Posts Tagged ‘class’

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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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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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fear and self-loathing.

March 11, 2010

Lately I’ve noticed something about myself that never used to be the case.  Part of the idea of this blog is that I can use it to look at myself, examine my emotions and think things through.  It’s cathartic for me to write, but it’s also a way of me holding up a mirror to myself and trying to untangle emotions and confusion in my brain and heart.  By ordering things on the page and trying to make them as logical / rational as possible (which it isn’t always!) I can sort things out so that I can understand them myself, just as much as so that you all can understand, relate to and empathise with what I’m going through (and hopefully touch those of you who are or have been going through the same).

However, I now can’t tolerate the idea of doing personality quizzes, self-assessment or delving into my past and my psyche in a semi-public arena.  For not the first time, on Tuesday afternoon we had a class about psychometric testing and using these tests to determine a person’s aptitudes and skills.  This was fine, it was quite interesting and we did some example questions on verbal & non-verbal reasoning, numeracy, and spatial and mechanical awareness.  We then moved on to those psychometric tests which can be used to assess personality.  Now, although our lecturer dutifully informed us that we were all a mixture of every type of personality, and that every combination was positive, my back was immediately up.  As the example questions began, I felt a violent urge to disengage from the class and decided to quickly fill in my answers and then doodle on my page, not talking to anyone and not joining in any discussions sharing types, answers and anecdotes.  I wasn’t interested, I felt that a quiz of 8 questions (we did a very shortened version, since the full test is 88 questions!) was NOT enough to diagnose who I am, and I wasn’t interested in what anyone else had to say, whether anyone else felt that they really were what the quiz said they were or whatever.  I just wanted to get out.

I was talking to Mike, and later Toby, about my reaction – I was in a bad mood for several hours after this.  Why had I reacted so negatively to it?  Part of it is genuinely that I do not think that any quiz has a right to put me in a box or tell me who I am.  Because of this, as a careers adviser I myself probably would not use psychometrics to “analyse” clients, since that would be pretty hypocritical seeing as I can’t complete one myself (though once I had calmed down, I later on looked up my answer to the quiz, and while it was pretty flattering and seemed valid enough, I took it with a pinch of salt and forgot about it).  So I don’t like being generalised, and I don’t like being told who I am by somebody or something which evidently thinks it knows better, and which claims to be able to penetrate to the core of me in a matter of minutes.  I’m much more complex than that – we all are! – and I think that should be respected.  That’s part of it.

But part of it, if I am totally honest, is perhaps that I just don’t want to analyse myself in that way, and certainly not in a room with other people.  If it truly is going to delve into my psyche (which I still doubt), then the result should be for me and me alone.  Maybe a little bit of me is scared about what if it says something that really is undeniably true, but also that I utterly detest and despise?  Does that mean I am scared of myself? I hate myself?  What does that mean?  The fact is that this isn’t the first time I’ve reacted like this to delving into my past and my background (educational and personal) during class activities.  It’s probably the third, if I remember rightly.  I never used to be like this, and it concerns me a tiny bit – what am I so afraid of?  Why do I have such a sudden, strong negative reaction?  This reaction is only worsened by the fact that I know I’m overreacting – Mike said that he doesn’t take the quizzes seriously as they are usually a bunch of nonsense, and I know he’s mostly right.  Is it the fact he might be a tiny bit wrong that fills me with dread?  Is it dread that I’m filled with, or is it self-loathing, confusion or ignorance?  What’s going on with me?

The most rational thing that I can think of is that I’ve worked so damn hard to become the best person I can be, to become the person I’ve always wanted to be.  Over the years I’ve raised my intelligence, lost weight, learned to write, sing and produce my own music which I now market (check it out here!), made a lot of progress towards looking the way that I want to, become a lot more sociable and popular, made some wonderful friends, and I am proud of the person that I have become, while I still acknowledge that I have plenty further to go before I feel remotely satisfied with my achievements in life.  I’ve changed a lot – superficially, I’ve lost a lot of weight, stepped my fashion game up, dyed my hair and exercise regularly while watching what I eat.  Even though I’m plenty insecure inside, I know how to portray confidence and appear secure because at the end of the day, if I chicken out and don’t do something, it doesn’t get done and I regret not trying.  I’ve made all this personal progress and tried to change and improve the person that I am so much to be the better man that I want to be, aim to be… so what if one of these personality tests shows all that progress to be an illusion?  What if I’m just the same person as I was before, before I came so far?  Deep down, can we ever evolve? I believe I’ve evolved, I’ve grown a lot… it doesn’t feel like a lie.  I know logically that a quiz cannot discredit the progress I feel that I’ve made – the only person that can measure that is me.  But if it cut me down and put me back at square one, what then? What if it all means nothing and I’m destined to be the same person I used to be?  Is that what I’m afraid of?

