It’s Gonna Be Cray: N*SYNC to Reunite at VMAs!

I have a bit of a loins itch because N*SYNC is reuniting at the MTV Video Music Awards this Sunday. Rumor has it, aka truth has it. THIS IS SO BIG! Heartwarming moment for millenials everywhere!

Man, I totally remember 2002, when Timberlake debuted without the group, and I was like “This is bullshit, the age of the solo artist is OVER and boy bands are the way of the FUTURE!” Then Justin was all narrowed-eyes and “Don’t fear me baby…it’s just Justin,” and that’s when I finally realized what ladyparts are for. You won the battle, Timberlake, and over the next ten years you would also thoroughly win the war.

But I’m always up for a little nostalgia. Welcome back, Backstreet-Boys-with-more-charisma! This I promise you: SHIT IS GONNA GET HOT.

I can’t see them performing my all-time favorite N*SYNC masterpiece, “Pop,” because of course that song has already been sexed, done, and buried. Let’s go back to 2001, a magical time when nothing hurt and the future was full of lace-up jeans and Lunchables…

I scoured the effing Internet for this clip, because Sony was hellbent on protecting their copyright. Too bad, bitches, I was on a mission. Things I’d like you to watch for: JC Chasez’s charming cha-cha at 1:39 and the “surprise guest” at the end of the video. Classic!

Everyone pumped for the VMAs? What song do you think they’re gonna sing? Does Chris Kirkpatrick still look like a rock-alt hobbit? The anticipation, y’all!

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Check My Flow: The Camp Gyno

THANK YOU. Thank you, whoever wrote this commercial, thank you to the channels that are airing it, thank you to this sassy little child actress (who needs to teach me a thing or two about how to scream “VAGINA”).

Tampon commercials are infamous among the worldwide cult of women, for their pathetic attempts to sanitize the period and convince ladies that IT’S NOT PAIN, IT’S OPPORTUNITY!

CRAMPS = SALAD AND COCKTAILS. PERIODS = VOLLEYBALL. UTERUS = GARDENING.

I really do not know one female who doesn’t begin to slow-simmer upon hearing the insipid “Have a happy period.” You are selling fallacies, Kotex! You do not live on this planet, Tampax Pearl!

This commercial is like the best thing to happen in the realm of menstrual advertising (I know because I have my associate’s degree in menstrual advertising). Here we have precocious tomboyish pre-teens, wailing at each other and clutching their aching abdomens. Ah, sweet reality. Also, they are admitting that candy is as essential to your cycle as a heating pad. GROUNDBREAKING.

No more infantilizing and condescension. Bless you, Camp Gyno. Bless your little crampy heart.

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Jennifer Lopez’s “Play”: A Definitive Guide

I think it was about four months ago that I had a Bar Mitzvah-themed party, and this was on the playlist. I don’t think people realize I’m still actively listening to that playlist. Thought I’d brighten your Throwback Thursday with this amazing 2001 gem that invariably gets me doing the power-sprinkler on any dance floor. Including my bedroom floor. I do this really good supine sprinkler that propels me in a carpet circle.

Like, what’s happening here? Jenny’s flying in billion-dollar comfort through some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland, while her personalized J-LO logo feeds into every technology system on her personal airship? REGAL. I have to give props to Jenny’s come-hither facial strategies during this whole situation. She says so much, and so little, with just a slow-motion blink.

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And then she’s like, “I’m really bored of watching this Planet of the Apes scenery so let me hit up that club in coach. Garçon! Bring me my  traditional woven white Ed Hardy blouse. And my curling iron, the one made of a mammoth tusk, because I’m feeling ethnically questionable VOLUME tonight.” And she just marches that shit straight into the Chrome Ballroom, into her throng of cryogenically frozen party people, hurtling through space right along with her.

