Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Are There Any Songs About Getting Fired, or Losing a Job?

I can think of a few songs about "working stiffs"--Bruce Springsteen's work comes to mind, "She Works Hard For the Money", "Manic Monday". But when I was fired, the only song that I could think of was Daughtry's "No Surprise", and that was mainly for the video:

Two blue-collar folk are having troubles, and it affects their relationship. The song is really about a breakup, though--it doesn't have anything to do with the economy. Daughtry said he wanted the video to reflect what people were really going through, and while it features the young and pretty, it is realistic and bleak (if glamorized) in a way that most music videos aren't. They key lyrics in this interpretation come in the bridge: "If I could see the future and how this plays out / I bet it's better than where we are now / But after going through this, it's easier to see the reason why"

So this is what I played. It wasn't too appropriate, but I was at a loss. "Breakaway" floated in my head weeks later, but that's about, uh, breaking away, starting a new life, completely different than what I needed. Where was "I lost my job, and this sucks"?

Should SNL's Brittany Murphy Skit Be Pulled?

The Brittany Murphy sketch on Saturday Night Live two weeks ago was mildly funny at best, more noteworthy for the fact that it skewed an actress that hadn't done a notable movie in some time, and was not much in the public eye recently. Her biggest hits--Clueless, 8 Mile--were over five years old, and she was a voice in a relatively low-profile show, King of the Hill. It was one of those bits that you knew the writers threw out in a desperate attempt for an idea, and they had a somewhat competent actress able to play her (Abby Elliot, best known for her Angelina Jolie "bebes" bit; this was a good try, but the whole thing was just not good), and it made it onto the air. In normal circumstances, the piece would be forgotten.

But Brittany Murphy died suddenly and tragically, so far without explanation, last week, and the eerie timing of the piece was uncomfortable. And with the web and Hulu, things live online. So while most people were unaware of the Brittany Murphy sketch, it floated to the top of the heap, spurned by those arts aggregators and the few who were actually watching NBC at 12:20 am on a Sunday.

Now, it makes sense that NBC and Hulu (which NBC partly owns) would pull it out of respect. It's not funny, and it doesn't have anything to say. It prevents this now-gruesome mockery from becoming further terrible, obscuring the actual actress and her work. Does this mean that it should be forever gone? Is that restricted to the web (where bootlegs can surface)? Does SNL have an obligation never to air it again, whether in reruns on NBC or on other sites like Comedy Central? What about DVDs and the like? While I doubt that this piece will be considered one of Abby Elliot's standouts (let's hope), does it really deserve to be buried because of unfortunate timing? Is it just a matter of timing, that in another few weeks or months the clip will quietly resurface? That is probably the most likely case, since while the piece was in bad taste (though there are plenty that say the Tiger Woods sketch was way worse), it only suffered from bad timing. If this sketch had happened a year ago, even a few months ago, it wouldn't be as big a deal, though it would suffer from the same problem.

Was Brittany Murphy even aware of the sketch? Was she bothered by it? That would be interesting to know.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Is Ludicrous

Tim McGraw has the most popular song of the decade based on radio play?!?!?

Ok, so I live in an area of the country where country radio, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist. So, by that margin, the song should be a crossover hit, a Carrie Underwood or a Rascal Flatts, a song that is everywhere and everyone knows it. Now, I am still amazed that there are "popular" songs that I don't know. Maybe I do know this "Something Like That" if I heard it, maybe it's that countryish song making the rounds that I can never pin on down who sings it. But no, as this song was big in 1999-2000. Is that really fair? It's older than all the other songs on the list! It had the most time to get played! How in the world did it beat out "Smooth", Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana's blockbluster that was everywhere those two years? It had radio play on several different formats!

Let's go down this list.

Some of them are so obvious. "Drops of Jupiter"? Dear God, that's a song no one can forget, still completely memorable. (I might still know every word of it.) "Low" is also unmistakable, completely owning 2007 just like "Drops of Jupiter" owned 2001. You can't help but sing along to both of them. Usher owned 2004 (forgive me for overusing the verb, but it's true), and it's a song, like "Low", that defined the decade. My local Top 40 radio station named "Yeah!" their top song of 2004, a rare case of it matching the reality.

Album rock is a radio genre I'm not super-familiar with, mainly because rock stations have gone through myriad format changes in the last several years, so it's too hard to decipher when there's only one or two in a given market. Staind was one of those early '00s bands that bored me to tears; I found Aaron Lewis' vocals to be whiny and monotone, and I couldn't stand "It's Been Awhile", in addition to all their other leaden singles. The fact that the band fizzled out dampers the honor; it's like awarding Creed the label.

"Last Resort" is also an odd song to win "most played" status. Obviously Papa Roach's biggest hit, they scored huge on TRL back in the day (remember, it was in 2000, so this was a big deal), and it being such an angry song, it connected well with the teenagers (me included). The band itself also fizzled out somewhat, sticking to genre formats; like the rock problem above, they need a place to go.

And of course, to the Urban label, aka rap for many of those who don't speak radio. "Drop It Like It's Hot", Snoop. One of those hits that's big, but sticks around for awhile. Like Lil Jon, it was great to parody, which extended its life; all I think of is a haze of marijuana smoke and some ho'ed-out girls in black leather nothings droppin' to their knees. Completely awful in so many ways, but so effin' catchy. Snoop never had it so good.

I can't speak for the other categories, including country. But Urban Adult Contemporary? Who knew such a thing existed, besides Billboard aficionados?

It's interesting to look at the dates--2004 comes across like a banner year here--but it also makes sense that nothing from this year or last made the cut; time works on your side in these categories, with things hitting in the middle of the decade doing well because they have time to bubble, to grow and be loved, without being completely forgotten or even overexposed, which is what more recent hits turn into before they have time to fade away and rediscovered.

Of course, such a short list based on radio play ignores bigger trends and the bigger artists, but that is what other lists--iTunes downloads, album sales--pick up. Notice there is no Beyonce, Destiny's Child, Rihanna, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, Coldplay, Norah Jones, Green Day, Kanye West, Jay-Z...all of these artists made the '00s, and one hotshot single, when many of them had multiple, won't cover the impact they had.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Grammys Are Going to Be Good This Year!

The Grammys are music’s highest honor, and they usually don’t mirror the pop charts. They have their faves—U2 comes to mind—and they love to honor older-skewing acts. But this year, the Grammys are either bowing to popular taste or are trying to reflect it: Top nominees echo the top artists of the year. Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, unstoppable Beyoncé and the country’s biggest selling artist in terms of albums for the past two years, Taylor Swift, each received multiple nominations.

MTV News reports that this has been a trend for the Grammys the past few years, wanting to appeal to a younger audience, but the 2010 nominees make the Dave Matthews Band look old. Ink was spilled on the fact that Lady Gaga would not be eligible for Best New Artist, because she had been nominated last year for “Just Dance” in the apparently overlooked category of Best Dance Recording, up against “Disturbia” (!) and Madonna, and losing to Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger”. (The Recording Academy noted that at the time of the nominations, there was no album to anchor “Just Dance.”) Although Keri Hilson is a Best New Artist nominee, she has written songs for other artists like Britney Spears and Ne-Yo, and was featured prominently in Timbaland’s massive 2007 hit “The Way You Are”…so she’s not really that new. But, it looks like she’s never been nominated before, either for her songwriting skills or for her collaborations, so she’s considered “new”.

Looking at the list, there are plenty of lesser-known songs that occupy most of the nominations; there are many categories where one superstar song, like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”, sticks out because of sheer omnipresence. Hopefully this will mean that B will perform come January 31, along with many of those other top-tier acts. With a list this strong, you can't not have them.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Deconstructing "Bad Romance"

When Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” hit a few weeks ago, it was an event in a way that is rare nowadays. For one thing, her video not only got coverage—lots and lots of coverage—but it was actually anticipated, actually viewed, multiple, multiple times. “Bad Romance” exceeded hype, and the love for the freaky, weird, psychologically confounding, hyper-symbolic, sexy video only continued. Deconstructions of “Bad Romance” are all over the Internet, with many including a play-by-play using screen captures. “Bad Romance” has symbolism and sex written all over it, and really, the video is just incredible.

So what is Gaga saying? Like many of her other songs, the theme here is hard love—rough love, a bad romance, wanting something so badly that she’s caught up in something terrible but she doesn’t care. She’s upfront about her freaky side, and in her wanting, there is anger: “I want your everything / as long as it’s free.” The low growl of her voice, the thumping tone of the music, underscores her feelings. James Montgomery of MTV calls “Bad Romance” the bridge between the old “The Fame” Gaga and her new “The Fame Monster” Gaga, now with additional sex and spookiness. Some focus on the "sex slavery" aspect of the song and video or the occult imagery. Still other interpretations play off her quote, “That tough female spirit is something that I want to project. It's meant to be, 'This is my shield, this is my weapon, this is my inner sense of fame, this is my monster,' “in that she embodies different facets of womanhood through the stories she devises.

