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Wealth, insecurity, and…partying? Articulate’s season 3 premieres with Andrew W.K. and Lauren Greenfield.

Featured Artists

Lauren Greenfield
Lauren Greenfield

Lauren Greenfield is an admired photographer and filmmaker whose work considers our obsessions with money and appearance.

Greenfield was born in Boston in 1966. She completed a degree in visual and environmental studies at Harvard University and worked as a photographer for National Geographic. Photos in her first book, Fast Forward (1997), documented consumerism and status among teens in Los Angeles, where she grew up.

She earned an Emmy nomination for her first feature-length documentary, THIN (2006), which followed four women with eating disorders. She received an award for directing at Sundance Film Festival for The Queen of Versailles (2012) about a couple building a massive house at the height of the financial crisis. Her 2014 Super Bowl ad for a feminine care company, which reconsidered what it meant to do something “like a girl,” was viewed over 85 million times on YouTube.

The acclaimed film Generation Wealth (2017) considered affluence and aspiration in contemporary society. Like many of Greenfield’s projects, it also toured to museums as a large-scale art exhibition.

Andrew W.K.
Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. is an internationally famous rock singer often billed as the “God of Partying” and an admired motivational speaker and advice column writer.

Born Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier in Stanford, CA, in 1979, he began to study music at age 4 and joined his first band at age 14. In 2000, he released the EP Girls Own Juice, his first record using the Andrew W.K. moniker. The following year, he found international success with his debut album I Get Wet. The single “Party Hard” from that LP reached the UK top 20. His followup, The Wolf (2003), was also a success in the United States and elsewhere. His music is recognized for its hard rock sensibilities, with elements of metal, post-punk, and classic rock. He released his fifth album, You’re Not Alone, in 2018.

In 2005, W.K. was invited to give a lecture at New York University, beginning a second career as a self-help speaker; his 2016 speaking tour The Power of Partying included stops in all fifty states. He has also written advice columns in The Village Voice, Vice, and Japanese magazine Rockin’ On.


  • Stage & Screen
  • Art & Design
Lauren Greenfield’s Wealth of Ideas
Documentarian Lauren Greenfield has spent decades studying what our culture values.
Season 3, Episode 1
Lauren Greenfield’s Wealth of Ideas
  • Music
Andrew W.K.: The Life and Soul of the Party
Andrew W.K. defies conventional definitions of partying.
Season 3, Episode 1
Andrew W.K.: The Life and Soul of the Party


…On this episode, conventional wisdom would have it that partying is all about debauchery. Andrew W.K. respectfully disagrees.

Andrew W.K: It’s a foundation. An attitude foundation that hopefully gives you the chance to explore all that life has to offer. And that attitude is a celebratory enthusiasm. For getting to exist at all.

Too many of the things we value as social currency do little to improve our lives. Tori Marchiony discovers that this tension is at the heart of much of photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield’s work.

Lauren Greenfield: It’s about our aspiration, our striving.

That’s all ahead on Articulate.

Andrew W.K. was raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At age four, he began learning piano at the University of Michigan School of Music. His formal studies continued through high school, but along the way, he connected with rock ‘n’ roll in a way that would define the rest of his life.

Andrew W.K.: I wanted to feel better about life. And the thing that made me feel better, consistently and reliably, was music—and not just any kind of music, but a music that was focused on an extraordinarily kind of high physical energy.

In 2001, Island Records released his debut album, I Get Wet. But, for all its apparent violence and hedonism, buried inside the record and its hit single “Party Hard” was a deeply held philosophy. For Andrew W.K., partying is an attitude.

W.K.: The attitude is one of optimism, one of courage, one of, I’d say, humility. But most of all, one of gratitude, a celebratory enthusiasm for getting to exist at all.

AJC: Well, the intention is to liberate the people who are in front of you.

W.K.: You want to feel like being alive is a good thing. That’s what I want to feel, without doubt. Or we push that doubt, like, that says “Maybe it wasn’t good to be born, so far away, that it is just a mental consideration. It’s just an intellectual exercise.” But the physical truth is that you wouldn’t be able to feel this good if you weren’t meant to exist in order to feel it. I want to feel that way, even if for just a glimpse. And then I can go back into the puzzling, and pondering, and debating whether I should have been born or not.