Also I guess once she’s been dancing for 37 seconds, she needs to take a quick break in the anti-gravity sauna? I’m obsessed with what this man is doing in there:

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Is he pouring powdered ecstasy into his mouth using wind power? He’s like “Oh, I didn’t know anyone else would come in here, can I just finish this up real quick?” And then J-Lo’s back in the turbine chamber, working that low-angled camera, having left this molly-addled loner to his business.

Can I also add that this song and video features some of the BEST spoken-word bridge in pop history? I JUST WANNA DANCE. IS THAT A CRIME? ALL RIGHT THEN. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lipsynced those words, only to ignore everyone around me (they always seem to nod after I ask “Is that a crime?” That’s why you never look at people during the pause before “All right then”). There’s also a lot of different facial options you can pursue for the line “Yeah, that’s the hotness right there.” Jenny approaches it with a kind of cool appraising confidence, while I like to experiment with sexual satisfaction or surprise. Like, looking down at my own spastic body. Yeah! That’s the hotness right there!

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Also have to appreciate her confrontational scene here, with the unseen DJ. She really takes him to task on his job function. I mean, I think it’s reasonable. She even addresses him with a salutation. “Now, Mr. DJ. I’ve asked you three times. PLAY MY MOTHERFUCKING SONG.” She takes the sting out of it with a little giggle, too, so he knows she’s just kidding and he has total job security on the Pimptronica Blimp. And I guess he does play her motherfucking song, because before long we get to see all of those well-dressed hostages totally passed out while J-Lo bounces her ass amongst them in the morning light. Side note, appreciate her aggressive head grooving at 3:03. I’ve done that – without double-hair-buns, so the effect was muted, but I’ve still done it.

And then, right before the party sails into the sun, headed for some fiery synthy doom, Jenny capitulates her aforementioned points with one final ASS SWIVEL. She’s the queen!!! Have YOU ever successfully ended a story with an ass swivel? Royal.

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Well, this has been a super productive 20 minutes. I say that with no sarcasm as the writer, but a lot of sarcasm for you as the reader. But don’t play like you didn’t just download. It’s not negotiable. I asked you three times.

The 2013 Emmy Award Nominations: Yays and No Ways

The 2013 Emmy nominations are officially here! Time for another year of fruitless pining for Elisabeth Moss’ deserved win. Also general exasperation that Modern Family is still a thing. Give it a rest. We kicked you off the zeitgeist train like two years ago.

The Emmys are hands-down my favorite night of the entire year. And Neil Patrick Harris is hosting again, setting the stage for my childlike delight. For me, Emmy time is filled with as much reverence as your typical Passover (minus that year when my mom came up with the musical parody “In Haggadah Da Vida” and kept repeating “Haggadah get outta here!” Not a lot of reverence that year).

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So, Pesach style, when the Emmy noms come out, I like to ask myself four essential questions. This year’s edition…

1. On all other nights, no one watches reality competition shows. It’s not 2002. Why do we still reward their existence?
2. On all other nights, I really thought Linda Ellerbee was dead. Why did I ever stop getting my information from Nickelodeon News?
3. On all other nights, I dip my vegetables in the salt water of Game of Thrones tears. Why don’t we start a new category for Best and Worst Feels?
4. On all other nights, Elisabeth Moss is fucking amazing. WHY HAS SHE NOT WON YET?

Lots of deep thoughts to address. Whether you’re wise, wicked, simple, or do not know enough to ask (ALERT: INSIDE JOKE FOR JEWS), here are my picks for the 2013 winners. These are biased and what I think should happen, rather than will. I accept that these all might not come true. On Emmys night, blind seething rage is part of the fun!

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She Blue Herself: Britney Spears’ “Ooh La La”

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2013

Britney’s smurfed-out new video came out today. This is a really good example of “I watched it so you don’t have to,” because it sucked out a lot of my life force.

The song has been latched onto my brain for days like some kind of sonically engineered hungry protozoa. Get Brit into that breezy high octave and there is literally nothing I can do to resist. I mean, obviously it sucks, but since my generation all grew up bathed in the Holy Light of B-Spears, there’s a certain pleasure to her releasing anything new in 2013.

