TWENTY16: Sounds of the New Year


Here it is, my brand-spankin' new playlist to help you properly kick off 2016.

Granted, I'm a little late to the party on some of these. For instance, Rudimental's "Lay It All On Me" featuring Ed Sheeran (track 2) somehow flew past my radar back in September, but this hypnotic collaboration is currently on repeat, a definite shoo-in for January's Song of the Month.

*And be sure to check back because I'll be adding more tracks as we move further along into the winter. (Breaking these out into separate volumes is now a thing of the past - why not have all of the season's goodness in one place, right?)

@TheFirstEcho


Nerdgasm of the Month: It's Like 'Downton Abbey' Meets 'Scream'


One of my all-time favorite murder mysteries, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, is finally getting a new remake, courtesy of BBC One and co-producer Lifetime. (!!!)

I first read the novel back in in middle school at the prodding my mother, a huge Christie fanatic. I was immediately intrigued because it took on the format of a traditional slasher flick. (Ten strangers isolated from the outside world being picked off one by one.) And as a kid raised on countless Friday the 13ths and any other horror movie I could watch, this book seemed like great middle ground, a compromise between a son and a mother who wanted him to read more "classics."

And Then There Were None is also the OG when it comes to large ensemble murder mysteries. I guess it's no surprise that movies like Clue and Murder by Death, which lampoon the genre, appear on my Top 10 All-Time Favorite list.

Some pop culture pundits have said that Hitchcock's Psycho is the Original Slasher Film, but really, ATTWN should be crowned that title. And for those of who have never read the book or have never seen one of its many adaptations (see below), let me sell it to you this way: It's like Downton Abbey meets Scream.


Ever since catching an Agatha Christie double feature at the New Beverly two months ago, I've been pining for someone to produce a really compelling remake after the 1945 black-and-white original (above), the 1965 camp classic, the 1974 European remake, Russia's bleaker and more loyal 1987 adaptation, and the little-seen 1989 version that starred Frank Stallone and Brenda Vaccaro (I shit you not).

That day has finally come.

Check out the 30-second promo of the miniseries that just aired in the UK (We Americans will get to watch it on cable sometime in the new year.)

@TheFirstEcho


The Top 10 Douchiest Instagram Accounts of 2015 (I Could Find)


Narcissism is the name of the game when it comes to most Instagram accounts. And most of us fall for them -- hard. That's why we click "follow." We feed each other's egos, and the result is an endless supply of snapshots, selfies, and sycophantic posts that would make our ancestors collectively bow their heads in shame. (Seriously, someone should do a study on the correlation between the number of followers and the amount of skin one displays in photos.)

Here are just some of the ridiculous, over-the-top accounts I've come across this year.

You're welcome.

10. @itslavishbitch / @lavishyabitch


Buzzfeed called this 19-year-old prick The Worst Teenager on Instagram. And after scrolling through his posts, you'll see why. "My life is like Louis Vuitton, everyone wants it," says this so-called "entertainer."

9. @albertogestoso


How do you promote peace after a horrific terrorist attack makes headlines around the world? Paint a symbol on your chiseled torso, of course. The caption for this shameless post? "STOP TERRORISM," followed by three angry-faced emojis. Proceed to roll your eyes.

8. @socalitybarbie


Who said plastic dolls couldn't be douchey too? Enjoy this satirical account that skewers hipster millennial culture while it lasts -- its creator, Portland native Darby Cisneros, has recently quit posting.

7. @its_the_jackhammer1988


A mirror selfie can say so much. Like, "I'm from Chino Hills, baby! Give it up for the 909! Even though I'm wearin' a Yankees cap! Woo hooooo!" #swoll #yolo

6. @afflictionclothing


It's the brand that practically birthed the modern-day dickwad, and it celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. So thanks, Affliction, for a decade of deafening douchebaggery, giving us a line of clothing that makes it easier for us to weed out society's less-than.

5. @hipsterista


Sorry ladies, you too can fall under this category. And this fashion-heavy account encourages people (mostly young women, I assume) to tag their friends in photos of granola-yogurt bowls, size-zero peasant skirts, ripped jeans, and overpriced coffee. This virus must be stopped.

4. @millionaire.surroundings


Superficiality just got an upgrade! "But babe, I wanted the red one!"

Oh yeah, I just got political on your asses. Because when you get compared to Hitler in multiple thinkpieces, spew hate speech on a regular basis, and add fuel to a dangerous witch hunt, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1950s...then you might be a giant douche.

2. @douchebags

The name says it all. (wink)

And now...

Drumroll please...

1. @yotta_life


This one takes the cake.

There's this European couple who lives in the Hollywood Hills. The guy is tall and ripped like some kind of Aryan supersoldier. His wife has more plastic in her than a Barbie factory. Good luck finding a pic that doesn't objectify her or show off every sculpted inch of their torsos. Together, they are the epitome of Los Angeles shallowness, posting workout photos and shots of ridiculously luxe scenarios -- pool parties, private jets, designer workout gear -- all accompanied by faux self-help quotes that are supposed to inspire their 347,000 followers to live their best lives. It's no surprise that they've earned the title "wannabe Kardashians" across the interwebs.

