Wrap up

Saturday, February 28, 2009
I worry this blog has become too hardcore as it descends further into the murk of bad pop. For the last week I've been pushing the line that bad pop is just as complex, inspiring and rich as more acceptable musical varieties -- I maintain that this is true. But I'm getting caught in the vortex of trash, and soon I will be without a soul, potentially feeling an emptiness similar to Whitney Houston as she craves her next fix. I need to divert my attention to other things (e.g. read that Patrick White novel, buy organic vegetables, exercise, blah blah blah blah). I promise more considered posts in the future.

BUT there remain a few final things I need to share...

Inappropriate Remixes

Trashy dance remixes of power ballads promise the world, but tend not to deliver. It's a seductive formula: combine the emotional nuance of the ballad with the driving force of house-lite, and the euphoria of peaking mid-sections. Unfortunately they're so often produced with the subtlety and artistic dexterity of So You Think You Can Dance "contemporary" numbers. But the more inappropriate the source material is to dance transformation, the more hilarious the results can be...

Suitable for gym work and prepping for VCE exams...

For that rare Commonwealth Games-dance crossover moment -- potentially Sensation New Years' at Telstra Dome?

Titanic dance...

And the mother of all dance remixes!!! Check out the snappy editing to dance-ify Evita!! I am seriously blown away by this...

And Whitney...

I was idly youtubing "Whitney Houston Crack is Whack" and found this unsettling interview with Diane Sawyer. I think seeing someone talk about how they're turning things around, how they've transcended their demons and how they're on the comeback trail when they're so obviously messed up touches a slight nerve. Something to do with the way we frame different points in our lives, and maybe that things might be more cyclical than we let ourselves believe. It's as if every celebrity interview is about something bad being transcended -- at every point, progress is being made with every stint in rehab, every comeback film etc. It's rare that an interviewee narrates things in terms of "I'm really falling apart right now". Anyway, I shouldn't glean my life lessons from Whitney...

Friday, February 27, 2009
As much as my Kylie appreciation can be myopic, there's still room for some critical distance. Here, for example, is a "miss" moment. Hate the song, she looks like Joan Crawford in that wig, the whole thing's a bit lethargic, and worst of all, at times she seems dangerously close to falling off the mechanical bull... *exam*, *exam*...

As my life in 2009 starts to fall apart around me through sheer neglect, my journey of rediscovery back to 2000 continues... Doesn't this make you feel safe? Such nice lads, with big hearts and crisp, coordinated sartorial instincts that keep leading them back to Top Man every time...

And this? I think this deserves a playlist comeback. As often discussed, this song breaks my heart, and not just because of its regressive politics. It's just so bleak -- "I don't know how to live since you've been gone/ I was born to make you happy". But I lap it up nonetheless -- Max Martin really has brought so much joy to my life. If you don't think a bizarre latin dance section adds to the teenage misery, and can do without Britters adding some breathy vocals now and then to the straight-from-CD backing track, the original can be found here.

Things I do actually like

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Its 'liquid eroticism' has been the staple of many a house-party bump n'grind for the better part of a year now. Possibly Madonna's Greatest. Moment. Ever.

This is hardly new either, and it smells a little of The Peel, but I'm still in love with this song, and keep going back for more. I generally love pop with a hint of utter desperation and obsession, and K singing "love me, love me, love me" while seeming so together is a great contrast (and not hard to believe either). Still shocked by her (or Biffco's) ability to make dancefloor conquests seem so epic...

As for newer things, I love this, but I can't decide whether it's also a little lame (not that that's a deal-breaker for me necessarily). I admire that they've hired Stuart Price, and that they're obviously not afraid of a bit of dance influence, Mormons that they are. And the clip recalls the trashiest of 2001 Ibiza dance trash, which I think is great.

I suspect this has been floating around on her last few tours, but nonetheless it's great to have some new material after pushing Robyn for... so... long. Sounds a little bit Spiller ft Sophie Ellis Bextor, with slightly jarring lyrics. Actually, not sure what I think but I will always give her the benefit of the doubt. Also love seeing her in NY for some reason.

