TRANS­FORMED WHIT­NEY WOLANIN

Sani­bel song­writer's painful story; her al­le­gory for sex­ual as­sault

Times of the Islands - - News - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT

No one pre­pares for ran­dom vi­o­lence. For Sani­bel singer Whit­ney Wolanin, mu­sic is her al­le­gory in soft­en­ing the pain and help­ing oth­ers in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

No one pre­pares for ran­dom vi­o­lence. Un­til it hap­pens, there’s no telling which way our in­jured hearts will turn.

For Sani­bel’s Whit­ney Wolanin, ob­scene cat­calls, then run­ning in panic from the men, by­standers afraid to in­ter­vene, each was a call to ac­tion. Choos­ing to en­dure some con­tro­versy—risk­ing her silky im­age as a teen prodigy per­form­ing Christ­mas shows—the 26-year-old singer wrote and pro­duced “Never Said No,” the song and ac­com­pa­ny­ing mu­sic video re­leased in De­cem­ber by TopNotch Records, the la­bel owned by Wolanin and her sis­ter, Vic­to­ria. The lyrics and Whit­ney Wolanin’s vis­ual per­for­mance in the four-minute video sym­bol­ize her ex­pe­ri­ences and views on sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault against peo­ple from all walks of life. The work is a sharp turn from per­form­ing pop songs in a su­perb con­tralto, a move driven by her sur­viv­ing a band of thugs in a London park.

Her new mu­sic video’s fic­tion­al­ized story of a woman’s en­counter in a park­ing garage with a sex­ual ag­gres­sor and the de­liv­er­ance of his pun­ish­ment, she says, isn’t to alarm or to sen­sa­tion­al­ize a near tragedy. Rather, it’s more about speak­ing out in the pub­lic fo­rum she com­mands as a Grammy-listed artist, she says, to con­front sex­ual crimes be­fore oth­ers get hurt. I’m not usu­ally scared of much,” Wolanin says of the in­ci­dent prompt­ing her out­rage. In the video, a sex­ual preda­tor is lured to a woman’s home where she turns the ta­bles on him, which Wolanin says vic­tims con­tem­plate but rarely ex­e­cute. “But I felt so pow­er­less, so up­set.”

Words and per­for­mances should en­ter­tain, Wolanin says, but should some­times ig­nite ac­tion, should help young peo­ple to un­der­stand is­sues such as gen­der bul­ly­ing, which of­ten is han­dled with a dis­ci­plinary wink that as­ton­ishes and alien­ates young girls, Wolanin says.

If we can do a TINY BIT OF GOOD in help­ing (oth­ers) un­der­stood and CHANGE THE WORLD in some way, then WE DID OUR JOB - VIC­TO­RIA WOLANIN

And re­search, in fact, de­picts homophobic and sex­ual teas­ing and taunt­ing or bul­ly­ing of both gen­ders as child­hood be­hav­iors that slip un­der the radar, dan­ger­ously ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing in uni­ver­si­ties, where date rape is alarm­ingly com­mon. The Na­tional Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Re­source Cen­ter, for in­stance, re­ports that up to 20 per­cent of uni­ver­sity women re­port an at­tempted or com­pleted sex­ual as­sault, most know­ing the al­leged at­tacker. Since less than 5 per­cent of those re­port to po­lice, the num­bers could be much higher, ad­vo­cates con­cede. Whit­ney Wolanin be­lieves early and se­ri­ous mes­sag­ing at school and from celebri­ties would re­duce sex­u­al­ized threats such as she en­dured in 2015.

This bright, sunny morn­ing on Sani­bel, how­ever, Whit­ney and Vic­to­ria are vis­it­ing their par­ents, Il­lona and Vin­cent, the sis­ters just re­turn­ing to Florida. They’ve spent three months pro­mot­ing Whit­ney and

Risk­ing her SILKY IM­AGE as a teen prodigy per­form­ing Christ­mas shows, the 26-YEAR-OLD singer in De­cem­ber re­leased "NEVER SAID NO."

“Never Said No” at me­dia stopovers. Life on the road in a rental car is not easy, Vic­to­ria con­cedes. Back on the is­land where they were raised, the two talk about the mu­sic video they’ll post to so­cial me­dia and on the video-host­ing ser­vice Vevo. The sis­ters ap­pear close, one fin­ish­ing the other’s sen­tences. They are also well-ed­u­cated (Vic­to­ria a Cor­nell grad, Whit­ney a Van­der­bilt alum).

But the easy ban­ter of an in­ter­view turns dark as Whit­ney be­gins de­scrib­ing the gen­e­sis of “Never Said No.” It was cross­ing park grounds in London that she was at first ver­bally as­saulted by sex­ual ag­gres­sors, she says, and when that didn’t get the re­ac­tion from her the men pic­tured, they came at her full throt­tle with fur­ther ob­scen­i­ties. She bolted. But in

those few mo­ments and its af­ter­math, her faith in oth­ers was di­min­ished. She’d ex­pe­ri­enced cat­calls, but this was much harsher and the kind of fright­en­ing that sticks.

Per­haps as dif­fi­cult, those wit­ness­ing the ha­rass­ment wouldn’t in­ter­vene, at least seek help. She was alone among di­verted eyes. “You don’t have to walk away,” she says, adding that she wrote “Never Said No” to vent, to re­lease the anger and panic, to share her mes­sage and to in­vite feed­back.

Her lyrics and the mu­sic video “are not about com­mit­ting vi­o­lence what­so­ever," she says. “It’s about [sex­ual] con­sent be­ing very easy to un­der­stand. I want peo­ple to talk about it, to reach out, to not be afraid;” to which Vic­to­ria Wolanin adds, “If we can do a tiny bit of good in help­ing [oth­ers] un­der­stand and change the world in some way, then we did our job.”

“Never Said No" is a cau­tion­ary tale that high­lights so­ci­ety’s of­ten warped no­tion of con­sent.

Wolanin’s dra­matic choice of light­ing was in­spired by the work of di­rec­tor Bouha Kazmi.

The video was filmed in The Adeli­cia, a pop­u­lar lux­ury high-rise in Nashville, Ten­nessee.

“Never Said No” is cur­rently avail­able to stream or down­load on all ma­jor plat­forms.

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