Posts Tagged ‘dance’

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Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite. (album review)

June 27, 2010

Aphrodite marks Kylie Minogue’s 11th studio album, and the general attitude is that this is the Australian star’s comeback album following her battle with breast cancer, after the scattershot effort of previous project X. Not only did X not allude to her personal life and struggles (to many fans’ dismay), it seemed determined to overlook them; however, the genre-hopping and quality rollercoaster displeased many listeners.  This is not to take away from the album’s strongpoints; for the gigantic misses of glam-rock lead single “2 Hearts” and the tepid, forgettable “No More Rain”, there were hits such as the excellently addictive “In My Arms” and the sensuous “Sensitized”, not to mention the beautiful closing lightweight ballad “Cosmic”.  X was a frustrating listen not because it ignored Kylie’s personal foibles but because it didn’t know where its head was at, and fired off moments of sheer brilliance and then of complete twaddle seemingly at will.  It’s true that in contrast to that album, Aphrodite is cohesive, focused and honed to target the fibrillating emotional dance-pop that so pleases the radio and Kylie’s gay fanbase.

Aphrodite bears much in common with that other Kylie comeback record, Fever.  Both are love letters to the dance floor, where the tempo and beats are relentless, while Kylie purrs over the top at once calculated and lascivious.  Both are pure pop, and neither of them take enough risks to stand with Kylie’s best albums: the daring, creative zenith of Impossible Princess or the seductive Body Language that was comprised of songs that were so off-kilter and curious that it was a pleasant surprise just how well the songs worked both individually and as a whole.  Nevertheless, Aphrodite aims to please, and on lead single “All The Lovers”, Kylie does just that with a lyric that pleads simultaneously for love and for the dancefloor.  Primed for the radio and for the gays with its pop-dance leanings, Kylie seems to have struck a home run.  However, this song epitomises much of one of my criticisms of Aphrodite as a whole: the sentiments of the lyrics (which are well-written) and the beauty in the melodies (which are often evocative and well-structured) get swallowed up by the uniform pop production of the album.  It at once unifies the record and smooths out most of its interesting quirks: if X was too schizophrenic, Kylie has gone too far the other way with Aphrodite to create a record that is too homogenous.  Like Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor, Stuart Price oversees production duties here to melt the songs together into one continuous blur, making the decent songs fight to announce themselves as individuals to the listener’s ear.

With songs such as “All The Lovers”, “Closer” and “Everything Is Beautiful”, this is a problem: for example, “Closer” is structurally and melodically a ballad, fighting against production that wants to make it a bitter dance song.  “Everything Is Beautiful” should be a gentle, sweet ode to the joys of love, but the insistent drum beat transforms the song into an anthemic but ill-fitting upbeat pop song. These identity crises give much of Aphrodite the sense that it is trying too hard to be something it’s not, or that the tracks are not allowed to be themselves.  There are a couple of plain weak tracks: “Better Than Today” sounds entirely like a Scissor Sisters track and Kylie Minogue (who is not credited enough for her vocal and interpretative abilities) sings it in just that way; “Looking For An Angel” is listless filler which once again seems to have earned its spot on the record because it fits in with the overarching feel of the album as a whole.  It’s a shame that unlike on the quirky Body Language where the album’s moments of strangeness worked, a large part of Aphrodite feels like it is a square peg forced into a round hole.

This is especially highlighted when one listens to the songs that do work.  “Get Outta My Way” is a focused, upstanding anthem that takes its 4-to-the-floor beat and runs, creating an exhilarating standout; “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)” bears the essence of Fever‘s infectious “Love At First Sight” and is similarly lovely; the title track “Aphrodite” is a statement of self-worth and determination to triumph that totally suits its marching-band beat and lyrics that declare “Did you think I wasn’t real?… I’m fierce and I’m feeling mighty / I’m a golden girl, I’m an Aphrodite / Alright?” Its confidence and zest spearhead Aphrodite’s most successful moments.  However, “Cupid Boy” is the antithesis of this and still shines; a moody guitar-driven mid-tempo that proves that (unlike the aforementioned “Closer”) it certainly is possible to successfully deliver an emotionally-charged ballad-esque track while still keeping the overarching dance feel of the album intact.  Closer “Can’t Beat The Feeling” is one of the album’s poppiest moments, but its embrace of its own cheesiness is almost delightful, with Kylie’s vocal delivery transforming throwaway candy-floss lyrics such as “Feel the force of the reaction / Let it take you on a ride /… I can’t beat the feeling that I get when I’m with you” into a delirious proclamation of love.

