Last year a friend of mine had to sit me down and explain what ASMR was.
Knowing the kind of bubble I live in between work and writing, he was worried I was losing my touch.
I'm the first to admit I'm unable to keep up with what makes Millennials tick.
I didn't even know ASMR existed let alone that it was making noisy (and not so noisy) people rich. Mashable have an introductory video into the phenomenon in case you're not yet across it.
I ended the conversation with my friend incredulous and certain of only two things;
(i) my various career paths have all been poorly chosen
(ii) I need to keep up with the most savvy generation earth has seen.
To that effort, I was proud when I discovered yet another Gen Y staple: reactions.
Now there are a lot of Reactions on youtube (I guess they're made by Reactors...or are they just influencers? God help me.)
In case you don't know what they are, they're basically filmed reactions to videos or moments. It goes well beyond those viral hits of people's OTT reactions to scenes from Game of Thrones that had everyone feeling things a couple of years back. Reactions have become more sophisticated and exhaustive since their Viral beginnings.
Nowadays there's a growing number of (mostly) Millennials who film their commentaries on daily pop culture, but also those who trawl back through the 80s and 90s to "discover" and "react" to classic content.
They have channels and followers, and often Stans (=major fans) make suggestions of videos or albums they should watch/listen to and then react to.
There's a fair bit of disingenuity going on in a lot of reaction videos; people pretending to watch something for the first time or reacting in a way that suggests they're doing it for the comments (or the likes or the follows).
But just like anything else on the web, for every uninformed, implausible video there's an equally honest and fascinating take on Gen X culture.
2019 is proving a huge year for looking back after all this year marks the 30th anniversary of some of the pop world's touchstones.
To my mind, Madonna's Like A Prayer was 1989's most important pop artifact.
It may've been snubbed by the Grammys, but the press today is unanimous; Like A Prayer is a masterpiece, a game changer and currently the focus of a lot of praise.
I could bang on about how for years Like A Prayer was my favourite Madonna album but we live in a Millennial world, and it's increasingly up to them to decide what from our past was significant and important.
To that end, I've rounded up some of the most insightful and entertaining reactions to Like A Prayer's main videos after the jump.
Lushsux continues to make a splash with his series of selfie murals around Australia.
No plans to cover up the latest in Geelong, because they're on private property.
What's more interesting is the hit/miss pixelation of the images appearing across various mainstream news sites. In regards to the photos being used, I'm curious to know who it is that's, erm, censoring them?
Newsflash. An academic marketing study found that millennials don't relate to Madonna anywhere near as much as they do people like Zayn Malik, Adele or Taylor Swift. Geez, that's university time and money spent well.
As expected, Zayn will land in at No.1 on the US album chart with 157,000 "equivalent album units." That's basically Billboard short for streaming totals plus 112,000 actual album sales. What it takes for a major #1 hit album these days it seems. Mind you, someone should tell the university of Southern California that this time last year Madonna made it to #2 with 116,000 actual sales of Rebel Heart. Perhaps millennials are not yet the be all and end all.
Stuart Haygarth makes a compelling visual statement that should encourage you to pick up any trash you see at the beach. Beautiful book project unveiled 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.
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.
So, Janet Jackson has announced that she's making a comeback.
I don't know if a new Janet Jackson project has the potential to do anything other than preach to the already converted. And even then her parishioners aren't what they once were. Her last few projects seemed to come and go without contributing all that much to her legacy, which I think is based on her amazing work from the late 80s/nineties.
But that said, I feel we've come to the point in pop where everything feels so cynical and lightweight, and even the possibility of a new Janet Jackson album seems almost groundbreaking. These days it seems that if we want something that is not middle of the road from the current bushel of talent show grads and stock standard label acts, then we have to fund it ourselves.
Innovation doesn't seem to be what it once was nor what we're much interested in these days. Don't get me wrong, that Style song was great, but I fear that we're not about celebrating music that moves things forward anymore. I think Taylor Swift and her album's success is a modern take on what someone like Shania Twain once represented. Wholesome, corporate entertainment than doesn't challenge you in any real way, and that you can find something to like or admire even if it's not your cup of tea. Not the kind of thing that will make you switch the channel in disgust.
