Posts Tagged ‘attitude’

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born this way.

February 28, 2011

First of all, so that the title is not completely misleading, here is Lady GaGa’s new video:

I like this video, and as a result the song is growing on me. Sure, the song rips off Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, and the video for that song is iconic. But I like the various effects, I like the grandiose opening monologue (although “temporal” is not the opposite of “eternal”, and there were flashes of Janelle Monáe’s ArchAndroid inspiration hither and thither), and I most of all like what the song stands for. This will be the focus of my blog tonight, in a roundabout way.

I have a couple of friends on twitter who were really touched by Lady GaGa’s new song, and found it an anthem for them to be proud of who they are. For me, not so much – I think that the lyrics are at times clumsy and facile, and I don’t feel at this point in my life that I need a song to reassure me that “it’s okay to be gay”. Mariah Carey’s “Outside” did that for me nicely when I was 12. But just because I personally am past that point, doesn’t mean that the sentiment is not good – whether calculated or not, I commend Lady GaGa for her work against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, her promotion of AIDS awareness and safe sex, and her embracing of all fans.

Anyways, I was reading the latest issue of LOVE magazine this weekend while I was in London with Toby, and the focus of the issue is androgyny. In particular, I was struck by an interview with transsexual model Lea T, who is famous for being cast by Riccardo Tisci in the latest Givenchy campaign.

Transsexual models generally don’t make it into the mainstream; but Lea T has not only accomplished this, but has been more than upfront about her transsexuality. In the interview with LOVE, she says:

“From the start I want to talk about being transsexual… We have to be proud of who we are. I’m trying to change things, in my own small way… If you don’t tell people, you’re basically saying that there’s something wrong with it.”

I find this admirable, because in such a public arena it must be frightening, liberating, nerve-wracking and a hundred other emotions to expose such an intimate aspect of your personality, your sexuality, your self. And I got to thinking about myself and my sexuality. In my work, in my personality, in my day to day life, I don’t hide my sexuality, but I don’t go out and about to promote it either. I never wanted my sexuality to be the defining characteristic of who I am; I didn’t want people to focus on my homosexuality and put everything else as second best. Is this the right attitude? I would definitely say that I am proud of myself; I am proud of my boyfriend, I am proud of our relationship. I guess that would make me proud to be gay. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily want to embody the gay stereotypes of being effeminate, promiscuous, pink glitter and camp because I don’t feel that that is who I am. I’m not exactly butch, but I am just myself and being gay is a part of that. It’s not the whole.

Nevertheless, working in a college with teenagers, should I be more upfront about my sexuality? Would that set the right example? I have a picture of Toby and I on my desk that I don’t need to point out to anyone, but students can and do see it. I never lie about going to see my boyfriend at the weekend, if students happen to ask. Is there a difference between choosing not to actively broadcast your sexual preference, and denying it? I like to think so – I don’t lie about my boyfriend, about the fact that I like men. What for? I am not ashamed of it, and at this point in my life I feel more or less secure in my sexuality – so I am happy to identify as gay. I know that homosexuality is much more mainstream, much more accepted than it has been; a lot more remains of the journey towards accepting transsexuality as mainstream. So I understand Lea T’s desire to be upfront and bold about her sexuality – she is opening doors, and for that I totally salute and respect her. But what do you think? I believe that I am who I am and I don’t need to broadcast my sexuality, just as I don’t need to broadcast my religious beliefs or marital status. However, would it sometimes be beneficial to my students to have an older role model who is openly gay, but also embodies many other positive things? It’s a tricky one.

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me first.

November 20, 2010

I’ve had enough time to get my future on track, and this year I have made great steps towards achieving what I ultimately want to do. Once I pass my driving test and get a car, I’ll be a lot closer to liberation and being a free agent; I can move out and have my own mobility.

With this in mind, I find myself constantly checking myself with regards to my attitude to the future. When I get nervous about driving, and I feel like (for various reasons) it’s never going to happen for me and “why don’t I just take the hints that I am not built to do this”, I remember that I am the only one who can be responsible for my life. Everybody feels weak sometimes, and that’s fine; but I have to make sure I don’t cross the border from feeling weak to being weak. I am in control of my own life, and that’s what it comes down to.

