Katy Perry's 'Witness' and the Rise of Dystopian Pop in the Trump Era


Before Witness even dropped, it seemed like there were dozens and dozens of thinkpieces dedicated to dissecting the current state of Katy Perry's career. Pop music pundits had good reason to assume the 32-year-old singer's political activism would inform the sounds of her next project after seeing her stand on the celebrity frontlines of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. However, there were immediate criticisms ready to call bull on her intentions to create "purposeful pop" after releasing the album's first social-PSA single, "Chained to the Rhythm," and following it up with the blatant, food-as-sex-metaphor bop "Bon Appetit."

And while fans may be confused by the theme of this particular "era" after the release of those two songs (not to mention "Swish Swish," which I'll get to later), listening to Witness in its entirety may help clarify some things.

One thing's for certain: Gone are the easy-breezy flourishes of 2010's Teenage Dream and some of 2013's Prism, which may upset many, especially those looking for some radio-friendly summer jams. Several years later, there's a particular gloom and melancholy that hangs over Witness, and that is arguably a result of a few things: 1) Katy's no longer a cupcake-bra-wearing 25-year-old in blue wigs and skin-tight jeans getting her boy toy's heart racing. (She's now older, perhaps wiser.) 2) Katy is troubled by the machinations of our current administration and worried about our future (and dammit, she's got something to say about it).

Look, every artist goes through creative stages. Every musician experiments with new sounds. And every pop diva should be allowed to express her mood du jour, even if it results in a less-than-stellar album (a moment of silence for Kelly Clarkson's My December and Britney's Britney Jean).

Unfortunately, we have reached a Katy Perry nadir with Witness. This gloom and melancholy, when paired with some awkward lyrics -- don't get me started on the laughable "Save As Draft" -- simply come off as self-indulgent and terribly misguided.

The album opens with the titular track, a mission statement with a lonely chorus that sees our gal pining for a connection. (Don't we all?) This is Katy basically telling us, "Get ready for me to sing about some big and important themes!" What follows is a mostly forgettable collection of tunes that fails to soar. Rather, it just glides...

For more of my commentary, check out my latest piece on HuffPost.

@TheFirstEcho

The Radical Empathy of 'Master of None'


During a recent episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, music journalist Stephen Thompson had written down two words to associate with the second season of Aziz Ansari's Emmy-winning Netflix series Master of None: "radical empathy."

His commentary was part of a glowing review of a television show that feels so very necessary right now. Why necessary? Because Master of None, which is about the comedic misadventures and romantic entanglements of New York actor Dev Shah (Ansari), is doing something no other TV show has done in recent memory. It is providing a much-needed stage for characters (and actors) that are not often found on screen, big or small. And by doing so, it is giving these names and faces a chance to share their perspectives, tell their stories, during a time when spotlights in film and television are usually hogged by individuals who are seen as bankable or "audience-friendly." (Translation: able to guarantee big box office receipts or big ratings.) 

And what's so beautiful about this is that none of it feels forced or contrived. None of it reeks of a major studio feeling obligated to fulfill a diversity quota. None of it feels like it's being written, produced, or created by people who have no legitimate understanding of the experiences of The Other. Master of None is refreshingly, genuinely woke, a show about living in the Biggest Melting Pot on Earth that actually looks like the Biggest Melting Pot on Earth.

Last season's flashback-filled episode, "Parents," won a well-deserved writing Emmy for its casually groundbreaking and nuanced portrait of the immigrant experience as well as heavily Americanized first-generation children. (Full disclosure: as the child of an immigrant, it was personally one of the most resonating pieces of television I've ever watched.) After all, when was the last time you watched an Indian-American man and his Chinese-American friend make a conscious effort to appreciate their respective heritages on TV?

This season, there are several contenders vying for that aforementioned award. There's the delicate juggling act on display in "First Date," seamlessly edited to brilliantly demonstrate the assembly-line mechanics and politics of online app dating. The women Dev meets range in ethnicities. While some flash by in brief moments, others stick around, and they're given more room to breathe, share their experiences, and give viewers a more developed image of a person who may not look like the type they usually date. Meanwhile, the color-blind casting never seems deliberate...


