Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jackson’

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enter: 2013

January 2, 2013

I have found that writing a list at the start of each year has been a fairly successful way of realising at least some of my ambitions, as well as being able to look back at the previous year and seeing how far I have come. Since I started this blog back in 2009, each year has resulted in a lot of changes and accomplishments, which makes me incredibly happy!  So before I look at what I hope to have in store for 2013, I want to review my goals for 2012 and see how I did.

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Tick… well, I got just over halfway before finally getting bored of this. I am just not one for cooking, and I really did not enjoy it. But after nine months’ worth of trying to make new dishes, I have learned some useful things and when I find myself in the situation of having to cook a meal, I can usually concoct something from whatever ingredients are in stock without resorting to a ready meal or pulling my hair out. So I think that that is progress!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

More or less! I think some weeks we do better than others, but we definitely have less takeaways than we used to. Hopefully we will renew our strictness with this rule over the coming year.

3. Move in with Toby.

Tick! This was one of the big achievements this year – we now are living together in our beautiful flat in Chiswick, and we are very happy.

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

Nope. Last time my car ate my money, this time the new flat and two wonderful holidays (to Paris and Prague) did it instead. But hopefully 2013 will be the year! Especially as I am being charged for using this overdraft now – so I’m fairly confident I will defeat it.

5. Learn Italian

Tick! In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my third term of learning Italian at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. My teacher Giuseppe is fantastic, and I really enjoy it.

6. Learn to sew

Tick! I think I learned this skill fairly early on into the year, and it’s been useful throughout. Now, I can repair holes and tears in tops, underwear, socks and trousers, and keep my wardrobe going a bit longer.

7. Finish my new album

Tick! Well, I finished 2526 – I had hoped it would be longer and wider in scope, but in the end the concept of the album dictated that I had to finish it in October. But nevertheless I am proud of it and I feel that the mood and quality of the songs represent another step forward for me musically.

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Nope, not yet. I’ve managed to get all of my DVDs from Bristol to London, and the next thing is to get my CDs up here. I already sold a lot of the ones that I knew I didn’t want, but it’ll be easier to work out what I want to keep and sell once I have everything here in my flat, and can just put a pile aside for MusicMagpie or Cex or whatever. My iPod finally died in November after 4 years of faithful service, and though in previous years I would have had to run to the Apple store to buy a new one, this time I’m surviving with the (tiny) music library on my iPhone. Which I feel represents patience, maturity and restraint! As well as a concentration on what’s really important, and where my money needs to go. Eventually I’d really like another iPod but I can’t see myself getting one for another few months yet. So I feel that this aim is on hold for now – I’ll hopefully achieve it gradually, but in the meantime I prefer the tangibility of music and film purchases in any case. I am still learning to step into the future, I suppose!

5 / 5.5 out of 8 is perfectly reasonable, I think! And now, my list of goals and resolutions for 2013:

1. Quit smoking.

Toby’s never known me as a non-smoker, and I think it’s about time he did. It’s going to be difficult, and I don’t want cigarettes to have complete power over me to the point where I’m as much a slave to them having given up as I am being a smoker. I’ve already cut down quite a bit so now I just have to take the final leap. Going back to work will be difficult because I need the breaks and I will feel silly just walking around Notting Hill doing nothing, but I’ll work something out. I do enjoy a cigarette, and so perhaps every now and then I may have a cigarette socially – who knows. I’m trying to be loose about it at the moment, so that I don’t feel overly pressurised and that there isn’t a wagon to jump on / fall off of. But generally, this is the year I stop, and I know that I have the willpower (read: stubbornness) to do so. To muffle any temptation, I need to think of: the money I’m saving, my teeth not turning yellow, my blood pressure and life expectancy being improved, not smelling of cigarettes, and (most importantly) being healthy for Toby and showing that I value our love, life and longevity.

2. Pay off my student overdraft.

Third time lucky!

3 & 4. Get fit and toned, and write and record over half of my new album.

I was watching Skyfall with the delicious Daniel Craig, and I decided that I want his body. Except without quite so much effort, and my face shouldn’t be as aged as his. But he’s pretty amazing, physically. At the same time, I also decided that my new music has to be made with heart and soul, and in this way it will show my evolution. Hence my new life motto for this year is “Body and Soul” – I will look after my body and keep fit and hopefully lose some weight and tone up, and I will make music that is vibrant and true.

5. To sing live at least once, in front of an audience.

Because I haven’t done it in a long time, and I miss it!

