#5: Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama's cool and all, but she has not been bestowed this mighty honor--one of the Happiest of 2k8--just because she's 'cool.' M-Bama is the Happiest because she is married to a President with benefits. America's changing for the better (like, way better), and while we are all blessed enough to be alive to watch the transformation, M-Bama's got the best seat in the house.
Oh, and there's this:
#4: Sam Sparro
Sam Sparro is an enigma. A gay ex-soul singer son of two preachers from Australia, there are so many adjectives applicable to his description--sexual, effervescent, genuis--there aren't enough descriptions in my vocabulary to describe him. Impressive production qualities aside, his debut Sam Sparro created its own disco vernacular: the ominous single "Black and Gold," the sparkling dance track "Cut Me Loose"--cuts that speak directly to the spirits of the young and the restless. Sparro's also become somewhat of an icon, with a personality ill-fitting any stereotype. If I may be childish for one moment, (LOLZ) the one flaw in Sparro is his horrible style. Neon is sooo 2k7. Agreed?
For a full review of Sam Sparro, click here.
It was a good year for the preps. No, the preps aren't some alt-indie folk band or a new STD (or is it?). I mean what I say. Sorors, fratties, rich white kids and Ivy League types all benefited from 2k8. The election of BaROCK-N-RObama the sole exception, the cult of being preppy has once again ascended the pop culture ladder and now sits proudly on the peak. Why, you ask? Why, because the alts and the emos have lost their sting. What is 'mnstrm' is now what is 'alt.' So what's "alt" now? How can one differentiate themselves from the herds of American Apparel zombies?
Throw on a sweater, pull up some khakis and kick off your Toms. If you're a girl, you've got only one clothing option: Nike running shorts, a teeshirt that makes you look rich ('I <3>) and nike running shorts. For evening, swap out the shorts for black tights that end mid-calf and a pair of brown Uggs. I promise you'll feel better. Don't believe "prep" is the Happiest of 2k8/possibly the Happiest of 2k9? Two words: Gossip Girl.
You're reading the blog of a guy who bought his first pair of Sperry's last night. Prepare yourselves, people, for the altapocalypse has begun.
#8: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I left the theater minutes ago, literally, and I am not being typically dramatic when I say Brad Pitt's performance in Benjamin Button is one of the most touched and tangible of the year. Playing a man who ages in reverse, Pitt commands the entire emotional spectrum. He is quiet and mysterious, decisive and adventurous; he's beautiful. I've never been a Brad Pitt fan, but this film moved me, and Pitt was the hurricane force behind that movement.
A sumptuous feast for the eyes, ears and mind, Benjamin Button is an experience that is so much shorter than its physical constraints (that is, a 2:45 hour runtime). Blanchett, as his oddly inconsistent (but ravishing) wife, lover and eventual "mother," is the only weight on this weightless film, not meeting my expectations after seeing the Bob Dylan tribute I'm Not There. The visual effects are most impressive when rendering Blanchett as a youth, however, and her dancing is a powerful metaphor for how she lived her life; so, narratively, Blanchett's character soared, but when her character ignores Button leaving her--sitting on a bed with a stunted expression--one questions whether she deserved him at all.
Blanchett's part is only marginally bad in comparison to how fantastic the movie is as a whole. Before you know it, you will have tears streaming down your cheeks and the credits will fade in. I'll always remember Pitt's performance and the lessons his character told: life is short, and no matter how you live it, live well.
2008 was a great year for film, and Atonement was the first sign of life. Keira Knightly, as a stubborn girl suffering from an affliction that only be described as an early 19th century version of suburbia, gave an award-deserving performance, while James McAvoy took all the wrinkles caused by her shuffling and made them smooth. Of course, there's that sex scene. That breathless, steaming few seconds in the estate library, where they peered over their insecurities and faced the open skies of sexual possibility. (This is a semi-quote from Ian McEwan's inferior novel, which I read before the film.)
The credit here really goes to Joe Wright, one of the most plainly named yet most talented directors in the industry. Every frame of the film is a photograph, every set an art installation; he made dolls out of his actors but made them move and act human again.
#6: Speed Racer
For a full review of this unforgettable, kinetic visual workout, click here.
Just throwin' it out there.
Christmas was good. Great in terms of family, poor in terms of Apple product.
As in, any Apple products I received suck. What's happening to the fruitiest of software companies? Is shiny red losing her luster?