AJC: And that’s the “partying hard.”

W.K.: That is, between those two states. If you can embrace that—the dichotomy—and see that entire battle, or that entire negative/positive wrestling match as being contained within a transcendent kind of beauty—that the whole thing counts—that’s the triumph, I think. Now again, you can think this, but to actually feel that way, that’s a daily effort.

AJC: If we accept that, to some extent, we’re all going to all have valleys and mountains in order to have an understanding of the opposites, how miserable do you get versus how joyful you get?

W.K.: It’s a consistent misery.

AJC: Really?

W.K.: An unjustified, irrational sadness that is so familiar. But you know, just these past few days, I was thinking, “Oh, it’s lifting.” But then I think, “Well, I’ve thought this before.” There’s a core feeling that I can almost taste, that’s been there for as long as I can remember. So every thought was decorated with this type of dread that something really horrible was about to happen, that I couldn’t figure out what it was. And something really horrible had already happened, and I couldn’t remember what it was. But that was also a very motivating kind of feeling because I created an urgency, and I’d say a useful anxiety, that I was not at ease. So you had to do something to try to find peace. And so that’s why I’m doing anything at all. Or maybe, you know, I’d like to think I would do things if there wasn’t that bad feeling. But maybe that bad feeling is the best thing to ever happen to me, so how can I call it bad?

AJC: Well, there is that old idea that, you know, great art can only come out of great misery, right?

W.K.: Yeah, but I don’t like that idea so I don’t want to believe in these things because it romanticizes it, and then it seems to start to encourage it. I accept it. I accept it.

AJC: Have you ever thought about, well, either pharmacologically or otherwise medicating your way out of it?

W.K.: I’ve tried various things. I wasn’t good at those too much, either. Nothing has worked better than partying. And nothing has worked better than music. That is the most therapeutic.

AJC: And does it happen every time you get on a stage, that you are lifted out of this?

W.K.: In a way.

AJC: Yeah?

W.K.: In a way.

AJC: There are degrees of it?

W.K.: Yeah, but I was just saying the other day that, I’d say, 99 out of a hundred shows, I feel like I had a bad show. But that one out of a hundred that is good, it feels really good, because I can tell that that was different than every other not-so-good show. And, of course, you ask the audience, and they’ll think that your worst show was the best show they’d ever seen you play. And they’ve seen you play 10 times, so it’s not about you. It’s not about what you might think. I mean, I’m a person engaged in something bigger than himself, hopefully. And so I don’t get to decide what this thing is that’s bigger than me. I get to decide about the part that I experience. But beyond that, it’s not about me. It’s about this feeling.

In service of this feeling, Andrew W.K. has spent the past decade sharing his ideas in public, giving talks at colleges that include Yale and Oxford. He’s also been writing impactful advice columns for publications such as The Village Voice. But all this non-musical activity began quite by accident.

W.K.: I was asked by New York University in 2005 to do a talk and I assumed, wrongfully, that it was for a music business class or something related to my work in entertainment. And that it would be intimate and small and moderated and so on and so forth. It was then explained to me that they wanted me to specifically avoid, if I could help it, talking about the music industry and that it was a free-for-all. And I was really blown away by that—that anyone would want me to talk about anything, let alone anything anything. And so they put this event on at the Skirball Center which is a very large auditorium. And I don’t remember how many people came but it was full. It went on for four hours. It never occurred to me to do this. And I thought, “Wow, I guess people really like this. I guess talking about partying can count, too. And then maybe people that don’t like this blaring music would get that same feeling I’m trying to get out of that, just through words.”

AJC: But you do—and I don’t mean to be sycophantic in any way—but when you do give answers, you give considerate answers. I read one of your advice columns in The Village Voice, where somebody was contemplating suicide, and I found your answer remarkable. You basically said, “I can’t judge you on whether you want to live or die. That would be your decision. But if you do decide that you want to get out of the mindset that you’re in, that is causing you to have these terminal thoughts, then here’s a suggestion, which is you go out and do good to people you don’t know.”

