August 26, 2015

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.


August 21, 2015

DO NOT DISTURB: The Bedroom Playlist

It's baby-making time.

Well, not quite. But I have curated a soundtrack designed to get some of you a little hot and bothered.

Calling this The Horny Sessions would just be plain crass, no?


August 18, 2015

Summer of '15: REMIXXED

Before we bid adieu to the Summer of 2015, let's celebrate some of the songs that made this season what it was...with some badass remixes.


August 14, 2015

I Survived a Grape Jelly Bomb on National Television

Yes, that's me praising the game show gods for helping me answer a sports trivia question correctly (almost) on the August 13 episode of BOOM! on Fox.

Accompanying me on this road to 15 Minutes of Fame (well, actually, we had 20 minutes of camera time) were my good friends Tim and Matt. And those uniforms we're wearing? We're proudly representing our kickball team, the Scream Queens -- not to be confused with Ryan Murphy's upcoming horror-comedy of the same name (coincidentally on the same network) starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Emma Roberts and premiering on September 22. (I swear this isn't a publicity ploy. The team was formed over a year ago!)

Tim and Matt cheering me on, silently thinking, "Don't fuck this up, Hiko."

I mistakenly selected Tim Tebow after eliminating Bruce, Lance, and Peyton, and the consequences for yourself:


August 12, 2015

An Open Letter to John Burk (and Other Body Shamers)

Army veteran John Burk, a self-proclaimed “fitness motivator” from Georgia, racked up millions of views on a July 2015 video rant in which he called overweight people “repulsive” and “disgusting.” Needless to say, he made headlines and sparked a heated online debate on whether or not he was justified in what he said. (Chicago Tribune fitness columnist James Fell bestowed Burk the title “Fitness Douchebag of the Week” on his blogsite

Here’s my response...

Dear Mr. Burk,

Hiko Mitsuzuka here, American soldier in the Battle of the Bulge since…let’s say, sometime in the late 1980s.

I just wanted to take a few minutes of your time. Your video was quite the watch. From the looks of it, I assume you just finished a great workout that really got your endorphins flowing. (Congrats on all of your accomplishments, especially those veins in your arms and chest.) Your animated speech must have been the result of an intense pump. I get it. Despite my current body mass index and overall appearance, I’m somewhat familiar with the feel-good rush one can experience after a sweaty, heart-racing session at the gym. But your spontaneous speech could have used some refining, a little prep work, and research. You know, research, that thing you do to support your sweeping generalizations and blanket statements? It involves looking up facts and statistics and some reading…You know, reading, something you probably haven’t tried since your last level of education, whatever that may be. No matter. Anyway, while your intentions were arguably in the right place, trying to get people to get off their asses and take charge of their health, the way with which you delivered the message was all wrong. You may call it passionate and motivational, but it just came off as heated and downright mean.

Again, I get it. Sometimes people need to be faced with the harsh realities of life. Maybe we have grown too complacent, maybe we do handle each other with kid gloves, and maybe we do tend to take the easy way out of things. I can tell you’re a proponent of tough love, which makes me wonder who lit the fire under your balls to turn you into a hardened hardbody as blunt as a lead pipe wrapped in cement.

I also have to ask: Was there some moment in your childhood or adolescence that left an indelible mark on you as a fat kid? Perhaps some kind of emotionally traumatic instance that forced you to grow up quickly and change your ways? Was there someone who instilled in you this aggressive approach and outlook on life? I ask because, had you been a chubster in a previous life -- and it looks like you were, according to your Instagram feed -- you should be able to understand the physical and mental anguish an overweight child goes through and how that can carry over into adulthood. Perhaps you would have developed a better perspective on what it’s like to live as a member of the overweight population. Maybe you would realize that placing extremely insulting labels on them does not help them. In no way are you “motivating” them to lead healthier lives. You’re also not telling them anything they haven’t heard before, because they live in a world that constantly encourages them to feel shitty about themselves, to feel less-than.

You seem to direct most of your anger and frustration at overweight and obese parents for not taking “an active role” in their children’s lives and being the cause of their obesity. You also seem to have little sympathy for children who are bullied about their weight: “And then you’re going to wonder why your children are getting made fun of in school. Yeah, that’s a fact of life, people. Bullying is out there, there are bullies out there. Who are they going to go for first? Overweight kids…That’s just how life is.”

Really? What you’re saying is that anyone has the right to torment and name-call anyone who is different or doesn’t appear to fit a “normal” standard. Considering the current suicide rate among America’s youth, I am shocked to hear someone blatantly justify the actions of bullies and give them the go-ahead to do harm. How about you focus your heated energy on understanding why bullying exists in the first place? How about you dig deep, get to the root of the problem, and search for the origin of such damaging, abusive behavior? Why do bullies feel entitled to put people down – what causes them to verbally and physically attack others? Is it a lack of empathy? I strongly suggest redirecting your efforts to teaching bullies how to have compassion for other people’s difficulties and differences. Maybe that would then lead to an improvement in everyone’s health, mental and physical.