So when I’m at work and I feel frustrated by colleagues who seem to have nothing better to do than squabble with one another, make everyone else feel alienated, and ultimately act in direct contrast to their job description of being open, friendly and communicative, with excellent listening skills – that’s no reflection of me. I should not feel cowed by this, because I do my job well and I have done absolutely nothing wrong. My life, my destiny – it’s all good and I shouldn’t let others and their displacement of emotions affect that.

Likewise, I ultimately see myself almost definitely moving to London in the near future. Obviously, Toby being based there is a big draw for me. But I finally am waking up to the fact that I have to do this for me. My independence, my friends, my boyfriend, my career, my financial and professional development. I hope that me and Toby will be together for a very long time. But if not, does that mean that I should never try to move to London for myself? Of course not!  So I’m continuing to look for job vacancies there. Once again, I am going to be gracious and loving towards everyone I can be (who deserves it!), but I am also going to put myself first because I deserve it. This is my life, and we only get one. I spend so much time trying to keep the peace, to make other people happy, and while I can be materially selfish and spend money on myself no problem, I need to emotionally value myself too. We all do. The way that I can keep making progress like I did in 2010 is to be held back by nothing and no-one and reach for the stars.

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retaliate?

July 15, 2010

On Monday night I spent the evening with Mike and Caroline and their adorable 3 year old son Billy, and we had Dominos pizzas, played with Claire’s cat (they were house-sitting for her while she was on holiday for her boyfriend’s birthday) and watched TV.  Between the friendly insults between Mike and myself, the yummy food and the cute trots around the garden with Billy, we ended up having an interesting conversation / I watched an incipient argument between Mike and Caroline about whether it is right to teach your child to hit back when they are hit.

A bit more background to the story: Billy goes to nursery on afternoons during the week, and is in a class with various other kids who are the same age.  His initial reluctance to go to nursery has more or less faded now, and he seems to enjoy himself there and plays well with most of the other kids (as well as trying to sneak home toys in his socks!).  However, there are two little girls called Paris and Jayla who have behavioural issues in the group, and because of these girls’ issues with the rest of the group, they are currently under watch from the head of the nursery.  Now, I don’t really know too much of the details beyond the fact that these girls act mean towards the rest of the children, and Caroline said that she has observed Jayla (the girl in question) acting menacingly towards all of the children and trying to bully them into giving her their toys, or pushing them around.

On Monday, Caroline mentioned that she had asked Billy how he had got on with Jayla that day, and he said that she tried to take a toy away from him and snatch it out of his hands, but he held on to it; in addition, when they were lining up after playtime, she tried to push him out of the line several times but he just stood back in it.  Caroline was proud of this, as it meant that Billy had stood his ground without making a scene or responding directly to Jayla’s behaviour; at no point did Caroline suggest that the girl was personally targeting Billy; rather, it’s a case of her trying to dominate whoever is around in a childish display of power.  Nevertheless Billy has been one of the victims of her behaviour, and although he’s handled it well, who knows if it will escalate or how much it affects or upsets him below his happy-go-lucky demeanour?

Caroline and Mike were discussing this during the evening and it became clear that they had different viewpoints on how to handle this problem.  On the one hand, Caroline was pleased with Billy for turning the other cheek, but she was worried that Jayla might not stop harassing her son and that it might end up really upsetting Billy and ruining his time at nursery.  Mike was worried about the same, but his solution for dealing with Jayla once and for all was for Billy to push her back when she pushed him or tried to take his stuff. Caroline didn’t like this (for what precise reason I don’t know, though I think it has less to do with ramifications from teachers or Jayla’s mother – Caroline can stand her ground and apparently Jayla’s mother is your average young chav woman – and more to do with the ethics of teaching a child to counter violence with violence) and refused to tell Billy this course of action; Mike said that that was fine and that he would tell Billy himself, but it became clear that Caroline didn’t want him to do this either.

Mike could tell that Caroline was getting agitated, and said that responding in a more direct manner might nip the problem in the bud; he was adamant that Billy should not and would not remain unhappy at nursery, and pushing this girl back in retaliation was the best way to get her to leave him alone once and for all. He supported this with a story from his own childhood which resulted in him triumphing over bullies who had made his school life miserable in a similar way; however, in Mike’s anecdote he was 11; Billy is 3.  How young is too young to advocate violence? Is one child pushing another in retaliation considered “violence”?  Does it mean that Billy is lowering himself to Jayla’s level by responding to her intimidation in kind? What might happen if Jayla decides to step her threatening behaviour up a notch?

