Last week I had the fortune of being able to see the latest production by Motus.
They're a brilliant Italian dance/theatre hybrid and over my years in Italy I've always looked forward to seeing them.
Many of the Motus shows I've seen over the years have been created by mixing classical texts with modern, cutting edge interpretations. This time around they've found the perfect vehicle for their approach with Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel Middlesex.
It's really like the role for the amazing Silvia Calderoni.
After seeing Motus' latest production MDLSX, I was left completely speechless. But in a good way. It's rare that a production leaves me feeling like my head has exploded, brimming with new ideas and the feeling of being completely in awe of seeing something amazing and fresh.
The New York Times raved about the production, but in this case I think the best possible take is that of my friend Dona in Rome.
Dona's a bit of a hybrid: she's a blogger, a DJ, a muso and my - and pretty much everyone I know's - go to when you want to be exposed to new artists, new music and something that will completely blow your mind. Her take on things is often surprising and varied.
Usually she posts in Italian on her OneWomanShow blog, but after having seen Motus' latest show, she's posted her thoughts on it, not only in Italian, but in English.
Go and check it out here, because I'm still trying to find the words to describe what I felt and saw.
Get ready for a shocking statement.
"I am not an economist."
I'm like that car that is always running on empty, so heaven forbid that I say anything terrible about the Italian economy. I mean, it's all been said before anyway, hasn't it? Blah blah blah corruption, blah blah blah no one pays their taxes, blah blah car... oh that's a different one, kind of like Uber but for intercity trips. Everyone raves about that one.
Anyway, Italy as you'd be undoubtedly aware, has seen better economic days. Europe's third largest economy is on the skids blah blah blah. From the outside it's easy to look at Italy as being a country. One of the most populated in Europe, one which has traditionally been a centre of artisan production and small businesses that drove innovation in many ways.
But if you spend any prolonged amount of time here today, you start to look at it as less of a country and more of a transport hub.
In what way? In the sense that the ongoing brain drain of Italy's youth and the lack of economic stability here has created something of a new Italian diaspora.
Yes, sounds meaty I know.
But think of it this way. There are currently so many young Italians living in London, for example, that London could statistically be seen as one of the top ten Italian cities by current population metrics. For those Italians who insist on staying in Europe, Berlin is also a popular choice and there is now even a documentary film doing the rounds about the tens of thousands (!) of young Italians currently living there.
But when Italians are not chasing graduate opportunities, scholarships or funded roles in pretty much every other European country, they're having to look even further in order to get a job or to simply progress in their fields.
In my six years here, I've met dozens of architects. I don't know how it happened. Perhaps it's because there are more architects in Italy than in any other country (per capita) or because I'm just naturally drawn to meeting people who insist on removing the doors in their own homes to create "open space living" for themselves. That latter thing always kind of irks me, because what happens if you want to fry something in your kitchen? Does the rest of the house have to suffer for it? Maybe architects just don't cook in their own houses - or - just don't cook, period. I need to look into that.
Anyway, many - actually, EVERY one of the architects I have met here have either spent months and months working on projects in the Middle East or China, or have simply had to pack up and move there permanently. Italy's ratio of creatives per job opportunity is stacked against their favour, so it means for many, it's time to brush up on some English, get a passport (what is it with Europeans not having passports) and to go and live somewhere from which they can give us a satellite news feed full of interesting local dishes and culture shock. Don't get me wrong, hell, this blog is just the written equivalent of that kind of thing and I actually love seeing my friends post things about where they are and what they're up to. It's the vicarious travel that I am now resigned to doing thanks to the pitiful Italian salary that I'm on.
What's interesting is how the youth exodus is now being mirrored more and more by a lot of Italian design and fashion houses. In recent weeks there has been news of how Dolce & Gabbana, for example, did a major flip. You see, last year, those two hacks came out in opposition to LGBT parents. In a way they were kind of ahead of the trend for once because just this last week the Italian parliament and public have been divided on a key part of the same sex union bill currently being debated in public.
The bill, which has been dismantled and reassembled and stripped of its more controversial aspects, stumbled because there was a mistaken belief that if the parliament granted legal protections to same sex partners in the case where one partner wanted their partner to be able to adopt their own child - that it would open the way for same sex couples to pursue surrogacy in Italy - which has been labelled as utero in affito (rented uterus) basically. This has had everyone up in arms and has created a fire storm of social and political debate.
But basically, Dolce and Gabbana made comments late last year about how disgusting the whole idea of same sex parenting, rented uteruses and LGBT families are in general. Yes, it's called self hating people. But magically, in recent months, D&G, the brand, have done an about face and even created, wait for it, a children's clothing line, inclusive of one with, might I just say, horrific images of same sex families (as above). Amazing what an untapped market and the lure of the pink dollar can do to change your public position on some things. Mind you, weren't D&G done for tax avoidance last year too? Hmmm.
D&G and other Italian fashion houses, like the majority of Italy's youth are also looking beyond the borders of the boot shaped country. They're adapting to other cultural situations and, are now creating collections with the modern Middle Eastern woman in mind. They released a collection of hijabs and abayas in January as part of The Abaya Collection. In a way it was the kind of foray they've done in other markets (creating specific collections for Russia and East Asian countries in recent years) but kind of like a complete left of field change in direction. After all, you gotta pay the rent, and Middle Eastern buyers have fast replaced Chinese and Russian shoppers as the must have clients to court these days.
