Talking to @sosadtoday’s Melissa Broder about Jeremih, internet addiction, and being a teen for life
"Someone called me irrelevant and I was like thank fucking god," reads one of Melissa Broder's most recent tweets. It's a tweet which, like all of Broder's work, contains about 10 different statements about life online in the space of very few words.
"Irrelevant" is a timeless slam that supersedes internet fame, but it's one that most people are unlikely to throw at Broder. Her massively popular @sosadtoday Twitter account (which is followed by over 300,000 people, including Katy Perry) became the seed for a new collection of personal essays, also called So Sad Today. It's gotten advanced praise from Lena Dunham, Roxane Gay, Sarah Gerard, and a whole host of other nonfiction heavyweights. Broder's also published four books of poetry, which have been excerpted everywhere from The Awl to PEN America to PANK.
The internet is a gross smorgasbord of information, and of people and accounts and pages to interact with. Anything that makes it to the cultural radar is generally a blip, unless it's got a pop star or a universally maligned politician at its center. But Melissa Broder has done a hell of a job resisting meme-ification and the brutal viral-today-"old"-tomorrow cycle of the internet. For a writer who exists solely online for a large portion of her following and for whom the circumstances of anxiety and depression in the digital age are the most urgent topics, that's no easy feat.
"Dude, sadness is universal. Sadness is not a meme," Broder told Rolling Stone when she officially came out as the operator of the @sosadtoday handle. As long as people are sad, Broder's knack for articulating sadness and finding humor in it can't be "irrelevant." If she stopped being relevant, well, as she said in her own words: "thank fucking god."
I spoke to Broder over Gchat one afternoon to get her take on the addictive game of Twitter, teens, and not writing about Drake.
Kaitlyn Tiffany: So, I read your book last week on the subway and cried very many times. It was so great! I also felt like the people next to me were maybe reading the sexting passages over my shoulder.
Melissa Broder: Did you cry because you can't believe I got a book deal out of that crap? Jk.
It was interesting to me that, for a writer who is very in tune with the internet age, you seem to stay away from pop culture references.
Yes. In my poetry I do that even more so. Like with my poetry I'm sort of a "purist." So much is time-sensitive and feels disposable that I feel compelled to use more timeless language. With So Sad Today, I felt that I had more carte blanche (just within my own mind — not from any outside forces) to use more contemporary, time-sensitive language. Like fucking on the ceiling at Costco. But I guess my desire for timelessness still comes through.
It's hard to be funny and specific and also expansive. And it's increasingly uncommon to read about the internet without a single mention of Drake.
I'd say that the book and the account are derived from the same obsessions as my poetry: sex, death, filling our existential holes, but I allow myself a bit more commercial or capitalist influences. But just because we give ourselves that doesn't mean we have to always be talking about the same five pop cultural figures.
I'd say the life and pop influences for the account are: me as a 16-year-old, me now, rejection, perceived rejection, comparing myself to other people and feeling shitty, Taco Bell, Cheesecake Factory, the desire to be popular, the desire to be cool, my struggles with anxiety and depression, my struggles with food, unrequited love, romantic longing, romantic obsession, Hot Topic, CVS, existential terror, low self-esteem, multiple breakfast cereals, Sephora, the fact that none of us really know what is going on here or what happens to us after we die.
"Twitter is my favorite source of dopamine"
I'm so glad you brought up you as a 16-year-old. As a writer, I think staying in tune with your 16-year-old fears is very important. Do you think that a lot of the account's followers are teens?
I call them the teens, but I've had 50 year old dudes be like, "Yo I love your account." So I think it is as much people who still identify as teens — like who possess a heightened sensitivity — as it was teens. But I fucking love teens. I love that everything is SO IMPORTANT to them. That's the sort of intensity I still carry within me as I move through the world, so I guess they sense that in @sosadtoday. I also think it's my discomfort with living in a body, being a human being, having other people try to control my time, the unfairness that life is not a fantasy. I haven't gotten over any of that and I think they relate.
Was there ever a moment when the follower count for @sosadtoday was ratcheting up and you started to think, "ugh no thanks bye!"?
There were a few moments when I was like whoa, this thing that I started in a dark corner of the internet to kind of save my own ass is now a "thing." One moment was when I was in the dairy aisle at Whole Foods and I looked at my feed and Katy Perry was tweeting at me. Another was when people I knew IRL started following it and they didn't know that it was me. Like, this dude I was fucking who I subtweeted a lot started following and I had to change his eyes from brown to green in my tweets.
Other than that though, I can pretty much say that the reception has not really altered the way I tweet from the account. I still need it as much as I ever did. Even now that it's no longer anonymous, I still feel safe and protected for the most part. What's changed is that I sometimes feel a little cooler than I used to when I meet people and they are fans. Like, who doesn't want fans?