From the above questions, it might sound like I fall on Caroline’s side of the fence, but actually I don’t.  I am not a parent, and I have not met Jayla; nor is it my place to offer advice to Mike and Caroline.  However, the way that I see it is that Billy, to his credit, has already tried turning the other cheek (as do, from the sound of it, the other kids) and Jayla isn’t giving up. She is a nasty piece of work, and although I don’t think that Billy is a weak child, he is a nice boy and perhaps pushing Jayla back is a primal way of demonstrating that he has some grit to his character.  Moreover, in life you have to protect yourself by any means necessary; at this point Billy has already tried a non-violent approach which has been mature and classy, but it’s not working… now is the time, in my opinion, to send a short, sharp message loud and clear.  Like Caroline, I don’t believe in using violence to get your point across, but at the same time if someone hits me then I will hit them back and I believe that their attack gives me licence to do so.  In the context of retaliation, I don’t think there is anything wrong with Billy pushing Jayla – to sound schoolyard, she pushed him first. He’s tried the passive approach, now it’s time to send a clearer message using a different approach. Although I think that Mike is projecting somewhat when he talks about his own childhood and says that he doesn’t want Billy to be seen as weak (which I think is a little bit of over-psycho-analysis), the result is the same: the goal is to get this girl to piss off, and turnabout is fair play. Like Mike, I have a feeling that from the sound of her, Jayla can dish it out but she won’t be able to take it, and I’m in favour of Billy giving her a taste of her own medicine.

In my childhood, there was one instance in particular when I lifted a boy up by his shirt and ended up ripping all the buttons off it in the process; I was 6 years old.  However, although my mother and his mother (who, thankfully, were friends) did have to come and resolve the situation after class (and we had to sew the buttons back on his shirt!), I didn’t get in trouble because my teacher had seen that my action was a retaliation; the child who got his shirt ripped had yelled in my ear. The moral of this story is that teachers, good teachers know dynamics between their children, and I didn’t get in trouble for a simple act of retaliation. I think therefore that the teachers at the nursery know the score and they wouldn’t hold any retaliatory action from Billy against him; so although I would always go with Caroline’s non-violent, rise above it attitude first, if that fails then I agree with Mike and it is time to hit back.

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racism in a modern age.

June 20, 2010

I just got home from my nan’s.  For the second part of my journey, I took the number 6 from town to Kingswood, and while I was on the bus, a group of Somali women were having a conversation.  Suddenly, an English woman (I’m guessing about 55 years old; she was certainly older than my mother, who is 50) turns around and yells at them “Would you please shut up?!?!” After everyone looks up, shocked, she continues her diatribe: “Natter natter (with hand gesture), shut the fuck up or get off the bus.”  The women began to protest, but the woman just got angrier and nastier, and the Somali women ended up getting off the bus at that stop.  The English woman yelled after them “Fucking go home to your own country!” After a beat of shocked silence from all the passengers, the driver (who was mixed race himself) got up and challenged the woman.  “They are allowed to chat if they want, everyone here is just trying to get home, there is no reason to disrupt anyone else’s journey or otherwise YOU will have to get off the bus.” At this point, the woman went to get off the bus, and the bus driver said “Ma’am, you can take your seat, but please respect other customers because we all paid to use this bus, and please enjoy your journey.”  The woman sat back down, but then got off at the next stop (I wonder if she was not too bothered about getting off the bus if she was only getting off at the next stop anyway?), and the rest of the bus breathed a sigh of relief.

