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How Gen-Z is using sad music as a coping mechanism

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album Sour brings breakup music to a fresh-faced audience.

In a world where adults scorn teenage relationships as shallow and impermanent, Gen-Z has embraced her pithy angst with enthusiasm.

Her hit single “good 4 u” was met with adoration from young people all over the country, singing to the tune of Rodrigo’s heartbreak.

Rodrigo was able to voice the younger generation’s pain in a way that many connected with, and her sales numbers prove the resonance of her voice.

But why are so many people drawn to breakup songs, music that reminds us of our own heartbreak? At moments in our lives when we’re feeling at our worst, wouldn’t it make sense to listen to happier music to cheer ourselves up?

Turns out, it’s helpful to dwell on negative emotions instead of trying to suppress them.

The first step to healing a wound is acknowledging that it exists

The first step to healing a wound is acknowledging that it exists, and music can be a great way to facilitate that emotional processing.

The listener experiences vicarious sorrow through a performer’s sad song, and by using this music as a mediary, they can release some of their own sadness.

This purging is also called catharsis, the purposeful indulgence of repressed emotions as a means of finding relief.

Catharsis through sad music

The benefits of catharsis through music can be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece: Greek philosopher Aristotle believed in catharsis through dramatic art.

He argued that full, intense immersion in the tragic forms of art would allow one to let personal emotions go.

Considering Olivia Rodrigo’s legions of fans, that claim still holds true today.


But why does it help so much to hear someone else’s woes put to music, instead of directly acknowledging our own? Has the business of entertainment turned us all into voyeurs?

To find an answer, we should consider the sadness baked into the foundations of American music: the blues.

Blues music was one of the earliest and most influential genres to take shape in America, giving rise to jazz, R&B, soul, and funk later on.

It was a genre so synonymous with suffering that the ‘the blues’ was a shorthand phrase for someone feeling down, or catching a ‘case of the blues’.

For the African-American communities who invented it, expression through music was a way for them to give voice to their pain, and share it with sympathetic ears.

The blues ethos was a tough-as-nails spirit, a desire to sing at the times most people would be crying.

Live performances of blues music happened in juke joints, popular gathering places for black sharecroppers barred from white establishments, which set the tone for many of the songs performed there.

Chicago Blues Guitar GIF by Muddy Waters - Find & Share on GIPHY

It would have felt disingenuous to sing about sunshine and rainbows considering the social circumstances of the black community, so blues singers headed forwards with unflinching honesty about life.

These performances acted as a joint catharsis: the performer let loose their feelings through music, and if the song was any good, the listener was overwhelmed with their own emotions.

These musicians transformed sorrow into collective experiences of music and joy, connecting the community through shared pain and the desire to keep singing in the face of everything.

Sad music is honest about life’s ugliness

This honesty about life’s ugliness is a large part of what made blues music so appealing.

At grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping malls today, loudspeakers pump out danceable music about our big, beautiful world, full of possibilities.

Chirpy auto-tuned voices sing about loving yourself and loving others, while our phones are beaming a constant stream of Ukrainian refugees, mass shootings, and pandemic deaths. When we’re struggling through rough patches, this happy music can feel hollow instead of comforting.

No one wants to hear songs about how everything is wonderful when they see the world burning around them. Hearing sad music at these times can be like a breath of relief: relief that someone is feeling the same way as you.

Sad Normal People GIF by BBC Three - Find & Share on GIPHY

The magic of sad music is how it transforms sorrow and human suffering into a beautiful piece of art, worthy of appreciation.

It appeals to the unavoidable nature of sadness, or at the very least gives us the sense that someone else understands our pain.

Through sad music, we can acknowledge that negative emotions aren’t evil. They’re another part of the human experience, and something that we all must reckon with.

LGBTQ rap collectives are here to stay – and we couldn’t be more proud

Something close to alchemy happens when rap collectives make music together. Differing voices, perspectives, and styles collide over the beat, materializing in fresh, exciting musical ideas.

