Category Archives: Music

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The Ghost of Bigger Thomas Surfaces in Kayne West’s Monster [The Throwback]

With Kanye West in seemingly another controversy this week following a mid-concert rant, it’s a good time to revisit Latoya’s look at the furor surrounding his 2011 single, “Monster.”

By Latoya Peterson

Kanye has officially overdosed on artistic symbolism.

After his 35 minute debut of "Runaway" in back in October 2010, it difficult to figure out how Kanye would top a video that incorporated references to modern performance art, ballet, couture, mythology, and Fellini.

And yet, I don't think anyone counted on Kanye deciding to deck the halls with dead white women in "Monster".
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[Open Thread] The 2014 Grammy Awards

by Kendra James

While I was less than impressed with the whole broadcast, here are a few stray observations from last night’s Grammy Awards.

*Last night Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won three Grammys for their achievements in Rap and Hip-Hop that, we are to believe, surpassed the efforts of other nominees like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West. So whether or not we think the Grammys actually mean anything, this is a fact we’re going to have to live with as a society.

*Justin Timberlake also did his part for white artists in the urban markets, winning Best R&B song for ‘Pusher Love Girl’ against other nominees Anthony Hamilton, Tamar Braxton, Kelly Rowland, and Stevie Wonder. This is a good time to remind everyone that both Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are nominated for NAACP Image Awards this year as well.

Madonna and her son David

*Madonna walked the red carpet with David, her adopted son who happens to be Black. I have never seen this child before (note: I know what each and every Jolie-Pitt kid looks like; I couldn’t pick one of Madonna’s kids out of a crowd), and I doubt we would have seen this child in such a prominent place had Madonna not been in such hot water for calling her other, white, child “#disnigga” on instagram the other day.  I’m a cynical creature.

*Personally, I thought the broadcast played their hand early by having Beyonce and Jay-Z open the show with Drunk in Love, but Twitter  seemed to be very much in love with the Imagine Dragons/Kendrick Lamar collaboration that followed later in the show.

*Speaking of Jay-z, he threw in his hat for Father of the Year during his acceptance speech for best rap song collaboration.  Turning the award to the side he said, “And I want to tell Blue, ‘Look! Daddy’s got a gold sippy cup for you.’” I have no doubt that that is exactly what happened to that award and that there will be pictures of the entire thing on Beyonce’s tumblr no less than twelve hours from now.

*Macklemore may have swept the rap categories, but when it came to producing, album of the year, record of the year, and duo/group performance,  it was the year of Pharrell Williams (and Daft Punk, but since I still don’t know what they actually do, and since ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ carried that entire album, I’m giving most of the credit to Pharrell and Nile Rodgers). Pharrell, who’s been doing this since the early 90s despite appearing to have been born during the Regan administration,  is also nominated for an Oscar this year for the song ‘Happy’.

*The entire affair ended with a wedding (of gay and straight couples) officiated by Queen Latifah with a soundtrack by Macklemore, Mary Lambert, and Madonna. This was appropriate, because I imagine wedding and bar/bat mitzvah dance floors are the only places where Macklemore’s songs are played in earnest. It’s hard to be cynical about this blatant PR stunt (okay, maybe it’s not so hard) due to Mary Lambert and Queen Latifah’s participation, but it is a great time to revisit Hel Gebreamlak‘s post on Macklemore’s straight white privilege!  

That’s all from us, but remember this is an open thread. What did you think of last night’s show? Let us know in the comments!

Quoted: On Beyonce and Feminism

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I can’t believe that, as someone who a year ago could scarcely quote a Beyonce song, save “Bootylicious,” I am spending so much time defending the artist these days. But the surprise release of her “visual album,” Beyonce, has sparked a fresh round of broken criticism of the star, freighted with gender and race bias.  Understand, it is not that Beyonce, for all her power-belting, catchy hook-writing and effortless dancing, is above reproach. Once we finish getting down to “Drunk in Love,” we need to analyze the hell out of Mr. Knowles-Carter’s wack ass, Ike Turner-worshipping, violence-fetishizing contribution to the “love” track:

 

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae

Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae

 

This, right here, is all kinds of problematic and the sort of contradiction a public feminist needs to be called to task for. But, as yet, I haven’t seen many people questioning why Bey let Jay spit some nasty, misogynist shit on an album that includes the feminist brilliance of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Instead, folks are still carping about whether one can flaunt dat ass, be conventionally attractive, launch a world tour using a married moniker or be rich and successful and still be feminist.

