Posts Tagged ‘2009’

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lady gaga & beyoncé – telephone. (video review)

March 14, 2010

At the end of 2009, I rated The Fame Monster at #18 on my year-end album chart.  Although I do stand by that chart and I don’t think I would really change any of the albums that are on there, in hindsight Lady GaGa would actually be somewhere in the Top 10 (possibly quite high up).  I didn’t think so at the time, but the funny thing about The Fame Monster is that it has hidden depths and its songs are actually really enduring.  What’s more, unlike The Fame, the songs are actually about deep topics such as domestic violence (“Dance In The Dark”), intoxication (“So Happy I Could Die”) and poisonous relationships (“Bad Romance”). I find it ironic that I’ve lambasted Lady GaGa for pandering to radio too much with her repetitive nonsense hooks (“p-p-p-poker face / papa-paparazzi / eh eh / ooh la la ga ga ro ma ma” and so on), but now I find myself appreciating her songwriting craft and finding her songs becoming more solid (although The Fame Monster is streets ahead of The Fame, so in a way I’m just acknowledging her artistic progression).  So I apologise somewhat for kinda turning off Lady GaGa and not giving her her due (although her fans / “monsters” are quite off-putting and need to be less militant), although if she could keep off the repetition of nonsensical syllables that would be good.  Because she doesn’t need to do that.

And so we come to “Telephone”.  The song is about suffocating relationships, and Lady GaGa herself has said that it doesn’t just have to be a romantic situation, but could also symbolise the fact that when her telephone rings, it’s always because she has to get back to work in the studio and she can’t escape that.  The song itself is pretty strong, although it’s not as progressive as some of the other songs on The Fame Monster and resorts to the 4/4 beat that has completely oversaturated popular music (and did so about a year and a half ago).  Beyoncé’s feature is a rapid-fire verse over double-time beats and keeps the song interesting.

The video for “Telephone” was released on Friday, and it has become something of a Pop Event.  The hype the video received even before its premiere was immense, and now it’s being hailed by some as the successor to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  Others however are lambasting it for its apparent sexism and overt lesbianism.  I read in one place that you will remember exactly where you were when you first saw it, and that much is true (at least for me).  I had just returned home from work, it was about 3:30 and after keeping track of the video reviews on Twitter, I decided to give into my curiosity.  Upon the first viewing, I was a tiny bit underwhelmed but could still see the video’s bad and good points (of which my view hasn’t really changed).  I thought that Beyoncé’s appearance far outclassed Lady GaGa, not just because Beyoncé has had some acting lessons but also because Beyoncé is more of an effortless star (not in reality, but she doesn’t look as if she’s trying so hard).  I detested the overt product placement of Virgin Mobile, Chanel & the GaGa earbud headphones – but all the kids are doing it; I just expected Lady GaGa to have more class.  But then why should she? It’s money in the bank, and when your video is 9 and a half minutes long, you need some bank to be able to make that video look and feel effective and powerful.

I’ve rewatched the “Telephone” video a few times now, and each time my estimation of it has gone up.  While not exactly on iconic level (I think it’s far too soon to be throwing that word around; GaGa has only been around for 2 years), it’s another demonstration that Lady GaGa’s commitment to her artistry is strong, defiant and interesting.  The introductory jail scene serves to debunk the rumours of GaGa’s intersex status (duh), allows her to wear a host of outlandish outfits (striped shoulder-padded body suit / yellow police caution tape / super-studded leather jacket and underwear covered in chains) the best of which is undoubtedly the cigarette sunglasses (still smoking!).  The fashion continues with the huge black tricorne hat GaGa sports upon being bailed out of prison; the shredded USA flag (subtle!) clothes in which GaGa and Beyoncé dance in the diner scene; the folded geometric telephone hat and telephone receiver hairdo GaGa wears on her head; the leopardprint body suit à la Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much”; the closing lavender and black body sheets… not all of these ideas work (on a couple of occasions both GaGa and Beyoncé look nothing short of horrendous – for some reason, in the USA flag bikini and bright yellow hair, Lady GaGa reminds me somewhat of Ken from Street Fighter and I can’t shake this association!), but they all capture the viewer’s attention, and more importantly they all leave you with something to say after watching the video.  That’s possibly “Telephone”‘s biggest success – it provokes thought and inspires discussion.  We know this because even the broadsheet newspapers are talking about it.