The great thing about Janet was that at her peak, she was in the middle of a creative and chart rivalry with Madonna who was the flip side of the same coin. It's gonna be interesting to see if Janet's work is received any differently to that of Madonna's recent work, and if she finds a wider market for it in a way that Madonna hasn't been able to.
Madge and JJ were their label's most prized possessions but, rather than aim for pure commercial supremacy, their rivalry seemed to push one another into newer territories while experimenting with the scope of what pop music could be and do.
As much as the press seems to pit the current generation of it girls against each other, I don't feel that they are forced to acknowledge each other in any other way other than commercially or socially. Madge and JJ's rivalry was as much about targets as it was about overcoming their limitations as talents. I don't feel like the current crop of pop acts is forced to perform to the kind of exacting level that they were forced to.
Few pop artists are being rewarded these days for innovation. And let's face it, in recent years pop has been a ladies' game. With the exception perhaps of Beyonce's last album, few of the top solo female acts have really been pushed to do anything that JJ and Madge did in their prime.
Back then, everything rested on a strong album full of potential singles. These days, albums seem to be constantly repackaged and added to, meaning that six months' down the track they are unrecognisable and only ever a means to an end.
I'm not saying that there aren't any amazing pop acts around, but if you look at who's making great pop today, it's not built around the last wave of innovation that we saw at the end of the 'oughties. Back then, Robyn, Santigold, M.I.A, Kelis and Róisín Murphy seemed to be redefining what pop could mean at the time. Even Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga were adding something sophisticated to pop and leading people to emulate in the process.
The tragedy seems that we've regressed from that point and are now more interested in the middle of the road than what lies beyond. Is it just me or is it more formulaic than it has been for a long time? And if you're not following the formula, you've got zero chance in hell to get any exposure today.
Case in point: Róisín Murphy. She's back you know. Imagine the lack of surprise to see that her new album, Hairless Toys has arrived and nobody's paying any attention. She's not ever been one to break open to the masses, but she has consistently made amazing music back since her Moloko days and she's the kind of innovator whose ideas were further poppified (I think I just invented that word) and streamlined for the masses.
People were slow in catching onto Overpowered, her last studio album, but when it dropped some eight years ago it was chock full of amazing, pop friendly tracks. The single You Know Me Better, with its Cindy Sherman tribute video was one of my favourites at the time and criminally ignored by the masses, but if you had your ear to what was happening, you could see that Roisin in many ways was like a new Grace Jones. Smart, a great vocalist, and that one of a kind avant-guard artist who wasn't afraid to put it all out there. She remains a living gallery act who also happens to be amazing live.
From first listens of Hairless Toys, I think she's still unafraid to put it all out there, and yet it seems to be a fearlessness that doesn't translate over to the masses. A shame cos we definitely need to fight the fight for people like her. Watch the lead single from the new album and tell me that its not unlike anything you've heard before and ten times more sophisticated than anything else you're going to this year until the pop acts catch up to her next year.
SOMEONE must have forgotten to send me the memo. Who exactly could have been responsible I have no idea, but get this... The Go-Go's at some point crossed the threshold from one time wonders to influential rock band.
There's a lot of goodwill directed at them, particularly because they were the first all female rock band to score a pretty much self penned No.1 album and they had a few cruisey hits, in particular Our Lips Are Sealed.
They don't earn the musical respect that Joan Jett, Chrissie Hyde or even The Bangles still do, but that's because their recognition is based on what their success symbolised rather than what they actually produced.
I'm not here to fight the fight for The Go-Go's, as much as I dig their achievements. When they went their separate ways, famously acrimoniously, Jane Wielden made the odd grab for attention, but there was only enough space in the universe for Belinda, and even then not for long.
She was the epitome of the new California girl. Remember in the 60s and 70s how California was portrayed as the land of the free love, of stopping the bomb and shaking up the changes inthe world? In the 80s the depth we associated with California evaporated. It became the kind of sun drenched landscape where deep thought drifted out over the Pacific, and to some extent still remains that way in the public consciousness. Yes, its home to the Silicon Valley, but its still a land of California Girls (and boys).