To read more, check out my latest piece on HuffPo.

The 'Murder on the Orient Express' Trailer is My Nerdgasm of the Week (VIDEO)


I was raised by an Agatha Christie fan (my mother's bookcase was loaded with her novels the way mine was loaded with R.L. Stine's), so I was on board this train ever since I heard Kenneth Branagh was behind this remake of the star-studded 1974 adaptation.

The trailer for this new edition just dropped, and my initial thoughts? The way the characters are introduced here is kind of awesome (love that slow, single take through the train car).

But...an Imagine Dragons song? Really?


PS - I know who did it.

@TheFirstEcho

The Search for the Summer Song of 2017 Begins Now


Summertime is the right time...for a kickass playlist.

I've been making seasonal playlists for as long as I can remember, and summer is always a special one because it's the time of year when some of the best memories are made. Road trips! Barbecues! One night stands with Tinder hotties! And memories should always come with a great soundtrack.

As for this summer, I'm holding out for sizzling British singer Dua Lipa to dominate my earbuds (she appears three times in this collection). As for Katy Perry, "Bon Appetit" desperately screams "Let me be your summer song!" but she should've just stuck to "Swish Swish" as her second official single off the upcoming Witness. As for this year's "Can't Stop The Feeling!" we don't have one yet. Sadly, there's no big summer jam in the forecast.

But as soon as one pops up (and it's worthy enough to be placed here), I'll update this playlist as needed.

@TheFirstEcho

12 Times Buzzfeed's Click-Bait Headlines Made Me Roll My Eyes


Oh, Buzzfeed.

Perpetual resource of procrastination. Receptacle of listicles. Unapologetic provider of nostalgia-driven posts...

Your headlines have lured us into your web of trivial content for some time now, and frankly, some of this shit is ridiculous, which is why I was inspired to come up with an equally ridiculous list of my own.


Really? I was more like, Oh My Yaaaaawn.


The only fucked-up thing I experienced in the 80s was discovering my grandmother's dentures sitting in a plastic cup when I slept at her house as a kid.


Hmmm...and by listing 16 different characteristics of a certain nationality, you've ironically demonstrated that Scots are a diverse bunch capable of many things.


One question that's totally possible to answer: Is one of these questions an actual, original thought?


You say "hilarious." I say, "Don't have kids."


Brilliant work there, Sherlock.


This headline is a grammatical mess. If read correctly, it backfires on itself. Fine, I WON'T watch these chick flicks tonight! Also, this might as well read: "If You Own These Movies, You're Beyond Basic."


It's true. The staff member who wrote this is a pos.


...and here's the truth: You're an idiot.


I'm sorry. I didn't realize you guys were real estate AND travel agents (but thanks for the Monaco tip).


Oh really now? Because after choosing lobster, shrimp cocktail, and potatoes au gratin (with chocolate chip cookies for dessert), I already died last year. Thanks.


And one response that says "Go the fuck away. I don't need your Keanu Reeves impression."

@TheFirstEcho

Elisabeth Shue Lives On (in the Trailer for 'Battle of the Sexes')


The trailer for Battle of the Sexes seems like your standard piece of based-on-true-events awards bait.

Yep, it's got newly minted Academy Award winner Emma Stone and Academy Award nominee Steve Carrell, and yes, it tells a fascinating tale about the politics of professional tennis in the 70s while doubling as a Billie Jean King semi-biopic.

But one thing in this trailer should make us all take pause and go "ooh." ELISABETH MUTHAF**KIN' SHUE. As in, "Hi, I'm Chris don't-f**k-with-the-babysitter Parker" Elisabeth Shue.

Hey lady, where've you been? (Besides slumming it on those last few seasons of CSI.)

Don't blink at the 1:29 mark or you'll miss her. That said, I hope this isn't indicative of her role in the film. But either way, it's Elisabeth Muthaf**kin Shue.

