I guess the warning signs were present from the beginning.
After all, the first album I ever owned was by Culture Club. Cyndi Lauper was my first love and Madonna my first obsession. The first poster that I ever tacked up on my wall was of Wham! Just a year or two later, my young distrust of David Bowie and Prince turned to undisputed love.
My idols weren't just pop stars to me. They were more than their hits. They were touch stones. It can't be a coincidence that they were also among the world's first mainstream LGBT artists and allies. The gender benders and the rule breakers of the music video age.
These were artists who were prepared to consciously take on sexual politics on a scale people never had before thanks to the music video medium. Acts who could've taken the easy road rather than attract criticism through their opposition to the status quo.
Artists who felt and moved at a time when we valued trickery and cultural violence over anything else. The acts who gave people like me a solid footing and foundation to explore music more dangerously and widely because their music was already something more than just pop.
George's talent? It was there from the beginning.
We might've been distracted by the fluro, by the white speedos and the Choose Life t-shirt but George wasn't. As a kid he was already a brilliant songwriter. And then there was that voice to remind us, lest we'd forget all caught up in the leather jacket, sunglasses and designer stubble.
George may not have seemed it in the eighties, but he was just as subversive as his peers. If you look back at his videos, his early and consistent use of models to shift the spotlight away from himself was a master stroke. As was his ability to be unfailing honest about his troubles and struggles.
By the mid nineties he was already growing into a modern trobadeur. He was unmatched for how he could write something so unexpectedly moving like Jesus To A Child or make I Can't Make You Love Me all his own, while still being able to push out great white boy soul like Fast Love or Too Funky to remind us again not to categorise or limit his exceptional talent.
That a huge segment of his audience abandoned him must've been a devastating blow, even if publicly he disavowed the fans who'd washed their hands of him. His unapologetic, frankness about his sexuality after his public outing was refreshing, especially because he never let it overshadow him the way the press often did and wanted it to.
2016 was finally the year that we stopped talking about the 27 curse. You know, the one that claims anyone famous that we love when they're 27 and in their prime. Instead, we recognised 2016 had taken its place: the Grim Reaper year, here to take away whatever remnants many of us had of our youth. And George, taken on Christmas Day closed out the horror year, leaving behind a lot of love and an amazing discography you should go and rediscover. Now.
2016 has not been my favourite year.
Aren't you over this obsession with nationalism and populism? Being herded into simplified positions or towards activism. Where everything gets reduced to us being for or against something. With us or not with us.
We don't seem to have any patience for things that are complicated or nuanced anymore. We're all so angry.
Culturally, 2016 has also been Beyonce's year. Again.
Once upon a time she was the prom haired child of destiny. On the cover of every magazine, beauty personified. Great voice, great look, great mover.
Then she reinvented herself and the game in 2013 with Beyonce.
It's not an easy task to reinvent yourself after so long in the public eye. People are only too ready to remind you of how frumpy you were or how much of a nerd you were before you made yourself over.
I think it was a good move on Bey's part. Musically she really needed to step it up a few gears. And her 2016 release Lemonade has consistently been the year's most acclaimed recording.
In case you haven't noticed, with Beyonce and Lemonade Bey has morphed into a serious artiste. One who doesn't want to pay lip service to issues anymore. Someone who's no longer content to be the L'Oreal gal in pop. Girl's got other things on her mind.
And where in the past her albums featured hubby Jay Z, Lemonade [thankfully] lacked his vocal presence. Even if the idea of him is still all over it.
The takeaway from all of this, and Beyonce's continuation as a serious artist was that Beyonce somehow got 'blacker' [and angrier] this year. Realer thanks to the elevator scene, Superbowl, the baseball bat. The corn rows. Pretty much any moment and any thing in the long play video.
Queen Bey transitioned her sound with Beyonce, but she's solidified her position on things with Lemonade. She's done it by doing what commercial artists have long done. By working with the best and by tapping into social movements that artists strive to claim as their own.
But these feel like ridiculous times.
Times when we suddenly have to be reminded that Black Lives Matter. Times when people are identifying with the old, white guard. When many are not even willing to acknowledge the existence of 'minorities' anymore.
Times when parts of the world are looking to repeal rights so hard fought for.
So when Bey appeared at the Superbowl and paid tribute to the Black Panther movement back in February, the press had a heart attack. If she hadn't already killed off her old L'Oreal persona with Lemonade, she certainly finished the job at the Superbowl.
Beyonce's numbers are impressive. Her album has performed solidly, but not even she is Adele. Adele's not here to ruffle your feathers. But Beyonce suddenly is and that has pissed a lot of people off.
But any backlash to Beyonce's activist position in 2016 isn't really about her suddenly thinking she's black. It's a sign of how the usual suspects [and now parts of the disenchanted society] feel like we're in a rickety boat. A boat whose position is so precarious that any sign of rocking will force us all to capsize.
