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Fandom and metamorphosis: why I like seeing artists change (Op-Ed)

If you were like me on the night of July 29, 2022, you were tuned into the live reveal of Will Wood’s “In case I make it” album release livestream (it’s okay if you haven’t heard of him).

While I had been slightly skeptical about how much I’d like the album, as the six singles released ahead of the album and Wood’s own words had suggested something about this was substantially different from his previous work, the full release buried those worries.

A more acoustic divergence from the energetic avant-pop of Wood’s first three albums, it felt more personal and human – as Wood told The After Hours Review in the leadup to the release, it showed the “unimportant, boring little man that I always was underneath the gay space vampire.”

And as much as I enjoyed (and still listen to) the music of the gay space vampire – including a song that literally has five names – I remember the sheer, raw humanity of that first listen affecting me emotionally more than many other artists, the context of the journey it came from and all the music that preceded it giving the shift in style that much more weight.

“I’ve always tried to consistently re-invent myself as an artist, I think,” Wood told the Review. “But this time is different, because for lack of a less dramatic phrase I’ve reinvented myself as a person.

“I couldn’t be more different than I was even a year or two ago. That guy is as gone as the guy before him.”

More recently, I experienced a version of this again with Ashnikko’s “Weedkiller” album. The hip-hop artist’s first full album, its more genre-bending industrial and nu-metal style accompanies references to a dystopian fae fantasy world of the artist’s own creation, an allegory for the destruction wreaked on the world by industry and technology. If you know me, you know I enjoy albums that tell fantastical stories.

It feels like a natural evolution of the queer love and rage themes which have always been inherent to their music, with tracks like “You Make Me Sick!” knitting the bridge from their old work with the power and shifting energy of their new music. And the album’s conclusion with “Dying Star” carries forward the softer, more lyrical and lamenting presence of their 2021 track “Panic Attacks in Paradise.”

While some people might just want more of what hooked them to an artist, I think we, as humans, are meant to have an appreciation for this kind of metamorphosis. It’s the catharsis of watching a caterpillar in your garden make its chrysalis, and burst out as a butterfly – to use the most obvious and cheesy metaphor.

While it’s perfectly fine to appreciate the butterfly on its own, in a kind of parasocial sense knowing the caterpillar first adds a distinctive magic to the whole process. It adds a more compelling dimension to your understanding of the human experience, and infuses the experience of art with emotion.

And on the flipside, it’s rare that an artist leaves their old work entirely behind – both Will Wood and Ashnikko still bring in songs from past eras of artistry in live performances, sometimes stylistically updated or reimagined.

It can be a beautiful journey to watch. As opposed to being one of Wood’s “starry-eyed stalkers who demand a man in lipstick,” I think there is a more complete and powerful emotional experience in appreciating the whole of an artistic metamorphosis. As a writer it inspires me to accept my own stylistic evolution with greater confidence, whatever direction it takes me.


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