Is it “Pretty Girls” or petty girls? Iggy Azalea made her big return to Twitter to first set rumors straight about Britney Spears and their single “Pretty Girls,” and then to diss the media who want to get “paid.” The “Fancy” singer took a hiatus from Twitter after dealing with trolls, but said she wanted to… Continue reading
Someone please tell me, when the heck did Selena Gomez grow up!? It feels like just yesterday she was an innocent Alex Russo in the Disney series “Wizards of Waverly Place.” Truth be told, those days are far from over and Gomez has ventured on to her successful music career. From her starting days as Selena… Continue reading
The 2015 BET Awards airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on BET. While the best way to watch the main event is on television, BET has provided a backstage live stream, which also begins at 8 p.m. Access the live stream here. The star studded 2015 event, which takes place at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles,… Continue reading
As if Rick Ross’s reputation weren’t already tainted with The Smoking Gun revealing his past as a corrections officer and stealing Freeway Rick Ross’s name, being arrested for marijuana earlier this month was only the first actual legal problem the fraud has run into. Now, he was apparently taken in by a special fugitive task force of the U.S. Marshals Service and charged with kidnapping, assault, and aggravated battery.
Ross had reportedly pistol-whipped his groundskeeper doing repairs on his house a few weeks ago. It’s still unclear about exactly what the argument was actually about, though the report suggests that Ross allegedly forced the groundskeeper into his house at gunpoint, pistol-whipping him multiple times causing injuries to his neck, jaw and teeth. While a bodyguard of Ross had also been arrested at the house early morning, the two remain in police custody while the situation is sorted out with Ross being denied bail.
While it’s obvious that Ross’ antics were easily foreshadowed by his lyrics and wannabe gangster persona, could it be that he staged these arrests to boost his record sales?
Feminism is such a trending topic nowadays. Not only you’ll see it in the news, but also ignite a big fire throughout the pop music industry! From “Work Bitch” by Britney Spears, “Bow Down (Bitches)” by Beyoncé, “Bitch Better Have My Money” by Rihanna, to Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, you can’t even missed their lyrics without saying “bitch” in it. And now, the most iconic pop queen – Madonna just released her newest hit song “Bitch I’m Madonna”.
Since Taylor Swift released her newest single “Bad Blood” with dazzling amount of her celebrity friends played different assailant characters in her music video, Madonna has recrewed her all-star team as well. Featuring Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Rita Ora, Katy Perry and Kanye West, Comedian-actor Chris Rock, fashion designer Alexander Wang and the famous Japanese lesbian dancer couple Bambi Sato and Aya Sato a.k.a.’AyaBambi’ also appear in the video. We even get a glimpse of Madonna’s sons Rocco and David.
So last week, when country radio promoter Keith Hill controversially suggested that stations should stop playing songs by female artists, it’s easy to label his actions another example of misogynistic, conservative politics.
However, Hill’s comments are actually indicative of something much bigger and far more troubling: the consolidation of an entire genre of music, and the type of environment this can create. In the case of country, it’s allowed for the repurposing of the genre’s history, and the exclusion of certain individuals.
A rich legacy of female stars
Try to imagine for a moment radio’s other major markets – pop, rock, R&B – with fewer women. What would contemporary music look like today without Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Beyonce and Ke$ha?
It’s also noteworthy that each of these women since Patsy Cline has achieved significant crossover, mainstream appeal, whether it’s Whitney Houston’s R&B genre-defining cover of Dolly Parton’s original song I Will Always Love You, or Taylor Swift’s recent rubbing of elbows with Sir Paul McCartney. Not surprisingly, these powerful artists have all had a contentious relationship with the country music industry, confounding the expectations of what a female country star can and should do, from their lyrical choices, to their wardrobes, to their roles in TV and film.
It’s this very dynamic that plays out weekly on the television show Nashville, whose main characters are powerful women pushing back against the constraints of an industry led by a highly consolidated network of media moguls.
One might go so far as to say that the popularity of female country stars threatens Nashville’s obsession with defining – to paraphrase scholar David Sanjek – what is country music, and what country music is.
But there are larger – and more threatening – systemic forces at play.
