Posts Tagged ‘interest’

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Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (album review.)

April 6, 2012

It’s time to accept that the Nicki Minaj that we heard on her mixtape (and best album to date) Beam Me Up Scotty is gone. The Nicki Minaj that we heard stealing the show on Kanye West’s “Monster” is a distant memory. Now, the Nicki Minaj who pleasantly surprised us with her bubblegum rap confection “Super Bass” is asserting herself throughout Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Nicki Minaj may not have concretely realised her Roman Zolanski alter-ego (who shows up at the start of the album, but his fangs have been sanded down after his explosive showing on “Roman’s Revenge”), but throughout her career we have seen her evolve and shift through persona after persona. The hard female rapper we heard on Playtime Is Over gave way to the exciting cyberspace femme fatale with the ridiculous flow and heart of gold on Beam Me Up Scotty, who tarted herself up with colourful outfits, wigs and softened edges for Pink Friday. Although her rap credentials have become less indisputable, mainstream success has opened Minaj to a new audience: pop. Teenagers, little girls dancing and rapping along to her songs on youtube, people across the world now want to hear what Nicki Minaj has to say. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded finds Minaj trying to please everyone whom she has courted throughout her career. Does she succeed?

Well, the album is certainly diverse and there is something for everybody. After the insane and yet exciting “Roman Holiday”, the album is stacked with urban tracks designed to prove that Nicki is still in touch with her musical roots. “Come On A Cone” is a fascinating listen, and the genuinely unexpected “dick in your face” interlude about two thirds of the way through the song is a refreshing thrill – but Minaj can no longer get through an entire rap song without resorting to her trademark ridiculous vocal tics. This is a gimmick that initially served to set Minaj apart from other female rappers, but now it sounds like a party piece that is trotted out to fulfil the listener’s expectations. The song succeeds, but it could have been more. The tracks which follow are chock full of features, which is nothing unusual for a rap album, but here they serve to mute Nicki’s own impact on the material. “Beez In The Trap” is catchy but incredibly basic while “HOV Lane” is single-entendre bragging that may pay tribute to Jay-Z and to Minaj’s potential to be a supernova rather than just a star, but compared to the more insightful work Minaj has done on the past (for example on Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Can Anybody Hear Me” or Pink Friday‘s “Moment 4 Life”) it rings a little hollow. “Stupid Hoe” is an ill-advised tirade against Lil’ Kim that is so ridiculously silly that the bite in Minaj’s lyrics is muzzled by the repetitive hook and uninteresting beat. The buzz single for this project, “Roman In Moscow”, was so much more than all of the rap tracks that actually made it onto the album because the production was exciting and the flow and rhymes were unbridled and interesting. It showed that the ‘old Nicki’ is still alive, but there is no longer a place for her among any of Minaj’s current, more successful incarnations, which is a shame. As oddly structured and jarring as they may be, “Roman Holiday”, “Come On A Cone” and “Roman Reloaded” are the most successful songs in the first half of the album because although they are not amazing, they grab the listener’s ear and don’t let go.

After some tepid R&B slow jams which are so rote that they barely deserve mentioning, let alone a place on this album (“Right Thru Me” and “Your Love” from Pink Friday were miles better than these), we get to ‘pop Nicki’. This abrupt about-face in the album really should have been split into two discs on the physical version, but it’s not the disaster that other reviews have reported. “Starships” is at once derivative of LMFAO’s and Rihanna’s latest smashes, and yet also entirely the mutant spawn of “Super Bass” (without which ‘pop Nicki’ would never have come to triumph over ‘old Nicki’ or ‘Roman Zolanski’ or ‘Harajuku Barbie’ etc.), but my god is it fun. This song absolutely deserved to be a single and to be successful – I feel conflicted because Nicki Minaj shouldn’t have had to so deliberately manufacture such a hit, but its hit status is undeniable. “Pound The Alarm” goes one better and is an absolute gem that Britney Spears probably wishes she had recorded. “Whip It”, “Automatic” and “Beautiful Sinner” repeat this formula ad infinitum (or ad the next 15 minutes), and although the songs are great fun, they expose Minaj’s crossover aims as so calculated that a little bit of this fun is taken out of them.