@TheFirstEcho

When Bad Music Videos Happen to Good Pop Songs: Zedd & Alessia Cara's "Stay"


It's basically a glorified Sliding Doors ripoff by way of a Boomerang video. That's all.

@TheFirstEcho

The 'Will and Grace' Trailer is Kinda Spectacular


An encore 11 years in the making...

NBC just released this 5-minute-long, self-deprecating musical trailer filled with tons of good stuff to get you excited for the 12-episode revival of the sitcom America needs right now.

Just watch. And love:


@TheFirstEcho

Austin Mahone Lays On The Bronzer and Desecrates Modjo's 2000 Hit "Lady"


Austin Mahone, the just-turned-21-year-old pop heartthrob who (some say) rode on the coattails of Justin Bieber, has become the latest singer to find himself ensnared in the reductive stylings of a Pitbull collaboration.

The proof is in "Lady," a milquetoast club-banger that heavily samples Modjo's 2000 international hit dance single of the same name (enjoy the original here).

The video accompanying this forgettable piece does nothing to improve things. The "narrative" (from Gil Green) involves Austin and his crew pulling up to a convenience store to rendezvous with Mr. Worldwide for a secret party. Once inside, the guys access a secret passageway -- through a soda fridge -- that leads them into a pulsating nightclub full of only female extras who are simply there to sway their hips and act as lustful objects for the young Mr. Mahone and his monochromatic entourage.


And if you listen closely at the top of the song (at the :54 mark below), something even more problematic appears: a near-subliminal message from Pitbull who utters the words (twice), "This is for the beautiful girls around the world." So, ladies who may not fit the standards of hotness on display here, please step aside. This jam ain't for you.

Insert a thousand disgusted eye roll emojis here.

Ultimately, it's an uninventive portrait of what I like to call a D.I.T. (Douchebag-in-Training).

And, I regret to say, it will probably end up on my upcoming summer playlist. Listen and see for yourself:

@TheFirstEcho

Reacting to Political News with 'Downton Abbey'


The headlines coming straight outta D.C. are enough to make any woke person's blood boil.

Most recently, the guy who's investigating the POTUS's ties to Russia (that'd be FBI Director James Comey)...was just fired by the POTUS himself. I was like...

*Yes, that's Jennifer Saunders, and technically, it's from a 2011 Downton spoof on BBC.

And did anyone feel for Anderson Cooper while he had to sit there and listen to KellyAnne Conway ramble on yesterday? His eye roll spoke volumes:


Then there's Ivanka Trump, former model and current model of white privilege, who had the gall to write a book about working women...while quoting African-American figures commenting on slavery. I'm like...


But let's focus on the tea that's about to be spilled all over D.C. 

Recent developments in this Russia-fueled scandal seem to demonstrate that the evidence against the POTUS is piling up nicely. Is anyone else in our government seeing this? Screw optics. Say what it is! Let the truth out!


Last but not least, there's Sally Yates, a Wonder Woman in her own right, a figure I see inevitably being played by Sarah Paulson in a future Ryan Murphy production. When she shut down that shit during those hearings, I was like:


#Resist, my friends.

'Dear Evan Hansen' Scores 9 Tony Award Nominations and Here's Why (VIDEO)


I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Dear Evan Hansen back in December, and to this day, I still think about the stellar music and performances behind one of the best and emotional times I've had at the theater. And now, 9 Tony nominations later...


...here's just one of the many reasons why it deserves all the accolades: The show recently put together a mashup of fans performing the gorgeous "Waving Through A Window" to demonstrate how the show has resonated with today's audiences, along with a generation that has -- dare I say -- found its own Rent.

Check it out:


@TheFirstEcho

Lena Dunham Directed the Music Video for One of My Favorite Songs of 2017


Alia Shawkat (from one of my new obsessions, TBS's Search Party) makes an appearance in the 80s-tinged, lo-fi music video for what has become one of my favorite songs of 2017, "Don't Take The Money" by Bleachers.