“Bad Romance” is practically several videos at once, and that makes it so wonderful and so difficult to deconstruct. There’s a basic narrative—in the singer’s words, she is “kidnapped by supermodels. I'm washing away my sins and they shove vodka down my throat to drug me up before they sell me off to the Russian mafia," but she escapes by blowing up the head guy in a fiery blaze—which is intercut with various other Gagas, each with its own look, every one easily a separate video. I love Gaga dressed in black, her yellow stringy hair falling down, those big black sunglasses obscuring her face. I love the babydoll Gaga, Kewpie doll eyes, innocence in a tub. I love Gaga, vulnerable, broken down, hysterical with (nearly) no makeup on, crying “I don’t wanna be friends!” There’s the alien Gagas, in Alexander McQueen ensembles, in diamonds and white latex and shiny gold, with snazzy headpieces and razor-blade sunglasses, in fabulous black lingerie and only-acceptable-in-a-music-video-this-artistic white thong underwear. Gaga, at various points, is all of many things: alone, vulnerable, innocent, dazed, wistful, childlike, terrified, satisfied, sexy, powerful, defiant, strong, beautiful.

Despite the diverse Gagas, she uses many of the same symbols and motifs as she has in earlier videos and public appearances—encasing her body in shiny orbs, spikes on her head and heels, weird lines on her body, either through clothing or through effects, faces and eyes covered, surrounded and studded in diamonds. The video itself borrows from many sources—some of her choreography, like the crawling, is directly from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video, and in the opening there are allusions to her other videos and to “True Blood”. In the lyrics, there is a nod to Hitchcock: “I want your psycho / Your vertical stick / Want you in my rear window / Baby you’re sick”, though the whole song is about wanting in a psychologically damaging romance. She ends her performance on "Jay Leno" by grabbing her crotch, another move defiantly done in “Express Yourself”. She knows how crazy she is—she does call herself a “freak bitch” several times—and she wants all sorts of freaky things besides love, hard to quantify things, not to mention that she trills her own (stage) name in the cheers that surround the song. Then there are the animals—the dog that has appeared in all her videos, the bare cat hissing away, the goats on display over the bed, the bear peignoir she wears to present herself to her captor—and the death, violence, and alcohol that have shown up in other works.

The video moves between gray, dark lighting and bright white. The darkness finds her hidden away, in alien mode, but the blinding brightness is her exposed, in the man’s world, until she claims it. Gaga follows the same pattern, extremely pale to note her vulnerability and innocence, ending outfitted with red lace and strips of cloth, with black boots and gloves to symbolize the breaking away (Viva la Revolución!), her own power. The dancers clap around her, in celebration.

She has performed “Bad Romance” in a number of venues, and they all feature similar choreography, not only making it easier for the performers but also tightening her message. On "The Jay Leno Show", she opens dressed in a black bodysuit with huge shoulders, like a pillow growing out of her upper back. Her hands turn into claws, and her dancers, lying down, now start to claw awake and alive. Lady Gaga claws at the air, at herself, and then holds her hand out as if she wants a ring or a kiss as she sings “I want your leather-studded kiss in the sand”. “You know that I want you, and you know that I need you, I want it bad, your bad romance” she intones, and all the dancers form behind her, clawing their way forward. It’s creepy and cool. As the chorus continues, the dances go psycho, waving and clawing around. All the dancers are male, and they all are wearing masks. Even the musicians in the background are dressed this way.

She twists and stomps, and she shoots off an imaginary gun during “’Cause you’re a criminal as long as you’re mine”, just like in the video. The bridge is more clawing, baring her chest, and her dancers move closer, behind her. They dance in unison, before the lead dancer, a wire cage over his face, lifts her up through her legs, his hand on her stomach. It gives me the willies every time. His teeth are bared, his face menacing. These guys really are creeps. The final chorus, Lady Gaga’s right hand is a fist, and she pumps it up and down, determined.

The entire performance is aggressive, but it’s not just her movements that personify this, it’s her songs themselves. The French lyrics that open the second bridge don’t just rephrase the central lines of “I want your love/ I want your romance”, they demand. She is not polite, she does not use the polite form of “to want”. “I demand your love” is followed by her wailing “I don’t wanna be friends” with “caught in a bad romance” swirling in the background, building up the pain. In a sense, the main storyline and the song don’t match up, because she has no interest in the man at the center of the story. But the choreography of her movements, some of her other selves—mainly the close-up of her face, crying—do fit with the song, and the consistency of her choreography throughout multiple performances suggest something else. As in other songs, she is aggressive and shameless, and the clawing, marching, and twisting only further the interpretation that this is her definition of a “tough female spirit”.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Giving Grudging Props to She Pop

I came late to She Pop, a short-lived blog on a generally female-oriented pop music on Bitch Magazine’s website. Sady Doyle has made a bit of a name for herself in feminist blog circles, and Bitch Magazine expanded her reach by having her comment thrice weekly on whatever was big in the pop music world.

She was not an ideal blogger on this subject, and it came through in her posts, some of which I criticized sharply, since she knew little of what she wrote about, and dismissed it all as spectacle. As she wrote in her opening post,

Pop stars, finessed and manufactured though they may be, are reflective of wider cultural attitudes. They have to be: that's how they get to be popular in the first place. If they weren't speaking to people, no-one would listen. And the way that we talk about them is often extremely revealing.
No kidding, Sady. It’s obvious when reading this that she never before considered the influence that popular culture has on people, why people like pop stars for other reasons besides their music. No wonder, when you equate pop stars—generally, living, breathing, active people—with toasters, inanimate appliances, and then wonder why people get so worked up. I can see why her outlook, curious to a music fan, would be interesting to the editors, but as a reader, it was an insult to those who did think about the messages sent.

In her final post, she acknowledges how naïve she was when she began the project, and how much she’s learned, which was nice to hear. I’m not of fan of Sady’s style; it’s too overblown, and structurally there are too many loose threads. My biggest problem was that she did little research and no fact-checking, a no-no. I also did not agree with many of her feminist principles, though I support the idea of the blog and hope that other guest bloggers will fill the space.

So farewell, She Pop. You inspired a lot of ire, and got me working. I hope you return—there will always be songs to mine, artists to deconstruct, and gender roles to parse.

A Lack of Imagination

She's nothing like a girl you've ever seen before
Nothing you can compare to your neighborhood [girl]
I'm tryna find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful
The way that booty movin' I can't take no more
Have to stop what I'm doin' so I can pull her close
I'm tryna find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful

--David Guetta, featuring Akon "Sexy Chick"

Countless songs describe a wondrous, appealing female, one who moves the male singer. Most try to describe, no matter how crudely, the girl in question, why she is so spectacular. Sometimes the descriptions are trite. Occasionally they are beautiful.

Akon not only does not try (though he professes to), he can’t even fathom words that wouldn’t cause the girl to slap his face in indignation.

Clearly, listening to only misogynistic booty-shakers renders one incapable of seeing a girl as anything other than a whore—the word that replaces girl in the unedited versions of the song. For every neighborhood chick is a whore, every woman is automatically debased: these men have to struggle to be respectful when they actually meet a woman who intrigues them.

So “Sexy Chick” is really a cautionary tale: men, make sure you know how to talk to a woman. Because if you struggle to say something that’s not a gender slur, you’re not going to go too far.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Time to Criticize Another Sady Doyle Post!

Who the hell is shamed of liking Aimee Mann?!?!?


Sady Doyle’s new post was on the return of Lilith Fair. Now, while she does bring up good points, mainly about the history and cultural significance of the concert in its time and how its message was co-opted by the time, she denigrates the acts that played, referring to music from performers like Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan as “that shit”, not only implying that they play crappy music but that they aren’t worthy of being headliners for such a landmark event. Doyle’s post smacks of snobbery, and she criticizes the concert for not playing the type of riot-grrl music that was popular in the earlier part of the decade, like Sleater-Kinney and PJ Harvey. Every scene is a product of its era; Lilith Fair brought out the folk-rock girl-wave that was happening at the moment, making it really visible as a movement and it really was empowering for many young women at the time. Sady’s right; according to Wikipedia, Ani DiFranco did not play any of the shows the three years the concert ran, but we do not know if any of the bands she mentioned wanted to or were able to play. I doubt that McLachlan and co. intentionally left out these performers.