And thanks to Tim for this tip. I'm always a fan of a good Sugababes statement of survival (in fact Stronger got me through many a close at Blockbuster Hartwell, back in the day) and these are some seriously great lyrics: "I'm not growing old before my time/ Even when there's warning signs/ That consequently I can see/ The situation's heavy, heavy". I guess survival is understandably a key Sugababes theme, considering their ruthless and regular lineup changes.
I'm currently investigating Kerry Katona, trying to get a handle on the woman "Scarlet Delta" sidelined to get to Brian. All I know is the frozen food ads, the drunken TV interview and the fact she was in Atomic Kitten before they were famous... but now I have found this (potentially NSFW).

New arrivals

Beyonce Diva

Not completely sure about the song, but the clip is interesting if only for its eclecticism. Thankfully an extension of Single Ladies rather than the cheerfully gender-binary enforcing If I was a boy, they've put her in stark, strong contexts (although the abandoned warehouse is a bit of a no-brainer), and then got all William Baker on us with mannequins spilling out of cars and, confusingly, an opening sequence that echoes Kylie’s Red Blooded Woman (itslef a Crazy in Love rip-off). Inside it gets all Lady GaGa with comedy 80s shoulder pads and brutally futuristic shades. And is there some Fergie as well (in the trashy bit)? Interesting that Beyonce’s now borrowing from so many people who originally borrowed so heavily from her. But I suspect her heart's in the ballads. Actually, have I misread this -- is it supposed to be parody? Or maybe just the end-point of stylistic evolution, when it starts to veer into farce.

Katy Perry Thinking of You

I dislike Katy Perry, partly because I’ve decided for some reason that she’s homophobic. I hoped she would vanish after her novely faux-lesbian single, but alas, no, she’s hanging around, and seems to be gaining in strength in the manner of (in my head at least) some Alien-style devouring monster. Anyway, now she’s very, very straight, and in this clip, loving soldiers (more than one!). This is a big budget visual makeover for a very banal ballad which she vocally brutalises (as if Gina Riley was impersonating with marbles in her mouth). But interesting to see how much record company support she's got behind her – the third or fourth single is always the judge of record company momentum. If some stinky ballad gets an epic clip you know she’s in favour (unlike poor Kylie who got her epic The One wasted with yet another chaeap n’ cheerful vid). Although I have a sneaking suspicion that the WWII themes are just a setup to get her into 40s bikinis – more posing that’s slightly knowing, slightly ironic, yet also slightly cheap. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something so conventional about Katy Perry beneath her strategic smuttiness.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
A pleasant surprise to see Rose Porteous make an appearance on Failblog, right below an unfortunately dildo-shaped ET "finger light". 

From 2000 to 2001, but not yet in 2009 and nowhere near my exam revision, I can't tell if this is hilarious or devastating. 

Hilarious: Michael Jackson's godlike acknowledgement at the beginning.
Devastating: The sense that Liza's not quite with us, savouring a comeback moment that's not quite happening.
Hilarious: The final high note.
Devastating: When she flashes some leg.
Hilarious: When the gospel choir emerges in the background.
Devastating: A pervasive feeling of tragedy and decline.

Actually, the mention of B*Witched while I was revealing my inner pop humiliation took me all the way back to 2000 -- the days of Spice Girls, Billie before she became Billie Piper, Blue, Soul Decision, All Saints, Genie in a Bottle, Spinning Around, Melanie C. A frenzied, wondrous time. So as a small tribute to this formative year, I thought I'd post a photo tribute to B*Witched's high-concept denim costumery:

Tarzan denim

Summer of love denim

Brokeback denim

Narnia denim

Eskimo denim
I was discussing with Simon the other day how, for us, itunes is our uncomfortable telltale heart. No matter how we might explain away our musical predilections, itunes is there to soberly tap us on the shoulder and whisper ‘this is who you are, and don’t you forget it’. I’ve always seen my musical taste as democratic, imagining that unlike some people who were bound up in cool, I was unafraid to explore musical territory off limits to more squeamish types. Think B*witched.

If I liked it, I’d listen to it. Particularly pre-Spice Girls era, and in the context of school machismo this was actually the most alt you could get. When everyone else was talking loudly about Pearl Jam I was enjoying Madonna’s Like a Prayer. One reason I felt confident in my belief in pop was that my taste extended away from it too. If I could handle Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, then I must be somewhat avant garde, and at the very least well out of TTfm waters. 