I stand by my statement that GaGa does seem to be trying awfully hard at being controversial and “artistic”.  She’s made a couple of great videos now, but in view of the numerous costume changes (see above), storylines and scenes, it doesn’t seem to come easily.  For comparison, where better to look than her costar Beyoncé?  For the definition of an iconic music video, look no further than “Single Ladies”; everyone and their mama has seen that video and knows the dance.  The video is in black and white, has no storyline or costumes (other than a leotard and metallic glove), is done in one take and isn’t even an original idea (see Bob Fosse’s choreography on youtube). Most importantly, Beyoncé did it almost as an afterthought to her video for “If I Were A Boy” (which in my opinion is a truly beautiful, excellent video) without breaking a sweat; and yet this is the video that captured everyone’s attention.  Now, of course Beyoncé is not anywhere near as effortless as she appears; but she makes it look easy.  GaGa does not make it look easy, and although it’s admirable that she’s so committed to the symbolism and artistic integrity she conveys (and GaGa is clearly an intelligent and talented woman), I’m scared that because the media and the fans are so interested in her image, her look, and what she’s going to be wearing that they forget that Lady GaGa is actually a singer and a musician – the most important thing should be her music.  Which, as I said at the top, is actually quite good and shouldn’t get lost in all of the surrounding gloss, however layered and substantial that gloss may be.  What happens when Lady GaGa can’t get any crazier?  What about when she wants to strip away all the layers and be more vulnerable and natural?  Will everyone turn away from her then, because they just wanted the fancy clothes and elaborate videos?  Can people not listen to her music, her lyrics without the accompanying visual?  I hope I’m wrong, because if not then that’s pretty sad.

The storyline, just as the lyrics of the song itself, can be interpreted in various ways and I’m not going to get into that here; I think that some of the reviews I’ve read have been hilariously in-depth and I think that GaGa is intelligent enough to play along in pretending to have input heavy symbolism into outfits, storylines and lyrics where there is none; people seem to need to have a meaning to every single thing, whereas I often think that GaGa is just having fun and being crazy.  Which is great!  It’s entertainment.  And the “Telephone” video is certainly entertaining; I hated the product placement, and I don’t feel that the use of the Pussy Wagon was necessary (the Tarantino homages are apparent, with elements of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction included) – but then that’s just because I find the Pussy Wagon unfeasibly garish.  Which, in Kill Bill, was the point, and I understand that.  I really enjoyed Beyoncé’s homages to the “Paparazzi” video in her poisoning the teacup, Minnie Mouse glasses and hand over her mouth when they censored the swearing.  I loved the Japanese cooking-programme style of “Let’s Make A Sandwich”, and the dialogue between Gaga and Beyoncé was intriguingly half-cheesy, half-hard-boiled (although Beyoncé can somewhat act, and Lady GaGa really can’t – yet).  Tyrese and Beyoncé’s subtitled conversation, spoken with only looks and facial expressions, was genius. The Thelma & Louise-esque ending neatly gave closure to the video, but also made viewers wonder what was in store (that “To Be Continued…”) for next time.

Overall, I thought that the “Telephone” video was excellent, and I’m intrigued to see how the music channels edit it down to song length.  It’s a thrilling watch, and while I’m not going to pretend that it is a perfect video, I think that to compare it to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is unfair; “Thriller” is not even Michael Jackson’s best video by a long shot, and Lady GaGa’s video deserves to stand in its own right.  “Telephone” is furiously entertaining, and shows an artist coming into her own, even if at this point the numerous costume changes and persistent homages, product placements and edgy fashion poses betray an artist not quite comfortable enough in her own skin to exude her artistry naturally.  Once it becomes a little more effortless (as it has for Beyoncé, Madonna and all the other greats), that’s when Lady GaGa will be iconic and symbolic of a new musical generation.  But she’s well on her way, and I hope that the media, fans and public will appreciate that, because I myself am learning to, little by little.

ps. If only my “Bad Romance” video treatment had ended in a jail rather than in a mental institution, it would have led perfectly into the “Telephone” video!  Ah well, can’t win ’em all 😉

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lessons learned.

