20th Anniversary: SELENA (1997)

Just wanted to stop by and wish everyone a feliz aniversario, because Selena turns 20 years old today! It is one of my all-time favorite movies and I’m hard-pressed to think of a pop star biopic that’s ever come close to its warmth. The performances are just so honest and great – in addition to the unmatchable J. Lo and Edward James Olmos, I also find myself powerless to resist Jon Seda’s charmingly reticent Chris. It’s a perfect tribute to one of the most incandescently talented performers in pop music, a woman with a short but indelible legacy and a great love for pizza (“lots of pepperoni, that’s important”). And the movie is a great lesson in how to appropriately adapt a true life for the screen. Gregory Nava’s storytelling and style are authentically Selena: from the bubbly pace, to the quick, spirited montages, to the dramatic editing of the “live” performances. Best of all, we get the gift of her actual voice (above: my fave song staged for the film, “Como La Flor”). Selena has its cheesy moments, but so did Selena. Compare it to, say, Britney Ever After – it’s easy to expose a girlish pop star, but it’s really, really hard to paint a loving portrait. I dedicate my love for this film to every Gen-Yer who went to a sleepover.

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Come What May

“Madam President! The Moulin Rouge soundtrack! IT’S BEEN TAKEN OFF SPOTIFY. What are your orders?”

After a long moment, she turned around. A lighter sparked in the darkness, illuminating the hard lines of her face as she drew deeply on a cigarette. After several coughs and loud retching sounds, she spoke. “Fire at will.”

“F-Fire? But…Madam Pres-”

“I said fire.”

The corporal fell to his knees. “Please. Spotify will retaliate, madam!” he shouted at her retreating back. “They’ll delete Dreamgirls. West Side Story. Maybe even Newsies. They’ll all DIE.”

The President’s shapely silhouette paused in the doorway, her head upturned and proud. “The French are glad to die for love,” she whispered. Again the cigarette glowed, setting off another round of coughing. “Fuck,” she wheezed. “Fuck.”

A Review of ARTPOP, with GIFs and Umlauts

Hands rubbing together! Mouth slavering at the chance to write again! Tissue wiping at mouth! It’s been awhile, readers (?). My bad. November is a tough month. Cold winds, calories, emotional regression, air travel. But so much has been going down in my personal pop world and it’s getting regurgitated bit by bit. YUM!

First up, ARTPOP. I’m late, but who cares. The album barely made a blip in the cultural landscape, because Gaga died long ago in a fiery tornado of production values, sometime soon after Born This Way. But because I loves me some zeitgeisty ambition and experimentation, I’ve still been poring over it. It’s really not great, but it is interesting, and for that I feel comfortable paying it minimal heed.

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I think ARTPOP is less earwormy than previous efforts, but it is lyrically a relief because Gaga’s MERCILESS preaching has stopped; it has given way to the strictly personal. In a sense, Born This Way was written for the fans – for society, really – and that kind of pandering and proselytizing makes a smash album with a shitty legacy. In ARTPOP, the pendulum has swung towards the über-esoteric and the über-grand, which feels WAY more Gaga than a bloated ode to anti-bullying. ARTPOP is a colorful and epileptic melange that fails a lot and wins a lot, and although I don’t really love it, I do love how fucking nakedly insane it is.

So let’s start with the shit that stinks.

Tracks That Sück

It would have been wonderful to see a follow-up effort in the vein of “Yoü and I,” stripping down the arrangements and making use of Stefanie Germanotta’s brassy Broadway bawling. ARTPOP‘s one ballad, “Dope,” is a shell of an imitation:

 

The melody is virtually nonexistent, and her voice sounds so drama school final showcase. And no one really buys that Gaga’s some kind of world-worn addict stalking the underbelly who can actually get off calling drugs “dope.” And what kind of dope are we even talking about here? You don’t come back from heroin to eventually pull off complex booby-grab dances. Supposedly she’s singing to her former assistant, who left as a result of Gaga’s “destructive behavior.” Which kind of also sucks the authenticity juice out of this overpostured confessional yawp.

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Hey rappers, stay away. Stay far away. Gaga has NO IDEA how to utilize rap, including simple sampling, and “Jewels n’ Drugz” absolutely buries T.I., Too $hort, and Twista in a calamitous pile of poopyshit. It’s a torturous song and I have no idea how it made it to the final cut of this album.

