Welcome To Night Vale: The Normal Town, For Weird People.

 Disclaimer: The podcast does not endorse this blog post in any way. Also, there is some light spoilers, but more for those who have already started listening, and need to catch up. :)

There is a town, somewhere in the desert of the United States that is on the list of fictional locations that we all want to go to as nerds. Night Vale, for many, joins the list of Hogwarts, Narnia, Arrakis, District 12 and other great fictional locations. But it did so, not by the traditional means of writing. It instead – did this by capturing the rise of technology that many of us started getting into recently: Podcasting.

Now we will save Podcasting, for another post. But since the summer of 2012, this show, that releases on the 1st and 15th of the month, has shared with nerds, the news of the small desert town from Night Vale Community Radio host Cecil Palmer. Through Cecil, we learn about a Secret Police force that acts in-lieu of an non-secretive police force. How the city council is just a bunch of weirdly hooded figures, that go on vacation a lot and scream when changes take place in town. (Sound familiar?) And my favorite, the reasons why their town’s Dog Park is forbidden and only a special group of Hooded Figured people can go in and out and until recently, dogs can go in but not out.

Fans of this show are known as Citizens of Night Vale. I have been a proud citizen since November of 2014. And while many of my friends, love and live vicariously through the adventures of the podcast, there are still many close to me who don’t get it. So, today, I am sharing with you some reasons why Night Vale for many, is the place we all dream of living in.

Do You Like Listening to NPR in the morning? This is the weird fictional version for you.

This show, reminds me of a far more interesting Fresh Air or Morning Talk episode from NPR. (National Public Radio for any of our non-American readers.) Now for some people this is a little harder to listen to, because for many NPR either signifies “old people” or “liberal progressives”. Which can be a bit of broad brush stroke, but many critics and fans of the show, use it as the best way to explain the show to friends and family. The show has normal segments such as traffic, community calendars, weather reports and even editorials. But what you think are just normal news episodes, shortly but surely make you wonder what kind of news is this, as well as what kind of town is this?

The attributes of Night Vale make it real

The creators have mentioned that this series, is set somewhere in the southwest USA. But the more you listen to this show, you increasingly notice how Night Vale looks a lot like your local town, only not weird at all. There is a Starbucks (in fact a whole district), they have an arena, an opera house, schools, city hall, Post Offices, and libraries that no one EVER goes into. (Albeit, the reason you wouldn’t go into Night Vale Library or the Night Vale Post Office are very different from the reasons we do not go into those real-world locations.)

Additionally, the setting of Night Vale is very modern. They have cell phones, the internet, Snapchat, Facebook, Tumblr, Amazon, Target, Costco, and all the other things that we are used to in our daily lives. While you may feel that you are being transported to another place, it’s not that far off from your town. I come from a small town, that reminds me of Night Vale in many ways. I mean, shoot, we have a Big Rico’s Pizza in my town. **

The People are DifferentAnd that’s SUPER OK

You know, we nerds, are by default type casted as outcasts in our normal society. So, when you listen about the news of a city, that makes *you* the normal one, it makes listening even more worthwhile. What I adore about this show, is how it normalizes the weird. Like it’s supposed to be no big deal that Street Sweepers are dangerous. Or how there is a faceless old woman that lives in everyone’s home. My favorite, is the Ephemeral Glow Cloud that is on the school board and has a small “child glow cloud” as a student in Night Vale. (ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY GLOW CLOUD.)

However, as a bonus, things that many people in our real world find weird and abnormal, are no big deal. Such as the relationship between Cecil and his boyfriend Carlos. In our real lives, a relationship like Cecil and Carlos would face judgements and in some places terrible homophobia attacks. But in Night Vale it is completely embraced. I mean being honest, the town has weirder things going on than two gay men in a monogamous relationship, but that’s how *not* weird it is, relationship is. Providing room for social commentary on how “weird” really should be defined both in and out of our daily lives.

You are always wondering what happens next. Always. Left. Wondering.

This show is always leaving you wondering what will happen next. There are threads that eventually are resolved over the years, but some of them, are never really resolved. Many books and series, tie everything up in a neat little bow, but Welcome to Night Vale, even if it does resolve a plot thread, leaves you tons of additional threads on which the creators can continue to work on long after the main plot has ended. There is material and themes that the writer brings up in episodes that make you go “That is from a long time ago!” – Episode 57 “The List” is one of those episodes.

