October 30, 2015

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:


October 29, 2015

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.


October 22, 2015

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:


October 15, 2015

#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.


October 06, 2015

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

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.


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