6. Write a novel.

I already wrote a chapter of a novel a few months ago, but it trailed off and I haven’t done anything with it since. I have been inspired by Toby’s brother, who actually wrote a novel and got it published on Amazon and everything. I used to love creative writing ever since I was little, and so it’s a natural progression in a way for me to write a book. Watch this space…

7. Learn to moonwalk.

I love dancing, and I was watching the documentary for Michael Jackson’s Bad album and it suddenly occurred to me that learning to moonwalk would be something really fun. The only setback to this plan is that the floors throughout our flat are carpeted. But I wanted a goal that was quite light-hearted and fun, amidst all of the seriousness!

8. Pass Italian exam in the summer.

At the Italian Cultural Institute, at the end of each term you can take an exam to get a qualification demonstrating your proficiency in the language. By the end of this academic year (i.e. in July), I will have finished the upper intermediate class if all goes to plan – and so I think it would be good to have a recognised qualification stating my ability in the Italian language. So this is something that I want to achieve too. At the same time, I am hoping that I will continue reading literature in both Spanish and Italian to maintain my fluency in both of those languages (if I have to sacrifice one of my languages, I guess it would be French.)

9. Teach Toby how to play chess.

We have a nice wooden chess set on our coffee table, and I can’t believe that Toby is so intelligent and yet does not know how to play chess. So I will teach him – it’s an important life skill and keeps the brain active and from being rotted by episodes of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory.

10. Start saving up a deposit for a house.

I know, we only just moved into the Chiswick flat! Toby and I really like this area of London, and so it’s gonna be a long time before we can actually afford something here. But why not start now? This is something that will happen once I have finished paying off my overdraft (see number 2) but I hope that by the end of the year, I will have put some new money in my festering ISA that can be ultimately used for the deposit on a lovely flat or house.

Wish me luck, and good luck with your resolutions and goals for the year ahead!

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Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

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Unapologetic might be Rihanna’s best album yet. In truth, I’ve been struggling to work out how to start a review of this album without referring to her previous masterpiece Rated R, which was a tour de force that exposed an angry, vulnerable girl trying to figure out the aftermath of love gone wrong. This album came out when I was in the midst of trying to untangle and deal with my own feelings of unrequited love, and resonated with me on such a level. On the other hand, Unapologetic comes out when I am happily in love and settled in my own life. This time, Rihanna’s narrative is quite different to my own – and yet Unapologetic, to its credit, still connects with the listener, drawing them into her fury that this time is more simmering than explosive (on Rated R, all-out rage only begins to subside into a quieter, more vulnerable, bubbling – yet nevertheless powerful – anger at around “Photographs”, two thirds of the way through the record).

Of course, Rihanna’s life has changed considerably since then. An even bigger star now than she was 3 years ago with the ability to only release number 1 singles, now she has a number 1 album to match. Meanwhile, her atomic breakup with Chris Brown (precipitated by his fists) has metamorphosed into media-baiting behaviour, ill-advised collaborations with Brown and the rumoured (likely true, if the photographs and ineloquent tweets and confessions of her ex are to be believed) rekindling of their romance. Unapologetic: why shouldn’t Rihanna forgive her abuser, her first love? Why shouldn’t she work with a hot male R&B star? Why can’t she misbehave, smoke, drink, party night after night like anyone in their early twenties? Despite what naysayers like to purvey, her career certainly hasn’t suffered for it. But the material on the album – none of which was written by Rihanna but all of which has a stamp immediately more personal than the scattergun Loud that hit dizzying heights all too infrequently, and than the ultimately unsatisfying Talk That Talk that petered out halfway after such a promising start – displays a thoughtfulness that suggests that while Rihanna may be “unapologetic”, she’s not unaware of what is going on around her, what is happening to her and certainly of what is being said or claimed about her. Unapologetic continues where Rated R left off: there are certainly hits, but nearly every song carries a depth of meaning that exudes confidence, confusion, sex and honesty.

Opener “Phresh Out The Runway” is swag personified, and is effectively Rihanna making an entrance. While it’s great to start the album, and an excellent song to listen to for an immediate energy boost when you’re half-asleep leaving the house on the way to work, it’s not the meaningful content I’ve discussed above. Neither is the other David Guetta collaboration, “Right Now”, a club diversion that rehashes previous album highlight “Where Have You Been” to pleasant but unremarkable effect. But on lead single “Diamonds”, we get a childlike chant, a sparkling midtempo strut and a powerful vocal that lyrically echoes previous megahit “We Found Love”: where there were “yellow diamonds in the sky”, now we are “shining bright like a diamond in the sky”. Rihanna’s vocals have grown more impressive over the years (whatever she’s smoking, I would like some) and where she may have simply been a vehicle for delivering hit songs even on the consistent Good Girl Gone Bad, now it’s she who transforms a song into a smash. The chorus is powerful yet sincere, and lyrics such as the telling “I choose to be happy” betray a sense of desperation in trying to convince herself that a romantic relationship is truly infallible rather than fleeting (as are the moments portrayed in the accompanying video). It’s a fantastic performance, and a refreshingly downbeat choice for a lead single that nonetheless packs punch.

