The Red Pill Blues Blues

Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro listens to the new Maroon 5 album while installing insulating plastic over all her windows.

The day Maroon 5’s new album Red Pill Blues came out, it was 35 degrees and snowing in Seattle. This is not normal for early November, and my apartment was freezing cold. The building I live in is 100 years old, and the windows panes have quarter-inch slits between them where air can get through. I had to do something about it, so I decided to tackle two birds with one stone: listen to the new Maroon 5 album from start to finish while preparing my apartment for winter by installing insulating plastic over all the windows. This was a questionable choice, as each of these tasks made the other much more unbearable.

The 15-song album drags on forever (61 minutes, to be exact), but I was determined to finish it, turning my headphones up full blast as I got out the hairdryer to shrink the plastic until it fit across my windows. Just when I was beginning to get the Red Pill Blues blues, the song “Plastic Rose” came on, with Adam Levine repeating the line, “Baby, all you gave me was a plastic, plastic.” It had a funky beat. I started to wiggle my hips a little. This song was going to get me through the next window pane. It was a suitable theme song for the mundane chore of putting up insulating window plastic, and one of the worst songs on the album. I began altering the words in my head—“Tell me how-ow-ow-ow can you shrink all that, cause winter is here”—anything to distract myself from the task at hand.

After finishing the album, I was left with little to no impression, but my apartment felt a lot warmer. Red Pill Blues is very repetitive, even for a pop album, and listening to it all the way through put me in a dark trance. I wasn’t offended by any of the songs, but I wasn’t inspired, either. I did have to wonder if the title had any association to men’s rights activism, so I looked it up. It turns out the band was not aware of the alt-right term “red pill,” which MRAs have been using to refer to people who have taken “the red pill” by coming to the realization that women are actually the more privileged gender. Maroon 5 apparently has no ties to the alt-right movement, and believe it or not, after listening to an hour of their pop garbage, I wasn’t able to decipher any kind of political stance from Levine’s lyrics. Perhaps the most controversial line on the album is a lyric from the song “Whiskey.” Levine sings, “She kissed me like a whiskey, like a whiskey.” This offends me, simply because it does not make any sense. A close second is the line, “Do you still wear that denim jacket?” from the song “Denim Jacket.” I can’t really infer anything from the lyrics on this album, except for that words are maybe not Levine’s biggest concern when it comes to songwriting.

One of my goals in listening to Red Pill Blues, besides getting all the way through it, was to find a song that could compare to everyone’s favorite Maroon 5 track, “This Love,” or another favorite: the one about the girl with the broken smile. However, none of the tracks on this album impacted me the way those two seminal songs did in the early 2000s. If I had to choose, I would say that the first track on the album, “Best 4 U,” is the most listenable. It could be because it being the first song meant I approached it with more of an open mind, but listening back, I think it’s because the beginning reminds me of a Drake song. It’s no “This Love,” but it’s an OK song.

It’s been a while since I’ve thought about Maroon 5, so after giving the new album my full attention, I had a couple of simple questions: “Are there really five of them?” and, “Do they look cool now?” The album cover answered both of those questions for me: No and no. The cover features headshots of eight different men with various Snapchat filters over their faces: dog ears, flowers, hearts, etc. I don’t recognize any of the band members except for Levine, but they all look like perfectly nice dudes.

Despite my distaste for his music, there’s always been something lovable about Levine. Perhaps it’s his supportive coaching on NBC’s The Voice, or maybe it’s the fact that when I was 11, I thought he was hot. At this point, though, I think what draws me to him is his willingness to look completely uncool. This can be seen very clearly in the music video for “What Lovers Do,” featuring SZA. The video is like a bad acid trip. It starts off with two children running through a field, butterflies chasing them. The camera pans and focuses on a CGI deer in the foreground singing the opening line, “Say, say, say, hey, hey now baby.” A smiling CGI sunflower sings the next line, “Oh my my don’t play now baby.” Now the children are running up a tree trunk towards a rainbow and a dark cloud, and in comes a singing squirrel. Fast forward several years and the two kids have transformed into Levine and SZA. They’re still in a field surrounded by butterflies, but now there is also a CGI triceratops. The video makes less and less sense as it goes on. At one point, Levine and SZA are running through the Arctic with penguins chasing them, and, next thing you know, they’re Jet Skiing with dolphins. My favorite part is when Levine becomes a giant and is terrorizing the city like King Kong. The video ends with him in the hospital, with SZA as his sexy nurse.

As easy as it is to make fun of them, I don’t hate Maroon 5. It’s hard to have any strong feelings about them. I think it’s really sweet that they started the band in high school, and they must have some redeeming qualities if artists like SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Future, and A$AP Rocky are willing to work with them. That being said, the world would be exactly the same, if not better off, if they stopped making music. I think most of us assumed they already had.

Julia Shapiro lives in Seattle and performs in the bands Chastity Belt, Childbirth and Who Is She. Chastity Belt put out their third record in June 2017 called I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone on the label Hardly Art. Some of her other interests include watching reality TV, taking long walks, petting dogs, and gossiping.