The real take out? Beyonce has slayed this year because mainstream artists have been playing it safe for years. And for all the activism, Beyonce's album was solid musically, and breathtaking at a visual level. Beyond that, well her fans are more likely to be caught up in who Becky with the good hair is to worry too much about the message Beyonce is trying to send.
It's 2016. They need a simple, clear position and not much more, after all.
LET'S face it. 2016 has been a horror year.
We should've seen the signs as early as January.
January 10 to be precise.
On that day, we lost someone incredibly unique: David Bowie.
A man who transcended boundaries and whose appeal was inter-generational.
Bowie left with the same style and grace he'd displayed for decades, choosing not to make his health battles and problems public. Instead, he left us with Blackstar, his final album, which has remained one of the year's best reviewed works.
How fitting, it seemed, that Blackstar - an album in which Bowie looks death squarely in the face - was his final swan song. As if the master had planned the farewell in advance.
But accounts are now beginning to surface which suggest Bowie was already planning on yet more material after Blackstar. It's a tantalizing idea.
As has become custom, we realised what a remarkable, mercurial talent he was only once he was gone. Blackstar went to number one on its posthumous release. Much of Bowie's back catalogue filled out the world's albums and singles charts as we scrambled to preserve our memories of him and his music. And, his transcendental approach to culture: blurring the lines of music, fashion and art as he did for so long, have stretched his legacy into the art world.
Since his departure, the Victoria and Albert museum in London has announced that their Bowie exhibition has become their most ever visited show. Bowie's personal art collection: as progressive and ahead of the times as the man himself - has had collectors in a frenzy.
And yet, he'll be remembered for being such a phenomenal pioneer in popular culture. With a voice that was distinctive and incredibly powerful. Get your fill of it over at NME which have some great isolated vocals that attest to how amazing that voice was lest we forget.
I want to let you in on a secret.
Thom Yorke is invisible. And you should also know, in case you don't, that Radiohead mean business again!
I don't know. Daydreaming is gorgeous. Beautiful and hypnotic from the first spin and definitely more like their classic material than Burn The Witch.
But Radiohead are being so serious this time around that their music is secondary! They've got things to say, and mini movies to make. And they're here to show us that the world we live in is completely flawed, and that we (yes, you!) have some serious problems.
They are capturing the world's attention because what they're releasing is so good that everything else is kind of embarrassing in comparison.
The thing is, everyone is going to adore the video and Thom Yorke's appearance and performance. It's so memorable, partly because it's filmed in nondescript places. Everybody is going to be like, wow, if only you could get nominated for an Oscar for a music video, because that is some crazy giving it your all kind of stuff.
But can I just say, with all his cash, would it have been that hard for Mr Yorke to invest in some Pantene conditioner? Or some V-O-5? Or in some non-animal tested conditioner at the very least that you can get from those local hippy markets?
But where J.Lo operates in a world where appearance is secondary to message, the Brits live at the polar extreme.
J.Lo's feminist statement is couture feminism. Just like Beyonce's was, and just like Madge's cynical campaign for the even more cynical Dolce and Gabbana was.
But can you imagine if those ladies actually had the freedom to strip off the make up? To hang up the designer threads and go all Thom Yorke to get to the heart of what they're trying to say?
The world would probably end. Or if it was Beyonce in place of Thom Yorke in this video (and that would've been great to see) would we just be sitting there picking her appearance apart on a minute level? Hell yes. And we'd probably be calling her a rude beyish for entering into people's dwellings without even knocking. The nerve of that woman!
I know that I should feel sorry for Thom. I bet Thom looks like that cos he's always on the go. He never stops walking in and out of places. It's not as if he ever sits down and has a cuppa and puts his feet up, and if you don't take time out for yourself, then of course you're going to wear yourself out. He just gives it his all before he finally konks out in front of the fire, poor love.
But that's what it's like for musicians today. They have to be on the move constantly, visiting all kinds of B towns so they can earn some cash through their tours and encourage people to buy a tshirt, cos you know nobody's going to actually pay for your album.
Watch the video and tell me what you think. In the meantime, I'm gonna send Thom an email. If Radiohead mean serious business like it seems, then I think they need to open a pop up store. You know that Drake and Kanye already changed the world with theirs, but the thing is, at the end of the day, it's the indie kids that really bring change into the world (and cash into other people's pockets).
A heart felt congratulations to J. Lo.
Jenny from the block has been doing the rounds recently - car pool karaoke [loved the music video jazz hands], Vegas residencies [getting pretty good reviews], and appearing in every second Pit Bull video there is around, you know, working it J.Lo style [kind of like a cross between 90s Janet Jackson, late 90s Mariah Carey with a dash of Martika's street smarts thrown in for good measure].
There was a time when I used to see her that my brain would automatically say "don't be fooled by the rocks that I've got" and I would remember that she was Jenny from the block and always on the 6.
