Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Rihanna is more than a dating violence victim

July 14, 2011

On Twitter, Love Is Respect linked to this Huffington Post piece about Rihanna being a poster woman for domestic violence — the question alongside the link was, “This editorial puts a lot of pressure on Rihanna—how do you feel about it?” Well, here goes nothin’.

I think that expecting someone who goes through trauma to become a spokesperson for that cause is too much pressure. Does Rihanna being a celebrity mean that, if she chose to do public service announcements about dating violence, a wider audience would pay attention and become aware? Of course. Does her celebrity mean that her path to dealing with trauma should be public and/or dictated by the public? Absolutely not.

The article is a response to her latest video for “Man Down.” In the video, a man sexually assaults her and she later kills him. Someone suggested that Rihanna should do a PSA for the end of the video because the video itself sends the wrong message about dealing with assault. Though I think raising awareness about dating violence in the media is important, why are we relying just on Rihanna? And why are we viewing every artistic move she makes in the context of “Rihanna the victim” instead of “Rihanna the musician”?

Her experience with dating violence might filter through to songs. Maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, our initial, default reaction shouldn’t be, “Oh, how do these lyrics relate to when Chris Brown assaulted her?” In the article, author Lois Alter Mark asks, “[W]hy are we still blaming the victim?” in regard to judging Rihanna’s violent music video. I think a better question is, “Why are we only looking at Rihanna as a victim?”

Reasons why The Voice > American Idol

June 30, 2011

After randomly watching a rerun of The Voice, I became hooked. Initially, I wasn’t too interested in watching because so many singing-related talent shows have been infiltrating the airwaves. You’ve seen the shows: The Sing-Off, X-Factor, America’s Got Talent, and, of course, American Idol — in fact, I watched American Idol religiously in its first few seasons but eventually grew bored with it.

But I’ve become engrossed in The Voice. My boyfriend and I watch it every week, vote for the contestants, download the songs, tweet about it constantly, and spend way too much time critiquing the performances afterward (yes, we devoted 90 percent of our dinner conversation Monday night to The Voice). So what makes The Voice so much better than American Idol, the premier singing competition reality show?

1. The contestant pool 

American Idol‘s restrictions on its contestants are aimed to attract young, raw talent. The rules stipulate that you can’t have an agent, manager, recording contract, acting contract, or any other contract that the producers think would stop you from participating in the show; if you’ve been on the show before, you can’t re-audition if you made it past certain levels previously; and you have to be between 15 and 28 years old. Their restrictive contract also turns off applicants — Vicci Martinez made it to the regionals of American Idol but didn’t want to sign the restrictive contract and dropped out.

The Voice has more lax eligibility restrictions. Like Idol you can’t be related to anyone who works for the show or the production company, but the only age restriction is that you must be at least 16 years old. You can’t be holding or running for public office, either. In fact, Voice winner Javier Colon (34) and top four contender Beverly McClellan (41) wouldn’t be eligible to audition for American Idol.

The contestants on American Idol are typically less refined, lacking in professional experience, and are young — and sometimes it’s neat to see someone young like Diana DeGarmo make it to the final two, but it also makes for a lot of mediocre talent as you watch the numbers dwindle from 24 to, say, the top four. The Voice allows for more honed talent, with people like Dia Frampton — whose band Meg and Dia has been to Warped Tour several times and releases a few albums; Javier has released two albums; Vicci boasts eight albums; and Beverly boasts five.

Whereas American Idol wants raw, untapped talent, The Voice allows contestants who have had record contracts and albums but haven’t achieved mainstream success. I like that all the competitors are at the top of their game, have training, and are equally, highly talented with experience in the industry. It makes the competition more fierce and exciting to watch.

2. The time lapse 

I lose interest in American Idol because it drags on for months. Week by week, one by one, the dead weight gets voted off. I’m not interested or sad to see mediocre talent get voted off — wake me up when the best singers are left. But even then, the performers still sometimes aren’t that dynamic (likely because of inexperience). I like the fast pace of The Voice — two episodes (maybe three?) of auditions, then battle rounds, then quick cuts on each team from eight to four to two to one.

It’s hard to see talented people so quickly get kicked off the show, but it makes you want to watch when the cuts will be so dramatic. And the show doesn’t lose your attention because there’s only four episodes of voting. I can’t handle American Idol‘s six episodes of auditions, plus a few weeks of Hollywood auditions, plus 12 weeks or so of live voting.

3. The audition/competition structure 

I know everyone loves to see people humiliated on American Idol, but I like the idea of blind auditions only for people who are actually talented. No exploiting people for ratings because you know the ridiculous contestants get ratings, no wasting the judges’ time, and an element of mystery for the judges who have nothing to judge contestants on but their voice. I find this refreshing and interesting.

