thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘music’

GLG Year-End Picks: Sarah T’s Top 4 Songs of 2012

In music videos on December 26, 2012 at 11:05 am

Sarah T

1. “Wut,” Le1f

“I get guys the way straight rappers get girls,” New York rapper Le1f told Fader this summer, and watching his music video “Wut” you can see the truth he’s telling. The man’s got moves, a voice deep as a well, rapid-fire flow that careens and cajoles, and lyrics so breezy they take you sailing. “Came through in the clutch, stomping like I’m up in Loubitons / Boys they wanna paint me like I’m canvas to do sumi on,” he boasts, doing a kind of moonwalk shuffle in short shorts and a baseball cap. With bright horns and Le1f’s megawatt charisma, “Wut” feels effortlessly infectious. But that’s the mark of a master: they never let you see how hard they’re working.

2. “Anything Could Happen,” Ellie Goulding

The synthesizers powering “Anything Could Happen” make it a song you can lose yourself to on the dance floor, but it’s Ellie Goulding’s fearless lyrics that set this electro-dance-pop gem apart. “Baby, I’ll give you everything you need,” Goulding croons, and you think you’re listening to just another love song that promises vague and everlasting devotion. But in the next breath comes the twist, shouted suddenly as if she’s just realized it herself: “But I don’t think I need you.”

That isn’t a kiss-off. Goulding is singing about coming into a self-reliance that’s both scary and freeing. The world is a wide-open place; people lose each other in it all the time. Listening to her chant “Anything could happen,” you can feel the words burrowing into your skin, equal parts promise and warning and vow.

3. “Some Nights,” fun.

Some nights I don’t know why fun. decided to set their smash hit song in a Civil War video, but  who cares? Wildly distracting Autotune prominence: Also who cares? Most nights I don’t know what I stand for, and I’m just grateful that this year fun. gave me a song to belt my confusion along to.

4. “Montauk,” Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright wrote “Montauk” for his baby girl Viva, who was born in 2011. Backed by a chiming piano and a carnival organ, he paints the future of their family with the tenderness of a father who’s already preparing himself for the moment he’ll have to say goodbye. When grown-up Viva comes to visit her parents in Montauk, she’ll find one dad pruning roses, one dad wearing a kimono; one dad at the piano, one dad wearing glasses. It’s a portrait of quiet domesticity, yet Wainwright’s already feeling vulnerable about how his daughter will see them: “Hope you won’t turn around and go,” he sings. The memory of Wainwright’s mother, who passed away from cancer in 2010, looms over “Montauk.” She isn’t mentioned till the haunting final verse, but when she appears, you understand that she’s the engine that’s been driving the song’s mournful beauty. Wainwright lost a parent, and then he became one. “And though we want to stay for a while,” Wainwright sings, “don’t worry, we all have to go.”

GLG Year-End Picks: Sarah S’s Favorite Books, TV Shows, and Songs

In books, music videos, Television on December 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

Sarah S.

Books

A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin: The segmented plots of Westeros and beyond weave back together in book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series. The gang’s together again, so to speak, or at least all the members who’ve made it out alive. Writer faster, George! Write like the wind!

Bossy Pants, Tina Fey: Fey’s self-deprecation does not mask her confidence. Her funny, interesting memoir feels like a sneak peek into the life of the woman we all want to be when we grow up.

Blood, Bones, and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton: Beautiful. Gritty. Raw. If you live in NYC, I hope you eat at Prune. Wherever you live, I hope you’ll read Gabrielle Hamilton’s exquisite memoir.

The End of Men, Hannah Rosen: I hesitate to call this book one of the year’s “best” but it’s undoubtedly one of the most fascinating.

TV Shows

True Blood: All good things must come to an end, but summers are going to be dry indeed once True Blood goes off the air. This last season had imperfections, including the painfully boring werewolf plot and the heinous Iraq storyline. On the other hand, we did learn a lot about the Authority (at last!), Eric became one of the most interesting and developed characters on the show, Sookie’s charm returned since Eric/Bill’s imprisonment and actress Anna Paquin’s pregnancy forced the character to interact again with her friends and not just mope around in cute dresses/naked. Last, the season took a flailing character—Tara—paired her with one of the series’ best supporters—Pam—and fireworks ensued. True to form, we are left with more questions than answers, especially since Bill has transformed into an evil vampire blood god or whatever. In terms of the unending love triangle, I would say that Eric’s chances are looking up. Oh, and if you are not yet convinced, I have two words: Russell. Edgington.

