“I was the first musician to bring this music to a big, global stage like Paris’s Olympia Hall. It was in 1970 before a completely white, European audience who understood not a single word of my language. So I had to put on a show, and in order to put on a show, the rhythm had to be animated. The rumba was really rather tepid, rather slow. I had to accelerate it. And in French, we say secouer to mean “to shake,” so secousse, which I Africanized and I called “soukous”.”—Tabu Ley Rochereau, in "An adieu to Tabu Ley Rochereau, King of Soukous" by Minna Zhou
“We didn’t realize it at the time, but there would be no coming back from this. Axl has spent the last 20 years being shorter than Stephanie Seymour. You and I may not care about that, but you can tell he did, which gives this whole production an air of weird vulnerability and instantly regretted artistic sacrifice. And yeah, this was also the video that collapsed irony utterly and forever and in all the obvious ways, because it was so ludicrous and rocked so hard that it made you see aesthetic grace as a kind of ouroboros wherein stupidity and genius are occasionally the same quality. When fears subside, shadows still remain.”—Brian Phillips: YouTube Hall of Fame: Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain”
“Street Hassle's centerpiece, now considered one of Reed's greatest accomplishments, taught me that getting just what I wanted from a song (uplift, for example, or sloppy catharsis) wasn't always the best thing. “Street Hassle” includes bluntly sexual lines that turned me on, but also made me feel the edge of my own prudery. It explores how one person dehumanizes another and, just a few minutes later, how losing one person can make a person feel real and whole for the first time. It's a song suite that doesn't sound at all like punk; it features strings, female back-up singers and Reed definitely crooning. There's also an uncredited spoken-word passage by the then-rising Springsteen that adds in some of that future superstar's trademark grandiosity, serving as a telling contrast to Reed's own cooler storytelling. The song's triptych of scenarios is very Velvets: A probable transvestite picks up a male hooker at a bar; a drug dealer worries about how to get rid of an overdose victim's body; and, in the last verse, a more anonymous lover laments his man's departure in naked, needful agony. A lot happens musically around these stories, but every violin stroke, guitar bend and percussive push intensifies the focus on Reed's core message: that opening up your being — to sex or drugs or just to feeling — is inevitable, dangerous and the main purpose of life.”—
Cyrus acts out her faux bisexual performance for the white male gaze against a backdrop of dark, fat black female bodies and not slightly more normative cafe au lait slim bodies because the juxtaposition of her sexuality with theirs is meant to highlight Cyrus, not challenge her supremacy. Consider it the racialized pop culture version of a bride insisting that all of her bridesmaids be hideously clothed as to enhance the bride’s supremacy on her wedding day.
Only, rather than an ugly dress, fat black female bodies are wedded to their flesh. We cannot take it off when we desire the spotlight for ourselves or when we’d rather not be in the spotlight at all.
“At the other end of the book, Charles Hughes, a fellow at Rhodes College in Memphis, writes compellingly about the ways blacks and whites worked together and exchanged ideas in the modern south. He illustrates how soul music and then disco were refined by an influential set of southern musicians of both races who played on soul sessions for artists like Arthur Alexander and Joe Tex. The white musicians went on to reinvigorate country music in the ’80s and ’90s, Hughes painstakingly illustrates, while the black musicians were often left behind. Hughes’ tale is one of unbalanced input, uncredited appropriation and unequal reward. And yet, “at its truest and most substantive moments,” Hughes writes, the music that is his subject “reasserts the continuing presence of African American music within seemingly white spheres, even during the very moment when country became so closely associated with reactionary racial politics and even racial bigotry.” It’s never a simple story of theft or harmony, and in its nuances it feels right.”—RJ Smith, "Race and country music then and now"
“I was at this transitional moment in my life where I was leaving Bikini Kill and I’d been really associated with it, and I was like, ‘the militant asshole bitch from Bikini Kill’… but also, I was supposed to be ‘the tough-ass feminist from Bikini Kill,’ which really wasn’t what I was offstage; I was really not very confident," Hanna says in late June at a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, cafe. "It was also so much more personal, in a way. I wasn’t trying to write ‘Rebel Girl’ over and over again. I wasn’t trying to write a feminist anthem. I was writing the shit that was in my diary. I disguised a lot of things. I mean I wrote about an invisible friend that I had who was getting me through this bad time. Well, it was really my cat, but…”—Julianne Escebedo Shepherd, "Kathleen Hanna: Love among the ruin"
It’s funny — ten years ago, this song was just another eighties oldie to me. I probably heard it all the time, yet never noticed it. I figured I already knew it. But I had never sung it with this woman. And after that, it was a whole new song. Turn around. So I hear it now and it reminds me of this woman I love. It’s just one of the many insane adventures we stumbled into together. Turn around. No matter how many times I hear it, the song will always flood me with memories of all the times we’ve sung it. Next time I hear it, tonight might be one of those memories. Turn around.
The song always starts the same way. Those same four piano notes, over and over. But I can already tell this is just the first shot of a marathon epic karaoke quest. I don’t care how late we have to stay to get our fix. We will torch one great song after another, until they pull the plug and kill the lights and beg us to go home. Turn around.
