Is it a case of congratulations or commiserations in order for Gwen Stefani? She's landed her first US #1 album, but the sales it took and the reviews the album has received, are, well, patchy.
A new US#1 that you can set your watch to next week to come from Zayn Malik. Those sales will be a better indicator of what a hit album looks like in 2016.
Meanwhile, Stefani is everywhere for promotion and even takes to Linkedin (!) for a chat.
Fun interview with the dark, edgy and unique Diamanda Gallas over at Noisey in the lead up to her appearance at this year's Roadburn Festival. Reading it sent me into a youtube spiral that I've only just recovered from.
Seems I'm not the only one in the world with a lingering thing for George Michael. The angle here: fifteen things you (probably) don't know about him, even if we're going on 20 years since he last had a mainstream hit single in the US.
Rihanna is about to overtake the Beatles on the list of most weeks atop the Hot 100. Celebrates by wearing tie dye, paps and entertainment news sites lose their shit over it.
Madonna just eclipsed him in the best earning solo tour act stakes - of all time - but Bruce Springsteen is too busy dancing with his mother to care.
Lil Wayne suing Universal to the tune of millions. And I mean, MILLIONS.
Biebs has the year's biggest hit single so far (and another two entries in the top 20). No surprises that Adele is holding all competition back on the albums front. The good news? No Ed Sheerhan or Taylor Swift in the top tens. More via Media Traffic.
The Pet Shop Boys.
One of the greatest inventions of the 1980s.
Their imperial period was amazing- characterised as it was by so many classic songs.
They have of course been around forever. It's thirty years since they topped the UK chart with their debut West End Girls and although their influence and popularity has been a series of peaks and valleys over the years, in their own subtle way, they have turned out to be one of the era's greatest acts to have ever emerged.
Their new album - Super - is imminent and its lead single - The Pop Kids is already out and getting club play. But I read an article the other day on The Guardian about how millennials don't go clubbing anymore. So, well that makes things awkward doesn't it? I mean, if no one is going out clubbing anymore then how are people supposed to hear new club music?
The mind boggles.
The new PSB song is a throwback to the early nineties- musically and lyrically- which is not strange considering the grip The Pet Shop Boys had over EDM at the time. It was the Pet Shop Boys more than any other act that seemed to hover between outright club music and mainstream pop. They were like a bridge between the two, certainly in Europe at least.
Is The Pop Kids the PSB's greatest single? No. But it is a sign of what the current record market means for legacy acts like them. They now release their music on their own label and are clearly resigned to the fact that radio likely won't play them. That gives them the freedom then to pursue the kind of sound they want to and in this case its about the throwback.
Stuart Price is at the helm of Super and it's the second in what is being envisioned as a trilogy of albums by the group. Price as you know was everywhere at one point - the go to guy who even lent his wares to Gwen Stefani and who you should hold accountable for Confessions On A Dance Floor.
I remember going to a couple of Price's DJ'ing gigs - one in particular in Melbourne just on the eve of Confessions On A Dance Floor and he was a lot of fun. A DJ with a great ear and a super sense of humour.
But we're all about the PSB right now, not Price. So, thankfully, there's a pretty remarkable interview with Chris Lowe - you know the quiet, baggy jacket and sunglasses wearing member of the duo - over on Quietus which is a good read, especially as Lowe reflects on the current music scene as seen through experienced eyes.
And just for added fun, there's a fun page in which a series of notorious rumours about the duo are addressed. Good fun and an excuse to reflect on those whispers from the eighties and nineties. That's here.
Meanwhile, check out the lyric video for The Pop Kids below.
IF there is one place where being uninformed, reactionary and plain outright stupid exists it's on the Facebook pages of nationalist groups.
Every country has them and they often serve up unintentional comedy gold.
Italy's nationalist political group, the Lega Nord are a bunch of whack pots.
They're the group who are usually behind the "close the borders, out with foreigners" mantra and the same people who have given life to the "divide Italy into two countries: a prosperous one in the north, and a disgusting impoverished one in the south" idea. What they usually leave out of those chants is that if the country is divided they'll still want to take their holidays in the south during the summer as they do now.