Overall, Aphrodite caters to its target group, but a little too efficiently.  Some songs feel like they’ve been forced to be what they’re not, a couple seem to be present only by dint of the fact that they musically sound like Kylie Minogue tracks – facsimiles of songs rather than songs in their own right.  But at least half of the album works, and when the individual elements of Aphrodite react successfully and the songs stand up with the help of the production rather than being strapped down by it, the results are impressive.  I enjoyed this album more than I expected to, and it marks one step closer to a return to form for Minogue… even if she’s not quite at her peak.

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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something’s missing.

May 1, 2010

I like this song:

(Brandy – “A Capella (Something’s Missing)”)

The last 8 months have represented the happiest period in my life that I can remember.  I’ve grown so much as a person, I have made some terrific friends, I have started the longest relationship of my life to date, I have lost weight, I have tattoos (it’s my most recent tattoo‘s one-month anniversary today!) and I have finally started learning to drive again. It’s like I was in a chrysalis up until this point, and now I’m finally starting to spread my wings.

However, I can slowly but surely feel that happiness starting to fade a bit.  Perhaps it’s growing pains, because in December I had a tough couple of weeks – maybe I just need to ride it out.  I still have all the things I named above, so I can’t really complain too much.  But my growing discontent I think is largely due to the fact that I’ve not had instant success when applying for jobs.  I haven’t had an interview out of the six jobs I’ve applied to so far.  I won’t give up – I am committed to this new careers guidance career, I want to make a difference in other people’s lives, to young people.  And I want to carve out my own life, get a car, get a job, get a place to live.  I can’t do any of those things without the finances that come from a well-paying job.  So I really need this, and although I’ve had my applications checked and approved my tutors, and my CV was given a glowing review by the UWE Careers Service, I guess it won’t come that easy.

So here’s the part where I start to connect my life at the moment with the song above.  Listen to the words, and things will make more sense. I was complaining to Mike about the fact that I have yet to secure an interview for any jobs, and he said to me “Well, I am sure there’s nothing wrong with your applications and it’s probably bad luck, nothing personal, but I don’t know if we have the skills for some of the jobs you applied for”.  In other words, try not to worry, but don’t apply for such weird stuff.  But I thought that I had a good shot at being capable of the jobs I went for, and the fact I was able to fill out the application without really questioning it means that I didn’t really think that the jobs I applied for were that leftfield.

Then I bumped into Henna (from the Perfume Shop) and her friends in the uni café, and after chatting for a while, one of them turns to me and says “So you did languages at Oxford, why on earth aren’t you becoming a teacher?” I explained that even after my teaching assistantship in Spain, and enjoying teaching more than I expected to, I’d never gravitated towards teaching and it wasn’t ever on my radar. Even though I’m now working towards becoming a careers guidance practitioner and working with young people, it feels quite different to me because I’m instrumental in helping a young person shape their entire life and future, rather than wholly responsible for one component of that.  I just feel that this fits me better, but perhaps I’m missing a trick?  Then I start to think that perhaps I am just running away from the one true vocation I’ve always wanted: music.  Ever since I was a child, I wanted to sing, dance, perform, record and entertain.  I’m good at it; I’ve won prizes for it.  People loved what I did at high school, sixth form and university, and since then I’ve grown as a musician, performer and person.  Why aren’t I following my heart?  Although I release my music online and I have very positive responses, will that ever truly be enough?  By keeping total control, am I sacrificing my dream of making it big?  Is being spurned by employers left right and centre a subtle hint that I can’t really avoid my destiny?

I keep wondering if I’m missing something.  I’ve had other reasons to lately wonder what the hell is wrong with my brain (read my previous post for some of that), and I don’t consider myself so eccentric or out of the ordinary to have made it to age 24 that I haven’t realised.  But sometimes, I look at the way things are and just think, what is going on? Am I on another planet? I do often think I’m an alien, from another galaxy: in Kingswood, I seem to dress like nobody else, have desires for things that just pass everyone else by.  In my family, I have different aims, different values.  I seem to have been only partly informed by my upbringing, and a lot by the media, and my parents say that I am 10% of them, and 90% of something mysterious and random.  Where do I get it from, who am I, and when I find out, where do I go from there? I am glad I am my own person and I wouldn’t change that for anything, but sometimes it gets a bit lonely out here.