But it occurred to me recently, when I was driving home *feeling* something to PCD’s I Hate This Part, that the breadth of my taste was narrowing, and it was narrowing towards pop. They say that at 30 your musical taste solidifies, which presents the real risk that I might be creepily listening to Miley Cyrus at 55. Is it that the my emotional range is shrinking? Or is PCD's emotional range extending? If Disney truly is the new Motown, then maybe I'm just ahead of the curve?

But what does itunes have to say about the state of my musical taste? It does not lie, after all…

Top 10 most recently played:

1. [Actually I can’t bring myself to reveal this]
2. Give It 2 Me [Eddie Amador Edit) -- Madonna
3. Moments of Pleasure -- Kate Bush [hmm… this seems a bit depressive]
4. Erotica [Confessions tour version] -- Madonna [I stand fully behind this]
5. Give It 2 Me [Paul Oakenfold Edit]-- Madonna
6. The One [Freemason’s Vocal Edit] -- Kylie Minogue
7. See You Again  -- Miley Cyrus
8. Sunset -- Kate Bush
9. Nocturn -- Kate Bush
10. Human -- The Killers

So there you go. My top 10 most recently played is dominanted by one of the worst albums of last year, Hard Candy, which I actively dislike but obviously compulsively crave. Actually before I fiddled with the criteria, Delta’s In This Life was my 8th most played song ever, which I absolutely do not accept. Either that’s in error (which I genuinely think it is), or else I’m some pop music version of a homophobic closeted homosexual.

And another thing...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Piano on the beach? A pinch of Elton John, a dash of Jane Campion and a big dollop of cheese.

Some reasons why Delta Goodrem annoys (trying not to sound like a fan forum bitch...)

She wants to be Kate Bush but she’s actually a Sony pawn: There's a contradiction when a self-fashioned Kate Bush waif launches her career with ‘Born to Try’, an anthem of competitive drive, and a sort of self-reflexive statement about her desire to reach number 1. For Delta this has been an enduring tension between the banal and the creatively high-reaching, as she forges a unique niche as half Celine Dion, half Tori Amos. Her definitive 2004 Arias comeback performance exemplifies this unsettling pop hybridity:

Note the pretentious setting: piano surrounded by candles, presumably scented with jasmine. Note the initial “Delta playing piano” section to demonstrate that Delta can indeed play the piano. Note the movement into farce half way through as she steps away from the piano (even through inexplicably the piano somehow keeps playing), walks to centre stage and deploys some vintage Kate Bush theatrical dancing that veers awfully close to Mr. G. Note also that she cannot hit the high notes. And note ALSO that this most theatrical of lovesongs is about The Poo, possibly the dimmest man alive, as the exquisite Age of Love reality show proved.

She wants to be sugar-sweet, but she’s part of the fame machine: I don’t technically have a problem with plastic surgery unless it's systematically concealed and written off as natural beauty (“I’ve discovered yoga”, “I’ve lost my puppy fat”). This makes other people feel bad and entrenches generic beauty codes. Particularly for Delta who has legions of 4 year olds following her every move, her transformation into Malibu Barbie seems a bit jarring. The photos do not lie [although for legal reasons they are perhaps misleading]. Delta has had [seems to have had] one (or two) nose jobs, which provides more evidence of tension between her quest for artistic credibility and her counter-tendency towards lowest common-denominator conventionality. It’s kind of like Tori Amos getting botox, although at least she had the courage to admit to a bit of “feng shui of the face”. 