The album winds down with some mid-tempo, more thoughtful songs such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Young Forever”. Strong hooks and mainstream production make these songs perfectly enjoyable, and although the lyrics show more insight from Minaj than the preceding half hour or so, they’re still calculated. “Fire Burns” and “Gun Shot” close the album (before the jarring “Stupid Hoe”) and they are the most genuine tracks of the second half. “Fire Burns” is this album’s “Save Me” (one of the highlights from Pink Friday), and the regret and sadness in Minaj’s delivery rings true. “Gun Shot” features Beenie Man and brings a little Caribbean flavour that Minaj hasn’t explored since Pink Friday‘s bonus tracks, or Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Keys Under Palm Trees” or title track (her shout-out to Trinidad at the beginning of “Beautiful Sinner” certainly doesn’t count). While so many of the second half’s tracks are deliberately and irresistibly exhilarating to a head-spinning extent, “Gun Shot” is a less manufactured but, if anything, more uplifting ray of sunshine.

Do I like this album? Absolutely. Do I feel that it squanders Minaj’s potential? Yes, and no. This has been a hard review to write, because there’s so much here to deal with. The mainstream-aimed songs are good, but many of them are so deliberately manufactured to be hits that the genuine feeling is often ironed out. The rap songs are acceptable to good (barring the mediocre slow-jam section in the middle), but the featured artists rarely measure up to Minaj’s own potential, while simultaneously limiting her own space to shine. The weird songs are absolutely interesting, but Minaj doesn’t need to rely on inconsistent alter-egos and silly voices to be compelling. Beam Me Up Scotty proved this, and I find it sad that Minaj isn’t encouraged to exhibit her rap skills and singing in a more genuine way. “Roman In Moscow” and “Fire Burns” are remnants of the Minaj we have previously experienced. And while I genuinely am happy for the existence of songs like “Starships” and “Pound The Alarm”, their aggressively insane exuberance is something that Minaj may risk exhausting herself trying to outdo on Pink Friday: Roman’s Resurrection (or whatever comes next).

I believe that Minaj genuinely enjoys catering to a range of audiences, but as Beam Me Up Scotty and even Pink Friday demonstrated amply, she can do this in a more integrated and less scattershot way. Everyone was wowed by Minaj’s feature on “Monster”, but there’s nothing approaching that venom or spark here; her album-closing declaration that “I am the female Weezy” is reductive. Minaj is not a female Lil Wayne, female Jay-Z, new Lil’ Kim or resurrected Lauryn Hill. Nor is she Roman Zolanski, a cockney grandmother, a Harajuku Barbie or anything else – she is more than the ‘mere’ summation of these characters or costumes. She’s a savvy businesswoman and a genuine talent who is producing good music but coming dangerously close to losing the edge that set her apart so definitively in the first place. I fear that the more mainstream success that Minaj garners (and it will likely be deserved), the less heartfelt and genuine her music will become. There’s a difference between creating art that is deliberate in its purpose and achieves its goals, and art that is so focus-group tested and aiming to please that the quality is filtered down to a semblance of what it originally could have been. And while we can respect and admire an artist’s potential, we can’t praise them for what they have the talent to create if they don’t actually create it, or realise their potential consistently. And so Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a blast to listen to, but it also warns that unless Minaj takes stock and finds away to hone all of her personalities, she may ultimately spread herself too thinly and become nothing to anyone, rather than something to everyone.

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satisfaction.

