Monday, October 18, 2010

‘Glee’ Star Has Fantasies on T-Pain Remix

Kevin McHale Fantasizes at the beach.

By Christopher Cole

T-Pain + boy band + Glee = The “Can’t Believe It” Remix : Boy Band Edition.

“Glee’ star Kevin McHale and Perez Hilton-endorsed singer Travis Garland recorded their own version of T-Pain’s hit “Can’t Believe It” back in 2008, and on their version they continued T-Pain’s concept of fantasy. On this remix, Kevin and Travis recount their own visions of how they will win the affections of a female. Wow, it sounds like a fantasy musical scene

The “Can’t Believe It” Remix by Kevin and Travis featuring a no-name singer named RAS functions like a rap cipher where everyone spits some bars and flow to the beat, except these guys sing. The three singers sing to a female, painting scenes of what life would be like for her if she was their girlfriend. RAS offers the least imaginative scenario by trying to bribe the female with fancy things like “I can take you to Nevada/head to toe in Prada.”

The guys from the boy band NLT (at the time of the recording) offer more colorful scenes and show that they are very aware of their teenybopper audience. They don’t try to act older than their age. Kevin, who now plays the wheelchair-bound Artie on the hit TV show “Glee,” offers a fantasy that’s more down-to-earth than RAS’. In fact, Kevin’s fantasy could easily be Artie’s fantasy because both have an underdog perspective. Both are guys are cooler than they look, and they have to work harder to prove themselves. The following lyrics sum this up perfectly: “And I know you want a man that’s over five-seven/but you ain’t never met Kevin.”Travis offers a more self-assured fantasy where he’s a Texas boy looking for a “Spice Girl.” This refers to the best line of the song, in my opinion: “Girl, I’ll be your David Beckham cuz you know that I’m looking for a Spice Girl.”

It’s refreshing that Kevin and Travis keep the song youthful and clean instead of misogynistic and dirty. It was fun revisiting a song that I hadn’t heard in years, and relating it to the present where Kevin McHale is television star. Past + Present = Potential fulfilled.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nicole Scherzinger Creates A Rhythm Nation with Her Single ‘Poison’

Listen to "Poison" on YouTube:

On her newly premiered single “Poison,” Nicole Scherzinger definitely doesn’t stray far from her old songs with the Pussycat Dolls. Of course Nicole gives the song a spunky “girl power” message, but the track itself is a lot darker than its lyrics.

Producer RedOne (Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias) produced “Poison” and his “track” is industrial. It makes me picture the insides of a dark factory and Nicole dressed like Janet Jackson “Rhythm Nation style, in all black clothes with a military state of mind. Now sonically, “Poison” is militant, but lyrically it’s the same femme fatale routine Nicole has always done (“Got venom dripping from my lips/know who you’re ‘bout to kiss/think that you can handle it/boy it’s on”). Although “Poison” doesn’t contain a socially-conscious message like “Rhythm Nation” had, the song’s aggressive production keeps the song alive.

RedOne works his magic again, and should be commended for such a great track, but it’s clear that he saves his best stuff for Lady Gaga. As good as “Poison” is, it’s more along the lines of Enrique Iglesias’ RedOne-produced hit “I Like It," which uses RedOne’s reliable recipe for chart success. “Poison” has all the ingredients of an epic RedOne hit: verses filled with sinister synths, a pregaming b-section that takes shots before the big fist-pumping chorus and hook. And of course Nicole still packs the same huge Taylor Dayne vocals she showcased with the Pussycat Dolls.

I don’t know what the “Poison” music video will look like (hopefully not a video set in a club, ugh!), but I would love to see Nicole pay homage to Janet’s Rhythm Nation days, and add a militant visual to match RedOne’s militant track. If she does this, the femme fatale lyrics will sound ironic. Then again, with lyrics like “that bad girl power I got, I’ll abuse it tonight,” maybe “Poison” is more socially-conscious then I initially thought.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lady Gaga’s 'Boys' Song Goes Gaga For Halloween and Elvis

Elvis in all his "hairspray and denim" glory in the film Jailhouse Rock.

By Christopher Cole

Lady Gaga sure does have a thing for Americana. In fact, all of her music incorporates American pop culture in some way. So for the very first song she recorded with her musical partner RedOne, “Boys, Boys, Boys,” Gaga treats the macho man as an American icon, but of course Gaga being Gaga, she establishes the status quo and then inverts it.

There’s logic to Gaga’s Monster Ball tour where Gaga follows “Love Game” with “Boys, Boys, Boys,” because the two songs are linked by one thing: glorification of the classic American male by way of cheeky signifiers. Gaga even used some of the trumpets from the “Boys” chorus and mashed them with “LoveGame” when she performed “LoveGame” on Saturday Night Live in 2009.

