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Rachel Bloom: musical comedy and spot on feminism

The day I fell in love with Rachel Bloom was actually the first time I ever heard anything from and about her. I was just  in the process of getting over my ex-boyfriend, so, naturally, I was looking for new music for my sad “I’m-over-you-and-I’m-not-sad-at-all” playlist to listen to on an infinite loop. I ran out of options quickly so, as any other lonely guy would do, I searched for songs with the word “dick” on their name and, without realizing, I was rapidly blasting “Pictures Of Your Dick”, by the one and only Rachel Bloom, non-stop. Little did I know that finding this merry tune will be just the tip of the iceberg on my quest to understand and embrace the numerous ways she navigates with her comedy.

For those who hadn’t had the joy of knowing Rachel Bloom, let me break it down for you. She is a comedian who started her career by doing musical comedy on Youtube (Please, don’t miss the opportunity to go to her channel to take a look of what’s she’s capable of) and now she’s the creator, writer and protagonist of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend TV show, which recently was renewed for a third season.

She is a feminist who uses musical comedy to make a point and to take a stand on what she really believes in. So, in order to understand her comedy, you will need to see it as a criticism and a satire of the society’s actual state.

The clever ways she  balances her feminism in perfect unison with her comedy is, actually, her greatest statement of all; in fact, Rachel Bloom’s best asset is her particular way she uses the deconstruction of tropes, and social constructs, as strong arguments against sexism. Traditional gender roles and moral values are just some of the topics she likes to toy with on a daily basis.

Rachel Bloom sees society as a one big musical. A staging where the performers live by the narratives they taught themselves to believe in in order to follow the rules the script has laid upon them. A play where some tropes could be just as harmful as labels, but that can also be subverted in the same way.

You will only need to take one glimpse on her trajectory to find three subverted tropes that are present consistently on all the things she does: The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Disney Princess and The Party Girl. Her most famous yet is, and thanks to her TV show, the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This particular trope is pretty complex by itself, not only because it comes from a blatant sexist background, but because women are often labeled with it. You might have heard about this one before, it stems from the outdated idea that women are just emotional individuals that keep making rushed choices with their heart and not with their minds. So, by acting on it, they will always be reduced to this one-note characters that will probably be obsessed with the dudes they had a relationship with.

Rachel Bloom, on the other hand, makes the most of it by really going along with it. She constantly mocks this particular trope by going the extra mile by granting all these particular characteristics to her main character of the show, Rebecca Bunch (played, obviously, by her): she basically moves to her ex-boyfriend’s hometown in order to get back with him, but she’s convinced that that’s not the reason she changed cities.

Rebecca is obsessive, irrational and stubborn. She’s the best caricature of the trope we can get. That’s what’s really enthralling of the show, her character is so exaggerated and over the top that it becomes really easy to deconstruct it in order to identify the flaws behind it. That’s how Rachel Bloom rolls, by exaggerating the stereotype and waiting for the cracks to show.

Her Crazy Ex-Girlfriends are often saying to themselves, and to others, what men would like to hear in order to get back with them, after all, they are hopelessly in love and  very devoted to the man they love. It’s common that they have a really low self-esteem and their personality, and core identity, varies from man to man. They even upload pictures of their ex-boyfriend’s dick online as a form of personal vendetta.

With only two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in, we are able to understand, as the audience, that women that are labeled as the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are, in fact, often constrained by all the high and sexist standards that society have placed on them from the very beginning.  In a certain way, they just acts on it.

Women have to be sentimental — and not tough—, because the gender role they have to fulfill demands them to be like that, but only in small doses and without being too loud, because, without any kind of supervision, it could probably transform into an obsession or, even worst, a direct attack against our very fragile masculinity.

The Disney Princess trope comes right from the same place. Society will always tell us that, in order to have a happy life, women have to become wives, not Crazy Ex-Girlfriends,  and the best way to do it is by drawing the attention of a Prince Charming by being feminine, elegant, selfless and sentimental. That’s why Rachel Bloom’s subversion of this trope is so delicious. Her Princesses are everything but what society likes to call “ladylike”. They like to curse while their sing, and they will certainly talk about poop and menstrual cramps without any decorum. They are, at the end of the day, regular human beings, not impossible standards to achieve.