I just don’t know.

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Sugababes – Sweet 7. (album review)

February 7, 2010

Sweet 7 marks the 7th album from the Sugababes, and the first album from the newest incarnation of the group, consisting now of Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen.  Furore of no original members remaining aside, Sweet 7 evidences a complete glossy polishing of the group’s sound that started upon Mutya’s departure after Taller In More Ways, one of the group’s best albums.  Sweet 7 is full of pounding clubby pop uptempos, with a couple of ballads at the end to slow down the pace.  For the most part (the piece-of-trash “Thank You For The Heartbreak” aside), these are well-written, catchy pop songs with a couple of pleasant surprises along the way.  “Wear My Kiss” and “About A Girl” are smashes-in-waiting that don’t deserve to fare badly on the charts just because of bad feeling towards the group’s revolving-door lineup.  “No More You” sounds like a Stargate production in the vein of Beyoncé’s smash “Irreplaceable”, and standout “She’s A Mess” has some hilarious lyrics (“drinking bottle after bottle after bottle…” / “Everybody go mad, everybody go psycho!”) and multiple hooks, plus an irresistible instrumental coda that keeps you dancing and pressing repeat.  This track sounds as if it could be addressed to Ke$ha, dissing trashtastic, classless girls everywhere (perhaps Amelle has reformed her drunken antics and girl-bashing self?) who just live to party and get drunk.

The ballads that close the album feel a bit tacked-on, and could have been better incorporated into the sequence of the album as a whole, but “Crash & Burn” and particularly “Little Miss Perfect” are well-sung efforts that offer a nice change of pace from the mostly relentless 4/4 beats of the disc.  Sunny acoustic-led track “Sweet & Amazing” offers a lyrical insight on optimism and getting what you want out of life; the message is nice and appreciated, but the lyrics themselves come across as trite and banal.  Still, the overall vibe of the song is endearing. Perhaps “Sweet & Amazing” and “Little Miss Perfect” are also answers to those who have criticised the group for ousting last founding member Keisha Buchanan, stating in not so many words that the group had to do what it had to do to survive and to maintain a healthy inter-member relationship.  Who knows – but these songs at least give a little bit of meat for fans and listeners to bite into.

However, Keisha’s absence is gaping for two major reasons.  One: anyone who has heard the original Sweet 7 sampler with Keisha’s vocals knows just how much better “Get Sexy” and “Miss Everything” sounded before.  This is largely a production error: the intro on “Get Sexy” no longer grabs the listener with any vocals; Jade Ewen’s voice on “Miss Everything” is unnecessarily auto-tuned within an inch of its life, and the modulations on her voice are at least double that of Heidi’s and Amelle’s, which seems illogical considering that Jade Ewen is far and away the best vocalist in the new incarnation of the group.  Indeed, the new rendition of “Wait For You” places Jade front and centre, and her vocals particularly in the second verse are nothing short of thrilling. Technically, she might be the best vocalist the Sugababes have ever had, and it is almost a shame that she sacrificed her solo career to be part of the group; especially when the re-produced songs make little effort to blend her vocals with Heidi and Amelle’s.  Through no fault of Jade’s own, at times her vocals stick out like a sore thumb, not just because she outclasses her fellow members at nearly every turn, but because the vocal mixing appears to have been carried out by an orang-utan.  This seems to be a running theme with the Sugababes, as Amelle’s vocals on tracks such as “Red Dress” sounded nothing short of harsh, but with newer songs came a more subtle, blended approach to the production.  Hopefully future albums will exhibit the same approach.

