This song is for those of us who are desperate for reasons to keep believing.
Will Adams: One of the more frustrating takeaways from the recent U.S. election was, “Hey, at least we’ll get some great protest music out of this, right?” First, the promise of sweet tunes doesn’t even begin to offer any consolation to the many people who faced an amplified hatred not even 24 hours after Trump won. Second, it presupposes that protest music, and by extension all political music, is merely reactionary when it is in fact a part of an ongoing struggle. “I Know a Place” was written in 2015, before Trump, before Pulse, in the midst of that struggle. Inspired by an event, yes, but more so a culmination of living life afraid, of hiding, of dealing with the myopia of people who think our self-hatred is innate and not the direct result of a society telling us to hate ourselves. The sweetest surprise of “I Know a Place” is how celebratory it is. Its gleaming synthpop reminds me of Betty Who’s “Somebody Loves You” both in its sonic references and its sheer joy in the face of pain (“lay down your weapon” still causes a lump in my throat). Every word feels like the truth, and even though it checks its own idealism (“…even if it’s only in our imagination”), the song is determined to unite us together to reach that place. MUNA don’t offer escape, they offer refuge. “I Know a Place” is a song we need right now, but it’s also a song we always needed.
A.J. Cohn: I cried listening to this, comparing the imagined future Katie Gavin sings about in which trauma survivors and queer people will all finally be safe, to the reality of what’s to come in 2017, and beyond. Especially in these times, art with this kind of radical future vision is vital and politically necessary. On this kind of thinking José Esteban Muñoz wrote in the introduction to his book Cruising Utopia, “Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.” I love that the dreamed of place this song envisions is that of club, of the purple line, of drinking cheap wine with friends–that it is (to borrow terms from Muñoz) communal, concrete, and ecstatic. For as he writes in the close-reading of The Magnetic Fields’ “Take Ecstasy With Me” with which he closes his book, “Taking ecstasy with one another, in as many ways as possible, can perhaps be our best way of enacting a queer time that is not yet here but nonetheless always potentially dawning.”
Katherine St Asaph: The message is sound if you dance; the song is synth-Lumineers syncbait with horrific faux-Caribbean stylings.
Mo Kim: The last few weeks at home have been hard, so it figures I’d be writing this blurb at 4:30AM on the way to the airport; it feels a little liberating to know that in just a few hours I’ll be back in a place where, for all my other reservations, I feel more comfortable than I’ve ever felt with family. In the same way, this feels quietly euphoric in how it connects dancing to a sense of home, a peace you can’t name but can feel in your limbs. Where the year behind us has been anything but peaceful for queer folks, MUNA ask us not to lose our power to imagine where we could be. Don’t you be afraid of love and affection, they remind us; these may be the very things that save us.
Claire Biddles: It’s difficult to believe in the hollow promises of ‘love wins’ rhetoric. Holding hands and trying to understand feels futile in the face of threat that increases every day. Maybe “I Know a Place” feels so hopeful because it doesn’t claim to have definitive, universal answers. It doesn’t tell you what to do to feel better, to feel hopeful, to feel like love and community and friendship is possible in a world that’s filling up with decay. It offers a gentle hand, an empathetic voice of experience, and a suggestion. It shows you how you can find your own answers. It gives you space. It offers you possibility. MUNA understands both the physical comfort of dancing and the symbolic importance of the club as sanctuary. And it’s this meeting of the physical and the intellectual that makes it sublime — lines like “baby a bruise is only your body trying to keep you intact” are obviously astonishing, but they’re transformed by the physicality of dancing. I can barely listen to “I Know a Place” without feeling tears in my eyes and I feel less alone when I listen to it. It’s perfect.
Alfred Soto: Queer artists understand the politics of dancing. My favorite single of 2016 was by a singer-songwriter who looked back upon his life without a sense of shame. But “I Know a Place” has intentions and no destination: the tempo is leaden, the vocal uncertain. Possibly a partisan will say, “Well, that’s the point — there is no safe place.”
Nellie Gayle: If you’re queer, so much of music from “allies” can come off as trite or cloying. The tearful wishes for equality come across as sly invitations for compliments on the straight, cis person’s “compassion.” So it can be easy to resort to queer narratives that are ultimately buried in pain or quiet, uneasy reflection. “I Know A Place” occupies a singular space because it encompasses every aspect of the experience — both pain and rebellion. Its reverberating synths and pops and jammy hooks aren’t there to tell you it’ll be alright, but rather to offer what most queer people see as the last refuge after events like Orlando — a few simple moments of joy and defiant love for your identity. “Somebody hurt you,” lead singer Katie Gavin croons, “but you’re here by my side. . . .Somebody hurt me / But I’m staying alive.” To exist as wholly, unapologetically queer is equally terrifying and exhilarating, and there’s no single song, lyric, or quote that can solve the myriad of ways people will try to stamp you out. Reality is brutal, and the best salve isn’t pure pop escapism that ignores your daily struggle with a catchy hook and chorus. You need messages that can gradually and gently help you dismantle the forces that would have you shrink. “Lay down your weapons,” Gavin’s voice insists. It’s not a plea for acceptance. It’s a rallying cry for anyone whose hurt has calloused them against the world, and a reminder that vulnerability is your greatest weapon of all.
Peter Ryan: It’s one thing for MUNA to make a lyrical play for the euphoria of guzzling down some cheap booze and jumping on transit to go to the club; it’s another to so viscerally manifest the frenzied anticipation balled up in the feeling, their kitchen sink of percussion effects powered by the energy of the night’s potential. It’s something else entirely to twist that euphoria around a tragic core that threatens to bust loose and overwhelm, to grudgingly acknowledge how fucking dire it all really is (“even if it’s only in my imagination”), and then turn around and bring it home as a preternaturally-gleeful-but-never-glib rallying cry, chorus vocals multitracked like the whole dancefloor is backing them up. World-building pop at its best.