My iPods are failing, sorors are walking around with iPhones, and now I own the single crappiest piece of software Santa's ever graced with his grubby little paws.
Cooking classes, a collection of portraits by Mario Testino, and LOST season 4. Merry Christmas!
There's about to be a waterfall/flood of Happiestlist 2k8 posts. Grab an umbrella, y'all.
(BTDUBS: The HA is about to go 'global.' Dropping the blogspot and picking up the old .com!)
Lupe Fiasco is a badass. In 2k8 alone, his stellar rap album--so fresh and cutting it's essentially spoken word set over a shimmering production--gained momentum and led to a tour with Kanye West in one of the most impressive shows of the year.
Lupe wouldn't be on this list if it weren't for "Hip Hop Saved My Life," a track that is not only deeply affecting but catchy and memorable. In the vein of Lauryn Hill's "To Zion," off Miseducation, Lupe tells a heartbreaking story about a Houston man rapping to make a living, going "back to the kitchen" to get "back to the mission" of getting his girlfriend off the streets and his mother out of the ghetto. The human side of rappers is rarely shown, unless you count dicks and prostitutes; Lupe's The Cool is a brave release, and certainly one to be remembered in 2K8.
I think, more often than we realize, the music we listen to is simply a social tool used to meet arbitrary standards set by our peers. If we were all free from judgment from our "tastemaker" friends--the friends who wear plaid skirts, watch Dexter and listen to Ghostland Observatory--wouldn't we all listen to the processed crap we hear on the radio without hesitation?
I'm sure others have debated this exact point in more concise terms than I, but once again, a fantastic article on Hipster Runoff got me thinking. I mean, why is so many great pop songs (Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone") shunned by the cool kids while Rihanna's "Umbrella" is embraced? Almost as if Rihanna won some hipster lottery, enabling her to be accepted by all music lovers. How stupid.
All people want to feel good. Human nature has programmed us this way. Pop music, on the whole, makes people feel good. It's shiny and electric, filled with hooks and musical connections that send out reinforcing pulses in our brains--the same pulses that one feels upon the completion of a puzzle or a book. (We won't get complicated, but a good musical hook is like a puzzle being solved by the mind over and over again. When the song sounds synchronous and beautiful, our brains feel accomplished.) Basically, I'm saying human beings would likely listen to pop music above other types of music because it's so accessible and can make us feel good easier.
Personally, I've noticed that no matter which song or artist I'm listening to--50 Cent, Sheryl Crow, MGMT, Of Montreal--it's just pop. I don't listen to MGMT's psychodelia. I don't about Crow's country recordings. I pick and choose the songs that most fit this unfortunate "pop" recess in my music library.
Case-in-point: I drunkenly downloaded two Shania Twain albums a few weeks ago (the total truth--long, long story), and the only songs I genuinely listen to are the poppiest of the bunch. I avoid the heartier stuff.
So what is this "thing" about pop music? Is it just me? Do we listen to music that makes us feel good?
(I know plenty of people that listen to gloomy music to make them feel worse--a sad kind of spiral.)
Conclusion to be added when I think of something.
Mickey Avalon. Can't figure him out. I like "Jane Fonda" and "My Dick," but neither blow my mind.
Is he brilliant? Am I just not getting it?
I'm actually kind of upset at myself. A few months ago my friends were inviting me to see him live and I didn't go because I'd never heard of him. He's an ex-drug dealer/prostitute/orthodox Jew, reasons enough to see him live--music or not.
Who will top the list? Who is the Happiest of 2008?
Will it be Ba-Rock N' R'Obama? The 'ugly' Jonas? Will it be Sarah Palin's meme-worthy Juno daughter?
Because it's unfair to tease, I'll go ahead and let the world know the first inductee into the HA top ten.
#10: Tricia Walsh-Smith
This crazy ho has an entire series of YouTube videos chronicling her recent divorce and subsequent life changes. She's aggressive, outspoken, and--really, now--totally nuts.
(Before each of her YouTube clips, a brief message appears, referring to Walsh-Smith as a "Pheonix Rising From The Ashes.")
Most recently, Walsh-Smith released a single (as in, music) and video titled, "(I'm Going) Bonkers." Watch it and you'll know exactly why she deserves a place on the HA top ten.
So srs q: What do I do? Follow the HA traditional 'common speak' or change into Carles 2.0?
When Apple updated Tiger into Leopard, was it "inauthentic" just b/c it was a superior jungle cat?
