Album Cover of Anna Wise's "As If It Were Forever" (Source: Pitchfork.com)
San Marino High School

Annot(e)tations: Anna Wise’s ‘What’s Up With You’ screenshots modern love’s disillusionment

In the midst of college app season — what I really “should” be doing right now — and senior year in general, I’ve had (too much) time to reflect on what I’ve done in my life.

The places where I’ve cried or laughed (or done both at the same time), the moments when I felt I could soar with joy as my wings, the people I’ve met and held onto. 

As cliché as it sounds, I’ve realized life is so much more than the awards and activities you list on some online sheet submitted to dozens of colleges, but we’re too caught up in obsessions of where we’re going next to feel — dare I say! — content in the present. 

We hold ourselves to a standard of success and perfection as the brick & mortar that pave the road to the college of our dreams. But at times, we’re just flashlights, searching for shards of ourselves in other people, hoping to find that iridescent refraction of someone who’s built with the same fragile and imperfect glass that we’re made of. 

Who is ever willing to let their guard down to reveal the light that glimmers beneath?

Anna Wise does exactly that in “What’s Up With You,” the lead single (released, erm, three months ago) from her newest album “As If It Were Forever” (which debuted last Friday, so cut me some slack). An intimate jazz solo at a midnight cafe, the track finds Wise in a paradox between self-worth and self-loathing.

She commandeers yet croons, asserts her need for a love more profound than a fickle “swipe left, swipe right” yet surrenders herself to the devastation that always comes when the collisions we have with people leave us lonelier. 

Therein lies the beauty of “What’s Up With You,” its golden mean: how human it is.

Whereas songs like “Decrease My Waist, Increase My Wage” and “B****Slut” made Wise the headstrong patron saint of gender-equality activism, the my-way-or-the-highway feminism of her earlier discography takes more nuanced forms in “What’s Up With You.”

The first verse is no longer a brash, call-to-arms to incite political action, but a voicemail left in the inbox of a you’re-too-good-for-him ex, an attempt to discard the decrepit remains of a relationship and keep moving forward: “Don’t take my hand if you’re not sure of what you want / Don’t be that man who makes some mockery of love.”

Of course, we all deserve a moment to be bitter in the aftermath of lost love, and Wise colors it with innuendo. You can almost imagine her chuckling slightly, hand covering her mouth, while she delivers the line, “He pound it or can’t get it up,” but she pulls back and replaces her jab with incredulity when the chorus comes in. 

“What’s up with you?” she sings, pleading for an explanation on how she could be so undervalued and taken for granted, how she could be diminished to another piece in a domino cascade.

What begins as a song driven by confidence and self-reliance morphs into one enmeshed in vulnerability. The gentle lilt in each of the piano’s suspension becomes accompanied by the crescendoing melody of a violin, tension building and building as Wise relives tragedy in recounting her ex’s grievances. 

In spite of the broken “promises” that were “just so you [could] say you were inside of me,” in spite of the effacing logic that “what you did for her will work for me” though, our lovers from the past and the present still have some mystifying hold on us. Wise captures that in the last line of the second verse — “Why do you make me feel crazy for telling you what I need?” — before the song travels to the same place sonically.

The atmosphere’s sparse restraint becomes submerged under a fugue of reverb and vocal layering, scattered voices overwhelm the chamber of our mind, and all that’s left are the pieces we saved from the debris, quiet melodies of hope we hum to ourselves that mend our tattered love letters with gold.

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