I was shocked that in 2010, such blatant racism still exists.  Well, I am shocked and I am not; I’m not naive and I know very well that racism is very much alive and well, but I was shocked to be present at such an outrageous and blatant display of it.  I was tempted to say something myself, but at the same time it was not my place to get involved; these women are old enough and strong enough to defend themselves, and quite rightly the driver made a stand for his bus and for the passengers on it; he is running the service, not me or any of the other passengers.  I wonder however, if the driver had not said anything, whether I would have been brave enough to say something? Plenty of things sprang to my mind; to challenge her and say that if her problem was with the volume at which these women were speaking, then instead of yelling at them and thus making herself a hypocrite, she should just ask them politely if they could talk more quietly.  If this wasn’t the case, it would have exposed her own racism without saying any more (racism she already exposed with her parting comment to them as they got off the bus).  I felt like saying that if her problem was with the fact that these women were not English (I know this woman was English just by coincidence, as I saw her loudly supporting England at Rewind when I was out watching the game with my friends from uni on Friday night – she had memorable cuts and grazes on her elbow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the same woman), then should I get off the bus too as I am half-Italian, and I would not be here if my family had not come from another country to live here?  Until she knows the story of these Somali woman, who is she to judge whether they have (on a journey which they paid for, just like the rest of the passengers) less of a right to be on the bus and talk on the bus than her?  If I were speaking to my friends in Spanish, French or Italian, would I be less entitled to talk on the bus than if I were speaking in English? Does the fact that my skin barely looks any different to an English person’s (I am a tiny tiny bit more tanned, but it’s negligible) mean that I am not as mixed-race, or as ethnically diverse, as someone with a different skin colour? Am I entitled to the same rights as an English person simply because I speak native English, have an English surname and my skin is light; in return for these rights do I have to sacrifice my own ethnic background in the process just to fit in?

When I lived in Spain, if someone had spoken to me in that way because I was speaking English on the phone or to my family, I would have been utterly outraged.  Are we literally rewinding back to the story of Rosa Parks on the bus in the USA, before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement? It felt like it.  Another thing I wanted to point out was that, as a result of my colleague Clare’s presentation on breaking down cultural barriers in guidance, I know that Bristol is considered a popular (if that is the right word) destination for asylum seekers and refugees coming from all over the world, because it is considered a racially-tolerant city in England. This is my hometown, my city, and I am proud of that fact.  By demonstrating such a racially-intolerant attitude, this woman is not only giving a bad example of herself, but of Bristol as a city and of England as a country; in actual fact, she is making herself look stupid and only propagating bad feeling for foreign people, whatever their reason or length of stay in England, which in turn only reinforces cultural barriers rather than breaking them down.  We’re in 2010; this should never have been happening, but it should certainly not be happening in this day and age.  And so I felt that if I didn’t speak up on the bus at the time (and it turned out that it wasn’t my place, nor did I have to – quite rightly, the driver did so), the least I could do was recount the event on here and spread more awareness that these attitudes still exist in our country and are very much alive in everyday life and situations.  This needs to change, and this entry is my little contribution; in my forthcoming job as a Personal Tutor at Cirencester College, one of the things I may well have to do in both interviews and group sessions is work on challenging racial stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers and misconceptions.

Funnily enough, only earlier my nan and I were discussing the nature of football fans (topical considering that it is currently the World Cup).  English fans, deservedly or undeservedly, have a reputation for being violent, thuggish and neanderthal-like throughout Europe and possibly worldwide.  At the bar on Friday night, there was a fair amount of brainless chanting, stomping and cursing; but then, England did play poorly and I suppose that if so many people are passionate about this, it amasses a certain amount of volume.  I personally don’t like that kind of behaviour, but in itself it’s not racist; it’s only when it either causes damage or turns nasty against other ethnicities, races or against people of other countries that it’s inexcusable.  Nevertheless, I believe in conducting myself in a dignified way at all times whenever and wherever possible; by living up to hooligan stereotypes, England fans only propagate this image of themselves nationally and internationally; it’s not vogue and it doesn’t do the country or the sport any favours.  What’s more, my nan made a very good point that why do many England fans only support England during the football; if they really liked football, why do they not watch or show any interest in the matches involving other countries? Is it about the sport, or is it about the country? If it is about the country, why act so intimidating when watching the football (as opposed to other sports)? Surely this only sends out the wrong kind of message, a bad example to everyone – that this is how England fans behave, and that this country accepts that behaviour as tolerable and normal for football fans towards each other, and towards other people both from this country and from outside it?  I know that there are plenty of people who support England in the World Cup who don’t act this way – a lot of my friends fall under this category – and if I were them I would be somewhat embarrassed and angry that this reputation precedes me.  Everyone is entitled to behave in their own way, but I really wish we considered the feelings and cultures of others more than we do.

