What’s the answer whenever you get cold? Layers, of course. Since layers were already the key to Maggie Rogers incredible breakout — her glitchy synthpop is a mesh of her longtime folk background and a sudden love affair with EDM — it only made sense for her to conceive of a way to share one of her new songs in a way that peeled back all those disparate elements for the listener.
For Rogers, the cold has always been a part of her aesthetic, and given her first massive single was called “Alaska,” it made sense that she’d work with a company like North Face, who, apart from designing chic and durable jackets for all sorts of weather, also seek out creators and cultural leaders to support whenever they can. In the process, they helped Rogers premiere a song that is going to be her last for a moment, but also helped tweak the way premiere culture has morphed in the industry.
The whole angle for North Face has to do with heat, not cold. Their new Ventrix jacket is designed to be flexible for the user’s environment, keeping heat in when the body is cold, and letting it out when the body is warm, therefore avoiding both sweat and overheating. This is achieved by vents in the jacket, hence the name. There’s a jacket and a hooded version of the jacket, and yes, Maggie does look good wearing it. She chose the jacket version, which was a great call in my opinion.
More importantly for my current interests, though, is that Rogers unveiled her brand new song, “Split Stones,” in snippet form — which, frankly, is totally normal in 2017 — in a preview that initially came in the form of a mini North Face site, that texted a link to your phone so you could experience a more interactive song premiere process. From there, the whisper-beat of an initial layer kicks off a quest to get the whole song unlocked, and I had to physically move to get the layers to emerge one by one — drums, vocals, and keys — until suddenly, in the middle of a full-fledged dance party in my living room, all of “Split Stones” was playing. Like most of her music, I fell for it immediately.
Though Rogers used the move to bid goodbye to music for a bit (read her handwritten note on the matter below), even in her farewell she was helping change one of the things in the industry that has long plagued editors, artists and fans — the premiere process. It’s become such a contentious issue that esteemed New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica wrote a passionate op-ed for The Fader a couple years back unpacking the dissolution of “first” culture on the internet, and arguing against the tiresome way that outlets now feign exclusivity for, sometimes, mere moments, before new songs are disseminated to a wider audience.
Of course, Rogers teaming with North Face isn’t going to singlehandedly change any of this, and clearly, the more cynical among us will read the release as just another brand seeking to position itself alongside a cultural moment. But for me, dancing there in my living room to in order to get the first listen of a new song by one of my favorite artists, all my cynicism faded. I kept dancing after the song emerged, freed from the usual amount of self-loathing and fear that keeps me frozen on any dance floor, laughing at the absurdity and marveling that this silly juxtaposition of a jacket ad, an app, and a pop star had brought me here. The joy of this moment differed wildly from simply pressing play on a shrouded Soundcloud link, on a site I don’t normally visit, just because they have enough clout to convince an artist’s management team to premiere there.
The most frustrating part about attempting to enjoy music in a news cycle that moves at the speed of light is that music has always been about time. That’s why sites like Pitchfork have started up features like the Sunday Review, letting writers address older albums with the added context of weeks, months, and years — because it’s that very context that makes our relationship with music meaningful. Again, the cynicism that can accompany a feature like this — blatant repackaging of nostalgia — belies the joy we get from tying an experience to a song or an album before we’re expected to process it and instantaneously form an opinon.
As the internet becomes faster and darker, nostalgia is an ever-welcome presence in our cultural consumption, but what’s more valuable than either speed or history is the connection that nostalgia is pointing toward. Dancing in my living room, connected was what I felt. Brand or no, those moments are few and far between in 2017. So I’ll take the moment of warmth, and the slight hope that way we share news songs will continue to bend back toward the audience. And as far Maggie, I hope she gets the space she needs to find her own moment of joy again, and when she’s ready, writes a song about it.