They're not the only Italian creatives who are tapping into a new market as their own domestic/EU one struggles to support them. Sanctions on Iran have barely been lifted but already fashion houses like Roberto Cavalli and Versace are lining up to open stores in Tehran. A case of first in, best dressed you might say, and a way in which Italians and Italian companies are, due to economic need, spreading their own version of soft power on a one by one basis (even if the numbers add up to thousands).
Follow the dollar kids.
One of my theories has always been that to make great pop music you have to give yourself over to the bottle.
The peroxide bottle.
Because in my opinion, you could run a scientific analysis on great pop from the late 1970s onward, and find that when it comes to the ladies (and even some of the boys), a lot of the best Western pop seemed to come out of a bottle. Or at least the momentary high created by smelling those fumes.
Peroxide is like peyote for pop stars.
I have always loved Ms. Gwen Stefani. ALWAYS.
There is something about Gwen's gig that manages to bring all of the decades together, regardless of what it is that she's working on. Okay, okay, she's responsible for some clangers - Harajuku Girls was a shocker, and some of The Sweet Escape made me want to run, as have a few of her recent solo songs, but by and large her solo work and her work with No Doubt has been stellar.
Recent news that she's been, well, fired from No Doubt seems like the first step in putting the boys out of their misery. Maybe it's a good thing even if it makes me a bit sad face emoji. (I think she had a recent video about that).
Perhaps No Doubt needs a new front person and a new take on things to move forward. And perhaps Gwen's undying romantic meets ex SKA girl thing will just keep working on a solo level. Because that is a wide berth she's given herself. As a creative area to prowl, her sounds and tastes give her a lot of room as an artist to pursue different themes and styles in a way that not many other solo acts can.
There was a time when Gwen just broke through the barriers and was the one peroxide blonde you had to pay attention to in pop. Do you remember when she just bolted out with her debut solo album and all the L*A*M*B stuff? Too fricking cool. LoveAngelMusicBaby was amazing, like one of those brilliant pop albums that just had hit after hit and enough depth to make you want to listen to it repeatedly.
Much has been said of Gwen's recent renewed profile - thanks to the Voice - and all that high profile country star boyfriend pap, but whatever. Not of interest to me. What is, is the new single, Make Me Like You. The song hit the web earlier this week and it's great: a real return to form. There's a crispness to the song. For me it's a little reminiscent of sixties pop with a bit of a harder edge and some surfy, California elements thrown in.
What I'm not digging though, is the music video that's just been unleashed. Okay, new frontiers being created with a "live action" music video. But we're not talking G.I Joe here. There's a couple of nods to Gwen's aesthetic through it, but for the most part it's just distracting and detracting from the song itself which is on a class level that is far superior to the video.
Listen to the song and if you dig it, then watch the video below and tell me if you agree. Or just watch the video directly. Do what you want!
In the meantime. Yay, welcome back Ms Stefani.
Don't worry. While this is partly about an Australian Cardinal currently in Rome, it's not going to be an anti Catholic church rant. I'm still safely on brand.
No, no, no, this is more about how music and public consensus are making their contributions to justice. Or one Aussie (ish) musician and a lot of generous donators are at least.
See, safely on brand given I'm an Aussie based in Italy with a thing for all things cultural.
Sometimes though, culture bleeds into deep, dark places. Places that we don't necessarily want to go to, but for our moral obligation to do so. Like, to Melbourne, say.
Like other places where Catholicism has reached out into, Australia has some Catholic history. It has produced a saint (St. Mary MacKillop), hosted a few papal visits, has some rather nifty looking churches/cathedrals and, like most other places in the Western world, an ever shrinking number of people who identify as being Catholic.
That said, for a small country, Australia punches above its weight at the Vatican, thanks especially to Cardinal George Pell. Pell's name was briefly bandied about before PF was chosen as Pope. (PF=Pope Francis). PF, being the good sport he is, later put Pell on the advisory group dedicated to reforming the Catholic Church. Since then, Pell has also gone on to head the IOR - commonly known as the Vatican Bank. His job there has been to bring it into line with international banking practice and transparency. Not an easy thing to do with all that internal opposition and secrecy, but it's been a role made even more difficult with the revelation of Pell's own lavish spending. Tusk tusk.
Like other places in the Catholic world, there's a seedy, darker underside to its legacy in Australia. That one that makes us shudder. The one linked to child sexual abuse at the hands of members of the cloth. And much like a lot of other places in the Western World, the Church's attempts to sweep things under the carpet in Australia have only contributed to a problem that won't go away. Even if you could argue that the 15,974km between Melbourne and Rome offers some form of distance from the problem.
What does Pell and Rome have to do with this? Well, he spent decades as the top ranking official in the Catholic church in Australia. From humble beginnings in Ballarat, he went on to hold the titles of the Archbishop of Melbourne, and later, Sydney before being called on to Rome. His decades long involvement in the Australian church's handling (and alleged cover ups) of child sex abuse has been, and continues to be the subject of investigation.
There's quite a lot of documented information about Pell's responses and the initiatives he led if you care to look for it online. A lot of the documentation now publicly available is the result of two State based parliamentary inquiries into the issue, and Pell's own testimony.
Different countries have their own mechanisms and legal processes, and in Australia, the holy Grail of these is called a Royal Commission. It takes things to a national level. And right now, there's one now currently under way in Australia - established to take a wider look into institutional child sex abuse and not, it should be said, as it only relates to the Catholic Church. It's investigation is broader than just one church.
