Posts Tagged ‘influence’

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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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calorie counting.

May 3, 2010

Please be frank, and if you think I’m in the wrong, please tell me.  I’d almost like to be wrong, I’d like to feel that my family do respect my intelligence and that I’m somehow being unfair to them by believing that they insult me and feel that I am foolish.

The past few months, I know that I have lost weight, but I am hardly underweight.  I have a nice shape, a slim waist, but I still have muscle tone and at 6 feet tall, I wouldn’t want to lose that and become skinny.  I eat enough without stuffing my face (unless I’m indulging – for example, on Saturday night I had a large Meateor pizza from Dominos as a treat). I have never starved myself, nor do I induce myself to vomit.  In other words, even though I am certainly vain and may have a smidge of body dysmorphic disorder, I certainly do not consider myself to have an eating disorder.

So therefore, at 24 years of age, why do my family (specifically my mother and my grandmother) insist on me giving them a rundown of what I have eaten that day, and then accuse me of being bulimic, or decide to prepare me a meal despite my protestations and specific statement that I don’t want anything to eat? Now, I know that they are family and trying to look after me, but it’s getting to the point that they are deciding what I want, or what I need, regardless of what I express.  When what I really need is for my voice and opinions to be respected.  Do I really have to wear my calorie count across my head like the scarlet letter? Perhaps it should be on a flashing LCD display? I don’t know, but I am getting to the end of my tether.

I have accomplishments to my name.  I have always passed my exams, I have lived away from home both in Oxford while I was at university, and in Spain during my teaching assistantship.  I have held down a job since the age of 16.  I handle my own finances, pay my mother a token rent of £100 a month, and I have always been able to make friends.  Therefore, should I be insulted that my family apparently doubts my ability to feed myself? Should they themselves be insulted, since they are the ones who raised me (though like I said in the previous entry, I am 90% alien / my own influence) and therefore taught me either to be intelligent and have common sense, or alternatively did not teach me how to take care of my own well-being?  I have never let my parents down the way that many other people my age seem to, so do I really deserve to be put under such suspicion, such surveillance?

I am aware that moving out would solve this problem once and for all, and I am working on getting a job which can help me afford a car and a place to live. But despite the fact that I live at home, this doesn’t mean I should be treated like a child, especially as I do pay for the privilege of staying here – ok, again it’s not much, but I feel that it should earn me the right to my privacy and autonomy.  Isn’t that basic human decency?  My mother rarely asks how I am or what I’ve been doing in a casual, interested way… but she thinks it’s fine and not at all intrusive to ask for my dietary intake. I don’t think I’m the one with the problem here… am I being unfair? Even though this is my family, and one might argue that they are just concerned about my well-being, I counter this argument with the fact that I am rarely asked how my day has been: I usually ask after my parents’ days, and if my mother’s argument for that is that she does not want to infringe my privacy and independence, what does she think that inquiring after my eating habits is doing?

So I’ve had about enough of it. I find it insulting to my own intelligence, common sense and independence; I find it almost insulting to my mother / grandmother’s own ability to raise me.  It infringes on my privacy, which should not only be a basic human right but a right that I in fact pay for; if I were a lodger, would it be acceptable for my landlords to constantly ask minute details about my calorie consumption? I don’t think so. Should I be more accepting, more understanding, or am I right to feel aggrieved? Please let me know.  Thanks for reading, as always 🙂

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end game.

April 18, 2010

It sounds silly to say, considering the last 8 months that I’ve had, but sometimes I still feel a waste of space.  I get down sometimes and I feel so indecisive, so useless… I don’t know what I want.  I have made huge changes and huge improvements in my life, and I am so grateful to that and I appreciate things like I never used to, so I don’t feel I’m being ungrateful or taking anything for granted.  It’s just that despite everything seemingly going my way for once, despite the career change I’m making and the reasons I have for doing it, I still wonder… what is it all for?

I always hated the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I’ve never had any idea, apart from when I was a child and I used to fantasise about running away and catching a plane to America at age 13, so I could be a superfamous pop singer by the magical age of 17.  Needless to say, that didn’t quite pan out (although I am very proud of my latest album Quiet Storm) and since then, I’ve felt at a loss, and somewhat a failure, for not having achieved that ridiculous and yet wildly romantic childhood dream.  In much the same way as I’ve been academically brilliant, I have always been able to sing, dance, write songs and play instruments because I just always assumed that I was capable of those things.  I never doubted myself, and through sheer force of will and plain naïve arrogance I turned out to be really good at all of that.  The only time I’ve ever failed any kind of test was my driving test, and 5 years on I’m making moves to finally erase that failure.  Generally, I’ve believed in myself and it’s pushed me to the top.  So why am I not famous, successful, rich and happy?