Three Words: Allegorical Social Commentary

So, this one takes a lot of people by surprise. For some, they completely miss it unless someone mentions it. But once you get to Year Three (Starting around Episode 27-28), you will notice that all those weird sayings and settings, are not just plain weird. They begin to set stages, and evolve the weird things in this town into mirrors that replicate our own real world. For many Citizens of Night Vale, this is where many of us begin to change our ways of thinking and feeling both in and out of Night Vale.

One of the most infamous episodes of Allegorical Social Commentary is Episode 73 titled “Triptych”.  No spoilers, but by the end of the episode, you not only question your beliefs about a certain character, but you then start asking the question of “What would I have done in this situation?” Knowing that the ending of the episode is with Cecil literally saying the following: “Stay Tuned next, for a feeling in your chest that will never quite sit right with you again.” Truer words have never been spoken.

This is when you know, that the show is more than just weird people and events in a small town. There is more, much more, that the show allows us to see, if we are willing to see it. Night Vale has used its weirdness to not only allow people to escape from the world they live in, but a safe space for us to question our own personal emotional and social beliefs.

For example: *

  • The entire story of the Apache Tracker?!
  • Are we okay with the way Episode 42: “Numbers” ended?
  • Were you ready to go to battle in Episode 46 “Parade Day”?
  • Did Episode 51 “The September Monologues” change your opinion concerning a few recurring characters?
  • Did Episode 83 “One Normal Town” make you question your beliefs on immigration and refugees?
  • Were you emotionally devastated, yet also feeling the glaring and painful irony to the endings of Episode 87 “The Trial of Hiram McDaniel’s” and Episode 98 “Flight”?

So if you have been wondering what the big deal is with this weird fictional town – now is a good time to jump in and take a look. At 100 episodes at the end of December, there is plenty of story and time for you to listen into. Consider listening as you are waiting in line while shopping or while drive over the hills and through the woods to your designated person you are trying to reach. Embrace the weird, and discover why this town Is the town we all want to live in.

*If they didn’t – feel free to re-listen to those episodes again and think about it. Or not. It’s up to you.
** Also – The owner of the Big Rico’s in my current hometown, is a huge Night Vale fan!



Beyond Gangnam Style

Heyyyyyy, Geeky Ladies…and Geeky Dudes.  Perhaps, after hearing PSY’s international hit, “Gangnam Style,” you were wondering what other musical magic Korea has to offer.  Consider this your K-pop 101.

K-pop has a lot in common with North American pop music.  The style is pop with influences of rap, R&B, and a bit of club/dance music.  Personally, I find K-pop rather nostalgic, because it reminds me of what was cool in North America back in the 90s before all this autotuning began.  That’s right.  K-popular hardly uses autotuning.  If you prefer music wherein you can hear the singers’ actual voices, give K-pop a listen.

K-pop idols are usually trained singers AND dancers (and sometimes actors as well), and the release of a new music video is treated as a major event.  Perhaps this is just the biased opinion of a K-pop fan, but I think K-pop videos are just better than the North American ones.  The videos have a story to them, whereas North American music videos tend to be more like “I am walking in slow motion while things go on fire” and “I am standing in a desert, and I am walking in a night club, and I am surrounded by young alcoholics.”  K-pop videos are more like little movies, interspersed with highly choreographed dances.  But don’t take my word for it.  Have a look at some of these major K-pop bands.

Wonder Girls
You might already know this band, since they recently did a song with Akon.  It’s called “Like Money,” and it doesn’t have much to do with their general style of music.  Their music in Korea tends to have a funkier, “brighter” sound to it.  They kind of remind me a bit of Destiny’s Child, if each singer had her own chance to shine instead of there being one Beyonce and a handful of backup singers.

Last summer, they released a song called “Nobody” wherein you can better hear their talents.

Here’s a band that’s got a good balance of “club” sound and highlighting the lead singer’s talent.  I find that most club music sounds overly robotized or washed out entirely, but 4Minute avoids that pitfall.  The lead singer, Hyuna, has also released singles on her own and done duets with other K-pop idols.  She’s kind of the Beyonce, if you’ll excuse the second consecutive reference to Destiny’s Child.

Here’s one of their more recent songs, “Volume Up.”

