Posts Tagged ‘Sexuality’

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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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why young money has won me over.

January 17, 2011

OK, so as I am unwell and off work, I might as well try and do something productive. I haven’t done a music review on this blog for ages – and while this isn’t a traditional album review, I thought that I would write a music-related article.

I was reading on Toya’s World Drake’s recent comments on how Aaliyah inspired him as a singer to make his songs relatable across genders and across situations. This connects to one of the best songs on his album, “Unforgettable”, which samples her. Unfairly, I ignored Drake for an unfeasibly long time, and it was only hearing his songs covered by Teairra Marí on her Point Of No Return mixtape that made me decide to give him a chance. I am so glad that I did – rather than just another overhyped rapper who featured on every R&B and Hip Hop single of the moment over the last year and a half, his album betrayed a talent for rhyming and exposing vulnerability and honesty over beats that combined some of the raw soundscapes from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak with horn-led Swizz Beatz productions. I was thoroughly impressed by Drake’s honesty about fame, and his lyrics which alternated between self-hype and self-deprecation. While Kanye West’s stellar new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy equally shows him exposing the insecurities behind his ego on songs such as “Runaway” and “Blame Game”, the difference is that Drake has been upfront about his insecurities from the get-go. This is something I feel is admirable for a male artist in any genre – traditionally, female artists are emotional and find strength in their vulnerability, while male artists are sex-hungry, predatory and invulnerable to emotion just as they portray themselves as being invulnerable to everything, bullets included (a quick flip through rap history should indicate that this is certainly not the case – 50 Cent aside). So Drake utterly won my respect for being frank and honest, while also creating a really good album that still had some swagger songs, but was not afraid to step away from that and both rhyme and sing with equal sincerity.

Nicki Minaj’s mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty was utterly thrilling, but again betrayed something more than your average hyper-sexual female rapper. Her idiosyncratic delivery, and her willingness to be vulnerable and honest about her music industry difficulties (on “Can Anybody Hear Me” she proclaimed “Def Jam said I’m no Lauryn Hill / Can’t rap and sing on the same CD / the public won’t get it, they got ADD”). By extension, we can understand that Minaj has a clear vision of who she wants to be as an artist, but is being somewhat held back from that and steered in a slightly different direction.  It’s no accident that “Save Me” is one of the best songs on Pink Friday, and it is the only song which Minaj sings from start to finish. Image-wise, Nicki Minaj is clearly hailing after Lil’ Kim, and to a lesser extent Lisa Left-Eye Lopes. Pink Friday at first was a disappointment to me because it was much more pop than I was expecting, and there weren’t many of her hard, crazy verses that characterise her best features, such as on Kanye West’s “Monster”. Nevertheless, the album has impressed me because it does mix in various sounds, various characters, and is not overtly sexed nor trying too hard to be one of the guys, or prove its gangster credentials – these are elements that have characterised a lot of female rap and it is brave of Minaj to forsake all of these and try to be herself, even if she is not allowed to be so fully. So again, although Nicki Minaj is hardly original and I have a suspicion that her true artistry will be revealed in years to come, her output and dedication to her craft is still promising and beyond what is expected of most new acts.

I wonder if, when putting together his Young Money troupe, Lil Wayne was aware of just how talented his acts are. I am tempted to say yes, as madness and artistic talent can often go hand in hand. Young Money’s album itself comprised catchy, if disposable, chart fodder which nevertheless promoted a collective ethos above highlighting individual talents. This is all well and good, but apart from Wayne, Minaj and Drake, how many of the others can you name? Sure, Shanell is memorable for being the other female in the group, and has contributed solidly to Nicki Minaj’s songs “Handstand” and “Cupid’s Got A Gun”, exhibiting a controlled and evocative vocal on the latter. She also wears that interesting jewellery across her face.  Tyga stands out by dint of his recent collaborations with Chris Brown on “Deuces” and other songs. But neither of these artists (nor any of the rest) have yet been allowed to stand on their own two feet. I mean, between Wayne’s own mixtapes and those of Drake and Minaj, along with their official studio albums, singles, collaborations and features, they already saturate the media. It is likely that if all were given the same treatment simultaneously, the public would scream for respite.  But I wonder, since Young Money clearly comprises talented members who, importantly, have their own vision and are not afraid to express it, just how many more talented members we haven’t yet been exposed to. This intrigues me and suggests that the collective is filled with promise.

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hypersex.