In “Guys Do It All the Time,” her only song ever to top the country chart, she turned tables on the dudes by staying out till 4 a.m. having beers with the girls: a rocking boot-scooter, surrounded on the album with other line-dance-ready two-steps about young ladies out on the town, ‘cause it ain’t a party till they get here. Even that hit about demonic temptation sounded totally optimistic, affirming Nashville’s fallback stance that, sure, things might go wrong now and then, but ultimately stuff will work out, because at least if you stick to home and hearth and God and the comfort of your small town, all is right with the world.
McCready probably already knew by then what a crock that is. But she was ambitious — she’d graduated high school early to get her career going — and in the wake of Shania Twain, Nashville had its eyes on photogenic young women. Ten Thousand Angels, which went on to sell 2 million copies, came out just a couple of months before 14-year-old LeAnn Rimes’ Blue, which went on to sell 6 million in the U.S. alone. The idea, it seems, was maybe to build a demographic coalition between suburban tween-girl pop fans and their country-fan moms; Lila McCann (1997), Jessica Andrews (1999), Rebecca Lynn Howard (2000), Alecia Elliott (2000), Cyndi Thompson (2001), and others had all come and gone before Taylor Swift finally hit the jackpot starting in 2006.
“Kevin Shields’ guitar sounds sexual – in a way, his guitar is like the late Luther Vandross’ voice. Both artists have an erotic signature sound that’s so massive, it’s a pure abstraction. Shields’ guitar and Vandross’ voice radiate the helplessness of love, as if they’re letting themselves get totally swallowed up, as if surrendering to the hugeness of the sound is the same thing as surrendering to love. I’ve always liked the title of my favorite Luther record: The Best of Luther Vandross … The Best of Love. Obviously there’s an arrogance in trying to sing in the voice of love itself, but both guys sound ego-free because their identity gets dissolved in the romance of this sound, a romance they share with their audience. (That’s why not even hardcore fans seem to care about these guys’ individual personalities, or their private lives.)”—Rob Sheffield, "My hundredth listen to the new My Bloody Valentine album: Even better than the first”
“Concepts depend on the course of a particular, and Womack & Womack’s Love Wars reveled in particulars. The 1983 album, a minor hit on the R&B and British charts, is most famous for the title track and the Larry Levanized mix of “Baby I’m Scared of You,” less for its quiet, rippling grooves and needle-sharp lyrics chronicling a relationship whose experience with discord deepens its intimacy, although they’d trade the discord for the intimacy without blinking. They even transform the most ridiculous Stones ballad into a cry of desolation. Love Wars should be as immense as Shoot Out The Lights, Blood on the Tracks, and Wild Gift as a breakup-to-makeup classic. If renewed interest in “think pieces” on indie attraction to R&B have a point, it’s to stir interest in albums this solid.”—Alfred Soto, “Cecil Womack – R.I.P.”
“Watching a performer in her prime, especially in the day of the hundred-forty-character one-liner, is as frustrating as it is thrilling. Beyoncé does nothing wrong live. She sings and dances as if both acts are simply getting easier as she ages, that synchronizing her body and voice to the visual mayhem around her isn’t even something she needs to rehearse. (She rehearsed.)…
Her smiles feel unforced, her high notes unstrained. She’s Beyoncé, the model of a pop star, who retains the right to be our alpha-female performer by never taking it for granted, by visibly loving all of the work the job involves. There’s a difference between being the object of everyone’s gaze and constantly recreating the reason the gaze is there. Who could look at anyone else when Beyoncé is on stage? The game apparently got pretty interesting after the blackout, but that involved some unknown force. (A power outage delayed play for thirty-four minutes right after Beyoncé’s thirteen-minute performance.) Beyoncé is exactly what we know, and it is more remarkable every time she just goes and does it, as if to always obscure the fact that she had to come up with herself first, before we knew her.”—Sasha Frere-Jones, "America’s alpha-female pop star"
Once upon a time, country music influences were inherited at childhood, not selected in adulthood. You grew up on Willie, Waylon, Merle, Dolly, George, Johnny and Hank, and even after you put your own little twist on that legacy, your influence was still obvious. The new generation of country artists pays lip service to that past, but it’s obvious those legends aren’t real influences anymore. What artist with commercial ambitions could afford to choose them? Just look at what happened to the artists who did.
Jamey Johnson released Living for a Song — a terrific, very personal tribute to Hank Cochran — and the critics voted it the No. 1 album of 2012. Dwight Yoakam did his Buck Owens-meets-Paul McCartney thing again, and the critics voted 3 Pears the year’s No. 2 album. Kellie Pickler abandoned her previous country-pop compromises and made 100 proof, the updated Loretta Lynn record she’s always wanted to make, and it was voted the No. 4 album. Alan Jackson sang as beautifully as George Jones on Thirty Miles West, voted the No. 8 album.
But here’s the kicker: For all their critic-pleasing artistic achievement, not one of those four albums — all of them released by major labels — yielded a Top 20 country single. Radio shunned these albums as instinctively as the critics embraced them. In other words, if an ambitious young country artist wants to get played on country radio, his or her role model has to be an ’80s rock star rather than a ’70s country star. The choice of which rock star to emulate can reveal the artist’s essential instincts.