Country music’s centralization in Nashville mirrors the centralization of radio over the past 50 years, and the scary amount of control that comes with such consolidation.
When country music promoters, agents, publishers and producers chose to consolidate the genre in Nashville in the late 1950s, they began applying new definitions, new aesthetics and a new history to the music. Even the name “country” is a re-brand: its precedents of “hillbilly,” “folk,” “hill and range” and “western” were eradicated. Thenceforth, country music would be strictly characterized as a southern, white, working-class cultural export.
Today, the political, racial, geographical and faith-based diversity of country music’s many non-mainstream subgenres – bluegrass, alt-country, Americana, old-time and trucker music – is proof that country music encompasses far more perspectives and voices than those that are deigned to be “playable” on country radio.
Voices silenced by the powerful few
Again, in many ways the politics of country music is incidental here, though it effectively illustrates the dangers inherent in media consolidation, whereby industry insiders – rather than the public – define who and what gets played for us on radio.
The Dixie Chicks’ public critique of then President George W Bush serves as a prominent example. Popular, powerful women in country music voiced a political opinion that may have resounded with many of their loyal fans, but ran counter to the conservative politics of country music’s brand. Their resulting disappearance from country radio was nothing short of political censorship.
Were country music to have a liberal brand – and its executives exercised a similar censorship of conservative voices – it would be no less threatening to democratic free speech.
Then there’s racial marginalization: it’s in the music industry’s DNA, and country is no exception.
People of color – particularly African Americans, American Indians and Latinos – have been major participants in the creation and performance of country music. But they’ve never been marketed as such. As a result, society accepts their absence from the genre as a cultural fact.
On the other hand, the marginalization of women in Nashville country music has been a trick of revisionist history. The grand narratives of the music genre point to Kitty Wells and her hit It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels as the “birth” of women in country.
But an examination of any regional history of country music tells a different story. New England had Betty Cody and Georgia Mae. The Coon Creek Girls emerged from the region surrounding Cincinnatti. Then there was Patsy Montana from Arkansas, Pennsylvania’s Chickie Williams and California’s Rose Maddox.
The marginalization of these female stars – along with lesser-known, but equally important women – is a troubling consistency in the story of the country music industry.
There’s space in other genres for political, racial and gender diversity. One can listen to rock radio and hear a Jimi Hendrix song, followed by a Ted Nugent song, followed by a Fleetwood Mac song.
Apparently, not so in country.
“We wanted to make a very personal album,” U2’s Bono told Rolling Stone upon the release of the band’s most recent album, Songs of Innocence. “The whole album is first journeys…geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that’s hard. But we went there.”
Those first journeys also include some of the band’s formative musical influences, including The Ramones and The Clash, who are examples of stripped-back rock and roll par excellence.
Now, the band is slated to embark on its iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour in support of the album.
For this tour, the band is certainly scaling back: they’ll be performing in the relative intimacy of arenas. It’s a stark contrast to the record-shattering production of the band’s last tour – called U2 360 – which was seen by about seven million people in huge, open air stadiums and grossed over US$700 million.
On the surface, it may seem as though U2 is suddenly seeking a return to the simpler times of its early years, both in their sound and their performances.
But for those who have followed the band’s career closely, talk of returning to “roots” of some kind when a new record is released is nothing new for U2. If anything, it reveals the well-worn strategy of a band that seeks to remain relevant even as it ages – a pattern of alternating between radical experimentation and mining the myth of authenticity.
Two poles – sometimes blurred
The first time this trope was invoked was with 1987’s The Joshua Tree and the follow-up album and documentary film Rattle and Hum. For those albums the band, weaned on 1970s punk, turned back to the American triumvirate – blues, folk and gospel – the deeply “authentic” music they felt they’d missed out on growing up.
In interviews from this time, they began their tendency to, off and on, romanticize “stripped-down” rock and roll.
This backward turn came in the wake of the band’s first project with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire.
Interestingly, that album’s atmospheric, experimental sound was enthusiastically embraced by the band as an attempt to switch gears from the hard-driving, guitar-oriented, stripped-down rock that characterized 1983’s War.
The live shows that have supported the band’s more experimental albums have been suitably mammoth endeavors, often taking place in outdoor venues, with every technological bell and whistle imaginable in tow.
