Category Archives: music

Macy’s Ad Dissonance -or- How Rent Sold Out

Have you seen the latest Macy’s commercial?

It is absolutely touching. Sweet imagery married to a lovely song about remembering the past year. How could they go wrong? Read the rest of this entry

Kidz Bop

Kidz Bop

Saw a commercial for the latest Kidz Bop album on television the other day. These things are appalling because they’re kid-sung versions of popular songs, as if the originals were not bad enough. A few thoughts came to mind:

  • We are indoctrinating our children into listening primarily to pop music, which is well known for its simplicity and vapidness.
  • We are indoctrinating our children into listening to this music via the voices of other children, suggesting to them (and ourselves) that they will only be capable of understanding people in their own age group. The long term yield for parents is compromised by this mindset, by the way.
  • The long term yield for record companies, though, is fantastic.
  • People are comfortable with the idea of children listening to Lady Gaga. The songs included on the latest release are not too bad, but they previously had “Bad Romance” on an album. I think this is not responsible parenting.
  • A Kidz Bop version of Justin Beiber’s “Baby” is redundant.

You are what you read/watch/etc.

For the past several days I have been engaging in a conversation with a friend of mine (over Facebook…) about women in science fiction/fantasy/comic books that has served to spark my interest in why we, the readers, choose the stories and characters we do. Her longtime fixation has and always will be Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its titular character. Why? There was something inherently relatable about that character I describe as narcissistic, selfish, and written in a boring manner (she never fails and is always right). My friend is not alone in finding Buffy Summers such an enjoyable fiction character. The reasons others have might mirror hers or be something totally out of left field. But it got me thinking about my favorite characters and stories. What do these preferences say about me?

My favorite stories are rarely about specific characters but rather communities in which everyone plays a nigh equally important role as the next person. Some stories have a certain spiritual aspect about them, but the spirituality is something other than the mainstream faiths. It usually discusses the duality of mind and soul (and the balance between following our logical brains or our gut instincts) and the transcendent nature of who we are. Special note on Caprica: Our entire beings are more than what simply exists on this plane of existence in these skins. But I also have a special affinity for Spider-Man stories, mainly because he is completely relatable – especially after the One Day More storyline from a couple years back. I guess it says a lot about me to appreciate a loveable loser who is constantly down on his luck but is able to move forward because he sees that there is more to life than what he is personally getting out of it.

Zeta Gundam, my favorite anime, seems to combine all these requirements. Kamille Bidan, the eventual pilot of the Zeta Gundam, is a down on his luck mech-building nerd who watches both of his parents die right before his eyes. However, he grows into a strong man thanks to the surrogate family he becomes part of in a rebellious military organization. He, not unlike many others, is able to connect with people on a spiritual level - and that gives him strength. Those who have died still live on in spirit, and in the scene pictured they grant him their strength to overcome the villain.

My friend and I are academics, though. Her studies in English are cross-compatible with my own in psychology, especially since both fields involve interpretation and looking for inner truths. We are both trained to be self aware. Other people do not take the time to think about it, nor would they necessarily know where to begin. As such, I can only look at mass American culture and what it might mean on a broad scale.

Which brings me to another thing I have been thinking about quite a bit lately – Lady Gaga. To be honest, I appreciate her music. It does not earn its own playlist on my MP3 player, but it finds a place on certain playlists. For me the reason why is simple: She or her producers have successfully captured the elusive earworm and planted some of its eggs directly into her tracks. That and sometimes I like music that does not require much thought.

Simple aesthetic is what people tend to fall back on when discussing music. “I like it because it sounds good,” is a completely acceptable answer, although it does not get deep enough for understanding. Asking why generally yields little, and even someone who studies music would be hard pressed to really describe what makes it sound good aside from mentioning musical terminology. “Why does it sound good to you?” I want to know what people are personally getting out of the music. Aesthetics are makeup. They add to the overall presentation, but that does not explain what differentiates certain songs from their sound alike contemporaries.

It gets easier to understand when looking back at the top ten singles for the past few years and noticing certain trends in song content and performers. Yes, I know it is a no-brainer to mention the overwhelming trend of sexuality in music. The easy, and valid, assumption is that people like sex. That does not solve the mystery for me. If people did not like sex, procreation would predominantly be practiced by intellectuals instead of the reality of the situation. My thought is that people enjoy the freedom of sexuality advertised by these artists. Despite our being a considerably free country, we are still very much sexually repressed. Discussion of sex is taboo, and even certain acts are instilled in us as taboo in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

That helps to explain some of the interest in Lady Gaga’s music. I think the rest is how weird and therefore mysterious she is.

If all promotional images of Lady Gaga were like this one, would she still have the same appeal? Look up "vintage lady gaga" on YouTube and find a performance of hers from NYU before she was famous. She was quite talented, but you have to ask if she would be remotely as famous if she had decided not to pursue sexual wish fulfillment music and an accompanying more-free-than-you image.

But what about everyone else? What about Taylor Swift? Considering her single, I would say that girls who think they are a good girls find it completely relatable – and guys want to think that they will always eventually end up with the good girl. What about a good majority of rap music? Essentially they are popular due to male power fantasies. Guys are fulfilling their desires to be objects in pure control – hence the common “bitches and money” theme.

When it comes to movies, we find a number of romantic comedies in existence. Like I have previously mentioned, romcoms exist and persist because they imbue in some viewers the notion that real and true love does exist. (The other side of it is to set the mood for sex, which is why so many people put up with these generally poor films.) Then we look at the action films, which are usually more male power fantasies.

