Tag Archives: Lady Gaga

Could Another Album Capture the World’s Imagination Like Nirvana’s “Nevermind”?

(Note: I was going to use the original album cover, but I read somewhere that Facebook banned it.)

 

Spin recently put an issue solely devoted to the 20th Anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. There were numerous tributes by musicians and artist who talked about how the album influenced their lives.

I was nine when the album was released, so I was too young to realize its significance at the time. I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from my older brother when he returned home from college and I thought it was one of the greatest things I had ever heard. The guitars screamed from the speakers and yet there was a catchiness to it that couldn’t be denied. Even though I had no idea what the lyrics were, but I knew the song was special.

But its true impact was lost on me. I had no idea that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ignited a revolution, and broke punk rock in the mainstream.  In the following months, Pearl Jam was the band that seemed to be everywhere.  I read the issue of Time Magazine with Eddie Vedder on the front while waiting for my mother in the doctor’s office.

In the years since, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Nevermind. On a purely musical level, I find it to be over-rated. Yes, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a great song and anthem, but the album seems to be cluttered way too many half-baked songs.  The ones that do work for me – “Drain You” and “Lounge Act”  – only seem good in comparison to the lackluster ones and are drowned out by the greatness of “Teen Spirit”.

That being said, I can’t deny Nevermind’s significance. Everybody had a copy of that album and got caught up in its energy. Even rap-stars such as Chuck D and Lil Wayne had professed their love for Nevermind. It really did get the world excited, proving that music can be a force for change and a form of catharsis for an alienated generation.

Millions of identified with Cobain because he seemed like a nobody who achieve greatness. In the late 70s and 80s rock had become too flashy and the lyrics became unidentifiable to many. Bon Jovi may have had massive success, but the big-hair and excessive left many feeling cheated. This was rock and roll to have a good time to, but if you were looking for something more, hair-bands weren’t going to offer it.

Cobain looked and acted like the guy next door. His hair was a mess; he wore Chuck Taylors, and dyed his hair different colors. And like Bob Dylan, he proved to a mass audience that you don’t have to be a technically good singer to make people get inside the songs.  On the outside, Cobain was everybody.

20 years later, and Nevermind might the last album that became a rallying cry and had an impact outside of the musical landscape. No album since then has the same influence across the board.

Could a new Nevermind capture the current world’s imagination? Spin suggests that the reason for Nevermind’s success had to do with the anger of the youth, and the conservative swing of Reagan-era America. If that were all it took (and a damn good band and a couple of great songs), surely this new musical revolution would have already happened. The world seems in a worse place than it has in years, and people are pissed at the economy, the war, and many other things.  As the country gears up for another election, it seems more divide than ever. Just look at the recent Debt Crisis talks. Our leaders  -the ones who are supposed to be in charge can’t agree on anything.

So much has changed in the last twenty years that is sometimes hard to comprehend how far we’ve come. The Internet barely existed in 1991, and CDs still sold well. The combination of the Internet’s presence and the lack of CD sales would make it extremely hard for an album to galvanize a generation the way Nevermind did.

People looked to Kurt Cobain because he expressed sentiments that they didn’t know they felt. As the Internet gave birth to blogs, suddenly everyone who didn’t have a voice was able to post their thoughts instantly. Who needs someone to express your thoughts for you, if you can show the world exactly what is on your mind?

As digital albums climb, and sales of CDs decline, the sentimental value also drowns. It’s harder to be attached to something – emotionally or physically – if there’s only a file. Numerous articles have stated that more people listen to music than ever before. But we’re not sitting listening absorbing it. IPods might be convenient, but music has become something to put on in the background whether it’s while running or riding a subway. Putting on a whole record and taking in the artistry of a song has become something for music obsessives and teenage “freaks”.

The emotional attachment to a song might become a thing of the past.

There have been some artists and artists since Nevermind that have achieved a legendary status beyond the music. Yet they’ve never managed to leap into the cultural stratosphere. Radiohead’s Kid A, while love by hard-core and critics, is too cold and atmospheric.  Kanye West is too polarizing and controversial, despite having a string of brilliant albums. Lady Gaga comes close as a voice for the LGBT community, but it’s still hard for some to take a pop artist seriously.

All of this makes the success of Nevermind even more perplexing. There’s no doubt that it came out at the right time and right place. But no one was betting on it to change the world when it came out, least of all Nirvana. Change like that can’t be predicted, and maybe the next musical revolution will happen when an artist isn’t even trying. Or maybe it already has occurred and no one has noticed.