Please do not subject yourself to this, though. It’s all Smurfs and languid, medication-enhanced fist pumping. There’s definitely an exploding duck in there. And Neil Patrick Harris. Is it me or have Britney’s eyes become really desperate and sad? I mean, not just emotion-wise, but shape-wise. There are several frames in this video where she frantically works to un-droop her gaze. Her brow bones seem to literally be collapsing under the weight of vestigial mid-2000s trauma.

I also encourage you to remind yourself that all the Smurfs were CGI-ed into this later. I’m obsessed with imagining Britney flirting with her empty flat hand in front of a green screen. Post-fame in a perfect nutshell. Actually, I can’t think of a better description of Brit herself than “perfect nutshell.”

Yoü And I (Mark Taylor Remix)

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For reasons I can’t explain, Jo Calderone has been on my mind lately. I miss him. I miss Gaga’s ever-so-brief comeback. Born This Way was not a very ambitious album overall (almost every song sounds the same), but it doesn’t matter, because it showcased the finest composition of her career, “Yoü and I.” The rawness of the lyrics, her honeyed voice, the musical triumph of it all! Gaga’s so talented when she’s real, and when she’s not blatantly Madonna-ing all over me, I’m so in it with her.

Here’s a fantastic remix I stumbled upon via Spotify. It’s much more dancey, which I think brings out the nostalgic joy of the song. Something about lonely nights, and my lipstick on ya face.


Just for posterity, I’m posting an old Tumblr post that I spat out after the “Yoü and I” video was released.

Okay, so here is my thing about this video. Well, first let’s get macro: I really do support and appreciate Lady Gaga’s assertion that she represents gender issues by occupying an objectified media-whore space. She says she brings problems of femininity to light by perfectly embodying THE OBJECT. And through purposely performing that identity, she becomes THE SUBJECT, and starts dialogue about power, relationships, culture, etc. Cool. Thumbs up.

This song, Yoü And I, really zinged me in the heart when it first came out. It sounded like some of her most honest and universally appealing work – she’s bare and vulnerable and wailing about how the love of her life will never truly fade from her soul. It is by far the most sensitive and real track off Born This Way.

I am a little disappointed by this video, because on the one hand it is so conceptually ambitious and emotionally complex, and on the other, it’s a total retread of all of her artistic endeavors. The strongest parts of it, by far, are the brief glimpses of Gaga’s gritty Italian greaser alter-ego Jo Calderone and his reverent girlfriend with lips and hair like sweet corn. Their relationship is represented in raw, sexy strokes, like an old Fellini romance or a James Dean film. Now THAT’S a rumination on the exchange of power between a man and a woman – aggression mediated by understanding, rough meeting soft, love conquering brutal strength.

Jo was a flesh-and-blood iteration of the best, most relevant work that Gaga’s done for the reinvention of the female pop artist. More confrontational femme masculinity, please, sweet Lady. Vive Calderone!

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Throwing 50 Shades

Lately I’ve been thinking that I really should read Fifty Shades of Grey. WAIT. DON’T GO. It’s not because I have any great love for syrupy sexist fanfiction (because I don’t [I do]). It’s just that I really don’t want to miss the boat. The film’s cast is going to be announced at this year’s Comic-Con, and hysteria is going to ensue, and when that movie comes out I need to be part of the zeitgeist. Zeitgeist FOMO is worse than any other FOMO. When 50 Shades shade is being thrown on my newsfeed, I need to be able to holla like a schola, or else what am I worth on the internet, really?

But it’s hard because I know it’s shit and I’m going to get angry about genders. I like to get my id tickled, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer it when the tickling says something powerful about sex and relationships, something that leaves me with a “take charge” glow rather than the terrible guilt that comes with complacency. What I mean is, it’s alright if a female character feels weakness, or submits to a male. That’s what I and many of my peers were raised to believe is normal. I don’t mind if those roles (however insane and unfair) are acknowledged and performed. But it’s not alright if that subordination is connected neatly and squarely with desire. Like, it’s sexy because it’s an extreme form of the status quo. Fanfic Girl loves to be tortured and dominated and silenced because it’s the only way to please Christian Grey, who is sewwwww manly and complex. So lazy, so boldly condescending. I mean, did you read it? Am I wrong? I don’t know if I’m pissed because it’s offensive to my vagina, or pissed because my vagina is so fucking bored.