Two: as hinted at in the introduction to this review, the Sugababes’ new music is extremely polished, but it has lost nearly all semblance of any originality the group had.  Songs such as “Overload”, “New Year”, “Round Round” and “Situations Heavy” sounded unique to the group, as if they could be sung by nobody else.  The shout-out of “RedOne!” at the start of “About A Girl” might as well be changed to “We’ve used Lady GaGa’s producer, please love our single too!”; “Thank You For The Heartbreak” could be sung just as easily (and probably better) by the Sugababes’ biggest rivals Girls Aloud; “Miss Everything”, while a ridiculously catchy song, features Sean Kingston in an unnecessary attempt to pander to the American market.  “Crash & Burn” sounds like something Chris Brown could sing and in fact did sing on his mediocre Graffiti track “Crawl”.  Only towards the end of the album on quirky tracks such as “Give It To Me Now” does a shade of the Sugababes’ original spunky personality creep in. I’m a believer that when the group lost Mutya Buena, they lost what made the Sugababes that irresistible combination of street, edge and class.  Even looking at the album and single covers from Sweet 7 (not to mention the horrendous video for “About A Girl”), the Sugababes are posing in skimpy outfits and pouting like their lives depend on it.  In the old days, their individuality stood out; perhaps in a loss of confidence, the group now looks and sounds desperate to fit in, which is a shame as they used to lead the pack, and with a strong set of well-written tracks on Sweet 7, they don’t need to resort to such pedestrian tactics.  In trying to be edgy and stand out, the Sugababes have lost their sense of individuality and ironically end up blending in with your average girl group or classless female singer.

So, what to make of Sweet 7?  It’s balanced heavily towards the uptempo, but most of its songs do succeed and the album is a fun listen with a few standout cuts.  Jade Ewen is a thrilling addition to the group, and were the vocal production a little better, her voice would elevate the material to stellar status.  The ballads are serviceable for the most part, and in my opinion there is only one unlistenable song on the disc (putting the album ahead of Change and Catfights And Spotlights).  However, it’s a shame that the Sugababes have lost that spark and class that set them apart from the rest of the pack.  In trying to compete with the rest of the shallow, faceless current pop music scene – regardless of who now comprises the group – the Sugababes have automatically lowered themselves to the level of their peers, and that is sad because they could have made a great album instead of a solid but unexceptional one.

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temptation.

August 9, 2009

I am watching Desperate Housewives on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the current episode is rooted around the topic of “temptation”.  According to Mary-Alice’s narration, “the best way to get over one addiction is to replace it with another”.  I have always had an obsessive personality (I used to collect everything concerned with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then dinosaurs, then Power Rangers, then the Spice Girls…) but I seem to have it under control as I’ve grown older and learned to balance my pleasures with other commitments with responsibilities.  However, sometimes my temptations or vices play on my mind more than they perhaps should.  Being responsible all the time is impossible, and on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I have been internet window-shopping looking for new jeans, a winter coat, jewellery (in Desperate Housewives, I am without doubt the male personification of Gabrielle)… So I thought it would just be interesting to list my current vices so that I know what I am dealing with.

Designer labels.
When I was younger, I didn’t have as much money as I do now, because I was too young to have a job and I used to enjoy saving my money (oh how the times have changed).  I always wanted to look good and have nice clothes, but my motto was to buy cheap things that looked expensive / classy.  Looking through my wardrobe now, not only do most of those clothes not fit (I have lost a lot of weight since then), but some of these items are a little bit style-less.  I never wore garish colours or anything particularly unflattering, but I have grown and learned that the only real way to look classy is to dress with class.  That doesn’t always mean having designer clothes, but when it comes to making clothes, designers do know best.  So little by little, I’m acquiring a nice little
collection of designer jewellery and accessories, as well as a couple of designer tshirts.  I’m looking to expand this collection because I’m growing up now and I want a wardrobe which says that I am professional, sophisticated and classy.  That is the image I want to portray, because that is what I aspire to be.  So little by little, I’m upgrading my fashion game so that as I get my life together, I will have my look together also.

