Posts Tagged ‘personality’

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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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Proust questionnaire.

January 18, 2012

The principal aspect of my personality.

I already knew that this questionnaire was going to be difficult because it is going to force me to look at myself as other people see me, while also considering myself from the point of view of the person who knows me best. I guess that therefore, the principal aspect of my personality is passion – my heart loves fiercely, and my brain works constantly.

The quality that I desire in a man.

Just one? Well, in that case, it has to be integrity. Or possibly, to be secure enough in himself to allow himself to be openly vulnerable and not get caught up in machismo bullshit. Perhaps the principal aspect of my personality should have been verbal diarrhoea…

The quality that I desire in a woman.

To be an independent thinker and not follow the crowd – in life just as in fashion.

What I appreciate most about my friends.

Their intelligence, their honesty, and their loyalty.

My main fault.

Overthinking things, second-guessing people and situations until it drives me quite mad.

Faults for which I have the most indulgence.

I can’t resist a mischievous streak.

My favorite occupation.

Singing and all that is music-related. Or otherwise, shopping with friends and sitting in a café, talking openly and honestly about love and life.

My dream of happiness.

To be with my partner forever, in a nice house in the city near the beach, and to have enough money to not have any real worries and to be able to provide for my family. I know it is predictable but I can’t think of anything that would make me happier. Oh, and throw in also having a killer body and a wardrobe that would be the envy of Tom Ford.

What would be my greatest misfortune?

To have not been raised by a mother who gave me her all (even when it was sometimes too much) and taught me important human values far more insightful than what is commonly and unintelligently accepted as “intelligence”.

What I should like to be.

Inspirational, successful on my own terms, genuinely original, and in love for the rest of my life.

The country where I should like to live.

This is quite an impossible question – I can choose 5 or 6 cities I am enamoured with from countries around the world. And I want to live in them all!

My favourite colour.

Red. Or black for clothes. I also like silver for jewellery, because it goes well with my black clothes. But then why choose silver when you could have gold?! So I will stick with red.

The flower that I like.

It’s a cliché, but I like roses – they are romantic and intricate. But when I was young, my favourite flowers were white trumpet lilies, and I still think they are beautiful.

My favorite bird.

The phoenix.

My favorite prose authors.

I am currently enjoying the Nordic crime novel trend (although I did feel somewhat embarrassed when I saw that Waterstones had a special section for this kind of book – I don’t like to feel so easily categorised) so Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson are up there. I have also always enjoyed Stephen King’s books, as well as Sapphire and Virginia Euwer Wolff. My favourite author that I studied at university was Faulkner, because the way he manipulated language and made the reader work to decipher and put together his images and plotlines was genius.

My favorite poets.

I don’t like traditional poetry that adheres rigidly to a form or standard verse / rhyme structure, because I feel that this often comes at the expense of true meaning and emotion. I enjoyed Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. And Herb Ritts was a poet with the camera.

My heroes in fiction.

I thought that Precious from Sapphire’s Push was inspiring and heroic. Other than that, I don’t really have a good memory for any literary heroes I have.

My favorite composers.

Classically, my favourite is Tchaikovsky. Speaking in modern terms, I adore Mariah Carey, and she is an accomplished artist in every sense of the word.

My heroes in real life.

My mother is beyond amazing. Inspirational in the way that she raised me, the ethics and conscience she instilled in me, and also the way that she has stuck by my father through all of his foolishness (I’m being deliberately vague because this is my private life) when most wouldn’t have, and ensured that their marriage lasted nearly 30 years.

My favorite names.

Toby and I discuss the names that we would like for our children. I love the name “Summer” for a girl. It just conjures up carefree beauty to me. For a boy, I really don’t know…

What I hate most of all.

Liars, people who are fundamentally inconsiderate, wasps, budgeting, and the fact that things which are bad for you are so much more enticing and delicious than those which are good for you.

The gift of nature that I would like to have.

I would love to be able to fly. I think that is what this question is aiming for? Either that, or have a body that does not store fat on its midsection.

How I want to die.

Youthful in spirit, if not in body. Part of me still has the childish hope that I may never die – I would like to live forever! But at the age that I am now.

My present state of mind.

Thankful that after so many years of thinking it would never happen to me, I have found happiness and true love.

My motto.

If you don’t feel good, then you might as well look great.

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kissing etiquette.

August 20, 2011

Toby and I were having a phone conversation the other night, and I said how I found it strange that my close friend Davina (whom I have known for over 20 years) has recently stopped ending her text messages with kisses. She used to end them with 5 kisses – sometimes “xxxxx”, but sometimes “XxXxX” – this is why the sudden absence of these kisses is noticeable.

