As the bodycount of Leather Space Man’s murderous hit single “Bubblebath” grows, those left behind attempt to comfort each other. But all is not what it seems…
Pieced together from rare archival footage, a young fan remembers his first concert experience. As with all things Leather Space Man, it goes off the rails almost immediately.
The D-list, so far: I went on some dates for paparazzi to photograph. I folded shirts. I got a few modeling gigs. I found cash inside of a fire hydrant. I changed my outfit but not my makeup. I lined up a lucrative appearance at the Immaculat Vodka party tonight. I enlisted an unscrupulous talent-management type to help troll my nemesis on Twitter, until she started yelling about Obamacare (very realistic). I hung out with Kim Kardashian. It’s like Louise Brooks wrote at the end of Lulu in Hollywood:
Although our sexual education had been conducted by the élite of Paris, London, and New York, our pleasure was restricted by the inbred shackles of sin and guilt. Thus at the same time our reputation for immorality excluded us from the parties of respectable Hollywood, which devoted itself to presenting a picture of moral beauty to the world, our reputation for sudden attacks of puritanism excluded us from the delights of the carefully arranged parties that ended for us after lunch or dinner when we were dismissed with a firm goodbye.
It was said that actor Peter Sellers so excelled at his craft because he had no identity of his own—he simply became whoever he was playing. This tidbit goes through my mind often as, almost out of my control, I find myself shifting back and forth between accents.
My family moved from London to Toronto when I was 12. I was too old to simply absorb a new accent, but young enough to want to. For years, I tried affecting a Canadian accent at school to fit in better, only to return to an English one when I got home. What Degrassi Junior High’s Stephanie Kaye did with makeup, I did with accents.
Before the Toronto date of their outlaw-themed On the Run tour, I fantasized about Beyoncé tying Jay Z to a chair, only removing his gag when she needed a guest verse for “Upgrade U” or “Crazy in Love.” Such havoc only went down last night during the interstitial video, where they played a pair of bank robbers blasting through a French New Wave pastiche, Pierrot le fou remade by Michael Bay—although they seem to like Godard’s Brechtian period too. “NOT REAL,” the frame declared mid-firefight, “THIS IS NOT A GUN.” Anyone who arrives onstage in a lace ski mask is working with a sophisticated understanding of artifice. It was a little ironic, then, that everything surrounding her strained to disguise that as much as possible, blending two disparate discographies like somebody following the employee manual at a juice bar.
I went to the concert because I adore Beyoncé the singer and Beyoncé the album; her husband I mostly thought of as an additional Ticketmaster charge. Jay Z has now spent half his career in embarrassing-dad mode, as if preparing to become an actual dad. Several of the recent hits feel like he composed them to distract himself while sorting a dresser full of luxury brands. He moved through the classics with practiced staccato—I imagine Sinatra still sounded pretty good in the ‘80s, too. But baseball stadiums never flatter a prerecorded backing track, and some of Jay’s best ones were hardly steely by design: The speakers crushed all that flamboyant delicacy out of “Big Pimpin,” losing the ebullience of “Izzo” amidst industrial acoustics. “No Church in the Wild” and “Ni**as in Paris” held up better, even while inviting unfavorable comparisons to Kanye’s obsessively theatrical Yeezus tour. When Jay appeared solo, he had the manner of somebody doing a private show for an illustrious but distant acquaintance.
Unlike Sam Cooke, who discovered him, or Sly Stone and Aretha Franklin, for whom he served as a session guitarist, or the Rolling Stones, who made his song “It’s All Over Now” their first #1 hit, Bobby Womack only intermittently got over beyond a particular niche. His, though, was R&B—a broad church then and now.
That was, in fact, where Cooke found him, singing for a family gospel act called the Womack Brothers, who changed their name to the Valentinos before recording secular music in an attempt to circumvent the routine backlash. Although his solo material became a feature of Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart from the ‘60s through to the 1980s, he’d mostly been dormant for a decade or two until his most recent, harshly abbreviated comeback. Womack was one of those musicians fated to be known most widely through other artists, whether Mariah’s teary invocation on “We Belong Together” or Pam Grier’s long poised glide through LAX to the tune of “Across 110th Street.” If you’re only familiar with the latter song from Jackie Brown, let the death of its creator last week lead you to the original source.
The big controversy of this year’s North by Northeast was an extension of its standard radius clause, forbidding any participating musician from playing another local show within 45 days of the festival—though “controversy” may be the wrong word, since NXNE rescinded the policy for 2015 after 3,000 people signed a petition protesting it. It seems reasonable enough to ask international touring acts for some sort of briefly exclusive guarantee (most probably wouldn’t relish the hassle of scheduling random extra concerts anyway), but this was an obvious ploy to intimidate the rival Canadian Music Week, employing local bands like doomed infantry at the Somme. It might explain the atomized quality of last weekend: There were many arresting sets to dash between, just no sense that they coexisted even as counterpoints—ecumenicalism without the purpose or distinctive sensibility of a festival like Pop Montreal.
