A song to make me happy...

Sunday, December 13, 2009
I somehow got a hold of a physical copy of Shakira's new She Wolf album, even though the release has now been pulled until 2010, which suggests record company disarray and panic. Very sad. But anyway, the album is strong, although only nine tracks (if you exclude the Spanish version of She Wolf), which puts it in The Fame Monster mini-album territory. Men in this Town is by far the highlight, with its heartwarming disco yelps, soaring chorus, bizarre lyrics about Matt Damon and suicide. Shakira at her best has a pleasing obtuseness, and here it's perfectly fused into the album's electro-disco template, unlike some of the Pharrell Williams tracks which could have turned up on Hard Candy with only slight modulation. (In an album of nine tracks, how can there be filler?). But this is good, good, good.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

For me Kylie is imbued with all kinds of transformative meanings, which made my extravagant jaunt to New York feel like a pilgrimage of sorts. Partly offsetting the cost of 42 hours of flying, it ended up being my greatest Kylie experience yet, not only because of the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing (for both me and her), but also because of the novelty of seeing ‘our Kylie’ among a foreign crowd with a completely different take on who she is and what she represents. This crowd did *not* include tipsy secretaries, or families having their once-yearly night out. This crowd was hip, and 90 per cent male.

With nothing in particular to promote, the tour was framed as a composite of the best Parlophone-era live moments, stitched together into something new for an American audience previously denied access to her shows. Accordingly, projection artwork and compositions were borrowed from KylieFever, Showgirl, Showgirl Homecoming and KylieX. Occasionally this led to some odd sequencing, and also the slightly eerie sight of a 2001-era Kylie towering above the 2009 model, who seemed slightly, umm, older. But it basically worked well, and for the uninitiated would presumably have seemed relatively cohesive.

Proceedings kicked off with Light Years, with K descending from the rafters on the famed glitter skull, donning a very GaGa costume, including a new take on the Showgirl Homecoming pink feathers, fused with the American flag. The new choreography was some of the best since Fever, and thankfully moved past the tired robo-moves that were heading steadily towards farce. Her voice was in fine form, she looked suitably refreshed, and she was having a ball. As was the crowd – at random intervals well-dressed men started pashing each other suggesting some kind of overflow of pop pleasure.

The unfortunate return of Red Blooded Woman...

Subsequent sections saw the welcome return of the towering SmileyKylie medley, a fantastic rendition of White Diamond in ballad form (which went beyond show tune to evoke actual emotion), Confide in Me from the first Showgirl tour, Burning Up/Vogue (which seemed to confuse the crowd) and, of course, The One.

There’s not much more to say really. Kylie in New York, and all the wonderful connotations that brings. And also the end of my own bizarre Kylie odyssey -- London, Sydney, Melbourne, New York. I am now truly an obsessive. It has to stop.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I haven’t blogged for a while. I think it’s because I’ve been processing the shock that I actually very much like the new Sarah Blasko album. As much as I’ve always thought (assumed?) that she’s annoying and affected, my god I relate to her lyrics and her sentiment. Am I affected? Is this why I’ve loathed her so? Who knows, but the Peter Bjorn and John production works, and I think albums about tortured separations from long-term creative/romantic partners are generally creatively fertile (not that I expect such self-sacrifice from my artists).

So what else has been going on musically? Had the pleasure of watching the amazing Aimee Mann at the Palais (but pointedly missed her support, Ben Lee). And she was brilliant. So in control, her voice in fine form, funny, jumping from request to request, ignoring her set-list for the last 2/3 of the show. I find her music quite unique in how it skips between dark humour to (once again) desolation from line to line, yet somehow still makes sense as a whole. Although only 28, 31 Today is, once again, devastating.

What else? The new Natalie Imbruglia album shows promise, although not sure about her strategy of releasing a single but releasing a clip for a song which is not the single. Why do mainstream artists go independent then do stupid decadent things like this? For example, Darren Hayes' 2-disc opus which I'm sure even Savage Garden royalties are struggling to pay for. And I’m also increasingly respecting Tina Arena, which I will blog about soon. This is a confronting topic, but Just Me, aside form it’s awful first two singles, is really a very fine album. I'm sure there's more thing's I've missed (the implosion of Mariah Carey, Heidi Montag's 'live' performance debut, Madonna's sleazy Celebration clip), but I will attend to these in time.

Sophie, I love you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sophie B. Hawkins is one intense lady, and I love her. But she is also a sort of living testament to the fact that a life lived in full adherence to emotional truth inevitably heads towards living with lots of pets, and writing songs about them -- for her, it's all about shadows of life and death, the merging of body and soul, drumming and Virginia Woolf. But for me this is of course an entirely good thing, as I prefer my emotion to be *bluntly* expressed through music.

It's ironic that someone who consistently channels such a sexual energy is probably most well known for the TTfm (as it was then) staple As I Lay Me Down and the Dawson's Creek soundtrack, as well as, of course, the classic Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, with its famous sleeveless flannel shirt. But running through most of her work is a theme of destructive sexuality -- an evocation of a sexual/spiritual force (of the elemental variety) that can never be fully expressed, and would most likely tear you apart if it could be. Thus the pets. Thus the drums. I don't really have a point here, except that I like my music overblown, and I think Sophie B. is often overlooked. Looking back, her unrestrained and forceful music is quite refreshing. She also had a fight with Sony Music over a banjo, which I think is pretty cool. Try that Delta, Tina and the rest...