For the moment, ignore the dreary anthems to self-sufficiency and race war making up this year-old compilation whose proceeds go directly to funding our most reactionary and violent lobbying powerhouse. Focus instead on the mission statement embedded within the advertisements, which serves as a reminder of how the language of division and use of false dichotomies helps split the electorate. “The heart” of NRA Country? “Support of our U.S. military,” despite the fact that most active duty military prefer hip-hop and metal to Craig Morgan and Justin Moore, even while all the guest appearances and product placements in the world won’t help slow the suicide epidemic depleting the ranks. “Appreciation for the great outdoors,” as if the vast majority of country music fans and gun enthusiasts don’t dwell within a suburban / exurban environment that has ravaged mother nature as surely as Le Corbusier or Robert Moses. Plus, “love of family,” as insidious an example of codespeak as Paul Ryan’s dire warning that the “urban vote” shortchanged the past election. Then consider the implications of a Trace Adkins line like “there’s more of us than there are of them” on a song about “the people who hate my God,” Josh Thompson sneering at welfare recipients while pledging to greet with a loaded weapon anybody “not welcome” in his zip code, and Rodney Adkins good-naturedly detailing the ways his daughter’s potential suitors get introduced to his well-stocked arsenal. “Now it’s all for show/Ain’t nobody gonna get hurt,” he smiles, and one doesn’t need to question the Constitution’s guarantee to keep and bear arms to know that’s a deadly line of cornpone bullshit right there.
“The situation described in the opening blurb of Complex’s list (she knows Lil Wayne songs. Cool! She knows too much. I’m scared!) is a classic set-up for “negging,” the totally despicable “Pickup Artist” strategy of undermining a woman’s ego in order to make her more vulnerable to your advances. Restricting women’s role in rap consumption to “girl who tacitly obliges your personal tastes but doesn’t assert her own too much” is pretty much Rap Game Negging—you’re cool, but wait, sit down, you’re not that cool. And equally toxic is going so far as to call women “groupies” for paying attention to (and, yes, favoriting the tweets of) the same rap internet thought leaders as you do is so un-selfaware it’s laughable (and may I inject a hearty #HAUHAUHAU at the very suggestion that you nerds have “groupies”). And it serves only to perpetuate a flattening of a potentially very robust discussion—the critical equivalent of the pallid death that is a RapGenius lyrics page, every stone one could possibly unturn and examine beneath affixed solidly to the ground. Exclude women from meaningful participation in the discourse, and you’re left in a virtual Chief Keef video—a barren room full of shirtless bros shaking their dreads back and forth, forever.”—Today is Katherine Calls Out And Links To Call-Outs Of Dudes Duding It Up Day, apparently, and I haven’t even finished writing. (via katherinestasaph)
“So it is only natural that young female artists engage us and communicate with their image(s) as much as they do with their music. Image is perhaps an even more effective vehicle for their expression than songs. No girl escapes teenhood without a keen awareness of exactly how the world sees her, what it expects of her; she knows the weight of the world’s desire down to the ounce. Young women’s arduous fandom of an act is often seen as the very proof of their music’s artlessness, so rapt are girls with image that it supersedes any sort of real relationship with the music. And even though Swift and Boucher placed high in this Pazz & Jop—Lana less so (Born to Die, #54 album)—the critique with all three has frequently fallen to the seeming purposefulness of their artifice: their awareness of it; their dutiful maintenance of it.”—Jessica Hopper, "Pazz & Jop: Taylor Swift, Grimes, and Lana Del Rey: The year in blond ambition"
“Maybe I’ve become so goop-averse in my battle against creeping cornballism that I’m turning cynic-not-skeptic like too many bad critics do. But that’s not how it feels to me. I have a lot of fun for someone actuaries believe should no longer be working, and working in the fun business is one reason why. Instead I’d say the fissures subsisting below the year’s provisional consensus get me down. If twentysomethings want to like Kendrick Lamar’s album more than Loudon Wainwright’s, I say more power to them. The Cloud Nothings’, even — there’s an imagined future there that neither Loudon Wainwright or I will ever know firsthand again, and why shouldn’t someone whose life stretches ahead cherish that? But it bums me that it doesn’t go the other way — that the residual formal mastery of someone like Wainwright seems incapable of touching musical aesthetes of a certain age, who as children of 9/11 know better than they’d prefer that death is in the cards for everyone. Which does in turn cut into how much possibility I can feel in that mastery.”—Robert Christgau, "May the consensus have consequences". Context: The Dean’s List 2012.
“If you listen for it, Iyer’s approach to leading a trio echoes Ahmad Jamal’s. Though the former’s climaxes are crowded with notes where the latter’s are spare, both styles pivot not just on thinking of the piano as an orchestra in miniature, but also on assigning orchestral roles to bass and drums as well. The breathtaker here is another spin on M.J.’s “Human Nature,” toughened and greatly expanded from the version on Iyer’s 2010 album, Solo, and building to a tremolo hailstorm.”—Francis Davis, "Rhapsody Jazz Poll 2012: Vijay Iyer prevails". See also Tom Hull, "The big sort".