But the sound of the group’s music doesn’t swing quite as easily between these poles as their discourse around it would suggest.
For example, the atmospheric, experimental influence is present on Songs of Innocence (The Troubles). Meanwhile, the stripped-back sound can be found on the most “out there” album in U2’s oeuvre – 1997’s Pop – in tracks like Wake Up Dead Man and The Playboy Mansion.
The tension of fame
So why frame the process of making an album as a kind of recurring existential crisis? One that seems to require a radical rethinking of musical and thematic direction?
One answer to this question comes from what counts as “authentic” in rock culture: the quest narrative – the constant search for “realness,” for what is perceived to be “genuine.”
Led Zeppelin, for example, “reinvented” themselves on their third album, turning to acoustic folk music. The infamous battle between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards over whether to stay true to the band’s blues roots or move in a more contemporary direction began with their 1983 album Undercover.
But U2 is particularly committed to this narrative. Their need for reinvention, the casting off of what came before, the re-examination of directions, the restlessness, can be viewed as part of a discourse that helps construct U2’s rock authenticity.
I’m not suggesting that their quest is disingenuous. But one only has to look at musics other than white rock to see that the terms of authenticity vary with genre, among other things.
In fact, it could be argued that there’s no such thing as authenticity, except in the minds of those who construct the idea.
For the band, however, there is more to this discursive struggle. Rock authenticity is premised on a revolutionary sensibility – a rejection of authority. And rock musicians who become commercially successful often struggle with how to remain true to these ideals.
The strategy of forever searching for a new sound becomes especially important in these circumstances: there’s nothing that shatters respectability like a commercially successful rock band that rests on its laurels.
Returning to one’s “roots,” though, or being on the cutting edge of contemporary music becomes part of the strategy to maintain credibility and relevance in the wake of unprecedented commercial success – to demonstrate that the ideals on which the band was formed are still driving them.
Could this explain why U2 recently made an (intially) covert busking appearance in a New York City subway station?
After all, busking is perhaps the quintessential authentic performance genre – live, unmediated, accessible, risky and non-commercial (if you don’t count the pennies collected in the guitar case).
Glitzy can be compatible with authentic
Interestingly, three out of U2’s last four records have been premised on the idea of “going back to roots” or “stripping down the sound.”
And ironically, these albums have been more commercially successful than the last two attempts at sonic experimentation (Pop and No Line on the Horizon). So one wonders – perhaps a bit cynically – if the “returning to roots” discourse is not only a means of reaffirming rock authenticity, but also a way to sell more records. This is as much an observation about critics and fans (for whom the discourse of rock authenticity is religion), than it is about the band.
For my part, I’ve always found U2’s experimental records and some of the gargantuan tours more interesting and more true to the spirit of rock and roll than their trips back to the past. Pop is a sonic masterpiece, as are Zooropa and Achtung, Baby. The last of these, incidentally, was also a very personal album, chronicling, among other things, the shattering effects of divorce (Edge’s) and the complications of being in love.
In fact, the mammoth Zoo TV Tour that supported Achtung, Baby and Zooropa was one of the band’s most politically astute and successfully mounted social commentaries. In a (self-referential) commentary on celebrity, Bono took on the character of the bloated, leather-clad, shade-wearing rock star. And the main premise of the show was a harsh critique of the desensitizing effects of contemporary media.
Thus, contrary to the well-worn dualism in rock between “small and simple equals good” and “big and glitzy equals bad,” some of U2’s most incisive music and social commentary have come out of the latter.
It seems that “small and simple” (if arena shows can actually fall into this category) is where they’ll land on this tour, but there’s already a hint of where the band is going for the next album. In a New York Times essay written on the eve of this tour, Bono had this to say about Songs of Experience, the album that will follow Songs of Innocence:
We’re keeping the discipline on songs and pushing out the parameters of the sound….One of the things that experience has taught us is to be fully in the moment. What’s the moment? Pop music.
And so the quest continues.
