal? She wonders this, and also the strength of her soul on the song's hook.
On the hook, that’s Fatimah singing. Her woes move beyond the music and the fans to her family and her pending eternity. Of course she wants to be remembered, but first by her mother and her grandmother, her father and then she can dwell on living on in our hearts. In discussing her mortality and fragility, Noname forces us to readjust our expectations and demands. Yes, albums are wonderful cultures of insight into an artist and into ourselves, but there are whole lives led beyond the tracklist, and as Noname hopes to be remembered by her loved ones, we are transported from Room 25 to Noname's steeled heart. We remember her for who she is: Fatimah, living person.
The resolve of the hook nourishes both ways. While fans are primed to be more empathetic, Noname is ready to see herself as transcendent on her own terms. She is no longer tethered to her pain, and her pain cannot be the thing that ascribes her cultural value. “All I am is everything and nothing at all / All I am is shoulder for your heart to lean on / All I am is love, all I am is love,” she sings, because she cannot and should not be our vessel entirely. Her body belongs to her alone, but the good news is that love does not need a body to be felt and spread.
In these final moments on “Don’t Forget About Me,” Noname once again subverts the artist-fan relationship. Where we are so quick to flatten her into a usable thing, Noname has already boiled herself down to something serviceable, but also ubiquitous and beautiful. She is our shoulder and she is our love, and within those two identities, she can remain herself. The destructive relationship of savior and listener dissolves now that we are collectively healing on Fatimah’s terms. There is a warmth and togetherness laden within this leveling technique, something familial and blanketing in the repetition of love and being.
As “Don’t Forget About Me” fades out, we realize that it is better to be saved by someone who loves us than to be saved by a thing. Noname can save us, but it will not be at the cost of saving Fatimah. Don’t forget about Noname, because she has not forgotten about us.
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