May 29, 2011

10 Years Ago This Week: "Lady Marmalade" & Six Feet Under

It's been a decade since Baz Lurhmann reinvigorated the movie musical with Moulin Rouge and Missy Elliot recruited her army of pop sluts to remake Labelle's 70s hit.

Along with superproducer Rockwilder, Missy employed 00s pop darlings Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink, and Lil' Kim to strut their stuff in corsets and peacock feathers and bring some French-speaking funk into the new millennium. Coincidentally, the tune was also the lead single from the aforementioned movie's soundtrack and stayed at the top of the Billboard charts for six weeks, starting shortly after the 2001 Memorial Day weekend.

My last full summer living in New York was spent as an employee of Westchester County, working at Glen Island Park, lunching by the beach, taking train rides into Manhattan to take advantage of my turning 21, and getting hooked on a new HBO drama called Six Feet Under:

It just so happens that one my many trips down to the city that summer also included a matinee of Nicole Kidman's The Others at a theater down by the World Trade Center - exactly one month before that fateful day in September.

May 25, 2011

Farewell Oprah

TV historians, take note.

Today we bid adieu to a woman who is not only a talk-show host and mogul; she's a spiritual leader, an advocate for literacy, an educator, an icon, and undeniably, an American institution that has influenced the lives of millions. Today is one of those moments you'll want to remember so that you have an answer to the question, "Where were you when...?"

I was 6-years-old when the former local Chicago news anchor with the unusual name took to the stage and welcomed her first studio audience and first panel of guests. Since then, my memories of The Oprah Winfrey Show were scattered randomly over two decades' worth of afternoons. As a child, I knew that she was always there when I came home from school, always on after General Hospital. As a teenager, I knew she sometimes chatted with some cool guests and had gotten several intense exclusives. As a young adult, I admired her philanthropy and appreciated her vulnerability as she discussed topics that inspired movements and shot her above what was once considered fluffy daytime television for housewives.

I remember the varied opening theme songs (especially her own version of "I'm Every Woman" shortly after The Bodyguard soundtrack blew up). I remember the celebrity interviews (the cast of The First Wives Clubs, those fresh-faced new actors from that Friends show, that Whitney interview). And I remember the countless shows about improving one's life, whether it be through dieting (the wagon of fat!), wardrobe makeovers, loving yourself, or forgiving the unforgivable.

Now, as a 31-year-old viewer, I have been riveted by O's 25th and final season. The reunions, the shattered social taboos, the honored history, the love - how can anyone top what she's done and provided for her global audience? Answer: I don't think anyone can.

Where will I be today? I will be watching (Kleenex optional).


May 17, 2011

How to Listen to Lady Gaga's Born This Way

*UPDATED 5/23/11.

Possibly the most anticipated pop album to come along in years, Lady Gaga's Born This Way has a lot to prove and live up to. After all, LG went as far as to call it "the Album of the Decade." And after sampling - and replaying - this baby while on a retreat in Palm Springs, I have a couple of things to say...

First, almost half of the album (the Deluxe Edition, that is) may polarize fans with its way-out-there, not-so-radio-friendly selections. Second, the insane production value and in-your-face lyrics in some songs seem to convey an inflated ego at work. That, or an insatiable desire and ambition to reinvent oneself while redefining pop music in the process. I'm exhausted just thinking about what's she's accomplished in less than three years. However, with that all said, if you think about it, there really is no other current female artist who's as bold and daring as this chick. Some of you may even hate me for this, but Gaga has now raised the bar so high and continues to influence Top 40 (c'mon, who hasn't worked with RedOne at this point?), that she makes Britney seem like a heavily medicated - and used - sex puppet. I guess there's validity behind the reason why she recently topped Forbes's list of Most Powerful Celebrities.