There are memes everywhere about their leader whose name I won't even mention as he's the Voldermort of Italian politics and doesn't deserve any extra attention.
The image here in this post was posted onto a Lega Nord facebook page. I'm going to give you a rough translation:
"Do you see this man? His name is Aziz El''Sayad. He raped 4 women in Cologne and 2 in Italy. Now he's a people smuggler and the state gives him 40 euro a day. Are you satisfied? I'm not. Share this if you want him deported."
Unless you live under a rock you know what's going on with this picture.
All you need is to be within a 5km radius of a teenager to know that we're talking about an international pop star and not an alleged immigrant rapist. But even if you're not, how difficult is it to do a google search and get informed? All you have to do is type in impossibly cute guy or use your brain to think about things for a minute.
But then that's kind of the point isn't it? Outrage won't wait and when something is simply handed to you - like this erroneous information - your lightning fast reflexes tell you to share it or like it rather than think about it first.
The fact that there are comments on those pages inciting violence and revenge, of REAL OUTRAGE in connection with this criminal proves a point as does the fact that the hoax has been revealed and people are still outraged and taking their anger out on "Aziz".
What's so worrying is that seemingly normal people are also sharing it on their own pages without even a second thought outside of the context of the ultra right wing web pages.
I'm sure the masterminds behind the experiment are both celebrating and scratching their head as to the extent to which some parts of the Italian public have fallen for their prank.
Poor Zayn. And you thought being pretty was easy!
CAN I just say that I find it really interesting how the press (and in particular the music press) has jumped on the story about how AC/DC's front man, Brian Johnson, is likely to be replaced by Axl Rose for the remainder of their tour.
The members of AC/DC have a median age of 64. Despite the changes in their lineup, the band have remained a respected and surprisingly powerful force in music - especially on a commercial level.
What's interesting is that although their members are largely anonymous to non fans, the press treats them with respect. There's no overpowering commentary about how they should retire and bow out gracefully, or of how they are no longer relevant, nor is there the constant assault on their credibility and the contribution that they make at this age.
All the fuss about Axl Rose joining the crew for the remaining ten dates of their tour is celebratory, and yet, Rose and Guns N' Roses I would say have made no fresh contribution to the world of music in over twenty years.
It's respect based on legacy and a far cry from what pop artists, and in particular, female pop artists have to put up with. Look at the last calendar year for Janet Jackson and Madonna and find me even one article that doesn't relate to their age and to how they shouldn't retire and bow out gracefully etc.
So, bottom line is, and I'm gonna be really generous here. If you're a rocker, and in particular, a male rocker, there is still no glass ceiling. No pensioner's bingo game that the press want you to go and play. But if you're in the pop world, and a woman in particular, it's another story entirely.
It's a strange time for culture everywhere.
I guess I'm an optimist. Because I've always expected the culture wheel to move forward rather than to go in reverse.
But that doesn't seem to be the case in a lot of Western countries at the moment.
And Italy is no exception to this.
It's a difficult time to be a non-establishment artist here.
That's not a new thing, but events in recent days point to the changing environment and to the luck of the draw- where you are, even in the same country can make things easier or more difficult.
Take for example what's been happening in Bologna in recent days.
The city has been painting over the work of street artists, including the highly respected artist BLU. It's made quite the show and dance about it, noting that graffiti does not have a place on its walls. Yet, at the same time, Bologna is playing host to a hyped up 'street art' exhibition that I have a feeling will play a huge part in the city's tourism campaigns over the coming weeks.
The exhibition, including works by the likes of Banksy - as well as works that have been transplanted from their original environments into gallery spaces can be interpreted as confirmation that these ideas and this kind of expression is acceptable only within enclosed spaces (where one I assume can also buy something).
