You should listen to Regina Spektor’s music — but only if you’re ready for a brush with genius. Wild genius, that is, skyrocketing musically through the magical, heartbreaking, infuriating, absurd journey that is life. Nothing is lyrically off limits for Spektor — no topic too grand (“Laughing With”), no predicament too small (“Dance Anthem of the 80s”) to stir her imagination. A classically trained pianist (“Après Moi”), mediocre guitarist (“That Time”), and proud immigrant to the United States — when she and her family emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1990, with support from HIAS, she was just 9 1/2 — Spektor belongs to a cadre of gifted artists (Gary Shteyngart is another) for whom American promise, Jewish otherness, Russian melancholy, and familial closeness meld in a worldview that is wise (“Samson”), joyful (“On the Radio”), and occasionally bizarre (“Pavlov’s Daughter”). Whether she’s loving on New York City (“Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”), mourning an impossible love (“Better”), parodying Second Amendment fetishism (“Uh-Merica”), dreaming up the baby boy whose clothes she’ll someday pin funkily at the beach (“Folding Chair”), or shredding the high priests of exploitation, greed, and unctuous politics (“The Trapper and the Furrier”; “Ballad of a Politician”), Regina Spektor’s America is a place we all should visit, and linger. Oh — and I hear she wrote the theme song for “Orange is the New Black.” Is it worth watching?
– Sarah Willen
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Connecticut
Who is Sarah Willen? Sarah Willen is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the university’s Human Rights Institute. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and an MPH in Global Health, both from Emory University. She is a two-time recipient of the Rudolf Virchow Prize from the Critical Anthropology of Global Health Caucus of the Society for Medical Anthropology. She is also the author of a 2019 book Fighting for Dignity: Migrant Lives at Israel’s Margins published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.