Here's a primer to fully absorb the just-released and soon-to-be-picked-apart album. The songs are listed in order of preference, starting with the best and ending with the less tolerable tracks that should (hopefully) never be released as singles:

1. "Born This Way" - Annoying Madonna comparisons aside, the inspirational title track should be played first because a) we all know it b) its familiarity will settle you in for a beat-heavy collection of supersonic proportions and c) it'll seem quaint after you get to those final three.
2. "The Edge of Glory" - Just for Clarence Clemon's sax solo alone.
3. "Hair" - Here she continues to preach the message of Being Yourself with this empowering anthem courtesy of RedOne.
4. "Marry the Night" - It's like a lost single from The Rocky Horror Picture Show...if it had been remade in the early 90s (and that's a good thing).
5. "You and I" - The closest thing to a ballad you'll get on the disc, this track has a bit of a country twang to it (is she hoping to woo those Bible-thumping cowboys down south or what?) and delivers some powerhouse vocals.
6. "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" - Another 80s-esque, synth-filled epic that could've been orchestrated by a flamboyant Hans Zimmer and featured on the soundtracks to either Vision Quest or Days of Thunder.
7. "Heavy Metal Lover" - An irresistible cooing chorus gets drowned out by some weighty Auto-tune during which it's reiterated that our gal certainly likes her whiskey.
8. "Fashion of His Love" - Haters who brought upon those Madonna rip-off comments may be tempted to criticize her for mimicking Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" here. Lovers will soak up its glorious danciness.
9. "The Queen" - Be Yourself Anthem #3. And bonus points for the doo-woppy, electric guitar breakdown in the last third.
10. "Electric Chapel" - In which Gaga comes close to channeling Pat Benatar while getting her rocker on.
11. "Black Jesus - Amen Fashion" - In which she tells Jesus to work it on the runway. Really. Because, after all, he's the new black.
12. "Judas" - Because by now, you should be able to digest the stuttering proclamations and blatant religious allegories and forget that this single had crashed and burned the instant it leaked.
13. "Bad Kids" - In which she proclaims to be a loser, and damn it, she's proud of being such a degenerate.
14. "Americano" - No, it's not an ode to her favorite espresso drink. Instead, a derivative Spanish guitar guides us through a sometimes messy wonderland of drunken shouting.
15. "Government Hooker" - It starts out as an odd techno-opera of sorts and then dives head first into S&M Land. I instantly had visions of being tied down in a leather bar and subjected to things I shouldn't type here. Once it ended, I had an urge to go out and get tested for STDs.
16. "SchieBe" - Remember that not-so-radio-friendly thing I talked about? Gaga goes industrial goth here with half of the song spoken (or rapped?) in German - not the prettiest language for a dance song.
17. "Bloody Mary" - More shoutouts to Jesus in what's surprisingly a dance downer. (Paging Depeche Mode...)

*By the way, Disc 2 in the Deluxe Edition features four remixes. The only one worth checking out is the already released "Country Road Version" of the album's title track. (yay for harmonicas!)

Overall: 8.5 (out of 10)

Born This Way comes out Monday, May 23.

May 16, 2011

Guilty Pleasure of the Week: "Unfriend You"

*Updated 6/30/11

It's come to this, kids: Pop songs named after Facebook-inspired verbology.

While overdosing on new music downloads this week (19 songs just today) I stumbled upon this surprising little ditty from everyone's favorite piano-playing angel who, if you ask me, will always kick Bieber's ass in the artistic prowess department. Greyson Chance (remember the kid who sang GaGa's "Paparazzi" at his school talent show?) has penned the light and airy "Unfriend You," a response to the lying, two-faced bitch who hurt his heart in the seventh grade (yep, he turns 14 this August - get over it).

For anyone who's ever been broken-hearted in junior high (For me, it was the sixth grade; a certain cheerleader who shall remain nameless flirted with me just to get to my best excuse me if this song resonates a bit with me):

PS - What's with the lens flares? Did JJ Abrams direct this?

May 10, 2011

London Calling...and Calling

Ten years ago this month I said farewell to England as I completed my junior year through Boston University's internship program in London. After five memorable months of navigating the Underground, minding the gap, munching on fish and chips, and becoming a high tea convert in the posh neighborhood of South Kensington, I felt myself becoming a true Anglophile. Now, whenever I flip over to BBC America, I find myself pining for a black cab to come and whisk me away to Trafalgar Square or Covent Garden.

One of my earliest memories of living in what I call "the Manhattan of Europe" involved a visit to the historic Tower of London along the Thames River. It was a chilly (and wet) January morning. I bundled myself up in a long, woolen Pierre Cardin coat I had bought in Boston the year before. If it weren't for the American Eagle baseball cap (or the Old Navy jeans...or my pair of navy blue Sketchers), I could've passed for a young Asian businessman out for a stroll before attending a board meeting and conducting a peaceful takeover of a subsidiary.