Without the oxygen of public viewings and open spaces, and of course the street context, street art isn't really street art. Not when it's being produced for an exhibit and for a very specific, corporate sponsored context. That I think we can all agree is not really what the essence of street art is about. In Italy, Rome has put its walls to great effect. In the space of five years it has become one of Europe's street art capitals, precisely because it has encouraged the use of visible, outdoor spaces, especially in parts of the city that no one ever wanted to take a second look at.
The commercial side of the street art world reached its apex in many countries around 2010/2011. I remember back in my gallery days in Australia when the novelty of street art in galleries was already starting to wane - and that was back in 2008/2009. Since then, the concept of street art has taken on new meaning in some parts of the world, while in others the timeliness and social side of street art has become increasingly important. So while Rome says yes, places like Bologna say no.
It's tough being outside of the official art world in Italy at the moment. Italians by and large appreciate art, but lately, they're not all that big on supporting it.
In La Spezia, which is in the north of Italy, an artist's atelier recently featured some work by Rosanna Avery, a Barcelona based artist.
Three examples of Avery's work - pretty tame, and I would argue pretty conventional from a stylistic and subject point of view, and certainly not offensive - were displayed in the atelier's shopfront.
Complaints from passer(s)by which resulted in the atelier having to remove said artwork from the window after the city acted on the complaint(s).
Days later the works reappeared in view, but in censored form: the nudes now 'redressed' in paper underwear on which messages were scrawled. One message asked whoever it was that complained to come forward (and to get a lawyer).
Avery is now challenging the city's actions - and invoking a freedom of expression clause in the constitution.
Is it just me or are we increasingly being dragged backwards in time? And if we are, can someone please explain to me what good it will do us?
For more on the Bologna/BLU saga read here.
For more on the Avery situation, read this (in Italian).
Being back in Australia earlier this year was great, but there were times when things were a bit disturbing.
Like when I visited a toy store on the hunt for some gifts.
It wasn't so much the visit to the toy store that was disturbing. But I did often find myself shaking my head thinking who on earth buys this stuff and who on earth thought this shit up in between those moments when I was otherwise thinking Damn, I wish we'd had these when we were kids.
One thing that I stumbled upon there fell into two of those thought bubble categories. It was The Logo Board Game. Long story short it seems like it's an adult game based on you having to correctly answer questions about logos, advertising and other corporate branding stuff in order to make your way into the winning zone or something or other.
Listen, I'm a product of the eighties as much as anyone. I've been known to blurt out Arrrgh, Chum is so chunky you can carve it or Austraya, your chicken is ready often enough that it seems like I have a corporate form of Tourettes syndrome, but I'm not sure that I would want to spend my free time playing this kind of game. Evidently I'm in a minority here- a quick google search indicates that it's been one of the most successful and praised board games of recent years.
It's a sign and product of our times (boom! boom! I made a dad joke).
Consumerism and consumption, and how international brands are becoming more and more recognisable in Indonesia are some of the main themes behind the work of Fahran Siki. When he first exhibited in Milan back in 2011, Italian Vogue dubbed him the 'Indonesian Banksy'.
In around 2000, Siki started working on "public art projects". That, for those of you not in on the lingo, is a metaphor for 'street art, murals and graffiti.'
His work on the streets started making its entry into galleries in the 2008/2009 period, when, it might be argued, street art was beginning to peak in some parts of the world and flooding into galleries (just as international brands also flooded into newly expanded markets like those in South East Asia).
Stencil based and with a strong leaning towards text, Fahran Siki's work is kind of like the anti venom of the Logo Board Game. It is successful in that it brings out the same recognition in viewers that the board game makers challenge players to - to recognise brands, marketing and their presence in your life - but Siki does it on the flip side. What elevates it from being a simple criticism of the impact of conspicuous consumption is how corporate branding in Siki's art is just another element of the popular, mass culture that his work addresses. Yes, Warhol opened up those floodgates all those years ago, but in Siki's work, Warhol's work is cast as another player on the cultural map that has been reduced to branding.
Siki is no stranger to Italy. Back in 2009 he did a residency with the Street Art South Italy group here in Lecce. Since then he's been back a few times.
