words + playlist: Zoë Madonna
This post begins the next set-of-two of the Tarot, the Empress and Emperor. In my head, these two usually aren’t married. If they’re even in a relationship, the Empress has a ton of other lovers on the side, but I can’t imagine the Emperor being down with that. I can’t imagine the two getting everything they need in a relationship out of each other.
The Empress is the card of creation, nurturing, and motherhood. Hers are the laws of nature, not the laws of society. (That’s the Emperor.) She knows no rules except those. She’s a wild and untamed thing, to quote a certain movie that I’m kind of ashamed I saw so many times. Her feet can wake up the flowers, or shake the earth. She is a preponderance of creation.
And that creation she brings doesn’t have to be related to nature or the outdoors. It might be, but not necessarily. The impulses that spur the creation of something industrial or digital are just as natural as those that inspire digging in the dirt.
And the Empress is the living embodiment of sensuality. She experiences everything with all her senses, and she wants to share that experience with you, too. Her emotions are powerful and all-encompassing. She acts according to swift impulse, not measured thought.
Many of my Tarot playlists have a unifying factor, but not this one. It loves almost as many genres as I do. (No rules, right?)
Voodoo Child - Angelique Kidjo
The first time I heard this, I didn’t even recognize it as Jimi Hendrix’s blazing “Electric Ladyland” number. It was so welcoming and easy to shake along with. Hendrix’s version is an untethered, nearly untouchable inferno of shred. But Kidjo’s version (that call in the chorus!) sounds like something a mermaid might sing to lure a pretty sailor to ditch the ship and join her on the rocks.
(Take note, men: if Angelique Kidjo covers your song, she is going to make something completely original out of it, and she is probably going to sing it better than you do. This isn’t going to be her only appearance with a cover song in this series.)
Blissing Me - Björk
Before “Utopia” was released last fall, Björk lit up Twitter when she described it as her “Tinder album” in an interview with British magazine Dazed. Yeah, haha, funny, Björk on Tinder, the wild wasteland of “send nudes,” and guys holding up fish to demonstrate their masculinity. I’ve been on it before, with results that ranged from mediocre to awful, but I remember the rush, the feeling that maybe a new life-changing connection might be waiting behind the next swipe.
On the cover of the Dazed issue where her “Tinder album” quote appears, a flower blooms out of her mouth. In her performances, she covers the stage in flowers. The music of “Utopia” awakes the senses, and in every way, her growth feels truly unchecked. She said she plans to work on a live version of “Utopia” with more flutes, because there are still possibilities she didn’t explore.
This Woman’s Work - Kate Bush
Motherhood. How we mother, how we nurture. This is another song with an important wordless cry in it; “aaah” is the first sound most of us make when we begin our lives, and it continues to be an important sound. This song is all about how we give birth and create, and how the process of creation can suck the life out of us. I know you’ve got a little life in you yet.
Make Me Feel - Janelle Monáe
“Powerful with a little bit of tender” is the perfect phrase to describe the Empress, and those grooves are absolutely made for moving. I don't know if they'll ever wear out, though maybe we should revisit this topic in a few years. When the DJ played this at Fenway Park during the first and only Red Sox game I’ve ever been to, I forgot how terrified I am of getting caught on stands cam, got up, and danced like no one was watching.
What’s more, ever since she peeled off her chrome plating and told the world about how she likes to love, Janelle herself has become a real Empress figure to a whole generation of queer folks in America. I saw her play live earlier this summer, and the sheer brilliance of self-expression in the crowd floored me. It made me ask myself why I don’t dress like I’m going to a Janelle Monáe concert more often.
Cut to the Feeling - Carly Rae Jepsen
Tell me you don’t feel some type of way when that sax riff starts soaring and launches “Run Away With Me.” That’s pretty much a perfectly constructed pop song; there’s not a note out of place. “Cut to the Feeling” isn’t so symmetrical. The wild edges are untrimmed. Listen to that outburst before the chorus; she wants, she wants, she lets loose with wordless passion in that moment when words can’t express. She’s so full of feels that nothing else will do.
Feelings - Bloods
The Empress has a heart full of love for others and for the world, but she also wants us to know that we can be happy by ourselves, regardless of whether there’s a special person in our lives. Especially if there’s a special person in our lives.
Love is a Stranger - Eurythmics
Rebecca Lynn Scott writes about the Empress:
“She exists for herself and her own sake, not just as the complement to the Emperor. She is independent of him, and does not live for him. She is a generative force, but she does it for herself. She embraces her sexuality for her own pleasure.
And fuck, if she wants to embrace flannel instead of maxi dresses, then she's still the fucking Empress.”
Or a bright orange crop that makes everyone around question their sexuality. Sweet Dreams is played to death on the radio but this song and its accompanying video do not get enough love. Lennox downright owns her chameleonic expression of sexuality and gender, and it’s amazing to watch even decades later. Icon status.
I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango) - Grace Jones
Speaking of icon status. So many white artists that are hailed as giants of the genre stand on the shoulders of black artists that didn’t break through to the mainstream I’m pretty sure that without Grace Jones’s fierce vocal stylings and experimentation with androgyny, there probably would be no Annie Lennox. Here she is putting a reggae twist into a tango classic.