Take the above photo. The caption for this particular display of wealth (and cleavage) is as follows...incorrect grammar and all:

When you wake up from a dream state, traveling deep within the layers of subconciousness, you are free from the confines and stressors of the world. You are at a yotta state of mind. You bring that innocence and freedom from the subconscious state to the conscious being. Imagine when we dress as superheroes, we evoke an imaginary state of superbeing. In actuality, the reality is we are the superheroes for who we are inside to the outside. We want to insipire the supermen and wonderwomen outthere. Take your cape. Take your magic sword. Awaken the superheroe within and let's conquer the world. We need more superheroes and less victims in the world then we have the power to make the world a better place. #yottalife will not rescue the world but shows the world how to rescue itself.



In a word, vomit.

@TheFirstEcho


The 2015 Review: A Totally Critical Look Back


Updated 12/18/15

It's hard to resist turning this into a rant about some stuff that went down this past year. But if you ask me, 2015 was like any other year in recent memory. It was also over before you could scream "Kim Davis, give me my marriage license!"

There was some bad, there was some good, and there was plenty of same-shit-different-day business that went on. So I'm doing my best to avoid sounding like one of those basics who either declare "I'm so over you, 2015!" or "2015, thanks for the great times!" The year was many different things for many different people, and if I were to distinguish 2015 from other years, I'd say it was the year my tolerance for hypocrisy and bullshit hit an all-time low, both in my personal life and in the world around me. (Ahem, certain presidential candidates and other public figures who don't deserve the attention -- or legislation control -- they've been granted.) Wow, what's next? Me yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn?

The year started with a death (Rest in peace, Grandma) and ended with a birth (Welcome to the world, Brooks Morrison Borkovitz! Love, Your Unofficial Uncle.) With that, I say to the Universe, "I get it. You're all about balance and symmetry. Well done."

If I sound like one of those end-of-the-year letters you get from friends and relatives you haven't seen in years, then please allow me these opening paragraphs.

True, every year comes with its bad, but instead of focusing on what you think made it so bad, how about focusing on all the good that happened in these past 50 or so weeks? I could be a Debbie Downer and make my complaints, but honestly, in the grand scheme of things, I had it good. From the Outer Banks of North Carolina and pools of Palm Springs to the beaches of Singapore and neon-lit streets of Tokyo, I have the pictures to prove just how good it was. And let's not forget the time I made a fool of myself on national television. Therefore I have to remind myself to make a conscious effort to be grateful for all of that goodness.

And speaking of good things, once again, I present to you what impressed the crap out of me in 2015.


MOVIE PICKS OF THE YEAR

By the time this gets posted, I will have watched 68 films at the theater this year  -- believe it or not, a record low for me -- and I will have yet to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Joy. So please refrain from comments scolding me for being too impatient with publishing this list.


1. Tangerine - Also known as "the movie that was entirely shot on an iPhone," director Sean Baker's electrifying and unintentional love letter to Los Angeles is more than just a filmmaking gimmick, shattering conventional casting while chronicling the Christmas Eve of a pair of transgender working girls (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) on a near-real-time mission that culminates at a Hollywood donut shop where unexpected paths cross. It's funny, heartbreaking, unapologetic, and unlike anything I've seen in recent memory.

2. Inside Out - Quite possibly the best Disney-Pixar collaboration in the past decade, this immensely appealing tale about a girl and her conflicting emotions -- personified by the likes of Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and the incomparable Phyllis Smith -- shall be studied in future child psychology classes around the world.

3. Room - Brie Larson earns some well-deserved Oscar attention as a young woman who endures the unthinkable and goes above and beyond what it takes to protect the child (wunderkind Jacob Tremblay) to whom she's bonded for life. It's one of those rare survival stories that feels painfully raw, honest, and ultimately life-affirming.


4. Carol - The definition of exquisite filmmaking, Todd Haynes's gorgeous, mesmerizing, and devastating romance brings out the absolute best in stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Read my full review for ScreenPicks HERE.


5. Spotlight - The true story about a team of Boston Globe journalists blowing the lid off a decades-spanning Catholic Church cover-up in 2002 gets retold in Tom McCarthy's gripping drama that pulsates with every scene without ever coming off as one long, soapboxy diatribe (Take note, Aaron Sorkin.) It's been a while since investigative journalism felt this suspenseful.


6. Sicario - A white-knuckle, unflinching and timely morality tale in which Emily Blunt gets down and dirty with a Mexican drug cartel...and a stellar Benicio Del Toro (his best role in years). Director Denis Villenueve continues to prove himself as a master at crafting tension, the kind that makes a movie truly unpredictable. I, for one, had no idea how it was going to end.

7. The End of the Tour - For those who love nothing but intellectually stimulating conversation between two characters, this tribute to late novelist David Foster Wallace (played here by Jason Segel in a revelatory role), who was documented by Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), is hypnotically staged and directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now).

