We Were All Rooting for You: The Gorgeous Grotesque in ANTM

Tyra Mail! It says…

If a model falls on an abandoned runway in the middle of an empty stage, does she make a sound? And when Tyra Banks falls while no one’s watching, does she just slip quietly into unsmizing nothingness?

America’s Next Top Model has been canceled after 12 years and 22 seasons, and it’s really okay that you do not care. If you do feel something, like I do, it’s probably just the sad sensation of time passing and culture changing. Just as the end of American Idol made barely a pop culture ripple (despite its massive impact on the TV landscape), ANTM probably won’t be recognized as a watershed program with a long-legged legacy. For my money, it deeply altered the possibilities of the reality genre – and, at its accidental best, was an incisive magnum opus of female psychology. Tyra the Creator knew she’d birthed something amazing in Top Model, and over the next few years she methodically destroyed it.

So let’s take a moment for America’s Next Top Model…a love-hate letter to beauty, with a singular viciousness and vision.

There’s really two stories being told during every episode of ANTM: the petty day-to-day existences of the model-contestants and the larger godlike arc of Tyra Banks herself. As a transcendently perfect but savvily commercial supermodel, Tyra was perfectly poised in 2003 to launch a show like Top Model. As creator and curator, she brought industry cachet and as host, she brought built-in ratings and popularity. To watch ANTM‘s first cycle – Tyra’s known for compulsive branding-by-renaming, so her “seasons” are “cycles” – is to watch a fascinating exercise in first-time showrunning. Everything about ANTM 1, from production to casting to editing, showcases Tyra’s charming self-empowerment and zeal. There’s a sweet earnestness, an openminded experimentalism, to cycle 1; mundane moments like the girls’ first bikini waxes, cigarette breaks, a judging chamber that’s clearly a hotel conference room. Tyra imbues her presence with a self-conscious approachability, showing up at the tiny models’ hovel for dinner in a velour sweatsuit. No one seems to have expectations about being on a reality show. The girls are incredibly diverse: Adrienne is a rough white-trash urchin, Robyn is a conservative Christian caught between skinny and plus-size, Elyse is the elegant smart-ass who is allowed to actively bash the idiocy of modeling on-camera (and remain a front-runner till the end!). The judges have real credentials, and painfully differing opinions (I miss you, Janice Dickinson). It all seems possible in Cycle 1. Legitimacy and enduring fame seem very real. We see all the ugly boring parts of beautiful, these glimpses of the modeling experience (and the female experience) that we never see again after the flagship cycle.

However, most of the hallmarks that make Cycle 1 truly compelling continue to exist and morph over the next few cycles. Fans and detractors alike can’t deny that Tyra had an eye, even early on, for world-building. She parlayed her skill sets in modeling and public performance into an expanding vocabulary for fans (and the media): “smizing,” “tooch,” “H2T.” Tyra’s ANTM is an auteur’s funhouse, a paradise of sirens, a place where the beauty industry finds transcendence beyond its boundaries. Big girls, strange girls, dark girls, they all stand a chance. In the beginning seasons, she had a savvy eye for casting girls who echoed her physically and in personality, and these girls were consistently rewarded (look no further than Cycle 4’s supremely bland Felicia, who lasted four episodes too long). These ideal contestants became disembodied walking signifiers of Tyra herself, scattered amongst the latest crop, reinforcing her omnipotent and omniscient presence as the Author-God of the ANTM universe. She hooked us in with a phenomenally clever and suggestive tagline: “You wanna be on top?” And as dystopian and weird as Top Model gets, its first few cycles are bursting with startlingly astute observations about what happens to women when they’re isolated from the male gaze but haunted by it, devoted to it. Every single episode has the same naming convention: “The Girl Who…” The Girl Who Cheats. The Girl Who Everyone Thinks is Killing Herself. The Girl Who is a Visual Orgasm. It’s an unabashed commentary on culture, and meta-commentary on reality culture. Each cycle becomes more and more claustrophobic, even as the contestants’ living quarters are upgraded to sprawling estates that the Cycle 1 wretches could never have dreamed of. Every successive cycle shines a burning spotlight on a tightly monitored, hermetically sealed powderkeg of women – and we, as the audience, quickly got that the goal wasn’t really to be the best, the most beautiful, the most superhuman. The goal was survival.