For some time, Pell, still in Rome, has been called to testify (he has previously testified at state inquiries and to the commission back in 2014) in Melbourne. But the Cardinal's lawyers have continuously stalled attempts at getting him to testify again at the current Royal Commission. They say Pell's medical condition precludes him from making the long haul journey back to give evidence, so, you know, can't he just give his testimony by video link?
Have you ever used the internet and the phone system in Italy? It is shite! Complete shite! You'd get better, clearer international communication using smoke signals.
Now legal types who are working at Royal Commission level don't put up with this kind of nonsense for long. They get narky and it can only mean eventual bad things for Mr. Pell if and when he graces them with his presence. Which they expect him to do, not only to help them get to the bottom of things without the possibility of troublesome video links but also as a mark of respect to the church's victims.
The pressure is on Pell and his legal team even if it looks likely it's going to be a via satellite affair in the end. But if you think the judiciary gets narky when their big event has its authority undermined by someone, don't underestimate the Australian public's response.
One of the major Melbourne newspapers - a Murdoch paper - has printed an article that accuses the public of conducting a giant witch hunt on Pell. It's written by Andrew Bolt, one of Australia's highest profile commentators. Conservative commentators.
But those kinds of editorials/articles are incredibly out of step with the Australian public on this issue. Aussies, by and large, are furious that Pell's responsibilities and moral obligations to victims and to the Commission can be fobbed off with a sick note while he conceivably goes about his daily routine in Rome. Thankfully, Aussies are an inventive bunch and not all conservatives. Check out the image above taken from another of the letters pages in an Australian newspaper. (somebody sent it to me via Facebook, apologies for the lack of attribution!)
That laconic, Australian humour and straight forward no bullshit attitude is one of the things that I love the most about Australia and Australians. It's that kind of transparency that you can only hope that Pell is pouring into the IOR. But the thing is, with regards to the Church's cover ups, its the perception of a lack of historic (and present) transparency which seems to be at the heart of the issue. Not being able to fly back to give evidence doesn't help the perception.
So, what other recourse does the public have? Well, the court of opinion is a powerful thing.
The following video by Tim Minchin, a comedian/singer/non morally bankrupt kind of person has hit the web over the last few days. It's Minchin's own contribution to a crowd funding campaign that is underway: and, his own personal call for Pell to fly back to Melbourne and give evidence.
Crowdfunding? Yes. You heard right. Because, some bright spark figured that if Pell wouldn't come to the hearings, then they'd send the victims to Rome instead. The face to face testimony, they note, is part of the healing process. So, even if Pell gives video evidence later in the month, campaigners want the chance to confront him in person. With Minchin's help, the campaign has already doubled its target. Brilliant. More here.
Is it just me, or does it suck to be Kanye West these days?
There was a time when Kanye was the go to guy in music. He was just the bees' knees. Making the most amazing music, writing killer songs for everyone and just, well, being cool. Untouchable, a meteor.
Somewhere, perhaps around Welcome to Heartbreak (still my fave West album), the wheels started to fall off the machine. The platitudes arrived and he started believing all the press. And it was around then that his meteor started its descent. It's already crashed down with a few serious thuds in recent years and has led to Kanye becoming pop culture's enfant terrible (sorry Biebs, you're #2).
Let me just say that I think Kanye is incredibly talented. He's one of the few people on the scene capable of shaking things up. Also, no artist can ever really sustain an up and up: as a public, we're wired to bring people down (repeatedly), and the notion that we can watch as someone gets pulled down from a lofty height is like the equivalent of cultural S&M porn.
Kanye West is a polarising figure. Reading his interviews over the years, listening to his music and keeping an eye on his aesthetic has led me to believe that he has really developed as an artist over the years. His ambition alone has pushed him to the level that he sees himself as being on: that is, one of the only acts of his generation that is really a successor to the MJ/Prince/Madonna holy trinity. The amount of hype and debate he creates gives him an automatic pass into that stratosphere on those grounds alone.
But I get the feeling that a lot of the time the commotion Kanye causes is involuntary or unplanned. It's chaos created by negative reactions rather than the chaos that greatness and true originality can generate. Back in the eighties, those three kept us on our toes. They just kept pushing the boundaries. You may not have liked them, but their new take on things often still blew your mind. But Kanye seems to always be on the verge of blowing his gasket, whereas those three - obvious eccentricities and defects aside - seemed to have a steely will to keep at it without getting caught up in the hype they created.
I think a portion of the latest round of negativity attached to Kanye these days is in connection to TIDAL. It's music royalty's modern day curse. They should've named that company TSUNAMI because it has really created incredible upheaval and terrible consequences for a lot of the artists on the roster/board. In the space of a week they managed to f*ck up both of their presumably most important releases of 2016 - Rihanna's Anti (which they temporarily/briefly leaked after endless delays) and Kanye's The Life of Pablo (which, well, has just been another mess what with West pulling its release after it having gone live).
Do music lovers still want to hear Kanye's music? Well, yes, but they increasingly don't want to listen to him. And when it comes to the music, it's also on their terms, not his. The decision to exclusively put Pablo on TIDAL has pissed off a lot of people who resent having to pay and subscribe in order to hear it. But, that's not to say there isn't a hunger for it: reports suggest that in the space of a week the album has already been illegally downloaded 500,000 times.