And so, after the Go Go's made that transition away from Punk Lite to pop, Belinda took the ball and ran with it. She had a couple of lightweight lovelies in the mid 80s; Heaven Is A Place on Earth and Mad About You among them, but when she came back onto the scene in 1989 with Runaway Horses she momentarily found the right mix between guitars, radio inspired rock and mainstream pop and made it her own...and ours.
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SOME people believe that the music you listen to is in some measure a reflection of who you are as a person.
I'm sure there is something in that, to a certain extent, but what this doesn't really take into account is how music changes over time and how our tastes can both develop and stagnate, and our tendency to associate music with certain times and events in our lives which then renders our preferences non scientific in nature.
Music afficionados often feel the need to bring down others for their tastes and preferences. It's a boring snobbery that to me is more reflective of personality than the music someone listens to. Admit it, you all know someone like that, that hangs it on you for your choices. I am surrounded by them. It's insecurity on these people's part that they feel the need to somehow demonstrate that they are more sophisticated or evolved than you. Oxymoron(s).
As a pop lover, I am subject to the kind of conversations that teenagers have ad nauseum, because there is an inbuilt judgment being made that I somehow should have evolved beyond my tastes. Just for the record, my itunes collection is pop heavy, but to dismiss my tastes as being surface dance pop would be inaccurate and limited. I know more about music than a lot of the people who criticise my tastes do. But I don't suffer from the same kind of insecurity that makes me feel like I need to defend myself in the face of their stupidity. The idea that I am merely a Kylie/Madonna boy is the cross I have to wear for other people's narrow minds and assumptions.
Frankly, to the people with this flawed view; I Don't Give A F*ck.
Case in point; I refuse to apologise for my love of Madonna's music.
I'm a super fan. People, this is a serious long term relationship that I have been in that has outlasted every non familial relationship I have had. I'm taking it back to 1984 and it has been immeasurably more rewarding than some of the interactions that I have had in the ensuing years. Let's face it, music makes life far more tolerable than people do.
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In an age where popular culture is becoming increasingly voracious, it never fails to amaze me how often image makers and stylistas invoke archetypes to propel their own images forward.
In the world of contemporary Western pop culture, perhaps the fail-safe archetype is that of the Venus. Venus was the Roman incarnation of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, a woman who legend had it could make any man fall in love with her. In these seemingly more open times, I would probably suggest, not to diminish her appeal, this would be unlikely with some segments of the male community, namely those whose consumption of popular culture and pop goddesses keeps groups like the Haus of Gaga in constant work. To be sure, it would be a love, but a platonic love; a love of the sheen of her image, of her confidence, and the exaltation of her beauty. To love someone is one thing, to fall in love with her, hmmm, not sure that I will buy that.
But in this day and age, our goddesses are our artists; our musicians, our movie stars, clothes horses, and unfortunately, our reality TV/celebs who trade on their exposure more than any in talent.
The appeal of the Greco-Roman gods is usually timeless. Occasionally, ideas from the past don't translate, and to be sure, some have fallen by the wayside, but we can generally rely on the strongest of the archetypal figures to maintain their influence some millennia after they first captured the collective imagination.
But back to Venus. A little over a decade ago, in the mid 1990s, it suddenly became fashionable to share the whimsy, and remind ourselves of the eternal potency of the Goddess of Love.
The Icelandic anti-pop star Bjork, played with the attributes of the Goddess, and projected the goddess qualities into the form of a male love interest. "Venus As A Boy" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1Rd7zrvW7k, was an utterly fresh take on the age old embodiment of love, and revitalised the idea of what a modern day Venus would be like, in a peculiarly original fashion. The idea that Venus could be working around in the body of a man? Priceless.
A couple of years later, the pop cultural juggernaut that is Madonna, with the help of then photographic darling Mario Testino, invoked Renaissance interpretations of the Venus, namely, Botticelli's still awe inspiring The Birth of Venus http://artloss.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/botticelli-birth-venus.jpg for the imagery of her 1998 opus Ray of Light. Botticelli's early Renaissance work is often appreciated, widely considered a masterpiece, but dismissed as merely a beautifully painted image of a myth, but Botticelli's intention was to marry the spiritual and the physical in his exploration of man's journey in life along with the juxtaposition of the spirit. Ray of Light, even now, more than a decade after its release, was seen as Madonna's own attempt to distinguish between the spiritual and material worlds, in what is seen as one of her true watershed records.