It’s built to be played loud on headphones, late at night, all alone, staring at the wall and wondering when your life is going to stop feeling like imprisonment in the towers of Megadon. What are Rush but a three-headed “It Gets Better” statement for generations of messed-up adolescents, dreaming of a better world but unwilling to give up on this one?
So what will people argue about now that Rush have been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Don’t worry – Rush fans can just move on to debating why their heroes are deprived of knighthoods or the Nobel Prize in economics. Rush fans love to argue. And Rush obviously like it that way.
“Her first major hit was “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” but she got noticed a few years earlier in 1947 with “Confess.”
The arrangement of “Confess” required an echo effect from backup singers, but since Rael and Page were footing the bill, they decided Page would do all the voices by overdubbing.
“We would have to pay for all those expenses because Mercury felt that I had not as yet received any national recognition that would merit Mercury paying for it,” Page once said.
“Confess” was enough of a hit that Rael convinced Mercury to let Page try full four-part harmony by overdubbing. The result was “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming.” The label read, “Vocals by Patti Page, Patti Page, Patti Page and Patti Page.”—The Telegraph, "Tennessee Waltz singer Patti Page dies"
The original “Mother” was a stoned singalong favorite during the dropout afternoons of my own youth. Released in 1979, it was a centerpiece of The Wall, a concept album about one man’s slow death at the hands of a conformist culture that any kid who felt oppressed by school or their families or, really, anything, could embrace. Turned into a 1982 film starring the doe-eyed semi-punk Bob Geldof, The Wall gave kids like me, ready to rebel not quite certain about which specific protest movement to embrace but sure we needed to rebel, a kind of primer in what was wrong with society. “Mother” laid out the first big problem: domineering mothers.
Natalie Maines is a mother, however, and her interpretation of Roger Waters’s lyrics helps the original becomes something new — something bigger, I think. In Pink Floyd’s version, Roger Waters sings the part of the boy revealing his night terrors; David Gilmour, singing as the mother, is prissy and cruel, restricting his reach. Maines leaves the song’s vaguely misogynist lyrics intact, but her plaintive, tender reading, intertwining with Harper’s equally gentle guitar lines, reveals the terror and helpless yearning that feeds the effort to control. Freed of the male voice that made “Mother” into a diatribe against femininity, Maines’s interpretation becomes a tender acknowledgment of how fear can entrap all of us, even when we want to do nothing but love.
“When we’re open to pop being a potential space of freedom, rebellion, and idiosyncrasy, its possibilities start to feel limitless. “A society constructed in the image of punk rock might…essentially become nothing more than a new source of authority,” says Trevor Link, who writes a thoughtful Tumblr about the revolutionary potential of pop music. “Whereas a society constructed in the image of pop… might very well be liberating in ways unimaginable within the former paradigm.” Or, as Caroline Hjelt from Icona Pop says, summing up the spectacular chaos, “You can do anything you want and call it pop!”
And yet, what does all of this mean for the average brooding high school kid? I’m not so sure. For me, one of the hardest parts of being a music critic is making sure you are not preaching to the converted. So for every time I think, “Yes! We are now free to like whatever we want and express ourselves fully without any obstacles because we have all read this very well-reasoned critical argument about why Carly Rae Jepsen is good and THIS IS UTOPIA,” I meet someone who is actually a freshman in high school, and remember that everything still sucks, and that the reason I hated 98 Degrees was that they made shitty songs with titles like “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)”.”—Lindsay Zoladz, "This must be pop"
“It’s not that the promo around the album is slapdash—that’d be impossible for someone as famous and meticulously branded as Rihanna—but it suggests another album entirely. The title, Unapologetic, suggests a brash confidence that on record comes off entirely feigned; meanwhile, on its cover, Rihanna’s scrawled over her body words like “happy,” “fearless,” and “fun,” none of which apply to the music inside. She’s chosen the only possible lead single that could be plausibly called “happy and hippy,” and her video and performances have been similarly innocuous; unless you’re one of seven angry seapunks, it’s hard to find anything controversial about them. Her plane trick’s getting her endless positive press, most of it party-oriented. It all points to a very different album than Unapologetic, where Rihanna sounds like she checked out of the party long ago.”—Katherine St Asaph, Rihanna: Unapologetic. Counterpoint: Jon Caramanica.