What's more interesting to me is the backlash that Kanye, on a human level, seems to be provoking. It's at a height that we haven't seen in a long time. You can't turn on social media this week without seeing a million memes pointing out how much of a douche bag he is perceived to be. And that's a sentiment that has plagued him for years: brought on by his appalling, pratty behaviour at award shows, ridiculous beefs with people like Taylor Swift or Beck, the ongoing car crash that is the West/Kardashian/Amber Rose/Wiz Khalifa saga and the kind of emperor has no clothes fashion lines he just insists on offering to the world. Add in a never ending set of Twitter rants and you have the basis of what is comedy gold. Here you have one of the biggest stars in the world with one of the biggest platforms ever, and nobody that wants to listen to a word he wants to say (unless it's to pull up closer to get a better view of a car crash).
As a result of all that deafening cacophony, whatever music he is making is being sidelined by him and himself alone. Ignore the media martyrdom that he seems to think he's being put through. Critics as always, love his work, even if any punch he has been able to deliver musically in recent years - be it with Yeezus or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is completely overshadowed by Being Kanye West. And for that, he doesn't have anyone else to blame, because The Life of Pablo should've been a shoe in for an easy, well received reincarnation. But being Kanye West means that you're more interested in living in purgatory than becoming the Pop God you think you really are.
There are certain things that I will just forever associate with the eighties.
Flouro. Paisley Park. Those keyboards that looked like guitars. Plastic bangles. The Bangles.
With Manic Monday pretty much all of those things collided, coming together and becoming something magical. But the real magic behind it was of course the musical genius that is Prince.
Last night Prince staged the first of his hastily arranged Piano and a microphone shows in Australia in Melbourne. After having cancelled a series of European dates in the wake of the Paris attacks, the Purple one found space in his schedule for the ocean continent and his contingent of fans down there.
I once saw Prince in concert but it was in the nineties, around the time of Diamonds and Pearls. His music was still such a prolific part of popular music culture back then that it was almost a safe bet that you'd loved (or loathed) something he'd recorded. Diamonds and Pearls was one of those albums of his that was everywhere but one which didn't feel like one particular thing working as a whole. It worked in parts of course, but it also had parts that worked against itself.
Prince's stamp over music back then was so prolific that his boutique label, Paisley Park was almost as well known as he was. Paisley Park has essentially been a vehicle for his own music, but over the years a lot of other artists have been associated, particularly the female acts that Prince mentored or developed. You know, Sheila E, Jill Jones and Apollonia and all the alumni of the Revolution, New Power Generation blah blah blah.
Although Paisley Park was a world of its own (you know you wanted to get caught up in the stuff happening there, and not at Michael Jackson's Neverland), you didn't necessarily need to be signed to Paisley Park in order to benefit from it or Prince's interest. The interesting thing about some of Prince's music is that it was often most powerful when brought to life by female vocalists. His lyrics, often incredibly sexual in the late seventies and early eighties, were like reflections of a different kind of male sexuality, with its kinks and all. They were powerful and evocative, and seemed to be a huge contributing factor to how someone of such diminutive stature could seem so larger than life, especially to female audiences.
That said, it was often when they were sung from a female perspective that they took another layer. Think of what Cyndi Lauper did with When You Were Mine. What Martika did with Love, Thy Will Be Done or what Sinead O'Connor of course did with Nothing Compares 2 U. The collaborations weren't always successful though - Madonna and Prince's Love Song divides a lot of her longtime fans and there are a lot of artists who got the mentoring but not the cultural impact that should've come with it.
Back then, the angle that seemed to come with a lot of Prince's proteges was the backstory. Often it was the relationships that seemed to convince someone of Prince's talent to get behind someone who wanted to make it on their own. Otherwise you get the feeling that he was more than happy to bring the best talents into the fold of whatever musical outfit he was fronting.
Vanity 6 was one of Prince's first protege projects. Vanity 6's lead singer was, Vanity AKA Denise Vanity Matthews-Smith. Prince produced their first (and only) album and they managed to make some inroads particularly with Nasty Girl which was a Prince styled funk/dance piece. When Vanity left the band, Apollonia was recruited and Vanity 6 became Apollonia 6 (who got their own Prince styled funk/dance piece - Sex Shooter a few years later). Vanity kept on at music for a while on her own after that point.
Additionally, as was often the done thing in the eighties, Vanity worked in film and as a model even if she was more prominently associated with the music biz. She had a troubled time of it and eventually turned her back on the entertainment biz in favour of her religious beliefs and evangelism.
Sadly, she passed away yesterday, and Prince, who was informed just prior to taking the stage in Melbourne dedicated much of his show to her last night. There are a number of tributes, largely from eighties acts doing the rounds online today - among them, Billy Idol. But for a review and more on how things went down last night at Melbourne's State theatre visit here.
Rolling Stone has a brief article about Vanity and her passing. And regardless of the trolling, smart ass comments in the comments section on Rolling Stone, I say RIP Vanity.
Vanity's music perhaps wasn't enduring, but she, with Prince's help, nonetheless played her part in contributing to the change that a new generation of female dance/pop acts championed as of the beginning of the eighties.
Chekhov made me laugh. Said no one. Ever.
But last night, I think it is pretty fair to say, I saw something unexpected. And felt something unexpected.
I might be a little bit more on the jaded side than other people, but seeing a troupe of drag queens turn Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard into a lip-synch/live/theatrical-dance event just, well, it just surprised me in a lot of really good ways. And at certain times, it made me laugh, but along not at.
There are a lot of things that have fallen out of fashion lately. Russia is one of them. And "let's re-read one of Chekhov's works for fun" said no one recently.
But the themes in The Cherry Orchard: of a changing world, a changing economy and the futility of the aristocratic class, (you know, the old 1%), in trying to hold onto their status is something that still resonates.
