Pop goes: Miley Cyrus ‘Younger now’

I don’t know why but I am again obsessed (like, “loop that 24/7”-obsessed) with a Miley Cyrus song. Her previous single “Malibu” of the upcoming album “Younger Now” was just like the video a pretty little thing with no real meat on its bones. It also gave us a Miley that is not believable anymore (flowery hippy country girl who is everybody’s darling).

However, “Younger Now” is the kind of aesthetic sound-wise and visually that might be the real true Miley that has been peeking out during her wild phase a few years ago (and sadly resulted in a few appropriation- and “why the hell work with Terry Richardson of all people”-issues that are far more problematic than the nudity).

The Miley that plays with gender expectations and somehow is such a professional in the world of pop but at the same time just not quite as caught up in it like, for example, Katy Perry, shows herself in a video that is all Rockabilly but with the nostalgia factor playing the main character. This is not the dream of how it was back then but how it is now. The Grease brigade, creepy puppet play (a typical symbol of 50s children’s tv shows – also in Germany, by the way), the Elvis costumes and the glitz – the video in itself is mesmerizing.

The song is a lovely goodbye (?) to her wild phase (and quite possibly also to the Disney phase, but obviously no one will acknowledge that because so many people think that her twerk/tongue-phase was worse than being stuck in Disney’s fake smile wonderland that messed up so many of our current and past pop stars).

The lyrics are standard pop:

“Feels like I just woke up
Like all this time I’ve been asleep
Even though it’s not who I am
I’m not afraid of who I used to be”

But the sound is quite interesting. We start with frogs and water singing in the background and a lower guitar tune slowly easing us into the song before Miley sings covered in a subtle echo effect. The song slowly turns into the sort of pop that does well on a dancefloor but still feels calm and melancholic. This is actually a song you would rather hear from a popular rock group like Kings of Leon instead of Miley Cyrus but that’s exactly the sound that suits her (kid has still one of the most amazing and unique voices of any white female pop star out there). I really hope that her album delivers more of this and less of “Malibu” but you never know. With stars of her caliber, conceptually tight albums like Beyoncès “Lemonade” are so seldom, so I expect a few other strong singles and a few fillers.

But then again, Miley’s coop with The Flaming Lips and her resulting Her Dead Petz-album was a fantastic and weird piece of pop. I still believe that she could be one of the greats in the long run.

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If you want 80s pop, get that The Bangles debut ASAP!

I, like everyone else who wasn’t a teen in the 80s, know the Bangles for their chart toppers “Eternal Flame” (all the white girls sing along but not in the right key), “Manic Monday” (which was a gift from Prince, how the hell did I not know that????) and “Walk like an Egyptian” (double the fun since the German punk pop band Die Ärzte covered this in German and I liked it back then as a kid but now really question why they would leech on the Bangles’ success when they would have been ok without this cover).

Also, a fun fact, I have to note: “Manic Monday” was only surpassed by one other song on the charts: Prince with “Kiss”. He basically topped himself. Damn.

BUT today I listened to their debut album (1984) “All over the Place” and I feel like we wronged them so much by only citing the mentioned trifecta of hits. “Going down to Liverpool” is an amazing song and sounds like The Smiths but without the moping (and there’s no way they copied the Smith’s style because both debuts came out the same year). The song was written by Kimberley Rew from Katrina and the Waves, by the way.

Also, the video has a grumpy Leonard Nimoy and one fantastic joke that I won’t spoil now because I love you.

I mean, the music videos alone are so much fun because of all that 80s fashion game going on but the whole album is fantastic and I have no idea why it never pops up in the best albums of the 80s lists because there’s not really any filler song and not every song sounds basically the same (looking at you, The Smiths*).

It’s a bit of a shame that apparently the music industry destroyed this band by featuring mostly Susanna Hoffs because they thought she was, I don’t know, marketable? The music industry can be such a dick. And when the band broke up and Hoffs tried it solo, they dropped her during the recording of her second album. What a dick move, Universal.

I mean, this pre-debut single is fantastic:

It’s also the biggest shame and simply outrageous, that no one gave Michael Steele a record contract for the next 20 years after the band broke up because Steele did not just have the best hair but also a gigantic voice and guitar and bass guitar skills to hold her own (“Walk like an Egyptian” would only be half as good without that bass line). I mean, if you have the whole package right there, why not sign her and make it happen? Universal was a mess in the 80s, I tell you that.

*Look, I like the Smiths but they are the Nirvana of the 80s in that they get way too much credit for being the most popular of a certain zeitgeist sound that was dominated by white dude bands that were moping and kind of a downer.