 

Öther tracks that sück: “Sexxx Dreams,” “Swine,” “Donatella”

Tracks That Are Jüst Ökay

There are some moments on ARTPOP that are simply middling – they have their moments of beauty but mostly just expand to take up two minutes of odd, gentle filler. Like those multi-colored sea monkey things you buy in the store, watch grow into mildly interesting lumps, and then forget about and leave to rot in your old fishtank.

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“G.U.Y.” is languid and druggy, reasonably hypnotic, and I like it because I completely get the lyrics. Some classic Gaga gendering. She’s gotten enough control over her language that her treatise on sexytimes is never offensive, always mildly pleasing to THIS lady listener who hates most things about being a lady in the sheets.

I’m gonna wear the tie, want the power to leave you
I’m aiming for full control of this love
Touch me, touch me, don’t be sweet
Love me, love me, please retweet
Let me be the girl under you that makes you cry
I wanna be that guy

“Gypsy” is a fine little soaring ballad that veers surprisingly into Bruce Springsteen territory, but the melody errs on the side of trite. It’s really only notable for the #singlegirlproblems lyric “I don’t wanna be alone forever, but I can be tonight.” I am also into “Venus” for its staccato fuckery and kooky space imagery. How can you hate a track that rhymes “Uranus” with “Don’t you know my ass is famous?”

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It’s got a bit of David Bowie vocal gymnastics, and although the intergalactic march rhythm never quite allows it to get off the ground, it’s still a fun little novelty. I also like to imagine Gaga thrashing about the recording studio, making similar faces to the one above, just to achieve the extreme enunciation that “Venus” boasts as a calling card.

Öther tracks that are jüst ökay: “MANiCURE,” “Fashion,” “Mary Jane Holland”

Tracks That Are Really Güd

Hey, let’s talk about the title track! Really, all I can say about it is “BEEP BOOP BOOP BEEP.” It’s R2D2’s wet dream, and I don’t mean one night inside C3PO’s hard drive. The mechanical sounds are beautifully muted and layered, and I enjoy Gaga’s near-academic lyrics: “Come to me with all your subtext and fantasy.” Her plaintive and detached musing, “We could, we could belong together, ARTPOP” gives me some of that old avant-garde hopefulness for a brighter and more complicated musical landscape.

 

And now it’s time for the two best gifs to come out of the “ARTPOP” promo video.

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“Aura” was leaked early and got a HUGE backlash for its politically-charged goad: “Behind the aura, behind the curtain, behind the burqa, behind the aura.” It’s gimmicky, but it’s sooo much fun. It’s over-the-top, aggressive, cool, and kitschy in a Tarantino way. Her introductory litany of “HA HA HA HA” will wend its way into your daily vocabulary faster than you think (she said to no one). I also quickly warmed to “Do What U Want,” the dark and stormy synth R&B party that co-stars R “Urine for it now!” Kelly:

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Listen, you try to do sex pushups. It’s easy, ’til you have to rotate the orientation of your entire vagina, like the groin of Gymnastic Barbie. It’s a good song. It makes you do stuff you didn’t think was anatomically possible.

And of course, there’s “Applause.” Oh, “Applause”…I hated you so much when you came out, but contextualized in ARTPOP you’re not so bad. In fact, you’re kind of infectious and thrilling. Be sure to watch the video of this song performed at the VMAs; no one really got it then. Finally, Gaga’s passion and personality come through on this track. Not only is it the most classic Gaga on the album, it’s also the most solid song, the most accessible, and the clearest in terms of message. And the music video is pretty fucking cool too.

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And there we have it! A day late and a dollar short, so they say. Anyone out there with an opinion on this thing? Leave me a comment, space mortals.

The Ghostest with the Mostest

MWAHAHAHAHAHA AHAHAHAHAH AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Finally, my everyday laugh makes sense in context. It’s Halloween! And no matter how many times I tell myself I’m “over it,” every year it’s magic. I’m wearing an ironic shirt on the outside and making haunty noises on the inside.

When you grow up, your heart dies.

Today I would like to pay homage to my FAVE Halloween movie. It’s not technically a movie, actually. It’s somewhere between a film, a music video, a terrifying nightmare, and a delightful romp. A rompmare, if you will. It is the 39-minute slice of majesty that is Michael Jackson’s Ghosts.