Often, the work done in rap collectives invents new horizons for the genre. Many forward-thinking artists of our current time have emerged from the collective melting pot: Kendrick had his beginnings in Black Hippy, ASAP Rocky in the ASAP Mob, Tyler, the Creator in Odd Future. 

Foundations for this kind of music-making were built long ago. Groups from the 80s-90s like Wu-Tang Clan, N.W.A, and A Tribe Called Quest proved the strength of a collective approach.

Yet, the boundary-pushing sounds of the collective are at odds with rap’s strict ideas of black masculinity, steeped in homophobia.

Homophobia in rap

Hip-hop from this time displays a deep uneasiness with queerness. These earlier songs are lined with perennial, reflexive defenses of ‘no homo’.

There was a necessity for rappers to appear masculine, which was measured by the amount of women they could get. The credibility of their music rested on this x-factor: the rapper needed to project the image of a player or a baller, someone with an enviable position in society.

Conversely, gay men were at the bottom of the pecking order. No one wanted to be associated with the stain of queerness, even indirectly through music, given the chance it might rub off on them.

Well-documented and often blatant instances of homophobia come from these older records. Beastie Boys wanted to name their first album Don’t Be A F****t, a move that was rejected by their record company, who instead titled the record Licensed to III.

A Tribe Called Quest, though considered more progressive by contemporary standards, still included explicitly homophobic lyrics in their music. In “Georgie Porgie” off the album The Low End Theory, Phife Dawg raps,

“In the beginning, there was Adam and Eve / But some try to make it look like Adam and Steve […] Oh my God how gross can one be”.

Phife Dawg, “Georgie Porgie”

Q-Tip takes this further at the end of the song, openly admitting his homophobia and daring the listener to do something about it:

“Call me homophobic but I know it and you know it / You’re filthy and funny to the utmost exponent”.

Q-Tip, “Georgie Porgie”

Rappers breaking barriers

In recent years, rap has seen a steady trickle of mainstream artists willing to embrace their queer identities.

Frank Ocean of prominent collective Odd Future broke into the commercial mainstream with his albums “Channel Orange” and “Blonde”. In “Bad Religion”, he laments his unrequited love for another man.

“I can never make him love me / Never make him love me / It’s a bad religion / To be in love with someone who could never love you”.

Frank Ocean, “Bad Religion”

Over time, other members of Odd Future joined the wave of rappers coming out. Tyler, The Creator, once a braggadocious upcomer hurling gay slurs, has gestured towards his own possible queerness in several lyrics on Flower Boy and IGOR.

The song “Garden Shed” is an extended metaphor for living inside of the closet, but he uses far more direct language on “I Ain’t Got Time”, saying “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004”. Syd, another member, has openly embraced her queer identity.

In an interview with LA Weekly, she said “The world is just now starting to become open about homosexuality. I can’t really say I’ve contributed to that, and I’m grateful to the people who have set a path for me to be who I am today. And I guess in that sense I want to return the favor.” 

Flood Magazine

Makkonen Sheran, better known by his stage name ILoveMakkonen, came out as gay in 2017. He cut his teeth in the Phantom Posse, an NYC-based collective, and soon gained renown in his solo career with the 2014 breakout single “Tuesday”, featuring Drake.

He announced on a now-deleted Twitter account that he was gay: “As a fashion icon, I can’t tell u about everybody else’s closet, I can only tell u about mine, and it’s time I’ve come out. And since y’all love breaking news, here’s some old news to break, I’m gay. And now I’ve told u about my life, maybe u can go [live] yours.”

These trailblazers have played important parts in shifting the culture towards more mainstream acceptance of queerness. Both the Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest have pivoted away from their prior homophobic stances.

Ad-rock apologized to fans in a letter apologizing for “the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record”. A Tribe Called Quest released a track called “We the People…” in 2016, criticizing Trump’s treatment of minorities, including LGBTQ people.

More and more prominent allies are emerging with time, and hopefully opening a space for all voices to be heard in rap.

The queer future of rap

More than ever, young collectives are embracing queer voices. The pressures to maintain a masculine image have lessened among many, leading the way toward more honest expression in rap. 

Brockhampton is also a notable example. The 13 member group has become one of the most popular rap collectives in recent years, hitting number one on the Billboard 200 with their album Iridescence.

They insist on calling themselves a boyband, a term is usually reserved for groups of floppy-haired, dimpled heartthrobs. Boybands have a distinct effeminate association which they embrace with glee, a drastic departure from the hyper-masculine culture of prior collectives.

Lead man Kevin Abstract is openly, boldly gay, and makes it known through his music. When talking with Shortlist, he said: “I’d see negative comments and forget [being gay] was a big deal to some people, that some people hadn’t heard it before. My goal is just to normalize it. I have to express myself and who I am.”

The future of rap includes diverse perspectives, and this future will be planted in young collectives.

Rap, at its core, has always been a collaborative genre. It’s about improv, expression, and telling a story through words and beats. Shouldn’t all stories be welcome? 

Neighborhood gentrification is here: 5 photographers saving the block

As gentrification runs rampant through urban areas, more and more native residents are displaced. The gentrified neighborhood runs through obvious changes.

Be shook… neighborhood gentrifcation is nothing new

Gentrification comes with an architectural and demographic aesthetic, that is different from its original native residents. These 5 photographers document neighborhoods going through gentrification. 

1. Kristy Chatelain | Brooklyn Changing

Chatelain has been documenting Brooklyn’s gentrifying landscape since late 2006. In her long-term photography project, Brooklyn Changing, she uses rephotography to capture the parts of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhood before and after gentrification.

This project depicts pictures of some locations being demolished with new buildings erected in place, others show street art walls being replaced with new businesses. 

Check out the full project here.

2. Al J Thompson | Remnants of an Exodus

Remnants of an Exodus is Thompson’s first photography book dedicated to his second home of Spring Valley, NY. Thompson photographs his neighborhood undergoing dramatic changes.

This book is Thompson’s invitation to viewers to revisit the town he grew up in, the buildings that provided him shade and see the people in the community that brings a face to who gentrification impacts. 

Check out Remnants of an Exodus here

3. James and Karla Murray | StoreFront – The Disappearing Face of New York

James and Karla Murray offer a visual tour of storefronts disappearing due to gentrification in StoreFront – The Disappearing Face of New York.

These photos represent New Yorks, early small businesses and give viewers a nostalgic representation of the familiarity that these storefronts had. Many of these storefronts embodied the early immigrant population of New York. 

Check out Store Front – The Disappearing Face of New York here

4. Matthew T Rader | Old East Dallas Gentrification Photography Documentary 

neighborhood gentrification dallas | Old East Dallas Gentrification Photography Documentary Part 9

Rader’s long-term photography documentary explores the gentrification in Old East Dallas through an analog lens.

In this 15 part and continuing project, Rader captures characters that would disappear and buildings that would be destroyed. This documentary depicts the negative emotions of the nature of gentrification has. 

Check out the Old East Dallas Gentrification documentary here

5. Yael Malka | The Views

Malka observes how gentrification consumes neighborhoods in The Views. The visualization of gentrification through the viewing panels at construction sites shows how gentrification first begins with the violent deconstruction of buildings. 

Malka reminds viewers how we walk by these sites and see the changes every day. 

Check out The Views here 

Spike Lee on Gentrification (Live in Brooklyn)

Hispanic Heritage Month: 5 LatinX photographers telling powerful stories

With Hispanic Heritage Month in full force from September 15 to October 15, the spotlight is back on the Latinx community and its achievements throughout a year marked by a pandemic and the exposition of a myriad of social issues.

In a year that has seen powerful narratives put into perspective, it’s time to recognize what Latinx photographers bring to the table.

As a part of that exposition, the Latinx community’s visual storytellers have stepped up to bat. From COVID-19 to climate change to gentrification to Mickey Mouse, here are five Hispanic creatives who are telling high-impact stories through their photography.

Sebastián Hidalgo was raised among giants in Chicago’s Mexico

Sebastián Hidalgo hispanic photographer
Pictured: Sebastián Hidalgo

Proud to be “raised among giants in Chicago’s Mexico,” Pilsen native Sebastián Hidalgo plies his trade as a photojournalist by representing various facets of the Mexican-American identity as well as the pressing issues confronting the wider black and brown community.

His visual repertoire features coverage of gentrification, community infrastructure, and attitudes towards immigrants and policy.

The emergence of the pandemic was yet another chapter, and his ongoing project ‘History continues to do its dirty work’ continued to incorporate each of these themes to highlight the intersection between COVID-19 and systemic racism.

When 13-year-old boy Adam Toledo was killed by Chicago police, Hidalgo took shots of the ensuing protests to visualize the anguish of yet another life taken by the hands of police brutality.

A veteran photographer for the likes of National Geographic, The New York Times, ProPublica, and The Wall Street Journal, Hidalgo hopes to inspire the next generation to take up the mantle of telling powerful stories through photography.

“You can work most uncontrollable issues into something maneuverable. It take intension and a step by step process. Work with what you have. Build on it with a simple task to get started. Don’t give up.”

Sebastián Hidalgo

Hidalgo is currently guiding a local Chicago program unveiled by Apple and several other local groups offering five weeks of free training and access to photography resources to underrepresented youth.

See more of his work here.

Joana Toro is documenting stories of freedom

Pictured: Joana Toro

Documentary photographer Joana Toro is a Colombian creative on the move. Switching between two cities — New York City and Bogota — she captures issues of Hispanic Heritage, immigration, human rights, and identity confronting the Latinx community.

“Migration and identity are a constant in my work, they are the topics that I am interested in documenting, and they are stories that are worthwhile and that inspire others. They are stories of freedom.”

Joana Toro

To that end, Toro has an eye for finding unexpected angles to confront underreported issues. Her coverage of the pandemic through the lenses of as well as the costumed entertainers of Times Square and its effect on the underrepresented TransLatinx community landed her two features in the 2021 Photoville Festival.

Where is Mickey?’ covers how the loss of tourism during COVID affected Times Square’s street entertainers.  It features as a part of the ‘Eyewitness: Who Tell Stories of Our Time?’ project by the Pulitzer Center and Diversify Photo.

The latter series,‘TransLatinx Resilience against COVID-19’, was unveiled at the Queens Museum. Toro released the project in the wake of TransLatina activist Lorena Borjas’s passing, a heavy loss for the community.

Both works debuted on September 18th and will be available to view until December 1.

More of Toro’s work can be found here.

Josué Rivas is a stroytelling climate champion

hispanic heritage month
Pictured: Josué Rivas

An LA-based creative hailing from the indigenous Otomi community in Mexico, Josué Rivas uses his visual storytelling to champion the issues and perspectives of indigenous peoples and lead a charge to revamp mainstream media.

The reality is the photo, film, and art industry are colonized. By that, I mean that we have been telling the story of humanity from a colonizer perspective and I believe these are the times to change it… so that we can move forward and decolonize the media.

Josué Rivas

It is with this goal in mind that his photography focuses on the perspectives of indigenous folk. His work has covered issues such as fatherhood and the effect of climate change on indigenous communities, featuring in the New York Times and National Geographic, respectively.

hispanic heritage month
Climate change has further catalyzed the marginalization of indigenous peoples.

Seeking to spread his convictions beyond himself, Rivas has spoken at length about the importance of indigenous peoples telling their own stories. In 2017, he was invited to give a TEDx talk at Rapid City.

To view more of Rivas’s portfolio, click here.

It’s Hispanic heritage month all year round for photographer Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

Pictured: Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

A female member of the Latinx community and a photographer by trade, Verónica Sanchis has dedicated herself to promoting the storytelling of female Hispanic photographers while leading by example via her coverage of pressing foreign affairs.

One of her most recent contributions covered the crackdown and censorship of protestors in Hong Kong, Sanchis’s photography work featured Gotham, a student who was jailed for participating in protests in 2020 when the Hong Kong National Security law went into effect.

