Category Archives: Music

What BuzzFeed can learn from Time, USA Today, and MTV. A Great Longform Read.

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This amazing analytical piece of writing in The Atlantic talks about the cultural phenomenon that is BuzzFeed and how it emulates the cultural benchmarks set by three previous iconoclastic media establishments : Time, USA Today, and MTV. Each of those were written off by more ‘serious’ rivals as an exercise in dumbing down but persistently weaved themselves into the cultural fabric as a foremost means of mass communication. Each also benefited from the rising tide of the dominant medium, which today is the internet (DUH!). The piece talks about what lessons BuzzFeed can learn from those spiritual predecessors and how it can try to remain relevant in an ever-changing media climate. The parallels drawn are surprisingly accurate:

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/04/the-eternal-return-of-buzzfeed/390270/?utm_source=SFTwitter

P.S. Shani Hilton really is amazing!

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Trailer Reaction – Amy

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Back To Black was a VERY important album, and not just for the mainstream music soundscape. It was an important album to me personally. The Neo-Jazz rhythms, the unflinchingly honest and emotional lyrics, and Amy Winehouse’s Soul-chanteuse vocals. It was easily one of my ‘formative years’ records, and my introduction to a whole new musical world. I got into all kinds of Jazz from all eras thanks to this album’s push. Love her or hate her, Amy Winehouse was a unique artist. There’s still that ever-present buzz in the music aficionado sphere that the Adeles and Duffys owe their big breaks to Winehouse’s first step. Goes without saying that Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi worked wonders with the production.

Okay, enough about the seminal record and more about the trailer. Amy, directed by Asif Kapadia is already looking like a cinematic experience. A humanized portrayal without the Lifetime biopic melodrama. A rise-and-fall chronicle without the True Hollywood Stories sensationalism. I like that the trailer has audio of a young and personable Amy rather than the incoherent, drug-addled mess she became later on. I also love the studio session of Back To Black in the background that gives the song a dark edge.

This is on my 2015 MUST-WATCH and I know tears will fall from my eyes while doing that. Enjoy the trailer here!:

The Grammys And The People Have A Beyonce Problem.

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I think it’s been established at this point that award shows in general have a problem. The winners at the Emmys were disappointing, the nominees for the Oscars are disappointing. At the Grammys, ‘Music’s Biggest Night’, the nominees, winners, and performances have been consistently disappointing for some years now (which is really a far bigger issue about how messy the music industry is today).

The point is, different and original is either rarely recognized, or snubbed altogether. With the Grammys, which are as much a concert experience as they are an awards show, the demonstration of this becomes more explicit. While it’s great that they decided to close the show with a statement, they cheapened that move with obvious concern over image and popularity.

As a prelude to Common and John Legend performing Glory from Selma, Beyonce sang Ms. Mahalia Jackson’s Take My Hand, Precious Lord. The hymn was a favorite of Dr. King’s and is featured in the movie Selma too. A chorus of singers with hands raised as a tribute to Michael Brown stood behind Beyonce as she bellowed.

There’s one problem, in the film the song is performed by Ledisi, who also plays Ms. Jackson.

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For the (sadly) unaware, Ledisi is a nine-time Grammy nominee and a renowned name in Soul, Gospel, and R&B. Yet somehow, she’s not as much of a recognized name as Beyonce. That could have changed tonight had she sung the song. Apparently, both Common and John Legend admitted that it was Beyonce who approached them and pitched the idea. So, if she has the kind of clout to schedule and create performances for the freaking Grammys, especially where she seemed to want to pay homage to Selma, she definitely had the power to ask for Ledisi to do it.

Before you get defensive about the vocal prowess of ‘Queen Bey’, here’s Ledisi’s untouchable version to shut you up:

Beyonce could’ve done ANYTHING else, it’s not like they were going to have the Grammys and not have a nominated, popular artist perform. Plus she’s clearly in the position to pick and choose. It’s apparent that it wasn’t about highlighting the movement but about highlighting HER. As one of music’s most passive-aggressive attention-seekers, this was just an opportunity for her to have another “Look at me! I’m so great” while her psycho fans ate it out of her hands. Gospel is supposed to be devoid of vanity after all.

