How Abra's "Crybaby" Became My Borderline Anthem
"Look what you did, got the kid all messed up
On the plane, in the rain, back from LA
Remember when I, remember what I
How could you do me this way?
You're calling me a crybaby
But you're making me cry
You're calling me a crybaby
I'll show you how to cry"
-First & Last Stanzas of Crybaby, 2016 Princess EP
In 2016, a year of undeniable upheaval and country-wide despair, I was smoking, coping, and listening to the muffled bass of a UE Roll in my friends apartment when Abra came on. The Darkwave Dutchess herself had just released the EP Princess imbued with the “dark, romantic, nostalgic” energy she champions, and I wasn’t the only one enthralled. The lone singer and female member of unapologetic DIY Atlanta rap collective, Awful Records, rose to prominence via her acoustic rap covers online. I had never heard her music before and soon after hearing her breakout hit "Roses" I bought a ticket to her Atlanta show.
Abra is intentionally private about many things, and I don’t presume to comprehend who she is as an artist or person. I don’t even know if her music is meant for me, per se. I can say, attending her show awakened in me that in a dancing crowd of gxrls yell-singing about showing you just how crazy they can be, I felt at home. What I didn't know then, was the concert was so cathartic for me partially because I struggled to healthily express the deep and heavy emotions that came along with undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) among other mental illnesses. Often in my life I found being around abnormal, loud, and energetic femmes brought me deep joy and solace from my emotional pain.
"Crybaby" was the first track released off Princess and the music video corresponds quite literally with the tone of the song. In a color scheme of primary colors (Red, Yellow, & Blue) you can see the story painted of a girl, sun-setting, losing her resolve. Abra burns bright red in her jeep and contrasts as a silhouette against the Blue-Yellow sky. Her love lives in a Yellow house, one of seeming anxiety, while she stays in a Blue house, broken mirrors and shoes hanging from the ceiling where a light fixture was, still emitting sparks. She’s collared and dressed in bubblegum or pastel pinks when she enters scenes with her lover. He pulls her closer by the neck and she whispers, “let me teach you how to cry, baby.”
Crybaby is a multiplicitous label. It is at once an insult, a dance (you can see in her music video), and an emotional state. Once in a fight with a past partner, we were driving by a hospital when they told me that’s where I belonged. I told them to pull over and drop me off immediately. I went inside and sobbed in the bathroom for a while before going outside and smoking to dissociate. It’s not easy to be told by someone you love that your emotional responses to things are crazy. I can't tell you how many times I've sung this song crying in my car, it became my "BPD anthem" (term from Aqua K., contributor to The Mighty, whose response to the question "What song helps you get through tough BPD moments?" inspired me to write this).
Struggling not to cry has been common my whole life. Feeling completely overly sensitive and scared by the "crazy femme" trope, I internalized the idea that I was bad at handling tough or stressful situations. In reality, I was re-living unprocessed experiences of being bullied, abused, talked down to, and undercut while trying to navigate additional stressors. To me “crybaby” implies that you need to 'grow up'. Stop 'acting like a child', stop expressing your pain through tears, and deal with it. Unfortunately, it’s this call that turns my tears to rage. It’s the quick dismissal of longstanding internalized pain that turns me to bitterness. The double-edged connotation of words like “Princess” and “Crybaby” is the idea that femmes are in some way delicate, their delicacy is both alluring and annoying, and when it’s the latter, fuck femmes. To which I want to say, fuck that.
Abra subverts the (assumed) male gaze by highlighting the brutal power of femmes. The power to hurt back, wild out, and turn it up a notch. “Banging on your walls” brings me to so many shaking experiences of raw rage expressed in explosive ways, both by me and around me. The experience of going “up and down, up and down” in this repetitive process speaks to the pieces of bipolar I experience with my BPD. Constantly going from anxiety to depression to dissociation to both anxiety and depression to a full blown episode, to confusion and judgement. I see this struggle exemplified in both the color-scheming of moods in Crybaby's visuals, and in the lyrics of the song.
The intimate sound of the track harkens to “bedrooms, car stereos and clubs alike, so long as it’s dark outside”. For me, these are sites of femme authenticity. Cars, clubs, and bedrooms are places where femmes get to express themselves, rawly, to varying degrees. Femme sexuality, anger, love, can all be seen in the darkness of our nighttime escapes. Her minored synth-pop instrumentals and true alto tone speak to the looming rain of a tumultuous relationship. With many lyrical references to water and oncoming rain, the intuition of knowing when something is over or about to change comes to mind. Recovering my intuition from Borderline fear and self-sabotage is one of the muscles I work to grow in my mental health. At the video's conclusion Abra is shown hooping alone against the blue-yellow sky, creating her own gravitational pull.
In Part 2, I highlight interviews with Abra about where she was physically and mentally leading up to Princess, and how the process of stepping away from "sad girl shit" and returning to her family felt resonant with my healing process.