As Cobain would say, “Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.”

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What’s Your Favorite Album Of The Year So Far?

Since it’s now June and we are officially about half-way through 2011, I’d thought I’d take a look at some of the albums that have been released so far.  For me, so far the best album is a tie between Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues and My Morning Jacket’s Circuital.  What do you think?  Any good ones I missed?  (And I’m not counting Gaga just for the record.)

 

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Is The Cover For “Born This Way” Inspired by Bob Dylan?

So, I was reading a Bob Dylan criticism book and the line, “the motorcycle black madonna, two wheeled gypsy queen” from “Gates of Eden” was mentioned.  Without the rest of the song to anchor the line, I somehow thought of this terrible album cover.  Make of it what you will.

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Dear Artist: I’ve broken up with you. Please Don’t Cry

NPR has a pretty funny feature on breaking up with your favorite band.  When you become obsessed with an artist, it’s inevitable that at a certain point you might shake your head and wonder what the hell they’re doing.  Here’s a short list of artist I’ve broken up with.

The Killers

 The Killers started out like a great hook-up that keeps going – their songs were fun, and they seemed to be ready for a good time whenever you wanted it.  Then they discovered Bruce Springsteen, and like many hook-ups that last too long – got serious.  They made the Springsteen-esque  “Sam’s Town”, an album which is easily the most hubristic album of the 2000s.

The Strokes


Despite my inclusion of The Strokes in the 10 Greatest Artist of the Last Decade, The Strokes and I had a pretty bitter break-up.  Is This It was loud, brash, and exciting.  They cared so much about not caring, that in the end, nobody cared.

Kings of Leon


The worst offenders on this list.  As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I discovered Kings of Leon around 2005 or 2004, and they were the illegitimate children of the Stooges and The Allman Brothers.  The music had a country-twang, but was played at breakneck speed.  And then like The Killers, they too, got serious and needed somebody.  In a few short years they went from sounding like no one, to sounding like everybody else.

Lady Gaga


 Gaga’s antics didn’t really bother me until she decided to call herself a spokesman of a generation (or something like that).  You can’t declare yourself to be the spokesman for people or a group – they have to decide for you.  Even Madonna had a sense of humor – something Gaga should think about lifting as well.

What artists have you broken up with?

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The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 4. Britney Spears

Whatever you think of her, it’s hard to deny Britney Spears’ impact in the past decade.  As an artist, she has numerous hit singles that have seeped into our consciousness whether we like it or not.  As a tabloid celebrity, it’s been impossible to look away from her downward spiral.  Her antics in the mid 2000s, are the stuff of legend.  She’s a 21st century Marilyn Monroe – a hyper-sexualized mild talent, who is naive enough to generate sympathy from her critics.

It was hard to escape songs by The Backstreet Boys, and N’sync in the early 2000s even if you wanted to.  Even before she became a house-hold name, Spears rose above the rest.  Most of this had to do with the infamous “Baby One More Time” video.  With a walk down a school hall-way and a Catholic School Uniform, Britney declared herself queen of the pop-world before she was 18.  It’s one of the last videos to be a significant event.  And even for pop the song itself was actually quite good – as proved by the numerous covers by artists outside of the pop world.

Even if she had never put out another single, Spears would still be remembered.  But she kept going, establishing herself as a pop juggernaut, not seen since Madonna.  At Britney’s height there were numerous women pop stars – Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera – but none of them were even in competition with Spears.  Not even close.  And while her peers attempted to label themselves – Aguilera the one who could sing, Simpson the virgin – Britney Spears was simply Britney Spears.  Eventually, if you said the name Britney – you meant Britney Spears.

Like many of her songs,  “Oops I Did It Again” the sexual undertones were at the forefront.  But the title also seemed to suggest she seemed perplexed that she was still there, even bigger than before.  When she kissed Madonna on the lips at the Video Music Awards – which sent many men and women too in a frenzy for various reasons – it was more than sexual.  Madonna officially handed her over her crown to Spears through the kiss.  For years even the most cynical music fans tried to ignore Spears.  Then there was “Toxic” – the song that even music snobs had to admit was really, really good.  It was catchy and weird, and you couldn’t get those synthesized violins out of your head.  The little girl who danced around a high school, had truly grown up in front of our eyes.