September 5, 2010

So I must be honest, I am not as over the moon in my new job as I expected to be. Perhaps I am naïve to expect to feel so happy, but it’s a saving grace that Mike is there with me because otherwise it would be a bit lonely and I would have nobody to vent to who knows precisely what I’m going through, because he is going through the exact same stuff.  However, although he was a bit unsure after the first day, the job seems to have grown on him more than it has for me.  I am looking forward to going to work tomorrow, but mainly because it will alleviate the boredom of this weekend at home, and mean that my next weekend in London with Toby will approach that much more quickly. The difficult thing is that there is nothing specific I can put my finger on – all the staff are lovely, I finally met my tutees (although if they’re doing a reshuffle so that I am not unfairly laden with more students than any other tutor, some of them won’t be my tutees after all) and apart from a few cheeky ones (which you have to expect when they’re aged 16-19), they all seem pretty nice so far. Term starts tomorrow and I’ll be into the real job rather than preparation and laying the groundwork and multiple meetings which seem designed to confuse something which ends up being the common sense I had expected. I am looking forward to starting, but I don’t feel the enthusiasm I felt a month ago (yes, this is my 4th week!). I don’t really know why, but I feel like something’s missing lately and I can’t pinpoint what, so I’ll just keep going and hopefully I’ll slowly feel more satisfied. I know that I want to take my driving test (hopefully next month), then I can move out, so I am slowly accomplishing my goals but until I get a car I feel a bit like I am in limbo; depending on Mike to take me to and from work, I am scared when he moves house in a month’s time because then I’ll be getting the train / lifts from other members of staff again, and I don’t like that dependence on people I don’t know that well, even at the same time as their kindness touches me.

I also mentioned that I’ve been at home this weekend.  I don’t know why, but I feel and act 10 years younger than my 24 years around my parents and grandmother; not throwing teenage tantrums, but keeping an intense amount of privacy and being more feisty and snappy in response to their questions which from their mouths sound nosey; from anyone else, I’m aware that they would just be taking an interest in me and I would happily answer. I don’t know why I revert to this mentality, but I am supposed to be going out for dinner to a pub with my parents tonight; it’s their idea, but I really have an aversion to going and am undecided whether I’m going to attend. It’s more enjoyable for them and for me when it’s just the two of them; I don’t have to make an effort at conversation, they can enjoy some private time, I don’t have to spend a couple of hours quietly hating their choice of venue, I get to have the house to myself for a couple of hours. I know the mature thing would be just to suck it up and go along, but then if the original reason for the meal is to celebrate my new job, why does it feel as if I am accommodating them? I’d really rather just not go, not to mention we already had a meal for the same celebratory reason a month or so ago. Do I really need to do this again? And yet I am aware that I feel like a brat for not wanting to go, as if I can’t spend a couple of hours with my parents without feeling aggrieved.  On the one hand, I need to grow up; on the other hand, why should I still feel obliged to do these things if I am an adult, earn my own salary (finally! and that is a good feeling), make my own decisions and therefore should have choice over whether I want to do something or not? Am I right or wrong to feel guilty?

Talking of guilty, I am tempted to alleviate my boredom and muted despair by going to a café in Cabot Circus this afternoon – let’s face it, I have nothing better to do and I get severe cabin fever staying inside all day. Now, I know I don’t need to spend money, but as I got my first payment a week and a half ago and it was a lovely boost, I know that I only have another few weeks to manage with more than enough money to get me through. Yet I had a lovely coffee yesterday, and I wish that I could get out and about without having to spend money in the process. I am also tempted to buy a bottle of Gucci Guilty because the fragrance smells nice enough but the bottle will look KILLER on my perfume shelf (I am a Gucci fan). Check it:

