Running at 26 minutes, this EP is like a nice snack. It's short enough to listen through on a half hour bus-ride, but long enough to still feel like an entire album. It features everything from the comical to the politi-comical. I truly enjoy this album
I came across the Philadelphia based music duo, Gumball Machine after a search for Cupcakke's discography on iTunes rendered the single "Pu$$y Market (feat. Cupcakke)" which was later included in the EP Professional Fame
(For more thoughts on Cupcakke, see my album review for Ephorize here)
Intrigued, and finding no other songs on iTunes from the group, I wound up on their SoundCloud which at the time featured only the singles "Pu$$y Market (feat. Cupcakke)" and "I'm Gay And Instagram Is Ruining My Life."
One year to this day on February 24th, 2017, they released Professional Fame including these two singles, and - late to the party as always - I found out about it in January.
I don't expect everyone to enjoy Gumball Machine's aesthetic. While "Pu$$y Market" was a great gateway song, I don't believe it reflects the aesthetic of the rest of their discography. Gumball Machine's sound is unique in the music that I have been exposed to - sometimes in a way that I enjoy and sometimes in ways that I do not - but combined with their songwriting, they create music that I keep re-listening to. Their music can be poppy; their music can be political; and their music can run the line of making me uncomfortable. And I like that.
So I'm writing this review for a couple of reasons. First, it's the one-year anniversary of the EP, so that's wildly timely. Second, I want to support a musical group that I find to be original and nuanced and an overall good time. And lastly, they're in that middle-ground of 'indy enough where you probably haven't been exposed to them yet which is a shame' and 'relevant enough to have featured Cupcakke on a track'
Like, they're not Carpool Party (that review will come later), but the're also not Rhianna.
This is the binary I think in apparently.
Go home Butler, this is a review, not an essay.
They're relevant enough where I feel like some of my audience may know of their existence, yet small enough where maybe some day they will read this.
So here are my thoughts song per song on Professional Fame by Gumball Machine.
But before you do that please listen to the album in it's entirety. I don't want to spoil anything for you or prevent you from forming your own opinions.
(Update: the embedded Instagram photos are not communicating well with my website and will not load on some browsers or with a poor connection. Some may show up as a grey line. Please peruse Gumball Machine's Instagram to educate yourself on their visual aesthetic.)
1. "Pu$$y Market (feat. Cupcakke)
In summary, I'm obsessed with this song. Like I stated in the introduction, I don't think that this song achieves the same aesthetic as the rest of Gumball Machine's work, but I love it nonetheless.
I won't go too in depth because I have 2.7K word essay about it here.
I'll wait patiently for you to read it and come back.
"Cooties," predominantly features the male member of Gumball Machine (I did some aggressive sleuthing and came up with the name "Levi" ? But since I can't confirm I'm just gonna stay vague).
This is a switch up from "Pu$$y Market" which features the female member (not even a lead on her name) and Cupcakke prominently. This back and forth interplay continues throughout the EP without any songs combining the two artists, excepting a brief cameo of the male member's voice at the very beginning of "My First Black Girl"
I have no problem with this set up and find it interesting. It works for the better as the female member has established an audio aesthetic featuring a heavy radio-esque filter over her voice, and I'm not sure how that would sound combined with the male member's less-filtered voice.
This track begins with a synth track that immediately gives me vibes of either Pipe Dream or Marble Madness, two games I grew up playing on the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
This is definitely just a me thing though, but it definitely starts me off in a good mood.
But objectively there is a distinct repeating bass line and an 8-bit-esque figure that also repeats.
The narrative of the song isn't too complex. The speaker situates himself in a position of power, rejecting advances from another individual, patronized with the title, "big boy," under the conceit that speaker "do[esn't] want [his] fucking cooties."
The speaker flaunts his status throughout the song, "so many guys to reject, and it's not even twelve yet," interjected by rhythmic moaning in the background of the audio.