The next trio of songs could all be described as downbeat yet potent, but each has its own place on the album. “Numb” works atop a sensual Egyptian-sounding ostinato and pounding drums, while Rihanna drawls monotonously that nobody “can’t tell her nothing… I’m impaired / I’m going numb, I’m going numb”. Interestingly, the vulnerability continues as the lyrics imply that for all her power and “double-dares”, Rihanna sees herself as the defective one. “Pour It Up” in contrast is celebratory of women who are in charge (like Rihanna, of course)… and yet the vocals and beats are submerged in aural tar, as if Rihanna is high off the champagne, weed and money referenced in the songs. None of these songs are instant, and yet on repeated listens they reveal themselves as worthwhile and interesting – “balling out” may not be as fun as it’s cracked up to be. “Loveeeeeee Song” is also very chill, working from a traditional R&B template that’s chopped and screwed into something less recognisable. It’s a romantic ballad dressed up as a nonchalant come-on. So far, the theme of Unapologetic is that appearances can be deceiving – Rihanna is flawless, cocky, confident, nonchalant, vulnerable, determined to be happy, numb, impaired, intoxicated, worried about “sounding too desperate”, in need of love and affection… It’s a spiralling morass of emotion dressed up as a percolating limousine ride.

Things become much more straightforward with “Jump” – i.e. SMASH. Dubstep breakdowns done right and made fresh and dynamic; a sample of “Pony” by Ginuwine that could have easily been problematic (as is so often the case when interpolating excellent material) but instead elevates the music; Rihanna is cocksure and forthright. But within a couple of songs, we have an explosive ballad that I saw described by a user on Popjustice as “fire and ice blasting out of the ground”. “What Now” is flawless and one of Rihanna’s best works – a mid-tempo ballad that quickly becomes bombastic, overwrought and emboldened by one of her best vocal performances to date. As drums explode and guitars roar to a climax, lyrics profess that “I spent every hour just going through the motions / I can’t even get the emotions to come out / Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout”. The emotions certainly do come out, so palpably that the cut is utterly absorbing and one of Rihanna’s best. “Stay” directly follows this and is the quietest track on the album, serving as more evidence of Rihanna’s improvements as a vocalist and interpretative singer – she is capable of taking a song and breathe life into it, whatever the subject matter or emotional standpoint. It’s just been confirmed as Unapologetic‘s second single and appears to be a fan favourite, though I wouldn’t go any further than saying the song is fine – I would certainly champion other tracks over this one. But its contrast with the other songs on the album and with Rihanna’s usual output gives it its own place on the album.

“Nobody’s Business”, the duet with Chris Brown, is the perceived “event” of the album, sampling Michael Jackson to boot. But musically it’s a little bit flat – the existence of the duet says more than its sonic attributes. “You’ll always be mine, sing it to the world… ain’t nobody’s business.” Yet another contradiction in an album full of them, both lyrically and musically. Is Rihanna purposefully spiting all of those who supported her during the fallout of her abuse suffered at Brown’s hands? Is it offensive? Or are they just teasing? It seems very pointed when Rihanna sings “Let’s make out in this Lexus” – as opposed to what happened in a car last time! It’s a trying sentiment that seems difficult to understand – but once again, let’s remember that Rihanna is “unapologetic” so what does it matter? She is going to do what she wants, she’s young and in love, and hopefully she won’t get hurt again in such a way. “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” is the album’s centrepiece that, like “The Last Song” from Rated R, captivates the listener with exceptionally personal exposure. Where the previous track aims to provoke without any substance to back it up, here the confessional actually reveals a lot. “I was his Marilyn Monroe / Brown eyes, tuxedo, fast cars / A James Dean on the low.” We are clearly taken back to that fateful night of Rihanna’s being attacked (and interestingly, she hints at Chris Brown’s alleged bisexuality to boot, which may or may not have something to do with the night in question).  The bravado of “Nobody’s Business” is completely gone here, and as the song transitions into “Mother Mary”, Rihanna sounds less sure of her swagger: “I swear I wanna change”. The lyrics touch on the nature of fame, as does worthwhile bonus track “Half Of Me”, and implies that whatever we think we know about Rihanna, us outsiders never get to see the whole picture and so we shouldn’t judge… but Rihanna understands that we inevitably will. As much as “Nobody’s Business” claimed to be happy-go-lucky and ready to dive into love-as-sex, “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” shows much more depth of thought (as in “What Now”) and heart that encourages repeat listens. This is another highlight of Unapologetic.