And in Tyra’s dogged pursuit of her own legend, her own legacy, she stumbled on the show’s most iconic moment, what I would argue is its beating heart and the key to its twisted vision of womanhood. Sandwiched in between the naturalistic early cycles and the bloated, vapid later cycles is Cycle 4. Tiffany.

Tyra’s epic freakout on the hapless Tiffany Richardson is by far the most-quoted clip of ANTM, and it elevated the show out of its creative niche into mass reality entertainment. On the surface, it’s basically just a host berating a participant for not taking the competition seriously enough. Beyond the scene’s histrionic trash-TV value, however, it also exposed Tyra’s endgame all at once, in a shocking reveal of her pathetic vulnerability and maniacal control of not only the Top Model project, but her own narrative. Tyra’s speech is absolutely littered with the charred remains of a real female human being. It’s a coded story about the way the beauty industry’s been Dementoring her since her childhood. “When my mother yells like this, it’s because she loves me,” Tyra spits, hitting a hysterical sound outside pitch on the word “love.” “When you go to bed at night and you lay there, you take responsibility for yourself, ’cause nobody’s gonna take responsibility for you.” How many beds do you think Tyra Banks laid in all by herself, surrounded by identical beds filled with identical women vying for her life? “You have no idea where I come from,” she tells Tiffany, apropos of nothing. “You have no idea what I’ve been through.” Perhaps most telling is the indelible phrase “We were rooting for you, we were ALL rooting for you! How dare you?” The amount of context contained in that vitriolic indictment is incredible. Every woman is rooting for you even when she hates you, even when she’s against you, Tiffany. You owe HER your successes and your failures, even when you’re selling your face and your body to men. LEARN something from this!

In taking this tack, I obviously am showing my hand a little. I think Tyra Banks is a sympathetic figure, but also an absolute psychopath. The vision she built with ANTM is a danger to society – but in both the straightforward anti-feminist way AND the subversive-to-patriarchy way. Sometimes it’s hard to want the misery that these women want; sometimes we want to kill them for wanting it. ANTM certainly does encourage us to hate beautiful, ambitious women, to despise their delusions of grandeur and gaze-greediness. I could write a whole separate blog post on Jade Cole, who is hands-down the most interesting contestant in ANTM history. She’s a reality addict’s dream and was definitely Tyra’s nightmare, as she expertly (and self-reflexively) played to camera and became Cycle 6’s breakout star, the emblem of all that was insane about model ego and and ANTM specifically. “This is not America’s Next Top Best Friend,” crowed Jade, framing the decorative wall letters “A N T M” with her hands. She was right; she just didn’t know yet that those letters stood for “America’s Next Top Meme.”

I would argue that Cycles 1-8 are the meat of Top Model, the oevre we’re really talking about when we dissect the importance of this show. Because Tyra is the auteur and Tyra is insane, the show slowly but surely begins to crumble after the mild but still accessible wackiness of Cycle 8 (whose standouts included the heavily-accented first Latina winner Jaslene and the mail-order bride Natasha). The winner of Cycle 9 was rumored to be pre-fixed by Tyra. Contestants were forced to film “viral videos,” which anyone familiar with the internet knows is a comically absurd proposition. The judges were cycled in and out at a rapid pace until Tyra had assembled a panel of sycophants – empty and under-qualified personalities, most of them not even of the fashion world (i.e. the universally despised “PR Maven” Kelly Cutrone). By the time the first “gimmick” cycle – 17, the All-Star season – rolled around, ANTM was not ANTM anymore. It was Top Model only in name, and that dream was a farce, evidenced by the complete professional invisibility of almost every past winner. The death gong tolled around Cycle 18, the first cycle to pit teams against one another (British and American) and Cycle 21’s inclusion of male models was simply a phallic stab into ANTM‘s long-cold corpse.

The full lifespan of great TV is really quite poignant: when a show becomes successful, it’s immediately pumped full of creative and stylistic hormones that overstrain its heart. Then when it experiences brain-death, it’s kept on life support. And when it finally dies, almost no one comes to the funeral. They’re at a party with the show’s hot younger siblings. That’s the story of America’s Next Top Model. And even if ANTM‘s demise as a show isn’t unique, its legacy is.