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Released in 1996, Ghosts was far more ambitious than any of Michael’s previous ventures, which is saying a lot considering he pretty much invented production values. Much of the video is devoted to plotting and exposition, leaving only long snippets of the 3 songs featured: “2 Bad,” “Is It Scary” and “Ghosts.” Directed by special-effects king Stan Winston and co-written by my boo Stephen King, Ghosts is kind of a stunning narrative unto itself, a horrifying and humorous little story enriched by pop music. It manages to be childlike, frightening, artful, sexy, and exciting all at the same time, just like Michael himself.

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Ghosts was even released at Cannes, and holds the Guinness World Record for “Longest Music Video.” If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a must-watch. If you have, you already know that nothing says Halloween more than a moonwalking, chest-pounding skeleton marching up the walls and calling up the undead dance army.

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Please also watch for a young Mos Def cowering in the corners. Also, I live for Michael in excessive prosthetics as the uptight ringleader of the angry mob. When that fat man starts grabbing his crotch, that’s when the spirit of the season really sets in for me. Really, all of these special affects will slay you. And need I get started on the ruffled shirt? So. Many. Ruffles.

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ANYWAY, without further ado, Ghosts. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Black Celebrity and The Price of Fame: Case Studies

BOOM, baby! I’m back from a travel hiatus and ready to bring you all the pop news that’s fit to type. Let a new era of this blog begin, where not every post somehow comes back to Breaking Bad. We can do this, TOGETHER!

Today, we should definitely talk about Kanye West’s recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. In case you missed it, Kanye and Jimmy had some well-publicized drama surrounding a recent sketch Jimmy aired, featuring a child actor as a bitchy, egotistical Kanye. King K took offense to the bit, which he perceived as a rich slice of subtle, insidious racism. Kanye thought Jimmy was infantilizing a powerful black artist; Jimmy thought he was making a funny by forcing a kid to say “Fuck.”

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Bias disclaimer: I loved Kanye and hated Jimmy before all of this went down, simply because Kanye uses his celebrity for good and Jimmy uses it for pure evil. Kanye doesn’t need to be liked, but he does demand respect – that’s why he took the mic away from Taylor Swift in 2009 to remind the world that white females so often usurp the spotlight from their black counterparts (Beyonce) in pop music. People villified him then without really examining his intent and seeing the painful, glaring truth behind his act. Jimmy would never dream of such a thing: he’s a talk show host, and he makes a career out of invading various media spaces where he feels like he has to represent the voice of the nerdy male masses. Case in point: his awkward guest appearance on the post-Breaking Bad finale show. GO AWAY. YOU DON’T EVEN GO TO THIS SCHOOL. Oh, fuck, I talked about Breaking Bad again. I’m sorry.

Anyway. Kanye disrupts the Matrix that Jimmy so, so loves. That’s never been more clear than in this interview. If you haven’t seen it yet, please watch; Kanye is absolutely brilliant, unapologetic, and so eloquent that he transcends the insipid laughing audience around him.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Kanye shares the Lady Gaga Artist Complex, which decrees that “if you build it, they will come.” You have the talent, the team, the power, the pain, and the drive. You are A Genius. Believe it, promote it, and the fans will come. The fame will come.

As a society, we crave an icon. It’s a sad fact that because Kanye West is a black man, he’s going to categorically face more opposition to his reign. In these interviews, he says a lot about self-esteem and what celebrities are allowed to feel and express in their position – how they are allowed to become human and not representation only at certain times, and how they are allowed only small windows to make certain mistakes only. And he speaks to this phenomenon of fame specifically as a black celebrity. It’s folly to think that Jimmy’s parody would have meant the same thing had he been satirizing Madonna or Eminem. There is baggage here, and it’s truly stunning to watch Kanye unpack it with such honesty. I commend him for stepping up like this and continuing to speak his piece. Ironically, I think that his loquacious rants about genius and godliness actually humanize him more, and give more of a face to the cruel psychological torture mechanism that fame can be. “Zoo animals,” indeed.

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Juxtaposed with this, I also wanted to bring up Donald Glover’s recent series of Instagrams, which are so touching and raw. He posted these over the weekend, sparking a ton of pop commentary that was mostly misguided. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, these look like a cry for attention. But here, too, is a much-needed look at what fame can do to an artist, particularly a black artist: how it affects his output and his very personhood.