“Chaka Khan has never bothered with great albums because she has such a great voice—juicy, airy, spunky, transported,” the critic Robert Christgau wrote a few years ago, wisely implying that a musician might nurse aspirations beyond the great album. She’s always preferred the variety a string of singles affords: This is someone whose discography encompasses the black feminist anthem “I’m a Woman” (in her youth, she was a Panther, serving free breakfasts to the children on Chicago’s South Side), the didgeridoo and fiddles of “Best in the West,” and covers of Fleetwood Mac circa Tango in the Night, not to mention all those ventures into jazz. Like Patti LaBelle, she devoted herself to a vision of female funk that never would be fully realized commercially—and then she tried other things. “I am a species born to die / Understanding this, I hardly cry,” as “I’m a Woman” announces.
Unless her release party involves euthanizing the Queen’s Corgis, it’s safe to say that Lana Del Rey’s follow-up to Born to Die will not manage to generate the nattering controversy of that record. Ultraviolence certainly has a lot of repugnance soaked into its lush beauty, but by now at least we’ve come to expect that from Del Rey; last time, it was precisely because she wasn’t what we expected that made her everyone’s favourite target for at least two glorious weeks, maybe a month.
Why a stage name and a murky backstory should have caused such a stir is slightly confusing, particularly if we accept that one of pop’s hallmarks as a genre is a concern with its packaging. Still, to many it had the whiff of a bait and switch, a pretty young thing dressed in the tropes of indie culture—a retro fetish, an ostensible DIY aesthetic, a practiced indifference—championed by blogs and the right Twitterers and Pitchfork, for god’s sake, who turned out to be generously supported by both a major label and a rich dad. It’s probably a mark of the times that the latter seemed somehow more damning, as if trust-fundery isn’t at least partially inherent to a culture that lionizes urban core scenes in the age of revitalization.
This isn’t really my story. To be honest, I feel a little shy: we only glitter under certain lights. But I’ll try to explain how I ended up on that red carpet. I was born in an industrial grinder owned by Austria’s Swarovski company, the orphan of silica and lead.
It’s all kind of unclear after that. I remember ships, fastidious packaging, sketches of gowns, Rihanna looking upon me and my 200,000 siblings with the face of a mischievous goddess. She was the one who suggested the headgear. Her stylist and his boyfriend were directing these assistants around the night before, adjusting a handful of us here and there, and we don’t need much sleep, in a physiological sense, but they all looked exhausted, like—what? Um, sure, but your outfit was also produced by capitalism, so that sounds like a pretty hollow political critique to me.
Sorry. I don’t mean to get too defensive. It’s just rough getting blamed as an accomplice in the crime of semi-naked women existing, especially when you don’t comprehend or recognize the entire concept of morality. You people, humans I mean, have this weird combination of prurience and prudishness sometimes. I remember when we arrived at the CFDA Awards—that’s, uh, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, I think—and all those cameras went off, faster than the blade that hewed me, making the air burst and sizzle. The award itself, whatever, the CFDAs might as well exist just to give Rihanna a new trophy every year or two, which would not be a bad cause. What I keep thinking about is that first moment when the photographers swarmed, translucence rippling across her and us, as if she were commanding the light.
Earlier this week, Iggy Azalea’s single “Fancy” topped the Billboard Hot 100, placing her amongst the depressingly small number of female rappers with a #1 hit on that chart. Here’s what you need to know to understand the song everybody is talking about, or at least glumly tolerating in fast food restaurants.
One of last year’s minor injustices came when Mariah Carey’s “#Beautiful,” clearly intended as a summer-indenting single, got consigned to minor-hit status by two Gallic robots and a certain preternaturally horny Canadian. Gratuitous hashtag aside, it moved with loping, restrained grace, using handclaps and faint amp fuzz not to evoke any definitive past but wistfulness itself. Never the most subdued singer, Mariah even hangs around in the background for half the running time, as if perfecting flirtatious ad-libs for her duet partner Miguel. Blame radio programmers, really: “#Beautiful” peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 but #3 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop—denied the summit by, yes, “Blurred Lines.”
The latter was only possible due to changes in chart methodology documented by Chris Molanphy, increasingly estranging the “top R&B songs” from the core R&B audience. When “artists who emerged from black radio” describes so much American popular music, reducing the relevant Billboard tally to a mere subset of the generalist one is mangling it—especially since white people often seem to be considered the most “radio-friendly” performers of soul or hip-hop. Mariah Carey has 18 #1 singles (including “One Sweet Day,” still the longest-running ever), but the last big hit she managed was “Touch My Body” in 2008. You can ascribe part of that to caprice, a botched promotional campaign or two, her previous album emphasizing sequence over spectacle—and yet the ambivalent pop-radio reaction to “#Beautiful” still baffles me.