W.K.: Oh yeah, that’s right.

AJC: And I thought, “That’s so perfect.” Like that in itself would be a good life philosophy for people, and it was one answer in one advice column for you.

W.K.: Being of service to something beyond yourself. That’s been my answer, and in a way, I’m very lucky because I like this service.

AJC: But was there somebody that came up to you and said, “Andrew, if you’re going to be content with yourself, you need to be giving rather than getting?”

W.K.: I don’t know, maybe Paul McCartney and “The End” song? I mean, it’s the oldest… These are truths, if there are truths at all. These sayings and these pleas that our better selves have left scattered along the history of humanity. It’s the same story over and over again. Each time we think, “Oh well, it couldn’t possibly apply to me now in this day and age.” But there are a lot of people that have worked really hard at trying to figure out what this thing is called “being alive,” that’s getting to happen to us, or that we’re happening to it. And it’s worth listening to what they have to say. They’ve all said the same thing, which makes it really hard to ignore. I mean, you have to really bear down to block out some of these lessons. If you just quiet your mind… The way I wrote those columns, which is probably why I don’t remember a lot of them, I would close my eyes and imagine I was the smartest, most advanced being in the world, and that I was asking them the question that that person was asking me. Like a wizard, basically. So I would just pretend I was this advanced and write from that point of view. But what’s amazing is we—that pretending to be that smart or pretending to be that evolved—we all have, I mean, that’s in there. It is. It really is. It just takes some kind of effort to let that dominate, rather than all my lower appetites, essentially.

And though his live performances are a far cry from the university lecture circuit…

AJC: Is it fair to say that there’s violence in it?

W.K.: Yeah, it has everything in it. I’m trying to put… It is maximalism. There is a name for this approach, which is “Throw everything in there.” You can have an orchestra, you can have guitars, you can have piano, you can have singing, you can have a thousand people singing, and it’s all gonna make it louder and better. That’s like, “Well no, sometimes less is more.” Not in this case. I could do “less is more” in other areas of this work, like my clothing for example. But in the sound, more is more. And it’s meant to inspire not just a mental experience, but a physical—a body—experience. And there is something in that interior, that mental and physical experience that points towards truth. I’m not going to be so bold as to say it is truth, but it’s as undeniable an experience as I’ve ever been able to have, and I cherish those little moments of clarity in the midst of so much confusion in my life.

AJC: But, that said, you did make a record of simple—not simple piano music—but of you playing the piano.

W.K.: Yeah, noodling. Yes, that was noodling. And that was to contradict exactly what I’m talking about. And I’m happy that record exists. I’ve never listened to it since it was finished. But the way I came to peace with it while making it was, “Well, I’ve spent usually hundreds of hours recording an album, so now I’m going to spend two hours. I’ve usually pined over every part of every song. Well, now I’m not even going to make songs. I’ve had every overdub, every instrument I could possibly put on a song. Well, now I’m just going to have one instrument.” So, it was an extreme experiment with doing the opposite.

AJC: Did it change the way you thought about what your music could be.

W.K.: Nah, I don’t know. It made me want to practice piano more.

Andrew W.K. may well be practicing piano more. But, as with everything he does, it will continue to be in humble service of the party gods.

Since the early 90s, Lauren Greenfield has been documenting the many ways consumerism teaches us to measure our self-worth.

Lauren Greenfield: When you ask kids nowadays what they want to be when they grow up, they say, “rich and famous.” And that is not a job, and there’s no way to get there.

Greenfield’s films and photographs use the language of popular culture—bright colors and subjects like sex, money, and status—to draw viewers into much darker stories. For her most recent project, Generation Wealth, Greenfield combed though half a million images collected over the past 25 years to weave together a larger narrative about what people actually value, and why.

Greenfield: It’s not a show about the “one percent.” Most of the people in here are not even wealthy. It’s about our aspiration, our striving. So I’m looking at the currency of beauty, the currency of the body, the currency of sexuality, the currency of youth, the currency of branding, the currency of money, but also the currency of “fake it ’til you make it”—looking the part being as important as being the part—and this tension or contradiction between image and substance.