Now, I agree that the music of the original Lilith Fair was very hippie-dippie and adult contemporary, and presumably, 2010’s newest version will have a different feel and flavor to it, if only because the scene has changed. Sady criticizes Jewel, Gwen Stefani and Liz Phair for changing—mainly going more pop, though Jewel has hit the country route (mediocre at best)—but, in some ways, that’s to be expected. Any artist with a long career will hopefully change, often moving in different directions, and it’s unfair to expect artists like those three to retain their exact sound and perspective with an additional ten years of life on their résumé. What she might be angry about is that these artists, including Alanis Morissette, have mellowed out in the intervening years, gotten married, had children, migrated to acting, and their music—their loud, angry music—wasn’t at the forefront of their lives and careers anymore, and that is a disappointment . And true, there isn’t an artist remotely like Alanis Morissette in popular music anymore, and that is lamentable. Maybe Lilith Fair 2010 will bring out an undiscovered talent, one who is fiery and has stuff to say. Just because we’re in Lady Gaga territory now doesn’t mean she will rule forever.

Music, like most things, is cyclical. Ani Difranco could play Lilith Fair in 2010 and have a resurgence; maybe you will hear her on the radio. It’s not impossible, and stranger things have happened.

Sady also laments that Meredith Brooks' "Bitch", a massive hit in 1997 (a song she does not bother to look up its exact title), was “in context, not rebellious, but predictable”. In 1997, though, that song was anything but predictable. It was rebellious. At the day camp I attended at the time, we were forbidden from playing that song because of its title—but we tried to anyway, many times. I was always amazed at this looking back, as the misogynist, sexual and explicit music that became popular in subsequent years (think Eminem) was every bit as offensive as this single was not and was far more insidious then that one song could be. For a 12 year-old, it was very much a big deal. Sady’s perspective, as usual, does not consider anyone else’s viewpoint or experience, and condemns those who differ from her taste.

PS. By the way, it's Alanis Morissette. One r.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lilith Fair is Back!

After 10 years, Lilith Fair--the all-women music festival--is returning, although exact dates and performers are not scheduled yet. Presumably, Sarah McLachlan, who created the tour in 1997, will perform, as she is also slated to release an album next year.

The original lineup, featuring McLachlan, Jewel, and Sheryl Crow, represented the boom in folk and girl rock that epitomized the '90s. It's likely that many of these acts will return for at least some dates, and now of course it's time to speculate on the newcomers who will join them.

Nelly McKay? Michelle Branch? Sara Bareilles? Colbie Calliat? Regina Spektor?

Billboard provided Avril Lavigne, since she's releasing an album next year, too.

(I left out the superstars.)

My fave Aimee Mann played a few shows back in the day, maybe she'll return. And now that I'm old enough, I'm going!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Another Star Quits Twitter

Whoa. Whoa!

Lily Allen quits Twitter. Not because she finally realized that her technologically-aided disinhibitionistic tendencies were harmful, but because she was faced with an ultimatum from her boyfriend:

"He told Lily: 'It's me or Twitter.' And she chose him."
Well, now. At that point you really don't have much of a choice, because if you choose Twitter, you're essentially saying that people don't matter to you unless they are a faceless mass only capable of short bursts of emotion.

Now, if a third prone-to-oversharing female pop artist quits Twitter, maybe we can actually say Twitter has hit its turning point...

In the most judicious use of Twitter I've seen, Rihanna created an account purely to create buzz around her new single, "Russian Roulette". The brief posts cultivate the air of anticipation that should surround a high-profile release, one that fits well with her image and subject matter.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Laying More Blame on Taylor Swift

Is Swift teaching my daughter to define herself by her relationships to bad boys and the frustrating quest for Prince Charming? Should fairy-tale romance be on such heavy rotation in my preteen daughter’s playlist?
These are the questions Hans Eisenbans asks when contemplating his 11-year-old daughter's love for Taylor Swift. Despite purposely raising a very sheltered girl, she's fallen for one of the biggest pop stars of the moment, and he's wringing his hands.

What's missing from the essay is that he doesn't mention any other pop stars that his daughter could have liked, and implicitly, the comparison between them. Taylor Swift, like all pop stars, has her pros and cons, and all artists have messages spewing forth--but is Taylor Swift really that bad? Whatever happened to Madonna, to Courtney Love, to Britney Spears? Even Lady Gaga?

Sure, Taylor Swift is all about sappy, teenager love...but she's not an aggressive sexpot, she's not weird or wild or subversive. She's pretty clean-cut, but that's not what worries him. It's the fact that she's being exposed to the world of boys and heartbreak.

Grow up. Most songs on the radio are about boys and heartbreak, and she's actually learning healthy ways of dealing with these issues through Taylor Swift, rather than the dismissive toying tone that Katy Perry has.

By the end of the piece, however, he understands, based purely on Taylor's own merits in concert. She's the teenager she sings about, spazzy, a bit awkward, but self-assured, taking names when she can. That's why his daughter loves her, and why she's a good role model.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Taylor Swift Is Obviously Ruining America

I never did post up my entry on Taylor Swift, but I may not need to, as I need to smack down Sady Doyle’s She Pop post on the singer, for her wildly inaccurate and frankly insane criticisms of two of her songs, “You Belong With Me” and “Fifteen”.

The inflammatory post, titled “Taylor Swift Wants To Ban Access To Your Lady Bits,” tries to explain, if you can call it that, how the singer is a pernicious influence on young girls today, that she reeks of moralizing and superiority because she dresses in white, sings pop songs about love, and is so submissive, innocent, and virginal. Now, this would make some sense if she was talking about “Love Story”, and how everything gets tied up in a bow—an ending that also appears in “You Belong With Me”—but that’s not her argument.

Sady criticizes Taylor Swift for promoting abstinence and being anti-sex, as well as sexist. Her analysis, however, takes everything out of context, makes incredible assumptions, and positions everything that Taylor Swift does in terms of sex.

(I’d also like to point out that when criticizing a song of an artist, you actually should, you know, MENTION THE TITLE OF THE SONG. So that your readers don’t have to look up the song in question, and you should be aware that just because you post the video doesn’t mean that the video will work or that your readers will have any idea what you’re talking about. Also helps, Sady, if you do a bit of research into your subject before you start ranting like an out of touch madwoman.)

Sady goes off on “You Belong With Me” and her new single “Fifteen”, which was well-received when she sang it on the Grammys with Miley Cyrus. “You Belong With Me” tells the story of a girl who likes a boy with a girlfriend who doesn’t treat him right, and she contrasts the two of them. In the video, Taylor pulls a Mariah Carey and plays both the “bad” girl (the girlfriend) and the “good” girl (the protagonist). Sady twists this into girl-on-girl hate, because the girlfriend doesn’t find his jokes funny and she does. No, she doesn’t call her a bitch or a cunt—but why should she? That would be too obvious, something that Sady finds fault with in the oversimplified, trite video.

"You Belong With Me” isn’t even Swift’s first single on unrequited love; that would be “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Taylor has a few others, but if you listen to any random collection of songs on any given day you’re bound to find a few on this topic, and if there’s a third party in the picture, damn straight you’re going to get some sort of comparison, usually with a reason attached why the singer is better than said third party. It’s called a love triangle. They exist. They aren’t pretty, and yes, nasty exchanges are part of the deal.

But why is Sady hating on Taylor’s narrative, when all she does is provide a descriptor? Carrie Underwood sings nastily about a tramp in “Before He Cheats”, and Haley Williams calls her rival a whore in “Misery Business”, but clearly Sady doesn’t take issue with these artists for their name calling, both of which are far more problematic than the situation presented in “You Belong With Me”. What about “Girlfriend” or “Sk8er Boi”?

Sady calls the comparison between the two girls “girl-on-girl sexism”. What Sady forgets is that this is what people do. That is what girls do, that is what teenage girls do, this is what girls do when another girl has they guy they like. It’s tame, and pretty damn fair. Sady clearly doesn’t realize that just because Taylor’s remarking that that girl is known for being a cheerleader and wearing high heels that she’s automatically calling her a slut, and that because she wears glasses in the video, she’s ugly while the other girl, Taylor Swift in a brown wig, is hating on girls that are prettier than she is, and that it is an example of the limiting beauty standard that women are expected to fall into. What the hell.