In the time since, Sarah Jessica Parker popularised the same Botticelli-esque look, Venus became a word synonymous with lady shavers, and both Bjork and Madonna have had wildly unpredictable peaks and troughs in their careers.
But now, Venus is back, ready for another re-incarnation. This time, we're harking back to her Grecian incarnate, Aphrodite, but the idea is still the same, and just as potent.
The same woman who was said to have been born of the Uranus' discarded groin, which when thrown into the ocean by Cronus, the original head cheese of the Greek Titans, caused a bubble and foaming in the sea from which she sprung out, riding astride a seashell of course, given that Minis and VW Golfs just weren't around back then.
Aussie songstress, Kylie Minogue, has invoked Aphrodite, naming her latest album after the Grecian goddess, and has released the first accompanying single, the evocatively titled All The Lovers, with a video filmed in one of the centres of our modern culture, Los Angeles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zixQYDeRtzI.
It's a gently insistent dance track, which the lady herself describes as being "euphoric" and "surging", but that one blogger more appropriately interprets as an 'act of rebellion' against her younger contemporaries' "hypersexual slut anthems" which are currently dominating the charts. I won't name names, but you can see who is being referred to at http://poptrashaddicts.blogspot.com/ .
But, back to the video. The juxtaposition of the heavily airbrushed imagery of Kylie's new album cover, which looks decidedly Grecian, with this modern, lighter take on Aphrodite, hopefully suggests that the visual references with which we are likely to be bombarded over the coming months, will at least be subtle and offer something new. I mean, let's face it, if you are going to go back to basics, you do need to add a few pinches of spice. The conch is just not going to cut it.
The central premise to this slightly muddled video; a growing mountain of lovers all under the hedonistic influence of the diminutive incarnate, works well, and occasionally, it has just the right amount of steam to engage with. The doves, the-so-well-lit-its-a-crime close ups make Kylie look great, and there's enough sexual and youth appeal captured on film to propel the video forward through its three and a bit minutes (thankfully Minogue knows her voice works best in periods of brevity rather than longer works).
There's nothing particularly fresh going on, other than in the sense that it looks like a deodorant commercial. Sure, everyone is pretty hot, there's a bit of action going on for every orientation, and the human architecture is almost a little Spencer Tunick-in-underwear. But, there's a lack of focus in the video, made worse by inconsisten images.
Some of Kylie's strongest videos (particularly Slow and Chocolate), worked so well because of their less is more philosophies. This video had potential to transcend into something iconic, but the jarring combinations ultimately hurt the initially strong simplicity.
Where the interaction between her consorts, her dancers, and all the lovers is strong in a subtle way, the subtelty disappears when the white horse and white elephant come along to steal the show.
The appearance of the white horse (sorry love, Madge beat you to it on that one), perhaps symbolising masculine energy or the triumph of positivity over negativity just fizzles.
And what of that pesky White Elephant that is floating around nearby, hemmed in by the maze of LA skyscrapers? Are we to think there is something going on in the room that we shouldn't talk about? Awkward. Is it a reference to the Eastern tradition of the sacred? Or is it just the biggest inflatable object the production team could get their hands on? Either way, these elements, which probably sought to embellish the Aphrodite themes of the video, take away from them instead.
That said, we don't go to Kylie for anything too heavy, anything too symbolic, or even anything too meaningful. Like Aphrodite, who was all but quarantined into marriage, its best not to look too profoundly at any possible influence Minogue might have. After all, she has been Madonna-lite for more than two decades, and has at times eclipsed her inspiration, particularly in the music video stakes.
So whilst the inspiration is the same, its a safe bet to say that the two mainstays of pop music are welcome to their own interpretations of the Venus/Aphrodite legend. All The Lovers will do little to develop Kylie's gravitas, but at least it will perpetuate any one of a number of myths for that little bit longer.
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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