July 27, 2010

I’ve spent the last 4 weekends away from home with my boyfriend Toby: the first weekend in Peterborough, and the latter three in his new flat in London.  I’ve had a terrific time each time, and it’s a marker of how far I’ve come that now when I am at home in Bristol during the week, life feels empty and, well, a bit lifeless.  I’m finally feeling the love I so desperately longed to feel in the first few months, and I am truly lucky to have found him: I now only fear some unforeseen circumstance or twist of fate breaking us apart and taking this amazing man away from me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I just enjoy the times we share together and watch our relationship grow: I have let down my hard-to-get, impenetrable guard and now he sees me as someone who is often vulnerable, sweet and soppy.  During my last two visits, we went to the cinema to watch Eclipse and Inception, and as well as enjoying the films, I cherished the fact that going to the cinema with my boyfriend and cuddling up on the seats, arms linked & heads on each others’ shoulders, was something I thought I’d never get to experience.  It made me feel young, carefree and happy, like the teenager I no longer am but always longed to be.

However, as well as displaying and embracing my softer, romantic side, we also enjoy having sex and often joke that we must be nymphomaniacs.  The sex is the best I’ve ever had, and I am not going to go into specifics because y’all don’t wanna read that and I want to keep that between me and Toby.  But I feel like I finally get to unfurl the wings of my sexuality without embarrassment or shyness.  I have always been a sexual person, and I remember my body being a constant source of fascination as a child (and I mean way before puberty, which I hit early anyway).  As a boy and now a man, I’ve occasionally felt slightly ridiculous for being in touch with myself in a non-macho, non-“I want to fuck everything that moves” way.  I mean, I definitely get horny, but for me my sexuality is less about posturing, racking up notches on a bedpost to prove my virility to others and allay my own insecurities and more about feeling intangibly good in my own skin, exploring what feels / tastes / good and what my body can do to synchronise with my soul and feelings and heighten my experiences as much as possible, and then also sharing that with another person and trying to heighten their experience, someone who knows you and is always uncovering new things about you as you grow together, is a privilege.

As I’ve gotten older, my sense of fashion has grown and evolved as well, and my having tattoos is not only an embodiment of my darker, more dangerous side with personal emblems for me, but also an expression of sexuality. I believe that tattoos are very sensual things (I’m not interested in getting them as a fashion statement per se, and I will never be seen with a tattoo that is “on trend” because it’s “on trend”), and having someone firstly pierce your skin with a needle shows an immense display of trust; to leave a symbol or picture or message on you that has meaning is exhilarating; then to display tattoos, to let someone in on their meaning, to allow someone to touch that part of your body, is a thrill that for me is part of sexuality.  For me, I don’t need or want everyone to see my tattoos all the time (partly because for work I need to exercise some common sense and be able to cover them), but they are for me first and then for my friends and finally for my boyfriend (who likes them nearly as much as I do!).  Just as wearing sexy outfits, fitted clothes (both of which are again decidedly un-macho), certain colours and styles is more an embodiment of who I am at that particular moment, on that day, at that stage in my life and of who I am as a person (the different layers) than displaying labels, belonging to a particular social clique or taking part in a contest to display as much of myself as possible.  For me, sexuality and promiscuity are two extremely different things. I’ve come to the point where I am happy enough with my body to wear more or less what I want (apart from all the outfits I can’t afford!!! but I’m getting there slowly 🙂 ), and in contrast to my attention-seeking performance outfits of the past (leather trenchcoat here, ripped jeans with handcuffs there – though those outfits were definitely fun and I’ve very glad I wore them!), I am less about turning heads (although that’s always nice) and more about satisfying my own standards.  Which are usually higher anyway! But I also appreciate that I want to feel that I look sexy in my clothes: some people are not concerned with that stuff, but I am – call it vanity, call it what you want. The difference is that now, what validates my sexiness is primarily how I myself feel, and secondly what my boyfriend and close friends think and say. I’m more comfortable in my skin to be more about pleasing myself and to know that yes, some people’s opinions do matter and I want to please others too.  But I also know that the general public is not important, and that I shouldn’t feel intimidated or afraid to be who I am. My sexuality, sensuality, fashion sense, looks, physicality and being as a whole may occasionally be compromised by external forces – I’m only human – but I know that it shouldn’t be and I’m better at making sure that it isn’t 90% of the time.  I am learning to be comfortable in myself as a sexual being, a sensual being, and it’s thrilling that I can listen to sexually-themed music (the thought process behind this post was set in motion while I was dancing to “Desnúdate” from Christina Aguilera’s Bionic album, which I still utterly adore) and understand more of it – not because of the meanings of the words (which are translucent), but because my life and my maturity is falling in line with those things.  I’m growing, and I am grateful to my friends, to Toby and to life in general for provoking me and allowing me to do so. 🙂

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dream – infidelity and paulina rubio.