A final anecdote, in case I sound holier than thou – I’m not perfect.  When I was 12 years old, I once used a racial slur – I am ashamed to say.  Even more stupidly, it was towards a friend of mine whom I had known for 7 or 8 years by that time; he was acting in a very irritating way during a DT lesson, and out of sheer frustration and for pure shock value, I told him to “shut up you Paki”. Now, I am not racist nor have I ever been – so why portray myself in that way? Even though I was a child, I knew better before and after that event, and yet I did it. It had the desired effect, but I belittled myself by doing it, and my friend (to his credit) handled it very classily by laughing and saying in response to my immediate apology: “Um, no offence taken because I am Indian so that’s not what I am”.  His response made me feel all the more ashamed because not only had I attempted to use a racist expression in order to shut him up, I had used it in an incorrect context; it showed up my foolish behaviour for what it was.  Our friendship did not suffer for it; in fact I believe that the event was all but forgotten by breaktime, but it taught me a valuable lesson: that kind of behaviour is never acceptable, never appropriate, and never necessary.  I apologised profusely and he forgave me, but even recalling that incident makes me feel ashamed 12 years on; I was old enough to know better, and the lessons I learned as a result of that event are the redeeming factor; I have never thought or acted in that way since, and I am now in a position of responsibility to challenge others who do so. During a practice day, I successfully challenged one young person’s attitude to immigrants and the labour market; during my job at Cirencester, I anticipate doing this kind of thing more.  In this blog entry, I have also tried to challenge this behaviour.  Thankyou for reading.

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appraisal.

May 29, 2010

1 year ago:

  • I was about one week away from finishing my job as Assistant Manager at the Perfume Shop.  I was eager to leave and start my Careers Guidance postgrad at UWE, and my new job at the BRI who were taking their sweet time to contact me – for most of June and July 2009 I claimed JSA while I was waiting for them to give me a start date, which felt pretty bleak!  Luckily, they did at the end of July, and I’ve enjoyed working there ever since, especially as my boss has been so flexible and understanding regarding my university course this year.  I can’t wait to go into work next week and tell them that I was successful in my job interview for Personal Tutor at Cirencester College – they’ll be so pleased for me. 🙂  Also, I think that a couple of them might have placed a bet on me getting the job?… Madness!
  • I was about one month away from starting this blog!  I can’t believe I’ve been writing on here and connecting with you all now for 11 months, it’s mad!  I feel that my writing has improved as a result, as well as the fact that I’ve been able to share with you all my music, my heart, my trials and tribulations regarding relationships, friendships, and everything in between!  Some of the comments that I have received and some of the friends that I have made as a result of writing this blog make it all worthwhile and I am very touched that sometimes, at one moment in time two lives can connect, because we can be going through the same thing.
  • I was emotionally drained after two dating attempts that were non-starters.  It would take me a few more attempts before I finally got it right, but I remember believing, even up until recently, that perhaps love just wasn’t for me, and I might be a popular person and have lots of friends and cherish them, but never quite find someone with whom I connected on a romantic level.  I was still dating because I didn’t want to give up, but I was secretly convinced that it was no use.  Love comes around when we least expect it.
  • I had started my twitter account (follow me!) a month ago,  and I have since made fantastic friends such as Nick, Nigel & Ness (all the N’s!).  The Twitterati was born!!! 😉

6 months ago:

  • I was working through my feelings regarding Mike (remember that saga?), and things were just in the process of getting really tangled and confused.  It was an emotionally bleak time, because I’d truly never felt like that, because this was someone I cared about so much and was so important to me.  I’m glad to say that now we’ve come out the other side, and he is one of my best, closest friends. Listening to Cheryl Cole (whose album I had just downloaded at the time), we really had to “fight for this love” (oh god that sounds cheesy but never mind), but it was all worth it because without him I wouldn’t have my beautiful tattoos (I still had virgin skin at this point!), the strength to have started my own relationship with Toby, nor the placement or transport which enabled me to get the job at Cirencester.  Mike (through the Careers Guidance course) has really helped me transform my life.
  • I was coming to breaking point with my relationship with my parents.  Christmas was a particularly low period, and I remember sitting in the park in the dark on Christmas Day quietly hating them, just wishing I could escape.  I felt like I was a nuisance to their lives, that they didn’t really want me around but since I had nowhere else to go, they expected me to just sit with them without complaint.  My friends were helpful distractions during the day, but coming home in the evenings and sitting around the dinner table was always a daunting prospect.  I was only just realising that, at 24 years old, that my problems with my parents were reflections on them: time and again I’ve made close friends easily, and generally my friends and I see eye to eye and we don’t argue.  So the fact that I had these problems with my parents, that their relationship is so volatile, is a reflection of them and not me.  I was finally starting to learn that I am not an ugly person on the inside and that there is nothing wrong with me, but that’s still a work in progress.