I wondered aloud to Toby whether, at 26, Davina now felt that she had to be grown up and not add kisses? There was no issue of a loss of friendship, as her language was still affectionate: she started her most recent text to me with “Hey hunny”. My conversation  with Toby developed into a more general rumination on how many kisses it is appropriate to put at the end of a text message, and the complex set of ‘rules’ (or more precisely, considerations) that we all take into account – often without even thinking about it.

For example, because I love Toby to pieces, I basically hammer the X button until I feel that it is enough – the kisses that I send him can vary anywhere between 5 and 12. Because I text Toby far more than anyone else, at the end of typing messages my finger therefore automatically goes towards the X. This can be a problem thought if I am not texting Toby, and some restraint needs to be exercised. For example, Mike is quite manly and is also 37. So he doesn’t put any kisses at the end of his texts, and I have to make sure that I don’t put any at the end of texts I send to him, as it would be a tiny bit odd – although it’s quite difficult to explain why this is. The same with Trevor, my colleague with whom I car share and get on with well, who is in his late 50s. However, I find it weird not ending a text message with some sort of sign-off, so instead I put a smiley face. Trevor (being quite relaxed) from time to time also uses smiley faces; Mike does not. Out of all of my friends, it is most acceptable to end texts to Mike without any punctuation or sign-off whatsoever. But I find it weird not to use anything at all – the text then feels blunt, functional and lacking in my personality.

But is my personality immature to be using kisses at the end of texts to people other than my close friends or partner? With close friends like Hannah or Karina, I might end my texts with two or three kisses. With Nick, another close friend who is a boy, I might end my texts with one or two kisses – to preserve some semblance of masculinity; and also, because there is only one man who gets all my kisses, and that is Toby. So does this mean that there is a fundamental but extremely subtle hierarchy of respect to family and partners, as well as consideration of gender, level of friendship, and sexuality? For example – it feels more acceptable to put kisses on the end of texts to Nick than to Mike, as Nick is gay whereas Mike is straight. But surely that is stupid? On the rare occasion that I accidentally end texts to Mike with an x or two, he has never said anything or been remotely bothered.

Something that Toby pointed out to me is that just as I do with him, he usually leaves me a lot of kisses at the end of his texts to me. But very occasionally, I only get two or three – and me being me, I notice this and wonder if there is any reason for it. I found out through our conversation – because I have an iPhone, I have no character count on my texts. But Toby’s phone still has a character count; and so, to avoid going over the character limit into what is technically a “new page” of the text message, sometimes he will only have two or three characters left, which means that I get less kisses than I am accustomed to. So another thing that I have to remember is that we all have different phones and different contracts / allowances.

To friends of mine who are reasonably good friends (for example, Mike’s wife Caroline, or my colleagues Amy and Charlotte at work), I will end my texts with one kiss; to people whom I don’t really know that well, or am texting for specific information, there are no kisses to preserve a business-like approach. But as I grow older, and in theory more mature, should I be ending my text messages in a more perfunctory way? I don’t even know if Davina has had this conscious thought – all I’ve noticed is a change, and I am just projecting onto it. But it triggered an interesting discussion, and a realisation that there are a lot of subtle things that we consider, almost automatically, when we send text messages to our friends, partners, colleagues and so on. As a 25-year-old man, am I too old to be ending my texts with kisses? Or should I just carry on, be myself and not think about it so much? Surely this is overthinking something very simple; but as I’ve illustrated, the etiquette of kisses on texts is deceptively complicated. And a lot of the mystery was dispelled through an actual real-time voice conversation, which possibly speaks volumes… At the end of the day, text messages can be an excellent form of quick and convenient communication, but shades of meaning and levels of affection can be conveyed much more accurately and honestly through tone of voice and the spontaneity of a real-time conversation.

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born this way.

February 28, 2011

First of all, so that the title is not completely misleading, here is Lady GaGa’s new video:

I like this video, and as a result the song is growing on me. Sure, the song rips off Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, and the video for that song is iconic. But I like the various effects, I like the grandiose opening monologue (although “temporal” is not the opposite of “eternal”, and there were flashes of Janelle Monáe’s ArchAndroid inspiration hither and thither), and I most of all like what the song stands for. This will be the focus of my blog tonight, in a roundabout way.

I have a couple of friends on twitter who were really touched by Lady GaGa’s new song, and found it an anthem for them to be proud of who they are. For me, not so much – I think that the lyrics are at times clumsy and facile, and I don’t feel at this point in my life that I need a song to reassure me that “it’s okay to be gay”. Mariah Carey’s “Outside” did that for me nicely when I was 12. But just because I personally am past that point, doesn’t mean that the sentiment is not good – whether calculated or not, I commend Lady GaGa for her work against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, her promotion of AIDS awareness and safe sex, and her embracing of all fans.

Anyways, I was reading the latest issue of LOVE magazine this weekend while I was in London with Toby, and the focus of the issue is androgyny. In particular, I was struck by an interview with transsexual model Lea T, who is famous for being cast by Riccardo Tisci in the latest Givenchy campaign.