My student tour group congregated in the center court of the ancient property and waited for our guide to lead us through a labyrinthine structure of slippery cobblestone, wooden stairs, and gravel pathways. Dozens of pigeons sat perched above us in barren trees. I imagined them all observing us with cockney accents ("Oy, look at 'em American tourists! Who'da hell dey think dey are comin' into arr coontry?"). I was hoping this tour wouldn't take too long as I was anticipating trying my first proper basket of fish-n-chips ("takeaway," not "to go") at a nearby pub that also served a fine pint of pear cider. I had neglected to eat some breakfast before leaving my Queens Gate flat, and my stomach hated me for it. Finally, when our bespectacled leader arrived, an energetic chap with - you guessed it - a set of less-than-desirable chompers, I loaded a roll of film into my camera (no digitals back then - how primitive!) and lined up behind my flatmate. It was then when I felt a heavy raindrop hit the arm of my coat. Great, I thought. I didn't even bring an umbrella with me. A girl standing to my left gasped and pointed to my arm. I tilted my head and caught what had actually fallen on my less-than-a-year-old designer coat - a large, chunky white streak of paint? I wished.

"Shit," I muttered. Literally. As in, British pigeon excrement (my classier term for bird poop). Needless to say, my appetite disappeared in that instant.

I also became fascinated with Top of the Pops, an American Bandstand-like program that aired every Friday night. Back in the spring of 2001, those lads from uber-boyband Westlife were all the rage:

Naturally I bought the single, and it quickly became a track on the mix CD I eventually made to encapsulate my time spent in the UK.

Living in Europe also introduced me to the wonder that is The Unreleased Single By An American Artist (also known as The European Import). Exhibit A: 'NSync's catchy-as-hell "I'll Never Stop," a jam that sadly never made it to the American tracklisting of the group's No Strings Attached the year before. My friend Michelle and I blared this song on my Discman (that's right) during a bus ride back to London from Wales. We had just completed an "Adventure Weekend" with eight other students during which I celebrated my 21st birthday at a rustic B&B in a small village - complete with a babbling brook, a stone fireplace, home-cooked meals and several dirt roads begging to be explored (I expected to run into Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy as I strolled along the nearby lake). The occasion was a bit anticlimactic since the drinking age out there was - and still is - 18. I had already been a legal drinker the moment I stepped off the plane two months earlier. Still, the weekend provided one of most memorable birthdays I had ever had. And painful. Rock climbing and horseback riding across the gorgeous countryside left my body sore in places I had never known existed.

This lame excuse for a music video seems to have been produced on a budget of five quid (roughly $8), and to this day I scratch my head and wonder why this single never made it to America.

The rest of my Euro-experiences were all kept and preserved in photo albums, ticket stubs, several souvenirs, a couple of paperbacks, and one denim jacket I proudly purchased on the trendy Bond Street (Topshop, how I miss thee). Leicester Square, thanks for Hippodrome, the giant, gimmicky club no serious Londoner would find himself caught dead in. Bar Monaco in the West End, thank you for introducing me to Absolut Currant. Odeon Cinemas, thank you for your sweet-and-salty popcorn I happily inhaled while watching matinees of Save the Last Dance and Bridget Jones's Diary. Boardwalks of Brighton, thank you for showing me that you're a better-accented version of the Jersey shore (and kudos on those adorable flea markets and antique shops). Double-decker bus drivers, cheers for the late-night rides back to my South Kensington flat after festive nights on the town. Harrods, sorry for never buying anything from you; you just weren't in my budget. And dearest Greece and Italy, many thanks for giving this American boy the best spring break of his life. I could write pages and pages about your hospitality, but considering my readers' attention spans, I'll refrain and save my love letter to you for another time.

London, I hear you calling me back. Someday I shall return and revisit your streets, your pubs, and your fashionable haunts. Tell Graham Norton I'd absolutely love a ticket to his show, and be sure to prepare the clotted cream for my scones during our next afternoon tea together.



May 04, 2011

20 Years Ago This Month: 'Summertime' and Soapdish

On May 20, 1991, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince released "Summertime," which went on to peak at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and snag a Grammy for Best Rap Song. Yes children, before he was a Man in Black, before he became an Oscar nominee, and before any of his progeny could whip their hair back and forth, Will Smith was shooting low-budget videos in his hometown of Philly, PA, rhyming about barbecues and rolling through the hood with the top down.