Sady’s biggest problem is that she is reading the music from a very adult perspective, completely forgetting that Taylor is singing from a teenage girl’s perspective TO teenage girls. That’s why she’s so off her rocker. Although “Fifteen” can be schmaltzy, it is a parable, telling bits and pieces of her story and her best friend Abigail’s story. There’s not even a suggestion of sex in the song, and while the video does have a scene where it could be hinted at, it’s a stretch, and Sady blows everything up. She takes the lyric “and Abigail gave everything she had to a boy/ who changed his mind” to mean that she lost his virginity to him, and that’s bad and that you will be successful and happy and wonderful if you don’t have sex. Does this make any sense? Seriously, what the hell is up with this woman? You can completely give everything to someone without it being about sex at all, and haha, no, sorry, your jokes about Jonas Brothers posters aren’t witty.

The whole point of “Fifteen”, which Taylor Swift has said over and over, and which is pretty clear from the lyrics, is that you grow up, and you realize what’s important and what’s not. When you’re in high school (and even sometimes after it), the things that are going on at that moment are the biggest things ever, and it’s hard to conceptualize the future, when these things won’t matter. That’s the point of the line “In your life you’ll do things that are greater than dating the boy on the football team.” That’s someone with some perspective—like an older sister, or a teacher—telling a girl who’s just had her heart broken and can’t see the forest for the trees that things change and this isn’t the end. It’s not that dating this boy—or any boy—is the sum of the girl’s accomplishments. And again, Taylor Swift has been very vocal about these things: marriage is “not my ultimate goal in life”. As she put it in Rolling Stone:

"I'm fascinated by love rather than the principle of 'Oh, does this guy like me?'" she says. "I love love. I love studying it and watching it. I love thinking about how we treat each other, and the crazy way that one person can feel one thing and another can feel totally different," she says. "It just doesn't take much for me to be inspired to write a song about a person, but I'm much more likely to write that song than do anything about it. You know, self-preservation."

Her interest in love is obvious from her songs, and at times it does border on the fantastical (“Love Story”). But in other songs, like “White Horse”, she knows it’s over and deals with the pain head-on. Taylor is famously unrepentant, and it is also well-known that she uses real names and real situations in her songs. That’s one of her many selling points, because she has the guts to say “You suck, and you hurt me badly”, and immortalize what that guy did into a platinum-selling song. Sady calls Taylor Swift calculating and artificial, and this makes her noxious. But Taylor Swift has always come across as earnest and sincere, not to mention hardworking. She’s always been in charge of her career (she turned down development deals when young because she didn’t want to be in limbo), and is very big on personal responsibility. These are traits to admire, but because her outward appearance—her image—is sweet, wholesome, and very teenage, she gets flack for being “innocent”. Sady is doing what she hates: reducing Taylor Swift to a caricatured Disney Princess, ridiculing her for who she is because she finds her too limiting and shallow, without even bothering to understand her.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Creator Speaks

Matthew Weiner on Mad Men:

[M]y impetus in doing this show was to A) indulge my interest in how history affects people's lives, and B) deal with a piece of history that has been metabolized in a very specific way, in my lifetime.

You know, it's a golden age. It was the time that was talked about when I was growing up. I am Generation X. I grew up in the shadow of this thing. And the reality of it is, is that people's lives are always similar. You know what I mean? Yes, we have a black president, and history has changed, and it's an amazing thing that's happened in this country. But you know, babies are still born the same way. You know what I mean? People get divorced, people get married. Those things don't change.

So I was always interested, from the beginning, in showing the process of people going through tumultuous events, or going through history at all, and what is tumultuous and what isn't. And trying not to indulge the traditional, not just to revise it, but just to not tell the story that way. To tell the story more in the way it feels like it's happening.


Is it also a factor of the fact that these changes look dramatic in retrospect, but the day-to-day reality was much more gradual?

Absolutely. I do think that. Yeah. And I think that it's always like that: that there are things that are cataclysmic and really do have an influence on us. But there are events happening right now -- I use the example of GM going bankrupt (and that it) may be seen as the turning point in this economic crisis. But no one knows that now. Maybe next year it'll be declared that. And just because it's declared that doesn't mean it's true.


But history gets used to tell a certain story, and I'm always interested in the story of what it's like to live through these things. Sometimes we feel invested in politics, and sometimes people come along, young people come along, and they are invested and idealistic, and sometimes it's just people trying to be human beings. So that's really the story that I'm telling.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Something's Always Newsworthy

Google News homepage:
The Gosselin's twins are celebrating their birthday! OMG! Children of tabloid fodder and unwilling reality-show participants MAKE NEWS by just LIVING.

and of course...


Wait. Wait! It gets better.

Because her sorta boyfriend doesn't like it and convinced her.

Aside from the facts that 1) Miley, a popular twitterer (?), is now a trending topic (it's gotta be the gossip stalkers and the few teenagers who follow her) 2) This is going to become a big deal, deciding when/how celebrities can just up and quit a service 3) She can't come back under her old name or her old email address, unless Twitter changes the rules just for her and 4) She followed her boyfriend's counsel, and millions of girls are now sighing and shaking their head, there are excellent reasons why she doesn't need an account. Some branding/publicity people would tell their client that they should, but I think it's a step toward reclaiming her privacy, figuring out her boundaries. Yeah, she's had some bumps in the world recently--pretty common for anyone in her position--but it just again shows how the little decisions we all face reverberate when it reaches a celebrity, and how much now every little thing is news. Not sure how much "real" news was delivered via her Twitter account, other than some vaguely interesting and voyeuristic updates, but the TMZs of the world are now both energized by this new story and sad by the fact that there won't be any more pure straight-from-the-source gossip to deliver.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Even Slate Is Defending "Party in the USA"

Nice take that Miley Cyrus is the great peace broker, according to Jonah Weiner. He even uses her famed TV show as evidence: "On the show, the irreconcilable forces in question are the contradictory demands of the public and private spheres, which coexist within a single, industrious girl", and that this tension is present in her music. I argue that this is present is most, if not all, female singers' work, especially in today's climate where everything is centered around an individual's definition of privacy. "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman", anyone? Weiner links to a crappy site that snarks on her recent Elle cover for sporting a "uniboob" and a push-up bra...well, isn't that what teenagers do? Geez.

However, I will grant him this:

The title "Party in the USA" makes explicit what the lyrics' Nashville-to-L.A. pilgrimage and Jay-Z and Britney name-drops suggest—this isn't a mere single so much as a red state/blue state, hick/elite, rural/urban détente. Pop bliss eradicates regionalism.
Regionalism in music, with the exception of country and gospel, doesn't really exist anymore--at least not in the ways it used to. When DJs are syndicated to multiple cities and formats are rigid, mainstream radio largely plays the same songs over again, and it's only the small, college stations that play local bands. Television obviously supports homogenity, as MTV plays the same big songs; radio airplay and MTV feed off each other to a big extent. Jay-Z is available in West Virginia, after all, and Kenny Chesney is still loved in New York City.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Miley Cyrus Is Not What She's Trying to Be

I hopped off the plane at LAX
with a dream and my cardigan
welcome to the land of fame excess,
am I gonna fit in?

Jumped in the cab,
Here I am for the first time
Look to the right and I see the Hollywood sign
This is all so crazy
Everybody seems so famous

My tummys turnin and I'm feelin kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I'm nervous,
That's when the taxi man turned on the radio
and a Jay Z song was on
and the Jay Z song was on
and the Jay Z song was on

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yea
Movin my hips like yea
I got my hands up,
They’re playin my song
I know im gonna be ok
Yea, It's a party in the USA
Yea, It's a party in the USA

Get to the club in my taxi cab
Everybody's lookin at me now
Like “who's that chick, that's rockin’ kicks?
She gotta be from out of town”

So hard with my girls not around me
Its definitely not a Nashville party
Cause’ all I see are stilletos
I guess I never got the memo

My tummys turnin and I'm feelin kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I'm nervous
That's when the D.J. dropped my favorite tune
and a Britney song was on
and the Britney song was on
and the Britney song was on

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yea
Movin my hips like yea
I got my hands up,
They’re playin my song
I know im gonna be ok
Yea, It's a party in the USA
Yea, It's a party in the USA

Feel like hoppin' on a flight (on a flight)
Back to my hometown tonight (town tonight)
Something stops me everytime (everytime)
The DJ plays my song and I feel alright

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yea
Movin my hips like yea
I got my hands up,
They’re playin my song
I know im gonna be ok
Yea, It's a party in the USA
Yea, It's a party in the USA

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yea
Movin my hips like yea
I got my hands up,
They’re playin my song
I know im gonna be ok
Yea, It's a party in the USA
Yea, It's a party in the USA
Do you conjure up Miley Cyrus when you read those lyrics?

I certainly didn’t conjure up Miley Cyrus when I heard the song.

First of all, she shouldn’t be singing this—it belongs to a brand new, fresh off-the-streets crappy pop singer, one who is actually awed by Hollywood, not a girl who’s been around a version of the scene a few times. Her cowboy boots and low-rent country outfit do in no way make her any more of a Nashville girl than Taylor Swift is.

