Saying goodbye and the question of true fandom.

Everyone grieves in their own way.  Some people mourn outwardly – flocking to the scene of the icon’s last days, legitimizing how they feel by garbing themselves in concert t-shirts, crying openly as the first reverbs of a favorite song come through the speakers – while others show their sadness through quiet appreciation, sharing memories of the first time they heard that one song, or simply remaining silent, because it’s their way.  But to judge someone as a fan, or a “true” fan, based on these either open or closeted reveries actually dishonors the genius and talent, the magnitude and reach, of the legend.

Art is highly subjective.  One song can have 100 different meanings to 100 different people.  And by extension, one song can mean the world to a person while others need to know every single note from the entire discography to feel like they are legitimized as fans.  In my opinion, so long as the artist impacted you, either through a single moment or an entire lifetime of moments, you are a fan.

Art is meant to be appreciated.  It is meant to be passed on from generation to generation.  To live in perpetuity.  To gain new fans as years pass while remaining a comforting blanket for those who were there at the beginning.  And not every fan can be there at the beginning.  Some weren’t even born yet.  But to diminish new appreciation is to dishonor the memory of the legend.  To claim people as posers for discovering their love of a song twenty years after its advent, or even in the wake of the legend’s death, is ridiculous, and shows only a truly warped view of art itself.  So long as someone is impacted, in any form or capacity, by the importance of not just the public persona and artistic vision, but also the presence and indelible reach, of an artist, they are a fan.  And to diminish someone, to put their fandom on a gradient, says more about your own insecurities than it does about how devoted you were to the artist.

It’s sad that whenever a legend dies, these arguments and accusations always arise.

The first time I heard Prince, well honestly, I can’t remember.  I know I had a dance teacher who loved Purple Rain (the movie), so we’d occasionally do opening stretches to “When Doves Cry”.  The first time I remember listening to, or truly hearing, that same song was at a middle school talent show.  Something about the opening guitar riff puzzling together with the drumbeat caught my attention.  It built the same way the opening lines in a story build, somehow complex yet simple, completely shrouded and hinting at something bigger.

When the song ended and the dancers left the stage, I craved another listen through.  The song has an addictive beat.  Weaving together a drum machine, synthesizer, and guitar with compounding vocals, a listener can be acutely aware of the different parts, yet never deny the seamless production.  When I listen to this song it becomes a unique network of puzzle pieces that create a mosaic picture, like stained glass in a church.  Which is apt, because every time I listen to this song it feels holy.

This was my introduction to Prince’s musical genius.  It was the first time I grasped the idea that music can be a higher form of art, like paintings in museums.  He altered my worldview of what it meant to be a musician and tore down the imagined boundary between cultural music icon and true artist.  I began to understand music differently.

Prince never really came back into my rotation until college.  Although he helped me realize music and art were one and the same, I struggled and questioned the difference between artistry and musicianship, appearance versus reality.  If someone sings a song that was not written by them, can you respect them as a musician?  Or are they some type of sugary confection thought up by the music industry meant solely for record sales (mind you, this was during the pop-explosion of the early 2000s, where saying you liked groups like Backstreet Boys or N’Sync somehow equated to being a music neophyte who didn’t know shit about true talent).  Eventually I learned there is importance in every nuance of preformance, from vocal talent to production, even if the same song has some truly horrible and conflicting aspects, because importance is derived from how it influences the listener.

I had, and still have, a widely diverse music collection.  But unlike today, I was embarrassed by some of the artists whose CDs I bought and routinely listened to.  My social group was dominated by music lovers who believed singing over a track of someone else’s creation was something akin to murder.  Or to gain notoriety was selling your soul for a monetary pay-out that left you creatively void.  And as a high schooler, the need for acceptance outweighed and overrode the desire to expand my musical collection in as many directions as I could.  To this day, high school is the magnificently single-minded era of my life in terms of my musical exploration.

Sophomore year of college I decided to throw myself into discovering the great’s of the past.  I grew up listening to the oldies stations in the car, playing tapes of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals on road trips, dropping off to sleep with Yanni, and cleaning house on Saturday’s with everyone from Johnny Cash to Neil Diamond and Simon and Garfunkel on our old record player, which meant I had one era virtually undiscovered: the 80s.