I don't often get out to watch drag. When it's done well, I really enjoy it, but not necessarily because of the built in campness. It's the way that it can really be a brilliant character study when it's done well that can make it special. Especially as it's usually a threadbare thing - knocked together on the tiniest of budgets, with handmade costumes and let's just say some pretty novel types of staging.
Nina's Drag Queens are a Milan based troupe. They've got a number of shows on the go around the country here.
For this show, Nina's Drag Queens incorporate some of the classic drag aesthetics into their show, but take it to the next natural level, theatrically through some pretty inspired staging.
The stage for Il Giardino delle Ciliegi - the Italian translation for The Cherry Orchard - was stark in every sense of the word. Just a few dozen transparent domestic objects hanging from the ceiling- cutlery, ornaments that kind of thing, treated in a way that made them seem as if they were relics from Narnia, dripping in white. That minimalist design was really important, because it left room for the exaggeration needed to freshly bring the story to life through caricature and by way of the drama brought by the choreography and musical choices.
While I was watching it I was kind of mesmerized by the song choices: nearly all Italian pop classics by national and gay icons, (hello Mina), with the exception of the inspired inclusion of Bjork's Uberballad and a Beatles classic - sung in Russian.
Bringing someone like Chekhov to life in that way makes classic literature more approachable and powerful than ever. There's something about how complementary music and literature are together. Each brings something else to the other's party.
I think it's pretty safe to say that the mix of high and low art was really well thought out. And how that old distinction between high and low art is just something that we shouldn't be so quick to make anymore. Because there's such an awareness of certain pieces that the only way to bring something new to them is to bring something else entirely to the work.
Beyond the music which forms the backbone of the show, I was really impressed by how well the actors managed to make caricatures and humanize the characters in the play at the same time. You just really got the sense of the characters even through their drag armor.
It was a really interesting take on things and there were times when I was thinking about the old Kabuki theatre - about how female impersonation on stage was once upon a time just the expected thing in some theatres in the world. How things move in and out of our sight and our thoughts.
I know. When was the last time you had to put up with someone talking about kabuki actors and cheap philosophy? I'm like the 1% that thinks about that kind of stuff. Sorry. Make it all go away by checking out Nina's Drag Queens if they come your way, or if not, on youtube. You might just see something you didn't expect to. And get thinking about something you hadn't really considered before (or for a long time).
I've just put together a new section on the blog dedicated to Vinyl Tiger.
It's a round up of press, behind the scenes/excerpt materials and information about stockists as well.
You'll find it up on the menu bar or it can be accessed via this link.
I'm working on some different little things as part of the February/March blog tour and promotion that I'm running to celebrate the fact that the ebook is coming to ibooks, Kobo and Nook among other retailers this coming Valentine's Day.
It's heartening as a newbie fiction writer to have people willing to get behind you and help you spread the word.
I'm also now just starting the editing of a new manuscript that I've been working on, and will be really keen for your feedback.
If you're interested in hearing more or getting the first reads, make yourself heard!
As a bit of an introduction I'll tell you that it's a shorter, softer project than Vinyl Tiger was, and this time it's set in 1990s suburbia. The title is coming and going right now, but it's definitely a more intimate story with a bit of a YA (young adult) angle to it, so I'm excited to see in which direction it's going to go.
Thanks for popping by the blog today!
You know what? I gotta hand it to this generation's pop acts. It's bloody tough being in pop these days. Don't believe me?
Consider the kind of stories doing the rounds these days.
Protest against Beyonce's Super Bowl performance planned for NYC.
Anonymous protesters accuse Beyonce of race baiting. Of course they're anonymous and don't want to reveal their identities to people. Rather than consider the symbolism of Beyonce's performance as a way of moving forward, the (non) event is all about perpetuating the race baiting that they are accusing the pop singer of. Whatever.
Rihanna tops Billboard chart amidst allegations that Anti is a flop, sold 1000 copies.
Is it just me, or is the media reception to Anti another example of how anyone connected with Tidal is going to be forever punished in the media? Granted, Tidal doesn't seem to be doing itself any favours along the way. At least the Guardian article bothers to look at the issue from a couple of different angles as it signposts how the music industry is changing.
Madonna's latest wardrobe malfunction should swear her off marriage forever.
Perhaps marriage just isn't M's thing. It's like anything connected to marriage gives M trouble. Of course the big M news in the media of late has been the whole Rocco saga. If you cast your minds back a couple of weeks, it was Madonna that was being accused of being a bad parent. Now it's Guy Ritchie's turn.
Nicki Minaj and the generation gap.
Wasn't the fuss about Only over and done with about a year ago? All the Fascist iconography that came with the lyric video got everybody in a tizz. But you know, parents are always the last to know, and when they do catch up, it's always a ripe for a vine kind of moment.
Think those are tough? Try being Kanye West.
And having a platform that you constantly misuse or opinions that do nothing but divide and detract from your musical talent. His onstage and on Twitter rants are the kind of thing that not even NATO would be capable of quelling.
In my mind, the most disturbing music news doing the rounds relates to Will Young battling porn, alcohol addiction.
Will Young's admissions are heartbreaking.
We like to gloss over the effect that being marginalized creates. That being categorized or labelled in a certain way is actually a healthy thing, when the vast majority of messages and attitudes run completely contrary. I really feel for Will Young, and I really applaud the fact that he stood in front of a young audience and bared his soul as he did.
It's not easy being different and being reminded that you're different, that you're somehow not an equal because the particulars of your life don't reflect the perceived majority, the perceived norm.