The offbeat direction is courtesy of Lena Dunham, girlfriend of frontman Jack Antonoff. In the vid, a bizarre wedding unfolds in a New Jersey backyard that has been decorated with plethora of items probably purchased at a 99-cent store. And it works, reflecting the song's undeniable charm.

Earlier this spring my pop culture sixth sense told me that Dunham would be connected to the song somehow. I actually thought I'd hear the song pop up in the final season of Girls, but this'll do.

@TheFirstEcho

Pop Culture Rant of the Week: The Conundrum of '13 Reasons Why' and 'Big Little Lies'


Big Little Lies (HBO) and 13 Reasons Why (Netflix) are two of the biggest and most talked-about shows of the spring. Both are adaptations of bestselling novels. Both have sizable fanbases.

And both are being considered for second seasons.

This is a mistake IMHO.

If I remember correctly, BLL was sold to us as a "limited series." As in, "miniseries." As in, "just one singular season." On the other hand, 13 Reasons Why was not sold to us that way -- probably for good...um, reason. (Netflix loves keeping those doors open.)

Audiences of both shows want more. They're insatiable. If you are among them, ask yourself: Why am I pining for a second season? Why can't I be satisfied with each show's perfectly executed conclusions? Did I forget they're based on novels that aren't part of a trilogy or series (like the sprawling Game of Thrones)? Do I want another season of each just so that I can later bitch and complain about how it's not as good as the first? (Because half of the time, that's what happens with the sophomore run of a hugely popular show that captures the zeitgeist -- See: Empire, Desperate Housewives, and certain Ryan Murphy productions).

I am fine with both shows living within the capsule of a single story. I don't want new stories. I don't want new characters introduced to flesh out those new stories. I don't want creativity to be compromised. I want them to stay perfect in my memory, forever sealed and preserved for TV history.

But then again, I remember this is America. When something takes off, when something is an instant success, the eyeballs of those behind said success turn into cartoon dollar signs. We don't do things like the British do with their television hits; they're all about single-season programs (The Office, London Spy, Fawlty Towers). We push further. We take creative risks. We expand universes. We come up with superfluous backstories. We strive for at least 100 episodes to secure a sweet syndication package. We eventually run things into the ground.

Had Gone With The Wind been adapted in the 2010s and raked in a shit-ton of money at the box office (or in ratings), I can imagine there would be a producer somewhere scurrying to turn it into a five-film franchise. Gone With The Wind: After The War, presented in IMAX. In fact, someone did try it... back in the 80s. (Check it.)

Franchise. That's one F word I've grown the hate the longer I live and work in an industry town that milks things for all their worth...before rebooting them a measly decade later. After all, "franchise" is the spawn of capitalism, and that is the social system on which this country is arguably built.

So, go ahead. Stay tuned for 13 More Reasons Why and Bigger Little Lies. Just don't complain to me if and/or when they fall short of your expectations.

@TheFirstEcho

Hot Duet Alert: Dua Lipa and Miguel's "Lost In Your Light"


It may be April, but I've already started gathering tunes for my Summer 2017 playlist, and shooting to the top is this all-caps HOT collaboration from Dua Lipa, whose voice I'm loving more and more, and the sizzling Miguel.

The pair's vocals work beautifully on "Lost In Your Light," a track that needs all the traction it can get IMO.

But enough with all of these words. Just listen:

@TheFirstEcho

The Frustrating Brilliance of the 'Girls' Finale


Back in 2012, I placed HBO's Girls at the top of my annual "Best of TV" list. I praised it as follows:

"Those who have ignorantly labeled or dismissed Lena Dunham's polarizing comedy about entitled twentysomething white chicks living in Brooklyn as a Millennial Sex and the City should be pitied for their lack of open-mindedness, their trite arguments, and the huge sticks they have up their asses. Because they apparently haven't scraped away the surface to see that underneath the whiny, woe-is-me sensibilities is an acutely observed portrait of post-collegiate life, packed with embarrassing mistakes and complaints we've all been guilty of making (but never wanted to admit or remember). Many comedies and dramas have attempted to paint the Twentysomething Experience, usually with no real resonance, accuracy, or success. What this show has that others didn't is a creator at its helm who's actually living it in real time (note: writer-director-star Dunham is 24) as well as a female lead who actually looks like she's torn through an occasional pint of Ben & Jerry's (and yes, that matters)..."

Throughout the past six seasons, my view on the show didn't waver despite the fact that many have equally praised or bitched about the four titular heroines who populated the coming-of-age dramedy. (I admit: those two middle seasons weren't my favorites.) I accepted that the show, like its protagonists, was Messy and Awkward. Those were two of its "brand pillars," as marketers would say. Girls did its job in making me look back at my 20s, regardless of my gender, and acknowledge it as a time when I stubbornly held onto my own assumptions, made mistakes, and thought I knew what I wanted when I actually didn't know jack.

But as the show soldiered on, and as the characters headed deeper into those 20s, realizations were made and lessons weren't just learned -- they were ignored and learned again in subtle, beautiful moments when least expected. In other words, they matured. Two must-watch standouts that reflect this were Season 5's devastating "The Panic in Central Park" and Season 6's Emmy-worthy "American Bitch."

The final episode of Girls was another reminder that life is never neatly wrapped up in a big bow. And that's what made it satisfying in its own funky way. Lena Dunham's Hannah trades in the big city for some upstate greenery to accept a cushy job and raise her fatherless child in a picturesque house, and Marnie (Allison Williams) accepts the role of Hannah's non-lesbian domestic partner as a way to distract her from her own directionless life. (FYI, the previous episode had already bid adieu to Shoshanna and Jessa in an appropriate non-finale.) But not all is well. Suburban ennui sets in, and Hannah realizes motherhood is not what she expected. In one fun scene, after having a breakdown with her mom, she storms off and has a run-in with a teenaged girl who can't deal with her own parental situation at home. It's one generation attempting to console the next -- and if you thought Millennials were a handful, this glimpse into GenZ problems can't warrant enough eye rolls.


For more of my thoughts, check out my piece over at The Huffington Post.

@TheFirstEcho

Pepsi's Crappy New Ad Just Got a Hysterical 80s Sitcom Makeover


In less than 24 hours, the entire Internet agreed that Pepsi's "tone-deaf" music video-commercial, starring Kendall "never-drank-Pepsi-in-her-life" Jenner participating in an unspecified protest, is one of the worst pieces of advertising in recent memory.

But thank God for @JustTheTenOfUs on Twitter. The account, dedicated to redoing movie trailers with the theme song from the short-lived 80s sitcom (and Growing Pains spinoff) of the same name, just published an edit set to the Pepsi fail seen around the globe.

Enjoy:


@TheFirstEcho

Dear Virgin America...


To Whom It May Concern,

I have been a proud Elevate member since 2008, and I still remember falling in love with you guys back then with your great bicoastal routes (I'm a frequent LAX-JFKer), sleek look and vibe (nice mood lighting), and entertaining safety videos -- from the charming animation to the choreographed musical numbers.

However, during these past several months, as you gradually make your transition into Alaska Airlines, I have been very disappointed with you. (Flashback: Delayed flight #941 to SFO on October 28, 2016 prompted me to transfer to another plane, only to find out my seat had been triple booked, resulting in me being escorted off the plane and delayed even further.)

Specifically and most recently, I want to discuss my experience on Thursday, March 30. It started with Vegas-bound flight #490, which was scheduled to depart from LAX at 7:25pm. Due to the severe winds in Las Vegas, my flight was delayed by an hour, which was understandable. As a result, I transferred to another flight, which was scheduled to leave earlier (the # is unknown, but my record will indicate it). This new flight was also delayed, but no matter -- I anticipated arriving in Las Vegas to properly kick off my birthday (my account should also validate this information) as well as carry out an assignment for a travel article I am writing for Bello magazine. It is a feature tentatively titled "The Vegas Diaries," a first-person account chronicling my experiences with the hotels, restaurants, and entertainment offerings of the Caesars franchise.