This is when Prince came back.  I remembered “When Doves Cry” and put it on a playlist.  When my ex-boyfriend asked why I didn’t have more of his music, I shrugged thinking I had touched upon his genius and that was enough, he had been discovered and revered by me.  What else could Prince offer?

Ultimately, though, I hadn’t scratched the surface.  Prince had far-reaching influence.  He was a prolific song-writer, creating some of the 80s and 90s most memorable hits (Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to U”, Madonna’s “Love Song”, and The Bangles “Maniac Monday” to name a few).  By the time Sophomore year came to a close, I had listened to “Kiss” at least once a day while getting ready for classes; dancing around my room to the funky beat, lip synching and pretending I could sing in that falsetto.  “Let’s Go Crazy” had me jumping on my bed and playing the air-guitar, doing a two-step and twisting my hips.  The up-tempo beat of “I Would Die 4 U” would cause me to grab a hair brush and lip-sync in dramatic 80s fashion.

Prince never really gained much traction on my rotation after that year.  Occasionally I would put “Kiss” (my favorite song of his) on a random playlist, and it was never skipped (how could it, that beat is undeniably funky and deserves attention).  But ultimately he went into the annuls of my musical library.  It doesn’t mean he wasn’t appreciated.  Or lacked influence in my life.  I cherish those memories.  I respect the hell out of his genius.  He altered my view of music as a form of art.  In my opinion, he will always be one of the greats.  And to honor his memory, I will rejoice when someone new discovers him, not condemn them for doing it after he dies, because in reality, we’re only at the beginning of his influence.  He was here for 57 years, his music spanned four decades, but his influence will live on forever.


Taylor Swift’s 1989.

I, typically, am not a Taylor Swift fan.  It’s not because I have some warped idea that I am above listening to main-stream pop and country stars, because hello, I have plugged a few acts that have frequent radio plays.  I think the reason I never really advocated for Taylor Swift was because I was just beyond her target demographic when she began her career.  She was a sixteen year old girl singing about high school boyfriends when I was a sophomore in college thinking that I could not relate to the trouble of a high school relationship.  In actuality, dating in college is much like dating in high school: immature boys trying to have sex with girls who idolize Sex and the City and want people to consider them mature when in actuality they are just as emotionally stunted as the “men” they date… or maybe that was just my experience.  Additionally, she was a break-out star in the country genre, and at the time, I adamantly denied having any love of things country (although I hoarded Keith Urban tracks and began to develop a fondness for bluegrass; I was just unable to really get behind songs that capitalized on pro-nationalism in the face of a war I was against, or you know, couldn’t relate to how someone could be sexy while riding a tractor or  telling people to ride cowboys and save horses).

The farther she has come in her career, the more I appreciate her song-writing and lyric-writing.  She can encapsulate the whole myriad of experiences and emotions that young women inevitably face as they develop.  And she does it with this effervescent buoyancy.  While some young women in the public eye create whole personas of defiance as they age, Taylor Swift was able to remain relatively grounded despite the hoard of onlookers and commentators.  There was a vast jump from previous albums to Red, and I believe even more growth and development occurred between Red and 1989.  She officially transitioned from country star to pop star with this release, and the genre shift suits her.  She is able to translate that bubbly personality into a musical equivalency, with heavy synth-driven choruses and dance-worthy rhythm sections, and then adds her notorious spot-on lyricism.  A lot of the songs on 1989 are far more self-reflective than earlier work, or so it seems.  She discusses relationships on this album, but they aren’t there to eviscerate past-boyfriends, like her previous work.  Rather, she is able to pull away from a situations, and it drives her lyrics to newer, better places.  And kudos to her and her producers, because the music they wrote to accompany her lyrics and vocals take the tracks to unbelievably wonderful places.  They reflect Swift’s youth while adding elements of 80’s emotional rock à la The Cure.

