I didn’t know who Farrah Abraham was until a friend posted, in amazement, that she’d made an incredibly bizarre pop album in 2012. I had to look up why it was so astonishing that she’d done this, and I found out about her, her stints on 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, the death of the father of her child, the horrendous life of sexual abuse and addiction she’s experienced since. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d gone in blind because then I could experience My Teenage Dream Ended, which is one of the oddest and most unique things I’ve ever heard, free of context.
I initially assumed My Teenage Dream Ended was an attempt at making chart pop music that went horribly, horribly wrong. Here are some of the facts about the album. The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness rants that make no rhythmic sense within the music and are just barely arranged into things resembling verses and choruses. The Auto-Tune is some of the most extreme I’ve heard, as mind-bending as anything from Atlanta’s rap avant-garde, and the arrangements among the most unconventional. It doesn’t sound like pop at all and instead evokes things like PC Music, the first Crystal Castles record, Atari Teenage Riot, even Xiu Xiu.
Abraham is a famous person, and famous people who don’t normally make music tend to make pop music that coasts on their names (I’ve heard Paris Hilton’s album is solid). That’s why I think this music might have been gunning for airplay but made with such a minimal idea of what makes chart music works it ended up sounding avant. But this assumption is also colored by the fact that she’s a celebrity synonymous with “celebrity,” the kind invoked to illustrate “what’s wrong with society,” someone who got famous just for having a kid young and not for the “talents” on display on her record. She’s a pop figure, so why wouldn’t she try to be a pop star?
But why couldn’t she also, though, have a thing for Hippos in Tanks records? She lives in Austin, one of the biggest hipster hubs on earth, and might have a taste for the artier and dangerous side of art pop. She’s a pop figure, and it’s safe to assume most of the folks who tune into Teen Mom aren’t listening to the erudite shit this music evokes. But then again Kesha is a fan of Pere Ubu and Matmos. There’s no good reason why Abraham couldn’t have patrician taste.
So I’m going to give Abraham the benefit of the doubt and suggest that maybe this was all on purpose. Frederick M. Cuevas, who produced this thing, makes pretty solid SoundCloud beats that are clearly the work of someone who knows musical forms intimately — and the production is filled with smart referential touches, like the acid 303s on “The Sunshine State” or the Kill Bill siren on “Caught in the Act” (this was three years before Future blew everyone’s minds with it on Dirty Sprite 2). And the related artists on Spotify are all art-world freaks: Oneohtrix Point Never, James Ferraro, Xiu Xiu, Boredoms, fucking Merzbow. Could she be inspired by these people?
Seen as a chart record, My Teenage Dream Ended would be a disaster. But it actually hits a lot of the marks we associate with “good music.” You can’t accuse this shit of not being “authentic.” The emotions Abraham bares on this album are so raw they’re uncomfortable, even if you didn’t know her story or suspect a lot of these lyrics probably deal with her child’s father — who died in a crash eight months into her pregnancy. Like 808s & Heartbreak and Smile From The Streets You Hold, this is the kind of album where quality control is secondary to the artist getting as much of their psyche down on wax as possible. Words like “cathartic” and “exorcism” apply.
Here’s a sampler of some of what she sings on here. “I had so many other days planned for you/I still looked forward to talking to you/I still pictured us together, you and I forever” — sung through what sounds like sobs on “The Phone Call That Changed My Life”. From “On My Own”: “My hopes have dropped, my sadness flares, my anger is my power, my heart just stares.” And contradictions repeated endlessly to herself. “I don’t wanna make more mistakes, I still need to make more mistakes.” “I wanna be alone… not really, not really, not really.” The opening line of the album is “I can only put so much in a song,” but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t try to fit it all in.
Abraham calls music a “hobby” rather than a career move, and if anything’s clear about My Teenage Dream Ended, it’s that it was made on Abraham’s own terms. Even if she’s not “talented” in the rockist sense, she has a vision, and what she’s done on My Teenage Dream Ended is bolder than what a lot of artists ever do. This is one of the few albums about being a specific celebrity — think Purpose, Beyoncé, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band — that doesn’t sound to some extent like PR. Bieber must be miserable too, though most of his misfortune seems to have come about through his own pig-headedness. He wanted us to forgive him on Purpose, to love him. It seems Abraham just wants to vent and hopes someone will hear.
People have. Though criticism of My Teenage Dream Ended was violent when it came out, it had its defenders, and more recently, Mathew Lee Cothran of Elvis Depressedly and Coma Cinema has been lauding it in interviews (a track on his new Judas Hung Himself In America is titled “Farrah Abraham”). It may very well become a cult classic — let’s hope not as something to be mocked but as one of the rawest, strangest, most interesting pop records ever made.
Catch up on Dog-Doo With Daniel.