Your Madgesty is dead... long live Shakira!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

If one needs any more evidence of Madonna's increasing musical irrelevance, here it is. Celebration is a dud. While theoretically I support her return to dance, this is a track with zero originality -- it could be anyone's track. She doesn't even seem herself in the spoken word sections, normally a Madonna strength. And despite it's celebratory intent, there is no soul. Once again she sounds like she's phoning it in. She makes all the right noises about being yourself, chasing pleasure etc., but she may as well have been recording it from the treadmill, slave to her insatiable work ethic. A sad day this is. I was hoping that after such a setback as Hard Candy, she would be reborn.

Shakira on the other hand has snuck out of hibernation to produce a killer track with a fantastic clip (which echoes Madge's Sorry, as if to emphasise some kind of changing of the guard). She Wolf is disco fun at its best. My hips shake even writing about it. And I love the clip's bizarre concoction of contrary scenes: Shakira gyrating in some kind of glitter womb; her recreation of MJ's Smooth Criminal 'lean forward' move; the bit where she basically detaches her hips in some kind of cage; and her climactic dance solo which evokes early 2000 J.Lo 'house' dance in a thoroughly satisfying way. This is adventurous, progressive and full of soul. Shakira is the new pop innovator.

Delta called on it...

Sunday, July 12, 2009
A very spot on article about Delta Goodrem's addiction to advertising dollars (do Age journalists trawl pop fan sites for stories? What is going on...). I was already slightly overwhelmed with the Sunsilk ads, Nintendo ads, soy milk... but now Proactiv?? Surely this is a bit low rent? The article speculates that she's trying to cash in on her fame while it lasts, and this seems like a sensible hypothesis considering Sony's decreasing interest in her quest for global domination (after the lukewarm local success of Delta, and her dumping in the US). I'm generally ambivalent about celebrity cash-in endorsements, but I think the extent of the cash-in has to be in proportion to the extent of one's fame. If the ratio is off then a festering 'career decline' stench can set in... Delta's ratio is certainly off.

But about that Proactiv ad. Because, you see, it is HILARIOUS. Not only because Delta has the cheek to say that 'she wants to make a difference to people's lives in a positive way... and this [her Proactiv endorsement] is part of it.' But she's also clearly turning into some parodic Ja'mie King type -- all those shots of her purring at the camera, flicking her extensions about, signing autographs etc... 'the most important part of what I do is connecting with people.' Oh dear.

This is a trivial aside, but I notice that her NZ Sunsilk TV ad was projected behind her during the opening act of her creatively awful Believe Again tour. This makes sense as I remember thinking at the time that the footage of her parading down a fashion show runway looked a bit expense... so the commercial world is now fully integrated into her art (but not in a cool Madonna Pepsi ad type way). I miss old-school Delta. I blame Brian McFadden

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Apologies for ripping this straight off Pop Justice, and indeed, ripping off the gist of their commentary too, but this is quite fascinating. While making Madonna comparisons risks accusations of hysteria, I think it's true to say that the sense of shock and surprise attached to a GaGa press conference evokes Blonde Ambition era Madonna. Or maybe it's just her referencing of a 1970s gay porn aesthetic.

It's interesting this face-concealing thing she's wearing, as it's still playing around with themes of suffocation and fragility (like her tea-cup bearing Alice in Wonderland creations). There's something fascinating about watching someone who's obviously wielding such power choose to emphasise aspects of powerlessness, and also gain a kind of power through the strangeness of the look they're creating. What unsettles demands attention.
Thursday, July 9, 2009

The clip's a mish-mash of ideas, but I think this is the strongest song yet from I am... Sasha Fierce. Perhaps this is the album of increasing returns, considering the trajectory from the limp If I Were a Boy, which seemed to be splicing If God Was One of Us with some essentialising gender assumptions. (Single Ladies never completely grabbed me.) But I remain opposed to the basic concept -- that Beyonce's 'true' self and 'Sasha Fierce' self aren't able to be reconciled. AND PS I don't want to mention her by name, but I also want to acknowledge how horrible this is. It pleases me that she's fast becoming a caricature of herself, even though she was going for pastiche all along -- I'm sick of her wide-eyed I'm innocent but not look. And seriously, the song (which I will not name) appears to be a RomCom synopsis sung (badly) over MOR rock. I give it 2 years before she's got a Rita style sitcom.

Up! revisited

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I saw you flinch! Shania Twain, you say? Well, yes, I acknowledge the cringe factor, but let’s not forget that around 1997 Shania Twain was an unstoppable force, bringing country to the masses, and From This Moment On to TTfm and wedding chapels the world over. Come on Over sold 34 million, and established Twain as one of the world’s top artists, and a byword for dependable, no-nonsense country spirit (even though she was, umm, Canadian). But what happened next? By the time Come on Over was stomping over the globe, Shania was living a very un-country vegan life holed up in her Swiss chateau, with her hubby/producer John ‘Mutt’ Lange. We didn’t hear much for a while, but in 2002 the Shania machine was back in gear with Up! which was, arguably, music’s first ‘world album' and, arguably, a complete disaster.

Country Shania...

This wasn't a world album in the sense of later-years Peter Gabriel oddity, or Readings 'world' section, but in the production line sense of population-specific tinkering of the same product to suit distinct markets. This was the plan: each population would receive the same ‘Pop’ disc, but in the US this would also come with a ‘Country’ disc in which the same songs were recorded according to US country tradition. In the ‘International’ markets (defined in classic US imperialist terms as everywhere not in the US), the album would come with a ‘World' disc, in which the same songs were recorded with, wait for it, a Pop-Bollywood style. I cannot convey how hideous this disc was, which, unfortunately was lumped on the Australian market (by this point I must confess that I bought the thing back in ’02.) Just imagine the country sass of I’m Gonna Get You Good recorded with a Bollywood beat… So impossibly awful, you must listen here. Apparently this Pop-Bollywood travesty was intended to ‘crack’ the Indian market.