Ughhh. sOOO confused.
Remix #1: Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" by Yelle. Stripping away the addictive chorus, Yelle's replaced the bubblegum for a little alternative Big League chew: "You're hot, hot, hot/Then you're cold, cold, cold/You tease me, tease me, tease me/Sayin' you'll call, call, call." It's not an improvement, necessarily, but the remix brings something fresh (and yes, French) to the pop feast offered by Perry's original. It's like bourbon in a Jell-O cake.
Remix #2: Madonna's "Miles Away" by Johnny Vicious. In contrast to Oakenfold's superior remix of "Give It 2 Me" earlier this year, Vicious has downplayed the vulnerable elements of "Miles Away" in favor of earthy beats and tropical sound effects. In a smart editing move, Vicious didn't remove any of the guitar strumming of the original. So, in a nutshell, Vicious implemented a few light tweaks in the bodice of the original, leaving a slightly more robotic (but nontheless more danceable) version of Madonna's failed second Hard Candy single.
Remix #3: Justin Timberlake's "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows" by Justice. The brizilliant French duo, seemingly unable to craft anything sub-par, took Justin's original--by far the most offbeat of Futuresex/Lovesounds' singles--and transformed the lazy inbetween-chorus valleys with vibrant string sections and a stunning musical breakdown as the finale. (Did that make any sense?) However, Justice outdid themselves with vintage Britney...
Remix #4: Britney Spears' "Me Against the Music" by Justice. Remixes as surprising and revolutionary (in accordance to the original) as Justice's take on "Music" are rare. With anthemic, urgent horn-like synths and breathing-in-reverse effects at every chorus, this is a redeaux only the French could put out. (Teehee!) Britney actually sounds better with a rougher production, with Madonna's section sounding right at home, and it leaves me wondering if hiring Justice as either of their primary producers for their next albums would be a forward-thinking move. For Madonna, a sound like Justice's seems like a natural next step in her evolution into post-apocalyptic football player, but with Britney this should probably stay a one-time deal. It's the best remix of the four, but Britney is sexy; Justice is sexy. Together, they're almost cliche.
Who deems what is and isn't authentic? Do I sound smart and worldly if I just say, "Everything's authentic, there's no such thing as inauthenticity?" That's probably my canned response, like, "Everyone's got their own authenticity."
But it can't be true. If everything was authentic, than I wouldn't bristle when pretentious aquaintances brag about their co-op parties and their obsessions with Uggs. I'm not saying Uggs can't be authentic, but are they? This is Austin, Texas, where the winters clock in around mid-December and the temperature hovers at 70 degrees fahrenheit. Is practicality the ultimate tell of whether something is authentic or not?
What about motives? Perhaps, more so than practicality, the motives behind purchases and life decisions are a better measure of authenticity. Do you dress to be accepted by a peer group? Even in alternative circles, there are surprisingly salient trends. Child predator glasses (not my term), dark hose, dirty hair. Okay let's look at something less tangible than clothing. (It always seems to go back to clothing...)
Life decisions. Are you in business school because your parents demanded it/expected it/"your dad graduated from McCombs?" I'm not trying to judge anyone here. I'll be the first to admit that I am a product of my parent's raising. I'm independent and strong-willed, but that's because my parents taught me to be those things.
So, if you do anything someone expects of you, are you inauthentic? Motives cannot be a true measure of authenticity, because people do many things with ulterior motives that are entirely authentic.
What's the final answer, then? I can tell you one thing, I'm not authentic. I write my little blog, tromp around in my combat boots and Seven jeans, chatting about the latest issue of Texas Monthly and how I'm "sooo jealous" of all my friends' internships. I'm such a poser! Like, mad-pose! I'm not saying this as a deflector, either. This is not one of those disguised, "See I'm really authentic but I'll play like I'm not to diffuse any negative response." I'm serious.
I want to be authentic. I want to be as bold as Marc Jacobs, as enduring as Madonna, as creative as Steven Meisel. I want to be a genius like Kanye West and be as infiltrative as Crispin Porter + Bogusky. I want the life of The Sartorialist!
Bottom line. I may not be authentic, and can't tell you what is, but I can tell what isn't. Don't pretend, and don't be pretentious*. Don't live a life of self-indulgence and selfishness. Life a life of consequence. If you live for yourself there's no reason to live.
When Christopher McCandless entered the Alaskan wilderness alone in 1994, he thought life was about self-discovery and the relentless search for "the meaning of life." Dumb! He's authentic, for sure--he died for his own authenticity--but his theory failed.