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I think one of my Achilles’ heels is when famouses are real like this. A gesture like this reassures that not only are their problems very relatable, but they’re also amplified by the panopticon that is fame. The celebrity machine has such an interesting and sad cost, to all of us; our empathy for Donald’s pain is dulled by our religious fervor, our jealousy, our internalized racism. And his self-awareness has become blurry – from these notes, you can see a young man who’s scared he doesn’t even know himself anymore. Is he a man, or just a thing? A face? I find these words very poignant, and paired with what’s going on with Kanye, it brings the plight of the black celebrity to the forefront of my mind these days.

I’m not extremely familiar with Donald’s work on Community or as Childish Gambino, so I’d love some outside thoughts on this. And also on Kanye. What did you make of these notes? What’s your relationship with your favorite famouses like? Do you think race needs to be a bigger or a smaller part of this conversation?

The Beatles, Breaking Bad, and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pop

Back at liberal arts college, people were always telling me about “self-care.” Taking vanilla-scented baths and getting exercise and letting the sun shine on your face and whatnot. I dunno, are you supposed to do that stuff even if it’s not part of your normal happy routine? When does self-care become more annoying than depression itself? I’d rather feel shitty in bed than drag my ass to the yoga mat.

I’m currently engaged in a Herculean effort to bring myself back from the brink after watching my best friend die right in front of me (aka the Breaking Bad finale, for you laypeople).

I ran out of vanilla bath beads last NEVER, so I can’t do any of that normal inward-healing shit. I’ve just been consuming the hair of the dog: more media! Whenever I feel sad or bereft, I go back to the music and movies that have given me life since I was wee.

BB was a pretty serious blow, so I had to bring out the big guns. Four big guns. The cutest and most trusty guns I’ve ever known.

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I dunno, guys. Nobody GETS ME. I wish I had someone else to wax Beatles with, but I live alone on this beautiful and quaint little island. I mean, I know you like The Beatles and everything, but does a new day dawn on your heart when you hear them? Do their adorable antics cradle you in a bassinet of joy? Do you obsessively compare Paul and John’s different but equally arousing approaches to masculinity? Actually, I did hear a really good joke the other day that you might like. How’s sex with Paul McCartney? Your mother should know! BEATLES HUMOR. GET INTO IT.

When I am really far gone, I delve into The Innocent Era, 1965 and earlier. Usually it’s just repeated viewings of A Hard Day’s Night, which I shall now attempt to convince you is the most wonderful medicine for the sads.

For me, the music heals most of all. A Hard Day’s Night is a REALLY charming film (more on that later), and the soundtrack is just extraordinary. Although 1964 was the high point of their teen pop era, these songs can’t be discounted in the larger pantheon of Beatles genius. This soundtrack in particular has such an awesome capacity to lift me; the songs are perfect pop compositions, so clearly composed by youngsters. Their harmonies are simple and jaw-droppingly pretty. And performed by such delightful kids. One of my favorites:

You might be aware that I’ve been like, insanely obsessed with The Beatles since I’ve had ears, so of course these songs, and this film, have a very specific nostalgia factor for me. I watch A Hard Day’s Night when I want to remind myself of what it felt like to fall in love with art. I watch it when I’m devastated to lose one of my fictional touchstones (DAMN YOU, “Felina”) that help me so much on my road to self-discovery.

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You’ve got to keep your favorite things alive inside you. You’ve got to know what you like. To re-consume my favorite pop culture is to fall in love with humans, with the CRAZY fact that we’re on this planet and we get to make things. I remember being really bowled over by the fact that this music was real, and made me feel, and other people made of flesh and blood had made it, and I had the privilege to be alive and be able to hear it and be happy. What? No. I’m not on drugs. Are you on drugs? Quit that cynicism and dig my open soul here.

I used to watch A Hard Day’s Night with my middle school best friend, a girl who wasn’t afraid to try a fandom on the edge. We were twelve, so we liked a lot of weird things, and we had a bottomless capacity for fawning and flailing and general hysteria. We identified with those screaming chicks in the film. It just didn’t seem that strange to be so far gone with celebrity worship that you would heave your body over railings towards four boys in suits, and then go home to your special room padded with Beatles posters to drool and to dream.

