Allow me to catch up on some girl pop I've been neglecting...
I've always thought that perfecting the art of annoying was Gwen Stefani's life's work. Now that she's revealed her inner theater dork with "Wind It Up" (making certain that "Rich Girl" was no fluke), I'm sure of it. And I kind of love her for it. I'm kind of scared for the future (what's next in this trajectory -- a Pharell beat made of mouths smacking creamy food and/or gum-popping? Gwen making those noises herself, live and in my ear?), but for now I'm content to watch her act like an exaggerated fool on an exaggerated stage in the track's bonkers video.
I wonder if it's over-confidence or straight stupidity that would lead her to releasing a dance track whose main feature is a sample of The Sound of Music's "The Lonely Goatherd." Does she think that at this point, she's so warmly regarded that she can get away with a yodeling show tune, or is she just oblivious to how ultimately uncommercial that creative decision is? The combination of her moany seriousness on the track and over-the-top mugging in the video offers little guidance. Similarly, aside from the "Goatherd," the only semblance of a hook this track has is Gwen's gym-teacher call to "Windituhhhhhh!" In other words, she is the hook. Is this hubris or a natural progression in recent pop's fascination with minimalism, right down to barely discernible melodies (and again, I ask what's next: blinking over a beat?). "Hollaback Girl," "Wind It Up"'s spiritual guide, had a chant anyone could sing along to; "Wind" has a shriek that no one would want to sing along to.
But really, I admire the audacity, that however cognizant Gwen is of how she's coming off, she's at least committed to her track. Besides, her dubious intention at least gets me thinking -- she's camp that I can't decide to laugh at or with. I don't know if she repulses me to such a degree that I find the effect ultimately fascinating, or if I find her so fascinating that I repulse myself. In the end, it's just dumb fun and not even she would dare to claim otherwise: in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, Gwen says that "Wind It Up" "isn't about anything." Whoa -- dumb pop that doesn't aspire to be anything but dumb pop? That's the spirit!
For her final trick, I really wanted Michelle to put her tongue between those two fingers, further highlighting her status as America's next top (or possibly bottom -- who knows?) lez. Missed opportunity!
Another missed opportunity: it only now strikes me that I dropped the ball with her. Why didn't it occur to me to call her a lesbitwin? Why, God, why? (Although Emily Magazine did just that, so I didn't have to!)
The Game is a worst-case scenario. He's the embodiment of parents' fears about what will happen if their kids listen to violent hip-hop. He is gansta rap's manifest destiny, as envisioned by C. Delores Tucker.
At least, that's how he plays out on record. On his just-released second album, Doctor's Advocate, he's proudly P.O.M.E. (product of my environment) and pomo, a conscious throwback to the West Coast gangsta rap of the late '80s and early '90s that he loves enough salute with a chest tattoo (his right fist in the picture above obscures much of his "N.W.A." ink). A small part of me wants to stand up and cheer on principle -- I admire someone who goes to pains to preserve the legacy of what they love. Even without his idol Dr. Dre on board this time, the Game makes electrofunk-obsessed, melodically hypnotic, sparse rap music because if he doesn't, who will? Innovation is overrated anyway, right?
The Game does what he loves and he loves what he does, but that's about as Utopian as Doctor's Advocate and last year's The Documentary get. If I applaud the Game in principle, I find myself practically recoiling in response to so much of what he says. To hear him tell it, he's been high for the good part of the past 14 years. He flows, so does O.E., so does blood (or is that "Bloods" -- his gang affiliation is unendingly rhapsodized). He's so expert in the violent life that he offers tips: "The key to drive bys is aim steady." (I never woulda guessed!) This is where the nightmare part comes in, of course. Nothing new, really, as he knows well: "I graduated from Dre School, top of my class." That much is clear, but it raises the question of veracity: if rappers like N.W.A. were using rap as their CNN (to paraphrase Chuck D), are the Game's ripped-from-the-headlines reenactments the hip-hop equivalent of Law & Order or CSI? More to the point: how much of what he says is his truth, and how much of what is says is out of obligation to uphold this gangsta, gangsta tradition he so loves?