Boardwalk Empire: There are many ways to revitalize a struggling show, one riddled with complaints about style over substance. However, Boardwalk Empire took an unorthodox approach by ending season 2 with the killing of a major character. Season 3 opened a year and a half later and the audience had to play catch up as we watched Nucky, haunted by his actions, becoming more and more of a monster. Nucky’s development ricocheted out to the rest of the characters—from his wife, Margaret; his brother, Eli; and his “colleagues” Arnold Rothstein, Owen Slater, and Chalky White. Last, we were treated to one bad-ass baddie in Bobby Canavale’s Gyp Rosetti and the lovely development of Richard Harrow. Boardwalk’s always been an actor’s show and this season allowed its cast to shine, showing that—wonder of wonders—Steve Buscemi can anchor a series, Canavale deserves way more work, and that if you give actors meaty roles they will tear into them with gusto.

Sons of Anarchy: Last season I feared that my beloved Sons had jumped their motorcycles right over that eponymous shark. Instead, they brought on Jimmy Smits, complicated Tara and Jax and their relationship, killed off a major character (*sniffle* Opie), surrounded us with baddies yet never let them detract from the real conflict within the club, and revitalized Gemma. In a conversation to be continued, we officially need to come up with a term for shows that seem like they’re about the jump the shark but that—like SOA—do not.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Thursday Survey: What Gives, Girls?

In feminism, gender, girl culture, Girls, music videos on September 20, 2012 at 8:46 am

Chelsea H.

Yesterday as I drove into the parking lot at work, Pat Benatar’s growly, joyfully combative “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was playing on my Subaru’s radio. I sang along, rejoicing in her toughness, knowing this comes out of a tiny, petite woman whose lungs must take up 45% of her insides, until I got to this line: “Before I put another notch in my lipstick case / You better make sure you put me in my place / Hit me with your best shot…” I stopped singing. Here I was, barely conscious of my feeling that this was a female emancipation kind of song, and then this line. And I know, she’s being facetious – she really thinks his best shot is going to miss, or deflect off of her amazing woman armor – but it still bothered me. “Try your best to make me act like the demure, fragile, modest little woman your interpretation of society demands I be.” What kind of message is that?!

Crimes of Passion Album Cover, courtesy of Wikipedia

I turned off the radio. Somehow, for all the years I’d been listening to that song, I hadn’t thought about the fact that it was about a woman’s relationship with a man. As I’d applied it to my own life, singing along, I had been sing/yelling to job interviews, to tough days looming before me, to challenging classes, to physical labor, but never to a man. It bothered me that this powerful voice was consumed by her relationship: not only “Hit Me,” but “Love is a Battlefield,” “Heartbreaker,” and “We Belong.”

As the day progressed, I found myself continually coming back to this dilemma: I can instantly call up dozens of songs sung by men which are NOT about their romantic relationships: songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Green Day, Michael Jackson, Boston, Chicago, Blitzen Trapper, Steve Miller Band, Audioslave, Nirvana, the Monkees, Journey, Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, Guns ‘N Roses, Billy Joel, even Neil Diamond, amidst “Sweet Caroline,” “Desiree” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” has “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

But when I tried to do the same for women, I could only come up with a few (apologies for the ads that lead into some of these videos):

Amy Winehouse’s brilliant, stubborn throwback anthem “Rehab,”

Carole King’s “Smackwater Jack,”

maybe Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” which, though it’s not about a romantic relationship, is a story of a woman dependent upon a male figure (no offense meant, of course, I’m certainly not critiquing having a relationship with God, only pointing out how prevalent this theme is).

Four Non Blonde’s “What’s Up,” which was always one of my favorites in high school, seems to fit this short list (also, how awesome and 90s are their outfits?!) .

Of course there are also the smaller number of songs by women about women, like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and, though it’s not terrifically explicit (and though it admittedly deals with deeper, more complex issues), Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” but these still fall into the theme of women singing about their relationships.

And I’m not saying this trope doesn’t appear in songs by men. There are plenty of male singers whose songs tell the story of relationships with women. It’s just that there are so many that don’t.

