August 24, 2016

#HumbleBrag: I'm on The Huffington Post

A photo posted by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@thefirstecho) on

I guess I can now add "Huffington Post contributor" to my bio.

My piece on Troye Sivan enjoyed some popularity on the interwebs this week -- 956 likes and 345 retweets as of this posting...

You can catch it here.


August 19, 2016

The White Privilege Continues with One of the Most Insufferable YouTube Channels Ever

Meet BriannaJoy.

She's 18, married to her high school sweetheart, 19-year-old Jaelin, and loves to vlog about her life experiences.

Stuff like...what it's like to wake up next to her man every day:

Or...moving to Chicago -- and then leaving after one day because of a scary run-in with a mentally unstable person on the L train (I dare you to get through the whole video):

And when she's not vlogging about scary city life from the confines of gorgeous, remodeled kitchens with her baby-faced husband, she's discussing finer things like: back-to-school dating advice (because she knows men so well after dating one of them), make-up tutorials, and cooking Chrissy Teigen-inspired meals.

Here's the thing: I understand how easy it would be to go off on this adorable couple because of their jawdropping naiveté and sheltered life in general (FYI, the above video is trending on Reddit for all the wrong reasons), but a part of me does acknowledge that they are publishing their authentic viewpoints and sharing their teenage truths with the world. In other words, they can't help it if they come off as a pair of pampered children -- because that's the life they know.

However, BriannaJoy's channel is a glaring example of white privilege, and although I don't blame her and other YouTubers for perpetuating certain images (because, frankly, some of them don't realize how fortunate they are -- seriously, who pays for those fresh-looking apartments?), we should sit up and notice that sharing -- no, flaunting -- one's life for the masses has an affect on those impressionable brains watching these vids. 

Parents, forget television and movies. You may want to pay attention to who your kids are following and subscribing to online. And if you happen to be those parents who are funding your child's apartment/studio and video equipment for his or her own YouTube channel, thanks for contributing to the problem.

There's a much larger discussion to be had here, but right now, I'm too sick and tired to waste another minute on those who think a "struggle" is finding an Uber to get to the nearest Chipotle before it closes.

In Defense of Movie Critics: Fantitlement Needs To Slow Its Roll (VIDEO)

While browsing the AMC Theaters website the other day, I caught this comment from a moviewatcher named @junia365:

"Just watch Jason Bourne. Don't listen to the critics, it was exactly what a Bourne movie should be!"

Her exclamation is one of many that falls under the same "fuck the critics" sentiment that has been running rampant recently. (If you're familiar with the petitioned shutdown of Rotten Tomatoes by Suicide Squad fans, then you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, click here...Mom.) This critique on critics is more visible (and louder) than ever, thanks to people like @junia365 who have multiple platforms at their disposal to voice their opinion.

Movie critics, since the dawn of time, tend to get a bad rap. They're often targets of ridicule, easy to make fun of. They're usually seen as snobs who poo-poo anything the masses find enjoyable. You can't help imagining a bald guy in glasses with a bushy mustache, wearing a decades-old sweater vest, ranting or raving from the confines of a cozy office filled with books, magazines, and old film reels. But nowadays, there are more critics than ever, from the professional to the more casual. Remember the phrase "Everyone's a critic"? Well, that's almost true if you look at it in a certain way. But I think it's important to maintain some respect for the legit kind of critic.

Fans, I get you. I recognize and identify with your passion. I am a fan myself, despite any accusations of being a film snob. I've gone on the record to say that if The Breakfast Club or Clue were to be remade, I would burn down the studio responsible for greenlighting such a blasphemous project.

But fans, you need to put down the pitchforks and pay attention. Don't hate on the critics who bash a movie (particularly a movie you haven't even seen yet) and quickly dismiss them. To put it mildly, slow your motherfucking roll. Instead, you may want to direct your vitriol at the studio system that keeps relying on big-budget, blander-by-the-year franchises and the corporate greed that is compromising the future of creativity in Hollywood. (Brush up on current industry practices HERE.)

"To say critics will bitch if every superhero film isn't THE DARK KNIGHT is ridiculously dumb! We want cohesive coherence - better if it's smart. And if it's fun/ funny enough, flaws in logic could be easily excused. But instead, during the boredom, we sit and ponder what's wrong." 
- fellow film critic Courtney Howard

Yes, since living in Los Angeles, I've written my fair share of movie reviews over the past several years for different media outlets (128 if you're counting). And yes, I consider myself a film critic because I think, at this point, I've earned the title. After all, while Americans see an average of 7 movies at the theater each year, I see an average of 70.

And THAT'S the main difference between YOU and movie critics: Movie critics have seen a shit-ton more movies than you. And because they've seen a shit-ton more movies than you, they have built up a vast library of knowledge and references they can turn to when analyzing and comparing a movie for the masses. Most of them were probably students of film theory in college. True, some of them may not have much of a life because most of their days are spent sitting in a dark theater absorbing the stories, action, and performances that unfold on screen -- FOR YOU. They sacrifice their time and social lives so that they can inform YOU and tell YOU whether or not you should spend YOUR valuable time on Nine Lives, Kevin Spacey's most embarrassing piece of work yet, or the nuanced comedy and sharp observations of Mike Birbiglia's Don't Think Twice.

Actually, AMC Movie News couldn't have said it better:

For more discussion on the topic, click HERE.

Moral of this pop culture rant: Think of professional movie critics as Olympic athletes. Instead of conditioning their physical bodies, they've trained their eyes and brains by watching hours and hours of films each week so they can deliver a legit piece of sound advice for millions of people.

Are you going to hate on Michael Phelps if he thinks someone's backstroke is weak? Didn't think so.


August 15, 2016

The P-town Sessions: A Playlist

Another much-needed vacation calls for another much-needed playlist.

Consider this one a special edition, a collection curated by yours truly to accentuate my upcoming trip to the East Coast -- six days in New York, followed by four days in Cape Cod.

Dinner reservations have been made. New swim trunks have been purchased. And suntan lotion has been restocked. August 27 can't come any sooner.

In the meantime, go ahead and click play:


August 11, 2016

#TBT: Octavia Spencer Was in an Alanis Morissette Video?!?!

*Updated 8/19/16 with a response from Ms. Spencer herself.

Looks like it. The Oscar winner was an extra on the set of the video for Alanis Morissette's "Everything" back in 2004.

She appears at the 1:22 mark (on the left, as seen above).

And oh yeah, some guy by the name of Ryan Reynolds was supposed to show up at the end (when he and Alanis were an item back in the early 00s), but it looks like they recast -- and reshot -- the video to include the guy who played Greg (Chris William Martin), the cute med student who had a fling with Felicity...on Felicity.

Fun fact: the actor also appears in the video for Alanis's fantastic cover of "Crazy."


August 10, 2016

What I'm Reading: 'Kill The Boy Band'

I'm more than halfway through Goldy Moldavsky's breezy satirical novel, Kill The Boy Band (about four teenaged girls who kidnap a member of a One Direction-esque band -- and things go horribly wrong), and I just came across this fun monologue delivered by the narrator, directed at a hipster hotel bartender:

"Don't you have a Kickstarter to fund or something? I don't have to sit here and listen to you. You don't know anything. You think you're so cool with your beard and your dollar-store philosophies about boy bands and life? You think you have anything to say about the experience of the modern American teenage girl? You have no fucking clue what it's like to be me or my friends. You don't know what we're capable of. So why don't you kindly fuck off!"

Methinks the author had a few things to get off her chest, and this was clearly her version of "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" aimed directly at a patriarchal society that constantly condescends to women in nearly every facet of its popular culture.



August 06, 2016

The Curious Case of Troye Sivan: Why Top 40 Needs a Gay Pop Star

At the beginning of 2016, I wrote a piece for Bello called "The Inevitable Rise of Troye Sivan," praising a bold and refreshing new talent in the pop arena and predicting his destined claim to mainstream fame.

For those of you who still have no clue as to whom I'm talking about, Troye Sivan started out as a YouTuber from Australia, gaining immense popularity among the GenZ set. His excellent, emotional electro-R&B debut album, Blue Neighborhood, was released shortly before Christmas last year, and Rolling Stone immediately called this talented 21-year-old "one of 10 new artists you need to know."

Before the release of that album, Troye had released an EP of tunes (2014's TRXYE) and a trilogy of music videos called "Blue Neighborhood," highlighting three standout tracks: "WILD," "FOOLS," and "TALK ME DOWN." Each beautifully directed piece chronicles a childhood friendship that turns into a forbidden and tragic romance. It's a boy-meets-boy saga that is rarely seen in the pop world -- perhaps too daring to be an American production.

Troye was, and still is, poised to be a unique and (I'll use the adjective again) fresh voice that could penetrate Top 40 radio and open a door for more artists like him: brilliant, eloquent singer-songwriters who just happen to be openly gay.

Earlier this year, Troye had committed to an adequate amount of press for someone trying to break into the mainstream, even appearing on the widely appealing Ellen and The Tonight Show. He even managed to crack a few Top 40 radio stations with his official debut single, "Youth," a stomping, poetic anthem for the Snapchat generation.

Then came the official music video for said track, and something felt a little different. Taking place at a house party decked out in Christmas lights where a bunch of youths hang out and act silly (cuddling in a pile of Care Bears!), the song's visual treatment is simple, fine, serviceable. However, with the way some of the action unfolds, especially through its careful editing, it feels safe. Throughout the video, our star is seen exchanging flirty glances with a fair-haired boy. In a few shots, the two are face-to-face in a will-they-or-won't-they moment that flirts with viewers. While other partygoers get up close and personal -- an androgynous-looking couple kiss in a shadowy hallway -- Troye and his crush are never seen locking lips, even though the story ends with our singer being pulled into another room (perhaps for some private, off-screen time).

Compared to the bold narrative of the Blue Neighborhood trilogy, this video seems like a slight step back, and one can't help interpreting it as an attempt to tone down his sexuality.

And if that didn't raise a few suspicions, there was this:

"WILD" was released earlier this summer as a follow-up single, but it appears someone (at the music label perhaps?) decided it was a good idea to rework the album version by incorporating fellow up-and-comer Alessia Cara into the vocals. The result is a call-and-response remix that completely changes the song's original message. By employing a female vocal and adding a few new lyrics with some extra beats, the track is no longer about a boy expressing his desire for another boy. With much respect to Cara, this new rendition comes off as a generic, heteronormative love song.

Of course, one may argue that this happens with a lot of new artists who are trying to break into the mainstream. Musical collaborations are produced all the time, especially when two artists can benefit from a merger of their fanbases. However, this collab feels particularly manipulative, especially when the content of the song is altered for an entirely different interpretation.

If you caught the music video for this reworked single (below), which premiered in July, you'll see that the visuals reflect the original's message, yet applies it to a variety of relationships. Here, Cara comes off more like Troye's BFF who enjoys sitting on rooftops and talking about their respective boy drama. The rest of the video? It's a pleasant showcase of diverse couples, a Benetton ad without the expensive clothes (or production budget):

All of which makes the song's addition of a female vocal all the more confusing. Was there some kind of hesitation to make this all about Troye and his boyfriend? Did someone think it was a better idea to add a bunch of characters to detract from a more singular gay storyline and widen the appeal, the relatability? Or does Troye's youthful appearance (he still looks 14) make some hesitant to play around with his sex appeal? Or am I thinking too much about a music label's intentions?

For those who hear these songs and don't know much about Troye, the default impression is to assume he's singing about a girl (because this is the world we live in). But for those who know Troye, who know what he's all about (thanks to his personal YouTube channel), the assumption is different. You know the "you" he's singing about is, and will always be, referring to another guy.

There are a lot of young women in the Teenybopper Army who already know about Troye's sexual orientation (he's posted videos about his Dream Guy), and they seem to be a-OK with it. In fact, they seem to love him more for his transparency. After all, authenticity is key among the Snapchat generation. Just look at how many hits his videos have gotten. And if you think about it, this current crop of young fans are the elders of a generation that will eventually grow up not knowing a world before marriage equality. We now live in a society where a rising star doesn't have to pretend to be something he's not just because he needs to ensure a wider appeal. So why the seemingly sudden need to manage his image with kid gloves? Music execs, I presumptuously ask you this: what are you panicking about?

If Nick Jonas can get naked with Shay Mitchell in a shower (see steamy Exhibit A: "Under You"), why can't Troye get it on with the man of his dreams during a PG-rated ballad?

This all leads up to the subject of Why This Matters...

Pop music, particularly Top 40 radio, needs an unabashedly and openly gay artist like Troye Sivan. Hearing a gay pop singer emote and croon lyrics creates an entirely different listening experience for gay audiences because only they can authentically relate to the content within said lyrics. Hearing Katy Perry sing about a guy being her "Teenage Dream" is pleasant enough, and listening to Nick Jonas croon about being "Jealous" about his girlfriend's sex appeal is enjoyable and all, but when an openly gay singer takes the mic, it's all the more resonating (and relatable) for a certain group of fans. It helps them see themselves more in the narrative that is being told through song.

Sure, one could throw out names like Adam Lambert and Sam Smith to prove that contemporary gay male pop acts are no strangers to radio airplay. But we have yet to see someone who truly rises above, smashes through, and dominates in way that every Nick, Shawn, and Bruno does, especially with lyrical content that speaks/sings to the gay experience. (Let's see how Sam Smith does with his sophomoric effort...whenever that may be.)

