May 29, 2015

What Happened When I Attended An Amy Grant Concert

From the ages of 11 to 14, I was infatuated with Amy Grant. She was the very first pop artist I became actively obsessed with. (You can read about my detailed history with her HERE.) While many of my peers at the time were getting into grunge and hip-hop, I was fine listening to the little bubblegum pop that was available on Top 40 in the early 90s along with the adult-contemporary hits my mom would blare in her Pontiac 6000-LE.

So when I was given the opportunity to attend and write about her concert at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts last weekend (just 20 miles south of Los Angeles), I took it with unadulterated excitement...and a little trepidation. Of course I didn't go alone. I brought along fellow Amy Grant fanatic (and fantastic YA novelist) Aaron Hartzler, the only other person I know in the Greater Los Angeles Area who could appreciate this experience.

I knew what I was getting myself into. Amy Grant is first and foremost known her for Christian music background, so the few songs she sang about Jesus didn't surprise me. I was also, as expected, one of the youngest audience members in the venue. Also expected: the minimal set-up on stage. The concert consisted of acoustic renditions of her greatest hits. She even took a few requests from the crowd in between candid conversations with her 3-man band. It was cozy, intimate, and warm.

And yes, we totally geeked out when she performed our favorites.

Did it feel like I was back at Sunday Mass at New Rochelle's Blessed Sacrament Church? Not at all. But as soon as she started performing songs I hadn't played in 20 years, the memory floodgates were opened. I started remembering little moments from my preadolescence. It was like my own personal Terence Malik film playing in my mind...

Buying the cassette single of "Every Heartbeat" in the summer of 1993 because it had the Body & Soul Remix, which was also the radio version I preferred and loved...Playing it non-stop at sleepaway camp on my crappy Aiwa cassette player (you can imagine how many friends that got me)...repeatedly calling in to New York's 95.5 WPLJ to request the song during their lunchtime request hour (it was never played)...playing Heart in Motion in its entirety (on cassette) in my father's Chevy Corsica during a family road trip to Washington D.C. in the spring of 1992...falling into a wormhole as a 13-year-old and discovering her older discography (1988's Lead Me On is quite good) for Amy's "I Will Remember You" as the Class Song for my 8th grade graduation (the majority ruled in favor of Boyz II Men's "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday" - go figure)...

It was quite the night. And here's her acoustic rendition of the ballad from the concert:

To say I was hit by a wave of nostalgia would be an understatement.

Yours truly,
A Proud Grantfan.


May 22, 2015

A Summer Jam For 2015 That Sounds Like 1995

Since we're on the subject of all things 1995 (see my previous post), I'd like to direct your attention to Tinie Tempah and Jess Glynne's "Not Letting Go."

This throwback jam has all the right moves and is giving me some major flashbacks. Just wait for Glynne's glorious chorus at :49.


May 20, 2015

Dr. Kimberly Shaw Blew Up 'Melrose Place' 20 Years Ago

On May 22, 1995, Fox's Melrose Place ended its third season with one of the biggest cliffhangers of the decade -- and one of the most memorable in TV history.

After a year of being betrayed, bothered, and bitchslapped, Dr. Kimberly Shaw (the marvelously wicked Marcia Cross) had plenty of reasons to hate just about everyone who lived at that titular poolside apartment complex. So what's a gal haunted by visions of a demon named Henry (who turned out to be her mother's rapist whom she killed in self-defense as a little girl) to do?

Strategically plant four firebombs around the apartment complex and set 'em off of course!

I had been near the end of my freshman year of high school, and my summer plans were up in the air. I was too old for camp, and I was just one year shy of being legally employable. So what's a boy obsessed with horror novels and Aaron Spelling primetime soaps to do? Help out at my aunt and uncle's ballroom dance shop, read a ton of paperback thrillers at their beach club bungalow, and speculate over the fate of these fictional characters.

Granted, the bombs didn't go off until the September premiere (due to the sensitivity surrounding the real-life Oklahoma City bombing), but here's what went down 20 years ago:

I know what you're thinking: why does that detonator look like something for a remote-controlled toy car?

Did Melrose jump the shark with this blatant ratings stunt? Sure. But did it make for an OMG-worthy TV moment during a pre-hashtag-trending era? You bet your ass it did.

#MelroseFinale #KrazyKimberly


May 15, 2015

POOLSIDE: The 2015 Summer Playlist, Vol. 1

Before I jet off to the Outerbanks and Crystal Coast of North Carolina for the next four days, I leave you with the soundtrack that's helping me kick off what I hope will be another amazing and memorable summer.

For a summer mix, I have to admit it's particularly dude-heavy. Years & Years, Erik Hassle, Brandon Flowers, and Jukebox The Ghost are just some of the gents kicking off this playlist. (Sorry, pop divas, you've been shuffled to the bottom this time around.)



May 12, 2015

How Pop Music Created The Entitled Generation

All around the world, pretty girls
Jump the line to the front,
Do what we like, get what we want,
We're just so pretty!
- "Pretty Girls" by Britney Spears & Iggy Azalea

Britney and Iggy's highly anticipated single, a wannabe summer anthem if there ever was one, finally leaked after weeks of speculation and build-up throughout the music blogosphere. The behind-the-scenes photos of the music video promised a fun romp with both pop starlets, surrounded by hot guys, flaunting some 80s-inspired fashions. The collaboration seemed like a match made in pop heaven -- a chart-topping rapstress who enjoyed a successful 2014 and pop's (arguably) reigning princess, who could enjoy some success on the charts while she hits the home stretch of her Las Vegas residency.