“For now, you can watch the band’s beginnings, in footage of a show played in D.C. in April of 1992, months before the first record came out. (The footage is available on Bikini Kill’s YouTube channel.) A song performed at that April show called “Thurston Hearts The Who” ended up on the first EP, but the more interesting performance is of “Lil Red,” which didn’t officially come out until October of 1993, on the band’s first full-length album, “Pussy Whipped.” In the clip, Hanna strips off a white T-shirt, Sharpied with the words “RioT GrrrL,” to reveal a yellow-blue-and-white minidress over knee-high white boots. You might momentarily think, Austin Powers, but not for long. “These are my tits!” Hanna yells, and then, “This is my ass!,” as she turns to flip up her dress and quickly moon the crowd. She starts stomping in place as she yells, “And these are my legs!” She is double-daring you now to figure out what to do. She sexualizes herself before you can, dragging in one of childhood’s most sexualized characters, Little Red Riding Hood, and rewriting the wolf’s deceptive patter for this new Red: “These are my ruby red lips, the better to suck you dry. These are my long red nails, the better to scratch out your eyes.” The song, before its ninety seconds are up, mentions the “pretty girls” and their “side of things.” Like Hanna’s dress under the T-shirt, the song works as a distillation of the competition between women and the war against the familiar term “the male gaze,” which was then still gaining traction.”—Sasha Frere-Jones, "Hanna and her sisters". Also: Aaron Franco’s Kathleen Hanna interview; Jessica Hopper’s oral history of the Bikini Kill EP.
“It is Lamar’s outlook that feels post-hip-hop. In 2008, the writer M.K. Asante — himself the son of Molefi Kete Asante, a cultural scholar whose concept of Afrocentricity was profoundly influential on hip-hop generation artists — wrote a book entitled It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation, in which he critiqued the ethos of “keeping it real.” He wrote, “The post-hip-hop ethos allows the necessary space for new ideas and expressions to be born free from the minstrel toxins that have polluted modern hip-hop.”
Asante was not setting out to trash hip-hop or the hip-hop generation. The book was what one might call a “loving critique,” suffused with a desire for a dialogue with elders as much as youthful liberation. If the hip-hop generation emerged largely out of a traumatic break in cultural and political leadership, the post-hip-hop generation rises from a sometimes nearly disabling self-awareness. (See: Kanye West.) Lamar turns the burden to the making of art.”—Jeff Chang, "Kendrick Lamar and the post-hip-hop generation"
An Assignment For Mark Guarino, Who Will Probably Be Called A “Good Dude” By A Friend But Who Comes Off As A Big Ol’ Sexist In This Salon Piece About Taylor Swift
The indulgence of last decade produced enough pop trash to fill a trailer park in East Peoria: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Ashley Simpson, Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, Kelly Osbourne, Avril Lavigne, Hilary Duff and even back benchers t.A.T.u, M2M, Hoku, Skye Sweetnam, Brooke Allison, Willa Ford and many others. The hubris was so high, record contracts were even slung to professional partygoers Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, who were both paid more for their brand than they were for whatever babble they purred into a microphone.
Today, most of these former lip-syncing product pushers are hovering on either side of age 30 and already long past their expiration date, leaving reality television and game shows the only shelves that will hold the weight of their baggage. Time is always a cruel leveler, but what is more telling from the last decade is the overnight rejection of so many of its key touchstones, from Britney Spears to George W. Bush, the tramp stamp to the luxury SUV, rap-rock to screamo, the Osbournes to the Palins.
(From your Salon piece.)
Mark: If I were your editor, which I clearly am not, I would have bracketed the above paragraphs and asked you the following questions:
1. Why are you only holding up female pop stars as the examples of “trash”?
2. What does “trash” mean here? It’s unclear. Do you mean that the songs are enjoyable for their own sake and didn’t have Deep Meaning behind them? What songs that were popular during this period weren’t trash? Were any of them performed by women?
2a. You know that record labels putting out novelty albums by celebrities isn’t really a new practice, right?
2b. Are you the type of guy who didn’t really “get” “Since U Been Gone” until Ted Leo highlighted its similarities to “Maps”?
2c. It’s “Ashlee.”
3. How are the “tramp stamp” and “luxury SUV” parallel in your construction of bad ’00s trends? Why, if rap-rock and screamo are just as bin-sendable as the aforementioned pop artists, did you not call out specific examples of those bands in said laundry list?
BONUS QUESTIONS BASED ON THE REST OF THE PIECE:
1. Did you notice that your group of “a-listers” who collaborated with Taylor Swift on “Red” was all dudes?
2. Do you really think that most records produced by professional musicians in professional studios and promoted with substantial amounts of money aren’t somehow “calculated”? Please include the names of three indie PR companies that email you a lot in your answer.
“In the straight world, meanwhile, the mortal fear of being mistaken for gay is weakening. Halperin could have added a chapter on the semiotics of “Call Me Maybe,” the pop ditty by Carly Rae Jepsen that became a monster hit this past summer, thanks in part to YouTube videos where everyone from Justin Bieber to Colin Powell was seen singing along. The official video gave the song a queer vibe from the outset: the singer sees a half-naked young man mowing the lawn, requests a possible telephone connection, and then discovers, to her dismay, that he prefers his own kind. (His “Call me” pantomime to another guy is more than a bit camp.) The most popular of the lip-synch videos features members of the Harvard baseball team, in all their macho splendor. Such gayish cavorting would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Likewise, you knew that the days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were numbered when soldiers stationed in war zones uploaded videos of themselves prancing suggestively to Ke$ha’s “Blah Blah Blah” and other dance hits. At certain moments, straight people can seem gayer than the gays.”—Alex Ross, "Love on the march"
Jepsen has a knack for singing with a certain melancholy, putting a quiet, downcast glance at the core of what sounds on the surface like a happy pop song. As a result, the strongest songs on Kiss are the ones with just a touch of wistfulness. “This Kiss” has a punchy beat while spinning a tale in which infidelity makes the physical contact that much sweeter; “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” and “Turn Me Up” confront the types of fuzzy relationships that cross the boundaries between friendship and romance. “Over” sets the liberation of a breakup to a grinding club-ready beat, while the gently pulsing “Turn” has a gauzy yet sparkling quality to it that brings to mind Eric Prydz’s “Call On Me,” which distilled Steve Winwood’s “Valerie” to its chorus’s soaring essence and then set the result to a pulsing club beat. Place them side by side with Pink’s “Try,” in which the singer travels through the stages of grief with an unnamed victim of heartbreak over a spacey piano ballad, and you’ll almost think that Jepsen was taking her elder’s advice to “get up and try” by going out to the club and losing herself in the music.