8. Mad Max: Fury Road - Talk about cinematic spectacle. Sure, George Miller's grand desert opus is one glorified, 2-hour car chase, but it's that rare action film that genuinely leaves you in awe and "rattles and roars with fierce beauty" (according to my friend Adrienne). The movie may be named after the hero of the rebooted franchise, but it's Charlize Theron's fiery Furiosa who's really at the wheel, driving this large and gorgeous epic into the cinematic sunset.


9. Grandma - Lily Tomlin may have gotten attention for her turn in Netflix's Grace and Frankie this year, but the real praise belongs to her role as a veteran feminist in Paul Weitz's progressive meditation on the aging Baby Boomer generation. Where else are you going to find a film about a 70-year-old woman taking her teenaged granddaughter on a journey to find money to fund her abortion? 

10. Kingsman: The Secret Service - Matthew Vaughn's full adrenaline rush of an action film kicked off what will hopefully be a kickass franchise about a bunch of sharply-dressed Brits protecting the world from baddies. Perfectly over-the-top, always surprising, and featuring the most jawdropping fight ever staged inside a church, this spy flick accomplished its mission and then some.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: It Follows, The Gift, The Last Five Years, and Goodnight Mommy.


TV PICKS OF THE YEAR

This was a tough one as 2015 marked the year I found myself frustrated by HOW MUCH good TV there was to enjoy in just 365 days. With over 400 scripted shows available at my fingertips in today's on-demand-streaming world, there were some I simply couldn't get to...and some I had no interest in sampling (and for good reason -- for they're now cancelled). Here's what I couldn't get enough of. (And for the 744th time: I don't watch Game of Thrones.)


1. Master of None (Netflix) - According to E. Alex Jung over at Vulture.com, Aziz Ansari's truly groundbreaking show "has deftly tackled the issues of race: Its easy, conversational tone belies how cleverly it dismantles racial tropes. Moreover, it manages to acknowledge systemic racism toward people of color while refusing to be defined by it." And not only has this 10-episode first season so brilliantly tackled other issues like gender discrimination, rape culture, parenting, and online dating, it has finally given Ansari a well-deserved spotlight to shine. While some moments aren't perfect, there is no other show that feels so necessary for today's American culture. And chances are, if you're a first-generation American, no other TV show resonated as hard as Master of None.


2. Togetherness (HBO) - This observational slice of L.A. life from the Duplass brothers is full of charm, wit, and authentic moments of perfect imperfections, thanks to its highly charismatic cast (Mark Duplass, Amanda Peet, Melanie Lynskey, and Steve Zissis).


3. Mr. Robot (USA) - Star Rami Malek is a true breakout in this paranoia-driven thriller that hums with an unsettling energy you can't quite get out of your system after watching its brilliant first season. Each episode is like a Fincherian short film, cinematic and sinister with every carefully staged shot and subtle development. Binge with caution.

4. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central) - The third season of this sketch series cemented its status as a legit force of serious funny business. And it picked up an Emmy in September, mostly in part for its standout episode, a biting spin on Twelve Angry Men.

5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW) - Not since the first season of Glee has a show demonstrated pure unadulterated joy. Star and co-creator Rachel Bloom is destined for breakout status, bringing depth and likability to the often debated title role.


6. The Jinx (HBO) - Call it the Serial Effect. True crime junkies got their fix with this highly addicting docuseries that studied the bizarre and mysterious case of millionaire Robert Durst.

7. Broad City (Comedy Central) - It's what HBO's Girls wished it could be, a hilarious, near-satirical take on the Millennial Experience in a New York City we rarely see portrayed on television.

8. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) - Leave it to a British nerd to break down how truly screwed up things are in the world, particularly here at home in the States. In this second season, the Daily Show alum found his groove and delivered viral-worthy segments filled with deliciously worded rants.


9. Please Like Me (Pivot) - Creator and star Josh Thomas continues to paint a poignant and so-real-it's-funny portrait of a twentysomething coming to terms with his challenging family, his eclectic friends, his new love, and most importantly, himself. The most charming show on TV you're probably not watching (because you can't be bothered to find Pivot).

10. Empire (Fox) - Not since Melrose Place has Fox delivered a crazy-sexy-ridiculous sudser like this. Toss in a hot soundtrack of original tunes and Taraji P. Henson giving us 2015's best new character, and it's a no-brainer why this dishy drama is giving EVERYONE life. That said, I give it a few more episodes before it loses its fire.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Younger (TV Land), Difficult People (Hulu), Catastrophe (Amazon) and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix).

A MYSTERY WORTH OBSESSING OVER: How To Get Away With Murder's edge-of-your-seat Who Shot Annalise?

A MYSTERY WORTH DELETING FROM YOUR DVR: Scream Queens's cartoonish Who Is The Red Devil?


MUSIC PICKS OF THE YEAR


1. I Cry When I Laugh by Jess Glynne - Between her summer collaboration with Tinie Tempah (the retro jam "Not Letting Go") and previous appearances with Clean Bandit, the British songstress promised -- and completely delivered -- something to call her own. From the 90s-throwback grooves of "Hold My Hand" and "Don't Be So Hard On Yourself" to the 80s-tinged R&B tracks like "You Can Find Me," Glynne blew me away with her soulful, stirring debut from start to finish.