Below are some of my favorite tracks, for those who wish to buy singles and not the entire album (although, you should get the full-album, because it is worth the price):

1. “Blank Space”: This song is my favorite track on the album.  She talks about her love life with witty self-reflection and doesn’t aim to embarrass or address any one specific situation.  It is the closest thing she has to admitting that failed relationships are the fault of not just one party, but both, along with variables, like age.  And she does it in a way that is humorous and very addictive (yes, this has been on repeat for most of the day).  She contemplates the truth that when entering a relationship there is a high chance that there is an expiration date, and uses her history as evidence.  But the thing that makes this song so wonderful is that none of the past experiences have jaded her enough to stop believing in love.  She starts the track as an introduction, as if she is talking to someone she finds attractive: “Nice to meet you, where you been?  I can show you incredible things; magic, madness, heaven, sin.  I saw you there and I thought oh my God look at that face, you look like my next mistake; love’s a game, want to play?”  She simultaneously trivialized love as a game, but also holds it up as something extremely desirable, natural, and inevitable, something that she does aspire to despite having been burned in “the game”.  I think the thing that I respect and truly appreciate about this song is that she still ends on a relatively positive and hopeful note: “I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.”  Yes, it’s another player; yes, there is high potential for this to burn out; yes, there are these things that could conceivably ruin the relationship, but she’s got a blank space, and she’ll write your name.

2. “Welcome to New York”: This is the opening track to 1989, and it has an anthem-like quality to it.  It acts as an introduction to her new self, along with her new sound. She even sings, “It’s a new soundtrack, I can dance to this beat forevermore.”  It is a song about starting over and reinvention, which aptly describes the transformation she’s undergone from country star to pop star.  She also personify’s New York and equates the new locale to being in a new relationship, something a lot of New York natives and devotees have said about the city.  The track exudes excitement and confidence, and I can see this easily becoming the go-to anthem for the next generation of twenty-somethings moving to the city for opportunity, love, and to experience life.  She captures New York’s awe-inspiring visage and temperamental rhythm not only through her lyrics, but also through the varying electronic beats and synth driven melodies.  You can almost see the bright lights of the city and hear the divergent intersections of sound catapulted off brick walls; she manages to paint a picture through sound, and it’s crazy accurate in  how new residences often worship the city as an instrument for reinvention.  Welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you, Taylor, and I think the move has done you good.

3. “Out of the Woods”: The way I develop these reviews is by putting the album on and listening to it repetitively for hours (I apologize to my co-workers, because today was the day I listened to Taylor Swift on repeat), and eventually certain tracks end up making their mark and lead me to further investigation and further repetitive listening.  This is exactly what happened with “Out of the Woods,” and what originally caught my interest was the music.  It reminded me of a ticking clock mixed with the action of rocking back and forth.  I could see this song being used in a film as the backing to an emotional scene of someone contemplating a relationship, which is essentially what the song discusses.  But something about the composition of the music and the delivery of the lyrics makes you really realize the depth of desire for a normal relationship, or as close to a normal relationship as Taylor Swift may be able to have. She asks, “Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods?”  And, being Taylor Swift, it’s not just about getting through the initial stages of a relationship and dodging the typical pitfalls that lead to break-ups, but also contending with the barrage of obstacles brought on by being famous.  It really, really conveys her desire to find a lasting relationship.  And my God, you feel so empathetic as she sings, “are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods yet, are we in the clear yet, are we in the clear yet, are we in the clear?”  You want her to find love, you want her to be out of the woods, and you really want to offer words of encouragement, because she subtly lets her listeners know that it has and is taking its toll on her.

Other notable mentions: “I Wish You Would,” “Shake it Off,” and “All  You Had To Do Was Stay”.


Suggestions April 8, 2014.

1. “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry feat. Juicy J:  I love Katy Perry.  I think the girl can belt out a song while still showing an awe-inspiring sense of vulnerability.  Ever since her marriage to Russell Brand ended, Perry has made countless contributions to what I consider “girl power anthems”.  You know the ones, like “Wide Awake,” “Part of Me,” and now “Dark Horse”;  these are the songs that touch upon inner strength and the ability to move forward after heartbreak or other similar life-altering experiences.  What I appreciate most of “Dark Horse” is the no-nonsense way Perry speaks to potential suitors.  Her message basically is:  listen I’ll rock your world, be the most amazing thing in your life, but if you fuck me over, you’ll wish you were never alive.  I am positive every girl has felt that at some point in their lives, and without a doubt, they have felt like screaming it out.  Now they have a poetic and anthemic way of doing so, with a hip-hop bass line, to boot.  Plug your iPod into the auxiliary cable, blast those speakers and amp up the bass, and enjoy!  Favorite lyric: “Make me your Aphrodite, make me your one and only, but don’t make me your enemy.”  (Don’t you just love that subtle warning mixed with wanting?)