Not surprisingly the album did not fare well (although Wikipedia tells me it was huge in Germany). As with any lofty album strategy, people got confused: why was a country-pop artist releasing Bollywood tracks? And for a country market already suspicious of Twain’s country cred, a token trad-country disc was not enough to appease concerns triggered by her dabbling in threatening ‘World’ music (was this… ANTI-AMERICAN?? Even though she's Canadian). While Shania had big plans of conquering the globe with a little bit of what everyone wanted (as seems so inevitable in retrospect) the results were spread too thin, and only produced one hit single (I’m Gonna Getcha Good). And Shania hasn’t really done much since, apart from a lazy Greatest Hits album.

World music goddess...

But what of the music itself? While for the most part it’s catchy in a kitchen-sink kind of way, and produced from the same comforting formula as Come on Over, it remains very hard to connect its sketches of average-Joe American life with the Shania Twain vegan living in a Swiss chateau. Which means it all seems a bit mannered. Note the too-eager use of exclamation marks: Nah!; (Wanna Get to Know You) That Good!; Ka-Ching!; Waiter! Bring Me Water!; What a Way to Wanna Be!; Thank You Baby!; I’m Not in the Mood (to Say No!)...

In a systematic fashion, all the average Joe boxes were ticked. There was a song about a brave young mum deciding to keep her baby (‘I had a baby at 15, Daddy never did forgive me, never heard from the guy again…’), an everyday gal havin’ a bad day (‘even my skin is acting weird, I wish that I could grow a beard, then I could cover up my spots…’), and a stab at the hypocrisy of the beauty industry (‘Why be perfect, no, it’s not worth it… don’t be so obsessed'). As was pointed out in a particularly prickly interview, Shania as of course modelling for Revlon at the time.

The problem’s not so much that Shania was sketching characters – if I knew anything about the country tradition I'd assume that was part of it – but rather that the characters being sketched were a bit two dimensional. In contrast, Taylor Swift, for example, manages to put together a concept album about the schoolyard that, through its wit, detail and humour seems much fuller (although, to be fair, Taylor was barely out of school when she wrote it). But this two-dimensionality wasn’t new for Twain – Come on Over’s similarly full of faux-down-home vignettes. The difference, perhaps, is that during the Come on Over period Twain was maintaining the fiction that she was a country artist. When it came to Up! however, she was holed up in her Chateau with her eyes on India. Here's another hideous 'World' version. And another. Got the point? This needs to be remembered.

Kylie X revisited

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Some people have lumped X into the Body Language clearance bin, framing it as yet another failed attempted to recapture the voodoo-magic of Fever. But I disagree. While like many other K fans, I’m sad it didn’t represent the hallowed fusion of Impossible Princess lyrical openness and Fever pop smarts that's been anticipated for so long, it’s still a quality pop album that holds some of the best songs of K’s Parlophone era. Unfortunately X, as a set of songs, is obscured by two things. Firstly, cancer, or its absence: for some the album was immediately written-off because it didn’t deliver the confessional that was expected of Kylie after her two year ordeal, dramatic cancellation and spectacular comeback (a pretty arrogant assumption, I’d say). And secondly, the disastrous promotion the album received from a beleaguered Parlophone, which was at the time caught up in the near-disintegration of EMI. As we start gearing up for the next album, I think it’s time to look back at what went wrong, but also at what actually went right.

The comeback

While 2 Hearts signalled an appropriately oddball new direction, one of the first reactions X met with was a bewilderment that someone who’d just been through cancer could sing about Speakerphones and ‘lookin’ hot’ before a big date. Against that enormous emotional backdrop, I guess it was inevitable that X would seem shallow in comparison. But its lack of reference to the last few years (with the exception of No More Rain, Stars and Cosmic) did seem particularly pointed. There was no White Diamond-style melding of life-affirming sentiment with pop sparkle. For the most part, she was singing about cheap nightclub thrills, just like she did in Light Years and Fever.

This is criticism that seemed to grate: whenever it was put to K, she would visibly bristle, and seem almost defiant when she made the very logical point that part of what she wanted to embrace with X was a new kind of normality. Her experience had made her value the normal and the trivial even more – a sentiment most people who’ve been through a health crisis, big or small, would share. But this is also a criticism that pre-dates ‘the cancer stuff.’ It’s been a perennial complaint of K fans that we rarely get to see beyond her pop fa├žade. She rarely reveals anything. Which would be fine, except that after the dark, revealing and lyrically brilliant Impossible Princess, we know there’s a lot going on.

Love me, I’m…. The One

But as with most K albums, the odd moments of brittle vulnerability end up channelling something much more personal than the words themselves, and seem all the more powerful because we really don’t know anything else of her (while harbouring a deep suspicion that, like us, she’s fragile and slightly messed up). For me, the most personal moment in the album is also its most formulaic track – The One. Yes it’s about circling someone in a club (probably The Peel or its international equivalent,) but when she sings ‘I’m the one… love me, love me, love me, I’m the one’ the effect is so potent she may as well be singing about that basic human need for connection that’s never quite possible, but haunts you nonetheless (or, umm, something). Because of this emotional punch, as well as its elegant production, The One is by far X’s standout track. Which makes its commercial failure all the more dispiriting, and infuriating.

Parlophone screwed it all up…

X’s promotion started out alright. We already knew the script after William Baker was photographed walking out of a hairdressing salon clumsily/cannily displaying an A4 sheet of paper with the X campaign strategy sketched out in biro: internet marketing, TV special, tour etc… In the beginning all the cogs were turning as they should, apart from a series of damaging internet leaks. The buzz was there, The Kylie Show, while a little hokey in parts, showed off the songs to good effect, the reviews were mostly positive and 2 Hearts did alright, while not setting the world on fire. But with the choice of Wow as single no.2 in the UK/Aus, and In My arms as single no.2 in continental Europe (do they not realise we use the internet?) it all started to go pear-shaped.