In his latest show in Milan - Trace - (running through to September 30), Siki's takes aim not only at Warhol and the American contribution to modern, mass culture, but also at the European icons. Michelangelo's work is dirtied. Takashi Murakami's collaborations with Luis Vuiton take on a sinister aspect, and are re-positioned as Mur(war)kami propaganda.
And where is the exhibition taking place? At one of Milan's hot, prestigious commercial galleries? No. It's taking place at the offices of the Banca Generali, one of Italy's biggest banking and insurance groups. Fancy that.
More (in Italian) here.
IT was a long wait.
But Madonna returned to Australian stages tonight for Tears of A Clown in the lead up to the coming weekend's Rebel Heart stadium shows.
It wasn't just the 23 years since Madonna last passed through Australia with The Girlie Show in 1993, that fans had to endure, but an additional four hours after the expected curtain call before she took the stage. On a tricycle. At 1am.
From the outset, Melbourne Madonna fans though got something the world has not seen from Madonna. And repeatedly.
In a set at the Forum Theatre which stretched out til nearly 3am, and thereby became her latest night out on stage - presumably since her early New York days - fans were treated to over a dozen songs in an almost two hour long show many of which had never been performed live.
Fans were also subjected to some jokes, banter and some philosophizing. And, this was not the usual, polished repertoire that the singer brings to the stage. It wasn't rehearsed to the nth degree, and nor did it rely on effects and visuals. In fact, M constantly referred to her notes throughout the show not having any real choreography to hide behind.
Instead, what the show relied on was her music, and not even the hits, some of which were performed towards the end of the show to Twitter's absolute glee.
I recently posted about Madonna's B-side and album tracks. Not for vanity purposes, but because for Madonna fans, this is where the heart and soul of her music lies. And tonight in Tears of A Clown the woman herself seemed to emphasize that point.
Madonna drew heavily from her American Life (2003) and Music (2000) albums. On the one hand, Australian audiences haven't been privy to seeing any of these songs performed live. But you got the feeling that wherever M's head was at, its foundations were largely based on this period of her career when the juggling act of career and family came to the fore for her.
Those two albums are, also not coincidentally, the two which arrived alongside her son Rocco. Music was recorded when Madonna was pregnant with Rocco, American Life was the first album she recorded after his birth.
American Life was written off at the time as an anti-commercial sentiment from the Material Girl, but in reality, it was an album whose backbone was shaped around songs about her family: her children, her then husband, and her parents. If anything it was about her looking back and forwards but from a familiarly perspective.
As songs that are structured around an acoustic guitar, the four songs from American Life (Xstatic Process, Easy Ride, Intervention and I'm So Stupid) made for good fits for a stripped down show and seemed to emphasize the theme of the show, which itself was built around the sad side of a performer.
These numbers were joined by Ray of Light's Mer Girl (another first time - if rambling- live performance) and Drowned World - songs from the album in which she began to reflect musically on her spiritual journey. Drowned World - a song about her daughter, was the album opener. Mer Girl, a song for her mother, its closing track.
Her chats between songs often descended into lude double entendres but also were occasionally reflective - including reference to Rocco, to whom Intervention was dedicated.
Elsewhere, the song choices spoke of the conflict that you often find in her music. Of being presented something, everything, and it not being right for you, or simply walking away from it. Those are themes that I think underscore songs like Drowned World, Nobody's Perfect, Paradise and Joan of Arc, all songs performed tonight.
Beyond that there were bittersweet moments like Don't Tell Me or ballads like Borderline and Take A Bow, the latter which was a perfect final number for the clown show.
The encore of Holiday left the audience with something a little lighter to stew on, but there were so many first time live performances tonight, and such a focus on the 2000-2003 period of her work that I would think audiences would have walked away happy even if they might have hoped for a couple of more hits. What they got was something no other city or audience has and might not ever again.
What they also got was a reminder that for all the hard candy, the sugar and spice of her vast back catalogue, M's musical choices are not about easy rides. And most Madonna fans are appreciative of this, even if they don't mind a gratuitous performance of Like A Prayer every now and then.
