“Touchstones” is an interactive series in which New Yorker writers deconstruct groundbreaking works of art and culture. The format blends personal essay and cultural history. In this first installment, three music writers look back at the albums that shaped them as critics, and as people, in their formative years. Hua Hsu considers the legacy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” the 1991 release that rejected the machismo of mainstream rock and instantly made its precursors feel obsolete. Doreen St. Félix pays tribute to Missy Elliott’s “Supa Dupa Fly,” the hip-hop album so visionary in its sonic experiments and post-gender aesthetics that it seemed to arrive from the future. Amanda Petrusich remembers how Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814” made her realize, through Jackson’s genius for performance, the unifying power of movement.
“Touchstones” is the result of close collaboration between New Yorker writers and the magazine’s multimedia team; its audio, video, and interactive elements are more than ornamental—they’re integral to the story. Visitors can toggle between audio clips from “Bleach” and “Nevermind” to compare the evolution of Nirvana’s sound; watch a supercut of Jackson’s influential chair-routine choreography; swipe through songs that trace the lineage of Jackson’s idea of a “dance utopia”; play a line from Elliott’s “Work It” forward and backward to hear how she reversed her vocals in the studio; and watch an animated breakdown of instrument tracks in the iconic opening riff of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Each “Touchstones” feature makes use of the full potential of the digital medium to show us—not just tell us—about the power of art. The cross-platform experience also allows for the same level of depth and playful exploration across mobile, tablet, or desktop devices.