Not only was Wow a retrogressive choice (in parts it sounded like Aunty Christine singing a Karaoke version of Love at First Sight after a big night on the piss), but the decision to release different singles in different jurisdictions signalled that Parlophone was nervous about the album. It also meant two very bodgy clips for the price of one: in Wow she looks like a frigid Star Trek creature, and In My Arms, while clever visually, seemed like it was filmed for pennies. But it gets worse. There was a half-hearted crack at the US market, with the decision to release the Janet Jackson-lite All I See. While K gamely went on the promo trail (albeit with a few shaky performances), Parlophone decided that the US could be cracked sans clip. Eventually K suffered the indignity of filming, and funding, her own promo vid (canoodling with dancer Marco de Silva against a white screen) as a ‘gift’ to her fans. Not a good look for a superstar. And when finally there was talk of releasing The One, first it was on, then it was off, then it was digital only, then it was canned. Once again K stepped in and filmed her own clip (which wasn’t bad at all), but to anyone looking closely, it seemed like the Kylie machine was in chaos. Apparently there had been a rift between K and Parlophone after the decision to release Wow/In My Arms (although this rumour doesn’t quite make sense as she seems to love both of those songs, although it would certainly explain a lot).

By this point it didn’t really matter that Parlophone was fucking her ‘round, since the KylieX2008 tour was kicking off and there was finally a chance to present the songs as she wanted to. I’ve obsessed over the tour here, so I won’t go over it again. Although, the fact that the tour rolls on with no rhyme or reason (Morocco, some ski resort, Poland, Madrid, US) suggests that the normally slick K machine is still in a state of partial chaos. But what of X? What would we make of it if things hadn’t turned out the way they did? It’s not a great album, but there are moments of greatness. It’s biggest weakness is perhaps its lack of adventure – while tracks like Speakerphone and Nu-di-ty are interesting, and quite oddball, they disappoint by sticking firmly to the Bloodshy & Avant mold, channelling the generic Sleazy-Britney sound pioneered by Gimme More. And for the record, hearing a 40-year old Australian singing about ‘dropping socks with your mini boom box’ is less than convincing.

But a further light is shed on X by the tracks that never made the album. Lose Control for example, another Kish Mauve track, perfectly fuses themes of claustrophobia and escape (in its talk of ‘wheels turning’ and ‘ropes tightening’) with modern, anthemic dance. Why K chose not to include it, and other similarly revealing tracks, is food for thought. Whether it was record company medelling or her own fear of personal revelation, we’ll never know. But as the forums heat up with talk of album no.11, the same debate will no doubt rage on – will this finally be the confessional watershed we’ve been waiting for? Or maybe what we actually want from K is that she has the self-possession to not reveal herself, realising, as I think she does, that what we all invest in her is meaningful in itself.


Umm, so Michael Jackson died. And I feel strangely unmoved. Obviously I feel terrible for his kids who will no doubt be launched into an even more intensely surreal circus, and I feel sad that a man has died, but in terms of Michael Jackson the icon dying, I don’t really feel much at all. And I think it’s because for a while now Michael Jackson, the legend, had ceased to need Michael Jackson, the person, to tend to make it real. So when I hear Billie Jean I won’t feel sad that Michael Jackson has died, but will just think it’s a really awesome song.

American Life revisited

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

American Life is a reminder of the Madonna that existed before she decided to stay young forever, and in a sense its failure sent her on the path she's still treading now, with increasing cringe-factor. Whereas Confessions on a Dance Floor was a reclamation of dance, the body and youth (and for which Madge seemed suitably refreshed), American Life was framed as a meditation on her life at a juncture between past and uncertain future, in the broader context of conservative America and celebrity culture.

"I prefer my South American dictators to be played by Madonna"

But this is where the intent of the album became somewhat unstuck. As its Patty Hearst-inspired, faux-photocopied cover art signalled, Madonna was at war against... something. What exactly it was was never specified. The fame-machine she helped build? Her own excess? American foreign policy? Madonna's strength has always been picking a range of different reference-points and then stitching them into something new, but not necessarily logical... and then defending any lack of coherence by labelling it art. But for an album with an apparent political intent, this was not convincing. While American Life's infamous rap took a stab at teasing out her own complicity in the world she was trying to critique, it didn't cut it. Instead the effect of a global superstar famed for her capitalist instinct and self-focus vaguely critiquing America, fame, and the superficial seemed, at the very least, a little limp.

Black hair=serious artistic period.

But if you subtract the half-hearted politics, there remain some beautiful songs that provide a bittersweet reminder of what Madge has left behind on her way to the Candy Shop. The album's emotional core sits in a trio of songs, Nothing Fails, Intervention and Xstatic Process -- all melodic, delicate, vulnerable, and unfortunately probably also about Guy Ritchie. There's still the odd dud lyric (Madge's lyrical quality control being generally quite appalling), but as songs they engage you on a level other than 'superstar album.' I'm So Stupid and Nobody Knows Me are the most overt critiques of celebrity culture, but don't really work musically (albeit because of a presumably intentional abrasiveness). And while I think Mother Father is channeling some kind of therapeutic free association, it comes across as year 8-diary-confession detritus. While not always successful, the thought that's gone into the songs is certainly a revelation in the context of Hard Candy's laughable attempts at meaning (e.g. Devil Wouldn't Recognise You).