I'll just say it now: "Pretty Girls" is...okay. On the surface, it seems to mimic the sparkly-rebellious nature of a Charli XCX or Icona Pop jam. Brit sounds "pretty" good, and Iggy does her requisite wordsmithing in between, but if you listen carefully to its let's-party-and-have-a-good-time sensibility, you might hear something else. Read between the lyrics, and you get an indication of the current state of pop music...and its listeners. These two female artists are representing a generation that has been raised to believe they can have it all (especially if they bare their midriffs and pout their lips).

Fifth Harmony wants you to know they're "Worth It."

Call me an aging fogey who's too critical of Top 40 these days, but this new jam made me realize something: Could the superficial messages behind some of today's biggest hits be reinforcing a generation's beliefs and values to be equally superficial? You hear about older generations complaining about "today's generation" being too spoiled or -- the new word du jour -- "entitled." But is a luxe lifestyle, more than ever, being overtly glorified in pop culture, particularly in pop music?

Give me to me, I'm worth it.
Baby, I'm worth it.
Uh huh, I'm worth it.
Gimme gimme, I'm worth it.
- "Worth It" by Fifth Harmony feat. Kid Ink

Of course, this could be a matter of "Which came first: the chicken or the egg": Did the youth of America always feel entitled, and their music just started reflecting their tastes? Or is it the other way around? I can't help feeling it's the latter.

Entitlement is more prevalent in American pop culture for a number of reasons. Thanks to technology, and to put it simply, we're used to receiving things faster. YouTube musicians are thrust into the spotlight (usually on Ellen) after just one video goes viral. Someone makes an Internet splash, and they're immediately catapulted into everyone's news feed. Order a book on Amazon, and you can get it the same day! Therefore, we expect more things to happen more quickly. We expect more stuff to come to us more quickly. We expect everything now, and this includes everything from a well-paying job after college to the overall glory of success, wealth and happiness. I'm sure a psychology major could write a thesis and further discuss the origins of entitlement. And granted, a child's upbringing is also a definite factor -- the values and morals instilled at an early age -- but we're talking about outside forces that can shape a person's outlook on life here.

Songs about flaunting one's riches, enjoying life, and demanding only the best have been around for some time. Sheila E's "Glamorous Life" from 1984 was arguably the first anthem of its kind, a product of the Reaganomics-fueled 80s, a time when everyone believed in sparing no expense.

Then, the following year, a little song called "Material Girl" by Madonna hit the airwaves, perfectly encapsulating the unapologetic philosophy of demanding wealth and excess. ("The boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right.") And let's not forget the countless music videos that paraded around pimped-out cars, various bling, and a never-ending supply of scantily clad women (and very little men) throughout the late 90s and early aughts. The messages were blatant: "Look at our fabulous lives. You could have this too. Don't you want to be like us?" One glaring omission: The question that asks, "How does one achieve all of that wealth?"

Those were just music videos. The amount of singles with lyrics celebrating superficiality over the past decade has been, frankly, a little sickening. Going back to 2006, Fergie's "Glamorous" unabashedly embraced a luxe lifestyle. Naturally, the music video for this ode to "floss" had no problem rubbing bottle service and private jets in our faces. MGMT sang about marrying models and bingeing on cocaine and heroin in 2008's "Time to Pretend" (albeit ironically; it was one my top tracks of the year.) And according to Mashable, "much of the criticism surrounding Jay-Z's new record Magna Carta Holy Grail pointed to Jay-Z's insistence on continuing to rap about his wealth. This was exacerbated by the controversial Samsung deal that earned him $5 million and RIAA's platinum certification" before the record even hit shelves. (I mean, the dude even dedicated one track to fashion mogul Tom Ford.)

Unlike Madonna's "Material Girl," today's hits aren't entirely indicative of a society experiencing a booming economy in which everyone can splurge on luxury items. Sure, we might be slowly bouncing back from the financial nightmare that was the 2008 Recession, but the gap between the rich and the poor is wider than ever. Economic inequality has never been bigger. So why are more and more popular songs celebrating such high-end lifestyles? Is this supposed to be some kind of aspirational ploy? Are these songs designed to help encourage Americans to spend more and help the economy? To enjoy all the riches possible -- without really earning it? I guess that would explain the shameless product-placement-filled lyrics that attempt to rhyme words with expensive labels like Grey Goose, Louis Vuitton, Cristal, and Prada.

Look at Pitbull, the current King of The Party Track. His latest single with Ne-Yo, "Time of Our Lives," is basically all about treating yourself because you deserve it. Sample lyric:

I knew my rent was gon be late about a week ago.
I worked my ass off but I still can't pay it though.
But I got just enough to get off in this club.
Have me a good time before my time is up.

Don't get me wrong: I'm fine with a feel-good track to help you get pumped for the weekend, and I'm all for a song that inspires you to seek out the best things in life. (God knows I've pushed a few here on this blog.) Pop music, for the most part, is inherently full of fluff designed to brighten your day. But it's the increasingly aggressive push of these messages that is starting to become worrisome. The "feel-good" messaging behind most of these songs is arguably a disguise for what it really is: a rallying cry, a call-to-action for young people everywhere to demand whatever they want. Because they "deserve it." Because they're "worth it."

But are they really?


May 01, 2015

Humble Brag: My First Commercial

Time for some humble bragging.

Fandango just launched its new campaign earlier today, and one of the spots, starring Kat Graham from The Vampire Diaries, was written by yours truly. It is titled "Hashtag." For obvious reasons.

Take a look:


Song of the Month: May 2015

Erik Hassle is tickling my fancy these days and easing me into summer with his feel-good, electro-pop single "No Words." And the video is just as delightful.

I wish my favorite artists would just randomly appear in my apartment while I'm making breakfast. Well, now that I think of it, I'd probably have the same reaction as these girls here:


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 ...