December 30, 2009

For my final blog post of the year, like I said, I’m not going to attempt to give a run down of my 2009.  I’m never very good at that and I either misfocus and weigh certain events too heavily, or completely miss stuff out.  However, in trying to cast my mind back, I’ve learned a lot this year.  Here are some of my lessons learned:

Just because they’re related to you by blood doesn’t mean your family will always love you or care about you.  Love is not the same as obligation.

Trusting your own motivation can lead you to places people never thought you could go.  That’s their limited imagination, not yours.

People whom you thought were your friends can turn around and stab you in the back.  It’s not your fault and sometimes you can’t see it coming.

Someone who might initially appear to come from a different walk of life could become your best friend.

There’s nothing wrong with spending money on yourself, as long as you have the money!

People should focus less on telling you what you shouldn’t do and more on accepting you for who you are.  Chances are, you already know better than them what is good/bad for you, and being reminded is both condescending and unhelpful.

Life is open plan, and there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path; all we can do is follow our hearts and intuition as much as possible, and do what is ‘right’ for us.  That way, at least we have total ownership of our mistakes and our successes.

Marriage doesn’t change who you are, your sex drive nor whom you find attractive.

You’re never too old to fall crazy in love.  You can’t help your feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with having those feelings.

Usually, if you want to do something on a computer and you can’t work out how, there is some technician who has wanted to do it before you and subsequently invented a solution to your problem.  Google is your friend.

Don’t decide to up and learn a new language and consider emigrating on a whim.

Never give up hope.

Thankyou all for your support of this blog, my music and everything else this year! I really appreciate it and I wish you all a fantastic New Year’s Eve (let’s go party!) and a fulfilling 2010.  Here’s to the future!
Much love, Alan x
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Top 20 albums of 2009.

December 25, 2009

Hello everyone, and Merry Christmas!  I have compiled (and it was startlingly easy) my top 20 albums of 2009 (if you know me, you know it’ll be an R&B female-dominated affair as usual!).  Unlike last year, when I listed 10 and did mini reviews, this time I’ve got 20 (since my shortlist came to 20 albums, I thought it would just be easier to rank 11-20, than pick out some for Honourable Mentions).  No mini-reviews, or I would be here forever, and I think my blog posts are long enough without breaking the 5000 word barrier!  So I’ve just put the best and worst tracks from each album with the album cover, and hopefully you’ll be intrigued to download my favourite songs of 2009.  And while you’re at it, you can download my own album, Quiet Storm, here too! So without further ado…

20. Utada HikaruThis Is The One (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Come Back To Me, Apple And Cinnamon, This One (Crying Like A Child), On And On

Skip = Automatic Part II, Poppin’

19. Electrik RedHow To Be A Lady Volume 1

Highlights = Muah, P Is For Power, W.F.Y., Drink In My Cup, Kill Bill

Skip = So Good, Friend Lover, On Point

18. Lady GaGaThe Fame Monster

Highlights = Bad Romance, Alejandro, Monster, Teeth

Skip = Speechless, So Happy I Could Die

17. Joss StoneColour Me Free!

Highlights = Could Have Been You, Stalemate, Girlfriend On Demand

Skip = Incredible, Parallel Lines, Governmentalist

16. Cheryl Cole3 Words

Highlights = 3 Words, Parachute, Heaven, Fight For This Love, Boy Like You

Skip = everything else!