The world's richest Italian. Fortune derives not from oil, but another dark, sticky substance.
Oh no! It looks like it's finally going to happen! More of the good black stuff and Italy. Next they'll be selling ice to eskimoes.
Lefty and former governor of Puglia, Nichi Vendola, probably one of Italy's highest profile LGBT figures (if not its highest) sets off political storm with announcement that he and his partner have welcomed the arrival of their son (via a surrogate). It's a thorny issue this week in Italy after the parliament passed a civil union bill which had to be stripped of any reference to same sex parenting (and rights).
I've seen lots of nasty and homophobic comments on Facebook about Vendola's announcement, and of course, it wouldn't be 2016 if the Vatican also didn't have something to say about it.
Speaking of the Vatican, shit is hitting the fan for Cardinal George Pell in Rome, but because he seems to have a problem with remembering what to say.
He's testifying to an Australian Royal Commission looking into the institutional response to child abuse, and his testimony over the last few days has been very worrying.
I've posted previously about how there was a campaign to get Pell to fly back to Australia to testify, but instead, it was agreed that he could give testimony by video link from the Hotel Quirinale in Rome where a group of Australian victims have been watching as the testimony has unfolded.
A picture has emerged of him as being someone who continually refused to look into or acknowledge abuses - and his comments in his testimony have often seemed cold and callous. Many in the press and beyond are interpreting Pell's ongoing refusal too look into criminal clergy activity as being a product of his ambition to move up in the ranks and not to be sullied along the way.
Initially some people on the right felt sorry for Pell - claiming that he was subject of a witch hunt. But now, after a few days of testimony, that idea is out the window. And when even Australia's right wing political commentator abandons ship, you know it's not looking good for the Vatican's #3 guy.
With the arrival of the new millennium, M's ability to pull out the hits was still assured.
But after a strong start with 2000's Music, her fortunes began to wane in the US, where she's managed to reach the top ten just six times in the past fifteen years.
There were all kinds of factors at play. The pulling of the American Life video, and the cool reception of the album harmed her brand. A new generation of acts less than half her age had also come along and usurped her, but the more worrying aspect of her music career was the inconsistency it seemed to have been marked by in this third decade.
Where Ray of Light succeeded because it sounded like an hour long series of meditations - each song working itself up into a frenzy and towards a climax - Music didn't have the patience to go through all of that navel gazing for the journey alone.
DESPITE the swings and roundabouts of the nineties, M added 15 more US top ten hits to her tally in that rocky decade.
The good time 80s gal shifted gear towards more sophisticated, adult pop fare during this period and Dick Tracy brought out the naughty vaudeville gal in her. M took that to varying extremes on I'm Breathless - sometimes with a dash of class (He's A Man) and sometimes not (Hanky Panky).
She handled the Sondheim songs well on IB (the Oscar performance of Sooner or Later remains one of her greatest live performances and is an album standout here). If any album equipped her for her future role in Evita it was this one - not Something to Remember.
STR of course first came to life here, but with a wealth of choices, I'm going with I'm Going Bananas as the best non Sondheim/non-single here. Fun, fiesty - there's that Latin sound again - and brought to life best on stage (via 1993's Girlie Show tour).
You wouldn't know it from all the bells and whistles that come with the Madonna experience, but in the studio, M is about being stripped back, blunt: vital and Erotica is the prime example of this.
Her fans love a bit of sugar with their M, but Erotica was
the bitter, straight up brew and one of her greatest achievements.
Erotica pushed the envelope and broke the rules preferring to experiment or change things up even when it was (rarely) on familiar ground (Rain's double vocal verse, Deeper and Deeper's WTF-did-that-flamenco-come-from moment).
Words and Where Life Begins were further examples of what thumbing one's nose at convention can achieve - but it was on Waiting that we got some thrilling New Jill swing and the sound byte "if you have to ask for something more than once or twice, it wasn't yours in the first place."
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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