That said, it would be difficult for me to NOT mention in my piece the following developments -- what essentially turned out to be one of the worst travel experiences of my life.

I could be upset and complain about the aforementioned delays. I could be upset and complain about the fact that we were unnecessarily put on the plane and waited an additional hour on the runway -- only to be returned to the gate and told to get off the plane (*more on this later). I could be upset and complain about the wrench thrown into the evening's plans, forcing me to cancel on a group of people who had traveled to Vegas from other parts of the country earlier that day. I could be upset and complain about not having eaten any dinner due to the unexpected late night.

I could be upset and complain about the shoddy handling of the overall scenario, especially the high tension and yelling matches throughout the terminal between passengers and the customer service reps who struggled to resolve the situation. I could be upset and complain about the chartered bus that I had to take as alternative transportation to my destination. I could even complain about how the bus arrived an hour late and then departed LAX at the godforsaken midnight hour. I could be upset and complain about the discomfort of the bus's seats. (I suspect they also double as torture devices.) I could be upset and complain about how our bus nearly left behind two elderly women after a brief pit stop at a gas station in the middle of the cold desert. I could be upset and make a report after eavesdropping on a customer service rep conspiring to prevent two passengers from getting on said bus because of a hostile exchange that unfolded earlier between them. And finally, I could be upset and complain about how I arrived at my hotel at 5am -- a full eight hours later than expected -- and had to proceed with my Friday schedule while running on three hours of sleep.

I could be upset and complain about all of those things...but I won't.

What I am mostly upset about is that fact that we had been put on a Virgin America plane when its pilots were nearing the end of their legal flying time. What I'm upset about is that we had been scheduled to fly into risky weather conditions with pilots whose mental and physical conditions were just as risky. What I'm upset about is that all of the above developments could have been easily avoided -- the lives of over 150 people could've been less interrupted -- if a better system had been established in which our pilots could have continued to fly and serve their passengers.

That all said, I would like to know what you're doing to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again. Because as of right now, despite your new transition, I am becoming more and more convinced to book my future travel elsewhere and recommend others to do the same.

Please feel free to reach me if you need more info or have any questions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

- Hiko Mitsuzuka

The Art of Adulting in the 2010s: Or, Writer Posts Self-Indulgent Birthday Blog


It feels like yesterday when I was a 23-year-old production assistant, driving a Ford Focus through Laurel Canyon, nursing a hangover with a Red Bull, and pondering whether or not I should succumb to the trucker hat trend that was invading the city of Los Angeles.

But many years later paint a different picture. Today I stand on the precipice of those late 30s, driving a two-door coupe with a sunroof (because nothing says "single and childless" like a two-door coupe with a sunroof), drowning myself in caffeine to meet deadlines, and pondering whether or not I should seriously adopt a low-sugar diet because, y'know, health.

My friends and I are dealing with some scary stuff nowadays. Stuff in the form of IRAs, preschool applications, mortgages, the death of a parent, the end of a relationship, health scares, the reality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer being twenty years old, and an administration that doesn't seem to care about the well-being of any minority group whatsoever.

Pardon my Japanese, but this shit sucks.


However, most of my friends and I live in a place (the aforementioned L.A.) and work in an industry ("Hollywood," to put it simply) that sometimes allows us to act a decade younger than our actual ages. In other words, being in your late-30s in the 2010s is not at all the same as being in your late-30s...thirty years ago. Whether or not this applies to other places in America, I am not sure, but I welcome comments and personal insight from others.

TV host and recently married Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick, at 44, has often talked on his podcast about the "extended adolescence" that many of us (GenXers, Millennials, and those in between) have been granted, and this a result of either our upbringing or (mostly) the culture our society has shaped over the past 30 years. The pop culture we enjoyed in our childhoods and adolescences is constantly being rebooted at an unprecedented rate in our adulthoods, forcing us to remember what it was like "back in the day," mentally and emotionally reverting us back to our younger selves.