The internet addiction essay in your book felt so real to me. I think Twitter can be a very addictive game for anyone who wants to write or be valued for their brains or their wit. Do you see that happen to people a lot?
I think I'm too self-centered to judge other people. One of my best characteristics, I've been told, is that I'm an accepting, non-judgmental person. But I think that's because I'm usually thinking about myself.
That is a very good characteristic probably no matter where it stems from.
You can get dopamine from a lot of places on the internet, but Twitter is my favorite source of dopamine. I've always been attracted to it organically, because words are my thing more so than images. I like the character limit. As a poet, I never understand why you would say in 100 words what you could say in five. Even if Twitter gets rid of the character limit, I'm not going over 140.
But it's 100 percent an addiction. I have crossed the line. I've gone one tweet over the line. I've gone thousands of tweets over the line. It's all over for me. But I'm not willing to recover. I don't have the willingness. The pleasure still exceeds the pain. And you need willingness to recover. So here I sit. On Twitter.
Twitter for me is more like, hip LinkedIn, I guess? I don't know if Twitter would be my first stop if I was feeling sad. What do you think draws people onto the internet when they're sad or anxious?
I think what's nice about the internet when I'm sad or anxious, or even in the deeper throes of depression and anxiety disorder, is you can be with people without having to be with people. You can connect in a way without worrying about being in public or having a panic attack in front of someone. You don't need to be clothed or bathed. In some cases, you can speak from the heart in a way that you won't necessarily be held to or judged in the same way as if people interact with you in a body. That being said, you can also be attacked with more vitriol than you might be in a body. But when I connect with an individual online I don't experience the same fear of intimacy that I might feel in spending time with a real human being, because you can kind of vanish in the experience. You don't have to be responsible for your body.
Apart from Twitter, what is your internet routine? I'm always curious about how people spend their time online.
I try to meditate for 10 minutes in the morning before I go online and am successful approximately five days out of seven days a week. I try not to go on Twitter or Facebook until noon, just to get shit done and live IRL a little before getting sucked into the swirl. That being said, Facebook holds very little allure for me. It's kind of a shithole. But Twitter, ah Twitter. I do Tumblr a little too. Also, I'm online a lot for work. When I go running I'm usually on my phone. I'm deep into Spotify and curating Spotify playlists. I also like SoundCloud.
Around 6PM I bottom out usually and take a few hours off, then I'm on it all night again.
That Jeremih album (on one of the playlists) was a kind of unexpected gift. I remember our whole office listening to it and kind of being like "where did this come from?" It's up there with the Fetty Wap album for unexpected romantic artwork of the year.
Yes. Love love that album, yes. I listened to it in December while I was running on a cliff in Santa Monica over the ocean and I already loved the singles "Oui" and "Planez," but now there was "Pass Dat" and "Impatient," and I was like: "ahhh, so much abundance in life." That feeling you feel when a bunch of great new music just falls on you. And then came the beautiful song "Paradise," which is unlike anything I had ever heard. It possesses an innocent vibe but he's singing about hitting it in the morning and narcotic smoothies so it's kind of a funny juxtaposition. And usually when people say, "It gets better," I'm like, "Yeah, okay," but I believe Jeremih. Like, "Yes, Jeremih, it is absolutely amazing that we made it."
I'll ask you a timely tech question for my last question, since this is a tech blog. Do you think you will subscribe to the new SoundCloud paid service or do you think the new SoundCloud paid service is a bad idea?
Is it bad that I didn't even know it was going to be happening?
No, not at all. They just announced it.
I am always the last to know anything. Like in high school I never knew who was hooking up. What will the cost be?
Everyone here is in a tizzy over it. It will be $9.99 per month.
Like Spotify. Hmmmm. Well, what I like about SoundCloud is what a mess it is. How you can find strange little gems. I do a mixtape every month for NewHive called "cool shit to code python or make out to." And I love finding all of the oddities. So I'm wondering what this will do to all of the cover songs and small DJs. Like will there still be infinite covers?
"what I like about SoundCloud is what a mess it is"
I think so! I think the main benefit is being able to play things offline. They probably also need to pay for the expensive label deals they just cut. What song on SoundCloud do you think has the greatest and most rewarding wealth of cover versions?
I've hoarded some Rae Sremmurd covers. I love them because every one is beautiful and different and earnest. But then I also love a good mashup of songs I don't hear that much anymore like Third Eye Blind or Led Zeppelin. Or this cheesy amazing thing. It's multiple good things in one.
It seems like SoundCloud will stay a good place. I wouldn't worry too much about the news.
Yeah, I tend not to panic about breaking news. I only panic about everything else.