I’m fascinated with the process of becoming a product. The advent of recorded sound turned song – which was previously performed by families in their living rooms – into a product to be consumed. And 21st century celebrity culture has managed to render individuals into cultural products of their own.
But sometimes an individual comes along who is queerly resistant to the process of commodification, even as they willfully consent to it. Farrah Abraham, consciously or otherwise, is one such person.
Abraham came to the public eye on Teen Mom, an ensemble MTV reality show that followed four young women with babies. The show itself was exploitative, shrill and unpleasant, and its four stars quickly transitioned into ugly tabloid fodder, grasping vainly at the next rung on the ladder.
Abraham found herself the most successful at that. MTV gave her a book deal (with their publishing imprint, which is I guess a thing that exists), for her memoir My Teenage Dream Ended. And alongside it came a companion album of the same name.
Reality TV stars making music is nothing new. It’s a logical way to leverage public interest into a few dollars. But most of the product that they produce can be slotted into one of two categories. Either it’s earnest, highly-polished pabulum designed to be inoffensive and slot into lazy DJ playlists – see Heidi Montag – or it’s winking novelty music that plays on the person’s TV persona – see Tan Mom.
My Teenage Dream Ended is neither of these things. Over the album’s ten tracks, Abraham talk-sings over solid if unspectacular electronic beats, telling the tale of her teenage pregnancy and the death of Derek Underwood, the father of her daughter.
Singing isn’t Farah Abraham’s strong suit, and she doesn’t try to hide it. That’s typically what Auto-Tune is for. But that ubiquitous technology is pushed to its limit on this album. Abraham’s voice is so digitally processed and clipped that it sounds like an early software speech synthesizer. Every syllable has been pitch-shifted to near-unintelligibility, with huge amounts of artifacting.
Even more fascinating is her complete disregard for meter and tempo. No song has anything that could charitably be called a “chorus,” and lines blur into each other, crammed together densely and then abandoned to stretches of instrumental passages. Songs start and end arbitrarily, with no consistent narrative thread between them. It’s difficult music in the most authentic way.
Curious to learn more about how this album was created, I reached out to Frederick Cuevas, the producer listed on the album, who was kind enough to talk to me for a little bit about it.
“I work in a post production facility, in which we on a lot of Film & Television in the Miami area. Farrah had been coming to us to record some lines for “Teen Mom”. After a session we were talking and she found out I produced music. The next time we saw each other she started to talk to me in depth about the project, type of tracks she was looking for, distribution, deadline and all that. I played her some stuff I had produced. She liked it then she showed me the lyrics for the songs and gave me a list of songs that she really likes on a piece of paper, I can’t remember exactly who but I do remember, “Benny Benassi ft Gary Go – Cinema (Skrillex remix)” was on there.”
“I finished most of the tracks but it took awhile for her to find the right beat for Finally Getting Up From Rock Bottom and I had some work in NY coming up, so I basically produced Finally Getting Up From Rock Bottom on my flight there. Let’s just say after that, I didn’t have much say in the project. It is quite the most unique project I’ve heard in my life, let alone having been a part of its creation.”
I think that’s a pretty serious understatement. My Teenage Dream Ended is one of the most perplexing cultural artifacts of the 21st century. It reminds me a lot of the Shaggs – an attempt to fit in, to do what’s “current,” but from such a purely outsider perspective that it becomes something altogether timeless.
Decide for yourself. My Teenage Dream Ended is available on Spotify.