BONUS: This isn’t the first time an awards show chose Beyonce over lesser known artists to appease the viewership and maybe themselves. Remember Oscars 2005? Beyonce inexplicably performed 3 of the 5 nominated songs, including Vois sur ton chemin from Les Choristes, a song DESIGNED to be sung by a choral ensemble since the film is about a young children’s choir. Instead of having original vocalists, Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc perform their version, they got Beyonce backed by the American Boychoir. The botched French accent is not even the worst part:

To back up my attention-seeker accusation, I want you to pay close attention at 1:20. The kids get only a few seconds of the song to themselves and she decides to melisma over them, couldn’t even let them have their moment.

Some Beautiful Music – Frank Ocean’s Serene Cover Of Aaliyah’s At Your Best (You Are Love)

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On what would’ve been Aaliyah’s 36th birthday, PBR&B patron saint Frank Ocean released this haunting, falsetto-fueled rendition of her At Your Best (You Are Love), itself a cover of an Isley Brothers song and one of her earliest hits. It’s not one of those mediocre covers, this version brings a whole new passion and freshness to the song! I’m actually hoping it’s featured on his forthcoming sophomore album too.

Hear it right here:
http://hypetrak.com/2015/01/frank-ocean-covers-aaliyah/

#RIPBabyGirl

Maya Angelou’s Spirit Lives On With Caged Bird Songs.

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One of the saddest losses this year was that of Dr. Maya Angelou. The woman and her work have been inspirational to me ever since my teens. Luckily, I’m not the only one whose life she touched, and her work is being reanimated in a whole new way. Presenting Caged Bird Songs, a collection of 13 soul-stirring Angelou poems set to music.

The album’s name is clearly inspired by her autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Dr. Angelou’s vocal recordings are placed on tracks created by RoccStar and Shawn Rivera of the R&B group Az Yet, and beautifully capture her famous rhythmic delivery with Jazz, Soul, and Hip-Hop orchestrations.

Here’s the video for Harlem Hopscotch. Despite its age, this poem with it’s playful allusion to cultural adversity is all the more relevant today in the wake of tragedies like Ferguson and Eric Garner.

Produced with the help of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN and directed/choreographed by Napoleon & Tabitha D’umo, the video is a dancing delight with twists and jerks. Well known names in dance make appearances including Nia Peeples, Quest Crew, Derek Hough, Ian Eastwood, Zendaya, and reigning Dancing With The Stars champions Alfonso Ribeiro & Witney Carson.

For other tracks of the album, visit here: http://cagedbirdsongs.com/#about

How The Boy Band Dream Can Actually Be A Nightmare.

Jenna Mullins is officially my favorite writer at E! Online, and not because her boyfriend Kyle (an awesome guy btw) was my SA at USC. It’s because she regularly contributes pieces like these, biting and brutally honest.

YOUTH ASYLUM

This latest one is a pseudo-expose that sheds light on the murky happenings behind pop stardom. Pre-One Direction, the 90s and early 00s were a high tide for boy bands. Record labels constantly tried to cram together a group of young impressionable boys and market them to hordes of equally impressionable teen girls. But like spaghetti you throw at the fridge,it didn’t always stick. For every NKOTB, BSB, N’SYNC, and 98 Degrees, there are countless crushed hopes and unrealized dreams of young guys exploited and ripped off by record labels.

Kevin Yee of the one semi-hit wonder band Youth Asylum did a reddit AMA recently where he spilled the beans on a lot, and this piece expounds upon that. After their subsidiary label was shut down, the boys were dropped with no riches to fall back on and their album went unreleased. It’s depressing but not nearly as depressing as his former bandmate Leo Gallo’s blind audition to Blurred Lines on The Voice that predictably led to no chairs turning.

Read the E! Online piece here: http://uk.eonline.com/news/604913/former-pop-singer-spills-10-juicy-secrets-about-being-in-a-failed-90s-boyband?cmpid=tweol-manual

P.S. Kevin is still active in the music scene and now luckily gets to do the kind of stuff he wants, check his YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7jEIPNgfTGS1TU8UhONz1Q

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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(there’s a bonus part at the end)

The closing chapter of The Hunger Games has been opened.

