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October 17, 2017

‘Skin and Earth’ teaches us how to be our own heroes

(‘Skin & Earth Poster’ / Lights Official Website)

I had never truly appreciated the art form of comics. That is until I heard about pop singer Lights’ newest project, “Skin and Earth,” a concept album accompanied by a six issue comic, that let me see how moving comics can truly be.

“Skin and Earth” tells the story of Enaia Jin, a student of the upper class, “pink sector,” who lives in the working class “red sector,” in the last habitable part of Earth. With the upper class rapidly draining the resources of what’s left in this world, and continuing to oppress the working class, Jin tries to find solace, purpose and meaning in her surroundings.

For Lights, creating this comic/album hybrid had been a dream of her entire life. Her passion for comics has been a part of her for as long as her love for music. Through YouTube tutorials and countless hours of designing, coloring and re-drawings, Lights states it took her about eight to 10 hours to complete one page of her 150 paged comic. But teaching herself how to create the comic was only a portion of this entire project.

“Skin and Earth” consists of 14 tracks, each chapter of the comic being based around a single track. Not only did Lights create an album, but she created Instagram pages filled with Easter eggs and audio samples for her fans to find as each issue was released. Each issue that was released featured a new music video, and after releasing three issues, she released the album in its entirety. All of this work was dedicated to having her fans immerse themselves into her world, and the album.

The style of “Skin and Earth” feels like it’s almost paying homage to Lights’ entire discography, taking influences and styles that resemble some of her greatest hits from her past albums. Yet with this variety of her past influences, the album can begin to sound out of place.

Songs like “Giants” and “Skydiving” continue Lights’ bouncy, enthusiastic pop, but are juxtaposed with “Until The Light” – a breezy tropical beat love song. The tracks further contrast abruptly with tumultuous rock break up track “Savage.” This disconnect can only be resolved by reading the comics.

Listening to “Skin and Earth” whilst reading the comic gives each song a new level of appreciation. Hearing songs ahead of their issue release almost feels like a disservice to Lights’ work.

What “Skin and Earth” brings is a unique portfolio of Lights’ potential in storytelling and songwriting. She is able to create serene lullabies in songs like “Morphine,” and then counter this with songs full of rebellion and debauchery, all while trying to blend them right into her story.

With this all these different ideas and moods, many of the songs become lost. Writing a story while teaching yourself how to design a comic is difficult enough, but to find songs to perfectly fit into each scene while garnering this aesthetic is even harder, and the singer is unable to do that at times.

Some songs on the album are completely forgettable or repetitive, and can sound disappointing when put up against others – cast aside as just fillers in telling the story that may already be seen as banal.

At the surface, “Skin and Earth” seems like every post-apocalyptic world that we’ve been exposed to this past decade. It features a class divide, an oppressive government, a female protagonist with her sarcastic male love interest and an “othered” group that is faced with hardship. These clichés tell us we’ve heard this story before, yet Lights changes the script.

In every post-apocalyptic story, we see a protagonist save the day, have superpowers, end the oppressive government and then spend the rest of their lives with their love interest in a newly resolved world. However, in this world, Jin isn’t that trope, she’s simply human. The album isn’t about being the hero, but rather being your own hero, discovering who you are and finding meaning in this world.

In the world articulated in “Skin and Earth,” Jin feels lost, alone and helpless, finding no meaning in her life to keep her going. Everything is going against her and she’s desperately searching for a purpose – rather than trying to save the world, she’s more concerned with trying to save herself.

“Skin and Earth” lets us see how vulnerable Lights’ writing can be. We are able to see Jin struggle with her emptiness, while simultaneously falling in love, feeling excitement, and expressing rage. This helps those who feel a similar emptiness inside, making the story relatable.

Despite its imperfections, “Skin and Earth” remains a powerful sentiment on the meaning of life. For those who feel misguided in their own paths, Lights’ variety of tunes can still make us believe in making our lives better, even if the world around us is falling apart.

Troy Kowalchuk can be reached at tkowalchuk@umass.edu.

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