Never before did we get to watch such a vivid portrait of mean. Never before did we get so close to the bleeding scalps and swollen toes of America’s most beautiful women, or see them cry and routinely be crushed despite their model faces, their model smiles. Never did we get front-row tickets to dozens of closed rooms like this, studies in female group dynamics engineered by one of its seminal victims, a mastermind who both kept us at arms-length and desperately tried everything she could to hold our attention. America’s Next Top Model is over forever, but we all still wanna be on top.

2014 Emmy Awards: Picks, Predictions, and Prayers

emmys_collage_article_story_large

 

It’s that time of year again: the Television Solstice, the Night that is Not Like All Other Nights, the Great Reckoning of the Small Screen. The Emmys! And even though Seth Meyers is hosting this year (snoozy mcsnoozerson), the crop of nominees is varied and fascinating. We’re going to have some very close races tonight, particularly in the dramatic categories. I’m very much looking forward to sobbing during Billy Crystal’s tribute to Robin Williams. And because this is my favorite awards show, bar none, I humbly offer my predictions and my hopes below. Enjoy these sweet glistening innards of my TV-addled brain.

Because I am not thorough, I’ve excluded the throwaway categories like Outstanding Reality Program, Children’s Program, etc, as well as Guest Actors and Actresses because they’re usually such wild cards. Same goes for the writing and directing categories, the analysis of which would have tortured me to no end.

Let’s have at it.

Outstanding Comedy Series

The Big Bang Theory
Louie
Modern Family
Orange Is the New Black
Silicon Valley
Veep

I pick:
Orange. This season was vastly superior to Season 1, with more nuanced performances, better writing, and far more cultural resonance. I waffled a little bit, because I have loved Louie very deeply and for so long, but OITNB is just a solid piece that finds the black notes in the waves and quells of its humor. And its cast is just so talented.

They’ll pick:
Veep. Maybe. They could also go for OITNB, but the problem is that it’s a younger-skewing show and Veep has been performing stronger than ever. It’s a voter favorite thanks to its comedy pedigree (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, et al) and its sharp feminist bent. Just anything except Modern Family. Stop it. Please.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Ricky Gervais, Derek
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Louis C.K., Louie
William H. Macy, Shameless

I pick:
Louie C.K. He had a phenomenal season and he really got to stretch his range, especially in his submitted episode – the jaggedly comic “Model.” Louie is going alternately to really dark and really hysterical places on his show, and although he’s up against a lot of talent, he has really proven himself as an actor.

They’ll pick:
Louie C.K. The category got kind of weird because Shameless suddenly became a comedy and not a drama, and I’m sure everyone who’s up against Bill Macy is peeing themselves. But none of these other guys have challenged themselves in these roles – least of all Ricky Gervais, whose Derek has got to put a bad taste in the voters’ mouths.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis Dreyfus, Veep
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black

I pick:
Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ve watched the reviews roll in on this season of Veep and JLD has apparently been knocking it out of the park. It’s kind of cheap to pick someone based on my Tumblr dashboard, but who else in this category really deserves the win? Not Lena – weirdly, she submitted “Beach House,” which was not a great showcase episode – and not Amy Poehler, who still hasn’t won for Parks & Rec but didn’t have a stellar season.

They’ll pick:
Julia Louis-Dreyfus. They also might pick Taylor Schilling, whose performance as Piper was much more palatable this season. But JLD is tried and true, and Veep is at the zenith of its quality. She’s the safe winner.

Oustanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Andre Braugher, Brookiyn Nine-Nine
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Fred Armisen, Portlandia
Tony Hale, Veep

I pick:
Tony Hale. Because his little alien face does half the work and he is a delightful little crumpet who gives Veep its heart. But I’d also be cool with Andre Braugher winning, because he’s currently giving a fascinating comedic performance by not being funny at all. Side note, I am super happy for Adam Driver just for being nominated, because although he’s still developing as an actor, he has a core of charm and honesty that can’t be taught.