I wonder this not because I'm terribly bothered by depictions of violence (I mean, obviously), but because I am terribly bothered by the Game's sexism, by far his worst inheritance from his rapfathers simply because he's so blasé about it. In the world, some women are bitches and some women are hoes; in the Game's world women are only bitches and hoes (and mostly the former). Game on women: Bitch, bitch, bitch, ho, repeat (ex. "Everytime your bitch hear my voice, she masturbatin'"). Yo-Yo and Eve are given the rare courtesy of being referred to by their first names; Karrine Steffans almost is, though, she's referred to (in no fewer than three songs -- obsessed much, Game?) by the nickname everyone knows, Superhead. So she's basically reduced to being not a person but a sex act. Just the way Game likes it (or maybe is supposed to like it). Maybe everything the Game needed to know he learned from Dr. Dre (two words: Dee Barnes), but with all the bitch, bitch, bitching, it seems that he's channeling the notorious philosophy of the Geto Boys' Bushwick Bill: "I call women bitches and 'hos because all the women I've met since I've been out here are bitches and 'hos . . . I call [my mother] 'woman,' but I'm not fucking my mother. If I was fucking you, you'd be a bitch." (Here is where I found the direct quote.)
I know, I know: rap is sexist? Get out! Everyone knows about hip-hop's misogynist tendency already and so what's the point in talking about it? I'd argue, however, that complaining about hip-hop's misogyny is no more redundant than complaining about hoes getting their hustle on (they're working girls, for god's sake!). The Game does just that in "Wouldn't Get Far," a sadistic Advocate track produced by and featuring Kanye West that purports (however sloppily) to warm women against having sex to advance their careers. How far can a video ho go anyway, the song wonders aloud. It's here where commonplace sexism elevates to singularly disgusting hypocrisy. The Game and Kanye verbally degrade women for fucking rappers, while bragging about being those rappers that are fucking these women -- they hate the players of the game that they facilitate (here's a thought: how 'bout we just hate the Game?). At the end of the track, the Game complains about seeing the same girl in Kanye and Busta videos, in Snoop and his videos and then on Oprah (the cherry on top of this tastelessness comes via a Hurricane Katrina joke -- that ubiquitous "bitch" is floating on the hood of a Camry that was in a Lil' Wayne video). As if the Game and especially Kanye have any room to talk about turning up often in their chosen fields! These two dudes redefine whoredom with their unending onslaught of guest appearances (and they didn't even stop to get acrylic nails or anything). And on top of everything, if these women the Game and Kanye condemn are fucking their way to the top, at least they have something to show for their efforts! What do Game and Kanye have besides a busted nut? The assumption that these women are having sex only to elevate their status is probably just as sexist as the rest of the Game's philosophy, as though these women couldn't possibly get immediate pleasure out of it as well. Although, maybe the Game just sucks in bed and his partners are, in fact, doomed.
As long as hip-hop, like huge-selling hip-hop (link via Nova), is going to be so backward and not just hateful but matter-of-factly hateful to women, there should be someone pointing it out, screaming and crying bullshit all along the way. In other words: if hip-hop can't get over its hatred of women, why should I have to? So why is no one talking about this (not here nor here, for example; furthermore, a Google search of the game "doctor's advocate" sexism yields some hits, almost all of them talking about Borat's sexism in another story on those pages; a search for the game "doctor's advocate" misogyny yields even fewer results)? Is it because music criticism is mostly written by men who are mostly straight and, deep down, hate women, too (or at least don't like them enough to defend them)? Is it because most of that sample is made up mostly of white boys who, much like the Game, were also profoundly influenced by gangsta rap? Are rap's nihilistic and hateful world views still, as The Source's Jon Shecter told TIME in a 1991 story about the popularity of N.W.A.'s Niggaz4life, "a cool status symbol among white kids to like and identify with"?
Or maybe people just don't care enough about lyrics. But see, that's a big problem in this case, because the Game's considerable talent ensures that his words are impossible to ignore. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more articulate, clear-voiced commercial rapper. The Game seemingly skips bullshit poetic aspirations for blunt truth-spitting, only to knock you on your ass with metaphors that are both darkly comic and specific (examples: "Bounce like you got hydraulics in your g-string"; "Nigga, I can't be fucked, like a lesbian" -- since, you know, we're on the topic of women). He shows plenty of signs of intelligence, which makes his ignorance that much more maddening.
But so what, right? This is one part-time idiot's opinion in a field that's full of them. I'd warn against downplaying the Game's sentiments -- the rapper himself, with all of his allusions to the old school and repeated golden-era name checking, is a testament to the power of influence. The best of the worst case scenarios is a future that holds this fixed misogyny as a beacon. Or maybe it's like a light bulb for the impressionable swarm around and bash their heads into.