Seeking to elevate other Hispanic women using photography to tell powerful stories, Sanchis founded Foto Feminas in 2014.

The platform – currently curated by Sanchis herself –  publishes monthly features showcasing the visual stories of female photographers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Hispanic Heritage
Photo Cred: Florence Goupil

The latest beneficiary of Sanchis’s venture is Florence Goupil, a French-Peruvian photographer handpicked for her coverage of human rights, identity, and indigenous culture.

Archives of other featured female Latinx photographers can be found on the Foto Feminas website.

Click here to see more of Sanchis’s portfolio.

Cristopher Rogel Blanquet is a social advocate in his own right

latinx photographer
Pictured: Cristopher Rogel Blanquet

Beyond his Hispanic Heritage, social issues have always been the focus of Cristopher Rogel Blanquet’s work. This focus has taken him beyond the borders of his home country of Mexico to throughout all of Central America to New York City to Syria.

Surveying Central America, Blanquet’s ‘Central American Exodus’ series chronicles the arduous journey taken on by migrant families.

Blanquet’s latest work is a series titled ‘Beautiful Poison’, a collection of photos encapsulating the pain and experiences of families marred by agrochemical practices in Mexico’s flower industry.

Shooting the project, Blanquet interacted intimately with the story he was portraying, staying with the family of Sebastian, a 19-year-old boy who was born with hydrocephalus due to the long-term effects of pesticide exposure beating the odds by outliving his predicted lifespan of five years.

His coverage of the public health crisis in Mexico’s flower fields has him in the running as one of nine finalists for the 2021 Eugene W. Smith Grant, an award celebrating compassionate photojournalism.

Blanquet spoke with Phoblographer about what getting the award for his project would mean to him.

“It’s an honor… But it is also a great responsibility that I take on with pleasure to continue with my work. I’m interested in telling stories that I wish didn’t exist, like that of Sebastián, a little boy who has been sick for a lifetime due to agrochemicals.”

Cristopher Rogel Blanquet

Five grant recipients are set to be announced some time in October.

To view more of Blanquet’s work, click here.

LoFi music

LoFi music, mental health, and its beautiful impact on its listeners

LoFi music has made a huge splash on the internet during the start of the pandemic, especially with mental health.

As people attempted to find new ways to focus and relieve stress while adjusting to a new work-from-home environment, Lo-Fi music steps in to bring in sounds that create the perfect ambiance for a stress-free productive environment.

According to Discovery Mazingine’s “ Why, LoFi Music Draws Listeners In” it defines Lofi as “ ‘ ‘low-fidelity,’ a term for music where you can hear imperfections that would typically be considered errors in the recording process …those ‘mistakes’ become an intentional part of the listening experience.”

The kind of music is rooted in no vocals, jazz sounds, bass and snare drums in a boom bat rhythm, and natural ambiance sound in everyday life coming together to create a beat that hits the sweet spot of not being over the top and not too slow which is perfect for stimulation.

One person highly credited for this style of creating beats is J Dilla a rapper/ producer from Detriot, who rose in the underground Hip-hop scene during the 90s.

He was highly respected in the hip-hop community and worked with big names like Erykah Badu, Tribe Called Quest, QTip, Common, etc. At the time of his last and most accredited work Donuts (2006) dropped, he was in the hospital due to complications with lupus.

He passed away after his 33rd Birthday. Most of what is listened to as Lo-fI music today has his musical legacy all over it.

These particular type of study/stress-free playlists is popular on platforms like SoundCloud, Youtube, and Spotify.

According to’s “ The science behind the ‘beats to study to’ craze” Brain.FM’s company director Kevin Woods, who also holds a Ph.D. in auditory neuroscience was quoted stating:

“​​Good focus music has no vocals, no strong melodies, ‘dark’ spectrum, dense texture, minimal salient events (more on that later), heavy spatialization, a steady pulse, sub-30-200Hz modulation, and above 10-20Hz modulation… Ideally, focus music is going to have a drive and energy. You want a sense of motion in the music, not just something light and airy”

When it comes to mental health, there have been studies that correlate the kind of music that is listened to, and the arousal state you are in. A medium post by Elisabeth Sherman referenced this study created by a member of the Cambridge brain sciences team in 2017, Tram Nguyen.