On his death bed, McCandless wrote on a page of Henry David Thoreau's "On Walden Pond." Obviously he didn't have any paper, but in the margins he scribbled, "Happiness only real when shared."
You know, I may have just figured it out. (This is a post about authenticity, so I feel I have to reiterate that I didn't "get it" five minutes ago--this literally just clicked, which is a happy literary coincidence!) Living an authentic life means living a life loving others. A life is nothing without a counterpart, a husband or wife. How crazy, too, as a feminist and civil rights activist, I shouldn't be preaching eternal commitment. But I am because it's truth.
The key to an authentic life is--please excuse the heavy-handed cliche--love. That's what it's about.
[Dramatic pause. Go read something frothy so you can absorb all that corn syrup!]
And with that, I conclude my second weekend post.
Ooh, I feel all fulfilled and crap!
[This is an offish new tradish. Every weekend, since my life seems to both peak and recess somewhere between Saturday night and 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning, I have wild new thoughts. Definitely more on the rambling side, but they're important. I had a rant a few weekends ago on personal style, and you should read it. There's even a hobo shout out! Wha-what!]
*I know I'm like, extremely pretentious, so just pretend Mother Theresa wrote this post.
The "Robocop" artwork is just OOC.
More at Gowhere Hiphop.
I maintained a Xanga account for maybe two years, I don't know, and it's still there. HIGHlarious to read.
A quote from early 2007, proving some things never change:
"Since there may be people from my honors group who read this (besides Jac), I'll refrain from telling the story of...let's call him A-Man. LIFE IS THE CRAZY!!!!!
LIFE IS THE CRAZY!!!!"
"Love Letter to Japan" is the most radio-friendly work the group has ever released, and I'm thinking it will be pay off in dividends for the hipster crowd. It's kind of rambunctious, the kind of pop that swings from 0-to-60 in less than five seconds, but Inara works her creepy doll-meets-sex shop owner vocals to the hilt here, carving out a place I think belongs in pop radio. It's no "Womanizer," though, and when songs as produced as "Single Ladies" sit atop the charts its hard for something less overworked to break through. Maybe Apple will choose "Love Letter" as the next theme for an iPod ad or something. That worked for CSS. And Yael Naim. And The Ting Tings...
I adore Lily Allen. She's unforgiving, brutally honest, and can't keep her mouth shut. Hundreds of musical artists share these characteristics; Allen's different because she can back it up.
I'll admit I was never a fan of "Smile," her ubiquitous first single and (if the U.S. it to believed) only worthy track on Alright, Still. Other tracks blew my mind with their unique styling, a blend of hip-hop, reggae and standard Britpop. The strongest of her first LP, "Knock 'Em Out," was a brightly-produced pop number with a darkly humorous tint, and "Everything's Just Wonderful" proved Allen could handle beat-heavy production and stay on top with smart lyrics and a voice that never stretches itself beyond it's own 1950s, radio-hall quality.
"The Fear," her newest single culled from the upcoming It's Not Me, It's You, is exactly what an Allen fan wanted out of her new material. It's essentially a mature version of "Everything," with an overeager synthesized drumbeat and the same tongue-in-cheek rhyming of olde.
There's something different here, though, and it's not just the relaxed production. Allen sounds vulnerable. Sad, even. Allen's certainly endured a few tragedies over the past months, what with a miscarriage, a broken off engagement, pressure from her label to be more like her stateside unequivalent Katy Perry, and all the crap Perez Hilton throws at her on a daily basis. Allen's an ideal model for fame, however. She's fully self-aware of what fame is and how it can affect a new star. She's no Amy Winehouse.
And Amy Winehouse is no Lily Allen.
This screen capture from Britney's "Circus" video is a beautiful emotional statement. It's about strength, and courage, and defiance. None of these things describe Britney Spears, but I love this image and I wanted to post it.
Almost like Annie Leibovitz' Vogue shoot for Baz Luhrman's failed "epic," Australia. Oh my god, does a "failed epic" also equal an epic fail??
Circus is a fun, no-holds-barred pop album. Musically, it is not as addictive as Britney's previous effort, the freakishly appropriate Blackout--she may never again have a song as instantly danceable as "Break The Ice" or as anthemic as "Piece of Me"--but there's no doubting the Princess of Pop has returned in full force, ready [for her puppeteers] to conquer the music world. Or, conquer in the sense that a half-crazy, white trash mother of two can.