2. "Feeling Electric" by Parade of Lights - Electro pop was never more anthemic and epic in 2015 when it came to this L.A.-based group's collection of tunes from their debut LP, particularly this feel-good track that soars every time you play it:


3. "Body Talk" by Foxes - The singer-songwriter delivered this breezy, mid-tempo number that's irresistible from start to finish, the kind you wish would never end:


4. "King" by Years & Years - Smooth synth-pop with an emotional core realized by frontman Olly Alexander's lithe vocal delivery. Another must-listen: the Gryffn Remix of "Desire."


5.  "Water Under The Bridge" by Adele - Both Entertainment Weekly and I agree that this is the best track on the superstar's blockbuster 25. See for yourself HERE.

6. "Postcard" by Jukebox The Ghost - These piano rockers are America's answer to the now dormant Keane. And this made-for-a-rom-com love song is the musical equivalent of a joyride in a convertible at Martha's Vineyard on a sunny day.

7. "I Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd - Those Michael Jackson comparisons exist for a reason, and the proof is in this definitive summer jam...along with the equally fun "In The Night."

8. Caracal by Disclosure - From the epic opening of "Nocturnal," featuring The Weeknd, to the hauntingly seductive, Lorde-supported "Magnets," Disclosure's sophomore effort provided a luscious soundscape designed for any occasion.

9. "Over" by GOLDHOUSE - This Chicago-based DJ-vocalist, who needs to gain more traction in 2016, gave us the most energetic breakup song of the year. Never did a kiss-off sound so...danceable. Listen HERE.

10. "Back Together" by Robin Thicke feat. Nicki Minaj - This highly repeatable jam is the best Rick Astley throwback Rick Astley never released. Plus, bonus points for the best Nicki lyric ever: "Used to call me Hillary, cuz I Rodham."

HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

Blue Neighbourhood by Troye Sivan - This just-released album is a smooth electro-R&B collection of mesmerizing tunes that needs to dominate 2016.

Badlands by Halsey - A welcome new member to the Alt Pop Girls Club. Think: Lorde and Tove Lo's long-lost sister. She's already made an impression with the Gen Z anthem "New Americana."

And if you'd like to hear the rest of my favorite tunes from 2015 there's this (in chronological order of discovery):


Happy holidays y'all. Here's to a fantastic 2016.

@TheFirstEcho


Song of the Month: December 2015


He made his American television debut last week on The Tonight Show, and his mesmerizing debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, dropped earlier this month.

Troye Sivan, the 20-year-old YouTuber-turned-recording artist from Australia, seems poised to dominate 2016, but before radio stations put him in their rotation, you need to sample his smooth electro-R&B sounds in "Wild," a song that is working quite nicely as a closer for 2015. (And once again, Entertainment Weekly agrees with me -- check out their Must List in the current Best & Worst of 2015 issue.)

Don't let the boyish looks fool you.


And if you want to be totally blown away, be sure to check out the rest of this gorgeously produced music video trilogy.

@TheFirstEcho


The Santa Sessions 2015: A Holiday Playlist


It's the most wonderful time of the year. And such a time deserves a most wonderful playlist to go with it. 

From me to you.


@TheFirstEcho


Another Day in America, Another Mass Shooting


At this rate, I'm assuming every American will eventually, at some point, know someone who's either been injured or killed by a gun.

So, what can we do? Seriously, I'd like to know what each and every one of us can actively do.

Because a hope-for-the-best status update won't fix it.

Tweeting out thoughts and prayers for the victims' families of the 355th mass shooting OF THE YEAR won't fix it.

Carelessly blaming a faulty system won't fix it.

So I ask again: besides feeling like shit and feeling helpless for a few minutes before resuming our everyday lives (and holiday shopping), what can we do? Wait until each and every one of us becomes a "friend or family member of a victim" to warrant a nationwide rallying cry? What can we do to prevent this sickening "new normal"?

I'd like to know.

That said, Igor Volsky, take it away:

@TheFirstEcho


EXIT HERE: The Final Playlist of 2015


This came sooner than I anticipated.

To properly close out 2015, I've gathered the following tunes that shall provide a non-holiday soundtrack you can enjoy in between spins of Mariah's "All I Want for Christmas" and other jingles you won't be able to escape once Thanksgiving is done. (Don't worry -- a new holiday playlist is also coming soon.)

BTW, that new Sia single (track 5)? I get a sore throat every time I play it. But it's so worth it.

@TheFirstEcho


Song of the Month: November 2015


Not since circa-1992 Annie Lennox has there been a song about stepping on glass that has captured my musical imagination.

Introducing St. Lucia's fantastic new must-listen, "Dancing on Glass," a synthy piece of pop perfection from the South African-born Jean-Philip Grobler. It's, as the folks at PopWrapped have called it, a "catchy and nostalgic extravaganza of an electro-pop tune."

