What I'm Reading: 'Beauty Queens'

I'm debating whether or not to hide the cover of the paperback novel I'm currently reading whenever I go out in public.

The cover art for Libba Bray's Beauty Queens features the toned torso of a buxom blonde armed with dozens of lipsticks. Right away, it screams "trashy beach read," and one would be correct in judging this easy-breezy book by its eye-catching cover. The truth of the matter is this: it's an unabashed piece of summery literature that's slightly smarter than it looks...

Beauty Queens is about a group of plane crash survivors trapped on a deserted island. It just so happens that these survivors are the scantily-clad contestants of the Miss Teen Dream pageant, a televised event sponsored by "The Corporation," a large conglomerate that basically controls everything in the world.

The over-the-top yet wonderfully paced book serves 396 pages of delicious satire. Everything about it -- the clueless characters, the sharp dialogue, the WTF-worthy interludes, even the clever prologue titled "A Word From Your Sponsor" -- makes for an entertaining read.

It's basically what Lord of the Flies (or Battle Royale) would look and feel like if it were documented by Bravo reality show cameras. It's a shiny, glossy commentary on the state of female roles in America as well as a suspenseful adventure begging for a big-screen adaptation (I'm pretty sure some producer has already purchased the rights).

If only I had read this sooner...

@TheFirstEcho


Losing My Mexico Virginity

Remember when I went to Mexico for the first time back in February?

My travel feature for Instinct Magazine has finally been published for the August/September issue (now at newsstands). 

Many thanks to the crew at the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta -- some of whom are new Facebook friends of mine -- and everyone else at Riviera Nayarit who provided some excellent hospitality (I'm still dreaming about that spa day and wet bar).

You can read the online version HERE, or you can see more pretty pictures, support the endangered species of print media, and go pick up a copy.


DESTINATION EVERYWHERE: The 2013 Summer Playlist, Vol. 3

Once again, the summer is delivering a crapload of new music that is giving my iTunes library a run for its virtual dollars.

And as we settle into the second half of the sweaty season, check out what I'm listening to...

1. "American Girl" by Bonnie McKee
2. "Firestarter" by Samantha Jade
3. "Live For The Night" by Krewella
4. "DNA" by Empire of the Sun
5. "Wake Me Up" by Avicii
6. "Kangaroo Court" by Capital Cities
7. "You Will Leave A Mark" by A Silent Film
8. "Trying To Be Cool" by Phoenix
9. "Royals" by Lorde
10. "Damn Your Eyes" by Alex Clare
11. "Follow Me" by Muse
12. "Out Of My League" by Fitz and the Tantrums
13. "Wildest Moments" by Jessie Ware
14. "Her Favorite Song" by Mayer Hawthorne:


15. "Power" by Kat Graham
16. "Tunnel Vision" by Justin Timberlake
17. "Acapella" by Karim
18. "Take Me Home" by Midnight Red
19. "Map" by Frankmusik
20. "Alone (Radio Edit)" by Armin Van Buuren feat. Lauren Evans
21. "Skylarking (Radio Edit)" by BT
22. "Go Kindergarten" by The Lonely Island feat. Robyn

@TheFirstEcho


The Road to Comic-Con Is Paved With Geek Intentions

On Thursday morning, I shall pack the Prius and drive south to a land filled with magical realms, stone-faced gatekeepers, costumed revelers, and god-like figures.

On Thursday morning I will be heading to Comic-Con. I look forward to three days filled with magical realms (Hall H), stone-faced gatekeepers (stressed-out publicists), costumed revelers (virginal cosplayers), and god-like figures (hotshot actors who have never touched a comic book).

It's my seventh trip to the fanboy Mecca, and I am taking all of the necessary physical and mental precautions before I subject myself to the sensory overload and chaos that is the San Diego Convention Center and neighboring hotels and venues.

I've been hitting the elliptical machine at the gym so that my legs can withstand the powerwalking I will have endure in between panels, press events, and parties. And I am reminding myself of the sacrifices I may be forced to make while I'm down there. Damn you, Black Orphan, for scheduling your roundtable interviews during The X-Files 20th Anniversary panel!

To all of my pop culture-loving brethren, send me a tweet or text, and maybe we'll meet up to compare oversized swag bags and swap free movie posters we'll never use (because we're not 10).

Godspeed geeks.

@TheFirstEcho


The Best Short Film I've Seen In A Long Time

It's called The Language of Love, and the young man featured here is Kim Ho, an Australian student who wrote the following heart-melting monologue that is more resonant and poignant than any other coming-of-age feature film in recent memory.

Take the 9 minutes to sit down and press play.


Mayer Hawthorne: Obsession of the Week

Enough with Robin Thicke and his is-it-about-rape-or-not song that is dominating the charts and radio stations.

My current obsession is funnier...and funkier.

It's Mayer Hawthorne, y'all! The other soulful white meat:


What Entertainment Weekly's 100 All-Time Greatest Issue Says About Pop Culture

*Updated 7/28/13

I've been an avid reader-subscriber-follower of Entertainment Weekly for nearly two decades now, and I like to think that my tastes in pop culture closely resemble those found in the pages of this magazine I consider my bible.

