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Pop Culture

Medical student becomes TikTok star for her 'awkward black girl anthem'

For Isimeme Udu, aka Hemlocke Springs, creating catchy beats that would take on a life of their own was never part of the Ivy League college plan. But here we are.

hemlocke springs

From med student to TikTok pop star.

Sometimes, life takes us on unexpected detours. One day you follow an impulse and suddenly you have a brand new purpose.

Such was the case for Isimeme Udu (who also goes by Naomi), who not only managed to become an overnight musical success on TikTok, she did it while pursuing a Master of Science degree from Dartmouth College.

Her musical persona, Hemlocke Springs, came from a random-name generator site—a strategy made famous by Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino)—and is reminiscent of pop stars with eccentric vocal stylings and bold fashion choices like Kate Bush and Marina. She jokes that people have ascribed her sound to countless genres and similar artists. If you ask her, it’s all “regular shemgular pop.”

Right now, Udu has more than 235,000 loyal followers on TikTok, something she didn’t exactly anticipate as a full-time medical student. But immediately after releasing the bridge of her then upcoming single “girlfriend,” the video amassed a million views, was used in more than 60,000 subsequent TikToks and even got the attention of Khalid, who can be seen bopping along to the catchy tune. And since the song’s release on Nov 2, it has racked up more than 9 million streams on Spotify.

Listen below, and tell me that’s not an earworm.

@hemlockesprings every time I listen to this song, I wonder was I truly sober..girlfriend comes out this Wednesday, november 2nd! Presave link in bio! Thank you so much evryone! #hemlockesprings #presavemysingle #newindiemusic2022 #newindie #newmusic #music #fyp #fyppppppppppppppppppppppp ♬ girlfriend - Hemlocke Springs

The song has on more than one occasion been called an “awkward Black girl anthem” by listeners, and Udu herself has become a role model for Black women who want to let their weirdness shine.

It has also been lovingly embraced by people on the autism spectrum, who find ecstatic release in the ultra funky beat.

@rainbowlight77711 @hemlockesprings ♬ original sound - Hemlocke Springs

Udu didn’t expect anyone to even listen to “girlfriend,” much less for it to achieve such overwhelming success. She shared in an interview with People that she would previously post a song onto her SoundCloud, then ”remove it literally one minute later." Making secret music became a habit for seven years.

When she finally decided to keep her songs up, she released a song called “gimme all ur luv,” which also caught celebrity attention from the likes of Bella Hadid and Grimes. No easy task, given the huge amount of content from aspiring artists on the platform.

@babybella777

The sandwich mentioned :

♬ gimme all ur luv - Hemlocke Springs

Though it wasn’t part of the plan, Udu is embracing her seemingly destined career as an artist. She shared with People that she has since finished out a “hellish” final semester at Dartmouth, but fully switched gears for the time being. She has signed with a record label, is working on an album and hopes to perform live one day. "I've been practicing in my room with a hairbrush," she quipped.

Hemlocke Springs, of course, isn’t the only artist to find unexpected fame on TikTok. Though the platform making music more accessible has some potential drawbacks—especially when the need for constant output and hacking the algorithm supersedes quality—it has undeniably helped people express themselves in ways that might defer from the traditional or mainstream. I mean, would this music or “goblin metal” or musical mashups of cat noises have been as widely embraced only a few years ago? I think not. And it’s a good thing that we are celebrating uniqueness. Clearly, it means a lot to a lot of people.

Also, if you’ve been looking for a sign that you should actually pursue your own weird passions—be it music or art or some kind of avant-garde gardening—this is it.

True

Music’s biggest night took place Sunday, February 4 with the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Now, fans have the opportunity to take home a piece of the famed event.

Longtime GRAMMY Awards partner Mastercard is using this year’s campaign to shine a light on the environment and the Priceless Planet Coalition (PPC), a forest restoration program with the goal of restoring 100 million trees. Music fans are 1.5 times more likely to take action to help the environment, making the GRAMMY Awards the perfect opportunity to raise awareness.

“Through our GRAMMY Awards campaign, we’ve created an opportunity for our brand, our partners and consumers to come together over shared values, to participate during a moment when we can celebrate our passion for music and our commitment to make meaningful investments to preserve the environment,” says Rustom Dastoor, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications, North America at Mastercard.

The campaign kicked off with an inspired self-guided multi-sensory tour at the GRAMMY House presented by Mastercard, where people journeyed through their passion of music and educational experience about Mastercard’s longstanding commitment to tree restoration. Then, this year’s most-nominated GRAMMY artist and a passionate voice for the environment, SZA, led the charge with the debut performance of her new song, Saturn.

Mastercard’s partners are also joining the mission by encouraging people all over the country to participate; Lyft and Sirius XM are both offering ways for consumers to get involved in the Priceless Planet Coalition. To learn more about how you can support these efforts, visit mastercard.com/forceofnature.