First of all: Way to be a model. The only thing models hate more than people looking at them is people taking pictures of them. Next thing you're gonna tell me is that she routinely eats sausage and four-egg omelettes!
Second of all: If only not looking at her were possible...
Today I turn 28. For the first time since my 21st birthday, I'm OK with being a year older. I'm either getting more confident with age, or more apathetic. Same thing kinda.
Anyway, I mention this not only in hopes of a comments section brimming with LOL-/OMG/HB!!!-filled sentiments, but because I think it's cool that I share a birthday with two of my all-time favorite contributors to pop music: Roxanne Shanté and Steve "Silk" Hurley (at least I do, according to their Wikipediaentries). Part of me hates to be so queer and all like, "Birthday twins!!!" But another part of me really is that queer. The latter part wins today: below is a sampling of some of their music.
Roxanne Shanté was responsible for one of the first big hip-hop novelty records, 1984's "Roxanne's Revenge," an unprovoked answer to U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne, Roxanne." She was 14 when she cut it, and her barely pubescent voice makes for most of the novelty. The video's below -- it's a shame about the quality, but her cuteness shines through. Do I even need to add that I love how cheap this shit is? I'm swooning at the shots that catch her from the chest and up.
Wouldn't it be awesome if, instead of singing "Happy Birthday," people rapped "Roxanne's Revenge?" That's what I want, anyway. Not even the whole thing. Just a couplet! Just a, "Every time you sayin' somethin' just-a like-a this-a / It ain't nothin' that I don't wanna miss-a."
Anyway, fast forward to 1992. Shanté had made a career of calling out bitches (JJ Fad, Salt-N-Pepa, Sparky D, the Real Roxanne in a counterattack), but nothing predicted just how acidic a turn she'd take. Inspired by an appearance on a talk show (I think Phil Donahue) with other female rappers, in which Shanté felt disrespected (or not respected enough or...something), "Big Mama" called out the major female rappers of the early '90s (Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Yo-Yo) who, by that point, were much more visible than she was. This was sort of an articulate precursor to Flavor of Love's begin-every-sentence-with-"Bitch..." approach to communication. I love this track a lot. It's garbage-dump nasty in its funkiness (it, like most of Rox's output including "Roxanne's Revenge," was produced by Marley Marl). At this point in her career, Shanté had been rapping for so long that picking up the mic was like breathing to her. She just sounds so natural. Also, I love how far she goes with her shit talking -- this track is equally uncalled for and unabashed. She totally succeeds in her aim to agitate. (The only really regrettable bit is the homophobia directed at Lyte. "To me a butch don't deserve a mic in hand"? That's just stupid, as it eliminates about 75 percent of her competition, which she doesn't even seem to realize. Too easy, too easy.) Anyway, this kind of self-righteous indignation only works when diving off such a nimble tongue. And looking back on everything, I kinda think she was right.
I won't say too much about Chicago house producer Steve "Silk" Hurley. I already (over-) wrote about him (seriously: shut up, me!). Even though I listen to much less soulful house than I did a year ago, he's still my favorite house producer -- his balance of light and dark, masculinity and femininity, sweetness and grit, really appeal to me on principle. I've said a few times that his remix of Jomanda's "Got a Love for You" (1991) is my favorite track ever, and I think that stands -- again and again, even when I haven't heard it in months, I'm reminded of how much I love it, how catchy every single element of this track is. His remix of Ten City's "That's the Way Love Is" is almost as great. The quick cut in and out at the 2:08 point never fails to thrill me.
So yay. Girl rap and house music, two of my favorite things in the world. Happy birthday to us.
Have you seen the remake of The Omen that came out this year? Good. Don't. In the abominable tradition of overlong garbage like The Ring, The Omen presents a learned antagonist whose fits of stupidity conveniently ensure that the film lasts longer than the 45 minutes or so that it should. This is a U.S.-made movie, after all. We have run-times to adhere to.
It's so aggressively incompetent that it even squanders an over-the-top performance from Mia Farrow that's delicious as strawberries.
I haven't seen the original in over 10 years, but I never liked it. I get the feeling, though, that this is much worse. Ultimately, I wonder how threatening is a prepubescent antagonist whose main function is to pout?