They’ll pick:
Tony Hale. But I don’t trust these Emmy yahoos; if they pick a Modern Family cast member I am going to seppuku. If they come to their senses and realize the Modern era is over, I’m pretty sure they’ll go with Hale, who has a good amount of critical heat behind him for this role.

Oustanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

I pick:
Kate Mulgrew. This is a very low-key group, and Mulgrew as prison puppeteer Red is the standout choice. She’s created the most iconic character amongst these nominees, and I think voters are pretty much over Anna Chlumsky and Mayim Bialik at this point. Mulgrew really holds OITNB together and has had some heartbreaking moments this season.

They’ll pick:
Allison Janney. I don’t watch Mom, but there’s been so much hype surrounding it. It’s my understanding that Janney plays straight drama in a funny show, which is usually an ironclad zeppelin to that great trophy in the sky. And I would never begrudge Janney any award, ever. Her bug eyes deserve their day.

Oustanding Drama Series

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

I pick:
Breaking Bad. You already know why.

They’ll pick:
Breaking Bad. Not only did none of these competitors have near-perfect seasons, they also didn’t have half the cultural and artistic impact of BB. It’s a no-brainer and I’ll be thrilled to see this show go out in a blaze of glory.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex
Claire Danes, Homeland
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

I pick:
Lizzy Caplan. But just by a nose. This is not a strongly populated category. ARE YOU PEOPLE STILL NOMINATING KERRY WASHINGTON FOR ACTING AWARDS? Robin Wright did not submit her best episode of the season, and voters have really soured on Homeland. But Caplan still faithfully performs as sphinxy, minxy Virginia.

They’ll pick:
Robin Wright. The voters will probably be thinking about her performance throughout HoC and not necessarily the finale, and she’s up against weakly publicized contenders. I’m not sure they’ll laud a sexy (relative) newcomer like Caplan.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

I pick:
Matthew McConaughey. Hear me out! Cranston was absolutely blistering in the final eight BB episodes (particularly “Ozymandias”) and I would clearly be totes fine with him carrying away his fourth emmy for his swan song as Walter White. But I think McConaughey’s work in True Detective was so raw, so tremendously human, and so bravely un-McConaughey that he should be recognized for it. TD was not my favorite show, but Mr. Bongos absolutely blew me away.

They’ll pick:
Matthew McConaughey. Not because the voters defer to me or anything like that. But they know that Matty doesn’t make it to the small screen that often, and BB will surely be decorated in many other ways. Although it’s his last chance for BB, Cranston will surely be up on the Emmy stage again.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

I pick:
Aaron Paul. Where I was cool with taking a Cranston break, I am absolutely UNCOOL with this award missing Paul. He brought everything to Jesse Pinkman this season. It’s truly rare to see acting like that, progressively more painful and wild and furious and tender and broken, mounting episode after episode. He turned himself inside out for that role. Period. That said, it still makes me speechless with shock that Dean Norris wasn’t even nominated in this category.

They’ll pick:
Aaron Paul. I think his only real competition in the category is Peter Dinklage, and although he really brought the passion as Tyrion in GoT, he just didn’t have the same level of material as Paul to work with. I doubt the voters would even touch Jon Voight or Jim Carter, or even Mandy Patinkin. Josh Charles is also a contender, but quite far in the distance.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey

I pick:
Anna Gunn. This is actually an amazing swathe of powerful female performances, but Gunn’s submitted episode, “Ozymandias,” is just head and shoulders above everyone else in the category. Like many BB fans, I didn’t care deeply for Skyler until these final eight episodes, but Gunn really slammed it home and found new depths in her character. The shot of her collapsing to her knees, hoarsely sobbing, as Walt drives away, is indelible. My adoration for Christina Hendricks and Lena Headey aside, this award belongs to Gunn.

They’ll pick:
Anna Gunn. I just don’t think anything else is possible. There’s not enough heat behind Hendricks or Christine Baranski, the two other nominees who really acted their asses off, and Gunn had so much more to work with writing-wise. It’s a lock.