At that time in my life, there was little shame in anything. I mean, I thought I was self-critical then, but MAN, pre-teen Leah doesn’t even compare to mid-20s Leah. Back then, I didn’t get into things because anyone said I was supposed to (and here’s an essay about that). I just loved what I loved. I was unafraid to tell others what I loved. It was just my best friend and I after school, gorging ourselves on culture and unwittingly molding our perspectives on the media all around us. There was no social media profile where I picked and chose which movies and television and music to publicly display allegiance for, so people would get “the right idea” about me. Back then, I didn’t even know it was an option for me to look cool, so I let it all hang out.

And I miss that, so much. That’s what The Beatles still do for me. They gently unzip my heart again, and let it all hang out. I don’t let anyone really see it anymore, but to see that it’s still there, still beating and still so weird, is enough for me.

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This is a clipping from a teen magazine in 1965 that I saved for ten years or more. It’s just one of those moments, frozen in time, that makes me smile. Because this is what it’s like to be a fan – to let something so small, so superficial, like pop music, give you pleasure as intense as you allow it to be.

As I stood in front of my favorite Beatle, the only thing I could think of was that his contact lenses looked like they hurt him. He smiled and stuck out his hand and without thinking, I rested my right arm on top of his left while we shook hands!

“John,” I said, “are your contacts bothering you?”

“No,” he answered. I got the distinct feeling that not too many people had asked that question.

Undaunted, I plunged on. “I have them too!” I confided.

He leaned closer and stared searchingly into my eyes. “Are yours bothering you?” he said with a straight face.

“No,” I stammered, and then we both laughed.

“They’re good, aren’t they?” John said seriously, and I could only nod, not trusting my voice. “But your eyes are prettier then mine,” John said, and to my dismay, unwanted tears rolled down my cheeks. “Hey,” John said with a slight laugh, “don’t cry or they’ll wash away!”

I smiled through my tears as I blurted, “John, you’re my favorite.”

He smiled warmly, gave my hand a final shake and said, “You’re my favorite.”

Perhaps the boys and their corresponding Beatlemania, the expansive cultural influence, have something to do with their status in my life as a soul-salve. It feels to nice to be part of something, doesn’t it? To love The Beatles means that I love something integral to the fabric of modern civilization. I might be a little on the extreme end of the spectrum, but you and I can agree that George Harrison plucked a wicked 12-string.

Did you see the tsunami of Breaking Bad wash across your newsfeeds and dashboards and real-life interactions? Even if you didn’t watch the show, or didn’t like it (whatever THAT means), it was certainly an exciting time. When pop culture ripples like that, it makes me feel so alive and so connected. And that feeling becomes doubly wonderful, dare I say spiritual, when I’ve got a real emotional stake in it. Thank goodness for storytelling in all its forms – thank goodness for creativity! We’re all creating dreams for one another. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you’re watching or making a show, a movie, or a song. You’re writing and painting my dreams. And I’ll accept that gift with open arms and I’ll never quit typing or tweeting or talking about it, because you deserve to know that it meant a lot to me.

Hmm. It kind of gives these shrieking girls a touch of nobility, no?

Forgive my effusiveness (that’s a fancy word for “crazy”). I’m feeling a lot. This post is how I cope. Not afraid to say it felt awesome to share.

Don’t be afraid to love what you love. There’s no shame in fandom, in any of its forms. “Guilty pleasure” is a term created by the cool kids, and honestly, you don’t wanna be them. They’re soulless and alone even when they’re with people. Let’s come together, right now. I bet you’ve got a few pop-culture coping mechanisms of your own. Feel free to leave me a comment and unzip ’em. I’ll be waiting for you in the vanilla steam of a Los Angeles bathtub.

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Björk and You and Me: A Love Story

“All is Full of Love”
Björk
1999

You’ll be given love / You’ll be taken care of
You’ll be given love / You have to trust it
Maybe not from the sources / You have poured yours
Maybe not from the directions / You are staring at

Her music gives me a lot of comfort. On good days, it’s beautiful; on bad days, it’s a beacon. Her voice really does stuff to me. Never restrained, never altered, never quite where you expect it to be. The way she approaches this song always chokes me up. Throat tight, melody soft and low, till she starts to believe that “all is full of love” and then her whole chest cavity opens up to that shocking roar. Amazing. More people need to get Björk in their lives. It really helps the journey.