“Party in the USA” is a pop song that everyone apparently loves, though the adulation puzzles me. Miley’s voice is terrible, especially when she goes full-on in the pre-chorus. Oy, my ears. Like “The Climb”, “Party in the USA” could be a decent song if it was sung by someone else. “The Climb”’s gravitas does not work with a teen star, just like “Party in the USA” doesn’t work if you’ve been living in LA for several years.

And dear Lord, the shoutouts to Britney and Jay-Z are gratuitous and screechy. I know they’re probably happy, but I hope that Jay-Z at least privately winces whenever he has to hear Miley screech out his name.

And OF COURSE, like the truly insidious pop songs, it doesn’t leave your head after you’ve heard it.

Ugh. Now I’m NEVER going to be able to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Jay Leno Show(down)

Over the past few years, I have become a huge Jay Leno fan. I have a thing for corny jokes; I love his everyman shtick, the way he has a little bit of everything. He always keeps up with what’s going on, and you know he’s a guy who reads the papers. He’s always accused of being Middle American, middle-of-the-road, old fashioned, even. So what. Technically, I’m not supposed to like him, since I’m young, hip (said ironically), and from the coast. I should like David Letterman, if I wasn’t off doing something way cooler. But I have no use for Dave. He doesn’t make sense to me; he’s not funny in the least.

To counteract Leno’s Time cover (written by their wonderful arts/culture reporter, James Poniewozik), New York magazine did their cover on Letterman, as if to stick their tongue out and go, “So what Leno’s getting all this publicity. Letterman’s SO obviously better. And we would know, cause we’re New Yorkers and we have taste, not like you schlubs. You’re the guys who’re making the CSIs and Desperate Housewives big hits!” Well, suck it. I’ve sheepishly admitted my love for Leno before, apologetic, but he does have the ratings to prove his popularity. And it’s deserved—his work ethic is as legendary as his car collection.

NBC has been running more promotions for his show than the rest of their fall season combined, ensuring that everyone will watch him at first and then hopefully catch on that NBC has other shows (starting soon!) that air before him. Ratings will be big, doubtlessly helped by Kanye’s scene at the VMAs Sunday. It was nearly universally derided as a douchbaggy thing to do, and this somehow has escalated into something major, so now cultural critics are trying to ascertain why there is so much outrage at what is nothing more than a rude, insensitive act. Mike Hale of the Times does the best job:

The extended reaction to Mr. West’s deed certainly had something to do with a continuing national conversation about rudeness, whether to presidents, line judges or irritatingly successful country singers. But it was really just the latest manifestation of our addiction to artificial drama, which has grown stronger as the stuff has become more plentiful and cheap, and the shamelessness with which the media now picks at the scabs of any sort of conflict in order to boost ratings.
Of course, the first episode is nothing but the first episode—and while NBC has committed to airing Jay at 10 for two years, it remains to be seen how well he will fare, if indeed people get tired of him. Expectations are both low and high, in that Leno is supposed to save television yet it doesn’t matter how low his ratings actually are, an interesting conundrum to be in.

So how was the first show? Pretty good. It’s Jay, and really, it didn’t change. They're the typical Jay jokes, lighthearted, corny, a little political, a little not, filled with dumb people and contradictions, GE and NBC getting the raw end, like they always do. Two of his jokes, though, were stolen, a blight on this hardworking, fastidious comic: Kanye and Taylor Swift having a “root beer” with the president was suggested earlier in an article that popped in Google News, and Dick Cheney’s alma mater The University of Wyoming is naming their international studies center after him, of course crying out for a joke—one made last week by Conan O’Brien. Whoops.

I loved the set, the opening credits, the montage. The credits were fresh, but reassuring, not dull like most talk show openers, and this one offered interesting possibilities upon rewatching. I am even more enamored of NBC’s ads for the new season: crisp, clean, modern, understated, and simple, showcasing the quality and implicit the pedigree of the network.

Jay opens with his monologue; there’s a long, taped skit that may or may not be funny, depending on your tastes and how tired you are at the moment, and then comes Jerry. Funny jokes, the biggest surprise is that Jerry’s in a tux.

There was speculation Sunday evening and Monday morning as to whether Kanye would honor his commitment to the show, and while it was great that he did come on, what did his “apology” replace? And whose idea was it? I doubt it was Jay’s. Kanye never did answer the question of why he did it. He mentioned that he screwed up, didn’t think that Taylor would just leave. Of course the whole thing was blown out of proportion, but what else happened?

Kanye didn’t look at the audience or Jay, and he rambled on. Kanye looked like he was going to cry…mumbling, embarrassed, a kid who was doing something he had to do but didn’t want to, and Jay’s question, though asked sensitively, merely resulted in protracted awkwardness and too much dead air. People aren’t going to buy Kanye’s supposed “apology”, it was the usual celebrity narcissistic rubbish, of taking responsibility and the time to assess their role in the world. But he does have a point with regard to award shows, in that he still retains the naïve belief that they mean something, they reward the best. The video for “You Belong With Me” isn’t bad; it’s cute and fits the song well. It’s not inventive or sexy or as fun as “Single Ladies”, but again, “Single Ladies” was up for Video of the Year, a much bigger award, and the VMAs are as much as about popularity as they are for name recognition. Kanye’s had some great videos and songs, too, and he’s been incredibly fortunate that he’s as successful and genre-changing as he is, and that he’s recognized for it, too, and that despite his massive ego, it hasn’t totally overshadowed his work, though again his taste for toolishness has threatened to do so once again.

Interesting choice to run with headlines at the end, especially after the high energy of Rihanna, Kanye, and Jay-Z. It was Rihanna’s first public appearance since her altercation with Chris Brown, and, as befitting the song, she was tough, with just a stripe of blond underneath her cap to differentiate herself. Great performance, though Kanye was impotent until his verse three-quarters into the song, where he was his usual self. Rihanna looked happy. As much as I enjoy “Headlines” (and he opened with his trademark line, “It’s Monday—Time for Headlines!”), it was a letdown after such a performance. I’m not ready to go to bed yet!

There are some people who say that’s the problem, that Jay’s corny humor is meant to be dozed off too, a relaxing nightcap. Maybe. But there are people who go to bed at 11.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Love It

It's nights like tonight that I love I live in this world.

So much, so fast...already all the articles are up about Jay Leno and Kanye West, and our wonderful president has already weighed in off-the-record...and it got picked up by Twitter, a service made for moments like this.

Seriously. I love the rush, though it still amazes me that everything is up so fast, that information spreads like fire, that there are writers who can report this quickly, write polished sentences and bam! they're up before you realize it.

Jay Leno post coming tomorrow.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Females Rule the Night: VMAs Wrap-Up

I didn't watch the entire show, because I wanted to catch Mad Men, and it turned out to be a good episode. Don sorta got hit on again, by his daughter's teacher, but we were treated to plot and character advancement, plus plenty of 60s life.

But the VMAs:


Fefe Dobson…you had a minor “hit” in 2002, a song that I don't remember at all. You were wearing black, red, maybe a checkered shirt? White background? Rant/sing? Giant question mark.

Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. Seriously, you passed your sell-by date in 2001. Go away.


Twitter new VJs blondness teenagers and technology whoa.

Opening: Probably the first time that there wasn't a performance. Madonna gave a tribute to Michael Jackson, just as I was writing about her in my last post. I watched it, cause it was Madonna, though I had planned to skip any MJ moments.

Katy Perry: With Joe Perry. Meh. White pants, sparkles.

Russell Brand: Useless.

Taylor Swift: The subway gig was cute, and impressive in that as far as I know has never been done before. I enjoyed her freewheelin' yet professional performance.

The Kanye Showdown: Low. Beyoncé was nominated for "Video of the Year", a much bigger and enduring award than "Best Female Video", and his "excuse me" to Taylor was rude. Beyoncé and Taylor were both very embarrassed.

Lady Gaga: Anyone who doubted Lady Gaga’s talent was proved wrong when she performed a deranged version of "Paparazzi", which ended with her hanging in the air, eyes dead, blood splattered over her funky white outfit, reminiscent of Madonna’s "Like a Virgin" wedding dress, without the dress. Her voice was strong, theatrical in its wobblyness, and her typical piano playing mesmerized the audience; they were all wondering where this would lead. Gaga brought out the other things she is known for (going pantless, crazy hair), even the wheelchair and the crutches. She’s the only artist that makes that work, along with showing the lines of her stockings below her underwear.

Pink: Very fitting (you need to listen to Sober). She knows how to do it.