Just so we can move the analysis along: The answer to that question is “Yes,” as I outlined in an article in Bitch magazine earlier this year:

A popular star willing to talk about gender inequity, as Beyoncé has, is depressingly rare. But Freeman insists flashes of underboob and feminist critique don’t mix. Petersen concurs, calling the thigh-baring, lace-meets-leather outfit Beyoncé wore during her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show an “outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishizes the otherwise powerful female body.” A commenter on Jezebel summed up the charge: “That’s pretty much the Beyoncé contradiction right there. Lip service for female fans, fan service for the guys.”

These appraisals are perplexing amid a wave of feminist ideology rooted in the idea that women own their bodies. It is the feminism of SlutWalk, the anti-rape movement that proclaims a skimpy skirt does not equal a desire for male attention or sexual availability. Why, then, are cultural critics like Freeman and Petersen convinced that when Beyoncé pops a leather-clad pelvis on stage, it is solely for the benefit of men? Why do others think her acknowledgment of how patriarchy influences our understanding of what’s sexy is mere “lip service”?

Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”

Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”

Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.

Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways.  Read more…

Open Thread: Beyocalypsé Now

By Arturo R. García

While we were sleeping, Beyoncé was not. Gaga may have Artpop, but B just made an art of the drop.

In case you missed it or just checked your Twitter feed, Beyoncé released an entire album out of the blue (Ivy), though it’s only available on iTunes until Dec. 21.

But the self-titled album was also accompanied by a “visual album” — basically, she went out and shot videos for every track and released snippets of those on YouTube. For my money, “Pretty Hurts” is already the best dramatic trailer we’re not going to see in theaters this Christmas, “Blow” is a spot-on disco homage/future mashup favorite and somebody’s already seizing on “Partition” to write a think-piece about how Miley Cyrus is MOAR FEMINIST than Beyoncé.

We’ll put some more of the video clips up under the cut and invite you to give your thoughts on those or the album as a whole under the cut.

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Open Thread: The American Music Awards

Jennifer Lopez performs at the 2013 American Music Awards

Pitbull hosted, 39 year old rap star of my childhood Nelly proclaimed his love for 19 and 21 year old girls while performing Ride Wit’ Me, TLC continued to make me sad by insisting on continuing to perform sans Left Eye, and Jennifer Lopez gave a killer Celia Cruz tribute, but the American Music Awards were still plagued with overt racism, troubling moments, and a grim glimpse into what this year’s Grammys are going to look like.

The show opened with this gem of a performance from Katy Perry:


A quick check with Twitter confirmed that I was indeed seeing what I thought I was seeing (Katy Perry performing a song that has nothing to do with Japan, it’s people or their culture, while wearing a kimono and possible yellow face surrounded by others doing the same? Check.) and that it was, yes, as problematic as I thought it was. Unfortunate, but not entirely unsurprising given the legacy handed down by other pop artists like our friend Gwen Stefani.

The shtick is doubly creepy when you consider how Perry’s supposed love of Japanese people manifested itself during an interview on the Jimmy Kimmel show back in 2012:

“I am obsessed with Japanese people, I love everything about them and they are so wonderful as human beings. I’m so obsessed I want to skin you and wear you like Versace.”

By any means necessary, eh Katy?

The second biggest “Yikes.” of the night came when Macklemore beat out a slew of Black artists in the favourite rap/hip-hop album category and proceeded to make a Very Special Comment about Martin Luther King Jr., Trayvon Martin and racial profiling. A comment that I might have found more sincere had he mentioned the names or cases of any of the numerous other cases since Trayvon Martin’s; Renisha McBride, perchance?

It may have also been more meaningful coming out of the mouths of one of the other nominees in the category (Kendrick Lemar or Jay-Z), but that could just be my own cynicism. In a year filled with the Macklemores, Lordes, Justin Timberlakes (he picked up two televised AMA wins), and Robin Thickes of the world it looks like Black artists will have to continue fighting for wins in the hip-hop, rap, and RnB categories as we move into Grammy season.