Really, the songs on Circus are divided into two categories: pop-orgasm good and shoot-my-ears off bad. The head of the pack, "Kill the Lights," is a tragedy told through curtains of dark lace and some of the best vocal editing since Justin Timberlake's Futuresex/LoveSounds. Oddly, many of the cuts on Circus bring to mind Timberlake's strongest work; "Shattered Glass" contains portions that sound directly lifted off "LoveStoned," while the bass line of "Blur" could be swapped for "What Goes Around/Comes Around" and no one would think twice.
The album contains other obvious inspirations as well. "Lace and Leather," one of the sickest tracks on the album, begins with the same three notes as Madonna's "Dance 2night" off Hard Candy. This doesn't render Circus any less of an album, but it detracts from the overall experience when so many tracks seem bled off the bodies of other great works. The former track, despite its introduction, presents Britney at her sexiest. She's flirty and assertive, singing lyrics that perfectly illustrate the visual scene the producers are painting. "French fingertips/red lips/bitch is dangerous," she purrs, "Cotton candy kiss/can't wait/for my suger rush." (Candy? Really? Madonna alert number two!)
"Unusual You" is one of the few risks on Circus, and whether or not it pays off is up to individual interpretation. Personally, I find it kind of sad, Britney comparing herself to "a boxer in the ring." (Madonna alert number three!) I want happiness for Britney, as does most of the caring public, but I'm not sure she'll ever find it. A love like the kind she sings about in "Unusual You"--angelic, surprising, unworthy love--is something she has shown a knack for avoiding. Production-wise, it serves as a needed break in the loud pop extravaganzas of "If U Seek Amy" and "Shattered Glass," a kind of subdued confessional reminiscent of "Heaven On Earth," one of the few non-bare-it-all tracks on Blackout.
Without a doubt, the most musically, lyrically, vocally unique (and risque) song on Circus is, well, a bonus track. "Phonography" is a nearly flawless pop track, with an ice-cold synth and a roiling vocal sample pushing the TMI boundaries into overdrive. Written about a long distance lover, whom she hopes to keep that way, "Phonography" is just hot; it's "old Britney" by New Britney. Another example of her producers' kitschy use of verbiage, Britney sings (in a stagnant hum that works in context), "I like my Bluetooth, buttons coming loose/I need my hands free/then I let my mind roam, playing with my ring-tone/I've got serivice, you've got service/baby we can talk all night."
"Phonography" is clever. "If U Seek Amy" is clever. Tracks like these make a pop fan hope Britney truly is on her way to becoming The Artist of the New Millenium once again. This album may not fit the bill--"Mmm Papi" and "My Baby" pretty much diminish any hopes of an Oops!...I Did It Again kind of album--but Britney started in this business with the same core idea of beginning with something clever, something that catchtes the listeners' ears. All of Britney's biggest hits were made with metaphor and double entendres. "...One More Time," "Toxic," and "Slave 4 U" utilized a combination of Britney's sublime sexuality (that's the correct usage, by the way) and lyrics that just almost give it to you. Circus appears to be following a similar route, and is leagues better than Blackout.
If there's one thing Circus teaches us as a pop audience, it's "A Coherent Britney is a Better Britney." And a Circus is better than a Blackout.
Now, Robert Pattinson, from the insipid Twi-"THE NEW TITANIC"-light film was wearing my boots and pants to a recent premier.
First Carlos Leon.
Then The Gossip Girl boys.
Now some pale dude from Twilight?
Clearly, I'm getting my inspirations from someplace wrong if so many teeny boppers are jacking my look.
n e ways…s000 stressed. Need 2 find some adderall, but the city is dry. Might try 2 make a cocktail of 5Hour Energy, Sparks, Red Bull, Rock Star Energy Drink, Vitamin Water, Pepsi Max, OneADay multivitamin, blow, CLIF Bars, Power Bars, and Chewy Granola Bars, and see if that gives me the ‘edge’ I need 2 ace my Psychology 101 course. S00 stressed. Our professor is s00 hard, but in the end it makes us ‘get’ the subject more. Kinda sux, but kinda good since it is making me more aware of the world. (Shoulda gone to design skewl so that I would be passionate about my courses.)
Kinda wish the test was all multiple choice. h8 free response. h8 essay tests! i s000 don’t know what I’m talking about! s00 stressed. Might just order some pizza. What are yall doing 2nite?
