Picked to Click is City Pages' annual poll of critics, fans, and the local music industry to determine the best new musical talent in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. Spooky Black is one of this year's finalists. This piece is featured in this year's issue -- on newsstands and online Wednesday.
Make-believe is the cornerstone of popular music. Even artists performing under their own names inevitably create distance -- somewhere between five feet and five planets -- between their lives and their public personae. Fans living in that undefined middle ground can get frustrated, but we can also feel the fleeting thrill of the chase.
Everyone is being at least a little bit fake when they sing about something that really happened to them, and a little bit real when they sing about something completely made up.
Right now, I have no interest in the spelling out of Spooky Black's daily existence. I choose to believe that his father really is DJ Khaled, and that pillow talk is his exclusive form of communication. Via 4G, this fantasy is not only possible, it's popular -- with more than 27,000 Facebook likes and 36,000 Twitter followers. Up until recently, this fantasy subsisted on the strength of zero live performances.
Spooky's distorted and, at times, confounding R&B helps this fantasy along admirably. Check into the penthouse at "HotelSixNine," off the Leaving EP, and a tenderly picked Spanish guitar awaits. His bedroom jams can evoke the lunar desolation of Kid A, the cold synthesizers of chillwave, the post-rock cavalcade of Explosions in the Sky, the ambient soundscapes of Air, and the rattling bass of today's trap music. The music warps like a cassette that's been baking for years under a black leather car seat.
Some of Spooky's choices are humorous. "Personal Touch" and "Night of Romance Freestyle" recall the blue-eyed smooth jazz-pop of the late '80s (the British group Breathe's "Hands to Heaven" comes to mind), rolling passionately under black silk sheets with the soul music of that time.
As long as we don't know the story behind Spooky Black, we needn't worry about when we're supposed to laugh or when we're supposed to cry -- about what it all means. As sincerity creeps into his voice in his briefly ubiquitous single "Without You," he dares us not to embrace it.
Who is Spooky Black? Where is Spooky Black? Why is Spooky Black? Soon, these questions will be answered, and we won't get to make believe any longer. Right now, we can project whatever we want onto his pixellated image.
The facts tell us that Spooky is a high schooler named Corbin with family in St. Paul. Eventually we'll know much more. After an Earl Sweatshirt-style investigation by Complex, a Vice documentary, a Reddit AMA session, or whatever sleuthing our local media conducts, no one can predict what will be left of Spooky Black. Dig enough holes in your backyard, and you'll find some stuff that probably should've stayed buried.
At that point of reveal, his career could either board Rick Ross's hyperbolic private jet, or emerge a chewed-up meme like Rebecca Black. So fuck those facts.
The secrets Spooky currently holds are a reminder of our private dreams, and how few of us are brave enough to act on them. His make-believe has no rules. There's especially no rule that says what was once pretend can't eventually come true -- especially once it's up on YouTube or playing out in concert. Let the mystery linger a bit longer.
Put down the binoculars. Ditch the magnifying glass. Stop typing into the search bar. For now, let's see what a viral, durag-wearing teen who appeared seemingly out of nowhere can teach us about ourselves. For now.
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