Archive for the ‘Special Topics’ Category

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State of the Auditorium

September 9, 2012

Image from IceNineJon via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Hi. It’s been awhile. Since the curtain fell on the last season of American Idol a few changes have happened in my life. I got a new job, which necessitated a move to the new location of the position. So Kathy and I packed our bags and moved from the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to Akron, Ohio. Honestly I am happy to be back in the Midwest. For the first 20+ years of my life I lived in Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. While I had good experiences in Alabama, Colorado, and Maryland, they just weren’t as much of a match for me. Coming to Ohio feels like I’m coming back to my roots.

Although I am happy have a job and earn income in this age of uncertainty, my job change has increased my work responsibilities to a level that I feel less motivated to write as my “extra-curricular activity.” This is important because we’re coming up on the season premiere of The Voice.

I’ve recapped the past two seasons of The Voice on this blog and I’m just not feeling it this season. Don’t get me wrong, the show has had moments of awesomeness and it’s still a better program than Idol. Last season I was moved to tears after a battle round performance – that’s some kickass singing. I found at least a few contestants to be pretty likeable. And unlike the past season of Idol, I feel like the most talented contestant actually won the show. On the other hand, the show has also had its problems. While it doesn’t have quite the same retro-fetishistic sentimentality as Idol does, its ratio of clunkers to hits is getting closer to Idol’s. Also, while I like the music of most of the coaches (latest example: scoring “Moves Like Jagger” was a coup for Rock Band Blitz, as it’s one of the more challenging and fun songs in the game) as TV personalities I find them to be quite grating. I’m not sure I can take another season of Adam Levine’s douche-y machismo, Blake Shelton’s ham-fisted “eagle-shaped tears” musical conservatism, Christina Aguilera’s tired posturing, and Cee-Lo Green’s combo package of borderline sexual harassment and terrible taste in music. Not to mention it feels wrong when all too often the three male judges are ganging up on the one female judge; especially when she has valid points. Finally, Carson Daly is only entertaining as a host when his wooden façade cracks and we see his frustration with the contestants, coaches, guest performers, and program in general.

Basically, there comes a point in every season where recapping the show isn’t fun or cathartic for me. It starts to feel like a second job. For me, that moment seems like it’s coming sooner rather than later and it’s a bad sign. While I’m proud of what I have written these past few years and I’m pleased that people have read (and hopefully enjoyed) my posts, in truth the writing process doesn’t come easily to me. One reason why I shifted the focus of this site from reviewing songs and albums to recapping musical competition reality shows is that the pace of the TV season and the ephemeral nature of the medium forced me to stick to a schedule and meet deadlines. However, that has also meant pushing myself to come up with something to say about every performance on every episode and a lot of times the words aren’t there for me and I get frustrated.

I want to keep this site going with new posts because writing is the one hobby for me that produces a tangible output. I’m pleased with the results but I find the journey frustrating to the point where I’ve found myself going to bed angry. If I’m going to make this site work for me I will need to change the format of how I write recaps and possibly what I write about entirely. Still, I hope to make this work. You probably won’t see any posts from me this week, but you should see something from me soon.

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Repost: Mitchell and Webb’s “Talent Dredge” Sketch

April 8, 2012

Kathy and I saw this sketch while watching That Mitchell and Webb Look on Netflix. It’s a few years old, but it still encapsulates a lot of what I love to hate about musical reality competition shows. In less than three minutes Robert Webb’s character unleashes a string of witty barbs that I could only hope to match in a season’s worth of recaps. Granted they’re directed at a fictional character instead of a real person so they can be super mean, but they’re still quite hilarious!

(Thanks to quitethoughtful of YouTube for posting the video.)

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Late Posting This Week

February 13, 2012

My posts on this week’s The Voice and American Idol will be late. I will be taking some time off this week for a death in the family.

I’ll be back in a few days!

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Madonna at Super Bowl XLVI

February 5, 2012

Image from Yahoo

I was looking forward to this performance. Some might see this halftime show as a step backward since Madonna is an established artist with three decades of albums under her belt. However, just as The Black Eyed Peas broke a six-year streak of boomer-friendly rock artists, Madonna is be the first woman since Janet Jackson to truly headline the show. More so than The Peas, Madge is an expert at identifying trends in dance music and adapting her performance style to stay relevant. I expected a propulsive good time.