Nguyen was quoted in the piece stating “ ‘High-arousal’ music often has more distinct events per unit of time than low-arousal music, potentially making it more distracting, because the listener is more focused on processing the music rather than the task at hand.”

The overall study proved that “low-arousal negative music — music with low tempos and minor chord melodies, which are usually associated with despondency and sadness — improved memory performance the most.”

This kind of music does have the potential to block out intrusive noise through aural cocooning which is when a sound is repetitive and predictable enough to tune extra noise.

This kind of music also creates sound spatialization. This means the music has an element that hears as although it’s actually in the same room compared to the way hear through regular headphones. The rhythm and repetition of these beats create a stimulating environment. This can also help with cognitive issues.

Although there are some studies, there isn’t anything overly stating that Lo-Fi can be a fixer helper for mental health. LoFi music’s ability to create a calm and chilling atmosphere is something that overall can help regulate your mental health and emotions throughout work and everyday tasks.

1. Lofi Girl

2. ChillHop


Sissi Lu shares her timeless love of film photography

With all the latest advances in camera technology, there’s still a very special place in the photography community for film photographers like Sissi Lu. Sissi shows us that beauty is timeless in film and with people.

We went back, closer to basics with Sissi, and talked about her, her development, and her project, A Word to the Young. As artists and the younger generation, we have a lot of wisdom to take in from our peers

Humble beginnings…

Sissi Lu film photographer
Sissi Lu, captured on 35mm by @mos-neammanee @Img.mos

Sissi started photography in college where she originally studied music but switched visual arts after finding her passion in photography. Since then she began her journey into film photography starting with a Nikon F3 and moving onto the well-renowned Hasselblad.

With only a year of sharing her work, she gained a huge following on Instagram and a continually growing youtube channel where she vlogs photo walks and her art project a Word to the Young.

A word to the young

Sissi’s long-term project a Word to the Young archives timeless wisdom for all generations whether it’s love, money, art. The older generation has a lot of experience and wisdom to share.

In a time with a huge generational divide, Sissi bridges the generational gap to connect the younger generation with the older. 

“I thought it was so unfair for older people to want to look young, instead of embracing their age, which I think wisdom, and knowledge comes from age. I think they should be rather proud of that”

– Sissi Lu

A Word to the Young captures portraits of the older generations along with advice that stems from years of wisdom and experience. Sissi captures these portraits on film, a medium which not many photographers explore due to the technological advances of digital photography.

Each portrait is beautiful, the expression and detail encapsulate age in a magnificent way.

A word to the older generation

One of the messages emphasized in Word to the Young is teaching the younger generation to not brush away older people because of their appearance, the other message is for the older generation.

Sissi wants viewers of her art to know the beauty that comes from being older. 

“I always tell them, when I approach them that they look beautiful. I think often they have  forgotten how beautiful they are, and just how  kinda their smile is.” 

– Sissi Lu

Navigating the new network while keeping it old school

For photographers, exposure online is as important as the exposure while taking the photo.

In such a short time frame of shooting film photography and showcasing her work, Sissi has gained an impressive following with more than 27 thousand followers on her Instagram.

“Think of it [social media] as where you show your friends on the internet what you do. Keep it genuine and keep it pure. If you’re very genuine and pure, they will start liking what you do”. 

– Sissi Lu

What makes a good film photograph 

For aspiring film photographers of all generations, Sissi offers her own piece of advice. When asked the question “what makes a good photograph”, every photographer will have a subjective answer. Some may say use of light, color, or expression, for Sissi it’s about accessibility. 