I also like how the judges have a personal, invested interest in specific people in the competition. I loved the battle rounds most of all — hearing two people sing a song and deciding who I thought sang it better. It really gets to the point — there’s no room to float by in the middle for a while, you need to be on your A-game because there’s no floating by. If you are mediocre, you won’t make it past the blind auditions (if you manage to get picked for a team).

The thing I lament about the structure is that most of the judges this season didn’t want to choose when it came time to allocate votes between their final two contestants. They evenly delegated 50 votes of 100 votes to each person, not wanting to make a decision. This hurt their finalists more than anything, because it gave the audience complete control to choose who stayed and went.

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Overall, The Voice is just more fast-paced, fun to watch, and is seeping with talent than American Idol. The Voice focuses on the well of experienced musicians who had small successes (I actually had a song from Dia’s band on my iPod, courtesy of seeing their music video on MTVu in college), but are stuck in a musical limbo where they’ve put out albums or signed record deals but aren’t seeing mainstream success (artists shouldn’t be “past their prime” just because they aren’t in their 20s anymore). I prefer the fast-paced, highly competitive, talent overflow of The Voice to the dragged out, hit or miss American Idol. 

If you’re looking for a healthy dose of saxophone solo …

May 26, 2011

… then look no further. Sax solos might become the latest craze — thanks to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” to Katy Perry’s “TGIF” — but let’s not forget what a real saxophone solo in a pop song sounds like:

I dedicate this YouTube video of “Urgent” by Foreigner to my friend and saxophone solo enthusiast, Erin.

Gaga saying “retarded” contradicts equality-driven persona

April 21, 2011

Lady Gaga, why are you trying to piss me off so much lately? Specifically, why do you keep using derogatory language in song lyrics and interviews? As someone who wants to define herself as a leader in the social justice movement and a champion of equal rights, why do you use language that is intended to make people feel unequal? As someone who acts as a “mother monster” to the “little monsters” who are taunted, ridiculed, and not accepted by society, why are you othering people even more? WTF?

Let me explain. Lady Gaga said this in a recent interview, in which the interviewer asked about the accusations that Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was a ripoff off Madonna’s “Express Yourself”:

No. Listen to me. Why the f**k? I’m a songwriter…Why would I try to put out a song and think I’m getting one over on everybody? That’s retarded. If you put the songs next to each other, side by side, the only similarities are the chord progression. It’s the same on that’s been in disco music for the last 50 years. Just because I’m the first f**king artist in 25 years to think of putting it on Top 40 radio, it doesn’t mean I’m a plagiarist. It means I’m f**king smart. Sorry.

Really Lady Gaga? REALLY? I despise the word “retarded” when used as a synonym for stupid, moronic, dumb, etc. It makes me cringe; it makes my blood boil. And I never thought I’d see the day when Gaga — maven of the people who feel left out, who feel othered, who feel like they don’t belong, who are ridiculed, who aren’t “normal” by society’s standards — would use a word that synonymizes being disabled with being a moron. That’s ableist language — language that implies that if you have a disability, you are less of a person. (Go here for a fantastic description of ableist language and why it’s problematic.)

But it’s not the first time that Gaga’s language has made her fans feel uneasy. In February, Feministing posted an open letter to Lady Gaga that outlined why words she uses in her song “Born This Way” — “chola” and “orient-made” — were racist:

Maybe you know people who refer to themselves as “Cholas”. And that’s fine for them. It’s called “reappropriating the pejorative” – the same thing as what you do with the word “bitch”. But you can’t reappropriate if you’re not part of the group that the pejorative is applied to. So you can call yourself a “bitch” or “guidette” as much as you like – but use the word “Chola”? Not so much.

The author of this blog gave Gaga the benefit of the doubt, as “chola” has different meanings depending on where you say it geographically, and many people don’t know “oriental” has racist undertones. It was instructional rather than an attack, meant as a lesson for a 24-year-old young woman who might not be aware that in some circles those words are hurtful.

I get that people can’t be politically correct 100 percent of the time, but I hold Gaga to a higher standard. As someone who has built her career as the voice for the outcasts, as someone who was called a freak, as someone who was bullied, as someone who wants to make equality a reality, I expect her to live by those words. But when she freely throws around the term “retarded,” it makes me think she is full of bullshit.

And it’s not just her — throughout social justice movements, people focus on causes that affect them and don’t pay enough attention to the other inequalities around them. There were/are sexists and homo/transphobic people in the civil rights movement; there were/are racists and homo/transphobic people in the feminist movement; there were/are racists and sexists in the gay rights movement; there are ableists in all these movements, and some of these -ists are in the disability rights movement. Sometimes they aren’t malicious, but just ignorant. It hampers unity within and among movements, which can hamper their ability to achieve their goals.