“Vogue”
If there was a theme to the show, it was a campy subversion of the notion of sports culture. The costuming of the backup dancers in the opening number called back to the Olympics of ancient Greece and the chariot races of ancient Rome – the original mass culture sports. However, those classical forms were covered in glitter and juxtaposed with a mass of Jumbotrons displaying the logo of Vogue magazine. It was weird and refreshing. It also was a neat callback to the early 90s when she was performing “Vogue” at the VMAs dressed like Marie Antoinette – spectacular and Broadway-esque without venturing into taboo transgression like her mid-2000s performances.

“Music / Party Rock Anthem / Sexy and I Know It” (with LMFAO)
The “sports meets glam” theme continued when Madonna began doing runs up rows of bleachers in boots with 4-inch heels. She stumbled at the top, but she gracefully recovered at which point she was greeted by four b-boys in black and white tracksuits. Just when I was expecting a fairly straight forward pop-and-clock routine to classic French house, a highwire performer dressed like a seraph descended and joined the b-boys. As the tracksuits met the togas, the keyboard line of “Party Rock Anthem” wormed its way into the music and Madonna found a fur coat-clad LMFAO onstage. Once they launched into the full on Music/Party Rock mashup, they skipped over to center stage like they were in The Wiz. Musically it was pretty kickass since the blend was so damn good, but the choreography was so silly I couldn’t help but giggle. Also, props to Madonna keeping up with the much younger LMFAO during the shuffling and flexing without coming across as trying too hard.

“Give Me All Your Luvin’” (with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.)
This portion of the performance featured a group of dancers dressed as cheerleaders. It was pretty much a replication of the “Give Me All Your Luvin’” music video, which was ok since its new enough that not a lot of mainstream America would have seen it. The song’s cool dance-rock melody was catchy and uptempo enough that I’m interested in what else in on the forthcoming MDNA. It also featured guest spots from Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. For the most part both women were content to play backup singers, but they showed their chops during their solo raps on the bridge. M.I.A. in particular has me hopeful for a return to her early-2000s form and away from the abrasive and weird material that was on MAYA. She also showed that she hasn’t lost her edge – she seemed to have flipped the bird at the end of her rap. It cut out during the broadcast I saw, but Yahoo confirms it.

“Open Your Heart / Express Yourself / Like A Prayer” (with Cee Lo Green)
The transition into the final fourth of the performance was seamless. A drumline rolled in to back up the cheerleaders, followed by Cee Lo who was dressed as the marching band’s drum major. Madonna and Cee Lo performed a medley of Open your Heart and Express Yourself for what seemed like 30 seconds before everything went dark and it looked like the football field got sucked into a collapsing supernova. That supernova then turned into gospel choir to close out the show old school. Unlike the rest of the show, “Like A Prayer” was quite understated. Madonna and Cee Lo were dressed like sequined Supreme Court justices, but their gospel choir looked quite understated in black and white. Coming off of the peppy drumline section, “Like A Prayer” felt a bit anticlimactic. It was so much slower than what had come before. At least Madonna stayed committed to the end before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Overall I commend Madonna and the producers of this show for pulling off such a campy performance with commitment, excellence, and a sense of fun about everything. It’s cool to see such sparkle in the face of the rah-rah conservatism normally associated with the NFL. I had a great time watching this performance. It was more entertaining than the football game to which it was attached, that’s for sure (up until the end, anyway.) Go Giants and go Madonna!

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The Black Eyed Peas at Super Bowl XLV

February 7, 2011

Image from Popcrunch

Setlist: I Gotta Feeling / Boom Boom Pow / Sweet Child Of Mine (w/ Slash) / Pump It / Let’s Get It Started / OMG (w/ Usher) / Where Is The Love? / The Time (Dirty Bit) / I Gotta Feeling (reprise)

I was looking forward to this show. I’ve been a fan of the Peas as an alternative hip-hop trio since 2000, and again since 2005 as a dance act. Between the band’s David Guetta-assisted transition from pop to hard house and front man Will.I.Am’s embrace of any/all tech trends, the group has grown to be one of the biggest acts in the world.

So it’s fitting that the BEP’s are the first act to break the six year Super Bowl streak of classic rock bands that have performed the halftime show since the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004. Since that show, a reactionary succession of mostly boomer acts has dominated the stage:

2005: Paul McCartney

2006: The Rolling Stones

2007: Prince

2008: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

2009: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

2010: The Who

This halftime show was the first in seven years where all of the main performers were under 40. The idealist in me would like to think of this show as a break from the league’s social conservatism. Then I remembered the impending labor lockout from the Players Association, so…not so much….