Kiss is the best pop album of the year, and nobody is listening. It didn’t have to be this good, or good at all. It’d have been easy to dress Jepsen up in some secondhand Dr. Luke tracks and rush an album. But improbably, miraculously, everyone involved in Kiss went in not trying to cash in on “Call Me Maybe” but replicate it. There are exactly two mediocre tracks: the cootie-inducing duets with Bieber and Owl City. Everything else is near-perfect. “Tiny Little Bows” opens the album with slap bass — a nod to Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time, which did the same — and samples Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.” The whole album’s like this: every reference to contemporary pop is balanced out by one more timeless: an early-Madonna twinkle here, a New Wave flourish there. There are hitmakers, but they’re on their best behavior. LMFAO’s Redfoo reins in his gaudy tendencies on “This Kiss,” the album’s “Call Your Girlfriend” both in its ebullience and its ambivalent adultery; he even manages to make cut-up vocals, the year’s most overdone trend, have a purpose: evoking the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I dithering that accompanies this sort of affair. Max Martin, meanwhile, gives Jepsen his usual factory-made dance-pop on “Tonight I’m Getting Over You,” but there’s nothing prefab about a line like “I want to touch your heart — I want to crush it in my hands.”
“I can’t speak to the nitty-gritty details of Ware’s Columbia signing; it would be fascinating to read an interview with the A&R rep who was responsible for that deal. [Update: Mark Stryker informs me it was none other than Branford Marsalis! I had no idea. Peter Hum points the way to this valuable document: “Branford said don’t change a thing,” says Ware. Given that Wynton figures into the ELEW saga, it makes me wonder how many jazz success stories of the past 20 years or so don’t include the Marsalises in some respect.] But details aside, and whatever the net effect of this episode on the Ware’s quality of life then and later on, one has to marvel at and respect the fact that DSW busted through a glass ceiling in a certain respect. Obviously the scale is vastly smaller, and the analogy is iffy due to the fact that unlike Cobain & Co., Ware’s signing did not pave the way for a whole wave of like-minded indie artists, but it’s hard not to see Go See the World as the Nevermind of American free jazz, a record that mainstreamed, or at least attempted to, an inherently underground aesthetic without masking its essential rawness—and a record that even celebrated that rawness. It seems to me, in other words, that Ware succeeded in the marketplace without compromising in the slightest, that Go See the World is more or less the next record his band would’ve made for Aum Fidelity had Columbia not stepped in. If you think about it, that’s pretty damn cool.”—Hank Shteamer, "Go to see the world: David S. Ware and ELEW"
“Both Neil Young and Pete Townshend are also, in the best and most constructive sense of the term, cranks. Parts of Waging Heavy Peace double as a product pitch for Lincvolt, Young’s vision of a fuel-efficient, sort-of-green classic car (“Lincvolt will be powerful, clean and sexy. This has to happen. It is going to.”) and PureTone, his attempt to rescue recorded music, and the ears of its listeners, from the plague of the MP3. Throughout the book he is building, designing, inventing, fiddling with wires, giving up, starting again; he is a lifelong model train buff, with a “small share” in the collectibles company Lionel; reworking the interior of Broken Arrow Ranch (where he wrote “Old Man”) he makes connoisseurial trips to the lumberyard, going through “stacks and stacks of twelve-inch-wide planks of rough-sawn A-grade redwood, choosing the ones with the most beautiful sap and grain. Maybe I took one out of every twelve.”—James Parker on Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace and Pete Townshend’s Who I Am: A Memoir
“The problem with the phrase “vocal gymnastics” – if used as a pan – is that plainly gymnastics are awesome. Their poise, control, grace, swiftness and fluidity – why wouldn’t these be things you’d aspire to in pop, why wouldn’t you expect applause? But these are manifestations of technique*, and pop thought ran aground on technique years ago, setting up a series of straw oppositions to deny it. Technique versus emotion. Technique versus passion. Technique versus excitement. Why not have them all? Mariah could, and sometimes did – if you could do the giddy things she does with her voice on “Emotions”, say, why wouldn’t you?