Beyoncé: Classy, gracious, "Single Ladies" still kicks ass. Fantastic choreography, deserves to win all-around.

Green Day: They feel too old for this crowd.

Winners: The category that stands out the most is “Video That Should Have Won a Moonman”, all videos around 20 years old, most that the average high schooler doesn’t know. Nice concept, but the nominees are retarded.

Winners should go to videos that have had an impact. Eminem did not with "We Made You", though most of the others went to the big hits--"Womanizer" (I knew Britney wouldn't show, she's done with this crowd), "Live Your Life", and of course, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)".

Not surprising to see Gaga win "Best New Artist". She clearly had the most influence in 2009, and she usually does give you a reason to watch (though "Poker Face" is not her best video). Not sure what she's doing by covering up her neck and face, besides her glamour pop thing, making a statement, the whole "Paparrazi" shtick. Whatever. Gaga is gaga. Females rule the night.

VMAs Tonight

I know that I said last year that I wouldn’t watch the VMAs. But I have been persuaded to by the very fun ads of VMA Side Story, singing montages featuring Taylor Swift, Cobra Starship, Ne-Yo, and Katy Perry:

The tagline, “The Stars Align”, in bright lights, is classy, simple, no real promise set up to fail. Russell Brand is back, presumably because they couldn’t find anyone else to host.

The preshow has already shown me what I know to be true: I have no business watching this. The VMAs target demographic is high schoolers, and I passed that milestone before social networking was popular. MTV Hits has been running videos of previous winners, dating back to 1997 (why that year? I had no idea, but the Video of the Year went to “Virtual Insanity”, by Jamiroquai. Ah, back to the days when the top title went to a video of technical ingenuity and genuine awesomeness, and not to some slapdash job for a song no one remembers.), and I was struck how wholesome the videos appear in retrospect, how respected: Madonna winning for “Ray of Light” in 1998 is so quaint...c’mon, Madonna winning in the (somewhat) near past? As usual, I had grumbles: 2003 was the big year for “Hey Ya”, not 2004 (the only explanation is that it missed the cutoff); 2003 had a number of big hits, and Missy Elliot does not come to mind. I can’t reiterate again how awful last year’s winner was. But the VMAs has long stopped being about the good stuff, though it can be found among a handful of this year’s nominees; I’m just too far removed. Now it’s about tweets and New Moon and a bunch of celebrities-in-the-making; watch for them to become household names in six months.

I know from experience large chunks of the show will be unwatchable, but I’m here for Gaga, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and a handful of other performers.

Notes on the broadcast will follow in a subsequent post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Make Lemonade

I really want to see this, too. It's also the only video I've ever seen on YouTube that has intelligent comments, in full sentences.

While at times I get tired of the trite "live every moment" message, it can be very inspiring if done right. Too often it's just trotted out as a reminder, like in Jordin Sparks songs. You can't live every moment. Not every moment has meaning. There are times you are tired, sick, bored, annoyed, or just have to get shit done--and no amount of new age infusion is going to change that.

2009 Does Not Have a Summer Song

Normally, by this time of the year, I have predicted at least a few songs that could qualify as songs of the year. After all, the biggest songs of the year usually crest over the summer months, due to the nature of the summer falling at the middle of the calendar year. I would play games with myself, trying to guess it earlier and earlier, but I noticed a few years ago that the #1 song of the year—as demarked by all those radio countdowns in December—hit number one, the apex of being played out, over a very narrow timeframe, the final weeks of July, into August.

Yet, this year, there was no summer song. Not even a hint of it. Even the contenders were weak. Sure, there was Lady Gaga—the Kelly Clarkson of 2009, in terms of airplay—and Pink’s “Don’t Leave Me” never left. But despite the Black Eyed Peas dominance—as of this post, 22 weeks at number one, spread over two singles—they never got the vibe of this summer.

The Peas were resurgent, sure, but—and maybe it was just the back-to-back nature of their party anthems, “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling”—they didn’t have the oomph, the love, that summer songs traditionally have. I’m not a fan of “Boom Boom Pow”, and while “I Gotta Feeling” has its moments (how many times have you heard “L’Chaim” in a pop song?), there’s nothing so outrageous or brassy or just as cool as “Umbrella” was, to give an example.

Lady Gaga would fit the bill, but her songs blur together as singles, since she is an entity onto herself. “Poker Face” was the spring, “Just Dance” the winter, and it looks like “Lovegame” and “Paparazzi” will fill up the summer and fall quarters respectively, but she is 2009, not summer 2009. I personally would have picked “Boys Boys Boys” to be her summer single, with the beach-ready chorus of “Boys boys boys/we like boys in cars/boys boys boys/buy us drinks in bars/boys boys boys/with hairspray and denim/boys boys boys/we love them!” Can’t you just see the chunks of girls in convertibles, their hair flying, singing along to this at top volume?

Now that’s a summer song.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Movies I Need to See (Coincidentally Based Off Books)

When I read The Lovely Bones, back in high school, I marveled over Alic Sebold's lovely conception of heaven. And when I first heard it was optioned for a film, my first thought was to that depiction of heaven: I couldn't imagine a way to integrate it in a movie. Susie narrates the story from heaven, but her heaven is like real life, but not...and not in a mirror kind of way.

The Lovely Bones is magical (and has one of hell of a magical sex scene at the end. SPOILER ALERT!). I somehow missed the memo that Peter Jackson directed The Lovely Bones, set to come out in December. It looks wonderful, beautiful, and even though I haven't seen any of the Lord of the Rings (I know), I'm glad he was chosen. Seems to fit. I'm also really glad they kept the opening lines ("My name is Salmon. Like the fish. First name Susie. I was fourteen years old when I was murdered, on December 6, 1973.").

John Krasinski's Brief Interviews With Hideous Men features a lot of recognizable actors, but it's the content that will hopefully bring in the viewers--men being disgusting, crude about women and sex, but not in the I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell way.

And speaking of Tucker Max...some might call it The Hangover Redux, but that's just unfortunate timing.

The movie looks kinda "been there, done that", and I haven't even seen The Hangover. I'm sure it will be offensive and crude, but that's Tucker Max. It's just a matter of it being funny. Matt Czuchry has his Logan charm; we'll see if it carries over.

(Lovely Bones and Brief Interview trailers taken from Jess & Josh)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rihanna's Back... a featured artist.

Apparently Saturday was the day that "Run This Town" was released to the hip-hop and R&B stations, because I heard it several times. The blogs are already off and running about who owned which verse, Jay-Z or Kanye. But, after getting over the surprise of hearing a new Rihanna song, even if she was adding hot female flavor, I noticed that her section is similar in tone to her last "single", T.I.'s "Live Your Life".

In "Live Your Life", she sings of just livin' your life, being ambitious, and basically, being true to yourself (though that is implied). T.I. raps about haters and the game, criticizing the scene for being artificial (which Kanye does as well throughout his oerve), and Rihanna's vocals underscore the theme of the track. On "Run This Town", she is hardened (or at least it seems that way, especially with her recent history looming in the background), but she has the courage of her convictions and does her thing. She's earned it. Her successes have proved that she is at the top of her game and can run with the big boys, that she does indeed "Run This Town".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Billboard Opening Up Their Website

Billboard is opening up their charts to everyone.

For chart junkies like me, this is great. No longer are we beholden to firewalls; now we can track songs as much as we like! Bwah!

Billboard is also going to spruce up their other online offerings (downloads, streaming, the like), and start a new chart based on user-generated ratings. This could be interesting, as it's possible we can see some funky outliers not represented on other charts. But it's been pretty well-established that top iTunes downloads mirror other top hits on the Hot 100, and even the Hot 200 Albums (though they do not necessarily reflect top singles). Most likely, the online buzz will be representative of things that are already out there--and the current listing bears that out. Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, and some American Idols are already all over the airways, and this mix--taken from any Top 20 currently played on the hit stations--is standard. Even the "breakaway" songs--from ads or soundtracks--quickly get swallowed up and become staples.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quick Hits

Maybe I should make this recurring…there are always songs I want to comment on:

Michael Jackson: I am not a fan. Never was. Weirdo, creep, you name it—get him away from me. I couldn’t understand the outpouring of affection, especially as to me, he had no relevance to my generation; I felt we were all pretty young, if alive at all, when he was big. I liked “Billie Jean” (but not the video); that was basically it. But, the week he died, I caught some of the videos, and I sat through them obligatorily. I knew I was the only one in the world who hated "Thriller" (yes, the video)…long, long, lots of boring dancing. I came away unchanged. Michael Jackson preferred dark alleys, menacing looks, bullies and confrontation in his videos, and they all were the same to me. He needed to move on, badly.