Transsexual models generally don’t make it into the mainstream; but Lea T has not only accomplished this, but has been more than upfront about her transsexuality. In the interview with LOVE, she says:

“From the start I want to talk about being transsexual… We have to be proud of who we are. I’m trying to change things, in my own small way… If you don’t tell people, you’re basically saying that there’s something wrong with it.”

I find this admirable, because in such a public arena it must be frightening, liberating, nerve-wracking and a hundred other emotions to expose such an intimate aspect of your personality, your sexuality, your self. And I got to thinking about myself and my sexuality. In my work, in my personality, in my day to day life, I don’t hide my sexuality, but I don’t go out and about to promote it either. I never wanted my sexuality to be the defining characteristic of who I am; I didn’t want people to focus on my homosexuality and put everything else as second best. Is this the right attitude? I would definitely say that I am proud of myself; I am proud of my boyfriend, I am proud of our relationship. I guess that would make me proud to be gay. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily want to embody the gay stereotypes of being effeminate, promiscuous, pink glitter and camp because I don’t feel that that is who I am. I’m not exactly butch, but I am just myself and being gay is a part of that. It’s not the whole.

Nevertheless, working in a college with teenagers, should I be more upfront about my sexuality? Would that set the right example? I have a picture of Toby and I on my desk that I don’t need to point out to anyone, but students can and do see it. I never lie about going to see my boyfriend at the weekend, if students happen to ask. Is there a difference between choosing not to actively broadcast your sexual preference, and denying it? I like to think so – I don’t lie about my boyfriend, about the fact that I like men. What for? I am not ashamed of it, and at this point in my life I feel more or less secure in my sexuality – so I am happy to identify as gay. I know that homosexuality is much more mainstream, much more accepted than it has been; a lot more remains of the journey towards accepting transsexuality as mainstream. So I understand Lea T’s desire to be upfront and bold about her sexuality – she is opening doors, and for that I totally salute and respect her. But what do you think? I believe that I am who I am and I don’t need to broadcast my sexuality, just as I don’t need to broadcast my religious beliefs or marital status. However, would it sometimes be beneficial to my students to have an older role model who is openly gay, but also embodies many other positive things? It’s a tricky one.

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successful.

October 28, 2010

Today I took my driving test for the first time in over 6 years, and I didn’t pass. I am a bit gutted, but at the same time I knew that in my heart of hearts, I was capable of passing, but I was unlikely to do it this time. I did better than I thought I would and it’s a nagging annoyance that I only made one big mistake – my approach speed to junctions, which was too fast because of my nerves – and the rest was good. Knowing that I’m capable of passing my driving test and I can drive pretty well makes it infuriating that my nerves get the better of me in an examined situation, but I am nearly there and next time I will do it – this test was the nearest I’ve come to passing. As long as I don’t rush myself, I’ll be fine! I’m a bit nervous about how I’m going to be travelling to work for the next 6 weeks, but I have a work colleague who lives around the corner from me and has already kindly offered her services. I just don’t like to impose.

 

I am disappointed that I couldn’t tie in a driving success to the other high points of this year (although if I get a cancellation, it might still be possible!), but I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I do put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve, and I fervently wish that I had not stopped taking tests when I was 18. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! But I just have to keep my head to the sky and live up to my stubborn / determined nature. I won’t give up! The positive is that I now have more time to save up for a car, and I made myself feel better by paying off some money from my credit card and from my student bank account. Doing sensible things with my money seemed like the best way to make light of an unfortunate situation. I thought I would indulge in some retail therapy, but I arrived in the centre of town and the urge had left me; which is a good thing for my bank account! I am seeing Toby for his birthday tomorrow (wish him a happy birthday here!) and I knew that whatever the outcome of today’s test, I would have that to look forward to. We are going to Thorpe Park this weekend for Fright Night, and I’m looking forward to seeing the Saw maze and going on the rides; I haven’t been to a theme park since I visited Alton Towers when I was 18. So I’m determined to put this little failure behind me (which I will redress – I have come too far now to give up again! If I’m not meant to drive – and this has occurred to me in low moments, including today – then a big sign is literally going to have to come down from the sky and smack me upside the head) and enjoy the rest of my week off before I return to work on Monday.