Outstanding Miniseries

American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
Fargo
Luther
Treme
The White Queen

I pick:
Fargo. The fact that True Detective was (inexplicably) excluded from this category was actually a stroke of good luck for this little show that could. Nevermind the fact that these other nominees don’t hold a candle to this tight, thrilling series – Fargo stands alone as a fantastic experiment in the TV medium. It perfectly evoked Coen Brothers dark, scampy charm in episodes, which I don’t think any of us thought was possible. It was gorgeously executed and original.

They’ll pick:
Fargo. Its quality notwithstanding, it’s got a “one of these is not like the others” vibe that will work to its advantage. The confluence of its achievements in writing, directing, cinematography, and acting cannot be ignored.

Outstanding Television Movie

Killing Kennedy
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip to Bountiful

I pick:
The Normal Heart. It was a lot less sappy and awards-grabby than I assumed it would be, and the acting ranged from very good to breathtaking. It also has miles and miles of publicity behind it. His Last Vow was a weird pick for Sherlock, episode-wise. They really should have submitted The Reichenbach Fall last year, if anything.

They’ll pick:
The Normal Heart. For its social resonance, mostly, and also for its film-star power cast, rare to see on television.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon
Cicely Tyson, The Trip Bountiful

I pick:
Jessica Lange. To be transparent, I have seen none of these programs save AHS: Coven, but her work on it was top-notch as usual, as if she was in a completely different show that was good. She was vulnerable and self-immolating and I never took my eyes off her.

They’ll pick:
Jessica Lange. Again, maybe they know something I don’t about Minnie Driver or Cicely Tyson, but the voters love Lange and she’s the only name I’ve really seen bounced around on the internet in this category.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo
Idris Elba, Luther
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: His Last Vow

I pick:
Martin Freeman. God, this category is delicious for me. As a huge Sherlock fangirl, it’s fun to see Cumberbatch pitted against Freeman – and although Cumby gave an at-times incandescent performance in His Last Vow, it’s a nomination that comes too little too late.It mostly sucks that this episode was lumped into the miniseries category, otherwise he might have stood a fighting chance. But Freeman’s performance is so tortured, so delicately layered, that I can’t imagine this victory going to anyone else.

They’ll pick:
Martin Freeman. But I also would not be surprised if they went with Mark Ruffalo, who is a fan favorite and really transformed emotionally for his role. Billy Bob didn’t do much “acting” on Fargo, for all his sinister charisma, and I think the voters will reward a small-timer like Freeman for catapulting the show into higher and higher quality.

Oustanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie

Colin Hanks, Fargo
Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman, Sherlock: His Last Vow

I pick:
Jim Parsons. I thought he was absolutely lovely and fascinating in The Normal Heart, as opposed to his THREE (!) fellow nominees. Matt Bomer was great at dying, but offered nothing surprising in his portrayal. I’m not exactly sure why Martin Freeman was nominated for His Last Vow, because it’s one of Watson’s most understated episodes, but of course I’d be chuffed to see him win anyway.

They’ll pick:
Jim Parsons. If he doesn’t win for The Big Bang Theory, he will surely win in this category, simply because the voters are smitten with him.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic
Frances Conroy, American Horror Story: Coven
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart
Allison Tolman, Fargo

I pick:
Allison Tolman. I don’t know, I just want to see her win! She was quite affecting on Fargo and virtually unknown before it, and I think it would be sweet to reward an up-and-comer. Everyone else is old hat. Angela Basset was excellent, but mostly just gif-worthy.