The closing songs of the album feel like a plane coming into land. “Get It Over With” is sublime, like a song-length interlude that urges the climax to “come on and fucking rain”; anger gives way to fatigue and surrender to whatever will be, good or bad. “No Love Allowed” is, contrastingly, a deceptively sunny reggae song that once again confounds expectations set up by the previous song. But the lyrics are spooky and uncomfortable, as was its precursor in spirit, Loud‘s “Man Down”. In direct opposition to that song’s subject matter, here it’s Rihanna yelling “911 it’s a critical emergency / Better run run run and charge him with the 143.” It’s a neat (perhaps too neat?) inversion of “Man Down” and seems to shed more light on the Chris Brown saga… but as highlighted in “Half Of Me”, how much do we ever know about Rihanna? We’re not privy to the whole story – according to “Mother Mary”, she’s going to “make the best scene they’ve ever seen.” “Lost In Paradise”, last but not least, is a bass-heavy closer that implies the story is not over, because now Rihanna has to find meaning to the paradise she claims to be stranded in if she ever hopes to find her way out.

For an album where Rihanna does not carry a single songwriting credit (though she is an executive producer), Unapologetic sure feels personal. And honest: an album filled with contradictions that are often calculated but nevertheless sound/feel like they have genuine meaning. The journey of the album is consistently riveting and reveals its complexities on repeated listens. There may be few answers to fans’ questions (however many sordid details it provides), but this rings less as Rihanna being deliberately elusive and more as she herself not quite knowing how to proceed. After all, she’s naked on the damn album cover – how much more vulnerable can one be, clothed only in a flimsy gauze of words, slogans and hashtags? In a world where her lover became her abuser and now may become her lover again, and where soundscapes and lyrics distort and contort around and through her voice, the one thing – no, two things – Rihanna clearly knows is how to release hit singles, and how to craft a powerful album.

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Beyoncé – 4 (album review)

June 11, 2011

So it’s been a really, really long time since I wrote an album review. I was going to do one for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, but then didn’t. (The album is really good and well put-together, btw.) I was going to do one for Nadia Oh’s Colours (which is a ridiculously fun, exhilarating listen perfect for the summer) and I still might. But this album tops them all. I am a Beyoncé fan, but even I didn’t expect her to come out with this. Perhaps it’s fitting because of the stage in my life where I’m at – but she’s in love, I’m in love, she wants to talk about love on a deeper and more soulful level and I can be more receptive of that now and really get to grips with the music, the vocals and the lyrics.

Sonically, the album is very cohesive (a mature, soulful and slower-paced set) – “Run The World (Girls)” aside. Part of me feels like it is tacked on the end, another part of me feels like the song is an exhilarating climax to a mainly slow-burning set. It’s a killer single which heavily samples Major Lazer’s “Pon Di Floor” and makes you want to dance, but in comparison to the rest of the material, it feels a bit… basic? It certainly feels more modern than everything else on the album, but that means it sounds less timeless… the fact that Beyoncé has already made several songs celebrating “Independent Women”, “Survivors” and “Single Ladies” makes it feel like “Girls” running the world is almost a downgrade? I love the song but it should stand alone, and I would have preferred the album to end with the ballad “I Was Here”, which is straightforward Ryan Tedder production and Diane Warren lyrics – Beyoncé’s performance saves the song with solemn vocals that add weight to the sentiment of leaving your mark on the world once you’re gone. In the hands of a lesser talent, the song would sound trite, but Beyoncé gives it life.

But there are much better tracks – namely, the rest of them. Opener “1+1” is stripped-back soul with a soaring guitar climax, and Beyoncé’s commands of “Make love to me” sound at once desperate and assertive in the best way. What’s striking is that Beyoncé has made an album that sounds like the work of a legend – she evokes Stevie Wonder (the joyous “Love On Top” with its audacious multiple key changes that have you wondering “how high is she going to go?!”), the Isley Brothers (“Rather Die Young”, with its sun-drenched soul that declares Beyoncé’s utter dependance on her lover), Prince (“1+1”), Michael Jackson (“End Of Time” with its commanding vocals over a bombastic bassline and brass section, and an irresistible melody) and Sade. But more about that later…

Beyoncé sounds like Beyoncé on but two songs: “Best Thing I Never Had” evokes her monster hit “Irreplaceable”, with the same theme of being better off without a foolish boyfriend. Symbolyc One employs a beautiful flowing piano melody in place of “Irreplaceable”‘s acoustic guitars, but Beyoncé is clearly a grown woman now. Her vocals sound almost too soulful, too nuanced for the music, and it takes a few listens for all of the pieces of the song to come together. In contrast, “Countdown” is an album highlight, which evokes the swagger of “Upgrade U” and repeats the theme of #winning with her lover by her side. The use of Boyz II Men’s “Uhh Ahh” in order to create the titular countdown is cleverly done, and Beyoncé rides the brassy, bouncy Caribbean-lite beat with effortless flair.

