It Takes a Village
I’ve followed singer/songwriter Stephen Wrabel for years now. If you’re like me and follow him on Twitter and Instagram, you’ve probably seen him cry more than once, either in a video full of gratitude, or because something rough had happened. You’ve seen his doodles outlining his insecurity, what’s occupying his mind, or his dreams for the future. You’ve seen his impulsive shopping habits. You’ve seen him fiercely advocate for his friends and fans.
I first heard him as a featured artist on an Afrojack song, “Ten Feet Tall” (kind of like how Rihanna is known for her hit song, “We Found Love,” but Calvin Harris is actually the principal artist/ DJ). “Ten Feet Tall” is one of those songs that makes you want to dance and feel the soaring effects of love at the same time: it inspired in me a feeling of hopefulness for what a happy relationship can do to one’s soul and outlook on life, at a time when I was uncertain about starting a relationship of my own. Sometimes it’s easier to listen to a dream.
One of his newest songs, “The Village,” is a perfect example of why I continue to look forward to hearing new things from him. What begins as a soft piano medley (unlike some of his dancier tracks) turns into a surprising reflection of lyrics, and builds into a soaring message of searching for acceptance, all with booming vocals. Even while pleading with listeners that there’s “nothing wrong with you,” a softness in spirit endures. “The Village” is where Wrabel’s heart continues to shine through, and it is a song written in political protest. Wrabel has this to say on his latest release:
i wrote this song on february 23rd. the day after trump took away federal protections for trans students in public schools. today i release it the day after he tweets to ban trans people from serving in the military. i just wanted to write a simple song letting anyone that feels like an outsider know that the problem isn't you, it's them. it’s the village. […] i came out as gay later on in life. maybe 23 ish. i grew up in the church. i came out into a church in los angeles that called it "same sex attraction". it was wrong. i was wrong. it was evil. i was evil. "unnatural" they called it. "unnatural" they called me. i can't pretend like i know what it's like to be trans. to feel those feelings and know those struggles. all i can do is try to speak up and try to relate. [sic]
Art that challenges life can be some of the most gripping, and Wrabel, as a queer artist, doesn’t really have the luxury of ignoring inequality. He also recently released a lengthier letter to HuffPost with more details on the inspiration for this song, specifically two trans teenager supporters of his that he has gotten to know, and ultimately, why he’d want to write a song like “The Village.”
The music video for “The Village” is just as powerful as the lyrics. Justin Moran for Out Magazine had this to say about the video:
Wrabel's "The Village" video opens with a message: "In nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the others because being different is seen as a threat." With this fact as its central theme, Wrabel's powerful new visual follows a young transgender man's difficult journey into self-actualization—from privately binding his chest in the bathroom to finally shaving his head and flaunting his literal colors in the school hallway.
That feeling of being outside of the village is something I know all too well, but like Wrabel I know there are degrees of condemnation others experience from the majority. I may be a recovering Mormon, cisgendered, and gay, but I too can “speak up and try to relate” to inequalities I may not personally experience. I understand the power in meeting and seeing and befriending people who are trans, people who are gay, people who are kind and unapologetically themselves. It’s how we get out of this alive.
I can also continue every day to say fuck Trump and his racist, bigoted speech and actions. While Trump inexcusably continues to target the LGBT community and people of color, artists like Wrabel will hopefully continue to say something. As the eloquent Toni Morrison has said, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” Morrison makes the point perfectly, and it’s why songs like “The Village” and their message matters.
Wrabel’s music helps me feel a little more sane in a very fucked up world. He’s one of those artists that knows how to make me cry with one song and with the next smile. The way he tweets, the way he dresses like a Tommy Hilfiger ad from the 90s. His sincerity with his fans, his open struggles with depression and body issue