They’ll pick:
Julia Roberts. Because they’re boring and they love wheelchairs.

~~~

And there you have it! As a bonus, check out this awesome infographic of all things Emmy from Emmys.com, start to finish:

how-an-emmy-is-won-2014-843x7710

Watch to Heal

It’s been a tough week so far. I like to care for myself by giving my brain comfort food: favorite movies, music, etc. But it’s hard to do that when you realize that loneliness and despair touches everyone, especially those you turn to for laughter.

I wanted to share one of my favorite things to watch when I’m really sad. Maybe you can relate to the healing power of a grilled cheese sandwich, and a TV character that feels like an old friend.

There’s an inner world we all have where there’s only the joyful, and familiar. Whatever is hurting your heart, remember that your happy place is indestructible.

The 15 Best-Ever Movie Opening Scenes

The first moments of a film are meant to amuse your bouche. Maybe you’re thrust into a time or a place, or you meet your hero, or maybe you’re completely mystified at what you’re looking at. But you get a feeling. You’re a helpless baby animal when the lights go dark and a movie begins. You will imprint on the first thing you see. The opening sequence is your mom.

Because we’re knee-deep in the doldrums of summer, it seemed like a great time for a Top Something List. So I’d like to throw my #1 Opening Sequences Of All Time out there. Many of these I wouldn’t even call my favorite movies. But in my opinion, they have the best Act 1, Scene 1s ever. Comment if I missed your faves. Except if it’s 2001:A Space Odyssey, because that’s très played out, friend.

1. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Tim Burton’s directing debut is so oft overlooked. This Rube-Goldberg-esque opener sets the tone for a seriously odd and delightful movie full of indelible imagery. The carrot-sniffing slippers…the taped-up face…the giant bowl of Mr. T cereal. It is the morning routine of champions, before Pee Wee has even left the comfort of his tricked-out pop-culture subsconscious-trauma carnival of a home.

2. Do the Right Thing (1989)

I love this sequence, because its simplicity belies the deep tensions that Spike Lee’s masterpiece is about to explore. Rosie Perez’ furious dance moves + Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” bring exuberant life to a cityscape lit in blood red. There’s such anger and joy in these shots. It’s fun and hypnotic and powerful and real, like the rest of this devastating movie.

3. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Gorgeous animation with a touch of Bond film and film noir. It’s so perfectly paired with the score, and sets a stage of light and shadow for a whimsical movie with surprising emotional heft at its center. I also think this sequence is an important precedent for the badass opener in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). Hard to choose between the two, because KKBB is one of my top films ever, but CMIYC came first.

4. Being John Malkovich (1999)

This movie is really fucked up and sad, especially during its high points of existential hilarity. When it’s not any of those things, it’s just insanely confusing. A Charlie Kaufman trademark. This first scene is appropriately emotionally detached. A puppet (molded in the image of its master, John Cusack) has an existential crisis and spins out of control. You will not feel okay when you watch it.

5. Amelie (2001)

Not my taste as a movie in its entirety, but these first carefully-shot, tender scenes give me the well-ups every time. There is a prosaic and muted beauty in every small life; everything is connected by the endless human capacity for love. You can feel it in the simple narration, saturated color, and whimsical cuts between city streets and wiggling sperm cells. Don’t get me started on that adorable sad old man and his address book.

6. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

YEAH I DID. From the first plaintive ancient wailings of a horn, to the rising choral plea of ten thousand slaves, PoE‘s first minutes astound with audacious artistry. “Deliver Us” pulls no punches and leaves you breathless with the power of animated storytelling, enhanced especially by Ofra Haza’s soaring vocal. Extra points for covering, like, hundreds of Torah pages in 7 minutes.

7. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Hesitated between the genius opening credits and the actual first scene. So take both. This is probably the best use of subtitles in the history of the visual medium and I have never gotten through them without chortling. Then of course, there’s the iconic discussion of tropical birds and their migratory patterns. “A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.”

8. Blue Velvet (1986)

Whenever I talk about David Lynch I get those fangirl claw hands, because he’s a master at blending two of my favorite aesthetics, Americana and the abject. Suburbia, affluence, cultural conditioning, women bearing apple pies and men mowing lawns – he shows you how intoxicating our own artifice can be. And then suddenly…horrible death. The camera dives underneath the fresh-cut grass and assaults your eyes and ears with a mass of snakes. It’s all about the nasty, beautiful, sensual things that lie beneath.

9. Gattaca(1997)