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performance anxiety.

March 25, 2010

Last night myself and several of my coursemates, as well as Toby and his friend Miguel went to Mr. Wolf’s to watch one of our friends on the Careers Guidance course, Emma, perform some songs with her guitarist friend.  She sang Whitney Houston’s “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”, Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart” and Eric Clapton’s “Change The World”, and did a fantastic job.  Emma and I spent an afternoon last term comparing our CD collections and marvelling over just how similar they were, since it often feels like nobody else in the UK listens to the same kind of music by artists such as Allure, Kelly Price, Angie Stone, D’Angelo and so on.  Obviously some people must buy their albums because otherwise nobody would stock them, but it’s rare to find somebody with whom you connect on such a musical level, especially as a singer or musician.  So I respect her music taste and her talent, and she was genuinely good (and outclassed the other performers that night 😉 ).

When she told me about the Open Mic night and her impending performance on Monday, she mentioned that I should perform something.  I thought it sounded like a nice idea but a little short notice, but nevertheless I dragged Toby to the UWE music practice rooms to hammer out a piano version of Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams”.  It sounded fine (after Toby’s hints that making it an octave lower would sound good – which I did; and that I am not Christina Aguilera and should stick to less notes – which I sort of did but I love putting some runs in my vocals, because that’s part of my style and sets me apart somewhat), but I felt that it required more practice than I’d be able to gain in two days.  So for the reason that I didn’t feel it was polished enough or “ready” to perform, as well as I had never been to the venue and didn’t want to rain on Emma’s parade since we were all going to see her, I decided not to perform.  Next time, I will, and I’m since working on a piano version of “Lift Me Up” by Christina Aguilera to compliment the Beyoncé song.  They sound ok, and with a little practice I reckon they’ll be performable and effectively show off my vocals and my piano (something I’ve always needed to work at is playing the piano and singing at the same time). 

And yet the thought of doing that is a little scary to me now.  I used to perform regularly at Open Mic nights at Oxford (gaining notoriety in the process, which was pretty complimentary), concerts at school and sixth form where I used to sing, dance, play guitar and piano – the whole kaboodle.  I even performed at a Hiroshima Remembrance concert, which was outdoors and to the public.  I’ve done a lot of this, I should be used to it.  So why am I nervous?  I guess that now I have a boyfriend, and some close adult friends, their opinion means a lot to me? I don’t want to fall short of their expectations? Is it stage fright?  Admittedly, the last time I performed on a stage of any sort was 2 years ago, but Mike and I did an impromptu version of Beyoncé’s “Disappear” at my house and I managed to perform well in that and impress him suitably.  So maybe I just need to bite the bullet and do it, once the songs are ready. 

The other thing that fills me with a little nerves is the fact that I have had mentioned to me that a few of my colleagues on the course have visited my myspace and listened to the songs I’ve put up from the Quiet Storm album (which incidentally you can download here) on there.  Now, obviously the purpose of my myspace is to promote my music to the public and my friends – it’s for public consumption.  But to hear that people have listened to my stuff and liked it makes me feel funny – I guess partly because while I’m proud of this album, I feel that I still have a long way to go and develop, particularly in my production and vocal production (I have done a couple of songs more recently where I feel my voice sounds more impressive on record).  So I feel like I don’t want them to judge me yet. Also, I guess once again their opinion matters to me more than I expected it to, more than it should? I mean, Mike, Toby, Hannah, Karina, Nick… all my close friends’ opinions are understandably important to me and I am flattered by the support of all my friends.  And I’m flattered by the support of other friends who don’t know me so well – it is really nice – but I don’t know what to say, because somewhere within me my insecurity says “Do they really like it or are they just saying that and laughing behind my back?” I mean, I should be like “Who cares?” but my music is such an intimate, personal part of me that it’s important for me to produce, and if that essential aspect of who I am is a source of mockery or easily dismissed, I have to admit that that would probably hurt me, at least a little bit.  I totally understand that you can’t please anyone anyway, and at the end of the day my musical executive producer is myself – I’m my own harshest critic.  But I just hope that their support is sincere, because it means a lot to me.  And I guess that when I do perform “Sweet Dreams” or “Lift Me Up” or whatever else I end up doing (I am extremely liable to changing my mind in these sorts of things!), I am hoping that I can justify and live up to that support, their expectations of me.  I want to impress, I want to please people.  I guess that that way, it validates my singing and my music (my lifelong passion and ambition) and I can get a little bit closer to pleasing myself.  So I’m going to bite the bullet and go for it, but it’s harder than I thought and I didn’t expect it to be.