Today:

  • After two months of sending off applications for jobs as I approach the end of my Careers Guidance Qualification, I had an interview for a Personal Tutor position at Cirencester College.  Out of 110 applicants, they interviewed about 20 people, and of those 20, 4 of them were employed.  I am one of those 4, Mike is another.  It’s ridiculous, it’s amazing, I am unbelievably happy because it is the job I wanted, the people who work there are a pleasure to be around, and the students are some of the best in the country (the College has an excellent reputation).  Just as I was getting despondent regarding my lack of interviews, 2 came at once (I have to cancel my Careers Wales one) and I got the job I wanted.  I am going to be helping to shape young people’s futures, which is quite daunting, but I feel ready for this.  Bring it on!  Plus, I’m going to be working with one of my best friends… I wonder if Cirencester knows what it has let itself in for?
  • I am nearly 5 months into my relationship with Toby.  He is the hands down the best boyfriend I’ve ever had, he seems to pretty much adore me, and already in this short time I have learned a lot about relationships, about love, and about myself.  Although he’s going to be in London from July while I’ll be in Cirencester, we’re both determined to make it work – it’s not like we’re across the world from each other, it’s one and a half hour’s drive.  At this point, despite my own feeling that I don’t deserve love, that I am scared to let someone in and see all of me, we’re doing it and living the dream, and at 24 years old I’m pretty lucky to have everything suddenly start working out.  Toby is a dream, I am so lucky and we are gonna make it 🙂  Also, he is my home away from home, and between staying at his and socialising / partying with my other friends, I have that extra distance I need from my parents until I move out.
  • I have been having driving lessons for 2 and a half months now, and it’s been harder than I expected, if truth be told.  My instructor Russell is fantastic, and I’m hoping to increase my lessons in July once I finish at uni, with a view to taking my test during the summer.  For Cirencester, a car will come in incredibly useful (though to start with I reckon I could get by without it) and for my general independence, a car is necessary.  If I can pass my driving test (and I notice that my attitude to driving has changed and I feel a bit more confident, more capable of it – so I can pass my test), I will buy a nice little car and I will have achieved my three aims for this year : boyfriend, car, job.  More importantly, I failed my driving test when I was 18, and for all the time in the interim, I’ve had a secret nagging feeling of failure that I can’t drive.  It’s time to conquer those fears once and for all, redress the balance and vanquish that feeling of failure and inadequacy.
  • I have my 3 lovely tattoos, and my raven is on the Iron & Ink website for you all to see!  Check it out here!  I’m famous! 😉

2010 is destined to be my year of transformation, I am determined to turn my life around and this is the final piece in the puzzle.  I will move out once everything else is in place, but at least moving out doesn’t require passing any sort of exam or any protracted interview / dating process!  Looking back over how far I’ve come, it’s pretty overwhelming and I feel almost powerful that I’ve finally taken control, with the help of so many friends, and it’s time to keep moving forward.  No regrets, no apologies. 🙂

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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power couples.

November 17, 2009

Looking at the current music industry, I find it interesting how a lot of the biggest stars have attached themselves to one another.  Beyoncé and Jay-Z are considered the golden couple of R&B / hip-hop, and although they are both megastars and extremely talented in their own right (and have lots of independent ventures, and carved out their own careers independently before getting together), it’s the fact that they are together which makes them seem almost invincible.  When you listen to some of Beyoncé’s love songs, you can imagine her singing about Jay-Z; when she has a song like “Diva” which exudes confidence in a hip-hop style, you assume that Jay-Z had something to do with that attitude.  Even if it’s not the case.  Likewise, on Robin Thicke’s new song “Meiplé”, Jay-Z raps about Beyoncé being the “black Brigitte Bardot”.