It’s almost a ballet. You watch strange jagged forms falling through space as Michael Nyman’s score swells nobly…and eventually you realize you’re seeing hairs and skin. The building blocks of our bodies are so specific, so precious but so easily discarded. Plus, a cool easter egg – the letters of the genome sequence, A C T G, are specially highlighted in the credits.

10. The Shining (1980)

Goddamn it, Stanley. This is probably the least frightening part of the movie and it’s still terribly disquieting. Kubie’s camera swoops in and out of a beautiful but deserted mountainscape, following the slow path of a tiny car filled with tiny doomed people. It’s like National Geographic gone wrong. The off-putting bright blue titles move counter to our visual expectation (they drift to the top of the screen, too fast), and the shrieky violins frazzle your nerves from the get-go. Highway to hell.

11. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

And then there’s the most joyful opening ever, beginning with one iconic chord. My Beatles fandom notwithstanding, this is a perfectly paced two-and-a-half minutes of youth serum. The cacophany of a thousand young girls, four sweet faces and four black suits, slapstick visual gags (Paul in that phone booth gets me every time) and a madcap chase. Just yay.

12. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Christoph Waltz’s playful Nazi, Hans Landa, is the soul of Inglourious Basterds. This first scene gives you all the colors of this character, from his official “law and order” persona, to his childlike mischief, to his cold dead heart. The iconic final line, “Au revoir, Shoshanna!” is bone-chilling. Waltz hooks you into the entire film with this performance.

13. Monsters Inc (2001)

In my opinion, this is Pixar’s best film to date. It’s not only built on a fucking inspired idea, but it’s built soundly – the storytelling is solid from start to finish. I love this first scene, the “scare simulation” – the surprise of the robot child is just genius, and the entire monster world is set up for the benefit of the audience in a smooth, funny flow. I also had to include the opening titles themselves, because they are gorgeous and so stunningly animated. This was made in 2001! It’s boggling!

14. Dazed and Confused (1993)

I can never listen to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” without seeing that burnt orange 1970 Pontiac GTO rounding the parking lot. The short cuts of high school life in the ’70s are quite beautifully shot as we meet our cast, weird-looking and young and cool. Just hanging out. Just being. But it’s the car that sticks with me, turning in slow motion like some hazy mirage. It looks like a memory your dad probably had. So righteous.

15. Contact (1997)

This is how to kick off a film about humans, aliens, and the basic EVERYTHING of existence. There’s a great moment when you see this opening, when it clicks that the audio is moving backwards in time, and the sound starts to grow softer as our majestic planet withdraws into blackness. This is the detritus of all our lives – an invisible coccoon of words and music and lives. An epic beginning to one of the true great sci-fi epic films.

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.

Lady-Gaga-Aura-Final-version

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.

tumblr_ms3tseqsXZ1r46jh6o1_500

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.

tumblr_mu9ep8aRmB1rn1oj5o1_500

“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?”

rs_560x315-130819100428-applause9

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.

gaga4 gaga3

“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:

gaga_sex_pushup

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.

tumblr_mv3c6vv9CF1sljb1io1_500

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.

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.”

Kanye_West_Jimmy_Kimmel_Live_interview.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

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.

Donald-Glover-6171

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.

77823_600 78029_600 78280_600 78360_600 78828_600 78858_600

 

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.

tumblr_lksjsrJnZ81qd2zwqo1_500

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.

tumblr_lnzdk7SmeE1qz6f9yo1_500

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.

tumblr_lqz8i1a2dH1qd2zwqo1_500

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 3.25.31 PM

14 David Bowie Quotes You Should Probably Read Today

i-believe-i-might-be-of-service-david-bowie

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.

tumblr_mpeqv6Tryo1rffxo0o8_250

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.

tumblr_mnijyimWJc1rj2fuyo1_500

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.

bowie_bitchface

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.

tumblr_mr8beecmaG1rtpoqbo1_500

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.

tumblr_mq4ocrALYy1snjr84o3_500

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

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:

gaga

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:

gagawig

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.

The Special Puns Unit: These Are Their Stories

This post doesn’t need an introduction. Just imagine you’re in a development meeting at USA Network.

Him: my best friend
Her: my roommate
Me: me