As superstars go, I am very clearly in Madonna’s camp: She has one hell of an exciting, cool life, she’s rich, not in debt, is not crazy or weird, has in fact a reputation for being a hard-ass, usually credited to her monstrous success, and has a career that is still intact. But in all the eulogies for Michael Jackson’s camp, they keep saying that he was the last superstar left, an argument that is complete bunk. Madonna is his direct competitor, and she most definitely outlasted him in pretty much every measurable way.

I will concede one thing, though. Nobody dances like Michael Jackson anymore. He’s the only one who can get away with high-water pants and white socks, and he’s the only one who glides (though he has to ruin it by jerking and touching his crotch).

3Oh!3: Dumb band name, but "Don't Trust Me" is a fun song (and fun video). I am always a fan of people who dress up and make it fun. I am very surprised that my friend at Art at the Auction didn’t rip the Colorado boys apart for their very sexist “Shush girl, shut your lips/Do the Helen Keller, and talk with your hips.” Horrible, but hilarious.

Flo Rida, Right Round”: The universal reaction: OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THIS SONG!!! Horror. Complete horror, but you listen. This is AWFUL. And SO FILTHY! How is this on the air?!?!? The next time: Oh, it’s that abominable remix. A travesty! Who in the world allowed Flo Rida to do this? Shock. The third time: Ugh, I’m not going to…hmm, it’s catchy. And then: OH MY GOD THIS IS GENIUS. Flo Rida is a GENIUS! Amazing! I love this song!!

Beyoncé, "Halo": Considering I’ve been pretty hard here on Beyoncé, I have to admit that she did take my advice and release “Halo”, a song that is male-positive, as she soaringly sings the praises of her baby. The video features lots of nuzzling by a ballerina Beyoncé and her light-eyed boy, but no, absolutely no, kissing…

…unlike Kelly Clarkson, who does in fact hook up despite the title of her second single off of All I Ever Wanted. I dislike “I Do Not Hook Up” because it’s one of those songs that girls use as an example; it’ll come on and several of them will find a girl who, in their mind, is the definition of the song and they will point at her, showing the rest of the world, that indeed, she does not hook up. This girl is usually single, and the songs are also usually about single women or opinionated women or independent women or women that need an declarative adjective before being announced. See “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” or other Beyoncé/Destiny’s Child songs.

Shinedown: I briefly considered “Second Chance” to be in the running for top song of the year, one of the big hits of the summer, but it peaked already. The video, despite being a basic story, continues to intrigue: I still love the casting of the parents and the daughter, but the young blonde boy? And, we will assume he is her much younger brother, because if he is her son (very possible in music video land), then well, escaping your seafaring Maine town is very irresponsible, and that is not the message of the song! The other central question: Who decided that the video should revolve around a fishmonger’s daughter?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fox Still Messing with Dollhouse

And some people say Twitter is worthless: Felicia Day tweeted that her episode of Dollhouse will not air on Fox. Entertainment Weekly has the scoop, which again puts the network in a bad light:

It's true. Fox bought and paid for 13 hours of Dollhouse (from sister company 20th Century Fox), one of which turned out to be the scrapped pilot that Whedon wound up reshooting. Which means Day's episode, "Epitaph One," isthe 14th -- which the network didn't buy. And isn't going to buy.
Way to be lame.

I'm still figuring out the show. I'm a Whedon newbie, but it's clear to me that Fox messing with the show from the very beginning only harmed the series, and that many people are sticking with it out of a sense of loyalty to Whedon in the hope that it will be successful. It's only now that Dollhouse is beginning to go somewhere, but it's probably too little too late for a lot of people.

Seems to me that Whedon loves to pull in people with the sexualized content: Every episode showcases Eliza Dushku's feline body bound in some ridiculous bondage or sex kitten wear, and then she runs around and kicks some ass it in, somewhere between the :45 and :50 mark. While it works within the show, sometimes the series just feels like an excuse for having Dushku dressed so laughably, and it always elicits chuckles and raised eyebrows.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

SNL Wins a Peabody

For their political coverage, most notably Tina Fey's blockbuster turn as Sarah Palin.

Other wins went to "Lost", "Entourage", "Breaking Bad", "John Adams", The Onion News Network, and a bunch of PBS documentaries from "Frontline" and "Independent Lens".

In other SNL news, tonight's episode features a French band no one's ever heard of, Seth Rogen has lost a lot of weight and looks great, I laugh at really dumb skits (the funky voices one), Cathy is trotted out in a creative piece on comic strips, the digital short is absurd and funny, and the show has gotten really, really gay.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Goodbye, ER

I would be remiss if I did not mention ER's passing into the ether of TV history tonight. A Thursday staple, it lambasted the competition for years, despite going through multiple cast changes and enough plotlines to make a TV addict cry.

Far from being the only medical show on television, it ushered in a new way of looking at hospital shows--as an exciting, fast-paced whirl of activity--instead of the folksy, laid-back look of earlier eras. Michael Crichton labored for years on a pilot that confounded executives with its medicalese and rotating storylines, but its hyper-realism not only connected with viewers--ER, always at Thursdays at 10, is the longest-running drama to ever air in the same timeslot--but ushered in a whole new type of programming. Dramas today are gritty and hard-hitting, and even when lighthearted deal less with overall soapy elements than they did in the past.

ER was the first show to bring actual medical students and doctors on as writers and consultants, something that is de riguer now from House to SVU. Michael Crichton himself was a doctor before creating the show, and even his choice of camera styles was revolutionary. The steady cam caught all of the action, from the nursing assistants to the spouses, a technique that was later identified with the walks-and-talks of The West Wing.

For those of us who didn't watch ER, the show was also known by its incredible promos--turning plot twist into an art form, with helicopters, death, near-death, car accidents, and all manner of spoilerific fun.

ER started in 1994, the same year as Friends. It is one of the last, if not the last, true dramatic blockblusters on television, and one without a spinoff or attached steries. That alone makes it unique.

Television is not dying, but the conception of big hits is. ER was big and bombastic, and it will go out with a well-deserved bang.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

MTV to Start Playing Music Videos

Curiously enough, they didn't publicize it themselves. I had to find *gasp* other media to tell the story!

Anyway, it was bound to happen--you can only exhaust reality shows for so long before going back to basics. The Real World: Brooklyn is old-school, early '90s edition, Unplugged will again be on the airwaves and Vh1 is bringing back Behind the Music. Now if only they can resurrect Pop Up Video...I'm telling you, it'll be gold. Gold!

The videos are early morning--starting very early, but meant to put a small dent in the GMAs of the world, perfect to wake up to or watch while you get dressed. With a 3 am start time, it's a new benchmark of insomnia.

What's more interesting is how this new video block will be exempt from ratings. Ratings for music videos as a whole are silly; it's the aggregate or the popularity of a given video/artist that's more important, similarly to this point made by Brian Stetler regarding cable news numbers. MTV plans to use the block now as an experiment in terms of advertising and marketing, possibly having one or few advertisers sponsor the whole thing, like what Hulu and other online video portals do. They'll also integrate the videos and Unplugged segments more, hoping for a greater awareness of the product (music). I hope they continue to show videos while credits run, though I can see them phasing this out now that they'll actually be able to play the whole thing.

And be on the lookout for Asher Roth. He's poised to be the Big Thing this year: a mix of Eminem and Mickey Avalon with the cheekiness of Travis McCoy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I checked out the new 92.3 FM, and it didn't disappoint, which meant that it did. Every single song I heard on it, between last night and this morning, I have heard on Z100. Repeatedly. (As well as several other stations.)

"Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)". "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." "Whatever You Like." "Please Don't Stop the Music."

And then, since they have no DJs yet, the canned promo outright disses Z100 and says that they play current hits.

The nerve!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

K-Rock is Dead; Long Live K-Rock

K-Rock is no more.

The legendary New York rock station—which has gone through several reincarnations in the last few years—will no longer play rock music. Now positioned to directly compete with giant Z100 (#2 in Arbitron ratings), 92.3 FM will be Top 40, Now FM.

Radio station format changes tend to be abrupt, with notice received within a day or two of the switch. Or, as what happened in 2005 with 101.1, when the longtime oldies station just suddenly switched to Jack FM, the hot format at the time. The tri-state area was pissed, and outcries continued for the next several weeks.

The same thing is happening here. Although K-Rock, or WRXK, has been sucking for several years, it was still the default rock station, despite going through several format changes in the last decade. Most trace K-Rock’s problems back to when Howard Stern left for Sirius three years ago. Recently, it has played “classic” rock and nineties alternative, but the station had little relevance in today’s music environment, and it didn’t feed on nostalgia. Classic rock in New York is Q104.3, regular rock was 92.3. That’s how it is.