I never got the whole One Direction thing, nor do I get the Five Seconds of Summer thing either.
I mean, of course I get it - I grew up alongside the modern boy band phenom. New Kids On The Block, Take That... Dire Straits...
The thing is, The Boy Band has always been a really important part of what makes the music industry tick. The idea that four or five (five seems to be the best number) kids from the projects with questionable musical pedigrees but pretty faces can help keep tweens and teenage girls happy, bring their parents to the verge of a financial crisis and keep not only record labels in business but also, and more importantly, the merchandise and memorabilia sectors alive... it's a powerful thing.
Of course I got the whole One Direction thing. On that level. But there were only ever two things that ever made me pay attention to them. The first was that photo circulating where Harry has a splitting resemblance to Rizzo in Grease. The second of course was Zayn. What a cutie.
So Zayn took a leaf out of the Geri Halliwell playbook and went solo. He bode is time and has finally surfaced with the song that is currently spilling out of every pop loving teen's bedroom - Pillow Talk.
It's not a bad solo debut by any standards. It's soulful in a kind of Craig David way, and it has crashed into the top of the charts around the world this week and outcharted pretty much every One Direction single in the process in most markets.
When Geri left the Spice Girls and made the world stop for a few minutes while we all contemplated the consequences, she eventually resurfaced with something that was a little camp, a little sophisticated and a little unexpected when she dropped Look At Me.
Zayn though, has simply gone the sexy route. The buck naked route. But, not him. Oh no, no, no.
It's insight into how the music industry works. When you're a boy bander, whipping off your top with the strength of numbers is the done thing. But when you're a solo male artist, when it comes to videos, it's all about getting the girls to strip if you want to express your own sexy side. And that's where the crux of the matter is. If you're a solo female artist, you're gonna have to show some skin if you want to get your video out there.
I lost count of how many gals got their kit off in the video for Pillow Talk. I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands of girls watching that video who are probably channeling their anger at each and everyone of those models in the clip right now. Hell, they've probably dipped some of their old Barbies in oil and are treating them like voodoo dolls. The indignation of getting naked with their boy!
But from an adult's perspective it's kind of sad that Bouha Kazmi's video treatment has gone in this direction. Don't get me wrong, it's moody, it's effective and it matches the tone of the song even if Zayn seems to be keeping things a bit restrained. But I can't help but feeling like it's objectification of each of the ladies at every level while Zayn's images are bit more Flemish painting meets modern Noir in the boudoir. I find it kind of awkward in a way.
There's one blink and you'll miss it scene where two of the girls are naked but for some boxing gloves. They're all oiled up and battling it out, and I really feel for one of the girls, because it looks as if as she goes in for the punch, the twenty five inch stilettos she's wearing slip on the sound stage and she has to correct herself.
But that's what happens in paradise and a war zone. At the end of the day we have what could be shaping up to be one of the year's first big hits, and already over 60 million viewings on Youtube to prove me wrong. Or right. Because isn't a video of it's nature just another reminder to young girls that you've gotta be sexy, desirable and prepared to act like a bit of set dressing? Help me out here.
I miss the nineties riot grrrls!
In the space of 72 hours, Queen B has reconquered the lands.
But she's no Khaleesi you guys. She's no queen of nothing.
Two years ago her hush hush album/video package took the world by storm. She didn't need any trumpeting, any fan fare, or a militia to bring everybody to attention. By the time she quietly popped it into the Itunes store and made herself a cuppa, it was already world news and a must have.
This is a viral age. Cultural offerings spread faster than you can say Ebola or Zika these days.
And few people know how to keep a lid on what they're doing until the very last moment like Queen Bey does. (I'm looking at you Madge.)
On her last major outing, Queen B tried to take on her past.
Her beauty queen past. Or as an amazingly talented friend of mine once said - her pageant pop past.
Problem is, there's usually not that much novelty or grit on offer when a good girl goes bad when the drama is all based on being upset about being, you know, beautiful, talented, rich, successful and wanting to do something artsy and, serious to make up for it. To do it well, you need to add something else into the mix. And the best, most proven way to do this is to bring sex into the mix. That blueprint has proven almost fool proof (I'm looking at you again Madge).
So, some of the best moments that came out of Beyonce were when that pageant hair really got messed up, QB got down and started riding surfborts and messing up Warhols with Jay Z.
Drunk In Love in my books was the best artifact that from that period, along with the Martha Graeme inspired Mine which, not coincidentally, didn't make anywhere near the same kind of impact as DIL despite it being a Drake collab.
Beyonce was a leap by her standards. An attempt to lend some artistry to a career that was already going great guns, but that was all highlights and foils. In a way it was a reinvention of sorts: the perfection of her past and the first step towards trying to bring the worlds of credibility and commerce together again.
If you've any doubt that Queen B is on a mission, we need look no further into the past than this last weekend, in which the duality of her current state of mind as reigning pop queen have been put back on show for everyone to see.
On Saturday, and out of the blue, Beyonce dropped the video for Formation. A dark, angry and empowering anti anthem- anti in the sense that it's not so much a sing a long as it as a war call. She came to slay, bitches.
What she has delivered is a kind of Beyonce-ised, blistering take on the outrage that is palpable in America: on being a woman, on being black, on being marginalised in an already fractured, wounded society. She has essentially dived into a pool that is swirling with tensions powered by the Black Lives Matter movement and the growing sense of frustration that is ever more palpable.
