Negro Swan: Platonic Love and Self-Love

When love is mentioned, most people immediately think of romance and romantic love, the kind of love that is heavily featured in our music, our art, and our lives. We think of the dazzling subjects of romance—exhilaration, heartbreak, and everything in between. Romance makes for good movies and good reads. Romance is a part of why life is worth living. But in between those dizzying, intense moments of romance, there are other types of love in our lives that are just as important. These kinds of love sustain us and nourish us; they hold us up and feed us. Without these kinds of love, we would not be able to survive.

Nonromantic loves like family love and self-love are crucial to our wellbeing and our existence. Although they aren’t as alluring as the rush of romance, they are the building blocks of our life, and at certain times can fulfill us just as much as romance can. These are the kinds of love that are explored by Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) in his beautifully fragmented fourth studio album, Negro Swan.

In "Family", the idea of family love is mentioned, as writer and activist Janet Mock speaks over the music:

You asked me what family is
And I think of family as community
I think of the spaces where you don't have to shrink yourself
Where you don't have to pretend or to perform
You can fully show up and be vulnerable
And in silence, completely empty and
That's completely enough
You show up, as you are, without judgment, without ridicule
Without fear or violence, or policing, or containment
And you can be there and you're filled all the way up
So we get to choose our families
We are not limited by biology
We get to make ourselves
And we get to make our families

What Mock is saying has a lot to do with chosen families and communities. The album is a reflection on Dev Hynes’s experiences and otherness. Mock’s narration explores both otherness and chosen families, and their relationship to each other. She talks about being able to present yourself as yourself and being accepted for it. It’s what makes chosen families such a beautiful concept. Chosen families are the people who love you for who you are, even when biological families reject you. Chosen families are the ones you can spend holidays with and still feel at home.
The thing that makes a family a family is love. It’s the kind of love that will take care of you, wrap you in a warm blanket when it's cold, pick you up from the airport, and show up for your doctor’s appointments and graduations. The great thing about chosen families is that they will be there for you, and they will love you enough for who you are. You can find them anywhere, and they can be made up of anyone. Chosen families can be entire communities or a few close friends. Chosen families are the ones who have chosen you for who you are.

Another type of nonromantic love that Negro Swan explores is self-love, the idea of being okay with who you are. In the album, many experiences of Black depression and Black identity are brought up from Dev Hynes’s life, starting from his childhood bullying to his current anxiety. The idea of being okay with oneself as a form of self-love is a reoccurring theme throughout the album. In the outro of the opening song, "Orlando", Janet Mock provides commentary:

You know, it’s an insult we often put onto
A lot of folks is, like, oh, you’re doing too much
So, like, a couple of years ago I was like
You know what, my resolution, my eternal resolution, will be to
To do too much

It’s a reckoning with an identity that isn’t always accepted by the status quo. Mock resolves her identity and decides that she is going to be okay with who she is, even if others are critical. A more unresolved look at self-love appears on one of the most memorable songs of the album, "Hope", where Puff Daddy offers surprisingly vulnerable lyrics and thoughts:

Yeah, gee, I don't, sometimes I ask myself, like
You know, what is it going to take for me not to be afraid
To be loved the way, like, I really wanna be loved?
But that I know how I really wanna be loved
But I'm, but I'm, like, scared to really, really feel that
You know, it's like you want something
But you don't know if you can handle it

Puff Daddy’s words mean so many different things—are you protecting yourself, or do you not trust yourself? There’s a thought on loving yourself and trusting yourself enough to believe that you deserve or can handle love.
Both platonic and self-love are heavy subjects in Negro Swan, because they are as important as romantic love. Without all of them, life would feel empty. In Negro Swan, those two kinds of love are emphasized as a necessity throughout the various vignettes shared with us. The idea of chosen families and communities are a survival necessity in the world, especially in the current climate, where identities are fluid and safe havens are rare. Where does one go as a Negro Swan? Who will embrace a Negro Swan? Embracing one’s self is what leads us to find our true communities and families. If we hate ourselves, if we aren’t comfortable being ourselves, how will we be able to show up in the world? How will we be able to find our communities? If we have chosen families and communities, it is easier to be okay with who you are, because your chosen family will love you for who you are. All of these types of loves are interconnected, leading to the other. They are the respiratory systems of our lives—without self-love and platonic love, we wouldn’t be able to survive.

By Hannah Yang
Photo from Negro Swan album cover

No comments

Post a Comment