Sexy non? I think so, and I can already see that if I go into town, my resistance will crumble and I will end up with a bottle. A bottle of fragrance that I don’t need (although I have been quite good and slowly clearing out my stocks), to make myself feel better for how long? I do love shopping, and retail therapy has always been something I’ve enjoyed – buying presents for others or for myself, I enjoy spending money and any excuse to do so is welcome in my book.  However, even though I most probably will possess this bottle within a few hours, I will also know that it is just an excuse. An expensive excuse to distract myself, feel happy for a while until it fades and I’m left in the same predicament. I miss my wonderful boyfriend Toby, and I am so glad to have a beautiful Thomas Sabo ring he put on my finger (no, not an engagement ring, rather a “just-because” present – just because! I got him an iPod touch which he has been sorely in need of) because even when I miss him, I can look at it and have a little part of him with me all the time.  I miss seeing my friends in Bristol, because I’m working during the week and in London most weekends that I never get to seem them much and I really miss them! I hope that I can keep my life moving and finally capture the independence I already feel grown for. Then I’ll hopefully be more satisfied, while I work out what the overall meaning of my life should be.

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racism in a modern age.

June 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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the ex that never was.

June 6, 2010

Just a quick one.  Remember this?

easy to get.

It’s a blast from the past, and so much has changed since then.  Needless to say, Brett fell by the wayside, I lost interest, we lost touch.  He came out and said he had ADHD, and then I never heard from him for 9 months – within which a lot happened to change my life for the extreme better.  I have totally moved on.

Then a couple of weeks, Hannah, Toby and I are in town and I see him with his friends.  I just wave and say hi and we go on our way.  Flash forward to today.  I am in Starbucks having a coffee and fiddling with my iPod, waiting for Toby and Nick to arrive so we can go and have lunch at Nandos.  Brett comes and taps me on the shoulder, and we have a brief conversation and catch up – more about him than about me.  He is there with his “friend” (date? sugar daddy? the guy is at least 30; Brett is younger than me.) whom he sends to wait in the queue to get him a glass of water – he doesn’t like coffee.  At this point, I’ll mention that next to my laptop is a big mug of black filter 😉

Brett admitted he could have used the coffee to wake him up, as he was “tired” – I guess he was extremely tired, because if his eyes had been red I would have sworn he was stoned.  It’s 11am, a bit early for weed or whatever drug he’s taken? Perhaps I’m being mean, it’s quite possibly the ADHD medication that is making him really spaced out.  But when I mentioned he’d changed his hair from when I saw him a couple of weeks ago, he claimed it was just “wax / gel”.  Okay, but I’m not colourblind, and it was ginger the other week; it’s now black!  And to top it off, if the ADHD medication was what had made him sluggish, how come he had the impetus to put his hand on my thigh for a moment?  Is that just being friendly? It seemed quite flirtatious to me, and I bit my tongue from mentioning that a) you’re here with your “friend” (who, incidentally, gave me side-eye as they left the café – insecure much?) so perhaps he might get annoyed if you flirt with me? and b) I have a boyfriend now whom I love and I am certainly not going back a year in time to deal with all your mixed signals and unpredictability.

If I sound like I’m being mean, I don’t mean to be – it’s nice to see Brett and know that he’s ok.  We don’t have any animosity towards each other, which is good – I mean, why should we?  Things just fizzled out naturally and we drifted apart more or less happily. But at the same time, the whole experience made me go “HUH?” Like, what just happened?  10 minutes later, Toby and Nick turned up and life resumed its normal course.  But the whole experience just served to show me how far I have come, how much better my life is one year on.  And although I used to say that being single was good in that it had freedom, I love having a boyfriend for many reasons – one of which is that I don’t have to navigate the dating scene!  It’s so exhausting chasing after people, being chased after, playing a constant power game.  I was with Toby the other day and I was saying that although we’ve had a couple of big talks and the need to realign ourselves at times so we’re on the same page, we never played hard-to-get games with each other.  I liked him, he liked me, so we spent more time together.  The more time we spent together, the more we liked each other, and so our relationship grew.  There was no pretending, no hidden agenda on that front – even if we had our insecurities, we knew we liked each other and so we gravitated towards being together happily.  Why is it so rare for a courtship to proceed in that kind of orderly manner?  It’s like in modern life, we expect things to be more complicated and if they aren’t, we’re almost tempted to make them so. Well, my life is busy enough, interesting enough and problematic enough without me adding extra complications to it, and I love Toby for the fact that he says and does what he means.  I try to be the same.

