Goapele’s ‘Closer’ Is an enduring anthem for the dreams and goals of Black women. Here’s why.

Goapele’s ‘Closer’ Is an enduring anthem for the dreams and goals of Black women. Here’s why.

OPINION: In my circle of life-embattled Black women, “Closer” has been a psalm, a hype song, an anthem of affirmation and the lyrical encouragement to keep believing in ourselves.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

It starts with a gossamer wash of instrumentation, a light plinking of chords mounting into a melody, and in seconds when the beat drops and Goapele’s ethereal voice floats atop the music, “Closer” draws its listener into its introductory magic. It would be lovely even if it just stayed right there in that rhythmic pocket. But then Goapele threads in relatable lyrics about being stuck and pushing past fears and willing her dreams to be real and the song becomes church.

Initially the title track of her 2001 self-released debut, which sold about 5,000 copies independently, “Closer” was re-released on Goapele’s 2002 followup, “Even Closer,” her first nationally distributed album. The inclusion on that record made the song a star. Two years later, Columbia Records picked up “Even Closer” to gift to a worldwide audience. I don’t remember when I first heard it. I wish I did have some poignant, the-first-time-I-heard-it memory, especially since, by glaring comparison, I can recall exactly where I was and how I responded the first time I heard “Scarred” or “Oochie Wally.”

Still, for me and several friends in my circle of life-embattled Black women, “Closer” has been a psalm, a hype song, an anthem of affirmation and the lyrical encouragement to keep believing that however marooned we are in challenges and stagnation, we’re not that far away from actualizing the extraordinary milestones and achievements we’ve been wanting and waiting to happen. That last part is especially important to sisters who’ve been denied, put on pause and otherwise dream-deferred — sometimes because of personal decisions that don’t serve us well, sometimes because of external circumstances that complicate our goal-reaching and dream-chasing but always compounded by systemic -isms and impediments.

This is the time of year, now that much of it has passed, when we start evaluating the wins and losses from the stretch of previous months behind us. Normally, we reflect on accomplishments from this year to shape the ones we expect to check off in the next. But these have not been normal times, and for those of us who were already getting impatient about the slow pacing of our personal achievements, the pandemic has made realizing dreams that much more Sisyphean and labor-intensive.

Once upon a time, I was a voracious vision boarder and compulsive goal-setter. Every New Year’s Eve, I’d buy a crisp piece of white poster board and sit in lotus pose on my bedroom floor to handwrite a massive to-do list — complete with color-coded categories in marker — for the upcoming year. And every year, when I didn’t complete enough of the items to allow myself to feel proud of what I did do, I’d harangue myself with merciless self-comparison and perfectionism, and subject myself to an audit of the regrettable choices that could have maybe possibly contributed to my delay. It’s hard to be a dreamer in arrested development, waiting for the fruition of things long worked, desired and hoped for to unfold in a magical timeframe. I never felt like I’d done enough to get to where I wanted to be so I, as a whole, never felt like enough.

Last year, in a study of more than 1,400 representative Black women and gender-expansive professionals, researchers Ericka Hines and Mako Fitts Ward discovered that 88% are sometimes, often or always burned out because of work. Sixty-five percent reported a lack of personal time and 75% said they sometimes, rarely or never have the energy to spare when they get home. Another report, “Women in the Workplace,” found that not only is burnout escalating much faster among women than men, one in three women have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce altogether.

(L-R) Goapele and H.E.R. perform together on Day 2 of the 2021 Lights Up Music Festival at Concord Pavilion on September 19, 2021 in Concord, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage)

The last two years have taught us many lessons, and the one I remind myself of regularly, especially as the world races to catch up on lost time and money, is to recognize the pressure to perform for the mirage that it is. I still set goals, but I’m not as obsessive about them. If they’re truly meant for me to accomplish, they’ll still be accomplishable if I snatch two hours from my day to watch a movie with the husband I at one time had stopped believing I would meet or block off an afternoon to visit a museum instead of laboring in front of my laptop screen.

There was a too long period of my life when I sacrificed 12, sometimes 14 hours a day to the matrix of the hustle, trying to achieve, achieve, achieve. But busyness — the kind that tries to make me feel like I’m doing something essential to fulfilling my dream when I actually hit my productivity high note hours ago — can be an illusion of time that compromises my ability to be present when it really matters and save some of my best self to invest into the people and activities that create joy.

I don’t know where Goapele was in her own litany of goals or all the dreams she was trying to breathe life into when she wrote “Closer.” But she gifted her fellow Black girls a source of empowering inspiration when she did. When life has been too weighty and difficult, my best friend and I have played that song during tearful phone calls and held the receiver up to the speaker to make sure whoever needed the message that day really heard it. My friends have texted each other YouTube links to the “Closer” video before major business meetings and job interviews, just to lessen the urgency of the moment and remind each other that, no matter what happens right now, an indubitable blessing is in fact on the way. For a while, it was even my ringtone — back when downloading ringtones was a thing — to keep my own spirits lifted when a bill collector or other bearer of bad news might have been on the other end of a call.

Twenty years after it was inducted into the neo-soul canon, “Closer” is always a beautiful, musical reminder that the dreams of Black women are heard and granted by a God who is endeared to our tenacious belief in time, faith and ourselves.

Janelle Harris Dixon is a freelance writer, journalist and editor in Washington, D.C. covering the intersections of race, gender, culture and class.

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The post Goapele’s ‘Closer’ Is an enduring anthem for the dreams and goals of Black women. Here’s why. appeared first on TheGrio.

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Goapele’s ‘Closer’ Is an enduring anthem for the dreams and goals of Black women. Here’s why.

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