Cigarettes.
I feel a lot guiltier about this than I probably should.  I smoke on average probably 4 cigarettes a day, so it’s not a serious vice or anything like that. But being a singer, I know that it could potentially damage my voice (though it hasn’t seemed to yet).  I got into smoking during my year abroad in Spain, then I came back home and gave up over the summer, then I started again at Christmas, I stopped again, started again and then once I rejoined the Perfume Shop family of smokers, I kept it going.  Since I finished work, I have generally cut down a little bit but a lot of my friends reprimand me for my habit.  However, I do enjoy a cigarette – it passes time while I’m waiting for the bus, it gives me something to do on my breaks at work, and it is delicious when I am out drinking or clubbing with my friends.  But I think my favourite cigarette is my “midnight cigarette” where I creep out onto the patio once the house is quiet and night has fallen, put my ipod in and listen to music while I smoke.  I find myself thoughtfully thinking of all sorts of things, gazing at the moon and stars (unless it’s raining) and just grabbing a bit of piece.  So I feel that as long as my consumption doesn’t increase, I’m not looking to give up my little bit of smoking just yet.

Attracting crazy men.
Since university, I have discovered that I possess the talent for attracting people with a multitude of insanities.  Whether they be struggling with depression or serious health issues, or they want to know my every move and can’t keep their hands off me, I seem to live in this strange dichotomy between believing that I’ll never find someone for me, and seeking out people who clearly aren’t very compatible with me.  I have my head screwed on when it comes to giving other people decent advice, but whether I’m starting up something with a man who could soon emigrate and has a boyfriend who is apparently a little jealous of me, semi-dating a man who one minute doesn’t have the energy to communicate with me let alone meet up in person, and then the next wants to make innuendos at me and know exactly where I’m going and whom I’m seeing, or deciding to block a guy who just won’t leave me alone by text or on msn, and buys me gifts after one meeting, I just seem to know how to pick ’em.  Where are the sane ones?  Do I attract drama by default?  My colleague Louise told me that I need to take a long hard look in the mirror and then go and aim higher and be more confident in myself.  Maybe that’s the key, but then I also think that the sooner I can move away to another place with another attitude, atmosphere and fresh crop of potential suitors, the sooner I will find someone more like-minded and suitable.  My desired destinations currently include Brazil, Hawaii, Italy, Spain (haven’t narrowed down any cities yet) and Romania.  Any other recommended areas?

Starbucks.
Since sixth form, when I gained the luxury of free periods, I have fallen in love with Starbucks.  I always meet friends there for coffee, and I spend entirely far too much money there in the process.  You know when you spend too much time there because the baristas recognise you, and predict what you are going to order (I always respond to this with “Actually, I want *drink I never usually order*, I fancied a change!” because I find being considered predictable a fault).  During my last term of uni, I spent practically every day in there meeting friends in a bid to escape finals revision.  It became an expensive habit, and yet I can’t resist it.  I have learned to always order skinny drinks (it nearly halves the amount of calories!) and get filter coffee refills on hot drinks, to make my money go farther.  But I love the appeal of Starbucks – it has a relaxed, intimate atmosphere where the decor is just dark enough to convey privacy, the drinks are deliciously sweet enough to keep me coming back for more, and it’s a perfect venue for reading a book by myself for a couple of hours, a date with a new man, or (most commonly) a social event with friends where we can share problems, stories and trivialities alike.

Spending money.
A lot of the above categories are an offshoot of this one.  Of course, nobody can live without spending money.  But I have a genuine talent for it.  Jewellery and fragrance with high price tags, coffee which always tastes better when someone else has made it, little packs of cigarettes, rounds of drinks and bus tickets all add up and somehow I make my way through my funds.  I am not so bad as I used to be, because I have changed my spending habits somewhat (instead of buying lots of small purchases such as CDs and DVDs often, I now save up for larger things such as clothes, jewellery and accessories) – but I still appreciate the healing powers of retail therapy.  Here is a good test: find a catalogue and open it at a random page of clothes.  I guarantee you I will automatically be drawn to the most expensive item, even without knowing the prices beforehand.  Unfortunately, I don’t really see myself being able to give up this addiction, because prices only seem to go up and my aspirations only seem to go higher and higher.  But hopefully I can raise my earning power to keep up with them, because I would rather raise my game than lower my ambitions. Currently, I feel that I have all my temptations under control, so that they give me pleasure without taking over my life – and as long as I keep myself balanced, like everyone, I can afford a little vice. 😉

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positive speaking.