Other album highlights include “I Care”, which may have basic lyrics (the chorus: “I care / I know you don’t care too much / but I still care”) but are once again transformed with Beyonce’s masterful vocal, which plumbs despair and soul to make the song truly transcendent. You can feel her pain, you can feel her desperation, you can feel her frustration, and that is the talent of a true artist. When Beyoncé’s voice intertwines with a soaring guitar solo after the song’s bridge, the listener is shown just how powerful a singer she is – not just technically, but emotively too. “Party” is an early 90s R&B throwback that evokes early TLC in its chunky-yet-chilled production, and En Vogue in its multi-tracked harmonies. The best song of all is “I Miss You”, which is produced by upcoming talent Frank Ocean and evokes Sade’s best. The lyrics are simple yet evocative (and I personally relate to this as my boyfriend and I are currently working through a long-distance relationship – but if you read the blog, you already know about that, and this song is more about missing someone you’ve broken up with – I just prefer to appropriate the lyrics for my own emotions!), and Beyoncé’s vocal is restrained and yet so deep and real. When she sings “No matter who you love / it is so simple, I feel it / it’s everything”, a lump is brought to your throat and you can’t help but be transported to a place of loneliness, of longing and of love.

This is why 4 is Beyoncé’s best album, superceding B’day’s tiger-hungry anthems and I Am… Sasha Fierce’s finest moments. Beyoncé is an artist. She has made an album which she has so clearly poured her heart and soul into – listening to the vocals, there is something here that wasn’t there before. A soulfulness, a longing, a power that comes out through the gritty texture of her voice and the soaring riffs that transcend lyrics and production. There’s a majesty and a bravery in singing such raw songs about love, about death, and about life over productions that are mainly understated and subtle in a way that Beyoncé hasn’t really done before (“Disappear” from I Am… Sasha Fierce might have clued us in, however!). This album is made to be listened to from start to finish, and you’re missing out if you don’t give it a try.

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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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Joe & Ginuwine concert.

October 17, 2009

Last night, Davina, Deena and myself went to the Bristol O2 Academy to see Joe and Ginuwine.  In short, we had a really good time!  Here are some photos:

It was a really good night (despite the fact it was finished by 10pm)!  Both guys’ vocals were on point, Ginuwine did a nice tribute to Michael Jackson that was celebratory without being cheesy (basically they played some MJ songs while he hyped the crowd without singing along or anything like that), and Joe pretended to leave and then came back and performed “No One Else Comes Close” on acoustic guitar, which was the highlight of his set (along with an extended version of “I Wanna Know” – bliss!).  A couple of niggles:  Ginuwine did not perform any of my favourite songs of his, except for “Pony”.  I know that it’s important to perform newer material, especially for the younger kids in the audience who may not know his older stuff, but “When Doves Cry”, “What’s So Different” and particularly “So Anxious” are too damn good not to perform.  And they were big hits back in the day!  This is the second time I’ve seen him live… I’m thinking of sending him a message and letting him know.  Does anyone know his twitter?  He’s coming back to Bristol in December (which is really good! He must like it here 😀 ) with Tank and Tyrese to do some TGT stuff… I will probably go and see him again!

Joe looks a lot better in person than he does in his photos, and he did do my favourites: “I Wanna Know”, “No One Else Comes Close”, “Stutter” and “Where You At”.  However, when he did “Where You At?” he said “This is old school!”  Isn’t it only a couple of years old? Hardly what I would consider “old-school”, especially since he did “I Wanna Know” (which EVERYONE sang along with, and he extended it – it was epic!), “Stutter” and “All The Things (Your Man Won’t Do)” – one song that is even before my time and which I am going to download this very evening.  Honour the older songs in your catalogue – especially when some of them are more soulful and bump harder than the new shit that passes for “R&B” these days.  But I was really pleased with his performance – his voice was really good and I’m glad he did such a good job of his songs old and new.

A final question – what’s with wanting a sweaty towel? Ginuwine trailed his towel over him and then threw it into the crowd, which cause the predictable mini-scuffle (at least he didn’t lose his ring like last time at Panache, when the security had to jump into the crowd and bounce everyone out of the way looking for it)… I don’t understand.  Is the person who gets the towel honestly not going to wash it, just because it has Ginuwine’s sweat on it?  That’s kinda gross.  I don’t get it… not even if it were Mariah Carey’s towel would I be that manic.  Le shrug.

But I had a good time, and wanted to share it with y’all – especially as I haven’t updated for a little bit and I don’t want you to think I’m neglecting y’all! I appreciate you reading and I don’t forget it.  Thankyou 🙂

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hypocritical much?