Running with the Beyoncé example, she teams up with artists such as Shakira and Lady Gaga (whoever’s hot, basically) to cement her status as one of music’s elite.  Just like Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, or Timbaland and Nelly Furtado.  Relationships-wise, remember the furore over Britney Spears and Justin back in the day?  Their relationship elevated them to supernova-level megastardom, and was a massive element in their fame and success.  Interestingly, when they broke up, things just weren’t the same.  I think as members of the public, we like a couple who are balanced musically and seem to fit each other personally – it seems like fairytales can happen.  And when they self-destruct and we’re forced to admit that the fairytale was something created by the public and the media that the celebrities could never live up to, it’s just not the same.  I’m sure that there are some people who would attribute Britney’s entire marriage to Kevin Federline and her subsequent meltdown to the fact that her and Justin broke up, regardless of the reasons behind that breakup or the other factors in Britney’s life that added to her downward spiral (and subsequent resurgence).  I think that the same is happening with Rihanna and Chris Brown at the moment – however good their music / dancing / fashion might be, the fact that they were part of a couple – however much they would deny it to the paparazzi – made them seem that little bit more gilded in superstardom.  Now that they’ve split up, regardless of who beat who, they’re both experiencing some backlash (despite the fact that in both cases, their new material is certainly up to par, if not better, than their previous work).  What’s up with that?

I was thinking about this not because I ruminate daily on Beyoncé and Rihanna’s love lives, but because the same kind of thing has happened at uni.  Consciously or not, several of us within our course have paired off – not in a romantic sense, but just attached ourselves to one best friend.  There’s Pete and Emma, Penny and Daisy, Julie and Clare, among others – and of course me and Mike.  Talking about Mike and me, we’re the unofficial ‘leaders’ of our group – everyone seems to look to us whenever we speak in class, whenever someone needs to volunteer to do something in the group, organising social events.  I dread to think what would have happened if one of us didn’t smoke – we wouldn’t have had the chance to gel so instantly (on the first morning, Mike came up to me and said “Do you smoke?” “Yes.” “I thought it was you outside.  THANK GOD.  I smoke too!” and that was it!).  But I still think that because of the people we are, we would have found each other before too long.  It’s interesting how we seem to attract others around us, be they members of the aforementioned pairs, or others.  At first, there was a pair of the two youngest girls, Jenny and Sian, but as time’s gone on, Jenny has started to explore life on the dark side (i.e. she’s hanging out with me, Mike and Vikki) and loosened up to have some fun.  There’s a sense of charisma and magnetism that pairs who get on well exude without even much effort.  I wonder if those in our group who don’t come out for social drinks, who turn up to uni alone and go home alone, are enjoying it quite as much?  I know that the point of the course is not to have fun and socialise, but I like to work hard and play hard, and I think it’s a good balance for getting the most from this experience.

The funny thing was one night recently when Mike couldn’t come out.  I was still the social ringleader, but I did have a couple of comments such as “So what is Mike doing tonight?”  “How is Mike?” “You won’t smoke as much tonight since your smoking partner isn’t here.”  Me and Mike texted during the evening (he was sad he couldn’t be there, I was updating him on the scandal and gossip as the night progressed), but I thought it was interesting how people still kinda saw me as the ringleader, but thought that he and me were inseparable to the point of knowing each other’s business inside out.  I told Mike about it on Sunday when I saw him, and we laughed at the fact people seem to have the conception that we cannot exist without one another (I’ve heard one person say “Mike loves you, he follows you everywhere!” when I don’t see it as following, I just see it as a natural gravitation towards one another) – last time I checked, I managed 23.8 years of my life without Mike, and he managed even more without me.

Once you become a part of a “power couple” in whatever sense, does that make you inferior when you act on your own?  As much as I enjoy being part of the “Mike & I” leadership party, I’m still my own person.  Me and Mike have a lot in common, but we’re different in a lot of ways too, and I don’t need him to function.  And vice versa!  I think that having a companion or partner in crime makes you feel stronger, bolder and more confident, but it doesn’t mean that without the other person, you’re nothing.  I wonder what Jay-Z thinks about his position in hip-hop’s elite, and whether this position would be compromised were he to divorce Beyoncé tomorrow.  Sometimes a friendship or relationship brings along with it a certain amount of social bank or clout, but that’s not the sole reason why we should be friends with anyone – we just gel with people and connect from there.  Because at the end of the day, people may see a certain facet of us in the public eye – whether we’re celebrities or just day-to-day people – but behind closed doors or in the privacy of our own relationship, we have that connection for reasons people don’t understand unless they’re willing to plumb the depths below the surface.