That said, it will keep me occupied throughout the days leading up to the gorgefest we call Thanksgiving. Check it out:

@TheFirstEcho


NOCTURNAL: The 2015 Fall Playlist, Vol. 3


Just in time for Halloween weekend, here's a soundtrack to get your tricks and treats in proper order.

I've got the new Adele, the new Ariana, the new Bieber...Basically, it's a cornucopia of brand spankin' new tunes that should hold you over until Thanksgiving.

And once again, since Spotify doesn't stream all the songs I'd like to include here, you'll have to do with the videos further below.



The weave looks like it was made in cotton candy machine, but still, this basicness is enjoyable for a week or so:


@TheFirstEcho



Adele vs. Taylor Swift: What's Really Missing From This Debate


When Adele premiered her single and video for "Hello," the lead track from the highly anticipated 25, music fans who love nothing more than a manufactured competition between pop stars, particularly female ones, took to social media to immediately celebrate that the Brit was about to dethrone Taylor Swift in just about everything.

And she did, in a way. The video for "Hello" broke YouTube viewing records, and the song instantly became #1 in, like 5,000 countries or something.

But I'm not here to add to the "let's diss Taylor" pile. True, I admit to publicly declaring that most of Swift's music doesn't do much for me. While I appreciate how smart she is in terms of fan engagement and making sure her simple-yet-relatable lyrics ring true for every young, romantic ear out there, she's simply not my preference. (And if you ask me, I think "Style" was the best single to be released from 1989, despite it being the least successful of the five we have thus far. I wish it had gotten as much airplay as the now-ingratiating "Bad Blood.")

What I'm trying to say here is that the whole Adele vs. Taylor debate is based on unreasonable opinions; each camp could argue and defend their respective idol until the cows come home. And of course, there's the whole spectator sport of pitting women against each other, especially female pop stars. It's something that's been practiced as long as I have been alive (Madonna vs. Cyndi, Whitney vs. Mariah, Britney vs. Christina), and frankly, we should all know by now that it's complete and utter sexist bullshit -- and I am guilty of having participated in it in the past. However, if said pop stars have true beef with each other -- as we've seen on Twitter, and most recently, on the VMA stage -- then, by all means, we'll just have to fight to urge to fan those flames.

Instead, the discussion we need to have should explore how and why two female artists, both amazing in their own right, have such different approaches and sensibilities while sharing a similar amount of fame and success. While Adele wrote most of her third album at the age of 25 (she's now 27), Taylor seems to be peaking at the same age. Therefore, perhaps what we should really focus on is where they came from, the cultures from which these two individuals originated, because I think that's how we can understand why they are who they are and why their musical tendencies seem so different despite being (roughly) the same age. In other words, is there a difference between an American 25 and a European 25?

First, let's take a general look at their audiences.


While Taylor gets much respect from around the world, the fanaticism mostly stems from young females. Sure, she may have broadened her audience with the pop-friendlier 1989, but she doesn't seem to hit ALL the audience quadrants like the British singer does. Critics and naysayers who continue to be unwooed by the former country starlet still consider her music adolescent, the sounds and stylings of a 17-year-old clinging to her diary with romanticized notions of the perfect relationship. But, like the song goes, haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.

Adele's fandom, on the other hand, is basically associated with young women, men, soccer moms, and grandparents. Her appeal crosses generations and demographics in a way few pop acts do. Her sounds and stylings earn her praises that label her "an old soul," someone wise beyond her years. Her lyrics, especially combined with those evocative vocals, belie a ton of life experiences. (And now that she's a mum, I'm sure she gained even more insight.)

Maybe Taylor's just having fun, soaking up her mid-20s while they last, hanging with her squad, welcoming her famous friends to join her on stage at sold-out arenas, and posing with male models on various sets. It's what any girl young woman her age (with that much clout) would do. Making tons of publicized appearances, nabbing herself a piece of dashing arm candy in the form of an internationally-renowned DJ and Armani model, amping up her image with an all-star, action-packed music video loaded with special effects... There's nothing wrong with all of this.

It just happens to feel so very...American.

Yet Adele doesn't feel the need to fill her productions with celebrity cameos. According to i-D magazine, which nabbed the first interview she's given in three years, "it's incredible, unheard of really, for an artist in 2015 to be so famous and yet play the game as little as Adele does." Further proof: she's not very reliant on social media either.

So, how does she evade it all? "It's definitely harder to avoid it than it is to give into it," she told the magazine. "I think most people tend to give into it because it is easier, but I just can't. I'm uncomfortable with giving into that kind of thing. Me being photographed in Waitrose [a supermarket] is being famous for no reason, and that is something that I am not up for and I will not stand for, for myself." She even manages to avoid any places where the paparazzi are poised to capture her in a candid moment. "It's not me trying to be like fucking anti-famous cunty, I just want to have a real life so I can write records. No one wants to listen to a record from someone that's lost touch with reality. So I live a low-key life for my fans."

One could argue that this outlook on fame and celebrity, this humbling philosophy, is so very...British.