15. Chrisette MicheleEpiphany

Highlights = Blame It On Me, Epiphany (I’m Leaving), Notebook, On My Own

Skip = What You Do, Another One, Mr. Right

14. Nicki Minaj – Beam Me Up Scotty

Highlights = I Get Crazy, Kill Da DJ, Mind On My Money, Keys Under Palm Trees, Beam Me Up Scotty

Skip = Best I Ever Had, Easy

13. MýaBeauty & The Streets Vol. 1

Highlights = About My B.I., Show Me Something, Boss, Club Go Crazy, Work It Out, Black Out

Skip = Go Hard Or Go Home, The Only One, Full Service

12. Robin ThickeSex Therapy

Highlights = Sex Therapy, Meiplé, Shakin’ It For Daddy, Elevatas, Make U Love Me

Skip = Million Dolla Baby, I Got U, Mona Lisa

11. Alicia KeysThe Element Of Freedom (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Doesn’t Mean Anything, Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart, Love Is My Disease, Distance And Time, Empire State Of Mind (Part II)

Skip = Love Is Blind, Wait Til You See My Smile, Like The Sea, This Bed

10. The-DreamLove vs Money

Highlights = My Love, Take U Home 2 My Mama, Fancy, Right Side Of My Brain

Skip = Walkin’ On The Moon, Sweat It Out, Love vs Money, Let Me See The Booty

9. Keri HilsonIn A Perfect World…

Highlights = Turnin’ Me On, Get Your Money Up, Knock You Down, Make Love, Energy, Where Did He Go

Skip = Intuition, Slow Dance, How Does it Feel

8. Black Eyed Peas The E.N.D.

Highlights = Boom Boom Pow, Rock That Body, Imma Be, Electric City, Mare

Skip = Alive, Missing You, Rockin To The Beat

7. ShakiraShe Wolf (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Did It Again, Why Wait, Men In This Town, Mon Amour

Skip = Gypsy, Spy

6. Trey SongzReady

Highlights = I Invented Sex, I Need A Girl, LOL :-), Black Roses, Yo Side Of The Bed

Skip = Jupiter Love, Does He Do It, Be Where You Are

5. AmerieIn Love & War

Highlights = Heard ‘Em All, Higher, Swag Back, Different People, Dear John

Skip = Tell Me You Love Me, Red Eye, Pretty Brown

4. LeToyaLady Love (read my full review here!)

Highlights = She Ain’t Got…, Not Anymore, Good To Me, Regret, I Need A U, Don’t Need You

Skip = Take Away Love, After Party, Tears

3. CiaraFantasy Ride (read my full review here!)

Highlights = High Price, Like A Surgeon, Never Ever, Work, Keep Dancin’ On Me, I Don’t Remember

Skip = Ciara To The Stage, Love Sex Magic, Lover’s Thing

2. RihannaRated R (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Hard, Russian Roulette (check out my single review here!), Fire Bomb, Rude Boy, G4L, The Last Song

Skip = Rockstar 101

1. Mariah CareyMemoirs Of An Imperfect Angel (read my full review here!)

Highlights = H.A.T.E.U., Ribbon, Angels Cry, I Want To Know What Love Is, Candy Bling

Skip = It’s A Wrap

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spirit.

December 24, 2009

I never feel I am very good at doing rundowns of the year, because I always manage to miss out some insanely positive event and focus on the negative, or I feel I live too much in the moment to want to dwell on the past.  Likewise, I don’t really bother making New Year’s Resolutions because I don’t really ever feel I have to change anything instantly.  I don’t feel I have anything to give up in my life.  I guess I would like to finally pass my driving test and get a car in 2010, but I’m not going to make it a resolution, I’m just going to try and do it! If that makes sense.