“A good photograph shouldn’t take an artist’s eye to notice. A good photograph should translate to any people. The people who don’t speak your language, the people who don’t understand your story, the people who just pass by, could be young, could be old. ”

“A good photograph should translate what you mean to anyone…”

– Sissi Lu

In the description for Sissi’s YouTube channel, UNDR DVLP she says “we are always learning, and that’s what makes us underdeveloped.” As creatives and as humans in general, this is the most important piece of wisdom we need to be reminded of every day. 

Final words from film photographer Sissi Lu

pumps brooklyn

Pumps Brooklyn is back! Dancers tell us what it means to be free again

On the day before re-opening night, Pumps Brooklyn is humming with low rock through the speakers. Girls reflect off the mirrored walls as they swing around poles, or lean against the counter. Immediately upon entry into Pumps Brooklyn, it is clear: the stigma around stripping holds no weight.

Past the bar, past the fluorescent staircase, past the colorful locker room with powder and fishnets in various states of array, is the owner’s office, where Andy sits.

To the wall on his right is a calendar filled every night with the names of dancers, each handwritten. Directly behind him is a computer that controls the music, which he turns down to hear me more clearly. Outside, a sign declaring Pumps Brooklyn is back beckons, reminding the world that a return to normalcy in many respects is here.

pumps brooklyn
Brooklyn, NY — Andy and his wife Kat outside of their club (Cred: @img.mos)

“I had 80 people working here… to have 70 of them come back after a year is just unheard of,” Andy says, leaning back in his office chair and looking over at the calendar. He’s talking about the return of Pumps, the waves of people that have come back in support.

“As far as the girls go, I don’t tell them to do anything. This strip club is like no other strip club.”

Andy, Owner of Pumps
stripping stigma
Brooklyn, NY — Model Areola Grande, @Areola_Grande (Cred: @img.mos)

Pumps Brooklyn

Pumps is, in fact, like no other strip club. For one, it’s outlasted many of its competitors in its 24-year legacy along the border of Williamsburg and Bushwick.

Housed in a two-story building with a black awning on Grand Street, the “social institution,” or “strip club,” or “exotic dancing bar,” is known for its laid-back energy.

On any given night the music is an assortment of genres, “not just rock, not just hip-hop,” Andy emphasizes, gesturing with his hands, and the girls vary in their style of dancing. 

stripper stigma
Brooklyn, NY — Model Sunny, @Sunny_Sidesup (Cred: @img.mos)

Many girls have returned for the opening month, or even just opening night – partly to make some money, partly because they love Pumps.

At the bar, they hand each other bottles of water and take turns posing on the pole for a visiting photographer. They catch up with each other, talking over the music and passing a joint around.

stripping stigma
Brooklyn, NY — Model Marley Dee, @GnarlyMarleyDee (Cred: @img.mos)

Some of them, like Marley Dee, who has her shiny black hair in a deep part with one side tossed over her shoulder, have been here for eight or nine years. “This place attracts really good people,” she says, her smile sweet and posture perfect.

“The dancers are awesome, the owners are awesome; it’s like a family here.”

Marley Dee, @GnarlyMarleyDee

Pumps Brooklyn is a club of openness and welcoming authenticity

The sentiment is echoed by every dancer returning for the club’s reopening last week – because they get to wear whatever they want, because their schedule is flexible and entirely of their choosing, because they love it here.

“The girls had all their stuff here until two weeks ago; I had girls coming to pick up money from lockers that weren’t even locked and it’s still here,” Andy tells me. It is a club that has survived on an ethic of treating each other right.

pumps brooklyn
Brooklyn, NY — Model Areola, @Areola_Grande (Cred: @img.mos)

“I don’t feel forced to be outside of who I am in here,” a dancer who goes by Brandy, tells me, smoothing out their foundation in the well-lit mirror downstairs.

It is just the two of us in the locker room for a while, since she got here a little later than all the other girls because of work. “I’m a certified security guard and I have a F80 license to be a fire safety coordinator – it’s a license to have someone’s life in my hands in a burning building or an emergency.”

“But I actually work in a women’s homeless shelter. I help homeless women get off the street, help women on drugs get off the drugs to better their lives. This pandemic, I think, kind of screwed with everyone.” 

stripping stigma
Brooklyn, NY — Model Cheeky Lane, @CheekyLane (Cred: @img.mos)

I tried other clubs in Manhattan and stuff… I think I’m too much of a stoner for the city.