I watched Secretary a few days ago. In many ways, it’s everything 50 Shades could have been, should have been, and by virtue of its popularity, will never be. It centers on a very complicated relationship between a lawyer (James Spader) and his secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who eventually create an S&M dynamic that teaches them both more about human connection than any of their “normal” relationships. Coincidentally, Spader’s character is also named “Mr. Grey.” But he’s not just a thinly drawn fantasy; he’s a person of many contradictions, struggling to just be a man. And Gyllenhaal just wants to be a girl. Neither of them can get it quite right, and the film kinda implies that none of us can, because “normal” is dull and counter-intuitive.

This here is a dominant/submissive situation that is pointedly feminist; both characters find power in their own non-gendered weirdness. Spader is anguished in his own skin, ashamed by the fact that he craves control and inflicting pain. He actually seems to blame his penis for his propensity for sexual dominance, and as a result, he withdraws into himself and plays the soft-spoken gentleman. He doesn’t know how to love and be sexual at the same time, because the line is too tricky to walk and the rejection hurts so bad. When his lovers see what turns him on, they not only dump him, they imply that he’s sick and irreparable.

And Gyllenhaal is another ball of contradictions and neuroses. She’s painfully shy, sensitive, wishes for only simple pleasures and comforting routine. She cuts herself because the pain is an outlet, one of the only things that make her feel alive and engaged with the earth. She needs praise. She needs to feel safe. When she and Spader begin to build a trust, each of them sees that their strange needs (both emotional and sexual) can finally be met. And the fact that such happiness and synchronicity can exist OUTSIDE the realm of the normal scares the shit out of both of them. They take a long time to fall into their routine, not because it feels wrong, but because it feels too right.

Most people have seen the famous scene where Spader loses himself in the utter joy of spankery as Gyllenhaal sweetly shouts, “I’m your SECRETARY!” I do love when they finally reach an understanding; it’s nice to see the devotion and strength she cultivates even with a ball-gag in her mouth. And Spader gets so cute as his defenses fall. But this scene is one of the best, I think; it’s one of their first meetings and says volumes about how such a relationship can begin.

Check Spader out around the 1-minute mark. I love the way he observes that Gyllenhaal is “closed tight. A wall.” He starts out the conversation weary and cold because he’s used to keeping his bizarre brand of masculinity a secret. He’s tired of restraining himself, and this girl seems like an innocent rube who’s going to quit in her first week. But Gyllenhaal has secrets. Secrets of her own. She’s hesitant but curious. She hates herself almost as much as he hates himself. Who the fuck is this girl, and can I save her? That’s what Spader is thinking. And maybe he’s never felt that kind of spontaneous affection before for a normal girl. She’s a woman with sexual needs so specific and aberrant that maybe she could be the one.

Both of their performances are masterful. Gyllenhaal plays the perfect mixture of shy and straightforward, and her sexual evolution in this movie is a delight to watch. Spader is so alluring, so awkward and so wounded. This scene is great because you can watch his breath catch as he realizes how helpless this girl makes him feel. That push-and-pull of power and weakness between them makes for one of the most insightful heterosexual romances you’ll ever ever watch unfold.

So I’m going to read 50 Shades, but just know I’m going to hate every minute of it. Having experienced a story like Secretary, how can I dumb myself down again and go back to feeling such manufactured normalized pleasure? I dunno, you tell me. Did you get through 50 Shades? Does it have merits that I’ve missed in my scathing pre-judgment? Is it even possible to reach feminist conclusions in a work of fiction that fetishizes female submissiveness? Comments please.