To further alienate radio fans, popular and controversial morning jocks Opie and Anthony were also given a pink slip Monday, a few hours after interviewing Russell Brand (which I happened to catch, oddly enough).

Why this change of heart? While K-Rock might have only been useful for leftover grunge fans and Opie & Anthony addicts, it still served a niche. RXP, the year-old upstart indie and alternative station on 101.9, played a vastly different type of rock, and so did Q 104. Most of the other stations on the dial were some meld of adult contemporary, hip-hop, dance, or other genres. But Top 40 is antithetical to what K-Rock has always stood for, another reason why the change feels like such a sting.

According to the Times, which broke the story, K-Rock was destroyed by the same thing that has decimated many others: American Idol. iTunes downloads and American Idol have shown that basic pop music has multigenerational appeal, and those that listen tend to purchase iTunes downloads, concert tickets and the like. So, in true fashion, they will follow the money.

Opie & Anthony had good ratings (as they point out in their Twitter post), but the station itself was ranked #21 in New York City by Arbitron. The analyst quoted in the Times article also pointed out that stations traditionally aimed at adults—106.7 Lite FM, 95.5 PLJ, FRESH 102.7—were losing listeners to younger-targeting pop stations like Z100, and that hip-hop is still very much a niche.

Radio in New York’s metropolitan area has long been a joke, an embarrassment to the city. Up until last year, unless you listened to a public station, indie rock music—even by bands as mainstream as Death Cab for Cutie—was nonexistent, and country radio has been banished for practically a decade; forget about funkier genres like ska. It’s a shame, and the internet has only accelerated the movement away from radio. New music was better off found from a million other sources, including those old-fashioned media of television and magazines.

It’s a bad move. 92.3 is so synonymous with rock that someone flipping the dial and coming across Taylor Swift or Lil Wayne will just recoil in horror and change the station as soon as their brain registers the note. To go head-to-head with a powerhouse as unchallenged as Z100 requires that the station form an identity and a difference that makes Z100 look either old-fashioned or for the kiddies (the latter point could be easy to do, if done right). Besides, the vast majority of songs Z100 plays are already spun on a number of different stations, ranging from KTU to LiteFM, and some of the lucky artists, like Rihanna, get played on all of them. Why should Now FM just be another copycat?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life Imitating Art

I'm breaking dishes up in here
All night (Uh-huh)
I ain't gon’ stop until I see police lights (Uh-huh)
I'm a fight a man
I'm a fight a man
I'm a fight a man
A man, a man, a ma-a-a-an
A man, a man, a ma-a-a-an

Those lyrics richoched through my head upon first hearing about Chris Brown and Rihanna.

I spent many, many, many hours listening to Good Girl Gone Bad in 2007 and 2008, and I estimated that I averaged one Rihanna song a day last year, not accounting for every time I personally played a track from the CD or on iTunes. So of course it was only natural, after gasping at the horrifying story, that my mind immediately shifted toward her music, and to one of my favorites on (the original release of) Good Girl Gone Bad, "Breaking Dishes".

Once I played the track, I was shocked at how ironic that passage was.

She’s going to fight a man until the police arrives.

Oh God.

If I was her, I'd be both laughing and crying.

Of course, the more I thought about her music, the more I realized that it works in juxtaposition with the entire incident:

Hate That I Love You”? Yeah, except it doesn’t end happily.

Take a Bow”:

Grab your clothes and get gone (get gone)
You better hurry up before the sprinklers come on
Talking' about, girl, I love you, you're the one
This just looks like a re-run
Please, what else is on (oh)

And don't tell me you're sorry 'cause you're not
Baby when I know you're only sorry you got caught

But you put on quite a show
Really had me going
But now it's time to go
Curtain's finally closing
That was quite a show
Very entertaining'
But it's over now (but it's over now)
Go on and take a bow

"Disturbia", cowritten by Brown, also could be describing a state that Rihanna is now in:

Faded pictures on the wall
It's like they talkin' to me
Disconnectin' your call
Your phone don't even ring
I gotta get out
Or figure this shit out
It's too close for comfort


Release me from this curse I'm in
Trying to maintain, but I'm struggling
You can't go, go, go
I think I'm going to oh, oh, oh

Someone somewhere must’ve made a joke in regard to "Rehab"…

Even "Live Your Life", her duet with TI, can be used in her story.

The only thing that would have made her music stand out more if she was cheated on--but that, horribly enough, is too pedestrian. Everyone sings about being cheated on.

As for Chris Brown, I didn’t bother to go through his catalog. I just hear “But they keep coming from wall-to-wall”, but instead of girls wanting to be with him, they want to tear him to shreds.

***Of course, I realize that pretty anyone can make a case, in retrospect, for music to fit a certain scene, and a song like “Hate That I Love You” is pretty generic and describes emotions that everyone experiences at some point—that’s the point, after all. Nor am I definitively making any statements about Rihanna's feelings regarding Brown or the incident. I just find stuff like this--especially any type of irony--amusing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On Rihanna and Chris Brown

I’ve been following the Chris Brown-Rihanna story, reading every MTV news article, and every “new” story that hits Google News, even though most of the information rarely changed. I always figured a photo would leak out; it’s inevitable in this day and age.

I’ve thought about reposting the image, but decided against it. It’s too harsh, and there are plenty of other sources that show it. People have said that the image will win her sympathy points (there is always a cynicism factor to any story), which seems like an obvious duh. Very rarely, if ever, images of beaten women inspire glee.

Are Rihanna’s eyes closed because she is in pain (they were “punched” close), or is she closing them out of sadness, pain, and sensitivity?

I admit to my own voyeurism in regard to this story. I would like details, a reconstruction of the fight, of their relationship troubles. Completely none of my business, and I respect Rihanna’s decision to keep as quite and private as she needs to. I cannot fathom everything she’s going through, knowing that despite just dealing with her complex feelings for Brown, the physical and emotional hardship of what just happened on the eve of what would have been a momentous night, and a police investigation and possible case, she has to think about her career, her image, and how she can react publicly. The pressure! When to speak out, what to say. Does she address it in her music? Does she become the face of domestic violence?

There are a lot of people out there who do want her to take a hard stand, to go out there and speak against domestic violence. And I applaud her and encourage her to do so—when and if she feels she can tackle it. She shouldn’t be forced to do anything; if she wants to speak out, it should be on her terms.

I have read rumors that if she goes back to Chris Brown, then people will lose respect for her. I understand this reaction, and I think that disappointment will follow as well. She’ll be under so much pressure to completely cut him out of her life—not only from anyone who didn’t like the two of them together, but for all the people who worry about her image and the effect this will have on her career. It’s awful to think so strategically about personal decisions, isn’t it? To worry about how every little thing you do will look to others, how it will be interpreted, if you’re sending an appropriate message, or if you’re cutting off your foot?

Alas, that’s how Brown’s career has been seen the past two weeks. Golden R&B star is no more. I’ve read accounts that say he’s career is forever down the toilet—eh, the right combination of circumstances can turn it around. Might not happen, might not happen for a long time, but it’s possible.

It was heartening to see both Kanye West and Jay-Z—two major hip-hop figures—speak out in horror regarding the incident and their love for Rihanna. Jay-Z was a mentor to Rihanna, and opened up “Umbrella”, her 2007 smash that kick-started Good Girl Gone Bad’s hold on America, as well as a target of nasty rumors involving the two of them.

I support whatever Rihanna decides to do. I hope that she doesn’t end her career over this, not that I believe that will happen. I’d like to see this whole crisis addressed somewhat on her next album, even if it doesn’t arrive for a few years.

Although Rihanna’s star was very, very high, she was heading for a vacation. Called the “queen of the summer”, Rihanna has become of the biggest stars of this decade by consistently releasing hits, summer after summer. The last four summers—yes, the last four—were dominated by, respectively, “Pon de Replay”, a cheesy dancehall song that virtually everyone, including myself, dismissed; “SOS”, the new “Crazy in Love” that borrowed “Tainted Love”’s famous hook; “Umbrella”, which took her to new heights; and “Disturbia”, the going-crazy song that was unfortunately penned by Chris Brown. Good Girl Gone Bad was rereleased last year with additional songs, including “Disturbia”, yielding eight singles, a massive number for any artist; the album is done. She would have laid low anyway, relaxing or working on her next album.

That next album, rumored to be released sometime in late 2009, was supposed to follow in the steps of “Disturbia” and her harder, edgier, kicking-ass-and-going-slightly-crazy songs, a move I am totally for and one that fits well with her and even what she is experiencing now.

But that is the subject of another post.