She has copped some flak for allegedly appropriating documentary imagery (the official line is that the footage wasn't owned by the film makers, and had been licensed for use by a third party which did own the rights) but beyond the rally call, she has also gotten people all hot and bothered again because of references to being, um, jammed hard and taking her man to Red Lobster as a thank you.
References like the Red Lobster and the sassy take on Hot Sauce work on the same level as what made Drunk In Love so powerful. That is the idea of America's good girl not just getting nasty, but real nasty.
But what makes Formation so interesting is that its get down and get nasty element isn't it's be all and end all like it was in Drunk In Love. It works better than any of QB's other forays into pop activism because it's more layered than anything else she has done before. She has essentially thrown down the gauntlet to those who don't see her as being layered and complex enough to have an opinion about what's going on around her, and what she's being subjected to. And that's an idea that took almost a decade to enter into her work, that she really only began fighting for with her fifth studio album.
The other surprising aspect to this past weekend is that, in performing at the Superbowl, she took Formation to the masses.
Usually, the Superbowl half time show is all about safety, familiarity and a showbiz excess. It had all that in the names it attracted - Bruno Mars and B have delivered it some of its highest ever ratings in the past - and the ensemble additions of Lady Gaga and Coldplay meant that every conceivable base was being covered. But rather than go in with a hits mentality, she brought her new, just dropped conversation starter to the stadiums and to television screens the world over. In doing that, she guaranteed that we'd be talking about her new song, the fact that she's finally building on her previous work rather than chasing the easy hits, and, oh, yes, conveniently announcing to the world that she's going back on the road.
All in the lightning time span of six albums and three minutes.
That is called bringing it home.
We're living in desperate times.
These are desperate times my dear.
There's no way out of here.
There's no way out my dear.
- Back to the Wall, Divinyls.
WHEN it comes to contemporary artists and their heavily oiled machines, very few currently have the kind of press pull that China's Ai Weiwei does.
I have watched him with some fascination over recent years. His studio has produced some thought provoking work, and the current exhibition at Melbourne's NGV which pairs him with Andy Warhol certainly offers some food for thought.
Anyone that knows of Ai Weiwei will know that he is a dissident extraordinaire. Often, this has worked in his favour. The relentless hounding he received from Chinese authorities earned him all kinds of empathy from across the world, art lovers and beyond.
Earlier this week, the new hardline Danish government's announced that it would seize the assets of asylum seekers in order to cover the housing and food costs. This against a backdrop of violence directed at immigrants in Scandinavia. Ai Weiwei's respponse? A quick, swift decision of his own to close his current exhibition at Copenhagen's Faurschou Foundation.
In this case, the gallery publicly backed the artist's decision. And let's face it: such a powerful, symbolic gesture on the artist's behalf could only curry more favour with the public, leaving the gallery with no choice to support such a move. (Not suggesting that the Faurschou Foundation don't support Ai Weiwei's move, but as a former gallerist I also know that there are times when it is churlish to go against an artist's decisions - regardless of what agreement or contract might be in place).
It was a great, symbolic move on Weiwei's part.
Subsequent to this, Ai Weiwei has announced that he has opened a new studio - in Lesbos, one of the Greek islands located in one of the preferred migratory route into Europe. But the existence of the studio in Lesbos, staffed by volunteers, students and artists has been marked by Ai Weiwei's presence in the area. And in addition to other advocacy, Weiwei has tried to pull of a photographic stunt which hasn't exactly gone down as well as his Danish actions.
You see, Weiwei has chosen to re-enact one of last year's most polarising photographs: that of the drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on Turkish shores. In case you can't work it out from seeing the picture, he has decided to reenact the role himself.
Now, you can admire such a call to arms and celebrate the artist for bringing light to the issue. But the thing is, we are well and truly aware of the human crisis that is taking place in and around the Mediterranean. Ai Weiwei, in re-enacting this photo, in my mind, is rather cynically trying to ingratiate himself into the wider argument and has done so in a completely insensitive, sensationalist way.
In a lot of cases I would probably applaud someone in his position for being brave enough to use sensationalism under the circumstances where we need to be shocked into action.
But last year's image, for good and bad reasons, became one of the most powerful images in the recent history of photography and journalism. It is so well recognised and well known, that a reenactment is completely unnecessary, and dare I say, a poor move on the artist's part, despite those who took to twitter to laud it as being powerful.
If anything, the end result of the reenactment is the cheapening of the tragic events that took place last year (and that continue to take place). That photo European polarised governments into action but not until there was intense debate about how appropriate it was to publish the image in the media, and what that ultimately meant for the grieving family and families like it.
If you are one of the world's most recogniseable artists with a pool of talent at your disposal, and this is the most creative and engaging way you think you can bring attention to the plight of Syria and beyond, then I think you need someone by your side to tell you to stop, take a step back and rethink things.
Far better in my mind were the series of Instagram pictures that Ai Weiwei shared which were very much human and not at all a mistaken form of self aggrandizement. They are just as powerful and allow people to draw their own conclusions about the plight of people who are escaping the war torn parts of the Middle East.
So, in the space of about a week, and against two very different European backgrounds, Ai Wei Wei has quickly gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. And other than promote the fact that he has a new southern European studio in operation, he's achieved little more than a dent to the goodwill he has earned when he himself has been the target of injustice, rather than of pantomine drama.
WHEN I was in Shanghai a few years' back I did myself the favour of picking up a copy of Last Train Home.
It's a remarkable film/documentary by Lixin Fan documenting what is essentially the biggest migration of people that happens in the world.