MAKE ME A BETTER PERSON
BECAUSE FOR THE FIRST TIME
IN MY LIFE
I FEEL LIKE I AM AN ADULT
WHO HAS REAL RESPONSIBILITIES.
// I LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD ////"
From The Hipster Runoff, quite simply the greatest blog I've ever read.
Come NEXT WEDNESDAY (Yes, it'll be awhile):
Day & Age review
New Music: Katy Perry and Madonna Remixes
Actual Brain Function
...I'm thinking Britney Spears' "Circus" (the track, not the album--yet) is one of the best pop tracks I've heard since "Toxic." With a breathy sample as a bass line, a characteristic slowly becoming Britney's signature, the track is consistently surprising. From the initial pitch rise, reminiscent of Madonna's "Miles Away," it's clear Dr. Luke wants to keep it all in the family. Bringing together the best of Katy Perry's crunchy samples off "I Kissed A Girl," the tenacious throbbing of Confessions on a Dance Floor, and even Paris Hilton's redunkulous pop ease, if you have any taste at all, you will hate this track.
But for the rest of us ear candy addicts, "Circus" could not be sweeter. It's better than "Womanizer," easily, and the lyrics are wholly believable: "All eyes on me/ in the center of the ring/ just like a circus."
In other news, I still haven't listened to The Killer's new album. Like, I have owned it for almost a week now--preordered it and everything--but I'm just way to preoccupied with vintage Madonna and Buckcherry's "Crazy Bitch."
Happy late Thanksgiving, btdubs!
Bjorn Borg is a great clothing company, but this has nothing to do with clothing. In discussing it with one of my mentors, Glenn Gill, I described it as an ad in the vein of Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup can. It's beautiful as art, and as a statement, but it really chalks up to pure shock value. And in that sense, it's taking advantage of the gay/socially conscious audience in an attempt to sell--get this--"Lucky Underwear."
So is it a good ad or not? No straight guy will ever buy from them again, and any conservatives that would consider buying Lucky Underwear certainly won't now.
Bjorn Borg Advert= Gay content (alienate 0.5 x audience) + Religious content (alienate 0.25 x whoever's left) x possible gay exploitation= a bad ad.
BUT...Here I am talking about it.
Yeah...Carlos Leon, Madonna's Cuban dancer ex, totally stole my look.
He must have been at her show in Houston and saw me grindin' it up. That bastard!
UPDATE: Leon is not the only HA reader. Robert Pattinson, from some vampire movie, must have popped in last week!
Here he is stumbling outside the Chateau Marmont last night. In my look.
God, it has taken long enough.
Just months ago I watched Kanye West jump and groove to Graduation for the Glow In The Dark Tour. How appropriate that his first post-Graduation album is his most mature LP.
Perhaps Mr. West has grown up?
808s & Heartbreak is a monumental work of, as West would put it, pop art. It's instantly likable--give "RoboCop" thirty seconds and see if you aren't hooked--but is, above all, a culturally significant album. As a rapper, West has transformed from "that guy who rocked the VMA's" in 2004 with "Jesus Walks" to "that guy who sings like T-Pain." He has traveled a full arc of musical tone; College Dropout was gritty and eager; Late Registration was pompous and self-praising; Graduation was elegant and frothy; with Heartbreak, Kanye has given us everything. He wants freedom from controlling lovers (the relentless banger "Paranoid") but longs for a family ("Welcome to Heartbreak"). He is thrilled his fans adore him ("Amazing") but, really, just wants to be alone ("Street Lights"). Kanye is, and always will be, an enigma. Very few artists, however, can channel their personal struggles and mysterious personas into believable music.
Playing "RoboCop," easily the most accessible track on the album, to peers this morning, they all thought the same thing: This is a pretty album. It's light and sparse, relying on more traditional instruments (including rap verses) only when Ye is aiming most to please. He plays like he's all strong on his own--just listen to the entire Late Registration album--but he lives for approval. Why else would he regularly update a style blog? Why else would he have exploded after Entertainment Weekly gave him a B+ for his last tour? Why else did he swear off the VMAs forever? And, more telling, why did he return?