I look to my twin Ciara. She was born on the exact same day as me, and in her life she’s accomplished exactly what I wanted to but never did. Where did I go wrong? Did I ever have a chance, or was it just luck?  If I had my life over again, what could I do differently to end up where she is? Does that mean my achievements are nothing? I’m not going to brag about anything I’ve done in my life (the last paragraph sounded plenty up myself for this entry) but I know that I’ve achieved things which are pretty decent, some would say admirable.  But it means far less to me than perhaps it should, because it’s never really gotten me anywhere that’s mattered to me.

But then, looking at what the music industry is, especially now, I think perhaps I was naïve in believing that I could give up everything and just be famous.  Having the talent is one thing, but I don’t know if I have the stamina to stick out the years of churning out radio-friendly fodder to get to a stage where I can call some of the shots and have any sort of creative control. Especially now, where I’ve got to the stage of clearly becoming an “adult” (i.e. old) because I find 90% of what is played on the radio recycled garbage.  As I’ve grown my musical identity, I have gained more fixed ideas of what I want musically and who I am, and I certainly don’t fit into any of the current moulds.  I would not last five minutes on X-Factor and similar programmes, because even if I have the talent to make it, I don’t have the obedient personality which can be crammed into a shiny black suit and forced to sing mundane cover versions with choirs and key changes.  Frankly, I’d rather die.

But then, we all end up dying anyway, right? So I have let’s say, 65 years, to make something of my life.  Ideally, I want to have a life where I’m remembered for all time, but that doesn’t seem to be too likely does it? Either I go on a killing spree (which is a little bit messy for my liking), or I become a leading politician (I’d rather go on the killing spree), or I do something incredible on a grand scale.  This incredible thing was going to be the super-influential singing career idea, but I guess I’d rather sing for my friends and those online who appreciate my music (THANKYOU ALL btw!) and get to write, produce and sing the music I want, which means sacrificing the fame. Oh well.

My logic for going into Careers Guidance was to do an incredible thing on a smaller scale.  If I can’t have / don’t want the burdens and trappings of fame, I could still touch people’s lives as an individual, because doing Good Things gives meaning to my life and my actions, and it’s the meaning that I truly seek.  Just as my friends and I influence each other (again, thankyou all of you! YOu know who you are), I would like to be a good influence in people’s lives when they need it most, to enable them to progress and achieve what they want.  If it’s a less grandiose dream, it still has its heart in the right place, I feel.  And perhaps one of the people that I advise, that I support, that I help, will become the superstar I always dreamed of being.  That would make me feel incredibly proud, and perhaps that would be enough. I just hope that I do get a job as a guidance worker somewhere, because I finish this course in 2 months (it’s flown by, hasn’t it!) and I need the money, I need the experience and I also need to get my own place and not waste any more time!  Otherwise I will end up dying, and not having made anything of my life on whatever scale.  And that would be a disappointment and a waste of myself.  I need to make my life a life worth living.

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what christmas means to me.

December 20, 2009

I remember when I was little I would count down the days to Christmas Day so eagerly.  About the 22nd December, I would be so excited I couldn’t sleep.  And then on the day itself, I’d be up ridiculously early, eager to open my presents and be spoiled for the day before we would go to my nan’s for a big Christmas lunch, relax in front of the television watching one film or another while my mum and my nan chatted, my grandfather slept and my dad made a nuisance of himself in one way or another.  Eventually we would go home to wait for the inevitable boredom that was Boxing Day. But overall, it’d be a lovely day and hold the type of memories I’ll always cherish.

I guess it’s called growing up, but I don’t feel at all the same now.  Part of it is that those memories are irreplaceable – my grandfather is now dead, my grandmother is in Australia this year, and the year before last spent the day in hospital with my granddad, and my father is the one who cooks now (nowhere near as well, though it’s ok) and we eat here at home.  There’s no eagerness to open my presents, and since my parents don’t seem bothered by what I get them, they wait until 11am or something ridiculous like that just so that I can see their faces and suss out whether they really like their gifts.  In other words, the childhood traditions of Christmas are completely broken and gone; we do things differently now, and sometimes I wonder if I was the only one who ever enjoyed Christmas.