Having said all of that, I feel as we come to the end of 2009 that I’m a lot happier now than I was this time last year. As I’ve said before, this is my first Christmas not working in retail, and in terms of the lack of stress and not having to deal with customers (nor low pay), it’s been bliss!  I’m away from the Perfume Shop and the people who work there, and that can only be a good thing.  What’s more, I’m doing my Careers Guidance course at uni and I finally feel like my life is going somewhere. I have some fantastic friends whom I’ve made this year, and my friendships which have endured for the last few years only continue to grow.  I feel like I’ve discovered more of myself as a person, and although I’m not 100% happy, who is?  I nevertheless recognise the improvement in my life, both in the things that have happened to me and in the evolution of myself as a person.  I hope it continues because I have plenty further to go and a lot more I want to accomplish!  But compared to my despondency about myself and my life at the end of 2008, things are looking up.

In terms of a blast from the past, today I was in town catching up with Hannah and Alex (we still have a lot to talk about!) and enjoying a Christmas coffee.  I treated us all to coffees in Starbucks (because it’s Christmas and I just got paid from the hospital – I think I have had a payrise! 😀 ) and it was just really nice.  Walking around the shops with Hannah, I saw some things I like (including a Juicy Couture iPod touch case.  I don’t have an iPod touch, and the case is hardly masculine in its pastel pink shade, but I want it.) but there was no point in spending money on Christmas Eve when the sales start Boxing Day, yknow?  Walking towards the bus stops at the end of our trip, I walked past Serena, the girl at the Perfume Shop who said that I was a thief, who said that I had bullied her – Hannah saw her first and offered a nice-bitchy comment (“I think she looks fatter?” Bless you girl!!!).  I didn’t really look, though I know she saw me.  I smiled at her, then walked straight past.

Hearing those untrue things said about me really hurt, but I have said my piece to my friends, and I’m over it.  Life goes on, and if they were talking about me 4 months after I had left the shop, then that’s a compliment in a way – I guess I made an impression!  But I’m over feeling mad, upset and angry about it – my life is a lot better now, and part of that is because the girls at the Perfume Shop are not part of it (excluding Henna, whom I see around uni from time to time).  I am in a good place – even if I get down about Mike etc., his friendship has really raised me up and helped me uncover and discover more about myself.  So instead of looking away, or storming past, I just smiled at her and went on my own way.  I’m on a new path, and it’s Christmas – why bother perpetuating any bitterness or regret? If that’s what she wants to do – well, she’s older than me and it’s sad that she doesn’t just move on because she should have more important things in her life.  I certainly have – and I know I’m talking about it now, but I really recognised that it just isn’t worth it anymore to cling onto anger.  I wish most people nothing but the best, and what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.  And I’m not dead yet!

So instead of being cheesy or cliché about Christmas spirit, I just wanted to say that even though this is applicable to any time of year (because hardship happens all year round), there’s nothing better than embracing the positive and letting go of the negative when you’re ready to and you feel you can.  I have a long way to go, but I’ve progressed from before and despite my own personal ups and downs, I’m in a much better place.  More than anything material, more than Juicy Couture iPod cases, that is the best gift I can give to myself this Christmas – allowing myself to be happy and to be proud.  I wish you all nothing but the best, please be proud of yourselves and recognise the good in yourself.  I know that Christmas is about giving to others and family, but we have to take some time to feel good about ourselves too.  We are all deserving of that!  So from the bottom of my heart, have a wonderful Christmas Day tomorrow, however you’re spending it – and take a moment just to look at yourself and appreciate who you are!  Love always. 🙂

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lady love. (LeToya album review)

August 22, 2009

On August 25th, LeToya will release her second solo album, Lady Love.  The disc is a ballad-centric compilation that stays true to LeToya’s traditional R&B-ballad signature style as evidenced on her self-titled first album, while displaying growth both musically and (in particular) vocally.  Although the few uptempos on the record (“She Ain’t Got…”, “Take Away Love”, “After Party”, “Love Rollercoaster”) lack the Houston chopped/screwed dirty hip hop flavour of the club songs on her debut, they veer more towards a poppier, guitar-fused sound.  The bonus track “Swagger” is a nod to her previous uptempos, featuring Bun B, Killa Kyleon & ex Slim Thug, and while LeToya isn’t on the song enough for it to warrant being a proper track on the album (thus making sense why it’s relegated to ‘bonus’ status), it is a nice throwback to bangers such as “Gangsta Grillz” and “Tear Da Club Up” that were highlights on her first disc.  Of Lady Love’s upbeat tracks, single “She Ain’t Got…” is the standout, a gutsy declaration to a cheating boyfriend that ain’t nobody better than Toya.  The electric guitar adds extra fuel to her fiery performance, and the hooks of “Swing batter batter batter” + “She ain’t got shit on me” are addictive.  This may be the most poppy LeToya has ever gone, but it’s still got an added punch and bite that most pop tracks lack.