In other words, there is always a reason to ride the wave of nostalgia nowadays. 2009's short-lived Melrose Place reboot on the CW sent me back to the eighth grade. Last year's stinker, Independence Day: Resurgence, made me look back fondly on the summer of 1996. And the current incarnation of Beauty and the Beast is prompting me to replay Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson's 1991 duet on my Spotify playlist and reminisce about life during a pre-Clinton White House.

There are other explanations for this "extended adolescence" as well, like higher life expectancies and the growing presence of child-free couples. (Look up the demographic that is "Dual Income No Kids," it's a thing.) As for any other explanations, I'll leave that up to the sociologists and behavioral experts. Because I am not one.

But back to reality:


Whoever coined the term "adulting," however long ago, was clearly in need of some validation. Because that's what it's mainly used for. "Here are the keys to my new condo! #homeowner #adulting." We thirtysomethings love to celebrate certain rites of passage with a hashtag that indicates we've arrived. Even more amusing is when it's used ironically: "Prominently displaying my old Power Rangers action figures at the office in honor of the new movie. #adulting." (No, that wasn't me.) But when "we've arrived," does that mean we've come to end of something? Have we stopped ourselves from going any further? Have we finally perfected the art of adulting?

In fact, the "art of adulting" is somewhat of a bullshit phrase. It isn't an art at all. Because to call it an art would imply there is a mastering of skills needed for maneuvering through all of the challenges that come with being a human over the age of 30. And really, has anyone mastered that? Not to be trite, but life is all about learning those proverbial lessons, big or small, that hit us in our everyday lives. It's a constant process, just like aging.

However, if you feel like you have mastered the art of adulting, I congratulate you. I also think you're deluding yourself, but good for you. Keep at it. I wish you the best.

As for me, I prefer to call my "extended adolescence" an "extension of my 20s." I don't feel like what a late-thirtysomething should be like because there is no standard now... and holy crap, I'm now realizing I'm older than the characters on thirtysomething.



Every now and then I might act a little reckless and not-my-age. I might wear a T-shirt with a visual pun or ironic phrase. I might have a third cocktail at the bar. I might shake my ass to that new David Guetta and Nicki Minaj single. Hell, I may even stay up until 3am on a Saturday night -- cleaning my bedroom closet. Does that count?

How about this: to indulge myself, I am going to celebrate my birthday this year in the Capital of Recklessness: Las Vegas. (I leave on a flight later tonight and expect to have a drink in my hand an hour after I arrive.)

Which reminds me: I better pack some antacids and aspirin (and those corn pads for my foot).

Just in case.

@TheFirstEcho

Obsession of the Week: MUNA's "I Know a Place"


This past weekend I discovered the cure to feeling sorry for myself. And it came at the perfect time (being stood up two nights in a row kind of leads to shitty feelings).

That cure is MUNA. Who the hell is MUNA? A trio of gal pal musicians who look like they frequent a few bars in Echo Park. Musically, think: HAIM-esque vocals with the sparkling, catchy production value of Betty Who.

The song that hooked me in? The below "I Know A Place," a gorgeous, soaring anthem that's also a response to last year's Orlando shootings. Get uplifted. I certainly did. (PS - We need more socially-conscious electro pop like this.)


And afterwards, I listened to their new album. Favorites include: "Loudspeaker" and "Crying on the Bathroom Floor."

@TheFirstEcho

Todrick Hall's 'Straight Outta Oz' Might Be This Year's 'Lemonade' (VIDEO)


Viral superstar-turned-Broadway performer-turned-R&B-pop dynamo Todrick Hall just released his full-length, debut album (and accompanying visual album, below), Straight Outta Oz...

...and it. Is. Magnificent.

The deluxe 22-track collection is an outstanding musical autobiography accentuated by a mesmerizing Wizard of Oz motif that works to resonating and gorgeous effect, chronicling his life from its oppressive beginnings, through his years of self-discovery, to his rise to fame as an undeniably gifted singer-songwriter-dancer.