Lauren Greenfield grew up in Los Angeles, a breeding ground for many of the insecurities she would later explore cinematically. But it wasn’t until leaving California to study the Maya for National Geographic in Mexico that she realized how much creative fodder was waiting for her back home.

Greenfield: While I was there, really struggling with the language, struggling to understand the culture, I read an old copy of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. It really spoke to me about the excess, and the alienation, and the disconnected feeling that I had seen in my high school—which, for my last two years of high school, I went to a private high school where a lot of kids’ parents worked in Hollywood. It was a place where what you wore mattered, what you drove mattered, and I realized that I wanted to go back and study my own culture.

That exploration became Greenfield’s first book, 1997’s Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood. It was followed by the book Girl Culture, a study of the self-esteem crisis among American women—a theme Greenfield delved into again with the 2006 HBO documentary, Thin, and 2011’s Beauty Culture. Obsessions with luxury were the subjects of Kids + Money, Magic City (filmed at the infamous Atlanta strip club of the same name), and in her hit documentary, The Queen of Versailles.

But Greenfield doesn’t only record the ways these fixations play out in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2014, she made a dozen trips to Russia and China to witness the blossoming role of consumerism in post-Communist countries.

Greenfield: It was kind of this amazing case study where revolution had tried to get rid of inequality and class difference. And so, like with kids in L.A., it was a very honest, transparent, guttural grab for luxury and status. And so when I first went to China, people were just starting to get rich, and very rich. And so I photographed, for example, a man who had built a replica of the White House and out of his office window was Mount Rushmore, which he had also built. There was a Versailles that I photographed outside of Beijing. That was really exciting for me, to kind of see in giant terms—the way they were kind of interpreting luxury and status. And then that evolved over the years. I went back in 2014, and made a series of films about the rich in China, where they weren’t just interested in designer brands anymore. They were interested in class, and culture, and almost aristocracy, in learning noble sports. They didn’t just want Louis Vuitton, they wanted to be able to properly pronounce Louis Vuitton.

The oligarchs abroad tell a familiar story: the pursuit of social legitimacy through conspicuous consumption. But Greenfield says that in the U.S., the futility of this pursuit has become more obvious over time.

Greenfield: Inequality has increased over the last 25 years, and the concentration of wealth has increased in the hands of the few. So some of the bling has actually replaced real social mobility. So there’s this sense of, like, showing off, because the steps to actually achieving a better life for your kids than your parents… [it] doesn’t feel real to people in the same way that it did in my parents’ generation.

AJC: I would love to know how you define success for yourself.

Greenfield: See, I think that part of why I can connect with all of these stories of addiction is that I’m always striving myself. And it’s not for money, it’s not for fame. It’s like—it’s kind of just for itself. I think that’s what keeps me going. It’s what gives my life meaning. I’m really trying to answer some of these questions that I have, and that I feel are important. But I’m trying to enjoy the moment and not be thinking about what’s next.

And though pausing to contemplate her accomplishments isn’t Greenfield’s strong suit, she has occasionally been taken aback, like when her award-winning commercial campaign for Always #LikeAGirl went viral in 2014.

Greenfield: It was really one of the most satisfying experiences of my career. It was something that was hiding in plain sight, that I didn’t realize its power, and I don’t think other people realized its power until we really put the microscope on it. But it really just made me also believe in the power of this work. For me, I’ve spent a lot of my career looking at the negative power of advertising, but I also learned a while back about the power of advertising, period. And so I have been really interested and engaged, also, in working in advertising because when we can put different kinds of imagery there, that is really where the rubber meets the road for young people.

And this desire to change things for the better defines the philosophical core of Lauren Greenfield’s work: highlighting cultural values so that we might consider new ways of engaging with them.

On the next Articulate, being fully free to pursue life on your own terms is everyone’s dream. The composer Caroline Shaw sees no boundaries, musical or otherwise. Leaving one’s mark on the world implies permanence. For Robert Janz, it’s more fleeting, like life itself. And owning your place in the world is difficult, but R & B singer/songwriter Lizzo refuses to play small. Join us for the next Articulate.