The last great rock band: Thank god, it’s over

There’s currently a great read on Vulture, an interview collection of people who talk about the Strokes and how they blew up and then petered out. The article is great but the notion is all kinds of wonky. Continue reading

Oh boy, Ricky Gervais: The Comedian’s excuse

Oh, don’t you love it when mainly white male Comedians say something offensive and then when some people criticize them for that, they get all whiny and need help from their mainly white male Comedian friends to say that Comedy is allowed to say and do anything and they don’t care anyway (like hell, they do) and you are a poopy face because you got offended.

Actually, I don’t love it. I don’t like the excuses that everything is game in Comedy if privileged Comedians punch down and think that no one can call them out for it. Just because you’re a Comedian doesn’t make you invincible for being a dick and don’t believe for one second that you are above anything and didn’t mean it that way in the first place and it was ironic and blah blah blerg.

Here’s the thing: because you are a Comedian, you know about ambivalence, you know about semantic little details and the small things that turn an ok joke into a great joke. Yes, sometimes it can happen that you make a stupid joke that you thought was harmless but suddenly people react differently than you and your friends to it. Does that mean that they are all “cunts“? No, it means that what you intend to joke about and what other people actually hear can be different. It’s called communication and it is a precious thing that we all have to adhere to to get along in life.

If you are a Comedian, you can play with these things. But if you are not very good at playing with them, people will call you dickish, irresponsible and horrible. And maybe only some of them are “cunts” and the rest just knows that you were really lazy, wrote the go-to-joke for, erm, let’s say Caitlin Jenner (like we haven’t heard this sort of joke before in 2015 and already sighed over it) and then ruined the actually great punchline calling her out for her horrible DUI-incident.

There’s a thing in Comedy that’s called punching up or down. If you punch down, and thereby make fun of people who are weaker than you and are generally weaker in society and maybe even in danger of harrassment and violence (because of you), you are almost definitely an asshole. And no “Comedian of the Year”-plate can change that. Calling out a celebrity for getting away with manslaughter? That’s punching up because that’s what happens, that’s their privilege. But calling out a trans-woman for her public process of feeling comfortable in her own skin is punching down because it is your privilege that you are a white Cis-male who has never ever in your entire life faced the kind of stupid-ass jokes that trans-people have to live with. What a poor little sod you are and how quaint to use “cunt” of all words to throw your fit on social media.

And yes, you can also watch some Stewart Lee on this topic because no one can say better why political correctness can be a good thing.

 

In defense of pop: There’s more art to it

There was a time, in my late teens and early twenties, when I would have claimed that I was an Indie/Alternative-fan, thereby limiting myself (and other’s perception of me) to maybe not the smallest portion of music but to a lot less music than I was actually listening to.

Since then, I realized that I like a lot of music – tons of music in fact. I love Motown and basically everything sung by black artists from the 40s, 50s and 60s. I love Britrock ca. 60s/70s, I love prog, I love some choice Hip Hop artists, I have a few metal bands in my playlist each year, I am quite fond of certain musicals, I do love classic when I have to read long texts at work and I am genuinely, continuously in awe with Kate Bush, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel – the three artists no one can ever touch (or should cover) in my humble opinion.

But I also love pop in all its variety. I love Indiepop, I love Artpop, I love Folkpop and boy, do I love „Oldies“ as we like to address old pop songs from the 80s, 90s, 70s and so on. Personally, nothing in the 80s is too cheesy for me, with the exception of some German artists who were beyond cheesy and simply stunk.

But I also love pop in its Billboard-glory. I always did but I didn’t always love that I did.

But why wouldn’t I love pop music?

I have a boyfriend (much as my mom has a boyfriend like that) who loves everything that is niche. His ambition is to give lesser known artists an audience (of one, sometimes). He thinks that Sophie Hunger is a mainstream artist and thinks that Regina Spektor is way too popular to really get into her music. He wouldn’t even touch Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus with a ten foot pole and boy, the look in his eyes when I declared that Bruno Mars is one hell of an artist…Once he and his mom (both not very much into music but if, more into the „high“ art of it) somehow fascinated listened to me explain why Pink is a superior artist to Celine Dion (it lies in the believability, btw).

He liked, though, how I explained the concept of deconstructed pop with Jenny Hval’s new album as an example. But here’s the problem with disliking pop: if you don’t get pop, every music that is not pop is only half the fun because sure, you can admire it but you don’t know how much different (or alike) it is from the mainstream, the charts and the mobile ringtones. Furthermore, listening to pop is all the more fun if you notice streams of art pop in current chart toppers. No high-brow music fan could ever be as happy as a pop fan who just heard Lorde for the first time or who celebrated that some nerd like Gotye could ever be the culprit of the annual Summerhit hype.