This video is on permanent display at the MoMA, and I’m glad, because it’s true art. So visually stunning and emotive. Directed by robot lover Chris Cunningham and helmed by a sensitive android who finds love in herself (literally). It really supports the idea behind the song, that we all just “ain’t receiving” and our “phone is off the hook,” despite the fact that the human connections we seek lay waiting at every turn. “Love isn’t just about two persons. It’s everywhere around you,” said Björk when asked about writing the single. She is a big believer in the bursting potential of people and the unconventional ways in which we can nourish ourselves and each other. “The first unhappy song I wrote…was very hard for me. Usually I write all the time, but that was like nothing happened for months. Then the song came out. I was ashamed writing a song that was not giving hope.”

I return often to her when I seek authenticity. Sometimes I get tired of the vast distance between me and the artists I love, and Björk kind of makes you feel like there’s no machine warping the art and delivering it to you as a product. She often just performs like she’s in a bedroom or a shower or a canyon where it’s just fun to hear the echo of your screams.

If you liked the above, also definitely watch this overwhelming live performance from a few years ago. She launches the note at 2:30, and the stadium goes all a-shudder with those involuntary chills. If I saw her live, I’d cry. For sure. The feelings are deep and many. And I’m really fucking thankful that there’s someone out there with no fear to express them all.

14 David Bowie Quotes You Should Probably Read Today

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1
There was a distinct feeling that nothing was true anymore, and that the future was not as clear-cut as it had seemed. Nor, for that matter, was the past. Therefore, everything was up for grabs. If we needed any truths we could construct them ourselves. The main platform would be, other than shoes, “We are the future, now.”

2
Speak in extremes, it’ll save you time.

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3
I think people have a real need for some spiritual life and I think there’s great spiritual starving going on. There’s a hole that’s been vacated by an authoritative religious body – the Judaeo-Christian ethic doesn’t seem to embrace all the things that people actually need to have dealt with in that way – and it’s sort of been left to popular culture to soak up the leftover bits like violence and sex.

4
I’m an instant star. Just add water and stir.

5
It amazes me sometimes that even intelligent people will analyze a situation or make a judgement after only recognizing the standard or traditional structure of a piece.

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6
It’s odd but even when I was a kid, I would write about “old and other times” as though I had a lot of years behind me. Now I do, so there is a difference in the weight of memory. When you’re young, you’re still “becoming”, now at my age I am more concerned with “being”. And not too long from now I’ll be driven by “surviving”, I’m sure. I kind of miss that “becoming” stage, as most times you really don’t know what’s around the corner. Now, of course, I’ve kind of knocked on the door and heard a muffled answer. Nevertheless, I still don’t know what the voice is saying, or even what language it’s in.

7
Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have.

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8
I’m in awe of the universe, but I don’t necessarily believe there’s an intelligence or agent behind it. I do have a passion for the visual in religious rituals, though, even though they may be completely empty and bereft of substance. The incense is powerful and provocative, whether Buddhist or Catholic.

9
On the other hand, what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me. Not the demons, you understand, but the ghosts.

10
I’m out all the time to entertain, not just to get upon a stage and knock out a few songs. I couldn’t live with myself if I did that. I’m the last person to pretend that I’m a radio. I’d rather go out and be a color television set.

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11
I’m always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don’t even take what I am seriously.

12
I think Mick Jagger would be astounded and amazed if he realized that to many people he is not a sex symbol, but a mother image.

13
I don’t have stylistic loyalty. That’s why people perceive me changing all the time. But there is a real continuity in my subject matter. As an artist of artifice, I do believe I have more integrity than any one of my contemporaries.

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14
Interviewer: Do you practice a form of worship?
David Bowie: Life. I love life very much indeed.

Replay: 808s and Heartbreaks


Am currently trapped in the throes of a serious 808s & Heartbreaks addiction. I mean, it’s not Kanye’s BEST, but it’s far from the worst. There are a couple of songs on here that for the LIFE of me I can’t quit. They include “Paranoid” (if you haven’t seen the creepy video featuring a silent Rihanna, get thee hence!) and this here passive-aggressive anthem, “RoboCop.”

Main reason I like this album? A creative and unabashed use of AutoTune, which I think enhances Kanye’s vision for the record as a collection of detached, sad android hymns. Released after the death of his mother, 808s doesn’t feature overt references to his loss, but is tinged with an unmistakeable sense of nihilism. The prominent single, “Love Lockdown,” is all driving doomy beats. You remember that video, too? People did not get it. Not like I actually got it or anything, but it was obvious to us all that Kanye was working through some issues.