While fashion is always a highlight of any GRAMMY Awards event, SZA’s outfit worn during her performance of Saturn was designed to make a statement; made of tree seeds to help spread awareness. Fans can even comment ‘🌱’ and tag a friend on Mastercard’s designated post of SZA’s GRAMMY House performance for a chance to win a tree seed from the performance outfit*.

“SZA has a personal passion for sustainability – not just in forest restoration but in the clothes she wears and the platforms and partners she aligns herself with. It was important to us to partner with someone who is not only showing up big at the GRAMMY Awards – as the most GRAMMY-nominated artist this year – but also showing up big for the environment,” says Dastoor.

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The TikTok channel Mr. Kitters the Cat (@mr.kitters.the.cat) gives us a cat's-eye view of the world with a camera attached to Mr. Kitters' collar. And the result is an utterly delightful POV experience that takes us through the daily adventuring of the frisky feline as he wanders the yard.

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Scientists tested 3 popular bottled water brands for nanoplastics using new tech, and yikes

The results were alarming—an average of 240,000 nanoplastics per 1 liter bottle—but what does it mean for our health?

Suzy Hazelwood/Canva

Columbia University researchers tested bottled water for nanoplastics and found hundreds of thousands of them.

Evian, Fiji, Voss, SmartWater, Aquafina, Dasani—it's impressive how many brands we have for something humans have been consuming for millennia. Despite years of studies showing that bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water, Americans are more consuming more bottled water than ever, to the tune of billions of dollars in bottled water sales.

People cite convenience and taste in addition to perceived safety for reasons they prefer bottle to tap, but the fear factor surrounding tap water is still a driving force. It doesn't help when emergencies like floods cause tap water contamination or when investigations reveal issues with lead pipes in some communities, but municipal water supplies are tested regularly, and in the vast majority of the U.S., you can safely grab a glass of water from a tap.

And now, a new study on nanoplastics found in three popular bottled water brands is throwing more data into the bottled vs. tap water choice.

Researchers from Columbia University used a new laser-guided technology to detect nanoplastics that had previously evaded detection due to their miniscule size. The new technology can detect, count and analyze and chemical structure of nanoparticles, and they found seven different major types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

In contrast to a 2018 study that found around 300 plastic particles in an average liter of bottled water, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January of 2024 found 240,000 nanoplastic particles per liter bottle on average between the three brands studied. (The name of the brands were not indicated in the study.)

As opposed to microplastics, nanoplastics are too small to be seen by microscope. Their size is exactly why experts are concerned about them, as they are small enough to invade human cells and potentially disrupt cellular processes.

“Micro and nanoplastics have been found in the human placenta at this point. They’ve been found in human lung tissues. They’ve been found in human feces; they’ve been found in human blood,” study coauthor Phoebe Stapleton, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy told CNN Health,

We know that nanoplastics are making their way into our bodies. We just don't have enough research yet on what that means for our health, and we still have more questions than answers. How many nanoplastics does it take to do damage and/or cause disease? What kinds of damage or disease might they cause? Is whatever effect they might have cumulative? We simply don't have answers to these questions yet.

That's not to say there's no cause for concern. We do know that certain levels of microplastic exposure have been shown to adversely affect the viability of cells. Nanoplastics are even smaller—does that mean they are more likely to cause cellular damage? Science is still working that out.

According to Dr. Sara Benedé of the Spanish National Research Council’s Institute of Food Science Research, it's not just the plastics themselves that might cause damage, but what they may bring along with them. “[Microparticles and nanoparticles] have the ability to bind all kinds of compounds when they come into contact with fluids, thus acting as carriers of all kinds of substances including environmental pollutants, toxins, antibiotics, or microorganisms,” Dr. Benedé told Medical News Today.

Where is this plastic in water coming from? This study focused on bottled water, which is almost always packaged in plastic. The filters used to filter the water before bottling are also frequently made from plastic.

Is it possible that some of these nanoplastics were already present in the water from their original sources? Again, research is always evolving on this front, but microplastics have been detected in lakes, streams and other freshwater sources, so it's not a big stretch to imagine that nanoplastics may be making their way into freshwater ecosystems as well. However, microplastics are found at much higher levels in bottled water than tap water, so it's also not a stretch to assume that most of the nanoplastics are likely coming from the bottling process and packaging rather than from freshwater sources.

The reality is, though, we simply don't know yet.

“Based on other studies we expected most of the microplastics in bottled water would come from leakage of the plastic bottle itself, which is typically made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic,” lead author Naixin Qian, a doctoral student in chemistry at Columbia University, told CNN Health. “However, we found there’s actually many diverse types of plastics in a bottle of water, and that different plastic types have different size distributions. The PET particles were larger, while others were down to 200 nanometers, which is much, much smaller.”

We need to drink water, and we need to drink safe water. At this point, we have plenty of environmental reasons for avoiding bottled water unless absolutely necessary and opting for tap water instead. Even if there's still more research to be done, the presence of hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics in bottled water might just be another reason to make the switch.

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Tracy Chapman makes rare appearance to sing 'Fast Car' with Luke Combs at the Grammys

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Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs performed an epic duet of "Fast Car" at the 2024 Grammys.

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