That's why I was particularly excited to pick up a copy and devour its latest double-issue, The 100 All-Time Greatest (in movies, TV, music, books, and more).

While I proudly stand by most of EW's rankings (Buffy the Vampire Slayer coming in at #8? Duh), my heart is a little crushed by some glaring omissions (not a single Agatha Christie title in their book list? Not even And Then There Were None?). They can defend themselves all they want, but still!

Regardless, while absorbing every title on every list, I've noticed something interesting.

Most of the Greatest Movies of All-Time were made before 1980 (76% of them, in fact) while a number of the Greatest TV Shows of All-Time premiered after 1990 (60%). What does this say about the state of each medium? Possibly this: movies are eroding in quality while television continues to experience an extended golden age. Is this no surprise?

Maybe this was inevitable; one declines while the other rises. Or is it a matter of withstanding the test of time? After all, when Psycho (#5) came out in 1960, it was considered exploitative; not every critic hailed it as a cinematic masterpiece. Will The Dark Knight (#88) look and feel just as spectacular in 2058? Will we have a revised list of 100 films that kicks it to the curb along with other sacrificed flicks? Or will we experience a reverse effect and have TV sink to cinema's current level of questionable fare?

The same could be said for the albums and books included in their respective All-Time Greatest lists. While 27 out of the 100 novels were only published in the last 25 years, 42 out of the 100 albums were released within the same time period (not bad, considering the state of music at the turn of the 21st century).

All in all, this begs to ask: where are we headed? With so many offerings inundating pop culture nowadays -- 3 or more wide releases at the multiplex each week, original programming from 100 cable networks, etc -- it's often difficult to filter out the potential greats.

But then again, maybe the "greatests" are the greatest because they are the originators, the ones who came first and set the benchmark for all that followed. And, true, it would be hard to top them.

Comments? Queries? Perplexities? Leave 'em here.

@TheFirstEcho


Why Bonnie McKee's Brilliantly Silly "American Girl" Is Smarter Than It Sounds

Just in time to celebrate America's 237th birthday on this spectacular 4th of July, singer-songwriter Bonnie McKee is giving us "American Girl," a piece of pop trifle that's smarter than it looks...er, sounds.

McKee, who's written a crapload of giant hits for Katy Perry (nearly the entire Teenage Dream album), Britney ("Hold It Against Me"), Ke$ha ("C'Mon"), and Adam Lambert ("Cuckoo," "Chokehold"), is finally getting her chance in front of the mic after being responsible for selling over 25 million singles around the world.

And you probably still have no idea who the hell she is.

"American Girl," her debut single from her upcoming major release, has all the makings of a radio hit: Dr. Luke-produced theatrics, a rebellious tone that rivals Ke$ha's glitter-covered oeuvre, and an irresistible chorus that simultaneously celebrates and condemns what it means to be a young female in the United States during these kooky 2010s.

"I was raised by a television, every day is a competition, put the key into my ignition..."

McKee is like a GenY It Girl, even though she has yet to penetrate the zeitgeist. In the song, she's a nearly-30 party girl who wants to be taken seriously while pursuing her dreams of "taking over the world" (there's no specific plan because, well, pop music allows for such vague declarations). It's kind of a hard goal to achieve when she's still getting drunk outside 7-Elevens and "moving my body" in order to get ahead in life.

On the other hand, the single is simply her coming-out party anthem, a jam concocted for both slumber parties and car rides to the clubs.

And that's why this earworm works. It covers all the bases while unabashedly embracing its defiant attitude.

As for the music video? It's a sly, cameo-filled PR stunt in which a slew of celebs lip-sync for the camera (Perry, Lambert, Carly Rae Jepsen, KISS, Jenny McCarthy, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Macklemore -- to name a few). Heck, it's better than lining them up in front of a Flip cam and having them say, "Hey, we're rich and famous and approve of this chick...mainly because she helped most of us get rich and famous." And in between the Skyped-in video footage, we catch a glammed-up Bonnie prancing around in American-flag booty shorts.

How patriotic of her.

What do you think?


@TheFirstEcho


Theme Song of the Month: July 2013

They're British. They're moody without being intolerable. And they sound as if they belong on the soundtrack to an epic coming-of-age film from the 90s.

They're called A Silent Film.

And this is "You Will Leave A Mark":


@TheFirstEcho


Remembering the Awesomeness That Was 1997

I always look back at 1997 as a favorite year of mine. Back then it was cool to listen to Celine Dion, The Gap was relevant, and in high school, I kicked some major speech-and-debate ass.

And now that the pop culture gods over at The Peterson YouTube channel have created his beyond-awesome compilation, I can fondly smile, laugh, and cringe at the 365 days during which I started to come out of my shell and embrace the pop culture junkie I was slowly becoming. After all, who doesn't love a little nostalgia?

Behold (Don't fret...Savage Garden comes in at the 7-minute mark):

And yes, the Macarena and Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" was from 1996. Get over it.

@TheFirstEcho