RedOne’s track is a two-toned rumble of 80’s slasher-film strings, jubilant trumpets and lots of bass. Gaga adds the lyrics and “top line” of the song (the melody driving the lyrics) in the style of AC/DC’s hard rock music. Think of AC/DC’s 1980 hit “Shook Me All Night Long” and you’ll get the picture. Writer Ann Powers explains the rock sentiment of “Boys” in her feature article “Frank Talk with Lady Gaga” on the Los Angeles Times website: “She notes that “Boys, Boys, Boys (…) is a club track that borrows its “gang chorus” from the hard rock of AC/DC . ‘I told him I want to make pop music that my heavy metal friends will listen to,’ she [Gaga] explained (Powers). The “gang chorus” is like a shout-out refrain that has some punk sensibilities underlying it.

It’s in this gang chorus that Gaga pays homage to American male icons like Elvis Priestly. Gaga sings the lyrics in full voice “We like boys in cars/boys, boys, boys/buy us drinks in bars/boys, boys, boy/with hairspray and denim/and boys, boys, boys.” The lyric “hairspray and denim” brings to mind Elvis in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock, where he wore denim jeans and a hairspray-assisted pompadour hairstyle.

Still, it’s in the way Gaga brings those vivid lyrics to life through visuals that she’s most known for, and that comes when she performs. On her Monster Ball arena tour, Gaga has begun wearing a skeletal glove on hand complete with spindly fingers, looking like something she picked up from the costume shop for Halloween. When I saw the glove, I instantly linked it with the monster concept of The Fame Monster album, although “Boys” is from The Fame album. But the skeleton glove is related to the synthesized strings on “Boys” that play during the verses, and the strings sound like they came from a John Carpenter horror movie from the 80’s. I get the sense that the skeleton glove is related to the usually male villain of those 80’s horror movies, like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, who also qualify as male American icons. The dark, ominous backing track on the verse parts is a stark contrast to the euphoric chorus; the chorus is the light to the verses’ dark.

Lady Gaga performs "Boys" wearing skeleton glove.

Another way Gaga brings the songs to life visually is through the choreography that the renowned Laurie Ann Gibson creates for Gaga. The choreography that Gibson created for “Boys” connects to the main theme of man as icon. So that’s explains all the muscle-flexing. There’s also simulation of driving a car (“we like boys in cars”), guzzling beer (“buy us drinks in bars”), and washing a car (“we hairspray and denim,” which is a signifier of not only Elvis, but the 50’s in general). The gyrating of shirtless bodies and codpieces signify the sexual element of the “Boys” performance. Unsurprisingly, Gaga performs “Boys” with only male dancers, and she doesn’t interact with them at all during the performance. She doesn’t even take one look at them. Gaga does this deliberately for the purpose of letting her male dancers exist as fantasies for the many gay and bisexual men in the audience, so she doesn’t want to interfere with the fantasies of her audience. In relation, when Gaga intros the “Boys” performance with “Sing about your gay pride, you just kicked Prop 8’s ass,” the song’s gay context is clear, and this context links back to the horror strings of the verses and the skeleton glove, which seems to ask the question: what do you consider scary? Many people view homosexuality as scary, and Gaga points to this in a creative way.

Eventually, Lady Gaga leaves the stage halfway into the song, leaving her male dancers to show off their cheeky dance moves; Gaga leaves the stage because she wants the audience to soak in the gayness without compromise, without heterosexual sugarcoating. Gaga is giving her gay and bisexual male fans a moment dedicated to them.

Link to performance of "Boys, Boys, Boys":

Works Cited:

Powers, Ann. “Frank Talk With Lady Gaga.” Los Angeles Times. 13 December 2009. Web.

Alun Davies Indexes His Past With Bright Light Bright Light's 'Love Part II' Video

         Bright Light Bright Light searches for self-actualization in his "Love Part II" video.
By Christopher Cole
Alun Davies uses elements from his old work and combines them in the music video for Bright Light Bright Light’s “Love Part II.” Davies uses the broken glass/mirror from a photo shoot with Bright Light Bright Light and the geometric building blocks he used for the “Color Theory” magazine spread, as well as the doubling motif he used for the “The Intimacy of Fashion” magazine spread. Also, Davies uses different forms of light to signify enlightenment, like he did for the “Color Theory” fashion spread, as well as the veiling of the face he used before. He uses the veiling to show that Bright Light Bright Light’s self is not actualized yet, not fully-formed. Davies uses all the elements mentioned to show one man’s journey to self-actualization. The concept of self-actualization finally comes when Bright Light Bright Light is reborn as a liberated person. In the end, it’s a rebirth where the two people behind Bright Light Bright Light combine with him to make one person. The divided personality is now one and he is born again.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cassidy Noblett Embodies the Movement of Pop Culture

                                 Cassidy performs during Beyonce's "I Am" Tour.

By Christopher Cole

Somehow the strapping dancer known as Cassidy Noblett always finds himself around superstar divas. His track record is impressive considering he’s toured with Janet Jackson, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Since Cassidy is a dancer, I’m sure one of the best things about dancing for these superstars is that he gets to perform the iconic choreography that goes with their hit songs. It’s choreography that is forever part of pop culture, and when he performs it in front of thousands of people, he’s embodying the movement of pop culture.