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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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beautiful.

February 28, 2010

This song by Vivian Green is one of my new favourites at the moment.  It’s what real R&B is (not this dance/pop/Timbaland hybrid nonsense), about self-esteem, relationships and beauty.  Her voice is lovely on the song, and the lyrics are so poignant.  It’s inspired me to write this blog, because over the last 6-9 months, I’ve grown to feel a lot more comfortable in my skin.  I’ve gained a lot of new friendships (Nick and Toby met today! We had a lot of fun banter and coffee/tea in Starbucks), I’ve entered into a really lovely relationship in which I’m starting to feel comfortable, and my body and image are finally reflecting the man that I am, that I’ve become.  In short, it’s taken 24 years but nobody can make me feel ugly anymore.  Sometimes I might be hard on myself, and I’m pretty vain and heavily self-critical, but at the end of the day I’ve come to a place where I’m good.  Although it doesn’t matter whether other people validate you and the most important person you have to please is yourself, it has been a revelation just how valued I am by my friends, both old and new.  I entered into university and despite my closest friends being quite different from me, they support me and I support them.  We value each other, respect each other, and nobody can convince me now that I’m an ugly person.  Over the past 6 months, I’ve let people in on some heavy secrets of mine, and nobody ran away.  They all embraced me, and that’s meant a lot to me – I’m a beautiful person inside and out.  Not because they say so necessarily – after all, I worked damn hard to get to this point and feeling this way is still incredibly new to me.  But for example, I got home tonight and my parents were sniping at each other regarding a possible new car (which would be expensive), and they tried to ensnare me in the discussion.  I’ve grown to the point where I won’t be bullied by my mother or shouted down by her neverending arguments from her fixed point of view.  And neither will I be wound up by my father’s surreptitious planted comments, nor intimidated by his own feelings of superiority, inferiority or jealousy.  I love my parents, but so often these days I feel like the adult in this house and I won’t be made to feel inferior, naïve or ugly by either of them.  It took a very long time (longer than it should have), and it took more newly-formed friendships than it should have, but I’m strong enough to see their faults for what they are, rather than just taking them into me and feeling guilty about myself.  It’s not my fault, and I’m not the problem.  I’m not perfect, but I’m beautiful and I deserve to love myself and believe in myself as much as anyone else.  And finally, even though I can often waver or doubt myself (as we all can), I more or less do.  It’s a work-in-progress, as with anything.

In both of the essays I’ve submitted on my careers guidance course so far, not only have I got pretty decent marks, but I’ve received praise on how well I write.  This stands in contrast to when I was at Oxford and my tutors would complain about my essay structure and my use of language.  Perhaps part of it is that I’ve taken these past criticisms on board, perhaps I’ve grown not only in age but in maturity and the ability to express myself in a subject or arena that I enjoy, but it’s true that you can’t please everyone.  At the end of the day, I appreciate the compliments and try to improve from criticism, but it’s a lot harder to knock me down.  I feel happier, stronger and more sure of myself, and what’s most important to me when I’m handing in an essay, when I’m selecting my outfit for the day, when I’m singing a song to an audience, is that I’m happy and believe confidently in my self-expression.  Criticism from other people can help me to grow, praise from others lets me know I’m on the right path, but at the end of the day I have to be alright with me and nobody else can disguise whether I’m good or uneasy with myself.

So I realise that this entry can be construed as me giving myself a massive pat on my back, and to an extent it’s true 😉 But in the past when I’ve kept diaries or expressed myself in some form, it’s often fixated on the negative and become quite self-deprecating.  I won’t deny that there are entries on this blog where I’ve still been that way, but life doesn’t preclude negativity.  We all have good days and bad days, but I’m determined to acknowledge the good just as much as the bad.  I feel happier than I’ve possibly ever felt in my life, and I want to celebrate that and encourage you all to celebrate your own good days and happiness.  I’m determined to celebrate myself, even if nobody else will – but the greatest thing is that in the past 6-9 months, enough of my friends have reinforced me and held me up when I’ve not quite had the energy to see the good in myself or do it myself.  I truly appreciate that, and you know who you are – thankyou 🙂 So in connection with Vivian Green’s “Beautiful”, please listen to the song and put not only your loved ones but your friends and those who matter “on a pedestal / let them know that they’re beautiful”.  A compliment costs nothing but if it comes from the heart, it can make all the difference and encourage or remind people of the good in themselves. In a recent entry I talked about the value of letting people know that you appreciate them, and I wanted to reiterate that in this entry.  I appreciate myself, I feel appreciated and I won’t be downtrodden the way I used to be.  And neither should my friends be, and neither should you be.  Love yourselves, love one another, and we can all succeed together. 🙂

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quiet storm track walkthrough (part iv).