It’s frustrating to see Lady Gaga follow this path of advocating equality for some while actively perpetuating inequality for others. Is she just naive? Does she think she is above scrutiny? Does this speak to her own privilege? I don’t know; it’s probably a combination of all three. But recognizing your own privilege and learning about what privilege other people lack is an integral part of the social justice movement — especially for someone trying to be a leader in it. I’m waiting to see if she responds or apologizes. Until then, I’m questioning her “Mother Monster” persona — inclusive for some outcasts, but not for others.

Update: Lady Gaga has apologized for the remark, saying:

I consider it part of my life’s work and music to push the boundaries of love and acceptance. My apologies for not speaking thoughtfully. To anyone that was hurt, please know that it was furiously unintentional. An honest mistake, requires honesty to make. “Whether life’s disabilities, left you outcast bullied or teased, rejoice and love yourself today.”

This apology is meh to me. Maybe I’m just still annoyed about the whole thing … maybe it’s because quoting song lyrics you wrote to prove you aren’t ableist seems even worse. Almost like, “Hey, I’m not racist, I have a friend who is [insert ethnicity here]!”

Quick note: Celebrities are human, too (aka don’t mess with Britney)

April 14, 2011

This just in: Celebrities are human, too.

I’ve been seeing a lot of hate toward Britney Spears lately for her performances of singles from her new album. People say she’s lost her touch and can’t dance like she used to, and that this makes her performances lackluster and lame. Then I read about how Tiger Woods has lost his golf touch. Whether their life crises has directly affected their talent is questionable — maybe they’re just getting old? Has anyone thought of that?

Spears is nearly 30, but she’s been performing professionally practically non-stop for 15+ years. Woods is 35, but he’s been golfing professionally for nearly 15 years as well. Both also were non-professionally honing their craft from an early age, Spears since age 3 and Woods since age 2. Isn’t it feasible that they are simply running out of steam after decades of putting their bodies through constant physical stress? We accept that athletes’ careers are very short because of the physical toll it takes; so why are so many people surprised that the same would happen to Spears or Woods?

This just agitates me because we put celebrities on these pedestals, and it makes it harder for them to live up to these expectations, and it only puts higher expectations on ourselves. We wonder why they are gaining weight and looking older, so they go get plastic surgery and crash diet so that the public doesn’t judge them; then we look at those same celebrities and feel inadequate because we don’t look as nearly perfect. Celebrities might get airbrushed so they don’t have any skin pores or wrinkles, but that’s not reality — they get old, and they can’t keep the same pace as their 18-year-old selves.

Sorry, but Britney will always be Britney in my book. I don’t care if she doesn’t dance like she did in the early 2000s, and I don’t even care if she lip-syncs all her songs. She’s made her mark in the music industry and is a great performer, and I don’t expect she’ll always dance like she did as a teenager or young 20-something. Also under this category, file “assuming female celebrities are pregnant because they don’t have rock solid flat stomachs or because their clothes are at a certain angle.” Ugh.

Lady Gaga’s meat dress inspires runway, sends mixed messages

September 17, 2010

Lady Gaga had several outfit changes during MTV’s video music awards, ending with the now-infamous meat dress:

What’s more disturbing than the dress itself is the fact that meat-as-fabric might be a trend now — I really hope it isn’t. It’s Fashion Week in New York City, and designer Jeremy Scott revealed a meaty design on the runway, just days after the VMAs aired:

This boggles my mind because (1) obviously it’s cruel to animals;  (2) it’s a total waste of meat — it’s hard to imagine using meat as fabric when almost 15 percent of U.S. households, more than 17 million, are food insecure, meaning they aren’t sure where their next meal will come from; (3) it’s not even attractive — who looks at that bacon bikini top and finds it appealing?

Though Lady Gaga has said that she wore the meat dress to draw attention to the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy — she told Ellen the meaning was that if you don’t stand up for your rights that you won’t have any more rights than the meat on your bones — it has simultaneously worked its way onto the runway.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure the message Gaga wanted to send has gone along with it — the shock value seems to have superceded the intended message, and Gaga’s flare for edgy fashion has superceded her flare for human rights activism in this case. The meat dress isn’t seen as a symbol of the lack of agency or a statement about how humans are more than just slabs of meat — it’s seen as a new type of fabric, and that’s unfortunate for the gay rights cause the dress was meant to highlight, the animals that get butchered to be the dress, and the fashion world who somehow finds the look appealing.