 

I guess this is what people mean when they say that you sometimes have to fight hard for what you believe in. I have fought hard and worked hard, but hard work comes easy to me in a way; I was raised with an intense work ethic. I have been blessed with a good brain for achieving academically, and I put in the work to back it up; it was never really difficult for me, but I took no prisoners just so that I could be lucky enough to have an educational career that puts most to shame. I learned to sing from Mariah Carey albums (and a variety of others, but she will always be the ultimate for me) and I never questioned that I would be able to have a voice like that; lo and behold, my whistle register is not as good as hers (owing to my Y chromosome) but other than that I’m pretty much there. I have always loved singing, playing the piano and guitar, and writing and producing my own songs – I have an innate musicality, I suppose, and although mastering software and songwriting structures alike has required perseverance, I’ve never found it particularly difficult to make progress. Once I found the right man (and he is truly amazing!), the troubles I had in my previous dating life more or less melted away and now I find it easy to be in love. The aspects of relationships that I found challenging, I have worked to resolve and they are mainly down to my own insecurities and upbringing. I have many good friends (communicating and social skills have been a strong point of my personality, hence my current vocation working with young people in a college), and I learned some hard lessons during my school life which has enabled me to judge someone’s character and thus gather a tight circle of very good people to whom I am indebted for my sanity, among other things! (I appreciate y’all and I enjoy y’all – never forget it! 😉 ) I am often complimented on my sense of fashion and style, and that has always come effortlessly to me (because, in part, I am a potent combination of vain and fussy); I observe the latest trends and fashions, and then cast aside 90% of it, retain the things I like and add them to a style I hope is elegant, classic, timeless and most importantly, me.

 

The two things in my life that I have found most difficult are: losing weight in order to attain a body that I am happy with; and learning to drive. I am more or less happy with the way that I look now, although it’s always a work in progress, and I could do more exercise than I currently do! I will work on it. But I have taken 20 years to get to a point where I am not repulsed by what I see in the mirror, and that is a very positive thing. Passing my driving test will hopefully not take me 20 years! But I have to take pride in the fact that I have a good work ethic and am willing to put in the work to achieve my goals. Success is an uphill struggle but I need to learn to appreciate the things that have come easily to me, because there are a hell of a lot of them and I should be thankful for them. I’m a lucky person, and I’m not a complacent person. I just have to keep going a little bit longer, and never give up.

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act your age.

August 4, 2010

The other night I was on the phone to Toby walking through Tesco when I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a big cuddly Hello Kitty in a half-price toys bin. I checked the price (£10), fell in love with it, plucked it out of the bin and kept walking, all the while telling Toby what I had just done.  He chuckled at me, as people often do when confronted with my weakness for cute cuddly toys. However, all my friends know what I am like by now, and my family does too – they think it’s part cute, part bizarre, part they just shake their heads in despair.  The cashier at Tesco thought my mum was joking when, in response to what age the toy was aimed at, my mother gave me a glance and a grin.

In my bedroom at home, Hello Kitty joins my menagerie of Nemo, Ramón, Bing and Bong the white seals, Pikachu & a giant dog called Doug. I guess I always loved cuddling stuffed animals and teddy bears ever since I was a child, and they are soft and warm and comforting. They all come off the bed at night, except for in the winter when it’s cold and I want the weight of something on top of me to make me feel more cocooned and warm (hopefully Toby is my grown-up replacement! 😉 ).  They make me feel at once whimsical and cosy.

Unlike Taylor Lautner, who keeps me warm in a very different way:

After much deliberation and resisting buying the Eclipse poster in the cinema, I finally caved and bought the above poster yesterday in HMV, which is now framed on my wall as you can see. When I was with Toby (although it is in a slight ironic way, I do really enjoy the Twilight Saga!) queuing for Eclipse, I pointed out the poster and was tempted to buy it; the same happened when I was queuing for the same film with Karina, Davina and Deena. Both times I resisted, and Toby’s teasing reproach was that “get it if you want, if you have no problems with having pictures of teenage boys on your bedroom wall”.  Well, when he put it like that… I was briefly shamed into restraint, but as they say, resistance is futile.  Anyway, Lautner is 18 and therefore a legal adult, as well as a total hottie (far more than Robert Pattinson, at any rate).

Both of these purchases made me think that I’ve always had a certain kind of taste for both men and cuddly toys. I’ve not changed in that respect since I was young; I like big cute stuffed animals and I like sexy men; I doubt this will change from 13 to 30 to beyond. As a teenager, my appreciation of teddy bears was considered a cute throwback to childhood in the face of so many pressures of adolescence and incipient adulthood. And it’s natural to find others attractive as you become in touch with your sexuality: I always was attracted to people who were older than me when I was a teenager, and now it’s to people who are the same age as me.  Perhaps I’m an eternal late teen? Unlike Mariah Carey who claims she is “eternally 12”, perhaps I’m eternally 19. After all, Taylor may be 18 but he has a better body than most people in their 20s, and when sexualised as he is both above and in the Twilight Saga films, he comes off as early twenties rather than a teen. That’s my defence and I’m sticking to it, but while I physically age, my mentality and preferences will evolve and mature in some respects, but I guess that some of my tastes will remain constant.  This is just who I am, and I think that it’s very healthy to be in touch with your inner child and indulge that fun-loving, fresh side of your personality. 🙂

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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