If you’re still asking why the last book was (unnecessarily) split into two films, you’re a naive spirit who knows nothing of the world (hint: $$$$). But the cash grab comes at a cost, Part 1 feels more like a teaser, a build-up of events that will crescendo in Part 2. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s own climax, but you wouldn’t be blamed for feeling just a little bit shortchanged. Remember Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1? It’s a similar feeling. However, Suzanne Collins’ books aren’t nearly as lengthy so there’s no beating around the bush, hence this film ends at a reasonable time.

Danny Strong’s screenplay with a rewrite from Peter Craig (who also adapted The Town to the big screen)indicates two strong screenwriters knowing how to tie things up neatly. What’s missing though is the omnipresent tension Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt created in Catching Fire. But then again, Catching Fire began and ended within one film.

The unusual nightmare sequence is a fitting start, and things get into action soon after. We’re soon introduced to the familiar faces who survived the events of the Quarter Quell and are now taking refuge in the underground District 13. Then there’s the grand addition of Julianne Moore as Alma Coin, the district’s president.

Moore knows how to play strong and resilient without overdoing the angry or passive-aggressive. She’s a character at peace with herself while at war with the Capitol which makes for a great performance. Equally enthralling is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a turn so animated, you forget the actor has been dead for almost a year, until the end credits remind you with a dedication. Mahershala Ali is also introduced as Boggs, the head of security at District 13 and Katniss’ immediate new ally, blending in seamlessly with a dignified presence. But major props go to Elizabeth Banks as a de-glammed Effie, who might have been stripped off of her wigs and costumes but not her snark.

I’ve always felt that the entire book and film series can be summed up as an allegory on various sociopolitical issues. The main analysis of this part is definitely media manipulation. The 13th District use Katniss as their charismatic mascot, their titular Mockingjay. They begin creating video clips with the help of a professional film crew led by Cressida Bonas (a Skrillex-haired Natalie Dormer). They film guerrilla-style snippets to rile up their supporters. On the other hand, the Capitol broadcasts talk show-like one-on-one’s between a hostage Peeta and Caesar Flickerman who does his best using emotionally manipulative language. The film nails this look at two different parties connecting to their core audience with the appropriate platforms and images.

The sound design throughout is a work of beauty. The crashes, bangs, and thuds never shoot out yet still hit you hard.The emphasis is not the volume of the sound, but it’s impact. The foley work is realistic and never sounds looped in during post-production, a problem that plagues many blockbusters today. James Newton Howard’s score too is the right amount of subtle, never highjacking a moment (*cough* Interstellar *cough*)

This subtlety thankfully carries over into the action sequences. Believe it or not, no in your face destruction or bevvy of screen-hogging explosions, even when air raids destroy structures or when a dam explodes in a bomb attack. The Michael Bay’s of the industry need to take cues from Francis Lawrence. Speaking of which, mea culpa time. I was quick to judge Lionsgate’s hiring of Lawrence when Gary Ross departed. Owing to his previous work, the one thing I never thought he would add was subtlety, yet he’s done a commendable job on two and soon three films.

The two lynchpins that hold the conflict are heroine Katniss and big bad Coriolanus Snow. Color me biased, but I find Jennifer Lawrence to be a primary reason why Katniss Everdeen is so iconic. She’s equal parts strength and vulnerability, letting her rage take over when needed and breaking down when her loved ones are at risk. She’s a person, not an archetype. It really helps that Lawrence personable enough to add dimension to her character. Donald Sutherland is a masterclass happening before you. Like the seasoned veteran that he is, he gives Snow – a ruthless tyrant who wears white roses on his lapel to cover the blood stench in his mouth caused by poison sores- a soft-spoken cadence and an almost paternal disposition. The only thing scarier than an angry dangerous man is an unusually calm dangerous man.

Bonus- HERE is the best part:

If you read the book, you know about when Pollux requests Katniss to sing which Cressida & the crew record. Suzanne Collins wrote the poetic hymn The Hanging Tree into the book to be this song. Katniss describes it as a song her father taught her, but people could no longer sing because it was deemed anti-Capitol. Well fans, the song made it to the movie! The Lumineers gave it a melody and James Newton Howard added a score. I personally love the song because it reminds me of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Joan Baez’s The Tress They Do Grow High, rosy melodies coded with macabre subtext. Jennifer Lawrence can definitely hold a note, her husky vocals add a new depth. In the context of when it appears in the film, it’s goosebumps-inducing and becomes the unofficial anthem of protest for all the districts. Listen here: