How To Be a Lady: Volume 1 is The-Dream's best album. By far. While his two solo releases have been decent efforts with some wildly enjoyable highlights, they've fallen short of establishing him as a) a conduit for virtuosic eclecticism a la Prince (as Love/Hate hinted at), or b) a character as witty and charming as his hooks a la...well, Prince (as Love vs. Money attempted). At last, with How To Be a Lady, he proves himself a worthy imitator in at least one facet: much like the purple one, he's a pop pimp to proteges that could easily be confused for prostitutes.
And I'm not just saying that because the four women of Electrik Red represent themselves (via lyrics almost entirely written by The-Dream and his right hand Christopher "Tricky" Stewart) as a pack of sexually forward cougar cubs. I'm saying it because the words they're made to sing sometimes paint them as actual whores, as in "On Point," which sounds like an X-Ray of an early No Limit production that's just as consumed with cash as anything on that label: "You gets nothin''/Unless that nigga's on point/In the bed better know what you doin'/Let the washer and the dryer keep the coins/I need dollars/And that's trill/Unless that nigga pay bills/And unless that nigga do deals/Unless he got my wrists on chill/I'm for real." Elsewhere, it's more simply put: "If you wanna love the P, lemme see them dollar signs."
But Eletrik Red's inherent statement can't be reduced down to a women = whores outlook or simple sexism. They're allowed to be brash and as bawdy as the big boys ("I'm the shit with this shit," "Ooh, shit, damn!" and "You don't fuck us, nigga, we fuck you, you, you" form the hooks of some of these songs in the same way The-Dream's own sing-alongs are casually peppered with expletives). Like Russ Meyer heroines, who also never wrote their own words either, but wielded them with deceptive authority, the ladies of Electrik Red are always in charge of their given situations. They're supervixens capable of conscious submission ("All you gotta do is ask / I'm right on top of it I'll handle that task"), but more often find themselves in a dominant role (the "P" in their P.U.S.S.Y. acronym stands for "power"). The liner notes of Lady are peppered with feminist-ish slogans like "It's a man's world or at least we let them think it is" and "Always remember where you came from and never forget those red pumps on the way to where you're going" and "It's hard being an authentic girl in a Botox world." Electrik Red shill girl power in crotchless panties, so they can really rub the girl bit in your face.
As their maestro, The-Dream's playing with dolls that are attractive enough (I'd say America's Next Top Model-level pretty) and decently talented, but not so much (sub-Destiny Fulfilled harmonies) that their singing gets in the way of the real stars: the tunes and the production. All commercial music amounts to some iteration of a plea for popularity, but on Lady, The-Dream and Tricky carve out this gently experimental place between the utterly mainstream and hopelessly obscure. That's always a great place for R&B to reside, because it exploits its status as an utterly electronic medium and loosens it up from any obligation to "authenticity" that still gnaws at people 25 years after synth pop happened. There are times when Lady is mind-blowing as a sound collage, like on "Devotion," which on its ambient, fluttering high end, sounds like it's swathed in clouds, while its low end simply thunders. On "Freaky Freaky," synths throb, the beat chugs, sirens roar, as the ladies sound off operatically, then wordlessly, then jokingly bellow, "Awwwww," then chant and then sing. And that's just the chorus. My favorite track (for now), "9 to 5" sounds like the result of Prince setting his LinnDrumm on his piano for a 21st century torch ballad -- it's the kind of meshing he fumbled with on the recent MPLSound done right. Many of these tracks, including the aforementioned one, are unclassifiable even on a basic level: it's hard to say if they're ballads or bangers, as their tempos seem to expand and contract with all of the sonic activity. Is it music for dancing? For fucking? Who cares. Just listen -- no assembly required.
I'm tempted to read meta-commentary into that, that the fact that a lot of this stuff seems only to want to be listened to bespeaks an awareness of the uphill battle to get ears on it in the first place. In this economy, a release like this will struggle to go copper. But as disappointing and unfair as that is, no one's boo-hooing. There's an infectious positiveness almost everywhere on Lady, especially in its current, non-propulsive single, "So Good," with its SWV-esque slutty/sunny vibe. Elsewhere, on "W.F.Y." one of the girls (they're all kind of anonymous except for honey-voiced lead singer, Naomi Allen, who sounds like Kelis without the ugly) announces at its start, "This could be big!" as though she has no idea that a song with "fuck" in its title, no matter how infectious and stylish its house beat is, has zero chance of commercial impact. But no matter, sometimes playing pretend enough. Tonight and every night, Electrik Red are living in a fantasy. Props to The-Dream and Tricky for providing them their own little nasty world.
Apologies for the inertia. I never intended to skip out for a week. I just kind of decided to enjoy my Memorial Day weekend, which started Friday and ended yesterday. Oops.