And while we’re on the subject of research, how about learning about why people overeat? I would think that you’re educated enough to know why obesity is such a problem in this country. (Kudos for scolding the fast food industry for the huge role it plays in this epidemic.) Begin with that. Don’t expect an influx of new clients if you’re going to start things off by calling them “disgusting” and “repulsive.” What self-respecting overweight person would want to subscribe to your drill sergeant-inspired fanaticism? While there’s plenty to criticize about your rant, especially the idea that even regular diet and exercise will drastically lower people’s weight for a sustained time, perhaps your biggest eye-roller is mentioned in the first few seconds of your video: “Scientific studies have shown that it is not healthy to be overweight. There’s nothing good about it.” You are right to point out that excess weight has been linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but it’s hardly a set destiny. Scientific studies have shown that weight alone is not the best indicator of future health issues. They have concluded that one's fitness level is a better predictor of early death than BMI. (The overweight and fit have similar mortality rates to the thin and fit.)

You seem to infer that exercise will make you thinner and that overweight people are not working out enough. According to your logic, the only reason people are fat is because they don’t bother going to the gym or being physically active in their everyday lives. A healthy diet and active lifestyle will certainly do wonders for longevity, but for the majority of people, it will only lower their weight by a few pounds, if at all — no matter how much you yell at them. Your belief, which is unfortunately shared by many people, only serves to motivate those struggling, overweight folk to drop those healthy lifestyle changes when they don’t find themselves magically dropping more than fifteen pounds. In other words, the more you use fat-shaming language in your “motivational” speeches, the less likely people will lose weight. Shaming and scare tactics lead to more weight gain while shame-free encouragement leads to more weight loss. And that, Mr. Burk, is what I call irony.

Here’s a fortune cookie quote for you to chew on (feel free to spit out the cookie if you can’t afford the extra calories): Compassion and understanding go a long way.

Yes, obesity is a serious health issue, but it’s decidedly not one that can be solved by mean-spirited and inaccurate slogans like the ones you spewed throughout your video. And despite your insistence that you’re not “fat-shaming,” it’s hard to see how your expletive-filled rant is anything but.

You’ve also told the media that what you’re doing is “raising awareness.” Unfortunately, the only thing you’ve made us aware of is how to avoid becoming a big, flaming piece of douchebaggery like yourself if we’re ever to achieve the same level of fitness (and your six-pack stomach). Rather than make people feel miserable and run away, we like to think we’d actually, you know, inspire people to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

Congratulations, Mr. Burk. You’ve admirably succeeded in making less people interested in losing weight and taking back their health.

Yours truly heavy,

*This has been a excerpt from my upcoming book, How to NOT Stay Skinny.

August 07, 2015

Shameless Plug: Movie Review Alert

Just a reminder: I'm still writing movie reviews for the folks at ScreenPicks. Most recently, I shared my thoughts on The Diary of a Teenage Girl (above) as well as...

...Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and...




POWER: The 2015 Summer Playlist, Vol. 5

Okay, so I lied.

Volume 4 wasn't my last. Turns out there's even MORE music to share and enjoy before this season comes to inevitable conclusion.

Another Disclosure collaboration with Sam Smith? Who knew? A nu-disco jam from Redfoo? It's true! A One Direction song that sounds like The Police? Say it isn't so!

Sadly, Spotify (nor iTunes) doesn't have some of the songs I'd like to include here, so you'll have to sample them separately -- further below.

"Feet Don't Fail Me Now" by Foxes:

"Why Me" by Jess Glynne"


August 05, 2015

Passport Alert: I'm Going to Japan and Singapore

I am now less than 2 months away (7 weeks, to be exact - not that I'm counting) from my next international adventure.

I haven't visited Japan since 2004, back when Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls were all the rage, but it had been for a that wasn't the best trip.

Now that I'm older, wiser, and more open to new experiences, I know I'll appreciate the hell out of this visit to the land where half of my roots originated.

Then, it's on to Singapore to visit some friends and stay at the gorgeous Scarlet Singapore for 4 nights. (I hear the airport there is exquisite.)

Lots of flying, lots of exotic cuisine, lots of opportunities to catch up on my reading, and lots of chances to find some new music along the way. Like...

Or maybe not.

Either way, my Instagram feed is going to blow up this fall.


August 02, 2015

Song of the Month: August 2015

What better way to prepare for the end of summer than with a song called "Over"?

My favorite tune of the moment is from GOLDHOUSE (a.k.a. Grant Harris), a DJ-composer-producer-vocalist from Chicago who has crafted what has to be the most energetic break-up song ever. This one-man machine has delivered a late-summer jam that mixes hypnotic vocals with a traditional, four-on-the-floor beat and some great kiss-off lyrics:

"I wanna press rewind, go back in time.
I wanna break your heart, so you can't break mine.
I wanna be the one to say it's over, baby.

I wanna make it hurt, every single word.
I wanna strike that match just to watch it burn.
I wanna see your face when I say it's over, baby."

Press play. Then repeat:


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 ...