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ISY's new single "Mean" takes bedroom pop to a Twitchy new dimension

“Mean” is the latest single by the singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer known as ISY who’s name is pronounced “I see” but in reality the song and the artist are neither “mean” meaning cruel-hearted (more like open-hearted) nor “mean” meaning average (more like “who farted?”) just don’t get it twisted because ISY ain’t your standard issue Manic Pixie Dream Girl either—more like a girl who happens to like Manic Panic and the Pixies not to mention Nirvana, Joni Mitchell, John Denver, The Weeknd, Biggie, TLC, and Flatbush Zombies (most of whom she plays on her acoustic guitar named “Joni”) and while that’s a pretty dreamy list of influences it’s clearly not in service of anyone’s incel fantasies cuz it's no accident ISY rhymes with “agency” and "self-sufficiency" (well, sort of!) and she’s perfectly happy hangin' on her own in rural New York in an aluminum trailer reading, drinking coffee, and chillin’ with her coterie of inanimate friends so do you see what I mean? (if not watch the video below!)

Quoting from the song’s lyrics, “Mean” is about “trying to get that grace / from the bad days” while admitting that “I’m just another stupid human…they used to laugh at me” and acknowledging that the “demons chasing you [are the] same ones after me” and asserting that “I know how it feels, but you don’t have to be mean” which all sits ambiguously between being a kiss-off and a gesture of empathy. Overall it’s a good message for Mental Health Awareness Month or for any month really—we should all be “free to be you and me” and have freedom of choice without fear of bullying. And what takes this message to the next level is the way ISY’s nimble voice rides and amplifies the fluctuating waves of emotion in the lyrics and the music, culminating with the refrain “you don’t have to be me” 

On the sonic side of things “Mean” likewise rides a series of musical waves over its 3:33 duration (3:33 is the same exact duration of ISY’s past five singles!) opening on a Garden of Eden soundscape with chirping birds and airy keyboard chords before shifting to a vibey stripped down first verse and then building to an EDM type “drop” followed by a thumping house beat with ISY laying down a warn pillow of vocal overdubs over the beat, the equivalent of little fluffy clouds floating by overhead, which is a recurring sonic motif of ISY’s music in general (you'll understand why when you listen) and then after building to another climax with the vocal lines crashing into one another the song ends back where it started with the peaceful Edenic soundscape and it's like escaping back to a perfect private world. 

And speaking of private worlds, the self-directed music video for “Mean” (co-edited by JD Urban, shot by Jesse Turnquist) depicts ISY hanging out in an Upstate Eden in the vicinity of where she was raised. And speaking of non-private worlds, the video contains a trail of Easter eggs that's sure to resonate with her online fans and followers in the form of various stuffed animals and doll parts and bewigged mannequins and assorted other items recognizable from her thrice-weekly Twitch stream that's something like Alice in Wonderland transplanted “through the looking app” to her New York City apartment decked out with all kinds of cool stuff for viewers to look at (my personal fave is the neon-hued, fluffy cotton clouds crafted by ISY herself, sorry Long Furbies!) a setting that's just as DIY magickal as her music.

But maybe I’d better back up in case and explain that this thing called "Twitch" which is a social media platform for live-streaming first designed for gamers but even before that it started as "justin.tv" with a guy "lifecasting" his existence 24/7 and now it’s come somewhat full circle with an ever-growing army of Twitchers who taken together cover the full panoply of life’s rich pageant with Twitch channels dedicated to everything from ASMR rubber-earlobe-licking-and-sucking streamers (don’t ask) to the many music-centric channels ranging from songwriting sessions and all-request streams to multi-tracking violinists and fast-fingered harpists to piano loungers and chilled-out Brazilian guitarists plus tons of live DJ’s of every shape and stripe broadcasting at all hours from all around the world.

And for me personally, the discovery of this new-to-me platform (with ISY being one of the first Twitchers I got hooked on) was a lifeline as I was then undergoing a serious case of live music withdrawal during Endless Lockdown 2020-21 and here was a platform that was great not only for streaming live music but that also gave a kind of "behind the scenes" peek into artists' creative processes, and their personalities, with a culture based around interactivity and community-building (the chat section is more than just an appendage with streamers responding to comments in real time, plus lots of cross-talk between viewers) and also audience-performer intimacy (the homebound setting of most streamers only encourages this) and also on the development of what I'll call “microfandoms," where it only takes a handful of followers to create an intensely-felt musical community (compare this to Tik-Tok with its emphasis on highly staged, semi-scripted videos and "challenges" which OK thank you very much but I'm challenged enough already!)

For her part, ISY first came across Twitch when she found out that one of her favorite musical artists, DJ/producer/emcee Erick the Architect of Flatbush Zombies fame, had a Twitch channel and was hosting a special birthday stream a couple years back. She logged on and before long was kicking back and cracking open a beer and talking back to the computer screen like she was there in person with Erick because it felt that relaxed and personal. And with having own channel on Twitch now for nearly as long, ISY says she’s never been so fulfilled as a musician, with friends/fans/followers showing their love through modest tips measured in “bits," and “custom emotes” earned from subscribing to her stream, but mostly through chat-section displays of encouragement and support (“your voice calms my bird down” being one of her faves) and the development of close-knit, long-distance friendships.

What's more, ISY also points out that as a female musician, this kind of online environment has been good for avoiding the kinds of predation and condescension that she’s more likely to experience IRL or on a more anonymous, unregulated platform (the presence of a trusted, hand-picked moderator on Twitch is helpful too, yo Adriaeeeeeen!) thus allowing her to develop a circle of smart, funny, and kind people (as ISY herself describes them!) who enjoy hanging out together and share her sense of loopy humor and undaunted honesty and eclectic musical tastes.

And OK just to be clear I'm not a paid shill for Twitch though I'm not making any promises going forward (Twitch: call me, maybe (!) and yeah Twitch is an affiliate of Amazon Inc. boooooo but I wouldn't mind getting that Bezos money!) and the focus is justified here as ISY says that “Mean” is a direct outgrowth of her online fam both in how the song was constructed (getting direct feedback from followers as she was writing, and being influenced by her fellow streamer pal LILYKAY to try out a house beat and the EDM drop) and also in terms of the song's subject matter, but suffice to say you can no doubt find and explore the virtual platform of your choice for touching from a distance. Because in "this modern world" we're always gotta be looking for new ways to reorient the very tools and technologies that will otherwise divide and even enslave us, using them instead to form human connections and to heal until the next upgrade comes along if you know what I mean. (Jason Lee)

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