What it tells me is that people in my culture generally feel powerless and alone, with men generally more concerned about power and women more concerned about companionship. Definitely did not take a psychologist to point out these things, but I thought examples would be nice. I have also only scratched the surface. Television, video game (“Why do you spend more time playing Warcraft than you do experiencing your own life?”), and literary trends (“Why are you reading Harry Potter for the seventh time?”, “What do you get out of Twilight?”) were not touched. That would require watching Glee and Lost, which sounds painful (like sugar-rotting-teeth painful) on one end and time consuming on the other. I would also probably have to watch more reality television, but my guess is that reality simply is not real enough for people anymore. Probably due to a lack of truly living by the audience.

In the end, though, this is a fun exercise for those of us who like to think about the meaning behind our own choices. Our entertainment choices generally do say something about us. What do your choices say about you? How do you relate to the characters? What is being fulfilled?

“We Are the World” 2.0 = Disappointing, Shameful

As much as it pains me to be in agreement with Jay-Z, the new rendition of “We Are the World” is disappointing. I do not think that the original is somehow untouchable in its perfection, since it is a pretty annoying song. (It’s long and repetitive.) It’s just that remaking the song strikes me as insincere. While I am almost certain that most of the celebrities involved were there to help raise money for Haiti, there will always be concern that some were their for face time. Helping Haiti is a good image booster, and someone who buys the MP3 is in a good place to follow-up with an album or movie download as well. Not to mention that all those involved are covering an old song, which means little effort was necessary.

The parts that really get me are when the autotune guys show up and the rap breakdown. The song transitions from being middling but honest homage to embarrassing and, ultimately, poorly dated. I am not comfortable with people looking back on this song and thinking that the best we could offer was robot voice and the worst rap offerings available. Something more original and more inspirational should have been offered up for Haiti.

RIAA wins $675,000 from user

In a way, Joel Tenanbaum was a file sharer who had it coming. The RIAA didn’t file a suit after simply catching him sharing music. He received his first complaint in 2005 and lied about subsequent complaints until 2008. Tenanbaum was sued by the RIAA for 30 songs, and he was found guilty after admitting that he willingly shared the songs and lied to the company about not knowing what he was doing. It was the dumbest defense he could have, unless he was cocky and sure that they would let him off the hook.

They didn’t, and now each song will cost him $22,500. That’s a lot of money, and it’s not fair. Most people don’t have that kind of money, so what is the point in trying to yank it out of people? I understand that they hope that these trials are reported heavily in the media in an attempt to curb further use of file sharing programs. At the same time, this sort of thing makes people quite resentful of the corporations and very, very likely to find more discrete ways to obtain files. There are various places one can go to have access to a virtual private network, but those vary in their levels of success. That’s not even touching on dark nets, about which I could still stand to learn more. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It’s mostly disgusting to me that the RIAA is suing so grandly for damages and not a dime goes to the music artists they are supposed to represent. What damages are really being incurred here? Music is getting out for free, but that’s been happening ever since recording devices caught on. It’s the accessibility that’s driving the record industry crazy now.

I just don’t get how a song, which considering current online pricing can only be a maximum of $1.29, can be worth over $20,000. To reach that penalty, it should be necessary to prove that the user uploaded every song to over 17,400 people. I could see a penalty of a few hundred dollars per song, but thousands? That’s absurd and just shows why I don’t exactly support the record industry anymore. What’s the point in supporting an industry that ultimately wants to bankrupt its supporters? But there’s no good way to stand up against them if you like music and want to support your favorite artists – not unless the artists involve themselves in the fight as well. Things like this court case are going to go on for a while until enough artists, popular ones at that, get disenchanted with the record business.

In the age of filesharing, the music industry still profits

A post on /. points to a blog and study revealing that, at least in the UK, music industry profits have increased in the past year despite the increased use of filesharing protocols. I guess this is somewhat supportive of what I’ve been saying all along – people will pay for items they find worthwhile. What filesharing allows is the exploration of new music and thus new artists to see at shows or the legal purchase of MP3s to appease a fan’s guilt. The industry has done more than its share of freaking out, so maybe these data will be a great revelation of the fact that it will all balance out in the end.

Logically speaking, it also helps that sites like Pandora offer music for free to its users through ads that collect revenue for the record labels. New revenue streams are being created in light of the fact that users aren’t buying CDs anymore. Forward thinking will definitely overcome this filesharing non-issue.

Moby offers free music…and nets heavy sales

We’ve already learned that Moby thinks the RIAA should be disbanded, so it’s no surprise that he released his last single free to the public on his websThere's nothing clever I can say about this album cover other than the fact that it's entirely too cute.ite. A recent article states that this same  single is somehow the #1 seller on iTunes, and his recently released album would have probably debuted in the top position if not for the posthumous sales flux of Michael Jackson albums. (At least in Europe. No telling where Moby would land in the US.) What kind of lesson can the labels learn from this? Offering the fans something for free can enhance sales. Then again, to be completely fair, Moby has a pretty strong fanbase. Trent Reznor offered an entire album for free before releasing it in stores, where it sold far too few copies to be considered for the #1 position.

Check the Moby article link for Moby’s latest video, directed by David Lynch!

Moby thinks the RIAA should be disbanded

Mr. Porcelain himself thinks that the RIAA should be disbanded, especially in light of the fact that a woman was recently fined Yeah, I think it's a no-brainer, too. Profitting by suing fans is stupid. $80,000 per infringing song. That’s quite a bit for items that are only $.99 on iTunes. Moby seems to think the obvious here – the RIAA isn’t fighting and incriminating people for the sake of the artists but rather for the labels. So, anyway, let’s add him to the list of artists we defaultively like because he’s sensible and doesn’t want the labels and the RIAA to bleed us of money just because we like music.