Nowadays, I dread the day itself.  There’s nothing to watch on TV, there’s nowhere to go that isn’t parent-sponsored (my friends are all busy with their families, obviously; there aren’t any buses and as I don’t yet have a car – something which I’m looking to change in the very near future – I am essentially home-bound), the sanity of my nan’s conversation and the scrumptiousness of her cooking is poorly imitated by my father.  And I feel bad for saying that, because it’s not that his cooking is bad; it’s not. It’s perfectly edible, but it’s not the same.  I have a lot of my own issues with food, eating food and generally feeling guilty for it. (Another down side to Christmas – every cigarette I have is under surveillance, so I am currently eating more and smoking less.  Not good for my figure, nor my state of mind!) But nevertheless I am always eager to taste my nan’s cooking – it is that good (I like to call it the Italian influence) that even though I exercise restraint in size of portions, I eat more than I otherwise would.  Her food has a certain feeling of safety to it that is comforting and yet vibrant and actively tangible; my father’s food just feels fake and bland in comparison.  That’s just Christmas Day – this year I plan to be talking to Mike (who is a real Scrooge!  I’m certainly not as bad as he is – he actively hates it) and complaining in unison, and quite possibly working on my essay.  Hell, there’s nothing else to do.

Nowadays, my favourite part of Christmas is buying everyone’s presents.  I couldn’t really care less what people get me, as I appreciate anyone thinking about me enough to get me a present, and I don’t tell people what to get me as everything I actively want is invariably too expensive, and I wouldn’t be happy with people (not even my parents) spending that much money on me.  I prefer to buy jewellery and expensive items with my own money, because then it’s my own decision and I’m not bound to being grateful to anyone.  The thing I enjoy about buying people’s presents is the rush and buzz in the shops, the feeling that Christmas is here (maybe it’s left over from my days working in retail – which I am still so glad are over) and most of all, choosing the right gift for somebody so that it will genuinely make them happy and let them know I have not only put thought into what I’ve chosen for them, but that I value them as a friend.  This year I have spent a bit more money than usual and than I intended, but since I have my bursary from university, I can afford it 😉 Hell, if I can afford my Gucci earrings and bracelet (which FINALLY came on Wednesday after a 3-month wait!), I can afford splashing out an extra few £ for my friends.  I take pleasure and pride in that, and I believe that as much as I deserve to be treated, so do they.  We all should allow ourselves to feel good, and allow our friends to shine a little sunshine our way every now and then.

But the meaning of Christmas has changed.  This year at university has been something I’ve enjoyed so much, I plan to go into the library over the holiday just to see Mike and do some work – it fills the time! I can barely stand to be at home anymore unless I have the house to myself, because I feel like I’m in a cage that isn’t allowed to co-exist comfortably in the same room as my parents.  I go to Starbucks most days when I have free time just to work on my essay – it has the double bonus of allowing me to escape the house & have some cigarettes, and I actually seem to get a fair amount of work done there.  (The unfortunate drawback is that I consume a beverage that contains calories – though I always go for skinny, so I guess it’s not too bad.) I like being around people, I like being close to my friends, and the fact that I have this essay to work on means that I have something to focus my energy on.  I don’t know if it’s that my attention span is getting shorter as I grow older, but I cannot stand to simply sit in front of the television and vacate my brain.  I need my laptop near me at the same time as I am watching anything just so that I can talk to friends and surf the internet – my nan jokes that I am constantly multitasking, but it is true!  I don’t know if it’s that I don’t know how to relax, but most of the time I don’t really feel the need to relax, because I’d rather be on the go.  And I guess that that’s at the heart of the problem – at Christmas, there’s just not enough to do that keeps me entertained!  I don’t dislike Christmas, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that the soft-focus memories of my childhood aren’t enough to hold my attention anymore, even if they were still able to be replicated (which they’re beyond not).  I don’t need gifts anymore, and I don’t need to watch a silly film on the TV while eating x, y and z.  That’s not me. Fundamentally, what I want from Christmas more than anything is to spend time with my friends, get out of the house and go somewhere and talk, be silly and have fun.