August 29, 2009

Okay, I realise that I’m in serious danger of stanning for Mariah Carey before the album even drops, and I posted about her only yesterday.  But reading certain blogs and forums, which I know are only opinions often by a lot of small minded people or people who are blatantly paid to support certain artists, I can’t help but feel that there is some injustice going on.

Mariah Carey releases a cover song, “I Want To Know What Love Is”.  According to some, she is whispering too much through the song because she has lost her voice and can never get it back.  Others say that she is shrieking and howling and squeaking like an animal.  Which is it?  Either you are shrieking and howling, or you have lost your voice – it can’t be both.  I personally think that her voice is damaged somewhat, and isn’t the same as it was as she first came out. I acknowledge that, and then I say that she is still the best female vocalist around today.  This is part of the hypocrisy I am perceiving; people want to down Mariah Carey for lip-synching a few times, but when she does sing live, they criticise her for a whispery voice not like on the record / oversinging her song with too many histrionic outbursts / not being able to sing and dance at the same time.  What do people want?  Nobody is perfect, but Mariah Carey is possibly the closest that we have.  I would like to warn Beyoncé, who is the most prominently successful young singer / songwriter / dancer / entertainer of the new era – THIS IS YOUR FUTURE. Hate no matter what you do, and the majority of people’s opinions on your album is dictated by how much media support / criticism it gains.  It was decided by the media before the album even dropped that The Emancipation Of Mimi would be a smash hit / “comeback”.  It was decided by the media before the album even dropped that E=MC² would not live up to The Emancipation Of Mimi either in terms of sales or in terms of quality.  I happen to prefer E=MC² because I think the songs are slightly stronger, whereas I tend to skip a few of them on Mimi. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing, but I’m just tired of stans putting one artist down for no decent reason, and criticising an album when they probably haven’t even listened to it.  If you have an opinion, please back it up.  I may not agree with you, but at least I will respect you.

So people are dogging Mariah Carey because she decided to cover a song.  Um, “Without You” was also a cover, but nobody had a problem with her version of that 16 years ago?  Also, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was a fantastic song that was a cover version of Dolly Parton’s original. I don’t hear anyone having a problem with that song.  In fact, let’s talk about Whitney Houston.  I nearly did this yesterday, but I managed to restrain myself; after reading some of the frankly retarded opinions posted on Lil’ Kim Zone, I can no longer hold my tongue.  Whitney Houston’s new album is okay.  I like some of the songs (“Salute” is my favourite), I think others are atrocious.  Mostly, I like the ballads and dislike the uptempos.  That’s fine, you can’t win ’em all, and I know that other people are really enjoying her record.  Her voice sounds good, but undeniably not how it did before (she doesn’t belt, she riffs too much).  These are criticisms which, funnily enough, have been levelled at Mariah Carey.  Okay.  Whitney Houston’s new single “Million Dollar Bill” has peaked in the mid-70s on the Billboard Chart.  Mariah Carey’s song has stayed within the Top 20 of that chart for the past 5-6 weeks.  So don’t tell me that Mariah Carey is pushing her album back because she is scared of Whitney Houston; don’t tell me that her career is ‘flopping’.  If you want me to quote stats, I can do: “Obsessed” has had her highest chart debut in 11 years, and its digital sales currently stand at 526,000.  Whitney Houston’s newest song has sold 32,000 copies, which is about 6% of what Mariah’s single has sold.  Who should be scared?

Let’s talk about songwriting.  As far as I am aware, Whitney Houston has only written one song in her catalogue – the massively successful “Whatchulookinat” (that is sarcasm, by the way).  Mariah Carey writes 90% of all her material – and not only is she involved in writing lyrics, but she also has a hand in creating and producing the music.  Of course, because Mariah Carey’s newest song is a cover version, there have been snide comments about her not being able to hire a decent team of songwriters to write a hit for her.  In actuality, this is something Mariah Carey has never done; she has never hired anybody to write her material.  Songs such as “Vision Of Love”, “Dreamlover”, “Hero”, “Fantasy”, “One Sweet Day”, “Always Be My Baby”, “Heartbreaker”, “We Belong Together”, “Don’t Forget About Us”, “Touch My Body” all have songwriting credits to Mariah Carey. By the way, all those songs went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “One Sweet Day” and “We Belong Together” jointly hold the record for the longest stretch at #1, which is 16 weeks.  I enjoy Mariah Carey’s music, whether it charts highly or not.  I loved her Glitter album when her career was at a real low point, and I still think that “Lead The Way” and “Never Too Far” are two of her best songs and vocal performances to date.  I think that Charmbracelet was a more heartfelt and personal album than The Emancipation Of Mimi, despite Mimi selling 5 times what Charmbracelet sold.  I am able to have an opinion on the music which is separate from how much it sells, because what’s important to me is whether I like the damn songs and vocals and music, not how successful it is.  Just because an artist isn’t constantly at the top of the charts has nothing to do with their artistic merit.  However, it’s come to the point where I am quoting these statistics because certain foolish people are trying to down Mariah Carey too much, and it’s just ridiculous to me, not to mention utterly hypocritical.