As we all know that Beyoncé, a.k.a. “Queen Bey”, has always been the dominator of the stage. However, her dance video clips are going viral all over Internet this weekend by a Twitter user and fan named @MascotMY_Tweets created the hashtag #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat, and apparently he got a lot of fans on his own to prove that Beyoncé looks awesome dancing to everything! Let’s take a look at those clips!
The new documentary Montage of Heck takes a fresh look at the life and career of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who, while only in the pop limelight for a shade over two years, remains one of the most iconic figures in rock-music history.
In an effort to correct some of the myths that surround Cobain, director Brett Morgen opens a window onto Kurt’s private world, providing at times intimate glimpses of the rock star’s personal life.
But to better understand Kurt Cobain and his songs, it’s important to realize that there are at least three Kurts to consider.
The first is Kurt the rock star, an image Cobain quite consciously crafted, the side of his persona that he sometimes called “Kurdt.” This is the one most listeners associate with him: the brooding poet, the artist filled with punk-rock anger and aggression who resisted and loathed fame. Kurdt would often make up fabulous stories in interviews, some loosely based on facts (he claimed to have once lived under a bridge), others fabricated in a spirit of playful absurdity (though sometimes journalists failed to recognize the joke). Kurdt was the defiant punk artist who flashed his middle finger at the status quo. It was a role Kurt loved to play.
The private Kurt, by contrast, seems to have been ambitious and driven. While Kurdt disdained fame, Kurt energetically pursued it.
Once Cobain became a star, he suffered under the new pressures and burdens that came with it. But when asked once in drug rehab why he didn’t just travel far away to escape the spotlight, he responded that he was afraid his fans would forget him. Cobain biographer Charles R Cross observes that at several points in Kurt’s career, he consistently chose the path to fame and wealth, when he could have chosen otherwise. (Of course, “Kurdt” would then complain bitterly.)
The third Kurt is Cobain the creative artist. Any objective survey of Kurt’s writing, songs and paintings reveals an enormously creative mind. In contrast to the career-driven Kurt and the mopey Kurdt, the creative Kurt was an unrelentingly playful personality that delighted in fanciful juxtaposition of images, poked fun at societal roles and stereotypes, and engaged in an almost constant game with language. This Kurt had a particular fascination with following seemingly sensible premises to absurd extremes.
The famous lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit are as good an example as any:
Here we are now, entertain us
Looking out onto the hormone-infused dancing at a teen party, Cobain follows “mulatto” with “albino,” playing on the number of syllables and ending vowel. If skin pigment is what linked those two words, whiteness suggests having one’s blood sucked out, which generates “mosquito.” But a mosquito penetrates the body (and sucks), and that leads to “libido.” The subsequent transformation of “hello” into “how low”” continues the logic and the wordplay.
This kind of songwriter’s game with rhymes is reminiscent of the bridge to the Beatles’ Taxman, the verses of Leiber and Stoller’s Little Egypt and any number of songs by Cole Porter.
Unfortunately, many Cobain commentaries mistakenly confuse these distinct elements of Cobain’s personality. The most common error – and the basis for the myth Montage of Heck hopes to dispel – is conflating Kurdt and Kurt.
There is nothing necessarily inauthentic in a performer creating a mask as Cobain did; Bob Dylan and others have done this for decades. That the private Kurt contrasts with the public image he projected, then, does not mean that fans have somehow been duped or that Cobain has been dishonest. The public image is an extension of Cobain’s creativity – another dimension of his imagination that he based on himself, not unlike a character in a semi-biographical novel.
DNFTT2014/deviant art, CC BY-NC-ND
The often unnoticed – but perhaps more serious mistake – is confusing either Kurt or Kurdt with the creative Cobain. It’s all too common to find Cobain’s personal biography breezily read into his lyrics, the attitudes projected by the brooding Kurdt blended into their meaning.
While it’s clear that Cobain’s sometimes sad and desperate personal life was the source of many of his songs, the songs themselves go far beyond personal anger, complaining, sorrow and confession.
Instead, his songs reach for something beyond his own experience: sometimes he’s simply enjoying the craft of songwriting, playfully engaging with the rich history of pop that he knew and loved.
It’s through viewing Cobain in the broader context of pop songwriting – which includes its techniques and history – that one discovers a fascinating artist of considerable breadth and depth.