But as stated at the beginning of the review, the album focuses mainly on ballads, and there is a wealth of stellar-quality material here.  From the airy vocals of the title track that opens the album (although I can’t help thinking of this track as an extended intro to the album, so blown away is it by “She Ain’t Got…” that immediately follows) to “Lazy”, which appears to remake Rihanna’s “Rehab” with better lyrics and far better vocals, where LeToya sings that “her heart’s a little lazy” after so much drama with love and relationships (I can relate!).  The vocals on this disc are far improved not only from her debut, but seem to position LeToya as a rising powerhouse (something which is quite surprising, since she never sang lead in Destiny’s Child and the kind of vocal prowess she displays on the album has barely been hinted at before).  One thing is for sure, when Beyoncé stated in the Destiny’s Child interview that “LeToya was more or less tone deaf, she was more of a rapper than anything”, she was fucking lying.  I’m sorry, but if LeToya is a rapper, she is the best-singing rapper to walk this earth (no disrespect to Lauryn Hill).  Listening to the standout “Good To Me”, where LeToya lists her reasonable desires in a partner and pleads that she is tired of being disappointed, the vocals explode throughout the song, with sustained notes and riffs both sounding impressive.

As well as competent belting, LeToya also takes risks with her voice.  On the sensual “I Need A U”, LeToya spends most of the song in an airy whisper, which compliments the slow-as-molasses beat and sexy lyrics to create a perfectly seductive listen.  Nevertheless, the best tracks are those which show that LeToya knows her strengths.  First single “Not Anymore”, while a straightforward radio ballad, is addictive and raises up the listener as LeToya repeats “I don’t want it anymore… I know my worth and you can keep that drama”.  The audience is exhorted to just sing along and feel empowered as LeToya kicks her boyfriend to the kerb, and even the rote production (a collaboration with Bei Maejor & Ne-Yo, that echoes his own style) serves the song well.  And album closer “Don’t Need You” is a laid-back closer with a beatbox element in the production.  It is another sing-along affair, where LeToya discovers that she is better off on her own.  Happiness doesn’t mean that you need another to be with you all the time.

“Over”, “Matter” and “Regret” (a sexy, laid back track that rewrites Kelly Rowland’s “Ghetto” and improves it tenfold, with a melody and hook that is actually memorable) all represent strong ballads that repeat the same theme, of the wronged girlfriend realising that she is the better one.  The fact that nearly all of the songs on this album cover the same theme does get a tiny bit monotonous, although songs like “I Need A U” and “Love Rollercoaster” are a refreshing change in that they are optimistic.  Generally though, this album is the perfect listen for after a breakup, and it’s practically impossible to imagine that LeToya didn’t write this album in response to her failed relationship with Slim Thug.  All that I can say is that, without wishing more relationship drama on LeToya, she clearly creates her best material when she’s unhappy with love… This album is clearly one of the albums of the year, since it doesn’t try to be dance of any other genre to get more radio play… it is solid R&B, with no weak tracks and stellar vocals.  Even if the themes aren’t too varied, it makes the album cohesive and one that you can listen to from beginning to end without skipping.  The ballads have enough variety in the production not to sound alike, and the hooks are memorable and get stuck in your head after only a couple of listens.  In 2009, music has become so disappointingly bland, false and heartless that every good album is a highlight that we really have to cherish.  I recommend that we all cherish LeToya’s Lady Love, because not enough artists nowadays are making music this strong and consistent.  A fantastic sophomore album.