But every time I see her now I just want to yelp "on the floor!" or hum the Lambada chorus.
But she's back with a new song and video for Ain't Your Mama or something like that so we can remember that she's still the real girl "from the Bronx!". And now we can all go around yelling "I ain't your mama!"
And with the video, I have to congratulate her, cos she's achieved that AND gone through a music video rite of passage!
Yes! Pit Bull may have had her on the floor, but this time around she's on checkered tiles and bended knee. Yep, she's scrubbing away, and doing her bit to erase those awful, cliched 40s/50s views of women's roles. In that Mad Men kind of way. Until she gets to the 80s and gets all Working Girl on us, and then, well, she's pop back into modern times again too. Magical!
And with that important rite of passage behind her like a Bar Mitzvah, J. Lo has earned her place in the top tier of music video activism! She joins the ranks of the Queens. Queen B and the Queen of Pop [and about a million others]. And for that we should all be thankful.
NELLY Furtado popped back into the digital world with a simple post on Facebook the other day. She didn't have the preceding Radiohead drama of destroying everything to get our attention. I mean, deleting everything on Twitter and social networks is the new trashing a hotel room. Every rock star and their bitch is going to be doing it.
But Nelly F, one of my favourite Canadians, is too classy for that stuff. She simply said Hi.
And she had me at hello. Well, you know what I mean.
I love that girl. She's pop's underrated golden girl. But she's not happy with the current landscape for musos. So, on the eve of her new album (and lets hope it's not another Spirit Indestructible) she's channeled Prince, and backed Nikki Sixx and Blondie in calling for Youtube to cough up the moolah. More here.
The MET Gala happened again, and proved that it is the new MTV music video awards. It's the show where everything is put out on the line.
Beyonce was apparently the night's queen, Madge bared her butt cheeks Prince style and won equal acclaim and scorn. Solange and Katy Perry copped it in the memes (look for the Solange/bowl of crisps meme!) but the real winner of the night was @JohnDrops. Remarkable!
His garbage liner takes on the celebrity fashion clearly outdid the celebrities. I'm not on Instagram so I knicked this image from the Daily Mail, but go find the Brazilian and give him all your love.
BONO must be fuming!
In operation Vatican-Play-Nice, those Vatican hoes played host to the first ever rock musician to perform in the Sistine Chapel.
Remember how back in the 1990s everyone heaved a sigh of relief because The Edge sang Numb and it was just so refreshing to hear a U2 song without Bono's vocals for the most part? Well The Edge got the edge over Ireland and Africa's new Patron Saint. You see, it was The Edge who performed the numbers in the chapel, not Bono.
Pope Francis wasn't even there, but at the end of the day, you know that PF is going to take all the credit for the historic rock music moment, and that not even Bono will be able to say anything about it. More here.
M.I.A has been busy making epic music videos, finishing her new album and running amok as usual.
But there's a lot of lazy journalism going on right now, and the stories doing the rounds about M.I.A are purely being culled from her twitter feed. In them she's noted how she's about to deliver her new album to her label, how it's going to be her last, and how because she doesn't have a visa for the US she's not going to be able to be Stateside to promote it.
Let the girl in!
Back to the media angle. The same story has reappeared in basically the same format since Consequence of Sound first posted it, in all of its tweety gory. I guess that's useful if you're not on Twitter, or if you feel like getting all Radiohead about it.
But let's face it, you don't need a degree to be a journalist today. You just need to be able to cut and paste someone's stream of consciousness (or unconsciousness if you're Gwyneth Paltrow, and can I just say how much I hate that video I'm forced to watch of her promoting some luxury brand before I watch Judge Judy and the People's Court on youtube. I'm gonna end up in court if I watch it again because it just makes me want to get violent).
Anyhow, at least Consequence of Sound added the amazing Border video to their M.I.A article.
I like how Radiohead have moved into commentary on online life.
I've been a bit flip floppy with my feelings towards them. At one time I thought they were the greatest band on earth (The Bends, OK Computer) and at other times, they haven't really done anything other than make me feel they're overrated (most everything else).
I particularly like how in the video for Burn The Witch they have gone all Salem witch trials on our ass with more than a nod to Twitter and to Noddy.
I had hoped to also see Gumby, Pokey and Gumby's creepy sister make an appearance, but you can't have everything. We got a decent song, a timely video, and some apt social commentary.
But what I don't appreciate is how at a certain point, the video reminded me of that Safety Dance song from the early eighties. You know, when the creepy looking people were dancing around tying ribbons on the pole in that old medieval British way. That video used to ruin my day. Because when I was a kid, I used to watch telly before I went to school and they would always play a video between cartoons. And when that one came on I knew I would have a bad day.
I hated that shit back then, and I hate Burn The Witch for reminding me of it.
But, it's a good track and anything related to Salem or the Halliwell sisters works in my books.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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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