So here are my two questions:

  1. Ladies, why do we do this? Don’t we have other, equally important things to sing about? Why are we so focused, as musical artists, on the men in, out, and around our lives? Is it that women are singing songs written by men, or is it that women’s songs about men sell better? Is it that these are “safe” subject matter and therefore more playable? Why aren’t we singing about the other parts of our lives – the parts that are not longing for, begging for, dependent on, or grieving over men?
  2. I’m sure I’m missing some – after all, I’ve only thought about this for a day or two – and I want to be wrong about this. What other songs are out there sung by women (and not just covers of songs originally sung by men) that are not about their relationships with men? Let’s make a list. Let’s make a big list, if we can, and prove me wrong.

Replay: Fiona Apple’s “Every Single Night”

In music videos on June 14, 2012 at 8:32 am

Sarah T.

So this is what it’s like to be inside Fiona Apple’s head: Beautiful. Weird. Always intense. There’s a giant octopus waving its tentacles in the river Seine and a smaller octopus which you are permitted to wear as a hat. In bed, you confess your innermost secrets to a gentleman who wears a mask of a bull. Sometimes you commune with the snails.

With your brain, every single night’s a light and a fight. You carry it around in a medicine bag. Once in a while you cup your mind in your hands, consider its treasure and weight.

You want to connect. Play with a hula girl and it means you’ll become her. Look in an aquarium and soon you’re inside. You see bright threads running between a figurine Eiffel Tower and the real one, sparkling like fire; between them and you; between you and a small paper globe. They’re crossing in every direction. You can’t see what’s pulling the strings.

In your music and interviews, you’re vulnerable and conflicted and unfailingly honest. Earnestness paired with eccentricity can make for an easy brush-off: fifteen years ago you were widely ridiculed for speaking your mind.

These days, people are slower to laugh. It’s not quite cool to like you, but mostly because you’re out beyond cool. You tend to convert the most committed of skeptics. When you say “I just want to feel everything,” the way your voice rings and falters, there’s no way to doubt you mean what you’re singing.

Where the pain comes in, you’re almost Ophelia: long hair, heavy dress, floating still in the water with your blue eyes closed. But you’re not so far gone — you can turn things around. You swim upside-down when you need to.

Replay: Kimbra’s “Good Intent”

In music videos, Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Kimbra ripped into the American consciousness belting out a blistering rebuttal to Gotye’s woe-is-me soliloquies in “Someone That I Used to Know.” But there’s much, much more to this New Zealand songstress than one smashing guest appearance. Her U.S. debut album Vows, now streaming at NPR, reveals an artist that’s part edgy Betty Boop, part pop star, part soul singer, and 100% addictive.

This week, Girls Like Giants follows Kimbra back in time to a retro era of fedoras, smooth dancing moves, and triple-vision. Behold the glory of “Good Intent.”

Sarah T:

The first time I watched this video, I was like, “Why do I feel a particularly strong affection for red-dress Kimbra? Is it just that the dress goes well with her coloring? Is she a winter?” I knew that technically the same person was dressed in black, white, and red, but somehow I loved her the best in scarlet. Watching it again, I realized that Kimbra is playing slightly different characters depending on the color of her dress. Kimbra in black is cold and sexy and elegant, like Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Kimbra in white is a swooning ingenue. And Kimbra in red is a bold, insouciant siren: no WONDER I was mysteriously convinced that she was the coolest. Read the rest of this entry »

Singing Out: In Praise of Women (And Against Rush Limbaugh)

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Sarah T.

Let’s talk about sex.

More specifically, let’s talk about women who have sex, and why some people want to punish them so much.

Rush Limbaugh thinks a woman who wants affordable birth control—and, by extension, any sexually active woman—is a slut. The problems in his statement are almost too numerous to name. Lauren O’Neal at the Hairpin and Emily Bazelon at Slate, among others, do a good job of unpacking them.

But it’s not just moralizing extremists like Limbaugh who are trying to wrest power away from women by shaming them for what they choose to do with their own bodies. There are more insidious ways that our culture gets people to internalize the idea that women should be judged for their sexuality and sexual activity. From there, it’s an easy move to persuade people that sexually active women don’t deserve to be safe from the threat of violence, or to be treated with respect and decency, or to decide for themselves whether they are physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and circumstantially able to bring a child into the world.