Whitney Houston doesn’t write her songs.  I don’t think that this matters, because a great singer doesn’t have to be a great songwriter (as Aaliyah said); if they can interpret material well, that is equivalent to making the song their own.  As I said before, Houston did this with “I Will Always Love You”.  But if people want to talk about songwriting prowess, Mariah Carey wins hands down.  Sales-wise, both currently and in terms of their entire careers, Mariah Carey is ahead of Whitney Houston.  (Barbra Streisand is the biggest selling female artist of all time.)  If people want to talk about Mariah Carey not being able to sing live, then please hold your tongue until Whitney Houston sings her new single live.  I have yet to hear or see her performing “Million Dollar Bill” live, and I have yet to hear or see any announcement that she is going to be doing this in the near future.  Until she does this, can we stop criticising Mariah’s live performances, because whether her voice is damaged or not, the facts are that she is singing live and Whitney is not, so you can’t compare the two.

People say they have lost respect for Mariah Carey because she doesn’t dress her age (she is 39, and I see many women 10 years older than her walking around Bristol in far less, but anyway), she has had plastic surgery, she cavorts with too many rappers and doesn’t sing the way she used to.  A small point: on I Look To You, two of Whitney Houston’s songs were produced by Akon, and he features on one.  A larger point:  Whitney Houston was a drug addict for possibly a decade or more; she raised a daughter while addicted to drugs, and god knows what else her daughter has been exposed to during Houston’s drug addiction, marriage and divorce to Bobby Brown.  Mariah Carey has never done drugs, or even been reported to do drugs (yet… wait for it!); the worst vice she has is for a couple of glasses of champagne or wine.  Mariah Carey didn’t raise a family under the glare of the media nor while taking cocaine.  The worst that Mariah Carey has done is wear a few (debatably) ill-fitting dresses.  I think that Houston and Carey are both even in terms of diva behaviour (reported, not usually substantiated, by the way) and in terms of their ability to spend money on things which appear frivolous to you and me.  In my opinion (I keep repeating this) NONE OF THIS AFFECTS THEIR ABILITY TO SING OR MAKE MUSIC.  But since so many people seem to go on about Mariah’s imperfections whilst forgetting about Whitney, I just wanted to do a comparison to put everything into perspective.  Mariah Carey is the more successful artist in terms of sales, charts and airplay; she writes her own material whilst Houston has a team of accomplished songwriters to do so for her; Mariah Carey has never done drugs nor raised a child whilst on drugs; Whitney Houston has had a more successful film career (again, I am nothing if not fair) and dresses more conservatively.

I can’t stand the hypocrisy of people, both ill-informed stans of other artists and biased media acting on a propaganda brief.  When Michael Jackson died, people conveniently forgot about his repeated child-abuse trials, and overlooked his excessive plastic surgery.  Radio hadn’t played his records for years, and suddenly you can’t go a day without hearing “Man In The Mirror” or “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, songs which radio stations in Bristol have never played.  I am pleased that in his death, his music has been made more accessible to so many people, and is finally being honoured, even if it is a little too late.  He was a truly legendary and fantastic performer.  But I don’t see how we can suddenly excuse Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston for their faults (in both cases, they have done things which are not only massively ill-advised, inconsiderate of young people, but also illegal), yet take Mariah Carey to task for wearing short skirts & low-cut dresses or for not sounding 100% perfect when she sings live or for choosing to do a cover version of a song.

I’ll say it once more: an artist’s sales, personal life, dress sense, media scandals and choice of partner / collaborator / pet should not influence whether you like their music or not.  I own albums by Carey, Houston and Jackson, and none of what has happened in the past year (his death, Houston’s “comeback”, Eminem’s annoyance with Carey) has remotely affected my enjoyment of their music.  Like what you like, because you like it. But if you really want to go there, and want to compare stats, then let’s compare stats.  The only thing I can think of is that some people are jealous, because Mariah Carey really does seem to have it all (even though she is not perfect and her voice is not quite what it used to be; I’m not deaf.) – the body, the voice, the talent, the money, the husband, the songwriting credits behind her songs. So if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all – don’t hate; appreciate.

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imbecilic.