But perhaps the main reason American Life seems a bit hollow is actually to do with history. Because what happened next seemed to fully undermine the album's sentiment. After it failed commercially and (mostly) critically, Madonna, like the Terminator, returned to the forge. She re-built herself, re-grouped and came out with the dance album to beat all dance albums. While this was magical to watch, it nonetheless suggested that she maybe couldn't handle a life without the success she was apparently so ambivalent about. As impressive as Confessions ultimately was, as Madge continues to strut from stadium to stadium, more ghoulish by the day, I wonder what form she'd be in today if she'd stuck to the artistic direction mapped out (occasionally bodgily) by American Life?
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I'd prefer not to link to Perez, but oh my, this is like theatre. What a strange character he is (and perhaps, hopefully, this is a character he's enacting.) He comes across as some kind of horrid grown up Valley girl-pure Id creature that you can imagine screaming 'I want it NOW' to hapless sales staff and then smashing things. And so unaware of the vitriol he spurts out every day -- e.g. I am a human being and should never be a victim of violence [true]. Ps Fergie's a "fugly bitch" and Will.I.am's a Fa****. And way to fight your war on homophobia by deploying fa**** as your ultimate insult... Progressive reclamation? Doubt it.
Sunday, June 21, 2009

No need to write about music, as this week I'm doing it over here. So instead I will write about my Alcopops party.

But first I need to talk about Steve Fielding, who I find annoying on a number of levels. For one thing, I find it insulting that he would put Families First ('Family grows out of heterosexual relationships between men and women'). But that's not all. He rejects harm minimisation, rejects a woman's right to choose, doesn't believe in climate change, and suggests that 'stronger families' are the solution to everything from addressing indigenous disadvantage to fixing the health system. Where did he get it into his head that the family is marginalised? This guy is a *nut*.

So, I thought the best way to honour Fielding would be to celebrate his famously contradictory stance on an 'Alcopops' tax increase, in which he claimed to have won the war against the alcohol lobby by voting down a rise. This was against a mountain of evidence suggesting that taxation is the best way to fight problem drinking. Perhaps families function better if little Sally and Tommy are sucking down a Breezer or two before moving on to various other rites of passage like STIs and teen pregnancy.

But anyway, I digress. My point is that to celebrate Fielding I threw an 'Alcopops' party (with the emphasis on POP), and here is what I learned:

1. Once you go Alcopop, you can never go back -- no need to endure the taste of alcohol ever again, with the added bonus of SUGAR. Cheers to that!

2. Alcopops should not be consumed while also trying to create Martha Stewart style lighting vistas. By which I mean, tea candles are very dangerous and can lead to serious burns (and perhaps an honourable mention in 'Stuff White People Like.')

3. And music-wise: Lady GaGa remains highly devisive on the dancefloor, Kylie's The One remains the most satisfying playlist peak, along with anything Freemasons, and why bother with emo when you can enjoy The Veronica's Untouched.

4. Flash photography does not flatter alcopop-fuelled trash dancing.
Monday, June 15, 2009

This is so fun! It sounds like The Peel. And the clip is like a time capsule back to 2000, with the boy-boy dancing shots borrowing from the era of bodgy N*Sync and Britters clips (but for some reason what comes to mind most is Bardot's ASAP.) I am however unsettled by the singer, who seems to share the same smoothed-out features as Bold's Hunter Tylo...

Wait, this is too much. The Veronicas wrote/performed t.A.T.u's All About Us? If random people on youtube do not lie, then this is taking the whole sexy sisters thing a step further... Which reminds me, I'm very excited that 4ever is being released in the UK. I really hope it takes off, because this is one of the greatest songs in the history of the world, particularly for any 19-year olds who might be weighing up the pros/cons of bad drunken sex (the song's key message being "we're all going to die one day, so let's hook up".) I also enjoy The Veronicas' recurring refrain of "because we just don't care." Because, the thing is, they do care. I might have said this before, but I love careerist pop stars feigning that they just don't care.

World's most extreme disasters...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's been a while since I've sat through Madison Avenue's infamous "water glass" incident, but I think this needs to be remembered. Not only as a stark "note-to-self" about the probable outcome if my occasional dreams of pop stardom were ever achieved (tuneless singing, general sense of catastrophe), but also as a reminder of a time when nappies and boots were "the look". It's also quite shocking to see an award ceremony from the time before Big Brother-style digital displays and general visual overload became de rigeur.

Oh, I couldn't resist. I was just going to mention the water-glass incident (which came to mind while putting together an envelope-pushing pop-trash playlist), but how can one mention pop disasters without mentioning Britters' disasterous VMA meltdown. This has been analysed to death, so I won't add much. Except to say that it's fascinating to watch pop stars revert to their default moves in the face of catastrophe. For example, when Britters realises she's out of time with her dancers, she does a bit of shimmying, and then deploys my favourite Britney move, the "point hands outward at hip-level, thumbs up, and strut". Also amusing watching her cleverly cover her "mic" with her hand when she's supposed to laugh on the backup track. Why would we ever think you don't sing live? (Actually does Britters even deny?) Another painful reality-check that the globe-dominating pop juggernaut that I could, in my head, one day become should best be left in the box. Because when boys wanna become Madonna, they don't. They become Darren Hayes.

AND ONE FINAL ADDITION: Oh God. Try to watch to the end. It just keeps getting worse.

Saturday, June 13, 2009
This blog will not die like all the others. Rather, I've been momentarily pre-occupied. And in the interim there have been some significant shifts in the landscape of pop. Mostly, I no longer hate Lady Gaga. As much. And I'm late to the party here: it's not just me. I don't quite know what it is, but something has shifted, as if she's now got some meat (as in, substance, not c***) to back up her constant references to Warhol and pop as art which have always irritated me, mostly because they implied this concept was something new. As if she was not aware of KylieFever2002.