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Suggestions: January 26, 2014

Fantasy” by MS MR: Over my mini-winter break (I took two blissful weeks off work) my boyfriend’s brother introduced me to this duo.  In a musical landscape where male and female duos are the emerging niche of aesthetically pleasing auditory escapes (or in other words, the new popular demand of the music scene) this group is swiftly rising to the top, at least for my ears.  I am a big fan of Matt and Kim, Phantogram, and Mates of State (all falling into this subcategory) however MS MR has managed to eclipse these other dynamic duos.  It could be the all-encompassing sound, with strong rhythm sections, or the overlapping vocal harmonies that float atop the music; it doesn’t hurt that the lyrics poise questions that are relatable and poetic.  Where many lyrics reflect on either broken hearts or unbreakable relationships, MS MR opens the door to the darker more sinister thoughts caged in our minds and subconscious all the while done with vocals that sound as if they came from the love child of Florence + the Machine and Adele.  My favorite lyric from this track: “How many hours will I let slip away before I realize existing and living are not the same, are not the same.” Other highly recommended tracks from their first full length, Secondhand Rapture: “Ash Tree Lane,” “Hurricane,” and “Think of You“.  Also, they have an amazing cover of LCD Soundsystem‘s “Dance Yrslf Clean” on their EP of remixes entitled, Fantasy.

Dissolve Me” by Alt-J: First off, let me say this, one of the major reasons I like and appreciate this group is because of lead singer Joe Newman’s voice.  It is extremely unique and hypnotizing.  Hailing from the UK, this band offers an intriguing combination of diverse music composition and vocal shock and awe.  The first time I listened to their album An Awesome Wave I was unsure what to think.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this was not a negative thing, I honestly believe it was because I was so engrossed and pleased that when attempting to describe them to a friend I barely managed to say anything but: “His voice, man, that voice.”  And I can say that this is one of the few bands that it doesn’t matter if you listen via headphones, on an iHome or other speaker system, or in the car, there is no detraction from the music.  Layered rhythms and distinct melodies, this group plays with sound allowing a full-bodied experience.  I have not listened to one of their tracks and thought to myself, “there were empty spaces,” but rather I have been left with pleasure at their ability to fill those spaces with an almost religious accompaniment of notes, both instrumentally and vocally.  At the risk of sounding clichéd, Alt-J has provided me the closest thing to a mind-expanding and spiritual experience, especially with the opening track aptly titled “Intro”.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Intro” and “Breezeblocks“.

Learn to Dance” by Andrew McMahon: To give you a bit of background, Andrew McMahon is the lead singer of Something Corporate and the voice behind Jack’s Mannequin.  He is an extremely talented individual who belts out insightful lyrics while providing full-bodied piano accompaniment to pop-punk and alt-rock anthems.  If you went through high school in the early 2000s, you probably know about Drive-Thru records and Something Corporate, and you probably lamented and prayed for McMahon when doctor’s diagnosed him with leukemia in 2005.  In 2013 he released his début solo album The Pop Underground, which this track is from.  Though this album is easily identified as McMahon, it is his first to explore combining electronica and his distinct forte on piano.  Additionally, the lyrics are probably his most revealing to date, as well as at times most disturbing.  Despite some dark imagery, you can sense pure relief and joy.  The music composition reflects these insights providing the auditory equivalent to beams of sunlight poking through dark clouds.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Synesthsia” and “After the Fire“.