I consider these guys to be the N*SYNC of the K-pop world – except you won’t get sick of them because they’re not horribly overplayed (or played at all) outside Korea.  SHINee (pronounced “shiny”) has the quintessential pop image when it comes to singing and dancing.  You could compare them to any 90s boy band, really, except that their image is presented as a unified group.  That is, their dances are meant for the five members to perform together, instead of just having five guys onstage who happen to be doing the same thing.  They also don’t break off into “the cute one,” “the shy one,” and so on.

Here’s their big hit from earlier this year, “Sherlock.”

SNSD or Girls Generation
First, before there is any confusion, this band goes by a few names.  They are called So Nyeo Shi Dae.  So Nyeo = Girls.  Shi Dae = Generation.   Sometimes they are called by their acronym, SNSD, or their translated name, Girls Generation.  Because they are popular in Japan as well, they are sometimes referred to as Shoju Jidai or ShoShi as well, but whatever you call them, they are adorable.

Their sound is poppy and electronic-sounding and their image is a cuteness overload.  SNSD is a bit like the Spice Girls in that each one gets a chance to sing and they take turns being backup for one another.  Their dances mostly consist of stepping in unison and making cute poses one by one, but for them, it kinda works.

The band has nine members, three of whom have released singles as a sub-group.

Here’s a song by the whole band, called “Oh.”

And here’s a song by the sub-group, TTS, called “Twinkle.”

Orange Caramel
Is K-pop not hideously cute enough for you yet?  Okay, have some Orange Caramel.  This band’s sound and image are a style called “aegyo,” which is what would happen if every Spice Girl were Baby Spice.  I could describe Orange Caramel as three young women dressing up as a little girl’s dream and doing a cute cheerleading-style dance in what appears to be a giant dollhouse, or I could just show you this:

Warning: Orange Caramel’s “Magic Girl” is not for those with sensitivity to extreme cuteness.

Are you tired of cuteness?  Have some BIGBANG.  This is one of my favourite K-pop bands.  They have a “tougher” sound than the previous bands mentioned here.  BIGBANG is influenced by hip hop and rap music.  They also differ from the other bands in that each of the five members focuses on having an individual persona and meshing them after the fact, rather than going for the unified look.  They all have an awesome blend of glamour and toughness – “street glam,” if you will – and it comes together beautifully.  Not to mention, Daesung and Seungri have exceptionally awesome voices.  Okay, they ALL have completely awesome voices but… must… stop… fangirling.

This is their totally awesome video, “Fantastic Baby.”

If you like BIGBANG’s urban sound, take it a step further with BAP.  BAP (which stands for Best. Absolute. Perfect, and I’m sure that makes sense before translation) has a gritty sound and makes gritty videos to match.  There’s no innocent cuteness to be found here; just rough rap, powerful singing, and aggressive (yet beautifully choreographed) urban dance.

Have a look, with their song “Warrior.”

Here we are: another one of my favourite K-pop bands.  While most K-pop bands – the girl bands, especially – go for an ultra-cute image, 2NE1 is a bit rougher and has a lot more variation in their songs.  They’ve got a musical style like TLC and a lyrical message like P!nk’s.  Their songs say “screw you, I don’t care what you think of me,” but are tempered with “we are all emotionally vulnerable inside.”  The subject matter of their songs also reaches beyond the usual “I have a crush on you.”  Instead, they sing about passion, confidence, insecurity, and rebellion.  Compare “I Love You” and “Hate You,” or “Ugly” and “I Am The Best.”  Yes, those are all songs by the same group.  And their voices!  So gorgeous!

While their videos usually consist of them posing, dancing, and then destroying the set with lots of smashing and firepower, I will show you their animated video instead.  This video looks like a full-fledged cartoon just by itself.

Without further ado, “Hate You” by 2NE1.

Let’s go back to the sugary side of K-pop with B1A4.  They’re rather “Mickey Mouse club” for my taste, but oodles of fans can’t be wrong.  Perhaps B1A4’s imaginative videos, playful dances, and innocent cute songs are what appeals to younger fans.  Come to think of it, they kind of remind me of Hanson.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Judge for yourself, with “Baby Goodnight.”

Girl’s Day
I’m ending this little intro to K-pop with a band that’s not super famous but has a really great song and video.  Words can’t really do it justice, so I’m just going to show it to you.

This is Girl’s Day’s “Oh My God.”