For me and many others, the tipping point has been her amazing Jonas Akerland-directed clip to Paparazzi which is the most exciting piece of pop imagery I've seen in a long time. It makes me as excited as I used to feel waiting for Frozen to arrive on Video Hits when I was a young thing, and sadly, makes me realise how unadventurous everyone else is being. Come on Madge -- this ghoulish look you're working up could really be used in an interesting way, if you had the courage.

I'm increasingly liking GaGa's look too, now that she's removed those irritating lightning bolt things. What I particularly like is the sense of fragility she seems to be evoking in each outfit -- glasses you can't see out of, umbrella to keep the sun away, tea cup etc. Very decadent, as in the bit where the over-ripe grape starts to rot. And she's always being clasped and propped up by big beefy guys, looking slightly dazed and confused. This is so different to the normal stardom protocol which is to appear even more strong and in control as your star ascends, papering over the inevitable breakdowns and benzo addictions. Intentional or not, it's as if she's acknowledging how chaotic it is inside the whirlwind she's created. I like this a lot.

Blind, clasped.


Of course, I still understand the rage that she seems to tap into -- all that Haus of GaGa stuff is a bit twee. And I still maintain she's not as in on the joke as she insists she is, somewhat like the 19-year old Arts undergrad who's not quite the socialist they think they are. And there are some duds on her album which, interestingly, reveal the various other artists she could just have easily been (Xtina, Pink). But annoying as she is, she is doing such interesting stuff that I can no longer call myself a hater.

Other things I'll get around to, in no particular order:
  • Make a case for the transformative power of B*Witched's Blame it on the Weatherman and The Corrs' Breathless
  • Reassess Madonna's American Life.
  • And finally, I'll do a bit of Kylie housecleaning, to keep track of her completely *bonkers* touring schedule (do you really care about Poland, Ms. Minogue?)
Friday, May 29, 2009
I'm sick again (not swine), which is making pop less enjoyable. I am however sampling bad morning TV (how sweetly Sunrise dovetails into The Morning Show). Only today I had the pleasure of watching the delightful Samantha Brett (aka Sam and the City) and Melissa Hoyer (fashion gatekeeper) in the one program. Sam Brett was helpfully talking about dating strategies for "desperate 35-year olds". Isn't she, like, 23? These strategies include dating with wine. As part of this expansive examination, she also helpfully referred, straight-faced, to the "Bridget Jones syndrome" in which 35-year-old women become, like, desperate. Her column is bad enough, but seeing her delusions of Sex and the City-style-glamour being lived out visually is so much more painful. 

Almost time for Ellen, but I should note that despite my grumpiness, this has made me happy (although it might be one of those viral things that everyone has seen except me):

10 Years Younger...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
One of us. One of us. One of us.

10 Years Younger in 10 Days is surprisingly hardcore, as if a team of aliens had descended from planet Botox to mold us in their image. For one, it sprinkles low-key cosmetic surgery procedures into an average makeover show (this somehow seems more sinister than Extreme Makeover, which is a bit more up-front about things.) But more bizarrely, it deposits its participants in large perspex boxes, smack-bang in the centre of Circular Quay... to be judged. And then there's Sonia Kruger who emanates a hardcore, gym-buffed, tanned, no-nonsense Sydney socialite vibe.

But there's also a naff element to things. The advisory teams seem a bit... clunky. Lots of awkward silences and uncomfortable laughter. Like they're trying to be either Carson or the horrid Trinny and Sussanah. And the "looks" they create are somewhat kitchen-sink... Whiter teeth, less weight, more tan... pink for the girls, blue for the guys. "Let's bring out your feminine side", and so forth.

And most shockingly, last night the "lack of hair" problem "suffered" by the male participant was solved by shaving off the top plate of his head, and then glueing on a "semi-permanent" hair solution. This reminded me of the unconvincing room makeovers delivered by Changing Rooms -- you always got the sense that the "nautical themed" kids room wouldn't survive a week of real-life living, and nor do you get the sense that a "semi-permanent" hair solution is gonna look quite as permanent in a few weeks time.  But seriously, the evil subtext is that it's making botox, eye-lifts and tummy tucks seem as everyday as dye-jobs and a new fringe. Maybe it is a bit of an arbitrary boundary, but stretching the scope of conformist self-recreation to include the body is a bit frightening. 
Monday, May 18, 2009
I have officially become one of those crazy-obsessive fans willing to waste resources, endure severe jetlag and compromise career aspirations to follow a star who flogs bed-sheets. KylieNY, here I come!

Eurovision 2009

To be honest, I didn't watch all of it because it does *go on* a bit, and the voting component seems to channel the worst of cumbersome EU bureaucracy. However, the following things seem significant, and, channeling my inner bureaucrat, I will list them using dot points:
  • The UK sucked. SUCKED. Not only did they actually bring the ghoulish Andrew Lloyd Webber on stage, but the Diane Warren-penned lyrics lazily repeated 'It's My Time' ad nauseam. Eurovision is your time? Because if it was, you sucked! Neither elegant or pleasingly tacky.
  • Greece seemed to thrust a lot in white pants, which was unsettling. But the giant stapler thing was pretty cool.
  • The German had shiny pants that made him seem like he was floating. The sexual tension with Dita Von Teese seemed unconvincing.
But enough with the foreplay, because 2009 was all about the Ukraine! Seriously, this performance seemed to answer some deep, long hidden longing for a certain kind of pop magic that I never knew could feel so good. Let's break it down. Industrial props, homoerotic centurions -- the best of William Baker, Ukraine style! A suspiciously plastic and utterly disposable singer -- amazing! Upside down singing (at 2.14) -- transcendent! But the bit where it truly soared was when the singer, of doubtful musical ability, started banging the drums, while being wheeled on a platform by the aforementioned homoerotic centurions, surrounded by Ukrainian flags and flames. I almost jumped off the couch. Amazing.