I tuned in and out of the show (because 11pm is late for anything to be ending, I just started a Charmed rewatch on Netflix, and it’s not like these are the Oscar Awards of music or anything), so I invite y’all to discuss  anything I may have missed (and/or the sad state of popular music) in the comments below.

Quoted: OC Weekly On The Latin Grammys Marginalizing Mexico

Latin Grammy nominee Aleks Syntek, via Facebook.

First, the caveat: ANY entertainment industry awards show never gets anything right and really serves as an excuse for bigwigs to have one giant, self-celebratory circle jerk honoring the biggest sellers and most influential labels. That said, here’s the Latin Grammys’ dirty little secret: the vast majority of Latin music sold in the United States is Mexican regional music: banda, mariachi, ranchera, norteño, narcocorridos — all of it. It constantly counts for more than half of all Latin music sales in el Norte, per the figures of the Recording Industry of America, and is what has driven Spanish-language radio’s rise across nearly all the United States. Its artists are the ones continually, easily selling out Madison Square Garden and performing in the Rose Bowl at the same time they’re taking a bus to perform in tiny towns across the Midwest and South. Mexican regional’s reach makes it el rey of Latin music in the United States–no contest.

Yet the Latin Grammys always insults its industry’s biggest moneymaker. Case in point: the Mexi performers I mentioned earlier count as only three of the 15 scheduled performers for the evening (and if you take out Lafourcade, who’s not technically of the Mexican regional genre, it’s only two), accounting for a pathetic 20 percent of all performances in a country where people of Mexican descent make up more than 60 percent of the total Latino pozole pot. There are only five awards categories devoted to Mexican regional music — sh-t, more than five distinct musical genres exist in Mexico City alone, from sonidero to rock urbano — while seven are given to Brazil, a beautiful, sonically rich country that nevertheless sells sells as much music combined in the States as Vicente Fernández can sell in one night from a street corner in Huntington Park.

– From “Why the Latin Grammys Remain America’s Biggest Anti-Mexican Sham,” by Gustavo Arellano

[h/t Sara Inés Calderón]

Quoted: Simon Tam of The Slants on trademarking his band’s name

The Slants courtesy of TheSlants.com

The Slants courtesy of TheSlants.com

 

According to NPR, Portland-based band,The Slants describes themselves “as one of the first Asian-American rock bands. Their music caters to an Asian-American crowd, they’ve spoken at various Asian-American events, and they’re proud of all of it.” But the group’s four-year effort to trademark its name has been bound up in discussions of what constitutes a racial slur and how derogatory words can be reclaimed. Band member Simon Tam says of The Slants’ battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:

They said because of our ethnicity, people automatically think of the racial slur as opposed to any other definition of the term. In other words, if I was white, this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

The term ‘slant’ means a lot of different things. And [the lawyer from the PTO] even acknowledged that, so [we asked], ‘Why did you choose to apply the racial connotations to this application, but you’ve never done that before in the entire history of this country? Why this case?’ And they said it was because I was Asian-American.

Read more at NPR…

Five of cultural appropriation’s greatest hits

Miley Cyrus neither invented twerking nor cultural appropriation in music. What follows is a crowd-sourced list of some “great” moments in musical cultural appropriation.

“Vogue,” Madonna

Said one contributor to this list, “[Madonna] owes her whole career to appropriation, POC props and GLBT props, too…The idea that people associate her with vogueing is pretty much the textbook definition of appropriation of marginalized cultures, gay and black.”

 

“Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones

You know what makes New York City look extra gritty? Black people. You know you’ve hit the big time when you can get reggae legend Peter Tosh to serve as a random black extra hanging on a stoop.

 

“Luxurious,” Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani is the patron saint of icky cultural appropriation since that time she tried to keep a posse of Japanese women as pets. Here she kicks it Cali-style with her best Latino friends.

This fuckery committed with her bandmates in No Doubt cannot go unmentioned.

 

“Save a Prayer,” Duran Duran

I was a “Nick girl” back in the mid-80s when every self-respecting teenage girl was a Duranie. It failed to occur to me then how often the band illustrating their jet set coolness by frolicking in front of exotic flora, fauna and, y’know, brown people.

 

“We Can’t Stop,” Miley Cyrus

Would that we could stop this hot mess. If you haven’t read Tressie McMillan Cottom’s piece on the black female bodies Cyrus chose to foreground her whiteness. Do it. Now.