After all, the British stereotype tells us that they're a more reserved people, more modest in their pursuits, and that British youth -- and Europeans in general -- tend to mature faster than their American counterparts. (Legal drinking age of 18! Taking a "gap year" to see the world after high school! Less reliance on parental support!) Could this be true when it comes to observing the lives and careers of these two global superstars who hail from different nations?

Granted, there may be nothing reserved about Adele when you hear her swear like a working class laborer in interviews, but still, her image/brand is undeniably more subdued and muted than the one Taylor puts out. The proof is in each singer's highest-profiled project of 2015 -- just place the sepia-toned shots of "Hello" up against the Bruckheimerian loudness of "Bad Blood."

More from i-D:

This is why Adele is important. Not because she sells millions of records and wins every award going. She's important to me and to you because she sings about life in a way that deeply moves and affects us and she does this in spite of "engagement" and "coverage" and "reach". She doesn't play the fame game. She doesn't return with a new look or a new concept every album. Adele is an artist, not an entertainer.

However, what Taylor and Adele both possess is an incredible amount of self-awareness as artists (or whatever you want to call them). Both have talked about how much they realize they're figures in a very unique position, cogs in a giant machine that can continue to make them...or break them in an instant. And with that comes the responsibility of crafting very meticulous PR moves; I'm sure both of their teams have their work cut out for them. It just so happens that, while one is known for making more splashes and seemingly embracing everything that comes with selling millions of albums, the other is known for taking more modest approaches to her artistry and being comfortable not subscribing to the celebrity playbook.

This doesn't make either one of them better than the other. It simply makes them great in their own way, especially in the eyes of those buying whatever they're selling.

So go ahead, start a Twitter feud or a comment battle on YouTube if you must. Defend Adele or Taylor to your heart's content.

I'll just sit here and turn up the volume on whichever one of their tracks suits my mood at the moment.

@TheFirstEcho


One of the Best Songs of 2014 Finally Gets a Music Video in 2015


Tove Lo may have excelled with her exquisite debut album, Queen of the Clouds, but when it comes to her music videos, she's proving to be the Queen of Being Fucked-Up. (Not like Ke$ha fucked-up -- more like, I'm-in-a-low-budget-Fincherian-indie-playing-a-drug-addict-who-goes-on-a-murdering-spree fucked-up.)

After unabashedly numbing her pain in "Habits (Stay High)" and going on a manhunt in "Talking Body," she finally goes all out in the music video for "Moments," my personal favorite from the hit-filled Clouds.

I was blaring this Hot Mess Anthem last fall, and I am beyond ecstatic to see this become an official single with a nifty visual treatment to boot (directed by Tim Erem). Here, our gal gets interrogated by her doppelganger after tripping out in a supermarket late at night and shooting her white-trash-looking hubby...in the head -- at the altar.

Check it out:

@TheFirstEcho


#TBT: That Time Huck from 'Scandal' Flirted With Me


I mean, he told me the highlight of his first Comic-Con...was meeting me. (See below video.)

Back in 2012, I worked the press line on the red carpet at a Walking Dead party at San Diego Comic-Con, and before I became a Scandal addict, I had an interesting run-in with Guillermo Diaz, who plays the troubled Huck on the ABC drama.

Perhaps he was under the influence and just acting silly (or being polite while trying to answer my lame question), but I think he may have hit on me.


Damn. I wished I had prepared some better questions that night.

@TheFirstEcho


My Great #AutumnInAsia Adventure


Jetlag's a bitch.

I just returned from a 10-day excursion through Japan and Singapore, and my mind and body is still 13 hours ahead of L.A.


The trip was expectedly awesome. Did a lot of walking. Ate a lot of fish. And possibly lost a couple of pounds in the process. You know how some basic bitches love pumpkin-flavored everything during the fall? Well, THIS basic loves green-tea-flavored everything: ice cream, truffles, candy, you name it. I couldn't get enough of it during my visit.

Look out for my travel features on both countries in Bello later this year.

My cousin Aki (right) with her husband Takuya.

Nijo Castle

One of many temples in Kyoto

A video posted by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@thefirstecho) on


A video posted by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@thefirstecho) on
@TheFirstEcho



Song of the Month: October 2015


I will forever have the awesome memory of hearing this song for the first time while riding a bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo during the Japan portion of my recent #AutumnInAsia adventure.

Everything about this track works, from The Weeknd's smooth vocals to the electro-hypnotic production from Britain's dynamic duo Disclosure. The title says it all too -- it's perfect for late-night drives and getting ready for some evening escapades. I cannot get enough of it.


Also? It kinda works as a sexy theme song for Halloween night.

@TheFirstEcho


THE SINGAPORE SESSIONS: The 2015 Fall Playlist, Vol. 2


The Tokyo Tapes was fun and all, but now it's time for the second volume for the second leg of my upcoming Asian excursion. Lots of travelogue-worthy entries from the likes of Kygo, XOV, and Friendly Fires. But, once again, Spotify isn't up to date with some new releases I'm enjoying from James Morrison (see further below), Duffy (like "Whole Lot of Love"), and Hurts ("Slow").