I’m talking about the message that gets sent when someone laughs and calls, say, Courtney from The Bachelor a whore, when what he means is that Courtney is manipulative, or mean, or fake. Or when a smart, educated woman calls her ex’s new girlfriend a slut, when what she means is that she’s hurt and angry, her pride is wounded, and she doesn’t like this new girl at all. Or when campus security announcements about sexual assaults emphasize what women ought to do to protect themselves (stay at home all day long while wearing a Snuggie with all the blinds drawn and a couch shoved up against the door, one imagines) instead of talking about what everyone, men most certainly included, can do to eliminate sexual assault and make the campus safer. Or when people make fun of girls who show cleavage or wear short skirts or get tattoos on the smalls of their backs. Or when the person sitting across from me at a bar last year said casually of a mutual acquaintance, “Even you would think she’s a slut.” Read the rest of this entry »

Swagger Going Swell: M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, and the Blurriness of Cultural Appropriation

In race on February 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Melissa Sexton

Between the infamous middle finger that flew at the Super Bowl and the culture-colliding, controversy-stirring video for “Bad Girls” that dropped in early February, M.I.A. has been back on the cultural radar in a big way. And if The New Yorker’s assertion that M.I.A. should not have apologized for her television flip-off isn’t proof enough that her “swagger’s going swell,” then just consider the  infinitely danceable “Bad Girls” video as further evidence:

If you’re looking for swagger, you’ve come to the right place. While the chorus repeats a familiar bad bitch theme (“Live fast, die young – bad girls do it well”), there is something powerful about the video that goes beyond the usual rapper assertion of being “the best bitch doing it” – something about the dancing crowds and the spinning cars that makes me feel caught up in a moment of celebration. And yet, the general Internet response has not been to put this video on repeat and dance. Instead, bloggers and journalists have launched into a discussion of whether M.I.A.’s video is an example of cultural appropriation, even Orientalism or Arab-bashing. The question, as Faisal Al Yafai articulates so clearly in his Al Bawaba article, is what thoughtful people should “make of a big budget music video that depicts Gulf Arabs as anarchic, gun-toting, stunt-driving street-dancers?” He continues to frame a number of possible interpretations: perhaps the video is “a condescending take on a misunderstood culture through an Oriental lens,” but alternatively, the video might be “an interesting cross-cultural attempt to address social norms” and an example of “encouraging cross-cultural pollination.” In her defense of the video, Dina Dabbous admits that it is “laden with crass stereotypes” ranging from “Arabian horses” to “Arab men watching women misbehaving.” But she reclaims the video’s value for two reasons: first, the video’s accurate depictions of hagwalah racing culture; and second, its “original and fresh” translation of the usual “hyper worlds of gangsta culture” to “Arabia.” In other words, at least M.I.A. is doing something new with the old tropes of excess and debauchery, and at least she gets that new world right.

East-meets-West-hip-hop-gangstas? Or stereotypes of gun-toting Arabs?

But that very translation of hip-hop culture from American to Arabic streets (the video was shot in Ouarzazate, Morocco) opens up all kinds of questions  about the differences between appropriation and translation; about the fluidity of cultural tropes in an age of globalized music and exchange; and about the authenticity of ethnic and cultural identity in pop music. Why is it that translating gangsta culture to a Middle Eastern setting is a praiseworthy re-imagination of hip-hop stereotypes, but reversing that direction of exchange and using Middle Eastern cultural tropes like hagwalah to sell hip-hop is an insult to Arab culture? M.I.A.’s video points to one of the exhilarating and troubling qualities of pop music: the way it borrows from everything it can get its hands on, with varying degrees of self-awareness and caution. In the process, appropriation can and often does happen; cultural images get mobilized in ways that are reductive and offensive. Yet such appropriation can also be radical, creative, or community-building; it can challenge existing stereotypes by pointing to the richness of sub-cultures like hagwalah.

I believe that M.I.A.’s video can show us that automatically classifying cultural borrowing as reductive “appropriation”  limits our understanding of pop culture. Looking beyond strict separations of pop cultural identity into purified, “authentic” racial categories can help us see the double-edged potential of cultural borrowing: on the one hand, the use of cultures other than one’s own can constitute a form of  imperialism, where any culture can become grist for the capitalist money mill, a simple indicator of otherness or novelty. On the other hand, such borrowings can open up a liberating potential, expanding our notions of what beauty, success, and celebration can look like.

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The Invention of Lana Del Rey

In gender on February 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Sarah Todd

Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” looks and sounds like an arrival. On the surface, it’s about a girl swooning over romantic fantasies while her boyfriend ignores her for his Xbox. That’s a pretty potent idea to begin with: a girl who’s absorbed the message that life is “only worth living if somebody is loving you” tethered to an indifferent lover, trying to convince herself, “This is my idea of fun.”