Point being, Kanye wants the American audience to like this album. At first listen, "Love Lockdown" sounds self-indulgent, but why can't music be elevated and different at the same time? Usher may have gotten a monster hit out of "Love in this Club," but will Rolling Stone be chronicling that single's rise to fame in ten years? Unless it's remixed by Cut Copy or something, no. Heartbreak is packed with hits. "Amazing," featuring a Young Jeezy verse that balances Ye's muffled vocals, is perfectly suited for radio...in 2012. "Bad News," one of the few slow jams on the entire album, could fit a movie soundtrack-- about robots in love. So, as evidenced by the only moderate success of "Love Lockdown" (built mostly on buzz) and the likely-to-bomb "Heartless"--still one of the strongest tracks--Kanye's got a fantastic pop album with nowhere to go.
So, maybe Kanye's graduated. Or, at least graduated from his former self. He's recently admitted to an obsession with style and design, and when you combine an obsessive compulsive rapper-slash-vocoderalist (I love it!) with good style...well, you're just short of enlightenment. However, they say a child is the most honest of us all; that, as we age, we gain inhibitions and fears and become self-conscious. Heartbreak is none of these things. It is an uninhibited as that meme with the boy dancing to "Single Ladies." It is as fearless as, well, Kanye West.
In "graduating," Kanye West didn't grow up. He's cut deep to the heart of what makes music good, and what makes an artist exactly that: simplicity. Heartbreak is Kanye's Like A Virgin, his Hot Fuss, his Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This is his post-Graduation moment, but he's never seemed so young.
So, really, who's the next Madonna? (True answer: NO ONE! But let's forget that for a second.) In a moment of inspiration, like, three seconds ago, I decided that the wielder of the Madonna torch is Katy Perry. Think about it--how did Madonna start in this business? Stirring up controversy, courting the gay audience, and setting clothing trends. Granted, Madge had a flawless first album, while Perry's is just oookaaaayyy, but still: the amount of public controversy lil' Katy's "Kissed A Girl" caused is kind of remarkable. It's become this litmus test when you meet someone. "Do you like 'Kissed A Girl?' No? Oh, that sucks. [I.e. Well, our friendship is over.]" Girls who like it are either personally self-affirmed or, well, actually into kissing girls, while those who hate it just hate it because it makes them "good" girls.
Who surrounds Perry on her tour? For better or for worse, a bunch of effeminate makeup artists and dancers and stylists. Who happen to be male. What about the trend-setting style? I will be the first to say Perry's no SJP, but I know more than one girl who's bought a short jumpsuit "like Katy Perry!"
This is truth. Eat it. IT'S KRUCHY!!
P.S. Not my image.
Everyone has a look in Austin, Texas. The sorority chicks at AEPhi have a look: Nike running shorts and a longhorn sweater with tights and Uggs. My friend Christie has a look: Holly Golightly with a bit of Gwyneth Paltrow. Hell, even the homeless population in Austin have a "look."
And "look" is not just a way of dressing; it's an all-encompassing attitude, a way of walking and talking and a choice of whether to smoke cigarettes or not.
Anyways, what's so important about "look?" It's all about self-definition. Are you a hipster? Good God I hope you aren't. I actually watched an interesting documentary on the evolution of "the hipster" and now I'm paralyzed that my entire personal style boils down to being "hip." Granted, I don't fit the mold, technically; I don't dress ironically, I don't own anything from Urban Outfitters, and I have only one pair of skinny jeans--which I bought in Paris two years ago. But still. Hipsters are, apparently, wholly unaware that they are what they...er, are. I wear Oscar De La Renta sweaters and combat boots to school; am I preppy? Preppy-goth? Preppy-goth-alt? I'd honestly prefer to just be "preppy," but I will never wear khakis for fun.
AND THEN there's the question of labels. Like, "Duuuuude, don't put labels on it. You are what you are." (In case you were wondering, that is, in fact, a personal quote.) But that's so ridiculous; we live in a world of labels. There's nothing wrong with labeling others, the only thing that can hurt someone is when they label themselves. We can't understand others without boxing them in. It's a sad truth. We have our pothead friends and our party friends and our fratty friends and our just-in-school friends...this is getting a little self-righteous.
To finish up this (rare-ish?) personal rant, I'll go back to the whole "look" thing, since it seems to make the most literary sense. Bottom line, we all have a look, or at least an image we (prepare yourself) project for others to interpret. It doesn't ultimately matter, but it's important to anyone's self-actualization to meet physical needs. In fact, that's like Maslow's first pillar. So by meeting one's "look" requirement, one really is meeting a need. We need self-definition; different than labels, different than faking it: we are who we want to be.