July 25, 2009

One maxim that I try to live by, wherever possible, is that of “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all”.  Of course, it’s natural that we aren’t 100% happy and sweetness and light all of the time, and nobody is a perfect saint, but I try never to be deliberately nasty or spiteful towards people if I can at all help it.  If I feel resentment towards somebody, it is something that I try to channel in a constructive way, or keep to myself so that they won’t know how I feel.  I believe that it is classier not to diss people, and although occasionally I can’t resist the urge, most of the time I can.  Instead of wasting time hating on others, I try to step my own game up – that’s my response.

After my video singing Whitney Houston’s new song was posted on Thursday, I received a barrage of comments on my youtube account, as well as some comments on a Whitney forum.  Some people were positive, some people were critical, which is fine.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  What really irks me (and what I am always prepared for, because I’ve been doing these youtube videos on and off for 2 years now) is the senseless hateful comments that I get.  I understand that if somebody covers your favourite artist’s song, you may be a bit disgruntled because you like the original version.  But it doesn’t mean that nobody else is ever allowed to sing that song.  I’m not trying to be Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston or Chris Brown, I’m just having fun singing a song.  And I try to separate the genuinely valid comments from the ridiculous (for example: “Whoever told you you were good has mental problems” O RLY? I feel sorry for my friends, for the entirety of my school and its teaching staff, for the students of Oxford University, for a couple of Oxford journalists.  We’re all crazy! Bish please.) and improve upon what I can.  I know I am not the consummate singer, and I am not perfect.  Of course, you can’t please everyone.  But if you have nothing constructive to say, or nothing to back your criticism up, then please keep your mouth shut.  I make it a rule never to reply to comments on youtube because I don’t want to dilute anyone’s opinion, nor enter into a slanging match with any deranged fans.  I sing the song, I make my video, and then I let people say what they want.  It’s freedom of speech.  But if you can’t be nice, at least be classy!

It’s not just me, obviously.  There are plenty of comments on youtube saying Beyoncé is a fat whore (um?), Mariah Carey cannot sing (The Voice? yeah right), that singers who are legitimate superstars are rubbish at their craft.  And while I don’t like every famous singer out there, I have respect for their hustle and appreciate that it is not easy to put yourself up for criticism and hate (as well as adoration and love 😉 ) night after night and day after day.  You have to be incredibly thick-skinned  to keep on going – to give her her due, Paris Hilton made her album and records her tv shows and doesn’t give a fuck what people say and think about her.  If it’s negative, they’re still wasting their negative energy talking about her, so it’s all promotion and job done.  That is something I have a lot of respect for.  But these armchair critics who think they are Simon Cowell are only feeding into these people’s fame, and if you don’t wanna hear from them anymore, then you have to go one better.  If you aren’t willing to do that, or you’re not capable of it, then you should sit your ass down and keep your mouth shut.  If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

I wanted to also congratulate my friend Hannah on her family dog sitting job she’s netted in September – she’s getting £500 for a week’s work!  Of course I am slightly jealous, because I could really do with £500 myself.  But instead of criticising her or being unsupportive, I congratulated her and am genuinely happy for her, not just because she is one of my very best and closest friends, but because I don’t believe I am a negative or spiteful person.  If somebody does something well, has a great stroke of luck, or is talented, I congratulate them and express my appreciation.  You get what you give, and I believe in passing out positive energy instead of negative.  It all comes back around to you, ultimately, even if it’s a long time in coming… But I never understood the point of hating on people who are luckier or more talented than you in a specific area… instead of wasting your time hating on them, you get your game up.  I am hugely envious of models and guys with better bodies, but instead of commiserating at home eating Ben & Jerrys, I get my ass down the gym and watch what I eat because I want that body and my determination to get it will one day pay off (even if it could hurry up. please.). That will be the sweetest victory.  As Blu Cantrell says, “Revenge is better than money you seeeeeeee!” (“Hit ‘Em Up Style”)  So don’t hate; appreciate, and step your game up… because when the time comes that people are hating on you, you must be doing something right!