June 19, 2010

I was saying to one of my friends that it’s been a while since I blogged one of my dreams! I guess that sometimes if you speak something, it has a funny way of coming into existence.  I also must give some credit to the kebab I bought with Mike on the way back from our last course night out watching the England match (which was dull, although cheering along with the mindless supporters was amusing; I don’t think they realised Penny and I were taking the piss out of them) – the stomach ache I bear as a result, coupled with the disrupted night’s sleep I had, worked together to produce this crazy dream as well as my decision that, like crisps and popcorn, I will never eat another kebab again.  Anyway, here goes:

I found myself at university, staying in a dorm building which had several of my friends living on the same corridor as me. The hall was brightly lit, with a peach coloured carpet, and Toby lived a couple of doors down from me.  A few doors in the opposite direction, towards the end of our corridor, lived this random guy whom I don’t know in real life, and whom I didn’t know much about in the dream, except he was gay and had quite a youthful face and a happy-go-lucky, slightly crazy manner.  I remember on this particular day, Toby was getting ready to present a presentation he had worked on with his friend on a song they had written for a team they’d been given in a World Cup sweepstake.  He hadn’t let me hear the song, and he was quite nervous about it but pretending as if everything were fine.  To give him some space, I decided to get a bus and go to a string of shops which looked similar to the top of Gloucester Road, except with less shops and shops which looked even more run down than what’s there in reality.  The trip seemed fruitless, and I remember returning back to my corridor pretty promptly.

On my return, I bumped into the guy who lived near the end of the corridor.  He was burbling about something, and invited me to go back to his room. I was reluctant to go as I wanted to wish Toby luck before he started his presentation / performance, but at the same time I wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea to disturb him, so I decided to follow the guy to his room.  We chatted for a while, and then ended up having (anatomically incorrect – orifices do NOT look / contort like that!) sex.  Immediately afterwards I felt guilty, and made small talk while hurriedly getting out of there.  I ran down the corridor to find Toby, who was due to start his presentation.  I located the classroom (oddly enough further down the same corridor as where all our bedrooms were) and burst in through the open door, where Toby and his classmates were gathered in front of a lecturer standing at a lectern in front of a giant screen filled with the flags of the World Cup in some kaleidoscopic Powerpoint presentation.  Toby was stood on a chair, ostensibly about to sing his song, but everyone turned to look at me and Toby’s mouth gaped as I ran towards him, hugged his legs and nuzzled my face into his crotch.  He asked me what was wrong, but I decided to keep my infidelity to myself and said that nothing was wrong and I just wanted to wish him luck and let him know I was there for him.  At that moment, he smiled (which made me feel a combination of guilt and immense love), and the whole class sighed as if they wanted to get on with the presentation of the songs.

At this point, my stomach ache woke me up again as it had done periodically throughout the night.  I remember getting up to open the window; it was light outside and I hoped that some fresh air would do me good (as it happened, it made no difference) before getting back into bed and falling back to sleep.

I found myself going into a giant record store which reminded me of a huge Virgin Megastore from back in the day.  When I walked in, the front of store display advertised hordes of Paulina Rubio CDs, books, DVDs and other memorabilia at knock-down prices.  I was about to start browsing – there were items that certainly caught my eye even at first glance, when I bumped into my tutor from university, Mary.  She was sat reading a book on a cube seat, and she smiled at me and started asking how I was.  We had a conversation about the book she was reading, and about what some of my favourite books were.  I then saw two women approaching her wearing skirt suits, and Mary explained that she was interviewing for the course intake for next year, so she would have to say goodbye for now.  I smiled and left the seating area as one woman sat down and began to talk to Mary, who had closed her book; the other sat on an adjacent cube and began to read a book of her own.  I was about to start browsing the Paulina Rubio merchandise, which including products which both do and don’t exist in real life, when I bumped into Simon from the careers guidance course.  He asked me if I had seen Mary; I responded by indicating the cubed seating area, but then explaining that she was doing interviews so he might have to wait for a while before he was able to speak to her.  With nothing much else to say to him, I left Simon and began to browse the shelves.

However, during my conversations with Mary and Simon, a lot of the CDs had been snapped up, and I could barely find half of the products which had been on offer when I’d first entered the shop.  I spent quite a long time rummaging and amassing quite a collection of items, when I bumped into my mother, Deena and Davina.  They said that they had come shopping looking for a birthday present for me, and immediately handed me a big box of some kind of board game, and a smaller box on top.  They said that they were going to look for some other gifts for me.  My mother immediately disappeared, and Davina and Deena went off in different directions.  I followed Deena and asked her if there was anything I could buy for Davina, but I don’t think she had any suggestions.  Eventually, I found myself left alone by them and I had to go to the till and pay for my Paulina Rubio stuff, and also for my own birthday presents!