“Bravado” by Lorde: This talented 16 (possibly now 17) year old vocal phenom released an EP before her critically acclaimed Pure Heroine called The Love Club.  You can find this track on the EP.  It definitely showcases her vocal chops and intriguing ability to combine saintly choral singing with hip hop rhythm and beats.  This particular track begins slow with not much more than her voice and an organ, soon combining over lapping vocals that rise up like a church choir.  Right when you wonder where the song is going an 808 beat begins and your mind gets blown.  What I find most intriguing and beautiful is that these two distinct types of music, a cappella like vocals and hip hop measures, occupy the same auditory space without one overpowering the other.  Somehow Lorde has managed to mate chamber music to popular composition.  Again, mind blown.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Tennis Court” and “Royals“.

Reflections” by MisterWives: Recently discovered by pure coincidence, I am happy that I tripped into their music.  With Duffy-esque vocals and BeeGees disco rhythms, this group just invites you to dance (and in fact, I have often been swaying to their music at work).  This particular track subtly begins and builds until it breaks into a Saturday Night Fever combination of electric guitar, drum beats, and vocal harmonies.  I beg you to listen to this song without physically reacting to it, either by tapping your foot, swaying, or straight up dancing disco style through your living room.  Ironically, the lyrics discuss the tumult of realizing affections are not mutual, and dealing with the “how-to” in moving on.  Bringing an iconic and very era specific sound into modernity is a difficult thing to do, especially when the era is an extremely stereotypical one, like the 70s.  However, MisterWives spins it in their favor by adding variants in rhythm and harmonies that differentiate their sound just enough to not be confused with epic 70’s disco ballads.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to dance à la John Travolta with my puppy.  Other highly recommended tracks: “Twisted Tongue,” “Kings and Queens,” and “Imagination Infatuation“.

Applause by Lady Gaga.

I am plugged into my computer via a pair of Bose headphones, and the song that is making its way to my ears is “Applause” by Lady Gaga (and for those of you who have read any one of my blogs, you know that I have mad respect and a massive girl crush on this particular artist).  When I first heard this song I was utterly disappointed.  For her first single in years I was anticipating some massive opus dedicated to the cosmic puzzle that is art and pop culture.  The title of her new album is Art Pop, and with her many interviews discussing the idea behind her music, I thought I would hear more of a discussion about pop art and the cultural delusion that allows people to criticize any and every form of art they find lacking.  Or to not sound so verbose and pretentious, I thought she would flaunt her ability to take popular culture and turn it into a vein of high brow art, similarly to how Andy Warhol took a picture of Campbell’s Soup and made it an iconic print.  Lady Gaga definitely assumes the role of a modern-day Andy Warhol, being the visionary mother of Haus of Gaga, a Factory-esque collaboration of artists that encourages the transcendent experience of creating art.  She is Mother Monster, and she relishes in the role and responsibility to her fans.  In many interviews she has expressed how her fans are why she does what she does; she never allows her identity to control her art, rather her persona as Lady Gaga is art itself.  It is probably why upon further listening to “Applause” I have come to realize the song is a perfect introduction to her new album.  It is the opus I was seeking, though it takes a few listens to let it sink in.

My first impression contained a disappointment at how this track didn’t have an explosive chorus, something that could cash in on the leading crescendo of the first verse.  When I anticipated some mind-blowing techno-alt-rock combustion, the music tapered off and plateaued.  Where there should have been a fist pumping adrenaline rush of sound, it simply went back to the opening rhythmic beat with a techno overlay that didn’t encourage the excitement the lyrics are asking for.  The music fell flat, plain and simple.  At least that’s the impression I had until I watched her perform this song live via the iTunes Festival.  The music was the same, but the energy of Gaga and her dancers coalescing  with the crowd brought a whole new level to the song.  Everything she is discussing in her lyrics was occurring.  She was feeding off the audience as if they were a drug injecting verve and energy into her, and in reciprocal fashion, the crowd was getting high off the experience.  Gaga was what she always proclaimed, a living, breathing work of art created by her little monsters.  The symbiotic relationship was so powerful that I could almost feel the effects through the recording as I sat on my couch viewing the experience third hand.  And somehow the visual of her performing this song live has transformed my ability to listen to this song.  I cannot imagine what being at a venue with her would be like, if just by viewing iTune’s recording of the event was so affecting, the air must sizzle at a live event.