You need the songs for it, though. The part of Mariah’s success that British critics really couldn’t deal with wasn’t so much the range as the material; a higher concentration of ballads than the average star, and ones which seemed particularly placid, at that. A listen to her ’98 Greatest Hits record persuaded me that (disappointingly perhaps) I still wasn’t down with many Carey slowies. Once the bpm rises she’s enchanting, but at ballad pace most of her singles still sound torpid.
“Press” is no less disconnected than any other of McCartney composition. He starts by complaining to Linda about “all these people listening in.” Um, hello, Paul, you’re the most successful musician on our planet (no clue as to how popular you are on your own). Of course, we’re listening in! So he takes this as an opportunity to invent a new word for fucking: “When you want me to love you just tell me to press/Right there! That’s it! Yes!” Letting us in on his most private conversation, it’s the most generous song of his career with all the tumult and clutter of Hugh Padgham’s production perfectly evoking Paul’s giddy love for Linda. We ever get to hear their orgasm. “Oklahoma was never like this,” gushes Paul in one of pop music’s classic money shots. And here I thought I had the 1980s down. Wonder if there’s something this masterful hiding on a Steve Winwood album.”—Kevin John Bozelka, "Paul McCartney’s discography, heard!"
The fantasy of the happy worker has taken on newer and more mind-bending aspects, as has work itself. It now includes things like the unpaid microlabor of providing content for Web sites. It includes the amateur photographer who provides her images of, say, the police killing a young black man to the local news as an “iReport” for nothing but a credit and a T-shirt. Or a music lover scratching out a review on some hip site for a byline alone. Or consider the subtlest and arguably the most exemplary case: how, in wandering the byways of Facebook and Google, you are diligently rendering gratis a host of information about the preferences and habits of you and your friends—data they sell to advertisers. This, too, is unpaid labor.
In general, there is the boom in such practices that seems tied to the digital era; you can’t spell Internet without intern. As the argument goes, you are paid in access to a desirable milieu, or the chance to do good. (…)
Ideally, you don’t even know you are working at all. You think you are keeping up with friends, or networking, or saving the world. Or jamming with the band. And you are. But you are also laboring for someone else’s benefit without getting paid. And this, it turns out, was exactly Amanda Palmer’s hustle.
GQ: Your closing statements in court, where you cite everyone from the Bible to Dostoyevsky to Socrates to Solzhenitsyn, have become instant classics. Some lines, like Katya’s “We have already won” or Nadya’s “People can sense the truth. Truth has an ontological superiority over lies” are now as famous as your songs. How did you manage to write these speeches with no access to any research? Were you at least able to coordinate them?
Nadya: Our trial, as you know, was designed to be as short as possible. The judge scheduled back-to-back court sessions from ten in the morning to ten at night. Then it took a couple of hours more to get us back to the cells. There, I would eat an orange, drink some milk, and start working on my speech by night-light. To get closer to the dim lamp, I would sit on an upside-down wash basin, right under the hooks where our clothes hang. After twelve hours at the courthouse and two transfers, I wasn’t in the best of states. But it doesn’t take that much effort to put truth on paper. Even if your head is splitting from exhaustion, it feels kind of nice to just let go and be sincere, to have an open soul. You can even allow yourself to be a kind of idiot, like Dostoyevsky’s Count Myshkin.
Masha: Here in Russia, a prisoner has no Internet access, no computer, not even a typewriter, so I wrote everything by hand: many rough drafts and then a combined “clean” draft. We read some bits of our speeches to each other during the transfer, in the unventilated, smoke-filled prison bus.
Similarly, it is not enough to say that Gangnam Style is popular in the U.S. because Gangnam Style is hilarious; Gangnam Style is popular in the U.S. because it is hilarious in a way that is familiar to Americans. The code of humor embedded in the music video — awkwardness punctuated by bouts of ridiculous non-sequitur (like the guy in a cowboy hat doing pelvic thrust, another cameo appearance by comedian Noh Hong-cheol) — is very common among American comedy. Ultimately, it is the same type of humor latent in, say, Napoleon Dynamite — an embarrassing train wreck in which the main character is somehow vindicated through sheer obliviousness and irrational self-confidence.
He also fits well next to Falco, the Austrian proto-rapper whose ’80s hit singles were not dissimilar to “Gangnam Style.” The pretty good “Rock Me Amadeus” and the very great “Der Kommissar” were also delivered in a foreign tongue to American ears, with a bit of pidgin English thrown in for effect, and the language barrier was no impediment to U.S. (or worldwide) appreciation. Yet Americans were already accustomed to German-speaking stars. We’ve proven awfully reluctant to treat Asian artists with the same kind of adulation.
Psy may not be the spearhead of cultural change: He makes it too easy for his listener, or viewer, to condescend to him. But all over the world, tectonic plates are on the move. Only the worst kind of xenophobe would ask the earth to stand still.
The INN website reported that the two gangs were dining in the same restaurant when “the younger members of both groups danced provocatively at each other in the manner of top hit Gangnam Style”. The dance-off escalated into an argument and, eventually, a gun attack in the upmarket Ekkamai neighbourhood, in which one of the gangs fired at least 50 bullets from a carbine and an 11mm gun.