On first listen, I have to admit that this song made me wildly uncomfortable. And for that I appreciate it.
I would psychoanalyze my discomfort coming from two separate place: the radical nature of a gay male character in a position of sexual dominance, and the vocal tone of the artist.
Using the word "radical" here probably sounds dramatic, but I think it's fitting. In the television, movie, music, and literary media I have consumed in my life, Queer As Folk aside, I have never once seen a gay male character in a position of sexual dominance, or frankly in any situation that might be deemed of a sexual nature.
Straight men as sexual dominants is the normal; straight women as sexual dominants has come about loud and proud with the rise of...
Butlers aside, I will very rarely see gay male characters in sexual scenarios. In the event that gay characters exist, their romance is watered down and is at best a kiss or a shoulder rub. (I mean, can we talk about how Cam and Mitch from Modern Family didn't kiss until season two? Come on ABC).
In the rare case where gay male characters are presented in a sexual scenario, very often the dominant character is what I will call 'masc washed.' For example, the sexually promiscuous and dominant character Brian Kinney from the American version of Queer as Folk is played by Gale Harold, a heterosexual actor with a muscular build and a manly low voice.
Now I'm not asserting that all gay men have feminine high pitched voices. That's absurd, and thoroughly explored in the documentary Do I Sound Gay by Journalist David Thorpe, which I encourage everyone to watch.
It's a fascinating take on internalized homophobia within queer communities.
Anyway, this leads me to the vocal tone of the artist. He is unabashedly queer-sounding. I love it, and I am so not used to it.
I am 100% guilty of lowering my vocal tone in environments where I don't know people well. I will regularly lower my voice if it is being recorded, and I damn near have panic attacks when I have to hear my voice played back to me if I'm not putting on a character voice.
The male artist in Gumball Machine is absolutely unchecked in his voice. That is the confidence I strive to have every day, and that is why I see this song as radical.
Honestly, this isn't my favorite song on the album. It probably falls into bottom four, but as a cultural artifact, it is so refreshing, ridiculous, and pleasantly uncomfortable to me to hear a confidently gay male speak so dominantly about a sexual scenario.
I also really like the line "you're an extra baby; I'm the lead. You're a backdrop; I steal the scene."
3. "Fuckboy (Supreme)"
Switching off from track two, we get the female member of Gumball Machine singing. I still don't know what her name is.
Before I even get into the sound of the song, I'd like to extend my appreciation for the title. I've been a proponent of the popularization of the word 'fuckboy' since I first came across it (the argument is that English language speakers need develop more male-gendered slurs to counteract the overwhelming number of female-gendered slurs to push forward equality), and I'm obsessed with the addition of 'supreme'.
The track opens with this terrifying sound that I honestly have a tough time describing. There's some low bass, some noise that sounds like calculated static maybe? Like musical dial-up, or something you'd expect to here as R2D2's hologram message slowly pieces itself together before playing.
This track is at its core a 3 minute 23 second roast of the fuckboy trope. And boy do I enjoy the characterization of this trope.
I find, "you're a fuckboy supreme like you've gotta pay 70 cents extra for sour cream," hilarious because not only are we evoking sour cream, a notoriously white-people thing, but she adds on the additional 'lol you like it so much you pay extra'. 10/10.
"With your sad eyes and your over-priced jeans." I know far too many people that fit this description.
One thing I think she does particularly well by characterizing fuckboys so much, is differentiate them from #NotAllMen. Rather than falling into "i just hate men" territory that content like this can easily verge on to the troll consumer, the female member of Gumball Machine does a great job establishing that it's not the born identity of the individual, but the behavior that makes him a fuckboy: "same chromosome in different clothes."
The track increases in volume and chaos, with the speaker all but screaming the last few lines. It's passionate; it's absurd, and I love every second of it.
Shout out to the lines, "I'm omnivorous" and "can't give head but expect a free ride"; props to the sampling of sirens as a track feature, and a great big 'were you like an economics major or something in college,' to the line, "listen up ladies it's a fuckboy embargo." Seriously, with that line and all of the economics in "Pu$$y Market" I really start to wonder.