@TheFirstEcho


Augustus Gloop Was Once My Spirit Animal


Beloved children’s author Roald Dahl was once the bane of my fifth-grade existence.

When I was 10, my class at New Rochelle Catholic Elementary performed a stage adaptation of his famous book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The production was directed by our art teacher (and school librarian) Mrs. Baron, a yellow-toothed, former flower child and Woodstock alumna with a penchant for puffing on Parliament Lights in the teacher’s lounge every afternoon. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine her spending her weekends knocking back shots of whiskey at an underground jazz club somewhere in the West Village, swaying to the tunes of a saxophonist named Johnny K and bopping to the bass in a haze of smoke – of course, back when you could puff on cancer sticks in Manhattan establishments.

I liked Mrs. Baron for two reasons.

First, during art class, she allowed us to bring in cassette tapes from home, a sort of play-and-tell to stimulate our artistic instincts with every papier-mache sculpture and watercolor portrait she graded. In the corner of her art room was a small table on which sat a rinky-dink boombox next to a bunch of paint jars and brushes. It would blare bass-heavy singles from Dr. Dre, House of Pain, En Vogue, and for the alternative fans in the group, songs from Nirvana and Spin Doctors. However, my musical contributions to the class were, to say the least, not as popular as the others. Among the cassette singles I had brought in: Annie Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass," Darryl Hall's "I'm in a Philly Mood," Big Mountain's reggae cover of "Baby I Love Your Way," (from the soundtrack to Reality Bites, which was actually a hit with some of my peers) and of course, anything from Christian-artist-turned-pop-star Amy Grant. The romantic Elton John and Kiki Dee power ballad "True Love," however, stayed at home because I was wise enough to avoid getting glue poured on my seat and face the subsequent snickering.

And through it all, Mrs. Baron never batted an eye when it was my turn to bring in music for the class.

Second, she was also the faculty moderator for the school newspaper, The Cardinal Chronicle, and gave me the creative freedom to write about anything that interested me, even if that included a very thorough recap of the entire second season of Melrose Place and a serialized column that was an homage to Beverly Hills, 90210 called (not surprisingly) New Rochelle, 10805.

But I digress…

Back to the play: Since there was no other 10-year-old in the school who weighed over 100 pounds, I was automatically cast as Augustus Gloop, the overweight kid who gets stuck inside a tube in Willy Wonka’s candy factory after he falls into a chocolate river and nearly drowns. He’s a chubby child who has been described as having “fat bulging from every fold with two greedy eyes peering out of his doughball of a body.” The wiki site for the 2005 Tim Burton-directed remake of the 1971 classic isn’t any more flattering: “He is a hungry, mean, foul, and very fat boy.”

I’m not sure how the casting decisions were made, so I can only imagine how it all went down…

MRS. BARON: “Well, we need someone to play Augustus Gloop.”

PRINCIPAL: “The fat kid? How about the Mitsuzuka boy?”

MRS. BARON: “Think he’ll be okay with it?”

PRINCIPAL: “You got another student in mind?”

MRS. BARON: “I guess we could convince him with free pizza and a bag of Funyuns.” 

PRINCIPAL: “See? Problem solved.”

Who needs an audition when you’re the only one naturally built for a role you were also destined to play? #Blessed.

Since Augustus Gloop is the first of four kids to get eliminated from the factory tour, my stage time was limited. I didn’t make it past the first half of the play, and that was totally fine with me. The acting bug didn’t really bite me as a child; I was more interested in the behind-the-scenes action and making tweaks to the script. (“Mrs. Baron, I don’t think a half-Asian Augustus would speak in a German accent. But I totally get where you’re going with the character.”) However, the way with which my character got dispatched did nothing to help my ego.


And before I go into that, I should mention that the budget for this elementary school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made The Blair Witch Project look like Avatar. Props and scenery were built by the seventh- and eighth-graders of the school, and any costuming was provided by whatever our parents could procure from our closets at home. So when the time came for my character to fall into the aforementioned chocolate river, there were no flashy special effects. Not even a pair of cheaply made wave boards that could have been painted brown to create the illusion of a fudge-like liquid. Nope. Instead, Mrs. Baron decided to execute my grand exit by having me jump off the stage and run backwards while flailing my arms in the air as if being carried away by an invisible current. And as I stumbled in front of a crowd of laughing parents towards a doorway that led to the stageside stairwell, I did my best not to trip, fall, and prolong my humiliation – all in the name of live entertainment.

Then came the proverbial salt to be rubbed in the wound. A trio of Oompa Loompas, played by three of my classmates in hideous white overalls, came out to do their brief chant about Augustus Gloop’s demise. I believe it went something like this: “He’s so fat…he’s so fat…he’s so fat, he’s like a blimp.”

Not quite the deepest or most complex of lyrics, but it did the job.