I, at the time, was finishing the fifth grade at New Rochelle Catholic Elementary and dreaming about eating popsicles at summer camp and catching fireflies outside my parents' apartment building back in New York.

Let's get nostalgic with it, shall we?

Then, 11 days later in the same month of that year, Soapdish was released in theaters. I had seen this movie at the Bay Plaza shopping center in the Bronx with my mother. The little film buff in me was starting to develop a taste for large ensemble pieces, especially after becoming infatuated with A Fish Called Wanda, Murder by Death, and Grand Canyon. And you couldn't ask for a better ensemble at the time: the future spokeswoman for Boniva, a future Iron Man, a future Desperate housewife, the future co-host of the The View...and a post-Babysitting Elisabeth Shue:


May 03, 2011

The Rising: 2011 Summer Playlist, Vol. 1

Slip into that swimsuit. Pick up that trashy beach read. And listen up.

Allow me to present my suggested soundtrack for the Summer of '11, twenty tunes you'll want to download ASAP while you lather up some sunscreen and break out the flip-flops. You can thank me later with a daiquiri...

1. "Wet" by Nicole Scherzinger - With lyrics like "Dripping down my neck, soaking wet, sink or swim or you drown" set to a hard bassline, how could this NOT be required poolside listening? (Also try: "Killer Love")

2. "Criminal" by Britney Spears - Arguably the most redeeming track from the dance-heavy Femme Fatale, this mid-tempo breezer is a theme song for anyone looking for a scandalous summer fling. (Also try: "I Wanna Go")

3. "Papi" by Jennifer Lopez - The holy union of J.Lo and RedOne delivers with fierce flair. Previously seen as my Theme Song for May.

4. "Do It In The AM" by Frankmusik feat. Far East Movement - Despite that "Far East Movement" credit, I'm happy to see this British electro-popster hitting the airwaves again

5. "The Edge of Glory" by Lady GaGa - Naturally.

6. "Wonderland" by Natalia Kills - She doesn't believe in fairy tales, but you should believe in this underrated artist:

7. "Don't Turn Out The Lights" by NKOTBSB - For those of you jonsing for the days when it was okay to blare "I Want it That Way" in your college dorm room...and for those of you who bought tickets to the summer tour.

8. "Kiss Me Slowly" by Parachute - A Glee-ready, pop-rock ditty perfect for those prone to puppy love.

9. "Who Says" by Selena Gomez and the Scene - To prep you for Ms. Gomez's big-screen debut (Monte Carlo) this July.

10. "Last Friday Night (TGIF)" by Katy Perry - And you thought "California Gurls" was the definitive summer jam:

11. "Adolescents" by Incubus
12. "Turning Tables" by Adele
13. "Let's Get It Started" by Paris Wells
14. "Call Your Girlfriend (Kaskade Remix)" by Robyn
15. "Unspoken" by Hurts
16. "Don't Wanna Go Home" by Jason Derulo:

17. "Bounce" by Calvin Harris feat. Kelis
18. "I Wrote the Book" by Beth Ditto
19. "Victim of Love" by Cash Cash
20. "Don't Stop" by the Glee Cast

May 02, 2011

Theme Song of the Month: May

Forget "I'm Into You."

For some reason this J.Lo jam conjures up images of humid afternoons in New York, blaring 103.5 KTU on the radio while stuck in traffic on the Bronx River Parkway and catching a whiff of barbecue smoke from nearby neighborhood parks.

God bless RedOne for lending his trademark gloss to what I hope will be the next single from this hot 41-year-old Mami.


May 01, 2011

Reason #35 Why I'm An Anglophile

Having read the book earlier this year and having fallen in love with these two characters, I eagerly await this film adaptation that stars two of my favorite actors (Anne Hathaway's British accent notwithstanding). I'm a little peeved at Focus Features for pushing the release date from July 8 to August 19, but so be it. And having just watched the trailer several times in one sitting, a few things: the casting of Patricia Clarkson, I did not see coming, and that One Republic song? Not my first choice, but hey, it's about Ryan Tedder talking a stroll through London, so I guess I can see the correlation.

Catfights, Cleavage and Carrie-Anne Moss: 'Models Inc.' Turns 25

In the early 90s, as anyone familiar with the oeuvre of uber-producer Aaron Spelling knows, the successful  Beverly Hills, 90210 begat ...