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Anyway, “RoboCop” is in many ways the happiest track on 808s. Set in a major key, buoyed by a furiously high string section, and sung with a smile in his voice. But it’s a seriously bitter song. My fave part is his catty bit at the end: “Oh you’re kidding me / Haha that was a good one / Your first good one in awhile / You need to stop it now.” He’s eviscerating some high-maintenance girl who asks him too many questions. Like “Paranoid” and most of the other tracks on the album, “RoboCop” is pretty much about how Kanye wants to be left the fuck alone by stupid bitches. Give it a try – if not for the experimental musicianship, then for the delicious xuntiness. Whole album is worth a revisit. I see you, 2008!

Kill Your Idols: Lady Gaga’s Final Round of “Applause”

I sincerely apologize for the astronomical length of time that’s passed between the VMAs and this blog post (3 days)! It’s just that Breaking Bad is also on Sundays and I had to go to work and then it was Monday, and then Tuesday…whatever. Tardy to the party.

I pointedly refuse to address Miley’s moment, because my analysis will bear no new fruits. It was terrible in so many ways. You’re all smart people, you know racism and internalized mysogyny when you see it, right? You don’t need to see the word “twerk” again in print, do you?

Instead, here’s some words on my fave moment, because I think it deserves a little sweet love from my fangirly fingers. Witness the Lady:

Color me disappointed, but not surprised, that Gaga’s performance of “Applause” was met with a lukewarm reception. People were meh on the staging because it wasn’t up to her usual standards of insane, and they were meh on the fact that she even appeared. I hate to say it, but Gaga’s zeitgeist is nearing its end, fading gently into the warm embrace of the 2000s. Perhaps the viewers expected more of a shocking swan song after last year’s provocative performance of the best thing she ever wrote.

If it wasn’t obvious before, let me state definitively for the record that I’m a big Lady Gaga fan. I admire the cultural work that she’s doing from the precarious ledge of a pop star. She’s a gifted songwriter, producer, storyteller, and performer. She knows Americana inside and out, and she actively critiques it through her art. The thing I love most about Gaga is that she TRIES, she ASPIRES. She may not always get it right, but she is unafraid to disgust people or lose favor. She believes the iconic and/or the transcendent is possible in pop, following in the great tradition of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. I think her career would last longer if she was male. I think she knows this.

I respect that she sticks to it when she enters a new phase of her career. The new album, ARTPOP, may be terrible, and this song “Applause” may also be terrible (it is), but I’m digging the meta-ness of her new identity. This time around, Gaga Is Art. She chooses to reveal herself as a changeable construction. I think that many viewers missed the nuance of this performance, like her visual shoutout to The Birth of Venus:

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Note to female pop stars and females in general – THIS IS A BODY! I’m so hungry for all the meaty feminist living flesh hanging off this bitch!

And then there was her rapid transformation – five onstage costume changes to make clear that the persona of Gaga is ever-changing, ever-derivative, like the culture she lives and thrives on. In case you didn’t get it the first time around, during the “Telephone” era, Gaga reminds us that Warhol Matters:

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And then there’s the actual song itself. “Applause,” like I said, is really not great when you stack it up against her far superior stripped-down-dance hits like “Alejandro” or even “Judas.” The melody is super weak, as is the beat. But I found that it grew on me when I actually watched her perform it. I kind of got that the song is about the utter desperation that drives our icons, and the constant switching-up and face-clawing that becomes necessary to stay on top. It’s also about how celebrity is contingent on the fans, and that a star can’t measure their worth by box offices or concert attendance, but by how loud their audience screams and how long they clap. For now, Gaga is interested more in occupying the space of a star, and reminding all of us that we’re basically religiously beholden to a cycle of building/destroying false idols. And YOU thought it was just a show! For shame, little monsters!

As Lord Gaga’s time on earth comes to an end, I find myself saddened. Why did she have to die so soon? Who will take her place? I guess only history will tell if Stefanie Germanotta managed to achieve immortality. I really hope so. Not because I think she’s perfect, but because I badly want a female to ascend to pop legend – not selling sex, but truth and humanity like the dudes are allowed to sell. Side-eye, Madonna.

What did you think of Gaga’s performance? Toss me some brainjuice in the comments.