Onto the show (which Popdust has if you missed it)! The BEPs’ LED show looked a lot like the halftime shows from years past. However, there were a few key differences.

  1. No Planted Audience: Instead of most halftime shows where the band has an audience jumping around and rocking out in front of the stage, the Peas had an army of dancers dressed in white and LEDs moving in step like an army, which brings us to….
  2. The Black Eyed Peas, clearly going for a Tron vibe, wore “futuristic” LED outfits, each with a signature flourish –
    1. Will.I.Am had a silver/clear headpiece that made me wonder about his receding hairline.
    2. Apl.de.ap had 3D glasses, so either he had a wicked headache by the end of the show, or he could see in 4D!
    3. Fergie had a glittery chest piece, which given the whole “football game” that was going on, was kind of appropriate.
    4. Taboo was covered virtually head to toe in LEDs. Seeing as SNL once referred to him as “that weird guy who dances,” Taboo doesn’t get much love, so at least he got the best outfit of the night.
  3. Guest Performances:
    1. Slash: He and Fergie performed the lone bit of classic rock, a cover of GNR’s “Sweet Child Of Mine,” with Fergie singing Axl’s part rather well and straddling Slash the whole time. Slash just kept to himself and shredded like the seasoned pro he is. His signature top hat should have been filled with LEDs.
    2. Usher: Similar to the Peas’ entrance, Usher dropped in from the rafters, except his entrance was super fast, so much that I was afraid his landing would leave an Usher-shaped hole in the stage. Usher and his backup dancers were dressed all in white and danced around for a minute or two while he sang “OMG” and Will.I.Am kind of stood off to the side half-assedly.
    3. I would have liked to see the guest performers stick around for the other songs. Slash is a guitar virtuoso, and he could have totally nailed the “Misirlou” guitar riff from “Pump It.” Usher could have sang Justin Timberlake’s part from “Where Is The Love.”
  4. Technical Difficulties: Over the course of the show, pieces of the stage gradually converged at the center of the stadium to spell “Love” from overhead. Except that half of the “v” shorted out so the overhead word came out as “Loie.”
  5. The Running Man: During their performance of “The Time (Dirty Bit),” the Peas and their dancers converged onstage to dance “The Running Man.” The back row of dancers was wearing “robot” heads that looked like clear Ikea drawer boxes. I’d like to see that at a Bruce Springsteen concert!

Overall I thought the performance was a great spectacle. The producers pulled out all the stops, the Peas did everything live, and it turned out to be a very fun show. I hope to see more of these blowouts at future Super Bowls.

Bonus!

  • Well, Christina Aguilera apologized for flubbing “The Star Spangled Banner.” If I were in her position, I might have messed up the lyrics as well, so I will cut her some slack. Besides, it’s a hard song to sing and from a singing perspective, she nailed it!
  • The Glee medley of “Thriller” and “Heads Will Roll” kicked ass! Best Glee song this season! (go to about 38:27 in the clip)

 

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The Katy Perry Conundrum

October 27, 2010

Image from Wikipedia

Well, Katy Perry and Russell Brand tied the knot this past weekend, so now seems as good a time as ever to ponder the whole thing about the new Mrs. Brand. Her ascendance over the past two years has led to some discussion between Kathy and me.

Katy is one of those pop artists whom I simultaneously really like and can’t freaking stand. I don’t know much about her music other than her big six singles (“I Kissed A Girl,” “UR So Gay,” “Hot N Cold,” “Waking Up In Vegas,” “California Gurls,” and “Teenage Dream”), but for the most part those singles tear the roof thanks to the one-two punch of her autotuned belting and the crisp, catchy productions of Max Martin and Dr. Luke. “Hot N Cold” and “California Gurls” in particular churn forward like dance-rock bullet trains and “I Kissed A Girl” is a bass-heavy shuffle-beat stomper that makes you want to pump your fist like you’re on Jersey Shore.

Still, Perry’s music is the kind of music that I want to divorce from the performer. I won’t change the station when they come on the radio, and I’m still tempted to throw down some cash to pick up her two most recent hits, but I feel a little dirty about it.

