Posts Tagged ‘mixed race’

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my favourite song – Mariah Carey – Outside.

July 17, 2009

The second song in this little feature that I’m doing is truly one of my ultimate favourite songs from my ultimate favourite singer Mariah Carey.  I remember for my 12th birthday, my nan bought me her new album at the time, the incomparable Butterfly, and I played it to death.  It was my first Mariah Carey album, I pretty much bought all her others as a result, and the way that I sing and my musical taste has been heavily influenced by this woman, and by this album.  My favourite song on this album is the closer “Outside”.

The song is a powerful, personal ballad which has a slow 6/8 time signature and a lush R&B backing (the ending of the electric piano is one of my favourite sounds/instruments) to compliment Mariah’s masterful vocals, which start off by emphasising the fragility of the lyrics and end up soaring over the gospel arrangement of the bridge, at once empowering both the singer and the listener.  I could rhapsodise about Mariah Carey and probably fill a book, but she is, IMO, the consummate singer/songwriter/producer of our generation.  She is a target of blame and a butt of jokes, but at the end of the day she has the best voice around, the most successful track record in popular music, a wonderful body and has no apparent vices or addictions.  On this song, I believe she is at her best.

Looking at the lyrics (included below), the song could be about a multitude of issues that cause people to feel alienated in their lives.  Be it homophobia, feeling insecure about your appearance or your intelligence, relationship troubles in either a romantic or a familial sense, the song encompasses a variety of situations and sentiments.  I believe the song is primarily about racism and the identity quest of being mixed-race, as Mariah has more or less stated this in interviews as well as being very vocal and open about her own racial identity and the prejudice she endured as a mixed-race child growing up in Long Island.  Although being gay I have endured some teasing and prejudice at both school and the workplace (though nothing serious, and I guess I handled it ok), the way I primarily identify with the song, and why it means so much to me (apart from the common sentiment that we’re all alone in the end etc.) is because I am mixed-race too.

Unlike Mariah, I have never endured any direct prejudice because of it.  In fact, to look at me, I am your typical white British male; except that’s not what I am. I am half-Italian and was primarily raised by the Italian side of my family (who came to live in Bristol about 45 years ago).  I’ve always felt more at home with that side of the family, and although I am gay and very in touch with technology, fashion and the media as popular culture, a part of me is still connected to the old-fashioned family values and Catholic traditions with which I was raised.  So there’s both a conflict and contradiction in my identity, and the fact that I fill in “White British” on forms (which quite possibly compounds the problem!) is purely because it is easier than having to explain to people my racial background every time someone raises an eyebrow at me.  After a short while, having to fill every single person in on my backstory and family tree gets very tiring, and I have to field questions such as:

“But you were born in England, so you’re English really.”  Um, I never said I wasn’t English, but if someone was half-Japanese and was born in England, you would probably still call them Asian, right?  Or Asian-British.  But because my mother is a blonde Italian who didn’t manage to bestow on me olive skin nor black curly hair, I must be exaggerating my background and be “English really”. No, not really.

“Wow, you don’t look Italian.” No I don’t.  Nor does my mother, but she was born there.  Appearances can be deceptive.

“Being half-Italian doesn’t make you mixed-race.” This is my ‘favourite’ misconception.  I don’t understand why so many people believe this, because if I were half-Spanish (another Mediterranean country, a very similar language, another very Catholic-centric culture – at least historically) nobody would dream of saying this to me.  I would be hispano-British or “Latino”.  But because it’s Italy, it doesn’t count.  Well, get real – in any case, Latin came from Italy not Spain bish bye.  Race is more than just the colour of your skin.  So rather than being discriminated against because of who or what I am, I’ve experienced a sort of “reverse prejudice” where people aren’t really ready to acknowledge who I am because they look at me and have already categorised me as someone or something else.

So that is why the lyrics of this song are so important and personal to me, and why I identify with it so much.  I used to sing along with the Butterfly album all the time, and time and again I’d tackle this song.  And out of all the songs on the cd, I found this one the hardest because the topics explored, the music and the vocal treatment were beyond my years.  Mariah Carey performs this song so perfectly that I don’t think I could ever do it justice, let alone better her treatment of it.  So I just listen and respect and let my emotions flow whenever I put it on my iPod or my CD player, and I hope that it touches you also.  Please listen to it, read the lyrics, and I hope you enjoy this song because it is very close to my heart.

It’s hard to explain
Inherently it’s just always been strange
Neither here nor there
Always somewhat out of place everywhere
Ambiguous
Without a sense of belonging to touch
Somewhere halfway
Feeling there’s no one completely the same

Standing alone
Eager to just
Believe it’s good enough to be what
You really are
But in your heart
Uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the
Outside

Early on, you face
The realization you don’t
have a space
Where you fit in
And recognize you
Were born to exist

Standing alone
Eager to just
Believe it’s good enough to be what
You really are
But in your heart
Uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the
Outside

And it’s hard
And it’s hard
And it’s hard

Irreversibly
Falling in between
And it’s hard
And it’s hard
To be understood
As you are
As you are
Oh, and God knows
That you’re standing on your own
Blind and unguided
Into a world divided
You’re thrown
Where you’re never quite the same
Although you try-try and try
To tell yourself
You really are
But in your heart-uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the outside

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the end of an era.