Don’t Stop Belie-

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The passing of James Gandolfini. So shocking and so untimely. It’s hard to lose someone like this; for a television cult-watcher like me, he loomed so large that it feels like one of the Jenga blocks at the very bottom has been pulled away. He was an actor of great depth and power. Your kindhearted fat father, your gangster sex dream, your flinty-eyed killer. David Chase’s statement breaks my heart:

He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone. For [his wife Deborah Lin] and [children] Michael and Liliana this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.

I’ve written about The Sopranos before, particularly Tony: here, here, and here. No matter how much anyone writes, you can’t really describe Gandolfini’s work properly, because what he did was made for quiet watching, slow cooking. I guess he wanted to get away from Tony Soprano, and I’ve seen him be great in other films and shows, but the Boss was his legacy. It was a performance that lasted years and touched every sweet and vile corner of the human experience.

Chase is right; it was all in the eyes. So tender for such a hulking beast. Even as he wreaked havoc and destruction, Tony begged for love in a million different ways. Gandolfini was a master. When he was Tony, he was in a scene, acting with his co-players, but he was also an entire history and a life, wedged through the doorway carried on those giant shoulders.

Just so sad. He was so good and I watched him so closely and for so long. If you’ve never seen The Sopranos, now is a great time to experience one of the best actors to grace the screen. Farewell, a salud.

SNL’s Dark Times

Lately I’ve been watching some random old Saturday Night Live episodes. I wanted to vary my comedy palate and was very curious about the mid-1980s, when whole seasons went down as disasters/failures/freak experiments. There were sudden and strong urges to brush up on my useless TV history. A few wine-soaked hours on Wikipedia will do that to you.

I was reared on seasons 1 through 5; my familiarity with all things SNL between 1975-1980 is deep and everlasting. But I only had a passing exposure to the 80s and 90s, mostly through my “Best Of” VHS tapes: Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler. Apparently a lot of shit went down after Lorne Michaels went on his little walkabout in 1985. There are whole stretches of the show that never get recognized in nostalgic montages, because all the writers were idiotic sellswords and the show was being run like a carnival sideshow.

I have this really bizarre fascination with Season 11. That’s 1985-1986. No one watched it and no one remembers it, because it wasn’t funny at all. But can you please take a look at the cast?

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You seeing what I’m seeing? Robert Downey Jr. Joan Cusack. Anthony Michael Hall? Randy Quaid? Who is this group of misfits and how on earth did they force chemistry, night after night?

It’s weird because some of these actors are obviously gifted, and would go on to have interesting and important careers. But none of them had any improvisational comedy talent. Not even RDJ — he’s a wonderful ad-libber, but his eyes are too wounded to bring the light laughs. I’ve been watching episodes of this season here and there, and it’s so fucking painful. It’s like some horrible alternative reality, or a bad dream I had after too much weed and Chipotle. These actors don’t know how to play off one another and work with an audience.

In truth, it was probably Lovitz and Nora Dunn who saved the show and carried it through this very dark time. God bless Jon Lovitz. Seriously. He’s a sidekick who can flawlessly glue together an effective joke whenever necessary. Nora Dunn, too — she was the Jane Curtin of her era, a straight man who played the hard edge of femininity with no apologies.

I also find it really interesting that this season featured both Terry Sweeney and Danitra Vance. Terry was the only openly gay cast member in the show’s history until Kate McKinnon boarded the ship in 2012. This was 1985! Terry got a lot of shit from both the cast and the writers and found it to be a toxic working environment. Poor dude.

And Danitra was also gay, but not out. She kept her sexuality a secret until almost the end of her life. She was the first black female repertory player, and her skills were sorely underutitilized. She constantly played maids and whores and was never given full rein to exercise her jubilant improvisational style. Along with most of this cast, she left at the end of the season.

So this has been a completely useless post. I just find this particular moment in the show’s history so fascinating. Until my next pop culture revelation, I guess? T-minus three hours.