August 16, 2009

Another thing from the wedding yesterday that I wanted to touch upon was the fact that depending on whom you are surrounded by, your every action can be made into a big mistake or faux pas.  For example, we were lining up for wedding photos, and I somehow ended up at the front (which was not where I wanted to be, nor where I thought was appropriate for me to be).  Other people weren’t really getting the hint that we were assembling for this mass photo, so for a while I was stood at the front by myself, because I am one of the tallest and therefore stood on the front / lowest step.  After a while, Aiman (the bride) stood next to me, and I said “I shouldn’t be standing next to you!!!” Everyone was like “OMG WHY?” My response: “Because that is Phil’s place, not mine! He’s her husband!!!” It makes sense, non?  So I tried to step backwards, despite people being stood behind me, and some of my friends were like “Alan, what are you doing?” a) My bag was quite robust, filled with my necessary stuff, and it was that, more than me, which was hitting their feet.  And b) It should have been pretty obvious what I was doing: I was trying to get out of the way of being right at the front of the picture, and allowing the focus to be on whom it really should have been on, considering it was not my wedding day.  So why was I made out to feel foolish and melodramatic?  Was my train of thought really so illogical, so difficult to understand?  I don’t think so, and even typing out this paragraph, it makes sense to me.

My university friends, by and large, make fun of: my proclivity for designer things and large black sunglasses (two of my friends laughed when I put them on.  I pointed at the emerging sun, and then also at another guest across the car park who was also wearing sunglasses.  Nobody was laughing at him.); my vanity; my ability to spend money.  They genuinely think that I am funny (and they also laugh at the joke-ish things I do on purpose), but I don’t think they realise that they sometimes hurt my feelings.  This is the way that I am, and I’m not constantly trying to amuse anybody.  It doesn’t seem to strike any of my other (read: Bristol) friends as hilarious that I put Prada sunglasses on when the sun is shining, nor that I get nervous anticipating an important life event for one of my friends.  It’s just me, and I don’t know why, coming from Oxford university, some people are so insecure that they want to try and put me down to feed into their own intelligence.  I know that I’m not bookish, but I also know that I’m not stupid.  So why does making me feel bad (or trying to) make them feel good?

Today I met up with two of my friends whom I haven’t seen for a good while: Mel and Erum.  They’re both making moves: Mel is in the middle of her Scandinavian Studies degree and currently working in the Cabinet Office on a summer internship; Erum is a law graduate about to start her LPC.  We were in Starbucks pondering school, relationships, jobs, politics, the economy & swine flu, among other things.  We also discussed current fashion, including those ridiculous visor sunglasses as worn (but not invented) by Kanye West.  In case you don’t know what I am referring to, I illustrate:

Okay, they are impractical, which is a major con.  But then so are Beyoncé’s “Diva” sunglasses which employ gold tassels hanging from a minimal frame, and I like those (plus, the fact that they hang vertically and move with the body means that you do have more of a chance of seeing where you’re going).  What I don’t like about these is that a) they are really quite ugly, and b) they are being sold everywhere as the “new biggest trend”.  Not just in white, but in neon colours.  People are wearing these to clubs (I have seen pictorial evidence, as well as witnessing it myself) where normal sunglasses would be ridiculed, despite the fact that normal sunglasses generally look 100% better.  And just because Kanye West wears them?  I have of course been inspired by various celebrity fashion statements, and seeking to copy that is perfectly understandable and acceptable; that’s what inspiration is.  But this is something else; it’s taking something quite clearly idiotic and pretending that it is cool and intelligent.  It feels like a conspiracy that everyone is in on, and I take a stand against that because if I don’t like something, I am not going to wear it and that’s that.  But don’t ridicule me for wearing fashionable designer glasses that look great, when there are people wearing these venetian blind things who can’t even see where they’re going!  I mean, wtf?

Who decides what is “foolish” and what “isn’t”?  I do what I like, and I use my common sense, and I think that everybody is entitled to do that.  But what irritates me is when I make decisions that to me seem logical, and others want to pick on that for whatever reason, but they are quite happy to ignore / accept other things that are clearly beyond sensible.  Are we, as the general public, really that insecure that we’re willing to knock down one person just to make ourselves feel better, but then able to pass an imbecilic trend just because it was started / revived by a celebrity who has more money / status than the majority of us, the general public?  If Madonna jumped off the Empire State Building, would we all climb up there to follow?  (The paparazzi would certainly be crowded around at the bottom, snapping the impact point to make numerous tributes in special-edition magazines… just look at Michael Jackson).  I guess that it all depends on how caught up we are in appearances, and I am very conscious of the way that I look.  But the final decision is made by me, and if others want to try and knock me down for doing something that I choose, or for not following a herd of sheep, then let them; I have my insecurities, but one of them is not following the crowd when I would prefer to follow my instincts.