This is very, very special.
Saturday, May 16, 2009

A pleasing evening of trash-dance at Tim's last night. Highlights included the dance remix of Don't Cry For Me Argentina ("this is the gayest song ever", cried a bystander), Xtina's jaunty Come on Over, and Mariah's Heartbreaker. The highlight was of course the epic, 9 minute Freemasons' mix of The One. Sustained pleasure. 
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I know I'm fuelling the fire here, but oh how she irritates... I'm not sure why, but her creative flourishes just come across as brattish. Perhaps underneath it all I'm just angry that I'm not Lady GaGa... could it be? No.
A weekend of intense Love My Way viewing was perhaps not the wisest of moves. Now all roads seem to lead towards loss and painful self-evaluation. Although on the up-side, this is to apparently occur in beautiful Sydney cliff-top real estate, at great rental rates, in the perpetual summer that is Australian TV with designs on the export market. 

It was strange, Love My Way. It made me *feel* things. So much so that, at key moments, I had to embark on little mini-projects, such as reading The Guardian auto section, until these uncomfortable sensations subsided. While it is obviously very uncomfortable to feel feelings (shudder... push.... down), it is even more uncomfortable to write about them, so, for this reason, I thought it appropriate to re-examine one of the most meaningless, yet pleasing, pieces of recent pop.

Dannii Minogue, Love Fight.

Love Fight is notable for two things. Firstly, its welcome revival of naughty-patient, dirty-doctor themes, and secondly, its deft excavation of the fraught intersection between eroticism and violent physicality. Never quite answering the question of what a "Love Fight" actually is, Dannii instead trawls through a serious of erotic vignettes: "teacher teacher, I'm the student now"; "heavy petting always makes me feel/ like I'm Lois with the Man of Steel"; "Doctor, doctor..." etc. This is very much in the Minogue tradition of Carry-On sexuality ("nod, nod, wink, wink"). But it's the epic chorus that lifts this flimsy concept higher. One can almost feel the moment at which Dannii would ascend to the tabletop at QBH for some bump'n'grind, as the chorus peaks and everything veers upwards. Very much of the "throw it all in", "more is more" production philosophy that also seems to have steered Dannii's facial feng shui. And what wonderful results all round. I miss the summer of Love Fight...
Thursday, May 7, 2009
OMG. WTF. Kylie is touring the US!! I never thought it would happen. Shockingly, her hardcore American gay fan-base will finally be able to see their queen. Finally sub-standard US pop tarts will get a glimpse of true pop art (take that GaGa). Somehow, no matter what, I'm seeing her in NYC. In honour: 

UPDATE: Cute US Today show appearance. Surprisingly candid about not being financially sensible to tour the States.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I likee. And Madge is looking pleasingly refreshed too... feels like the world is back on its proper orbit.
Monday, May 4, 2009
The Logies are always tragic, but I watched, and I feel I must comment. Briefly. I love you Gretel, and it was great to have you back on TV. Your hair looked great too. But unfortunately you didn't do well -- this truly is the curse of the Logies. Perhaps it's the stilted pre-scripted humour? Where was your bite? You certainly seemed bitter, but not in a pleasing way...

In summary: the fashion was shiny; Annie Lennox was scary; Rove was annoying; Rebecca Gibney looked refreshed; Sigrid Thornton looked frightening; Rachel Griffiths seems difficult; Crown is an inevitably trashy venue; too much Underbelly; NatBass looked OK but Joan Collinsesque in her stage gear; lots of overly earnest Home and Away starlets... BUT, this was amusing:

Kylie does not stop...

Sunday, May 3, 2009
Kylie does "predatory leather"...

For some reason Kylie can't stop touring. Perhaps, as some would speculate, she's deferring the inevitable post-tour void that awaits self-obsessed, control-freak superstars (not my words or theory, I should add). Speaking of, Madonna's also sending Sticky & Sweet out on the road again, which means that a bad album (Hard Candy) is getting not one, but two tours in its honour, possibly because Madge doesn't quite know what to do with herself.

Watching stadium artists play at festivals (K's playing at the "Ischgl Festival," whatever the hell that is. It seems to be in a ski resort. On a mountain) is a bit like seeing peacocks plucked of their beautiful, shiny feathers. The lighting's always a bit unflattering, the stage a bit low-rent, and there's generally no floating video-screens and descending glitter skulls. Which explains K's somewhat bodgy "big reveal" (I see you dancers!) But I love the new costume, sleazy sunglasses and all. And she looks great, and seems in good voice. So yay to more touring. And after the build up to Homecoming, and the question of whether she could tour at all, it is quite heartening that she's travelled the world with KylieX2008 and still doesn't feel like stopping.

UPDATE: Here's a clip with all her new outfits...
Saturday, May 2, 2009
I just read the EG piece on GaGa properly, and eh, she is irritating. I feel like she doesn't quite understand the concepts she's playing with, but you can never pin her down on it because, according to the logic she claims to be using, so what if she understands it or not -- whatever *it* is becomes meaningful once we start viewing it as meaningful, etc. Key points:  
  1. 'All music is inspired by sex. It's the primal rush and instinct and the insatiable need for orgasm and procreation. Isn't that why we're all here? Love and sex are the only reason to make art.'
  2. 'I want to transform the ideas into something simple that everybody can understand. I don't want to shock to the point of confusion or molest the audience. I want them to feel free and that they are a part of my exhibition, not at its mercy.'
Even though The Age might have stepped into line and started fawning over Lady Gaga as the 'First Lady of Pop', something good is nonetheless happening to music right now. And the locus of this rebirth has to be Taylor Swift. Seriously. I was so skeptical at first, but now I really do believe... in her talents as a lyricist, her high-concept revisitations to the schoolyard, her stage charisma, as well as her high quality twittering, which is much more evolved than, for example, Miley Cyrus' constant preaching ('Jesus Christ loves YOU'). Does this not break your heart? My only gripe is with her slightly unhealthy idealisation of marriage, but this is perhaps a mandatory aspect of being a country artist. 