The Party Girl has her origins on the darkest corner of masculine heterosexuality: the fantasies. This stereotype wants women to be sexy, sensual and carefree but without losing any trace of femininity and elegance. This particular trope can be very contradictory by itself, it asks women to be kind of slutty but without losing her prstine image or any respect from the others, especially from herself. You can also find this girl in any party waiting to woo over some random dudes.

In Rachel Bloom’s world, the Party Girl sings at the club about dying from cancer, throwing up a bile, threatening someone’s girlfriend to kill her and use her skin as a dress, or even flying her dirty panties as a kite, all of that whilst using a revealing outfit. As you can see, she’s anything but sexy.

This is what we really need right now, someone who is willing to use her platform to make strong statements about important topics visible,  with creative methods that can help people understand them in a more accesible way. Rachel Bloom is already getting ahead of everybody.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Or how to do a great musical sitcom.

It’s well known that cinema and television have been blended since the dawn of entertainment -figuratively speaking-, to produce all sorts of musical theatre adaptations.  Nowadays, we’re pretty much used to watch musical numbers  on TV and on big screens.

From Barbra Streisand to  Idina Menzel, ‘Glee’ to ‘Smash’  -even a special musical entry on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’- we’ve seen a handful of musical stories, lovely voices and passionate lives grow, and thrive, in order to enthrall TV and film audiences.

For a musical theatre fan, as myself, musicals aren’t just a tawdry representation of a bunch of people bursting out in a song for no good reason. No, musicals are more than this. They are the most utter depiction of our exhilaration to feel and express something so big that simple words can’t. Music makes us feel the same way feelings make us think about music. Music and feelings are forever linked.

Just think about every broken heart you’ve lived. Every laughter. Every promotion. Every downfall in your life. I bet there is a song that reminds you of it. And that’s fine. That’s the most human thing to do.  Musicals delves into this very idea.

So, you could imagine how excited I was when I’ve heard that The CW was going to produce a musical-themed TV show starring  Rachel Bloom (Youtube musical geek). I was literally screaming to the TV out of excitement. And, dear lord, was I right about it.

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ narrates the life of Rebecca Bunch, a twenty-something lawyer living in New York. She, as any other musical theatre fan, likes to see everything behind a musical lense. So, when her ex-boyfriend Josh reappears in her life only to tell her he’s moving away the next day to a city on California named West Covina (only 2 hours from the beach; 4 with traffic!), she, naturally, decides it’s a great idea to do so. Whilst singing a song.

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From Rebecca’s point of view, every decision she makes is not (at all!) related to the fact that she’s still in love with Josh (at all!). Therefore, abandoning everything from her previous life to start a new one, in a city that she barely knows, it’s a totally plausible  thing to do within the context of her contrived yearning to do some changes in her life. The fact that her ex-boyfriend lives in the same city is just a simple (and very convenient) coincidence.

Thus, understanding this premise, we have the privilege to see through her life’s behind the scenes. Where  everything it’s perfectly (and wonderfully!) fine whilst all her cracks are hidden behind a riveting facade of happines and (false) confidence embedded with her constant need of self-deprecation.

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You see, Rebecca needs to sing in order to convince herself she’s doing the right thing; to assure  she has control over her life. Her constant need to burst out in a song is the only way she can accept the woeful reality upon her constantly smashing into her face. Singing is her way to become bystander of her own life. And that’s really the beauty of it. Music in ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ allows us to learn more about her than any other aspect of the show.

Rebecca sings about the smiling skies of West Covina whilst “this guy Josh” also happens to live there. At the same extent, she serenades her sweet “girl crush” on Josh’s girlfriend whom she only wants to lock in the basement with a soundproof wall and take over her identity.

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The introvert quirky lawyer, who doesn’t sings on a daily basis, is that part of Rebecca that everybody in the show knows. Not the real one. Her cracks won’t be visible to us until she (or any other person) start to sing out of nowhere. It’s really in that moment when we can quite see through her insecurities, fears, hopes and dreams. That’s when we’re allowed to poke around her mind.

Rebecca isn’t different from any of us, really. Whereas we all use all sort of mechanisms, to some extent, to run away from our realities and problems, she draws uppon music and long colorful sequences to quench all her demons. And on that precise moment is when we, as an audience, are capable to see  that the show is really hitting the bull’s-eye.