I don't have a whole lot to say about this track other than appreciation for a few lines and a brief performance note.
This track is performed by our nameless male member again.
This synth track to this number doesn't stand out at all to me. It's very mellow dancey, but nothing that stands out from the other tracks on the EP. Something about the way the line, "I make you shudder. Hold your gaze like no other. Gag on every word I utter," is delivered with the rapid end rhymes tickles me, but other than that I don't find the audio of the song spectacular.
The songwriting on the other hand is pretty fun. I wonder how this would work crafted as a poem rather than a song.
The speaker in this track repeatedly likens himself to artwork in a series of commands repeated throughout the song: "hold me; mold me; kiss me; frame me. put me under glass." I really enjoy the last one there, "put me under glass," because it elevates a theme that's been done before to something even more literal and original (at least in the media I have consumed).
I'm also fascinated with the quote, "pin me down like a butterfly. hang me out to dry."
To quote Jennifer Lawrence's character in American Hustle when she's describing the scent of a nail polish "
Or better yet, to quote drag queen superstar Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova:
There's beauty in calling yourself a butterfly, but the image of being pinned down under glass is disgusting; I love that interplay.
I'm also made uncomfortable by the line "there's poetry in these parted lips. brush strokes between these snow white hips," because wow wow wow I have never consumed poetry talking about the hips of men, and it's been a while since I've seen paleness portrayed in a positive light.
5. "My First Black Girl"
I think this is probably my favorite track on the EP. I love "Pu$$y Market" to the ends of the earth, and I would probably hold it at the same level, but if we're going with true blue Gumball Machine, this is probably my favorite track of the EP.
There's also a lot to unpack in this one because it's the most overtly political track of the EP in my opinion.
It's also by the female member of Gumball Machine again.
From what I grasp, the plot of the song goes as follows. The speaker of the song finds herself in a sexual situation with a man. This man identifies her as biracial ("what's your mix"), and says "I'm gonna make you my first black girl." This song is a musical-satire take on the sexually tokenizing micro-aggression, filled with some of the best lines I have heard in a song for quite some time.
Just as a plot alone, I love the idea of addressing race tokenism and racial sexual preferences in song form, especially in this song. This song is up-beat and dancey. She never directly says "wow there is some overt racism at play here," but makes it very clear through her lyrics. If the lyrics alone don't do it for you, the above artwork for this song spells out the message of "I am being objectified" pretty clearly.
Micro-aggression (like race tokenism and racial sexual preference) that take the form of compliments are tricky to address, because, well, they take the form of compliments. The perpetrators are under the belief that they're doing something good, that they're being kind. And-
Anyway. I think this is a great medium to use to make a statement about the problem.
From the start I'm obsessed with the line, "I'm your deferred teenage dream: American beauty in low rise jeans."
I'm obsessed with the way the line, "hey boy, grab the rest of the Bacardi; take off your polo, boy; let's go party," bounces rhythmically.
I'm obsessed with the line, "he wanna go on a pussy safari," which is followed by a sampling of an elephant sound.
I'm obsessed with the line, "[inaudible because of the elephant sound] smoking that exotic kush, but he wanna know if he can get some exotic tush."
I'm obsessed with the line "I'm showing it all, baby, no black bar, but he wanna know just how much tar? Baby why are you trying to test me, do you ask Beck her ancestry? I'm 100% sexy. But now you're never gonna get with me.
I'm obsessed with the line, "he got a black cherry he want me to pop. He wanna call his mom; he wanna tell the world."
I'm basically obsessed with the whole song.
My only critique is that there's a random betrayal of the rhyme scheme toward the end of the song, and it ends rather abruptly. Other than that, I'm obsessed.
Please listen to the song because you definitely need to listen to get the full effect.
(I will be reviewing tracks 6-8 in due course. Stay tuned)