It’s not so fun, sitting in the blue light, waiting for someone to notice your sundress and the scent of your perfume. Sometimes girls stay anyway. They deserve a song.

But “Video Games” also taps into a deeper truth. Girls dreaming about love are often dreaming not so much about the love object as about the women they might be, if they were loved the way they wanted–about what it would be like to be as desired as they are desiring. The song’s fantasy of wide-sweeping love is propelled by haunting church bells and delicately plucked strings; a plaintive, simple piano strain grounds it back in the blue-light reality. And in the music video, Del Rey herself is all fantasy, looking impossibly gorgeous with smoky eyes and pouty lips and Brigitte Bardot bedroom hair. It’s easy to see why the video went viral, unleashing a tidal wave of internet chatter in late 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

Puppy Love: Remembering Celebrity Crushes

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Well friends, it’s that time of the year again: the one-and-only Anna Howard Shaw Day, when we break out the champagne and Marvin Gaye tunes to honor one of the top women’s suffrage leaders ever to be born on Feburary 14.

And of course, it’s not too late to dig into some waffles in honor of Galentine’s Day, the February 13 holiday in which we appreciate our dearest friends over delicious breakfast foods.  (Guy friends can totally celebrate Galentine’s Day too.)

But what of our first loves? When do we set aside the time to celebrate everything they’ve given us and tell them how we really feel? I refer, of course, to the celebrities and film and television characters who first made us go all moon-eyed. Just because we’re busy sharing our love with suffragists and chums (and maybe with our special gentleman- and lady-friends too) doesn’t mean it’s all right to neglect the stars who taught our pulses how to race. Read the rest of this entry »

My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Affair with Misogyny, Hip-Hop, and Post-Feminism

In race, Uncategorized, violence on February 14, 2012 at 1:49 am

Melissa Sexton

In the winter of 2011, I found myself in a familiar funk. It was my birthday and I was creeping ever closer to thirty; it was winter in Oregon, and the ceaseless rain had begun in earnest; and I had just gone through yet another break-up. But as I battled through the post-break-up blues with endless evenings of YouTube surfing, I stumbled upon Kanye West’s strange, strange film Runaway. I wasn’t into hip-hop yet; I didn’t know anything about Kanye, except that I’d seen his “Gold Digger” video a few times and that Rolling Stone was declaring “Runaway” the single of the year. But I was instantly hooked by the scenes of him zooming in a sports car beneath a pink sky, snarling, “The plan was to drink until the pain over…But what’s worse? The pain or the hangover?” I was hypnotized by the sarcasm, by the strange mix of excess and self-awareness. So I dragged my sorry self onto the bus and rode to a mainstream CD store, somewhere I could snag a cheap copy of My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy for myself.

And thus began my love affair with the cultural icon that is Kanye West – that quintessentially American asshole who declared “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and who was able to make “Let’s have a toast to the douchebags” into an anthem and an apology all mixed into one. I could not stop listening to this album. I was a poor graduate student with a strange penchant for old technology, so I was riding the bus around town with my blue Discman, listening to “Monster” on repeat, feeling the first inklings of reawakening fierceness. And while I certainly identified with the crazed, quicksilver rapping of Nicki on “Monster,” I also found myself getting some swagger and attitude by identifying with Kanye. I related to the strange world he sketched for us on Fantasy: a world of overindulgence, good intentions, bad tempers, failed relationships, loneliness, and compensatory swagger. I was having a strange, gender-bending encounter with an album that openly used women, that admitted at one moment, “I know I did damage” but that countered such self-awareness with Pusha-T’s bluff-call: “I did it – alright, alright, I admit it – Now pick your next move: you can leave or live with it.” Opening up a line of questioning that continued as I grew to love more and more hip-hop that was, at some level, misogynistic, I asked myself why I was feeling so powerful by identifying with an emotionally distant, explicitly male persona? Read the rest of this entry »

Chuck Bass, Chris Brown, and Un-Forgiving Violent Men

In gender, race, teen soaps, violence on February 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Phoebe B.