There’s a group of performances that stick out, that feature some of the most epic pop choreography in the past two decades. First there’s Janet Jackson’s “If” choreography, which is known for its dripping sex appeal. You remember that criss-crossy dance Janet and her dancers do to those criss-crossy orchestral strings. When Cassidy performed this “If” choreography on Janet Jackson’s Rock Witchu Tour in 2008, he was presenting history to a new and old audience. The social context of the choreography was new because when the “If” music video debuted in 1993 on MTV, the musical climate was grunge and house, a time when MTV actually played videos. In 2008, there was the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan war, and the United States got its first black president. In this sense, people went to Janet’s “Rock Witchu” tour to escape, and for a certain age group reminisce on good times.

Not long after touring with Ms. Jackson, Cassidy moved on to another black icon that like her idol Janet narrowed the racial divide, and became a true global pop star. This icon’s name is Beyonce. While Janet had a larger number of dancers on her Rock Witchu Tour, Beyonce only had three male dancers and three female dancers on her I Am Tour, meaning Cassidy was always a main dancer with his face upfront. Ever since she became famous with Destiny’s Child, Beyonce has been preaching female empowerment, while simultaneously submitting to male objectification, also known as the Male Gaze. As always, Beyonce performed one of her Destiny’s Child hits “Say My Name,” a song that reminds me and my generation of the last year of middle school and the Destiny’s Child controversy where two members were replaced. She even did her famous four-person spoke wheel that debuted in Destiny’s Child’s 2000 video “Say My Name,” but instead of four women performing the spoke wheel to represent girl power, Beyonce with three men performed it. The difference in gender drastically changes things, making the spoke wheel more sexual. Ironically, Cassidy was the guy directly in back of Beyonce during the spoke wheel dance, grinding in a circular motion. It’s very sexy stuff. Still it wasn’t until her song and video Video Phone that Beyonce started directly referencing her own embrace of the Male Gaze. Cassidy appeared in the Hype Williams-helmed “Video Phone” clip as one of Beyonce’s Gazers, but with a twist.

During a performance of the song "Video Phone" in Paris, the stage was made to look like a Netherlands strip club in the Red Light District, complete with red strobe lights. Cassidy started off the performance with a camera in his hand filming a female dancer performing a suggestive routine with a chair. He looked down at the screen of his camera. Then Cassidy’s head turned to the center where Beyonce was doing a similarly suggestive chair routine. As the lyrics “I see that you want me/so press record and let you film me” slinked from the loud speakers, Cassidy and his fellow male dancers all pointed their cameras at Beyonce taking a picture. As they proceeded to follow her movements, they never looked up from their cameras. It’s this that emphasizes their objectification of Beyonce and the other women on stage. The "Video Phone" song and video are about sexual objectification, and this performance is all about the Male Gaze, but at least we get to see Cassidy’s smiling face because in the "Video Phone" video his head is replaced by a camera, hence the big twist. So as you probably figured out, in the video, the tables are turned and the men are objectified, but on stage the men are in full control.

It’s no coincidence that Lady Gaga happened to appear in the "Video Phone" music video to support Beyonce’s transgression of the Male Gaze because Gaga covers the same themes in her own work. Also it’s no coincidence that Cassidy now dances for Gaga on her Monster Ball tour. He went from being the Gazer on Beyonce’s tour to being the Gazed on Gaga’s tour. From assuming the role of a Chippendale dancer during “Boys, Boys, Boys” to one of Gaga’s Mad Max-style road warriors on “Bad Romance,” Cassidy has never played more roles than on Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour. He’s played a man who emulates a woman and throws away his “masculine” fa├žade and struts like the beautiful creature he knew he was meant to be, to quote a Pet Shop Boys song. Lady Gaga has been called the first true pop star of the digital age, and her choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson describes her choreography as “Do It Yourself” (D.I.Y.). This means that the choreography is not difficult to learn and is very adaptable, which explains why there are so many viral videos on YouTube, etc. that put their own spin on Gaga’s choreography. Again, Cassidy performs choreography that millions of people film themselves doing and put it on the Internet for the entire world to see. Gibson explains why the choreography is powerful in writer Julie Bloom’s New York Times article “D.I.Y. Music Videos, Inspired by the Pros”:

“I saw a little boy, and he was doing the sandwich dance and I was just, like, wow,” she said, referring to a sequence that involves double claps on the left and the right followed by little mimed bites, from “Telephone" (...). The rhythmic emphasis falls on unexpected beats: “They’re based out of an emotion,” she said, “so when you hear the record, it’s choreographed as an emotional dance, and it’s kind of like people are experiencing her when you do the movements (Bloom).

As a dancer performing famous moves, Cassidy Noblett is embodying the spirit of several generations and the heart of pop culture. Since Cassidy has already appeared in the music videos for Beyonce’s “Video Phone,” and Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” he’s immortalized on pop film, and part of pop history. As they say, if you don’t have it on film, it didn’t happen, which will never happen for Cassidy since he’s emerged in the digital age where seemingly everyone has a camera. His performances on the tours of so many iconic divas are all over YouTube captured by the cameras of fans. Flash, Flash, the camera goes. Take Cassidy's picture.

Works Cited:

Bloom, Julie. “D.I.Y. Music Videos, Inspired by the Pros.” New York Times 30 Apr 2010