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The Catharsis of Beyoncé’s Kobe Bryant Memorial Performance

The singer captured the grief of a city at Staples Center on Monday

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Every week, Micah Peters surveys the world of music—from new releases to bubbling trends to anniversaries both big and obscure—and gives a few recommendations.

It’s a strange thing to experience an entire city in mourning.

If you never have, you can imagine it, and maybe I’m imagining, too: The streets are quieter, the small talk is just a little more dour. There’s an aimlessness you can feel, like everyone is grasping at some irretrievable normalcy, trying to make sense of the world with a new, pronounced absence in it. On the morning of January 26, a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi Bryant, and seven others to a youth basketball tournament crashed short of its destination, on a hillside in Calabasas. Kobe was 41. Gigi was 13. Everyone onboard was too young, taken too randomly.

It has been a month since the crash, and figuring out exactly how this tragedy has marked us has not been easy. I’ve been thinking about a brief scene in Muse, Bryant’s 2015 documentary, when he reveals he learned to go coast-to-coast by watching John Battle do it. When Kobe’s father Joe moved the family to Italy to pursue a basketball career overseas, Kobe would while away afternoons watching NBA games on VHS tapes his aunt sent him in care packages from the States. The story typifies Bryant as an academic, not just because he was devouring tape even in his lonely, tender years, but because Battle was a forgettable fourth-round pick who averaged 8.7 points per game for his 10-year career.

The story also typifies the connection between fan and athlete, on its purest, most fundamental level. I mean the recognition of some part of yourself—whether it be just the color of your skin, or your hopes, or your dreams—in a person you’ve mostly experienced through television. The base feeling that says not only that person is representing me out there, but also, I want to be like that person, representing me out there. I feel it’s really important to stress here that I was not one of them; I was a Jordan person, an Iverson person, a LeBron person. But like millions of people born since 1990, I’ve known who Kobe was since I could tell primary colors apart on a TV. He was one of the most famous famous people for 20 years, which means he was everything, to everyone, at some point or another. He was the stone the entire league dashed their foot against. He was Brandy’s prom date. He was a truly bad rapper. He was the irascible veteran storming out of practices, the on-camera talent selling parents on the idea of negging their children to greatness. He was a cipher for the entertainment industry as a whole, an object lesson in how many on-court accomplishments our skepticism was worth. He was a girl dad. He was evolving all the time. This is one reason grieving him has been complicated.

The other is that grief itself is complicated, a heavy morass of pretty much every emotion and memory and belief you possess, stretching on for an undetermined period of time. Getting through it takes boring, pain-in-the-ass effort, so it tends to pile up like laundry or dishes, or build up in your emotional faculties like gunk, or crust over your eyes like sleep.

This has been a long walk to say that I finally felt whatever it was begin to break apart on Monday morning, when Beyoncé took the stage at the Staples Center to open Bryant’s homegoing service. The two go back to when they were both teenagers plotting world domination: Kobe played pick-up ball with Mathew Knowles on the set of Destiny’s Child’s “Bug a Boo” video in 1999, he added a verse to the “Say My Name” remix. But his favorite song of hers, Beyoncé said, was “XO,” from her 2013 self-titled album. The album recording of the song has zooming synths and hard snares and feels big enough to fill an entire stadium, and though it did, in that moment, during ESPN’s special broadcast, it was reverent, personal. It shook something loose, and I cried like I hadn’t yet—I cried because a helicopter crashed with nine people inside of it, and that’s sad. I cried because the chorus, sung as it is, begins low and reassuring, swelling into a big cushiony hug, and that’s beautiful.

Just before she started singing, after she’d waited out the applause, Beyoncé’s eyes warmed into a smile: “I love you,” she said. It was definitely for someone specific in the front row, but it was for all of us, too.

Now for some recommendations:

“Invincible,” Pop Smoke

Pop Smoke was killed in the early hours last Wednesday morning during a home invasion; he was born in 1999. The earliest post on his Instagram is from April 2019: It’s a Triller post of the would-be Brooklyn drill impresario and his friends dancing to his breakout hit “Welcome to the Party” in an empty apartment. He’s wearing a backpack.

His voice was charred by fronto leaf, and felt huge even at its softest, so it was easy not to consider how young he was. But there were reminders everywhere: In an interview a few months later he talked about making music for kids that have beef, for whom the whichever-train is functionally international waters, but who “still gotta get [their] diploma for [their] mom.” Their high school diploma.

“Rag Top Love Affair,” Curren$y

Curren$y and Thelonious Martin make music that sounds like a movie within a movie. “Rag Top Love Affair,” the third song on the pair’s recently released 3 Piece Set, has the soft poolside haze of the infomercial from Inherent Vice where Josh Brolin in a hippie Afro wig and mirrored aviators tries to sell you a unit in a housing development off of Artesia Blvd.

“(Don’t Let The Dragon) Draag On,” King Krule

King Krule has been framing the title of his newest album Man Alive! as an exasperated reaction to the current political moment, but he’s also about to get a new line on his forehead—in the time since 2017’s The Ooz, Archy Marshall became a father. And you know what they say about fatherhood: It’s incredibly easy and super simple. Totally impossible to fuck up. “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On” has been around for awhile; it was the lead single. But the misery and confusion of it didn’t really set in until I heard the song in the context of the album, even though he burns himself at the stake in the video: “But it seems to grip more everyday / walls get taller / I self-medicate.”

“GTA Lyfestyle,” Young Nudy

Think of Nudy and Playboi Carti as belonging to the same genre of music that builds itself around a certain kind of 808-driven beat that rolls in quirks other trap-leaning stuff might not. Nudy has been rapping over the weirdest stuff, like whatever is coursing beneath “GTA Lyfestyle,” from this past Friday’s Anyways—it sounds like a Mario Bros. mod that lets you platform in an armored tank.