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Autotuning Baby2Amal

I didn’t care what he was going through. I just didn’t want to hear that song anymore. But he pulled up outside my place, with that grey BMW with the lowered suspension and that sound system he couldn’t stop talking about, and I heard the nasal auto-tune, and before he honked, the refrain. Say you’re a lesbian, girl me too. Honk. Girl me too. Honk. Girls just want girls. Every hair on my body retched as he said lesbian. Even through the tinted windows, I could see him grinning, so happy with himself, bellowing me too.

I got my shit together and rushed out.

“You need to stop playing that”

“You’re uptight, chill, woke culture’s got you”

“Firstly, you’re not a fucking lesbian, and secondly, turn that shit down”

“You’re what they call an anal”

“Alright, tell me, why are you playing it over and over?”

The windows went up, and now we were sitting inside the darkened car, and I could see the lights on his sound system, Sony MEX-N4200BT, or Sonic-Mex, that’s what he called it for short, like Mexican he’d say and laugh, even when I glared at him. He lit a pre-rolled joint and took a deep breath, and as he exhaled I looked at his trim: drop fade with a newly etched “GIRLS” stencilling. 

Fuck.

“Listen I don’t care what you listen to, you could be listening to Stormzy singing acoustic-like and I wouldn’t judge you. Just don’t do it in my area.”

“This is your area now?”

We drove around Westfield and I started to think that maybe I’d mischaracterised Drake, that his new album wasn’t reinforcing his invulnerability complex, that ‘Girls Just Want Girls’, wasn’t some straight fantasy that filtered all other fantasies through masturbatory objectification, that Drake was actually transgressive, that this song was really about trans-humanisms, post-futurisms, that Drake, tired of success, of the burden of producing every summer’s most irritating track, had enough – that he wanted to transition into something else, and the only way he could do so was by drawing comparisons with lesbians and She like eating pussy, I’m like, “Me too”. Was the problem that I judged too harshly? Had woke culture really got me? Was I intellectualising love?

If the object of our love is the same are we then the same? Does desire compile us into one thing? I thought of all those sexy-Instagram people posting Barthes and Derrida quotes on discombobulated love, montaging them with Islamic aesthetics, happy with the cultural balancing act. Sexy in their French theorist/Islamic fusions, content being oblivious to how reviled the Other really was by French intelligentsia, ie. the Houellebecqians. And whenever they said that an area was changing, that was code for more non-white French citizens moving in. I thought of what my friend Ismail said in his stupid novel on circumsision, how the birth of French existentialism was tied to a lonely Frenchman contemplating exile in Algeria. But when the Algerians came to France, where was the romanticisation of exile by the French writers? Where were the hungry deserts, turning like lovers in Camus’s novels? The new French literatures of North African exile? If you have power they call it exile, if you don’t, you are a migrant, a refugee.

“You smoking? It’s Cali”

This is why I turned up for Jameel. He listened, he knew that the other stuff made me paranoid, that it would bring up shit. He was always like this, caring for others, the best Number 1 at being Number 2, and his most recent “heartbreak”, occurred after the girl he had been courting for months as a friend, driving her to ASDA for her big shops, buying gig tickets for the two of them, staying up at night when he had an 8 am start to listen about how unhappy she was with her drawings. Yeah, she’s not going to sleep with you, you’re a friend and she likes you bc of how good a friend you are. No wonder he was listening to ‘Certified Lover Boy’, it probably empowered him, with lyrics like, Cannot play a player, babe. I’d feel bad for Jameel if it wasn’t for how graphically he described sex.

***

He said, “You’re so negative man, proper neg”

And then finally when he planned a whole night out, food at a steakhouse, music at Ronnie’s, drinks at a rooftop bar, and dropped the, “Want to make this thing official?”, and she started laughing, deep intestinal laughing, even with her toes squiggling and howling, like it was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard, that’s when his diamond stud became plastic, his silver chains turned into tin, the Nike rings, fakes, all that bling, became a sad facade of aluminium and that she’d rather inject rat poison than consider him like that, and in that laugh, which from the other side of London, under my blankets watching TikToks, I heard, because at that moment Jameel realised he wasn’t good enough – that nothing he did, the kindness, the being there, the turning up, would ever go anywhere. It was him. I could hear her saying “Oh Jameel” after she was done laughing. Fuck, a single laugh shut off his lights.

I didn’t see Jameel for two months. He stopped coming to work. We ran the bar with a person down. And the day he appeared, he took the iPad and put on ‘Girls Just Want Girls’. What is it with everyone taking the iPad?

At first, I thought it was a cute, healthy coping mechanism. But then he kept playing it, kept bellowing, ME TOO, but there was his enthusiasm, his pushing forwards, of not letting it get, get to him, that I admired. He wasn’t internalising, there was no confrontation with himself. He bounced right back. I rate that. Yeah, don’t let anyone let you feel second-rate even when you let them treat you second-rate. You’re a star, King, you’re a galaxy. Now stop quoting Drake.

“Let’s grab a McDonalds”, he said

*

I got a milkshake and watched him down a 20-box of nuggets. 

I asked, “Want to talk about it?”

“About what?”

“Amal”

“I told you, there’s nothing to talk about. I like the song because I like the song”

“So you like the song because you like it, I got you, but have you texted Amal?”

“Why would I text Amal?”

“Because I saw you texting someone saved as Baby2Amal in the car earlier.”

“It’s nothing”

“I don’t mind if you listen to the song, maybe you’re a lesbian, sick, but if you don’t talk about this it’ll get bad.”

“Can you get off my back? You went to One therapy and you think you’re a therapist now?”

We sat in awkward silence, I watched him hoover the nuggets and go to the counter to get more dips. I closed my eyes, and the music changed, I heard the auto-tune, then the vocals, Woah, woah

Woah, woah, woah …. Say you’re a lesbian, girl me too.

I didn’t open my eyes, but it sounded like everyone in the food court had stopped eating and were singing together, that the 12, multi-ethnic, multi-racial women on Drake’s album cover clutching their pregnant bellies were dancing on the tables, girls just want girls, and I could feel how anti-fun I was, how boring, how decidedly unpopular, that my insistence on having that conversation was absurd, I was just a dreadful, woke clown, too sensitive to the hurt. 

When I opened my eyes, Jameel was looking right at me,

“I have no idea what I’m going to do”

2 responses to “Autotuning Baby2Amal”

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