Also very much enjoying the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which is almost pornographically melodic, and with a lovely melancholic bent. A bit late to the party with this one, but also liking Lykke Li, who provides another link within the pleasing Scandinavian musical nexus (Lykke Li>Royksopp>Robyn>The Knife>Jenny Wilson). And speaking of, I hear that Robyn has begun working on her new album with a tentative Snap and Technotronic influence. This is, of course, amazing, but I was actually hoping for more of a Colette influence... And as if I needed more evidence that the musical stars are aligned, now they're playing Babooshka on Rage.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The bureaucracy has left me feeling cold and un-fripperous, with little to say except this: What is the point of mortal pursuits when, no matter how worthy the intent, they will never come close to this?

Monday, April 27, 2009

But on a positive note -- because I am sometimes positive -- here is a good and proper perfume ad. While not involving celebrities, it is directed by Chris Cunningham. And it does indirectly involve Donna Summer, who, as it turns out, does not seem to hate 'the gays' after all.

More celebrity scent

I don't get this. There's an alluring ball. She's entranced. So people should buy her scent.

Ronan Keating

This is artistically and commercially awful. But I must share. Yes he's sucked the life out of Time After Time (karaoke instrumentation, limp delivery, a sense he's just singing a series of words), but even worse it's part of  a 'tribute compilation' for his late mother (lovely intent I'm sure) which is being tactically released to coincide with Mother's Day. This seems an unsettling mix of sentiment and $$. Everyone knows Mother's Day is pop commerce gold -- probably the most important day of the year for the thoughtless purchase of music for people who don't really like music. The kind of day Sony Music likes best. The kind of day that keeps Human Nature alive. But come to think of it there's another thing fueling my distaste. While, yes, through Boyzone Ronan has contributed much to the realm of homoerotic pop, he is however responsible for Westlife, and therefore responsible for Brian McFadden, and therefore responsible for the Brian-Delta union. This will not be forgotten. 

The best moment of cinema ever.

Friday, April 24, 2009
I'm currently watching and loving The United States of Tara. It had a Sondheim number. Which reminded me of this.

This is what happens when celebrities have nothing to promote. 

The scent of celebrity

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I would prefer not to obsess over celebrity perfumes, but walking through Myer yesterday I was a little bemused by the effort they've gone to spruiking Sarah Jessica Parker's new The Lovely Collection. As expected there was a big stand with massive SJP images everywhere and flowers in rustic baskets. So far so Gwyneth. But they significantly upped the ante by deploying a phalanx of girls in massive, frilly flower dresses (and incidentally, layers of fake tan, Lancome-lady style) who were tasked with handing out flowers to passers by. I felt this was a little over the top, particularly in the context of Myer's crumbling Lonsdale street store with its everpresent scent of baked cookies. While they were trying to evoke 'loveliness', they were being very aggressive about it.

This brutal marketing strategy makes it extra amusing hearing SJP talk about the 'inspiration' behind her range -- somehow I can't reconcile the whimsy of it with the cut-throat world of celebrity perfumery. Yes, she might be inspired by 'dawn', but somewhere along the line there's a laboratory, chemical synthesis, factories and cut-throat marketing strategies. Whereas the image celebrities prefer to cast over their perfumes is much more organic, as if 'I really loved this idea and I seemed to have accidentally excreted this perfume. Wow.'
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thank you to Tim for this tip. For some reason something about Zero had made me lose interest in the new album -- Karen O was verging towards self-parody in the clip, for one thing -- but Skeletons is amazing. Its emotion seems so, for want of a better descriptor, superpowered. Potentially, as I was discussing with Tim, the kind of highly powered synthesised emotion, devastating in it in its ability to paralyse through enforced reflection and melancholy, that would have been deployed in Kate Bush's Experiment IV.  Which is, come to think of it, a very emotionless description. 

Lady Gaga

Saturday, April 18, 2009
I've ignored Lady Gaga up until now, having filed her away hoping she somehow just disappears (along with Katy Perry). But now I can't deny her ascent anymore, particularly with her somewhat surprising US success (Poker Face at no.1, etc.) Whatever my opinion of her, getting dance-pop to the top of the US charts is, at the very least, notable. I should be happy about this, but I feel *nothing*. Nothing at all. Why? 

For one thing I'm suspicious of her talent. But that's not necessarily relevant. History suggests I'm more than happy supporting those without talent. No, there's something bigger going on, and I think it's to do with her act of self-creation. Everyone seems so thrilled that she's channeled this Warhol aesthetic as some kind of commentary on pop culture, and valorisation of pop. The US market particularly (well, Perez Hilton at least) seems to thinks this is cutting-edge and novel. 

But it's just not! Hello?? Kylie... Has this not been her driving (touring) aesthetic for a very long time? What about Roisin Murphy's avant garde wonders? What about Robyn? What about an entire continent that has acknowledged that pop can be cutting-edge for a very long time. What about Sweden for god's sake.

Not to generalise about an entire country... but... it's like the US car industry. After decades of churning out giant, clunky junk with live rear axles, orange-peel paint and panel gaps you can stick a fist through, suddenly it's all about svelte, premium small cars. What a good idea. Just like in Europe. So there you go. Lady Gaga is crap because of the American car industry's years of systematic mis-management, strategic mis-steps and desperate flight to Europe for commercial salvation. 

Lady Gaga.

Quality European original.