The controversy surrounding Chris Brown’s upcoming appearance at the Grammy’s has had me thinking about my favorite Gossip Girl character, Chuck Bass. Chuck, his smoldering eyes, and his bad boy-gone-good situation consistently woo me (at least once a week on Monday nights that is). But the thing about Chuck, which I have a hard time reconciling with his position as my favorite GG character, is his past behavior: in the pilot he attempts to force himself on Serena; later in season one he does the same to 14-year old Jenny (Dan’s little sister); later in the series he trades the beautiful and amazing Blair for a hotel; and ultimately when he finds out Blair is engaged he punches through a window.

Chuck Bass

The narrative drive of the show, at least in part, is about Chuck’s redemption—he becomes a seriously swoon-worthy character by this season (and GG’s 100th episode!). For viewers, that violent history, which is often blamed on his absent and fairly mean father and lack of a mother, is erased throughout the narrative of the show. Indeed, my love for Chuck is possible because the show makes me forget Chuck’s darker deeds—which are most often acts of violence against women. Read the rest of this entry »

Barbie Girls: Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Mattel

In gender, girl culture, race on February 3, 2012 at 7:26 am

Sarah Todd

Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit  “212” captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)

But one comment Banks made about Minaj in an interview with GQ UK stuck out to me:

It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”

The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world. Read the rest of this entry »

VMAs 2011, or More Questions than Answers

In MTV, Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Chelsea Bullock

The title says almost everything, but here’s the rest:

1. I didn’t actually watch the VMAs live. I followed the relevant Twitter and Facebook feeds and then watched all videos I was interested in today via mtv.com* and YouTube.

2. Beyonce sang her face off. I think her performance, while completely uncontroversial, is still enabling continued discussions of the public nature of the pregnant body. Also, are you as excited as I am about the potential awesomeness of Bey and Hova’s progeny? I hope so.

3. I have professed my adoration of Gaga since the beginning, but had been experiencing a bit of a lull in my affection. Jo Calderone‘s appearance and performance rekindled our flame. The monologue is a bit long, but totally worth it for anyone considering herself a little monster. He’s making Judith Butler proud.

4. Thanks to the fine folks over at Crunk Feminist Collective for their discussion of Chris Brown’s performance and for alerting me–the non-live viewer–to the fact that Jay-Z refused to demonstrate support for him.

5. Britney was honored, and rightfully so, but bless her for making the whole ceremony a bit more delightful by not even attempting to hide her confusion over Jo Calderone.

I’m curious to know: who watched, what your thoughts are, exactly how wrong is it that Katy Perry won over Adele, how long we have to punish Chris Brown, if you were disappointed by the Hunger Games trailer too, if you love Snooki as much as me, how attracted you are to Jo, and if you also thought Hova and Yeezy’s performance of “Otis” was a 9 out of 10.

*MTV, thank you for leading the way and making the entire show available online for free.

A Mostly Gleeful Project: Oxygen’s Glee Project & Cheering for Hannah

In girl culture on August 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Most of the time when I watch Glee I rather wish the dialogue would stop, and instead they would just sing awesome songs all the time. This is also mostly how I feel about Oxygen’s newest reality TV drama, The Glee Project. I feel odd about this particular feeling given that I am generally a total sucker for narrative, but Glee’s dialogue is often not as compelling as its songs. However, on The Glee Project there is something oddly absorbing and intriguing about seeing Ryan Murphy on every episode just being Ryan Murphy (also, responsible for the dark and creepy Nip/Tuck).

The premise of the show is a bunch of awkward, nerdy, but charming kids compete for a story arc on Glee. Everyone is super talented, and the drama includes people competing to hit a higher note, somebody’s feelings getting hurt, and somebody telling on another cast member to Ryan Murphy (for example, when Damien told Ryan that Alex was picking on Mathias). Oh yeah, they also all live together. Drama, drama, drama. Also, each episode ends as the final three go to see if their names are on the call-back list for next week’s episode. For extra melodrama, their journey is accompanied by awesomely dramatic music. Oh melodrama, you are so reliably grand.

Hannah from The Glee Project

So of the contestants left on The Glee Project, Hannah is by far my favorite. She is a perky, goofy, cute red head from North Carolina. A few weeks ago she got her confidence, and realized she was sexy and great. She would be awesome on Glee. Plus she can rap; in the “Ice Ice Baby/Under Pressure” mash-up she gave Vanilla Ice a run for his money. I would totally watch her on Glee. And so it seems would Ryan Murphy; last week he told Hannah and her partner Alex that they were what Glee was about. That is, neither of them should be a star, per Murphy’s logic, because of their looks. Put another way, what Murphy informs them of is that they are not Hollywood or TV good looking, but rather they are both self described “fat kids.”