In the 1990s, megachurches helped spawn a wave of subtly Christian alternative rock bands who leapt onto the mainstream charts. Remember Lifehouse’s “Hanging By a Moment”? That band was nurtured by a Vineyard congregation. Switchfoot came out of the contemporary Christian music scene and still has strong connections there. These bands connected the moral questing of alternative rock groups like Pearl Jam to a specifically religious context. Indie artists like David Bazan, and later Sufjan Stevens, found fruitful ways to translate religious introspection into language that spoke to a larger secular audience. The most powerful work by these artists faces up to the fall away from faith as well as celebrating its comforts; dynamic belief always carries plenty of questions, and music offers an immediate and powerful way to confront them.
All of this Godly sound echoes back to the granddaddy of non-sectarian spiritual rock bands: U2. Every U2 album, from 1980’s Boy (the hit was called “I Will Follow!”) to 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, grapples with matters of faith and ethics, sin and salvation. What Bono and his mates figured out early on was how to connect a specific set of concerns formed within religious practice to other cultural forms — literature, soul music, cinema — where similar seekers were expressing themselves. U2 never became a “secular” band; its music simply relies on the fact that religion, for better and worse, is everywhere.
Most Under-utilized (aka “the Nature Award”): 2 Chainz is — at least amongst hardcore rap fans — a divisive star. His outlandishness often veers into numbing inanity, but his outsized personality on tracks like “Mercy” (where he brags, among other things, about his “chain the color of Akon”) is a blast of color on an album where drab rappers are enthralled by their own overwrought moroseness.
Most Left-Field Guest: Ma$e hasn’t been relevant — or good — for over a decade, but Kanye is partly driven by weaving left-field collaborators into his ever evolving self-mythology. What’s surprising isn’t Ma$e’s involvement, but that he gets shoehorned into a non-event mid-album track with Pusha T and The-Dream.
Least Valuable Player (aka “The Stalley Award”): If you ever want to get yourself fired from work, leave your office and don’t return until you can find someone that will admit to being a fan of CyHi Da Prynce. He appears on two songs here.
It’s the rest of your playgroup that concerns me. I like “Clique” a lot and I’m stoked that you mentioned our Gucci breakfast (that means a lot), but what’s up with you and Big Sean? People are starting to talk. How is it possible that no one in the studio or at any point in the last six months has maybe mentioned to him that he shouldn’t call himself “B.I.G.” According to my rough calculations, he is the 87th Greatest Rapper of All-Time with a “Big “ in front of his name—behind The Notorious B.I.G., Big Daddy Kane, Big Boi, Big Pun, Big L, Big Mike, Big Hawk, Big Moe, Big Noyd, Big Syke, Big Shug, and Big and Rich. He is also the size of a lanky member of the Lollipop Guild. My sister started calling him Petite Sean. But she also believes that G.O.O.D. things come in small packages. So there’s that.
“Keef’s been in the public eye for less than a year, and he’s already gone from zero coverage to intense media buzz to a full-on media backlash. His music and that of his peers, until now, has been so singular due in part to his relative isolation; it has a bleak, oppressive atmosphere that seems charged with urgency. One of street rap’s organizing concepts has historically been an emphasis on theater; the more convinced you are by the performance, the better the rapper. Keef has become a symbol because he so effectively channels the fears of listeners. But it is important to remember that he’s also a human being, one capable of creating work people enjoy on its own merits, and one who will need to take responsibility for his failings.”—David Drake & David Turner, "Trying to make sense of Chief Keef and the chaos in Chicago"
“You can tell we laid out the records on a Xerox machine, stayed up all night, worked under fluorescent lights. We didn’t have our lettering typeset by a professional. We did it ourselves using old typewriters, Sharpies, rub-off letters and stencils. We crossed stuff out and rewrote it and left it looking messy. Words fell off the page and got taped back on. You can see the tape, you can see our fingerprints and you can see coffee stains. We used snapshots and blown-up color copies. We look weird. You can imagine the photographer and create a story around the situation the photo captures. You can see the dots, you can see the process the printer used and you can see the lines we drew on the page to guide us. When we used a professional quality photograph, we made sure it was off-center, so you could imagine someone laying it out by hand, in a hurry. Nothing is straight. Everything is crooked. We didn’t want our relationship to the means of production to be invisible. We wanted to incite participation.”—Tobi Vail on the politics behind the aesthetic of the first Bikini Kill album (via judyxberman)
“You know why “Jiggy” is one of the greatest slang words ever coined? Because it not only takes you to a different decade, it takes you to a different dimension. In a jiggy world, the suits are always shiny and silver, the wigs are always a natural neon blue, the economy is indelibly Big Willie Clintonian. Will Smith was no longer the Fresh Prince, but he was no longer a Scientologist. He was a movie star, but had yet to get old and serious. It is capitalist Zen. The Prada bag will always have a lot of stuff in it. Your condo is infinite. You dance around the sarcophagus. Floor seats every game. Jiggy is the apex. We should be so lucky to get jiggy again.”—Jeff Weiss, in "The 25 greatest outdated rap slang words"