~~~

Him:  hows this pitch: a gritty crime drama about an epileptic detective
search & seizure

Me:  i see your pitch and i raise you:
emotionally unavailable new york prosecutor finds only one person who was present at a brutal murder. the problem? she’s gorgeous. and she’s blind. and she might be exactly what he’s looking for.
Leading the Witness
Him: also Blind Justice

Him:  a revenge-style drama about a cunning new ADA who secretly teams up with dangerous ex-convicts to bring down the corrupt coven of lawyers who tore apart his family
each episode culminates in a dramatic, vengeful courtroom showdown
In Contempt

Him: a high-powered lawyer is brutally raped by recently released con she jailed a decade ago
though she’s a modern woman, her public stance on abortion forces her to carry the fetus to term
she vows she’ll find the proof to convict her tormentor, &, come hell or high water, she’ll have her day in court
only one problem: she’s only got 9 months to put all the pieces together
coming this fall: Due Process

Me: bright-eyed, bushy tailed Miranda Spencer, recent graduate of Yale law and the first black gay female editor of their law review, ends up breaking up with her longtime girlfriend the night of graduation
depressed, she decides to leave New Haven for rural Iowa and is hired as an associate at a small law firm (they’re forced to hire her because of unfair representation of minorities in their firm)
the old white partners are loathe to allow her progressive stance in their courtroom, but little by little the small town and the firm begin to warm to her
but when Miranda meets the woman of her dreams – the founding partner’s daughter – will she be able to overcome prejudices and stand tall, black, gay, female, and proud?
that’s right, ladies…it’s
Miranda’s Rights
Him: idk how i didn’t see that coming

Me:  two sisters
the older one grows up to be a soulless but successful entertainment attorney
the younger one always feels overshadowed, but finds solace in her hobby of ballet
and one day she goes to visit her sister, who is having trouble with an ornery client, former dancer worth millions
and the younger sister manages to convince the client to settle, earning her sister’s firm a pile of money
suddenly she discovers she has an aptitude for the law
and is put into competition with her sister, but this time she just might win!
Passing the Barre
Her: or Pointe of Order

Him:  i actually just thought of a turn on the genre
a fashion-police-type show that analyzes & critiques famous or outrageous courtroom outfits
Worn Under Oath
or it can just be a special that chronicles the courtroom choices of LiLo

Me: dating/courtroom show that forces the female defendant to choose which of her jurors isnt a randomly selected juror at all, but a male prostitute
Hung Jury
(adaptation of Her “male prostitute turns lawyer”)

Him:  when a revered artist is accused of homicide, his adoring public is scandalized
although his sick, brilliant mind has the nypd scrambling for clues to definitively link him to the murder, a lucky find by a novice detective reveals that a recent painting holds the secret to this heinous crime
after conviction, the creative killer reveals that his victim was his last hurrah in a lucrative killer career
with scant leads to go on, the detectives’ only clues lie within the intricate workings of this artist’s vast ouevre
only they can bring justice to the families of this monster’s countless victims
this is .. EXHIBIT X
the letter can be omitted or changed
yeah i think just EXHIBIT is good

Me:  quirky forensics investigator usually enjoys her job, except for one thing: she’s a psychic
and anything that happens to crime victims – bruises, laceration marks, etc – also happens to her body at the same time
kind of a sympathetic pain
every new case forces her to not only examine the crime scene, but investigate herself
a provocative new thriller:
Body of Evidence

Him: this somnambulant attorney can close any case .. but only in his sleep!
he is: Laying Down the Law

Me: a master butcher discovers an uncanny ability to create sketches of perps using meats
don’t miss Cold Cut Case

Him: a Harlem beat cop tries to resist the powers of police corruption around him as well as his longterm sex addiction in FRISK

Me: when a serial killer strikes a nudist colony, a conservative detective must overcome her discomfort and join the community to bring him to justice. coming soon: Barely Legal
Her: or The Naked Truth

Her: Courtroom fashion police.
Under-Duressed

Me: a disturbing case drives an elderly police chief to retire and barricade himself in an apartment, obsessively collecting evidence. now the killer’s on the loose, and it’s up to the chief’s son to hunt his father down inside the dirty, overstuffed apartment before it’s too late.
Law and Hoarder

Him: a direct descendant of the famed physicist, Bob Newton can solve complex mathematical equations in his head, but when consulted as an expert witness, he can barely keep his feet on the ground! this summer, he’ll learn the gravity of the justice system in:
Newton’s Laws

Me: i’m obsessed with how we just spent all that time
Him: wait. are we done?

hooker-lawyer_512_275_c1_c_t_0_0