And, as I feared might happen, one cause gets exploited for the sake of another cause. It’s ironic because the statement Gaga wants to make is that animals are merely slabs of meat, and if you don’t stand up for yourself than you’re just like an animal with no rights and no free will — yet though she acknowledges this cause, she then exploits the fact those animals don’t have rights by wearing some to get attention for her own cause.

The really interesting thing is that Gaga doesn’t have to wear a meat dress to get attention for her cause or support from her fans. She could wear anything bizarre and get attention, and her fanbase is extremely devoted — she has the most followers on Twitter and uses it often to interact with her “little monsters” and as a tool for activism, as she recently did by urging people to call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Reid announced via Twitter that there will be a vote on the policy next week (though said it was planned before Gaga’s tweets about calling him), and even Tweeted a little with Gaga.

Though I doubt skirts made of bacon and jackets made of ham will be lining the aisles of the clothing section of Target anytime soon, even the faux meat representation sends an extremely confusing message. It simply is a reminder that popular culture so quickly jumps to mimic and recreate whatever pop stars are doing, regardless of how inhumane, nonsensical, or bizarre it is — maybe that’s the secret underlying message and social commentary of Gaga’s meat dress.

‘Love the Way You Lie’ doesn’t promote partner violence

August 13, 2010

I’ve been a bit hesitant to throw in my two cents about the Eminem song “Love the Way You Lie” — a song about intimate partner violence — mostly because after reading blogs like this one, this one, and this one (and the corresponding comments), I thought I was being insensitive or missing something because I actually like the song — and lots of people don’t like the song:

[Rihanna]’s singing in that gorgeous voice of hers, and for a moment I think “Maybe this won’t be so bad.” A few seconds later, the recording fails and “I Love The Way You Lie” turns into a rap song. By Eminem. Who is literally the last fucking person I want to hear singing about intimate partner violence.

Garland Grey of Tiger Beatdown is just one of many who find the song and especially the music video disturbing — I can’t speak for the video because I haven’t watched it, but I can speak for the song, which I have listened to many times. And though some people think it’s a self-pitying rant by an abuser and/or a song that promotes staying with an abuser, I think it’s neither — it’s an honest look at intimate partner violence.

Eminem isn’t asking for pity on this track — his lines about being sorry are juxtaposed with lines that threaten his partner because that’s a common cycle of partner violence and likely an honest account of his feelings as an abuser (his physical abuse toward ex-wife Kim is well-known). Do I pity him after hearing this song? No. Can I appreciate that he’s honest about his thought process, deluding himself into thinking he will change, recognizing he shouldn’t be physically abusive, but then doing it anyway? Yes.

Rihanna is being heavily criticized for her part in the song, in which she sings lines like “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/But that’s all right because I like the way it hurts” in the chorus. Rihanna is a survivor of partner violence, leading people like Tricia Romano at The Daily Beast to ask, “WTF is Rihanna thinking?” 

I think, like Eminem, Rihanna’s lines are equally honest. She recognizes how insensitive and hurtful the partner is, but she deludes herself into thinking that she likes the relationship, the partner, and the abuse. Rihanna herself admitted to Diane Sawyer that after Chris Brown physically assaulted her, she briefly reconciled with him — she loved him, she said, but she didn’t want her fans — especially the young ones — to see her go back to him and think it was OK to stay in an abusive relationship because Rihanna had done it.

It’s unfortunately common for women to return to abusive relationships. In fact, researchers at the University of Rochester found that half of women who leave abusive relationships go back to the abusive relationships, on average about five times — so, yes, Rihanna’s lines in the chorus are not direct calls against partner violence, but rather depictions of the real psychological abuse that manifests from abusive relationships.

So maybe I’m still being insensitive and missing something, but of course everyone hates the lyrics. You should hate the lyrics at a superficial level, and if you aren’t fazed or affected by them, that’s a problem. They are the thoughts that breed and continue partner violence, and they are thoughts that overcome both the person abusing and the person being abused, both who — as the song depicts — are cognizant that the relationship isn’t healthy but convince themselves to stay or that things will change.

I’ll agree with critics that the song never explicitly addresses that the partner violence depicted is unhealthy and wrong, which could lead listeners to misinterpret the message; whether this omission is because Eminem, Rihanna, and the others involved thought it would speak for itself as an anthem against partner violence, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t think the song romanticizes or condones partner violence. It’s an honest account that sends the message of how confusing, painful, and cyclical it can be — and we need to talk about those aspects to truly understand intimate partner violence.

As one commenter on Feministing put it:

This song IS pretty fucked up. So is domestic violence … What does it mean if we take these words at nothing but their face value? It was what it was. In Recovery [the name of Eminem’s new album], we tell the truth. Maybe?