There's something magnetic about Madonna. I can't explain it in written terms; it takes sweeping hand gestures and a little caffeine. But I was not musically aware of Madonna until this April, where I compared her to "a fine cheese." She is fine but not cheese. Dear Lord, I can't believe I just wrote that.
Fast-forward to November 16th, in Houston, at the The Sticky and Sweet Tour.
Following Hard Candy, an album far inferior to Music and Confessions but a definite slow-burn, expectations of her performance were high. I wanted to witness Madonna's power in action, I wanted to understand her better. Well, she's still an enigma, but maybe that's the point.
Madge appeared on a throne for the opening act of the show, singing "Candy Shop." I get the choice of "Candy" as the opener--"Come on into my store/get up off of your seat, come on onto the dance floor"--but whether it was an effective way to energize the audience, I'm not so sure. She followed that with the disappointing "Beat Goes On" (THERE WAS SO MUCH POTENTIAL!) and an odd but decent version of "Vogue" meshed with the trumpets of "4 Minutes." "Vogue" was a blast, but she disappeared so quickly after the final note that the audience kind of just stood there with eyes glazed over.
It's worth noting that the video interludes--in other words, Madonna's wardrobe changes--were excellent, so there was truly never a moment without stimulation. Especially good was "Get Stupid," where Obama flashed onscreen alongside MLK and JFK (so many Ks), without a bit of irony considering they were both assassinated at the prime of their influence.
The second portion of the show, dubbed "Old School," was fantastic (whew!). She played "Borderline" on a candy-coated electric while jumping rope and wearing the single greatest pair of little red shorts ever invented, died and rose again for "Heartbeat," and in one of the show highlights, semi-raped a bunch of Madonna lookalikes onstage for "She's Not Me." Her voice lowering to a bitter growl, she screamed "Bitch!" and "Wannabe!" to her lookalikes while tearing off their clothes--all classic Madonnawear. There was a sexy bride, a cone-boobed amazonian, and a reformed-pre-Sex-Spanish-influenced-red pantsuit Madonna. (Sorry, there's really no other way to describe it.) "We all know girls like this. You know, the kind that wear your clothes, act like you. F*** your boyfriend."
After a brief repose, Madge rose from the floor on a piano singing "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You," a weak track from Hard Candy. The music was not memorable here, but the effects were stunning--water splashed from screen to screen, swirling up a center screen of tiny digital bulbs around her piano. This led into the weakest portion of the show, "Gypsy," but there was one exception: Madonna gave a beautiful performance of "Miles Away," believably speaking with the audience about her trip to Texas. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to come to Texas this [tour]. I'm kind of glad I came!"
I won't linger on this portion of the show, where she butchered "La Isla Bonita" by mixing it with some random "Fiddler On The Roof"-like dance routine and a Gogol Bordello-inspired dance track called "Dolli Dolli." Yeah, I don't know it either, and yeah, it wasn't that great.
Keep in mind, when Madonna isn't "that great," she's still phenomenal. I was on my feet the entire show, and never once did I feel a tinge of disappointment. I was soaking with sweat by the end, and I would pay double my original ticket price to see her again. The "Gypsy" sequence was just messy, with too many dancers and too many songs mashed into one.
The final concert theme, "Rave," was just that. If you can picture thirty thousand people jumping up and down to "Ray Of Light," laser lights searing the stadium fog and a bass so heavy your beer quakes, you've got a pretty decent idea of the "Rave" sequence.
Madonna had clearly saved the best for last. A more-exciting-live version of "4 Minutes" was the kick-off, followed by the strongest performance of the show, "Like A Prayer." "Prayer" is not my favorite Madonna song by any stretch of the imagination, but in person, it was--buckle up people, it's about to get punny--spiritual. Energetic and (*gulp*) rapturous, the room was on fire. It was electric.
After a bittersweet modified performance of "Hung Up" with electric guitar, Madonna finished on the highest note possible. "Give It 2 Me" was musically alive. M-Dolla flung herself at the center stage, enveloped by her backup dancers in a robotic interpretation of Far Eastern videogaming. That song is hyper, but live? It's almost hard to handle.
The show ended with the entire stadium buzzing. The concert was mind-blowing--there were weak moments, no doubt, but for a 50 year-old pop star, Madonna's on the top of her game. She's authentic and, at least on tour, a tangible icon.
Although, no matter how quickly she gyrates or how many times she mocks Guy Ritchie, she still is and may always be a complete mystery.