Afterwards, I returned home with all my purchases only to find that my mother had already arrived at home.  She looked at the amount of carrier bags I had, and then she engaged me in some meaningless, forgettable conversation.  I don’t remember what was said, but I remember taking a yellow sleeping bag with me and leaving the house. I wandered the streets and before long, found a wide grey pavement outside a run-down block of flats.  For some reason, in my head I had decided that this was an orphanage, and the area of town did not look very Bristolian nor very friendly; it was all quite dilapidated, and I felt quite tired so I decided to lay down on the pavement and curled up in my sleeping bag.  However, the sleeping bag was double-sized, so I still only took up half of the bag; the other half covered the rest of the pavement.  After a few moments, Mike came strolling by as if by chance, looked down and noticed me laying on the floor (I wasn’t asleep).  He spoke to me briefly, and we chatted before he told me to budge up, got down on the pavement and slid into the sleeping bag next to me.  This time, nothing sexual happened but we just chatted for a while and I remember feeling happy and lucky that I had a friend to spend time with.

That is about it!  As always, any thoughts or light that you can shed on this is more than welcome. A few connections that I can make: I watched the World Cup match last night, so perhaps the football was in my head; I’d seen Deena earlier in the week and I remember we were walking around HMV and she was considering looking for a present for her friend’s girlfriend.  During the night out last night, I was speaking to Mike about how much his friendship meant to me and how lucky I was to have him in my life.  I also spent a lot of the evening texting Toby, who is currently sunning it up in Florida (lucky man); I miss him.  Finally, Simon was the only person who hadn’t managed to get into the bar last night where we were watching the football; although Mary wasn’t invited to watch the football with us, it is interesting that Simon is the one who was asking me about her whereabouts, as if he were looking for someone from our course just as he was last night.  But the rest of it is beyond me!!!

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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statement of purpose.

March 7, 2010

I was sitting in Caffé Nero in House Of Fraser in Cabot Circus with Toby today, reading the newspaper (quite uncharacteristic of me – what’s more, I was reading the news and doing the crossword!  Not even the gossip pages!) and I came across an article about being an author and how it’s not the easiest way of making a living. I said to Toby that I’d like to write a book one day, though I don’t really know what about; I don’t even know if it would be a novel, or more a reflection on life and love. And I thought back to when I started writing this blog 9 months ago – how far I’ve come from my first entry! How quickly time has passed, and how much I’ve grown and how much my life has changed.  I’m glad to say I am in a much happier space now, and better is yet to come!

Reading that first entry, I knew almost at the time that the misfired sense of whimsy I was aiming for (in the style of Bai Ling, who tbh is quite insurpassable) wouldn’t last, but I didn’t know how seriously I would end up taking this blog, nor how important this blog would end up being for me, for my sanity and my self-expression; as well as for my music.  Not only have I got a lot better at writing, but being able to be utterly honest in a public yet private and near-anonymous forum has been freeing. I’ve made new friends through writing, and some of the comments I receive let me know that my writing has touched others, that I’ve not been alone in going through some of the emotional, romantic and self-esteem struggles that I’ve experienced.  That alone makes writing this blog worth it, and I thank you for reading it. I hope that I can make a difference to someone’s life, even in a small way.  That makes it worth it.

So returning to the question of what kind of book I would write, I prefer to think of myself in the style of a columnist, I guess something Carrie Bradshaw-esque.  I am sure it could be done (and perhaps in time my mind will grasp a format that works), but right now I couldn’t imagine my writing fitting into book form (other than a diary). But like in Sex and the City, I would almost prefer to write for a newspaper (not quite like the one I was reading, but certainly something a few steps above your average tabloid or glossy magazine – how’s that for snobbery? 😛 ) because this blog is a way for me to keep track of my own journey through life, my own development.  I grow and change through time, just as we all do – we all experience new things over the course of our lives, and this blog is a way of chronicling that.  So in short, I don’t honestly think that I would change anything about the way that I write now – I just hope to get better at it.  Perhaps in time I’ll focus on one consistent topic or theme, but right now the mixture of ruminations on music, love, sexuality, self-esteem, fashion, fragrance, dream analysis, family, friendships and relationships is perfect for me as it perfectly encapsulates who I am.  Perhaps in the future I’ll go back to writing poetry, to sharing some of my new song lyrics once the Quiet Storm album campaign is closed and I’m recording new material – I haven’t done that in a while.  Who knows what the future holds? But life is for living, and we’re all living it right now… so on with the show! 🙂