At once, Glee is about making stars of those that might not otherwise be—it is a show about misfits (even though many of them are HOT and at least were once popular, ie Finn, Quinn, etc.). And so too is The Glee Project. This is among the many lessons we learn about Glee from the show’s creator Ryan Murphy. Other lessons include that the show is very much about teamwork (no divas allowed), and you don’t want to be the guy or gal that we have to do extra takes for. The show is filled with little gems about the what Glee is about. The small lessons for the contestants let them know what they’re getting into while promoting the show. And Glee, per Ryan Murphy, is a highly ethical, teamwork oriented, friends forever set.

But to briefly return to this notion of misfits and Glee as the happy television home for said misfits. One of my issues with Glee is that many of the misfits wind up functioning to showcase the main couple, Finn and Rachel, and support their on and off again romantic coupling (click here for more on this). Further, by looking for misfits, it seems The Glee Project and Glee are redefining and reiterating what it means to be a misfit, not to mention what it looks like (although we learn that even football stars can be misfits). On the plus side, maybe Glee/The Glee Project are working to make the nerdy misfit cool. But perhaps that’s why I like Hannah on The Glee Project: she seems like a 19 year old (which she is), she is super talented and when she performs my eye goes to her, and she equates her sexuality to a Koala bear. Awesome. However, she doesn’t play up her potential misfit-ness. And in this way she reminds me of Glee superstars Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) and Mercedes (Amber Riley), who on the show are perhaps two of strongest personalities, and two of the most comfortable in their own skin (Kurt might also be in this category). Or at least as comfortable as teenagers potentially can be …

Ashley Fink who plays Lauren Zizes on Glee

Amber Riley aka Mercedes on Glee

By way of a conclusion, I am not really sure how I feel about The Glee Project. Truth be told, I often fast forward through the dialogue. However, it is an interesting show to think about and I am rooting for Hannah big time. In part, I think why I like her, Zizes, and Mercedes as potential Glee and current Glee characters respectively is their characters insist on beauty in so many different forms; for example, Puck is attracted to Zizes because she is stronger than him and does not put up with his shit. In fact, Puck + Zizes is my favorite Glee couple by far. In the best of all possible worlds, Glee is about making stars out of people who do not, for Murphy, fit the Hollywood mold, even if his leads most certainly do (ie Finn and Rachel). And perhaps his acknowledgement of this is rather savvy, albeit depressing. However, I am waiting for the day where a Hannah, Lauren Zizes, or Amber Riley are the leaders of a Gleeful pack.

Competition? Why Yes, She Would Love Some: Nicki Minaj in “Haterade”

In gender on July 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Sarah Todd

Competition? Why yes, I would love some.

- Nicki Minaj, “Check It Out”

When Nicki Minaj enters a song, it’s like all the doors of a house blow open. In Gucci Mane’s laid-back “Haterade,” she’s not going for fireworks as in “Monster” or “Roman’s Revenge”; her rapping is quick and clipped, as if she’s making an effort to keep her cool. Even before she starts rapping, she’s sucking in breaths between her teeth, because nothing is more frustrating than being underestimated.

The in-your-face-haters spirit of her opening lines–“This one goes out to all of my critics / Don’t you feel stupid? Look how I did it”–has a long history in hip-hop. Think of Biggie, dedicating Ready to Die to “all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’, all the people that lived above the buildings I was hustlin’ in front of that called the police on me when I was just trying to feed my daughter.” When everyone else expects you to fail, some swagger upon proving them wrong is more than warranted. Moreover, there’s a reason braggodocio is so fundamental to hip-hop: if no one else will tell you you’re awesome, you have to tell yourself. But Minaj’s response to her critics’ low expectations is particularly interesting given her status as the only big female star in current mainstream hip hop.

As Julianne Escobedo Shepherd wrote earlier this summer in Thirteen, there are plenty of talented female rappers out there; however, the mainstream music industry’s cards are stacked against them. Despite such commercially successful female rappers like Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, Foxy Brown, and Monie Love, hip hop is still perceived as a masculine genre–primarily made by men, for men. In “Haterade,” Minaj notes that her spot at the top of the Billboard Rap charts hasn’t been held by a woman in a long time: “It’s been eight years but I broke the record.” It’s an impressive accomplishment, but why did it take so long for a song by a solo female hip-hop artist to get there? Read the rest of this entry »

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