I have come to appreciate the aesthetics of this particular track (especially when listened to through headphones, because you hear every nuance and marginal sound clearly and realize the technical layering is profound and can issue the ever elusive ear-gasm), but I have also come to appreciate the lyrics as the opus I was hoping for.  She opens her song pitting herself against the critical reviews.  Later in the song she addresses a nameless sir remarking on his theory that “nostalgia [is for] geeks,” and she responds her acquiesce in a somewhat condescending and flippant way, because truly, who dictates what art is, what pop culture is, and who and what should belong within these definitions.  The parameters have shifted heavily and lines have begun vanishing when it comes to classifying the “popular” within this culture.  With tools such as the internet and platforms like WordPress, opinions are far too easy to come by and are far more reaching than ever before.  To achieve fame, artists no longer have a handful of critics and business executives to impress, they have the even harder objective of catering to hundreds of thousands of fans coming from every cross-section of life.  Critics of music (or movies, books, etc.) have the difficult realization that their words are losing value when anyone can publish their own opinions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or any number of blogging websites, and oftentimes it’s the fans opinions, not the critics, that move mountains.  Lady Gaga’s second full-length album was a commercial flop, but who out there doesn’t know “Born This Way” or “Judas“?  Even those self-proclaimed haters of Mother Monster know the songs, they have seen her avant-garde videos and questioned what she was hoping to accomplish.  Here’s a hint: exactly what she got, discourse, her name out there, her art out there, and all of you, haters and lovers alike, talking about it.   Advertisements, and the men that dreamed them up, are dwindling in importance, their opinions on what the next “big thing” is has a weakened clout.  In a culture where hitting a “like” button has far-reaching ripples over most advertising, why are we waiting on a critic to approve what we know we already like.  Who cares if critics find Gaga derivative?  Who cares if they comment about how, like her lyrical references, she is not saying anything profound?  The point is this: it is profound if one person likes it, if many people like it, it is profound if, because of her video or song, one person looks up the definition of post-modern art, questions why she titled her new album Art Pop and sees the correlation to Warhol, or discovers a calling to create, and most importantly it is profound if the conversation continues.

My favorite line from the song is: “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me.”  Art and pop culture are not mutually exclusive.  It isn’t just for the rich and stuffy patrons of art houses and galleries.  Those who create are artists, despite recognition from an elite group.  Andy Warhol revolutionized art when he made reproductions and prints of every day objects.  Pop culture did become iconic and the art world considered it cutting edge.  Gaga mentions Jeff Koons in her song, an artist who made his name by photographing banal objects.  The ideology behind these movements are that anything can become art, and that is what Gaga has championed for several years.   What Gaga is doing is bringing art to pop culture, through her music, her videos, her persona, and she is trying to show that if the every day is art, art is in the every day.  Those avant-garde fashion induced acid trip like videos are breathing new life into pop culture.  Her live show and quick changes on stage, going from a blonde bombshell a la Botticelli’s Venus to a brunette in studded black boots and plaid offer an insight into Lady Gaga as a creation.  She has always proclaimed that Gaga is art, that the persona is a walking, talking, living, breathing, eating, singing piece of art, that Stefani is not Gaga and Gaga is not Stefani, and that is why it is an epic homage when she says that “art’s in pop culture, in me“.

If Lady Gaga can do one thing for her fans, it is that she inspires.  She strongly backs LGBT groups and advocates the creation and preservation of self, no matter who you are.  Many see her as a crazy girl attempting to claw out a space in the music industry by wearing meat dresses and arriving to the VMAs in an egg, but I urge you to see her for the intelligent artist she is.  Some of her outfits are ridiculous, some of them have been lost in translation, and some of the ideas behind her epic clothes or videos have been held up in shaky arms or failed completely, but her willingness to venture into unknown territories is what makes her an important artist.  Imagine if Jackson Pollock hadn’t used a drip paint method and did not help to carve out the American abstract expressionism.  (To those who are rolling their eyes and exclaiming how I should not compare Gaga to Pollock, please and respectfully get over yourself; the point I am making is that without progress and attempting something new, we stagnate in art, and since art is about creation it is beneficial to think out of the box.)

I am definitely looking forward to listening to the rest of Art Pop, and once again Mother Monster has impressed me.


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