July 1, 2009

Obviously, with the recent death of Michael Jackson, a lot of people have been using the phrase “I feel like a part of my childhood has died”.  As a fan not of Michael (the only album of his that I bought was Dangerous, and I still play it but don’t feel any pull to purchase any of the others) but of his sister Janet, I didn’t echo the sentiment in that particular case (although obviously his death did sadden me), but the following news does make me reminisce.

VIBE magazine is shutting down next month.  For those who don’t know, this is a magazine from the US that covers R&B, hip hop and occasionally other genres of music.  There are also urban fashion spreads, and the odd political essay covering both American politics and the treatment of racism and sexuality in both the US and countries such as Cuba, Mexico and Jamaica (to name but a few).  In short, the magazine is aimed at “black culture”.  I bought my first issue when I was 13 and have been following it ever since (that’s 10 years! which has just struck me, as I think about it.  A decade is a long time!), buying more often than not, though occasionally leaving it on the stand if the cover story didn’t attract me and there weren’t any articles inside to pull my wallet out my pocket.  Here is a picture of that first cover:

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

I remember having just purchased TLC’s album “FanMail” (one of my ultimate favourites to this day!!!) and it had rocked my world.  Looking back, I always had liked R&B music but I was only becoming conscious of it, and therefore purchasing Vibe magazine allowed me to begin exploring the genre and fed my mind.  As I expanded my tastes and learned of new artists (some of whom I listen to on the regular now), I also appreciated the long interviews which were actually informative, as well as the more mature articles. And some of the clothes were ridiculous!  At 13, reading a magazine where profanity was used not purposely to shock, but just because that was how people spoke was an eye-opener to me (hence shocking me all the same, haha!) but also refreshingly honest and mature.  In short, it opened my eyes and became part of my childhood, my adolescence.  Of course, carrying around such a magazine at that age raised the eyebrows of some of my peers at school, who had never heard of most of the artists and had no interest (this was the time when indie was in, and most teenagers in the UK were more into the Offspring and Travis than TLC, Puff Daddy, Mariah Carey and Aaliyah) beyond Eminem, who had just come out and caused quite a stir!  (doesn’t that take you back!?)

I did get comments such as “Alan, you’re not black, why are you reading that?” “Who are they? Never heard of them…” “Is that a porn magazine?” (ok, that was one person who got excited by the bikinis but there was occasional nudity, though it was tasteful and could never be termed pornographic, not in a million years) To people who didn’t understand why I listened to the music that I did because I was “white”, I have two responses: a) I’m half Italian, so technically that makes me mixed race anyway (though to look at me I am very “white”-looking so I don’t usually tend to argue! I can understand the mistake and usually accept it). b) Though music is certainly geared towards certain demographics, there are no laws saying what I can and can’t listen to, what genres I can and can’t buy.  It’s a free country, at least in that respect.  Open your minds!

So this magazine did form a large part of my growing up, expanding my musical tastes well beyond Bristol radio and UK music channels (which have a pretty narrow selection IMO, excluding MTV Base), and opening my eyes to both decent journalism and fashion!  Without VIBE, I would be a different person, without a shadow of a doubt.  Music is so fundamental to me, and VIBE certainly fed my need to grow and to expand and to learn about music that I was becoming interested in.  And I am sad it’s closing, despite the fact that I can’t deny it has recently lost its allure.  The articles were more glossy and less probing, the magazine had become half the size it used to be, comprising both less adverts and less articles.  The editorial staff seemed to change every few months, and the variety of features that used to be present in the magazine when I first bought it had been rejigged and slimmed down so much … In a way I am not surprised at VIBE’s closure, because it’s become a diet version of the magazine it used to be (I don’t believe I’m wearing rose-tinted glasses on that one), but I am saddened nonetheless.  Here is a picture of the final cover courtesy of Toya’s World:

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

It’s eye-catching, but hardly iconic in the way that Toni Braxton and Foxy Brown’s nude poses, TLC’s cover dressed as firefighters, Jennifer Lopez’s see-through dress and Tupac’s strait-jacket cover were.  Nudity by this point is passé, and though Christina Milian is undeniably a hottie, for a last issue this cover comes across as a slightly bizarre choice.  Nevertheless VIBE will be missed, despite recent racist accusations by peeps such as Robin Thicke who deserved one cover story at the very least, being one of the best new urban artists to come out in recent years despite not being black!  When he was refused the cover story, his light skin was largely assumed to be the reason why and that was a big shock to me as a non-black reader who thought that as a magazine that very much fought for racial equality, this was backwards.  But for the R&B / hip hop journalistic arena to be reduced solely to The Source, that makes me sad because I’m not a black thug (the audience The Source exclusively seems to aim for) and the features are more geared towards a revolving-door cast of rappers (both washed-up and too new to have earned their stripes) rather than respecting true talent and people who can truly sing as well as spit rhymes.  But maybe that’s just me growing older, and all I can hope is that 13 year olds picking up that magazine are as inspired and intrigued as I was 10 years ago buying my first issue of VIBE.