“Fall of 2012,” Sunny says matter of factly when I ask how long she’s been here. She blinks her doe-like eyes behind light curly hair. “Nine years,” I respond, which makes her look so surprised we both begin to laugh.

“Holy shit,” she says, “The pandemic year just makes you, you know, forget the count.”

pumps brooklyn
Brooklyn, NY — Model Sunny, @Sunny_Sidesup (Cred: @img.mos)

The club, however, is well aware of the pandemic year.

“I think my whole industry was really beat up because they weren’t eligible for any government assistance of any sorts,” Andy explains from across the desk. His look is one of exasperation.

Stripping away the stigma of stripping/dancing

It’s old news to anyone in the industry that puritan standards built into the law allow the government to avoid sending aid to sex workers or sex work businesses. There is a stigma in many places around stripping, and that stigma goes all the way up to the government.

Andy himself spent almost all his savings keeping the lights on and the phone running.

During this past year in the pandemic, he and his wife have been selling merchandise to loyal fans and sending the profits to dancers, to “keep the girls going.” Most of them, as workers in nightlife or dancing and largely due to the stigma around stripping, have been out of work for over a year.

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Brooklyn, NY — Model Bianca Dagga, @BiancaDagga (Cred: @img.mos)

“It’s really insane – a lot of my dancers didn’t get anything. They had to go back to wherever they came from – who knows why they left to begin with,” Andy says.

It shows you that you can be who you want to be and it shows you that you can do anything. [The pandemic] made me want to be bigger than I’ve ever been… And once I said I could do anything I just put my head to it.


Maneuvering around a year of uncertainty

Some dancers took to the virtual stage, showcasing talents like pole dancing or sword-swallowing. Others dipped into savings or explored options like streaming on Twitch.

One girl, who goes by Sandra, moved out of state to work and teach pole dancing somewhere the COVID-19 restrictions were not so severe. She found it hard to meet clients, however, who trusted her as a professional outside of her community in the city.

Content for platforms like OnlyFans, which involves a great deal of production like lighting and shooting, and editing, is not only less rewarding, some dancers tell me, but dangerous.

“It’s not a matter of when your content is gonna get stolen,” Sunny tells me in a slightly more serious tone. “It’s a matter of when.”

OnlyFans has no monitoring system that prohibits screen recording or sharing exclusive content. Those videos end up on a subreddit thread full of insults or attacks.

The stigma around stripping isn’t just misguided, it is extremely dangerous. On the internet is perhaps where the stigma around stripping is most pervasive, and sex workers were not protected during the pandemic.

It takes time to learn how not to overwhelm yourself, or overdo things. Sometimes, if you come out once one night a week and you fully put all of yourself out to make the money, you won’t have any energy left. And you know that you have to still work for days. You have to really learn your limits.

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Brooklyn, NY — Model Snow, @Alien.Ninja.Snow (Cred: @img.mos)

But the year did have some better moments too. Brandy made TikToks with her daughter. Another dancer by the name of Snow played video games at home in Puerto Rico. Marley Dee spent the year surfing.

Alas, Pumps Brooklyn is back

Now, for everyone’s sake, Pumps Brooklyn is reopening. Girls hug each other as they walk through the door, Andy watching over everyone at the bar.

“I was waiting for this moment the whole time,” Sandra says earnestly. “And I want to say it’s not even about making money as much as just talking with people that I’ve been working with for so long.”

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Brooklyn, NY — Model Areola Grande, @Areola_Grande (Cred: @img.mos)

Outside, cars honk as the girls pose for a photo. “We had to come inside before we caused a traffic accident,” Sunny laughs. “People are definitely excited.”

Andy is excited too, in a way that seems like an immense relief after the year he’s had in this business. “I’m looking forward to it being March 16th. There is nothing new going on here. We have the same music, same girls, same place – we’re not missing a beat.”