I think my big problem with Perry is a lack of authenticity. It’s not like the traditional Spears/Ke$ha paradigm that values love and partying (because I feel this irony when Perry does it), nor does it fit into the Aguilera/Pink/Rihanna practice of grafting more serious themes onto dance beats. Unlike the work of Lady Gaga, I can’t seem to find any larger themes or messages buried in the dance beats and costumes outside of “LOOK AT MEEEEEEEEEE.” When Gaga does it, there’s a little bit of abrasiveness and distance and meat dresses. When Perry does it, it’s all winks and points and dresses/bikinis that look like fruit. Kathy likens it to a nonspoken “Tee hee. Aren’t I cute?” Andrew “Garbage Day” Miller likens her persona to a garden-variety fameseeker who cares not for her actions, only that they garner attention:

This revolution has nothing to do with sexual preference and everything to do with savvy attention whores realizing they can turn their usual tacky behavior (posting half-nude photos of themselves in public forums, initiating calculated same-sex make-out sessions) into a lucrative career. (from Something Awful)

Michaelangelo Matos makes a similar argument, comparing Perry’s rise to that of Sarah Palin and Tea Party pseudofeminism:

“I Kissed a Girl” is infuriatingly ass-backward: cynical adherence to outdated values made into titillation, snide calculation dressed up as the underdog, the same old bullshit disguised as rebellion. (from The Stranger)

Indeed, for further evidence of Perry’s calculated “quirky, quirky, quirkiness,” one needs only to click on the above link to Matos’s article. That embedded picture of Perry has her totally jacking Zooey Deschanel’s look. Yes, Madonna jacked Marilyn Monroe’s look back in the day, but Marilyn Monroe wasn’t rocking it at the exact same time.

Alyx Vessey pretty much sums up the Perry problem in her essay on disliking Katy and Ke$ha.

By the time Perry’s inane ”California Gurls” came out earlier this summer, her image as a superficially edgy pop star with a predictable sense of heterosexually palatable feminine camp did little to challenge what I already thought of her….Perry needs to associate herself with hip, fashion-forward, androgynous young people to bolster her image. (from Feminist Music Geek)

Still though I wish I could quit KP, I can’t stay mad at her, and it isn’t all in her catchiness. For me I think it has to do with her latest single “Teenage Dream.” The popping beats and band dressed as a football team are still there, but for the first time I hear worry and desperation in Perry’s contralto growl. The lines about “dance until we die” and “young forever,” while hardly remarkable even for a dance song, at least show Perry seeing her mortality (or at that of her least her pop career) and flinching. It’s a small sign of growing up (or the fear of it). I gave Jay-Z props for expressing this sentiment, and I’ll give Katy the same credit. It’s just a sentiment that resonates with me at this point in my life.

In the grand scheme of things Perry’s biggest crimes are dressing up conservative heteronormativity as progressive edginess and being a crummy role model for young people (a crime that has been charged to almost every female pop sensation since 1981), so I feel ok splitting who she is and what she makes. There’s lots of great dance pop music on the radio, moreso than during the teen pop boom of the late 90s (since we’re not hearing so much of those crappy ballads that were previously bundled with the dance songs), and it’s my opinion that you should give KP’s music a shot at the very least – and not just listening on your headphones. Rock those beats in the car! Dance to those in the club! Belt those in karaoke!

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We’re Moving!

September 2, 2010

I apologize for the lack of post activity. Kathy and I are in the midst of a move from Denver, CO to just outside of Washington DC. As such, we’ve been mostly without internet (I’m typing this from a Panera in Ann Arbor, MI.

With every move comes the hassles of packing/supervising packing, cleaning the old place, transferring utilities, etc, but it isn’t all bad. For one thing, I’m taking some vacation time from work so we can use the week to see some of our family that we haven’t seen in awhile. We are looking forward to being within a day’s drive of some major family gatherings.

Another good part of a long distance move can be the road trip to your destination and the opportunity to listen to a ton of music. So far we have listened to:

Electric Six – “Kill”

Cee Lo – “Stray Bullets”

Big Boi – “Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty”

Lady Gaga – “The Fame Monster”

Getaway Cruiser – “Getaway Cruiser”

Black Eyed Peas – “The E.N.D.”

The Donnas – “Spend The Night”

I hope to get write-ups about all of these albums (except for the Lady Gaga and Cee Lo records, which I have already written about) up in the weeks to come. It’s likely that the next post you see will be from our new place on the East Coast.