Unwittingly, Brett has made me realise how lucky I am to have Toby.  Thanks!

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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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empowerment.

February 18, 2010

Yesterday, I decided to get back on the horse and take my first steps towards accomplishing one of my goals for 2010, which is to pass my driving test and get a car.  I’m 24 years old, I’ll need a car for jobs once I finish my current university course, and I also just want to take this step towards freedom.  I feel a little guilty relying on friends who drive, and I want to repay the favour; I’m tired of getting the bus, I’m tired of having to leave Toby’s at 10:30pm just so that I can get home.  I want to do what I want when I want.  So I took my driving theory test for the first time in 6 years, and I passed it.  So onto the practical! I have a CD-ROM to help with this (though I have yet to view it, and unless the CD puts me in a car, I’m unsure as to how helpful it’ll actually be), and I’m going to book an intensive course for a week in the Easter holidays, hopefully with a practical test attached at the end which I can pass and then get my licence.

When I was 18, I took this practical driving test 3 times, and kept failing. The first time, I nearly passed (and perhaps should have), but the second and third time my nerves got the better of me and I couldn’t function effectively.  I know that driving is an industry and examiners are unnecessarily rigid, because they can get money out of people retaking tests.  But I just need to get my shit together and give them an excuse not to fail me.  I’m hoping that being a bit older with more life experience will give me the strength I need to get through the test, but I have to acknowledge the fact that I’m still nervous about it!  But I’m going to try a different strategy (blitzing it in a week rather than taking a lesson each week might hopefully give me less time to get nervous) and my determination to pass – it’s a necessity! – might just see me through.  We’ll have to wait and see.

The theme of this blog entry is in the title – empowerment.  So far, 2010 is shaping up pretty well – two of my three goals seem to be progressing towards successful completion and it’s only mid-February.  I have a wonderful new boyfriend and I am slowly learning to be in a relationship with him.  I am halfway towards my driving licence, with the next steps clear in my mind (and my wallet, *sigh*), and Mike’s neighbour Andrea has a car (Peugeot 306 – nothing fancy but it’ll get me from A to B) which he is going to sell for £800 that I am considering purchasing (not only does he have to go through Mike who can be fearsome if necessary, but I’ve met Andrea myself so he’s unlikely to rip me off – I know where he lives!).  I have got a fantastic best friend at university with whom I am extremely likely to keep in contact after the course ends, and I have shed nearly all the weight I’m looking to shed.  I have got two tattoos that I love, that are exactly right for me, and I am making plans for the third (watch this space! It’s going to require some considerable designing though so I won’t be blogging it next week or anything 😛 ).  In other words, life is good right now. I’ve tried to keep my blog even, to reflect the positives and negatives, the joys and heartbreak in my life in equal measure, in a way that means you can see and feel what is personal to me but also in a way that’s not so personalised that nobody else can relate.  I’ve also blogged about music, fashion, perfume and other things that are personal interests of mine, but which are also interesting to the general population.

This blog itself, along with all of the aforementioned things in the above paragraph, are steps towards my own empowerment.  It’s funny how much can change in six months.  I have a lot of growing to do, but I look at myself and I have come quite far in quite a short amount of time.  I feel like an adult, like I’m not an ugly person but someone deserving and strong.  I can’t be strong 100% of the time, and that’s ok, but I’m stronger now than I used to be and I can see it, I can feel it.  And this journey is only beginning, I have more steps to take (car, job, financial stability, my own place) before I am anywhere near satisfied (hah!) but I acknowledge my progress towards independence and I feel good about it.  I can do this.  We have to empower ourselves each day to get a little bit further towards where we want to be, and I refuse to ever be powerless. This is what I realise now, and I am empowered.