Furthermore, pop like nothing else is a great mirror of society. It’s frustrating sometimes but can also be incredibly hopeful. The fact that female popstars with sass, strength and a serious attitude can own the market right now, shows that despite all the misogyny people want strength and diversity. How long did we suffer through the self-same tame female songwriters or RnB-artists? And suddenly we have Janelle and Lianne and Lorde and FKA Twigs who is nearly anti-pop. Amy Winehouse opened the gate to a yearning we had for quite a while – intimate songwriting by the singer herself. And suddenly, there’s thankfully a whole load of it roaming our radios. 

Bruno Mars – much more than Justin Timberlake – fulfilled the need for a surprisingly self-reflective superstar who actually seemed to have fun on stage (and with his band).

And whether you like Taylor Swift and/or Miley Cyrus (no need to pick a team), they both show that there’s no need to fill a certain role as was done for years (and still is done, let’s not be naive) with tween-stars. Heck, even Carly Rae Jepsen can do tween-pop without feeling like an adult lost in puberty.

And again, how much of a miracle is it that all of this is such a female-centric music business? Sure, the executives, the producers and moneymakers are still mainly male and the sexism in this industry as much as everywhere is nothing to ignore nor to underestimate.

But pop is like a weird, absurd reflection of society and it does seep into the background, the CEO-chairs and the fanbase that there’s more desire by the musicians themselves and that feminist pop is not a genre anymore (think of Alanis or Tori) but rather a state of fact and whoever can’t deal with it, will still make money but probably won’t be able to grow and to evolve with the music scene (or create something new, even though I hardly believe that many head honchos have that ambition).

How much of that do you learn via niche artists? Sure, they can spin some cynical and highly conceptual albums about serious topics. But in the end, pop touches them (and influences them) because it is always the bigger, the overwhelming part of our culture. And as long as it is, the niche can be as daring and exciting as it is and slowly tug at pop’s elbows to give a little back, so pop doesn’t get stale. So don’t hate on it and take it for what it is (with a grain of sexist and racist grain of salt). 

Childless pop: the lost voice of mothers and fathers

I recently watched a more or less lackluster documentary on Kate Bush which had the usual weirdly unconnected star-interviews, no interviews with the featured artist herself and probably a lot of footage from previous documentaries. However, one description by one of her closer musician-friends about Kate’s voice in a lot of her songs got me thinking. He said, how maternal songs like “Army Dreamer” or “Breathing” are and I had this sudden realization that the paternal/maternal voice in music is rarely visible.

This song is about a mother’s worries to send her kid (back then only the boys) into war at an age when no one should hold a gun. The beauty lies in the lack of “war is bad”-aggression. It is about a mother who wonders what her son could have been if he would have had more chances in life to avoid the army (a way out for many boys who didn’t finish school or had otherwise trouble to find a proper job).

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it is not there, because I guess we all can cite songs like “Tears in Heaven” (sadly misappropriated for soggy background music) or the conflated “Glory” by Jay-Z that probably was a sign of love – but also a well-timed cash-cow if you ask me.

But if we look at the bigger picture, the pop stars that have kids (did you know that they do have kids? Crazy!), then hardly any one of them sings about them, at least not in single+music video-format and rather in the last-song-of-the-album-format that no one listens to anyway.

We have tons of songs about love and lost love and unrequited love and ex-boy/girlfriends and sexy time but those songs about being a parent, of having to care for a human being that is tiny and breaks easily (believe me, drop a mug and no one bats an eye but drop a baby and all hell breaks loose) – those songs are strangely absent.

Written for Shara’s son. It is about her always being there even when she one day will die. It’s a lovely, darkly humorous and heart-wrenching song. Could you imagine Beyoncé singing it?

This could have several reasons. Continue reading

My big post-apocalyptic song list

Oh, those pesky apocalypses, they always happen unannounced and whilst fighting zombies, rogue street gangs and mutated monster-animals, you never have the time to pick the right playlist for your iPocalypse. But fret no more because I assembled a nice and atmospheric list of songs that conjure up the doom and dust and weariness that quite possibly soon will be our constant companion.

By the way, most of these songs will lean more towards metal/rock because you need the muscular kicks of a rocksong to gather up your strength for the hordes of alien creatures that have destroyed the earth. Oh, and these choices will be super subjective and sometimes even random, so don’t even bother to complain about lack of congruence both in song choices and text.

Clutch – The Regulator

I still don’t know why rap and metal was such a big deal in the 90s and early 2000s (and I rode that wave as well…) whilst the much more beautiful combination of blues and metal never gained that much momentum. Well, gladly, that didn’t keep awesome bands from keeping true to it and gladly so, because otherwise we wouldn’t have this insanely fitting song by the alt-beasts Clutch who not only provide a good soundtrack but also look like the bunch of people you want in your gang when you face herds of the undead.

Continue reading