Some literary critics and bibliophiles will be quick to tell you how Roald Dahl’s books have been accused of fat-shaming over the years. It’s as if the author had some kind of simmering, subconscious resentment towards overweight folks. The proof is in plenty of his stories. In Matilda, cake thief Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to consume an insane amount of cake as punishment, while in The Witches, the always eating Bruno Jenkins viciously gets turned into a mouse. (Do we ever really find out what happens to him?) Then there’s the “comically obese” Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach, a character who gets squashed while trying to run away from the titular fruit.

Augustus Gloop was one of the many portly characters portrayed as either villains or disgusting gluttons in these books, and the disturbing things that happen to them seem like Dahl’s way of dealing with some kind of pain he may have suffered in the past. Upon looking up his personal history (the extent to which only covers Wikipedia), I couldn’t find any prior events or pivotal moments that might explain his less-than-pleasant treatment of these fictitious fatties. However, there has been mention of him being bullied as a schoolboy. Perhaps one of his tormentors had been an overweight oaf who later became the inspiration for several of these characters. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the inevitable biopic to see what really went down during Dahl’s childhood. Which begs the question: Who would be cast to play him? After glancing at some old photos of the 6’6” writer, it looks like the role would call for “a young John Cleese type.”

Hollywood, good luck with that.

Luckily I was somehow able to move past my humiliating turn as Augustus Gloop during that one-night-only performance in the early 90s. If there had been any emotional scars, they were probably healed with a couple of strawberry sundaes at the local Friendly’s my grandmother and I frequented (another chapter for another day). But I do like to think that my stage debut helped me build some resolve and instill a little bit of confidence in my 10-year-old self. It was the first time I faced my own vulnerability and put myself out there – in front of my largest audience to date! I can still remember that initial rush of adrenaline when I first stepped out on that stage, concentrating on the few lines I had to say and temporarily forgetting the hundreds of eyeballs that would focus on me. It was an experience I can now appreciate in hindsight.

Besides, Augustus also helped me prepare for my next role, lumberjack/prospector Yukon Cornelius, in the eighth grade Christmas production of Rudolph and the Misfits. That was by far a much sexier role. Those boots! That plaid flannel! I even got to hoist a fake axe over my shoulder and strut my stuff across the stage as if I owned the place. Finally I was able to use my size and stature in a way that felt empowering. I had swag long before I ever knew what swag was.

Call me the Original Lumbersexual.

*This has been another excerpt from my upcoming book, How To NOT Stay Skinny.

@TheFirstEcho


THE TOKYO TAPES: The 2015 Fall Playlist, Vol. 1


I leave for Asia in three weeks (as of this post, in case you haven't heard), so naturally I had to collect some tunes that shall accompany me on my travels through Japan and Singapore. Aside from the obvious heavyhitters of the season (as seen in the first few tracks), there are some surprises from the likes of Afrojack and Ella Eyre.

Summer, you came and went so fast. But at least Autumn is here to take care of me now.

@TheFirstEcho


Jess Glynne's 'I Cry When I Laugh': One of the Best Pop Albums of 2015


2015 should go down in music history as The Year of Jess Glynne.

After making a name for herself by vocally appearing on Clean Bandit's Grammy-winning "Rather Be" and "Real Love" and Route 94's "My Love," three of the best tracks to come out of 2014, she's finally releasing her debut album, the magnificent I Cry When I Laugh. (Now avail in the UK, but my fellow Americans, you'll have to wait until September 11.)

Early 2015 gave us the airy and shiny house groove of "Hold My Hand" while this past summer delivered the uplifting "Don't Be So Hard On Yourself" and the Tinie Tempah collaboration "Not Letting Go." All three of these tracks appear on the album, and all three sound as if they were born out of a 1995 jam session. (To clarify, that's a very good thing.)

Of course, all of this praise could be attributed to 90s nostalgia, which is all the rage as we move further into the 2010s. But after listening to the rest of this fantastic collection of inspired tunes, Glynne's soulful vocals are undeniably a perfect match for the silky smooth production and lyricism that runs throughout the dozen-plus set. By pop music connoisseur standards, it's as if Adele and Betty Who had a love child and raised it on early-90s R&B and house (while nurturing her fluid sexuality). If you need proof, start with the aptly titled "Right Here."

But it's not all Clinton-era throwbacks. There's 80s-tinged funk, as evidenced by the very Chaka Khan-esque "You Can Find Me" and the finger-shaking anthem "It Ain't Right." And then there are more stirring exercises in vulnerability in tracks like "Take Me Home" and "Saddest Vanilla," a gorgeous duet with the mesmerizing Emeli Sande.

Finally, if you're looking for a more mature alternative to Taylor Swift's summer smash "Bad Blood," make sure to check out Glynne's track of the same name, a more subtle (and poetic) approach to dealing with haters -- this time with a Western Asian flavor.

To stand back and observe the album in its entirety (The Deluxe Edition includes some worthy bonus tracks, including a soaring acoustic rendition of "My Love") is to fully realize that I Cry When I Laugh represents a rarity in today's pop music landscape: a fully realized masterwork that delivers on all emotional levels.


A definite addition to the Best of 2015 list.

P.S. - I Cry When I Laugh drops in the U.S. on Sept. 11.

@TheFirstEcho