Spears seemed to go out of fashion musically in the latter part of the decade.  Her troubles got the best of her.  She was crazy, and seemed destined to self-destruct.  There were still album and singles from her, but none of them seemed to have the same impact.  In the meantime, other female pop-artists took up her mantle and captured audiences imagination.  And once again, her peers tended to label themselves.  Katy Perry – the cute tease, Lady Gaga – the weird art pop-artist, and Kesha – the trashy party girl.

When Spears announced that she would be releasing a new album earlier this year, critics and fans wondered if she would be able to compete with Lady Gaga, pop’s latest reigning queen.  No need to worry though. Unlike Christina Aguilera who desperately tried to reinvent herself with last year’s Bionic, Spear came back with Femme Fatale and boldly declared: “I am Britney Spears, and I am pop.”

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Lady Gaga’s Battle With Sincerity

When Lady Gaga took the stage for her acceptance speech on Sunday night at the Grammys, I was shocked at how sincere she was.  It was almost painful.  Tears were flowing.  She talked about how she imagined Whitney Houston singing her new song “Born This Way”.  Even Bruce Springsteen and Bono (two of rock’s most sincerest performers) have showed some humor when accepting awards.  And even Madonna, who Gaga models herself after – “Born this Way” is a re-write of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” – never gave a performance like that.

Most of Gaga’s previous songs I enjoyed because I always got the sense that there was some sense of irony in her performances.  There’s no way you could take songs like “Pokerface” and “Bad Romance” at face value. That seemed to be part of the appeal.  Unlike a lot of other pop that has been coming out of the airwaves, Gaga seemed intent on being mysterious.  Every interview I’ve ever read with her though, the opposite is true.

But on Sunday night, when Gaga accepted her award, her demeanor was more like a country-artist.  She had to let everyone that she was “thankful” and that everything that she does is for her fans aka the “little monsters”.  Despite her outward appearances and masks, the real Gaga is just a little girl looking for acceptance.

This sincerity is why “Born This Way” might be Gaga’s worst song, even over the tepid but hilarious “Boys Boys Boys” off of The Fame. It’s already been called a “gay anthem” and Gaga herself make claim that she is writing this for the outcasts everywhere, but its clearly about her own anthem for acceptance. Outward it seems as if she’s telling everybody it’s ok to be slightly freaky and different, but the reality is Gaga seems a bit insecure and “Born This Way” is her way of reaffirming herself to society.  Gaga has also claimed that she wrote the song “in 10 fucking minutes”, which sounds nice on paper, but the lyrics seem too forced for it to be written in such a fashion.  She clearly thought everything through several times.

Lady Gaga seems to be caught between two worlds: the post-modern kitschy trash of her wardrobe and stage antics, and the open heart of her real personality. She can’t have it both ways.  She desperately wants to be cool, and she was definitely not “born that way”.

 

 

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Gaga Night On “Glee”

Gaga’s freaky and theatrical nature is a perfect fit  for Glee – a show where almost every major character has or had a mask at some point. Last night’s episode did advertise itself as being Gaga-centric, and only contained two performances of her songs.  (Although “Speechless” was played in the background, which would have been a perfect song for Kurt to sing when his father confronts Finn for using a gay-slur.)

During the performance of “Bad Romance”, I’m not surprised they took out the word “bitch”, but I am surprised they kept “the bluffin’ with my muffin,” line from “Poker Face”.   The “Bad Romance” segment only proved (as Christinia Aguilera has found out) that the over-the-top costumes and gags come naturally to Gaga, and imitations fall flat no matter how hard a performer might try.  But it was pretty cool to see all of the kids dress up in different versions of Gaga as Will tells his students, “Each costume shows off a different side of your personality.”

It was also pretty hilarious to see the guys don Kiss make-up on stage and for my money perform better than the real Kiss.  (It’s much more entertaining to see high school kids dance around fire-balls than 60 year old men.)  But the absolute highlight of the show was Rachel Berry and rival to the Glee Club,  Shelby Corcoran(recently revealed to be her biological mother) sing a piano version of “Poker Face” (which has its inspiration in Gaga’s own piano version which was sampled on the Kid Cudi single “Make Her Say).  Somehow (pronouns excluded) a song about a girl bluffing to he man r that she likes when she really likes chicks, becomes a song about a lonely teenage girl and her estranged mother covering up their true emotions to each other.

(Just a observation – and maybe I’m out of touch on this – but does anyone still really believe Gaga is a dude?)

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