November 20, 2009

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

Okay, this is the final part of the stories behind the tracks on my album Quiet Storm.  Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be viewed if you click on those little numbers, and I want to thank everyone once and again for supporting my album and my blog.  I really appreciate it, and I hope that these behind-the-music notes have added a little to your enjoyment of my music.  On with the show!

18. Role Model (Interlude)

This was originally an entire song which was a rap song with a sung chorus. You can hear the original full version on my High Fashion mixtape but although the lyrics were kinda cool, I wasn’t too keen on my flow in places and I thought that I would rather not have the raps as part of my album.  Nevertheless, I appreciated the idea of the chorus and feeling misrepresented in society as a young person, a gay man, a singer, my music tastes, where I come from, my heritage… all those things are categorised and yet how many of us actually fit the stereotypes for those categories?  I felt that it led into the next song well, as it is about exposing who I am as a person, and not letting anyone’s pigeon holes or preconceived notions dictate who I am.  This is me, and this is…

19. The Truth

This song is probably the most heartfelt I’ve been in any of my songs recorded to date.  It discusses my relationship with my family, life and death, my emotional state and insecurities, my childhood, my education, and music.  It is the truth of who I am – sometimes we feel sad or hard done by, and other times we remember how happy we have been and whatever happens, we just have to keep going and get on with it anyway.  This song is a bit scratchy due to the fact that I have recorded myself playing acoustic guitar on the track (yes, that is me!) and it didn’t work perfectly, though I think it did the job.  I liked the guitar and the piano and the beat – it combined together well to be a midtempo R&B joint that was musically quite stable and almost sunny, yet anchored in place by some really heavy lyrics.  I thought it would originally have been the album closer, but then you’ll see I changed my mind about that.

20. Last Chance

I wanted the last song proper on the album to be a dance song – something that really went out with a bang! I decided this because sometimes (in keeping with the nocturnal theme of the album) you’re not ready to go home at the end of a night, until the DJ has played one final song that really gets you to annihilate the dancefloor and you can just let yourself go with the music before calling it a wrap.  This song is that song – I was inspired by “Work” by Ciara (sampled on the track!), “Get Me Bodied” by Beyoncé, “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas and just any song that really makes me want to move.  Other songs sampled in this are Paulina Rubio’s “Sexi Dance” (at the very end when the track fades out) which gives the song a late-night / early morning sensuous hue, and Beethoven’s “Für Elise” – just because it worked! I was crafting this track for a really long time, and between utilising the beat at the end of “All Night Long” to give the album a sense of circularity and closure, and trying to really fire up the beats and make them incendiary, I just tried to be as crazy as possible.  The rap, the off-kilter song structure with multiple hooks and instrumental at the beginning, the extended coda – it’s really going for broke! And that was what I wanted for the last song.

21. Close

To once again fit with the theme of closure and circularity, this is the “outro” of the album, to pair with the “Open” intro – again, I wanted to use the word “Close” in two different ways, both signifying the end of the album and also bringing in the idea of just wanting someone to hold you close, and desiring that intimacy (not necessarily sexually) at the end of the night, just before the sun rises and you’re feeling contemplative.

22. Lucky To Have You (Bonus Track)

My grandfather passed away during the creation of this album, and I remember being at Oxford and hearing on the telephone from my mother and grandmother that his health was really deteriorating. I wrote this song to comfort him (though he never heard it, and neither has anyone else in my family) as he passed away – I wasn’t allowed to go home and see him because it was in the middle of my finals, and he died and the funeral was held all while I was stuck in Oxford and expressly forbidden to come home.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget that – feeling so helpless far away and yet just glad his suffering was over (his illness was long and protracted).  This song is really personal and dedicated to him; it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, but I nevertheless wanted to include it somewhere so I thought a bonus track was the best opportunity.

That’s it!  Once again, please download my album if you haven’t already, and check out my blog! Thanks for all the support – I really appreciate it and I’ll keep the posts coming! 🙂

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)