Lixin Fan has shed light on some interesting aspects about contemporary Chinese culture. You might have caught 2014's I Am Here which looked at what dreams and aspirations look like for the post 90s Chinese youth - which he approaches by shining a light on the talent show phenomenon.
What Last Train Home refers to are the estimated 130 million people - considered migrant workers - who make the journey back to their hometown villages for the New Year's Holiday.
It's a homecoming that for some is often fraught with frustration and the understanding that time is ticking.
It's a remarkable event that gets everybody in a tizzy - even if this year it was underway as of January. Reports filtering out of China in recent days indicate that the huge push is happening once again. But in some parts of the country, the mass reliance on public transport and the descent onto its network combined with poor weather are creating chaos.
The Guardian has photos and a report on the 100,000+ travelers who have been delayed by poor weather in Guangzhou in recent days. It's fascinating but heartbreaking stuff.
Check it out here and god speed to everyone currently held up by the delays there.
WE are almost at the second anniversary of the airing of Never Tear Us Apart, the Australian telemovie/dramatisation of the story behind INXS.
In addition to documenting the trials and tribulations of what was perhaps Australia's biggest commercial music act of all time, the drama remains a testament to just how powerful television remains as a taste maker.
Back in February 2014, the Seven network in Australia created hysteria in airing a two part series which was created with the input of the band and the band's longtime manager Chris Murphy. It's no coincidence how prominently Chris Murphy features in the program.
It was a light, made for TV special which beyond charting the band's rise documented how Michael Hutchence's charisma was so powerful that it eclipsed interest in all the other band members. As a fan of the band even I found it hard to keep track of the other characters. Hutchence was INXS and the telemovie didn't seem to dispel the notion. But in hindsight, the 2 parter has proven to be an incredible vehicle for the rediscovery of INXS as a musical band.
It's true that for almost fifteen years, from the end of the 70s to the early 90s, when they reached their commercial peak, INXS' star was one in ascendency. Their star burnt its brightest with the phenomenal success of 1987's Kick which sold over ten million copies.
Now, there are certain things that define success in Australia. At the heart of them is the uneasy sentiment that the Australian media conveys when a monster gets too big. It's what feeds the Tall Poppy Syndrome which is a huge part of the Aussie mentality. You see, Australia, unlike the US demands that even its most successful people display humility and a sense of community at all times. Basically, if you reach the stratosphere of success in Australia, the mathematics demand that the media will try to cut you down a peg or two, in order to remind you of where you stand in the community.
The teleseries milks that idea: it was perhaps part of the reason why the band eventually fell out of flavour with the local media. But I would say that it wasn't really the reason why the band eventually fell out of standing with Australian audiences.
INXS maintained their musical influence for years before their commercial downturn. But that downturn coincided with the splintering of popular music in the early 1990s. By then there was no prevailing sound that dominated the charts. You were just as likely to have a number one with a pop record as you were with a rap, rock or country song.
And for a band that repeatedly perfected rather than experimented with its sound, there wasn't a lot of novelty on offer almost twenty years on.
Theirs was a sound that was never really reinvented until it became a clear, and perhaps slightly desperate attempt on their parts to reconnect with mainstream audiences long after it was clear that the magic of their formula had started to fade.
I finally got around to watching the series last night here, and I enjoyed it, for one because a friend of mine was in it, playing a journalist (hi Maria!) and she got the chance to be part of a crack about Adam Ant which I know would've made her day.
The choice to use original INXS recordings throughout was genius as was the idea, if overused, of using actual crowd footage from some of INXS' most energetic gigs. Their early 90s Wembley gig is electrifying to watch. If you ever want to know where all the Aussies are in London, just check and see if there's a touring Aussie band in town.
But, well, overall it's your typical, made for Australian television fare even if there is a nostalgic air to it for the most part.
It's interesting to note that for the better part of the nineties, INXS rarely managed to make a dent in the music charts, both before and after Michael's death. Album after album after X (1990) struggled, as did their singles. The malaise had set in by then, despite their incredible back catalogue and achievements.
But since the airing of the tele-series, their greatest hits album, The Very Best has remained firmly lodged in the Australian album charts. It has barely left the charts after rocketing back to #1 on the back of the series being televised.
And for a band whose creative output since the passing of Michael has gone unnoticed (a reality TV show to find a replacement for Hutchence and a revolving door of replacement singers never got them back into the hearts of audiences - and is strategically ignored in the series), consistent sales of the greatest hits album has led to it being certified 5x platinum.
Those platinum awards, and the ongoing resurgence of their music is more testament to the power of television than anything else.
Who knew that the old faithful idiot box could still be king in the internet age and that nostalgia continues to trumps innovation?
To celebrate the fact that Vinyl Tiger is coming to the Kobo, ibooks and Barnes & Noble e-book stores this Valentine's Day, I'm delighted to offer you the chance to read an exclusive excerpt from the book.
In the attached excerpt we catch up with Alekzandr in the mid-nineties.
Alekzandr has by this point been crowned both a (p)opportunist and King of Cool and been stripped of the latter accolade time and again. But his knack for reinvention makes this new romantic graduate someone who is usually able to keep things fresh.
But not all pop reinventions are cynical. Sometimes there are bigger things at play. Or littler ones.
In light of the recent Family Day (non)event in Rome, I'm defiantly happy to offer you the chance to read this exclusive excerpt from Vinyl Tiger.
You'll quickly work out why.
For more samples/excerpts click here.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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