She should stop shoving her relationship with Brian McFadden in our faces: That’s right. Some of my best friends are married. I don’t have a problem with marriage. But I don’t have to see it every day. Keep it to yourselves, keep it in the bedroom.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
I am generally irritated by Natalie Bassingthwaite. She seems fame-whorey and careerist, careerism being endearing only if a spectacular career is actually obtained (e.g. Madonna). Accordingly her new single Someday Soon makes me scoff with particular enthusiasm whenever it's played on MIX FM or Musicxmax. Because this terrible song firmly fits the mold of what I like to call the "self-fulfilling statement of success" second (or third) single, a nauseating pop maneuver that normally follows this familiar pattern:
  • Act releases moderately successful first single.
  • Act releases second (or third) single which is generally a ballad. Single muses about the long path travelled to fame, the cost of success etc. Song adopts a reflective "looking back" tone, generally with shots of act "keeping it real" despite their success. Examples of "keeping it real" can include drinking herbal tea on white couches, or walking along actual, like, streets. 
While, for example, the Spice Girls' Mama represents a "statement of success" third single, it's slightly different because they had actually achieved phenomenal success (although Mama is memorable for its own reasons, e.g. its revisionist version of Spice Girls history, with the Girls inexplicably cast as childhood friends rather than careerist fame-whores meeting at their first audition). But when Nat Bass reassures others that they will, one day, find their showbiz dream (in an odd reprise of her Kate Bush Don't Give Up role) it seems a little premature -- her success seems so tentative, and she seems to crave it so much. 

UPDATE: Here's the official PSB link...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happiness NOW!

Friday, February 6, 2009
One of my more perverse interests is the bad self-help gurus who frequent day-time television. Today I enjoyed “Happiness NOW!”, by happiness expert Robert Holden, which, as the author told an easy-target Oprah, worked from a law-of-attraction approach… in other words, if you project positivity into the world, you’ll get positivity back. 

To prove his point, Holden and O dragged 6 average Joes onto the set to talk about their happiness or failure to reach happiness. Having completed surveys to measure their “happiness levels”, those who weren’t adequately happy were then systematically berated for not being in touch with their inner happiness, because "happiness starts now". You just have to get in touch with your inner happiness… the world is inside your head… if it’s a happy world you construct then you’ll be happy. Such platitudes were then followed by a smug Dr Holden and O talking about the moments when they each discovered that they were the masters of their universe. This became quite surreal when O was talking about the moment “in 1985” when she realized that her world existed in “her head”, and it was hers to control… Hmmm.

I couldn't find this particular footage, but here's O talking on Larry King about how, I kid you not, a call from the casting director of The Color Purple is the basis of her particular brand of metaphysics:

My problem with this kind of stuff? Where do I start…

1) Law-of-attraction frameworks (eg the base of The Secret – for those who like their metaphysics by Channel 9 producers) provide a false sense of agency based on blaming the miserable and sick for their own state of affairs. This is really just a thinly veiled Social Darwinist approach: she got cancer because she was anxious, he’s poor because he wasn’t positive enough… Rather than working hard or otherwise as the deciding factor between success or a swift descent through the social sediment (eg ignoring class), law-of-attraction simply swaps work for “positivity”. This means people can feel comfortable for their successes because the less successful just weren’t positive enough – genetics, class, prejudice be damned – and dampen their fears of the great unknowns, eg cancer, which can be warded off through positivity alone (which I'm sure is a factor, but not the only factor). This might be my own pathology here (cynic, pessimist), but this sort of stuff irks me deeply.

2) Yapping on about connecting to your “inner happiness” trivializes the mechanics through which people can feel happy and secure. Yes, attitude is important, but there are a whole host of other factors that effect outlook and disposition – financial security, genetics, health, intra-family dynamics etc. Asserting that within any of these contexts one should be able to connect to their own happiness adds another thing to worry about. Why have I failed at happiness?

3) Self-help authors are not disinterested observers. They’ve got something to sell, so it’s in their interest that we believe in a quick-fix to happiness.

4) Telling people that they can feel happy if they want to is very, very similar to telling people to just get on with it.

5) AND (this might be too cynical, but) the same consumer capitalist societies which allow people like Oprah to find their happiness cannot function if everyone is able to create their ideal lives. Oh my god I'm so negative...

But seriously, when did Oprah get completely loopy with this kind of stuff? Is this what happens with obscene wealth and power?


I really, really, really like this. Could this be an impending Autumn of amazing pop? I wasn't a huge fan of Fundamental (a bit too minimal for my liking -- to be appreciated, but never listened to), but this seems a bit lighter and... umm, tinklier. Actually, it reminds me of Sugababes' Ace Reject, or The Best Song of All Time. Wouldn't mind some new Pet Shop Boys themes though. The emptiness of beauty, taking too much, "more, more, more" -- a bit Dorian Gray, isn't i?