“Michael Jackson was most himself when he was someone other than himself,” Hilton Als wrote after his death, recalling sentiments in gay black clubs like the Paradise Garage, where you might hear a song he gave to the older women he idolized: “You’re a snake that’s on the loose / The strike is your desire.” This was not long after purging adult masculinity from his own singing voice, as John Jeremiah Sullivan described in another posthumous essay:
He isolates totally different configurations of his vocal cords, finding their crevices, cultivating the flexibility there … Whether the process is conscious in Michael’s case is unknowable. He probably evolves it in order to keep singing Jackson 5 songs every night through puberty. The startling effect is of his having imaginatively not so much castrated himself as womanized himself. He essentially evolves a drag voice.
I wonder what they would make of that MJ hologram puppeteered onstage at last Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards—a simulation turned unnerving by its very realism, as if the animators watched Michael Jackson dancing and thought mechanical precision was the astonishing part.
The 1970 World Cup marked the beginning of several traditions, among them English athletic self-pity. The national team was thought to be even better than the one that won the previous tournament, and the British media’s attitude towards their Mexican hosts was accordingly imperious, or just imperial. Then the great goalkeeper Gordon Banks got food poisoning, his replacement Peter Bonetti made several desperate mistakes, and England fumbled away a two-goal lead to West Germany. The agonized response was perhaps naïve considering how much an opposite result in the 1966 final had depended on Geoff Hurst’s goal-line-stranded strike. (If you want to start an argument with middle-aged English people, like some of my relatives, bring up Tofik Bakhramov, the Azerbaijani referee who allowed it.)
In retrospect, it seems as if everyone else was only competing to lose against the otherworldly Brazilian team, who finally dismembered Italy 4-1. The Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich marveled: “We jumped together, but when I landed, I could see Pele was still floating,” which is one of the more evocative ways to describe losing at sports.
They left Mexico without the Jules Rimet trophy, but the England squad did manage to record a #1 single.
A month ago, The Board of Governors for Toronto’s Exhibition Place voted 4-3 in favour of banning all-ages electronic dance music (known to the kids as EDM) events at the city-owned venue. This decision, which may be reversed by City Council this week, was surrounded by a great deal of colourful language about “the children,” who have made for a convenient political volleyball of late, having also been cast at the centre of The Beer Store’s scaremongering campaign to prevent competition from convenience stores.
The motion to ban EDM events was introduced by York West’s own gonzo councillor Giorgio Mammoliti at the behest of Zlatko Starkovski, friend of Rob Ford (who affectionately calls him “Z”) and owner of Muzik Nightclub (now famous for being the site of Rob Ford’s encounter with Justin Bieber and, allegedly, cocaine), which operates across the street from the Ex. “I think drug dealers, pedophiles and people of that nature flock to these places thinking they can sell drugs to kids,” Z told the board. “I’m not going to put my name to any one of those children’s deaths and I don’t want Exhibition Place to do that either,” added Mammoliti.
One of the most physically exhausting concerts I’ve ever experienced did not involve any power chords or a lattice of amplifiers. That Merrill Garbus, who records as tUnE-yArDs, could pack the squat brick hall of Montreal’s Ukrainian Federation wasn’t a surprise, though. She’d lived in that city before, and that festival gig three years ago coincided with critical infatuation with her second album w h o k i l l, though perhaps not among copy editors.
What astonished me was the overwhelming heat radiating off everything as the crowd followed her exhilaration. We sweated off hand stamps and gasped down beer. It was a seated venue, but all of us clustered near the stage, shouting the response to Garbus’s calls or shimmying after her lead. She created a constant turmoil of noise with only her ukulele, some drums, a bassist, two horn players, and one overworked loop pedal. When they got around to her bustling single “Bizness,” the saxophone breakdown extended into ecstatic knots.
To say that Future is rap’s strangest young male star right now might not be saying all that much. As music sales of all kinds dissipate into the aether, it seems to be making the dwindling number of big record companies more and more conservative, content to approach a promising weirdo like Young Thug only when there’s already popularity for the leveraging—especially since certain potential signees, having gained a cult from one hot mixtape, question the necessity of any major-label deal at all.
Reared on Outkast, Future came by his idiosyncrasy organically (older cousin Rico Wade was part of Atlanta’s original Dungeon Family). His experimentation takes an accessible form, emotive and rousing. The most prominent technique is frequent but deliberate use of Auto-Tune: his raspy singing-rapping keeps drifting in and out of impossible computer-enhanced focus. In the music video for fiancée Ciara’s life-affirming “Body Party,” a song Future co-wrote, he comes on like the love interest from some ‘90s teen movie, or an android replacement who just discovered human feelings: “They don’t call me the Future for no REAson.”
When the historians of Punjab next gather to write the history of that proud people, they will have to include a new warrior king in the annals: Anthony Bourdain. After all, when Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series kicked off its newest season with a visit to the North Indian state, it united the Punjabi diaspora like few things before it.
I may be exaggerating, but by less than you might imagine. Bourdain’s show created an unmistakable buzz amongst Punjabis in North America. Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp conversations lit up in pre-show anticipation and post-show analysis. And could you blame us? Instead of the usual generic vision of India, here, finally, was Punjab itself: its rural roads, its Golden Temple, its boisterous sounds, its dhaba roadside restaurants.