And here I am with nothing again. I was at least going to post a YouTube clip to ease back into things. I'm reading Marcus Reeves' amazing Somebody Scream!, which examines the history of hip-hop as a political movement via key figures (Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, Biggie, etc.). He talks about N.W.A.'s 1989 appearance on Yo! MTV Raps thusly: "Fab Five Freddy...devoted an entire show to N.W.A, letting its members lead his cameras on a tour through the streets of Compton while millions of youthful viewers, especially suburban white kids, came along for the ride." Sounds amazing, right? I looked it up and the footage (in actuality, little more than between-video interstitials) is so lame and uninformative, they might as well be in front of a backdrop. It's a step away from Wayne's World's, "We're in...Delaware" bit. All I wanted was a little bit of culture, and instead the most exciting part of the YouTube clip (which could, of course, be incomplete) is when N.W.A meets the Boys (of "Dial My Heart" fame). Watch it if you must, but I don't really suggest it.
(An aside: Somebody Scream! is just as much a history of the political state of black America from the mid-'70s through today, as it is music journalism. The section on the early '90s and political correctness that comes via an examination of Salt-N-Pepa's prominence, contains a passage that I found fascinating: "The conservative Christian right and its political cohorts, under the pretext of protecting America's family values (read: white conservative families), attempted to beat back the artistic and cultural voices now screaming within American popular culture. Rap, with its exploding popularity and hostile social outlook, had become a leading example cited for such deterioration." Remind you of anything, like, oh, I don't know, shit that's going on right now that's virtually too depressing to even talk about? Same culture war, different target. What shit.)
And then I was going to post the opening sequence of Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet since a band needs to rip it off for their own music video, like, now, but the video I uploaded is out of sync on YouTube, thus entirely defeating the purpose. So that's a fail, too.
So here I am posting about posting. Shoot me. I'll be back to normal tomorrow.
Above is the extra lil' ANTM somethin' that I hinted at in the end of my finale recap -- Celia came over to my apartment, and I interviewed her like I did with Sheena last cycle. We talked for over an hour and along the way, she gave me many tidbits on the reality-making process including the prep speech Tyra made that led to Celia throwing Tahlia under the bus, the post-elimination fight Natalie had with Tyra that didn't make it to air, and how the girls are "trained" to produce maximum drama. That's, of course, in addition to Celia's own personal take on the experience and how she feels about being called "old" and "ugly" and stuff. Talking to her definitely illuminated things about the process I had no prior idea about. It was kind of mind-expanding. I'm smiling with my brain as I type.
I feel like this post should start, "It was all a dream...!" but no: it's all very real. On the Twitter I'm keeping to document the songs that get stuck in my head (and, incidentally, on which I'm shooting the 140-character-capped shit a lot more than I expected), I'm also trying to include a link to the song I'm mentioning whenever possible. SWV's oral-sex ode "Downtown" became lodged last week and so I went to YouTube to find its video, and bam! First shot:
Oh. Shit. You know? Coko's nails are the stuff of legend. And also, they are maybe the stuff of Toucan Sam's beak. The video goes on:
She looks like she's a creature who consumes sexy dudes. A literal maneater and nice counterpoint to the figurative eating of the song:
It got me thinking: I always loved those nails. I think their trashy absurdity is what pushed SWV over the line and made them my favorite girl group of their time (as much as it might feel wrong, I know it's right: I really would place them above TLC and En Vogue for sheer breadth of amazing material).
I'm not sure that those nails were ever given their due as a pop-cultural source of amazement. And so, to pay tribute to them the best way I know how: I combed YouTube for shots of her manipulating them and then made a gif wall of them. It's below the jump. Reflecting on Coko's willingness to be so flashy about one of the most impractical tacky fashion decisions a woman can make is kind of mind-blowing on a Magnolia level. I look at the shit below and I say to myself, "This happens. This is something that happens." And when it does, pop is better of for it.
“I must admit I was having a little bit of an issue with Tyra being late for every judging,” she told Billy. “It’s six hours later and I feel like I am being told my time is not as valuable as hers. They pointed out that I should shut up and be grateful for the job and that Tyra is really busy.”
“I think that my little hissy fits about ‘Well, we are all here on time. Why can’t she (Tyra)?’ didn’t go over all that well,” added Paulina, who replaced the previous judge, supermodel Twiggy.
When asked if there might have been an issue that she was the only other woman on the judging panel, Paulina said she didn’t think that was the case, especially when it comes to Tyra.
“I don’t think that in Tyra’s universe that’s even a consideration. I don’t think she cares,” she said. “I’m not even sure she was aware that I existed way out there in Siberia, much like I am not sure she knew Twiggy existed.”
And while Paulina and Tyra clearly didn’t get along in the professional landscape, did the two have any off-camera conversations?
“I wouldn’t know [what kind of person Tyra is] because all I know of her is literally when we are on set talking to each other in front of the cameras,” the supermodel said. “That is the only time she would speak to me.”
I miss her more and more everyday. (Thanks to Maria C.!)
In my opinion, this catfight between Winston and Rudy is long enough to be worth posting but not so long that it causes discomfort. Also, I think it's more a wrestling match than a catfight. My cats are so butch. I'm proud!