Researcher by day, aspiring writer by night
"Dead Boys" by Sam Fender (Sam Fender/File)
The year 2018 has been the year when toxic masculinity has taken center stage. In the United Kingdom, for example, television personality Piers Morgan called out 007 actor Daniel Craig on Twitter for emasculating the James Bond persona by carrying his newborn baby in a papoose. Morgan’s tweet received a great deal of criticism with men, especially fathers, coming forward to address the problematic restriction that society puts on men showing their emotional sides.
Thankfully, the music industry is less restrictive when it comes to acknowledging the problem with masculinity. In a year occupied by talented emerging artists, no other musician has done quite a job at tackling this like Sam Fender.
The UK native released his debut extended play Dead Boys, which has been available to purchase and stream since Nov. 20. The EP consists of six songs, beginning with a prelude that utilizes the meticulous knit of guitar strings and somber synthesizer sounds. It sets the listeners up on a quest to find their inner peace before sucking the emotions out of their soul with its second track, the titular song of the album.
As a single, "Dead Boys" offers a raw depiction of how toxic masculinity can kill men. “We close our eyes / learn our pain / nobody ever could explain all the dead boys in our hometown,” Fender subtly belts out in the chorus. Complemented by stripped-back guitar plucking, this verse gives an early understanding of the complicated relationship men have with suicide. It is a current epidemic worldwide, with 13.5 in every 100,000 men reportedly taking their own lives in 2016. Several studies have recognized depression as being one of the risk factors and Fender further acknowledges how the two could correlate for men.
“We all tussle with the black dog / some out loud and some in silence / everybody 'round here just drinks / that's our culture,” as the singer-songwriter continues to croon in the second verse. For the male sex, these words depict the candor on how most men still find it difficult to speak up about their mental health struggles. It cements further speculation that the toxic mentality of “boys don’t cry” might be the reason behind this as it is considered a prominent aspect of traditional masculinity.
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Following the second track, Fender continues to sing about the struggle that young men face with the aptly titled "Spice". For those who are not familiar with the reference, spice is a type of drug that made headlines last summer for putting those who consumed it in a zombie-like state of mind. Lyrically, however, it is more of an observation of what drug addiction can do to men who once had promising and bright futures. The singer complements this premise by filtering his voice through an echo-like sound, giving it an underground rock and roll depiction of a young man banging his head to forget.
The rest of the EP plays out like a wider social commentary on how toxic masculinity is selfishly still in power. Songs like "Poundshop Kardashians" includes direct criticism of a certain powerful male figure. In the second verse, the alt-rock singer belts out, “There’s an orange-faced baby at the wheel of the ship / doing donuts in the carpark / we watch as it all falls apart,” as a clear reference to the current leader of the free world and his toxic dominance over the current political climate.
Towards the end of the EP, the BRIT Award winner gets even more candid with his criticism against men in power. In a closing song called "Leave Fast," the singer explores the hardship that young men face in a small town corrupted by local men in power. “An old man told me to leave fast or stay forever,” as the singer croons.
However, the EP is not entirely about toxic masculinity. Before "Leave Fast" comes on, Sam Fender puts out a more conventional rock and roll track for mainstream listeners called "That Sound". It offers a subtler context of what it is like to use music as a form of escapism, something that any listener can relate to.
While the EP provides enough commentary, it could have been more amplified with some of Fender’s previously released singles. Songs like "Play God" would complement the EP poignantly. The song itself is a commentary on how dominating male leaders can be in making certain political decisions work for their own benefit. If a song like this had been included, it would have generated more discussions on toxic masculinity and power.
Regardless of what one looks for in new music, Dead Boys is still an enjoyable listen for alt-rock fans. The more mainstream audience can find solace in songs like "That Sound", while the more socially charged ones would put songs like "Dead Boys" and "Poundshop Kardashians" on repeat. Nevertheless, listeners should be prepared to rethink the position of masculinity when they put on Sam Fender’s phenomenal debut EP.
Valdy Wiratama is a research assistant based in Jakarta and a socioeconomic behavior enthusiast. When he’s not assisting projects or tutoring at the University of Indonesia, he likes to catch up on the latest global news, analyze movies, read about indie culture, and write social commentaries. You can holler at him on Twitter: @valdywiratama
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.