From the gate-busting open that is "No Place Like Home" to the grandmotherly memories remembered in the choir-backed "Proud" and the daddy lessons learned in "Over the Rainbow," (check out Wayne Brady in a dramatic role) Todrick looks back on his childhood with both melancholy and reserve.

Then, it's on to the adolescent years: The uplifting "Black & White" takes us back to the 90s (with a little homage to Britney's "Baby One More Time" video). This is a time in our young hero's life when he is told to reel in his big dreams and limit his possibilities, but he ain't having it. "Color," with vocals from James Armstrong Johnson, reflects on his first relationship with a boy, an interracial romance that later leaves him heartbroken in the next act of this saga.


And as for that next act? It absolutely soars as Todrick breaks free from his roots and moves to Hollywood, where he tries to stay connected to his past ("Little People"), gets wooed by the flashiness of "Oz Angeles" ("Expensive"), and mends his broken heart ("If I Had a Heart"). Finally, we watch (and hear) our star explode onto the scene with a brand new attitude ("Lyin' to Myself"), navigate a gauntlet of manipulative characters ("Papi," "Green,"), and quickly learn how to grow a backbone, stay true to himself, and even demonstrate some social awareness ("Wrong Bitch," "Water Guns") while traveling down that "yellow brick boulevard." All of it culminates in the show-stopping finale, "Low," an anthem featuring RuPaul, who practically comes off as Todrick's fairy godmother/mentor, and a fierce army of reimagined characters from The Wizard of Oz.

And all throughout, the cameos are plentiful: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tracie Thoms, Raven-Symone, Tamar Braxton, Amber Riley, and a bevy of drag queens -- to name a few.

Straight Outta Oz is an astounding pop achievement, packed with a variety of visual stylings that brilliantly blend fantasy with coming-of-age poignancy, sex appeal, and social commentary. No doubt this ambitious production carries the influence of Beyonce's panache and penchant for bold theatrics. (We're all still recovering from last year's epic Lemonade.) However, what we're witnessing here aren't the musings of a diva scorned. It's the birth of a powerful artist who has long been gestating and planning to unleash his brilliance on the world.

Todrick Hall has finally arrived.

Watch this amazing 71-minute opus here:


@TheFirstEcho

REVIEW: 'The Belko Experiment'


The Belko Experiment, from director Greg McLean and writer-producer James Gunn, is a bloody-good exercise (emphasis on bloody) in human savagery. Yes, it’s an awesome Office Space-meets-Battle Royale mashup, as the posters would indicate, but it’s also somewhat of a disturbing revelation...

My latest review for ScreenPicks is now available over here.

In Honor of International Women's Day...


This summer, two sets of gal pals will be getting down and dirty. While one involves the untimely, coked-up death of a stripper, the other features a whole lotta urine raining down on New Orleans revelers.

First up: Rough Night, from the broads behind Broad City.


And then, there's Girls Trip:


I shall be buying tickets to both R-rated romps thankyouveddymuch.

@TheFirstEcho


Gerard Butler's 'Geostorm' is the Kind of Crappy Disaster Flick I Love (TRAILER)


Gerard Butler in a disaster flick? All I want to know is: how come did this didn't happen sooner? (And no, we're not counting Gods of Egypt.)

The trailer for Geostorm (all other hybrid titles were apparently taken by straight-to-DVD titles like Stonehenge Apocalypse and Icetastrophe) has everything I live for in a film about global catastrophe:

a. Overly CGI-ed mass destruction.
b. A cast of international folks looking up at the sky in fear.
c. Our hero (Butler) dramatically turning to look at a large monitor in a control room.
d. A chillingly ironic cover of a classic song. (Here, it's "What a Wonderful World.")
e. And this: "From the producer of Independence Day."

Grabbing my popcorn now...

Bounce: The 2017 Spring Playlist


The thaw begins.

Chase the winter doldrums away with this new, handpicked set of tunes, my soundtrack for the next three jam-packed months (birthday in Vegas, Easter in Florida, and May in South America).

@TheFirstEcho