Indie singer Steve Grand is an out-and-proud singer-songwriter who made an online splash a few years ago, but the polarizing hunk hasn't managed to break out in a way that gets him booked on, say, SNL. Why is that? Those familiar with Grand's work may argue that, despite the hollow attempt to sell him as "the first openly gay country singer" back in 2013 (with his single "All American Boy"), his talent is now taking a backseat to his image and sex appeal (he's not shy about flaunting his abs and biceps on social media). Of course, sex appeal is very much a part of a pop star's career, but it didn't help that Steve was caught in the middle of an online debate about the double standards gay men (particularly the white kind) face when they try to show some skin while their straight counterparts (both women and men) seem to get away with it more easily. And it definitely didn't help when his arguments on the matter caused pundits to paint him as a model of white male privilege within the gay community. Their argument in a nutshell: Aw, poor thing. You have it soooo hard because people hate on you for your hotness.

But back to the point at hand...

Just like the representation of gay characters on television, the visibility (or audibility) of gay artists on the radio is just as important and necessary to bring about more tolerance and understanding in our world. Therefore, perhaps it takes someone like Troye Sivan, a talented young artist who has the potential to break through more subtly than someone like Steve Grand, to make more of an impact on the pop airwaves. After all, he is already wooing audiences and setting hearts aflutter -- not with his torso but with his ability to craft a devastatingly beautiful lyric.

Here's hoping that potential blooms into something more. Especially for a generation that needs it.

"I am tired of this place, I hope people change..." 
- "FOOLS" by Troye Sivan


August 05, 2016

I'm Supertired of This Superhero Movie Supershit

Superhero Movie Fatigue -- or SMF for those of you currently suffering through it -- is nothing new.

People, namely critics, pop culture pundits, and anyone with some semblance of intelligence and taste, have been complaining about the relentless onslaught of comic-book movie franchises for a while now. And if the recent, lukewarm reception for Suicide Squad is any indication, people aren't afraid to be vocal about it anymore.

And God knows, many have written about Hollywood's unhealthy obsession with franchises and the current state of how the industry is operating, especially at movie studios. (Hint: you can thank foreign countries, especially China, for America's current cinematic output.) See here:

Exhibit A.
Exhibit B.
And Exhibit C.

Frankly, for all I care, Marvel and DC could lay out their planned movie schedules from now until I'm sitting in a nursing home shitting myself while having apple sauce shoved down my gagging throat. As of now, in August of 2016, I simply won't be rushing to theaters to hand over my $15-20 to a film and particularly to a movie studio that is run by some prick with a business or finance degree who never sat behind a camera, produced art, or wrote anything creative.

I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War for all it's worth and all that it stood for, but knowing that there are a dozen more of these guys coming soon to theater near me in the next three to four years is exhausting.

Here's why I've finally hit my wall:

1. The constant release of these types of films is only fanning the flames of fantitlement. (Look up that definition HERE.) And I for one can't stand to see another headline like "Fans Try to Shut Down Rotten Tomatoes" just because people are pissed about how their precious superhero saga is received. True, yours truly may be practicing a form of fantitlement by writing this very post, but then again, my problem isn't with how these movies are made. It's more about the modern-day studio system that has been refurbished to create an uncontrollable monster that is consuming the moviegoing public's money on a weekly basis.

2. Another superhero movie franchise just means that, come Halloween, more douchebags (and the women who love them) will throw together slipshod costumes to look "sexy."

3. These kinds of movies are ruining what it means to be a movie star. In other words, the names of properties (comic books, YA trilogies, video games) are becoming more important than the names of the actual talent you see on screen. See Exhibit D and Exhibit E.

4. I truly miss character-based stories that don't involve a spark of a special effect. Call me old (maybe this is what happens as I inch closer to a certain age), but I prefer to sit in a theater and watch something on the big screen that isn't "based on" anything.

5. I hate feeling like I'm being manipulated every time I visit my local multiplex. When I go see the latest installment of a superhero series that is a part of a larger "shared universe," all I see now is a conglomerate that has laid out a blueprint meticulously designed to squeeze out more dollars from every red-blooded American. I hate watching a movie that blatantly feels like it's been incubated in a lab surrounded by businessmen who only pay attention to statistics and projected estimates.

So, will I see Suicide Squad? Maybe, maybe not. But my instincts about movies tend to be right. And they're telling me to skip it and save my money for something else.

I could argue and complain some more, but why bother? Time is precious. I don't want to waste it on a shitty attitude...or shit movies.


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 ...