Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Dashing One

Currently, I'm going through one of my sporadic phases where I'm obsessed with watching WWE Raw and Smackdown every single week. The reason I'm watching? While it's always nice to see my boo John Cena, my main obsession of late has been Cody Rhodes. Son of legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes and brother of the infamous Goldust, Cody is the newest member of this family to emerge in the nepotistic wrestling world. He's a fine wrestler, and he does play the heel (aka bad guy) very well, but I must admit that the main reason I'm obsessed is because of how damn good looking he is. There's a very good reason his nickname is "Dashing" Cody Rhodes. Of course, we can't talk about Cody's attractiveness without mentioning the ridiculously short wrestling trunks he wears on a weekly basis. He certainly has no problem showing us the goods, and God love him for that. Whenever I see him running around in those trunks, all I can think about is how much I want him to throw me against the ropes and pin me, if you know what I mean. Take a look for yourself:

My new goal in life is to become Cody's manager so he can carry me on his shoulder like Randy Savage did with Miss Elizabeth back in the day. I may not be as beautiful as she was, but I can certainly pull off the worried look she made her trademark.

The Dame's 2012 Playlist: Nicki Minaj "Starships"

"I don't like 'Starships' because it doesn't make sense," someone recently complained on my Twitter feed. "Was it ever supposed to make sense?" I counter. The song is an absolute clusterfuck, with its massive RedOne production threatening, at times, to drown out Nicki Minaj's inimitable rapping, the insane, almost nonsensical, chorus combined with the raping of a classic children's tune. But amid all the nuttiness, which is Nicki's forte anyways, something about "Starships" clicks into place. Even more than "Super Bass," it pushes Nicki into the popstar realm she clearly doesn't want to embrace. This is a complete shame, as (a) Nicki views being a "popstar" as being a negative thing and (b) if she wanted to embrace it, she could be the most fascinating popstar around. "Starships" is proof that Nicki knows how to combine her rapping with her singing into something completely original (unlike her Guetta single "Turn Me On," which relies far too much on her singing). No, "Starships were meant to fly," makes absolutely no sense, but I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Dame's 2012 Playlist: Avicii "Levels"

Yes, technically, it's a 2011 track. But, like most ignorant Americans, I wasn't even aware of this Avicii track until the "Levels"-sampling, vastly inferior Flo Rida hit "Good Feeling" came out last December. When I did discover it--along with a number of other brilliant Avicii/Tim Berg singles--there was an instant spark. Together, "Levels" and I had a blazing chemistry most romantic comedy pairings could only dream of. And, like every romantic comedy ever, it was a case of opposites attracting. Avicii, with his house music stylings, and I, who normally can barely stomach extended remixes of pop tunes let alone straight house music, shouldn't have gotten along. Yet here I am, singing along with "Levels" despite that 95% of the song is instrumental. We've overcome the odds and proved that we're a match made in heaven, and it's all because of "Levels."

The Dame's 2012 Playlist: Dragonette "Let It Go"

Dragonette has always been a band that I've appreciated far more than I've ever loved. They had a couple of great tracks on their Fixin to Thrill album from 2009. Their collaboration with Martin Solveig, "Hello," was nice the first ten times or so I heard, but it quickly wore out its welcome. So, color me surprised when I fell head over heels with "Let It Go" the minute I heard it. This doesn't happen very often, so I knew that this was not a drill. If someone asked me to describe "Let It Go," I could only use one word: euphoric. I absolutely adore the way that infectious, pulsing beat nearly drowns out every lyric in the song. It's a risky stylistic choice, especially considering that the lyrics aren't even bad by any means (and that the way the lead singer howls "Let it goooooooooooo" is the best part of the song), but it pays off in aces for the group. With one triumphant single, Dragonette has gone from "meh" to a "must listen at all costs"; in other words, there is hope for you still to turn things around, Keri Hilson.

The Dame's 2012 Playlist: Lana Del Rey "Off to the Races"

The main reason I allowed all songs released in 2012, not just the "singles," to be eligible for my year-end list is because of "Off to the Races," a track so good I couldn't disqualify it because some bonehead executive decided not to release it. I will admit that I was initially dismissive of Ms. Del Rey, not completely understanding the hype surrounding "Video Games" and most of the sneak peaks from Born to Die. Actually, I believe my exact words were, "Wake me up when she does a dance track." Despite my reservations, I gave her album a listen when it came out, and, color me surprised, I actually liked a good portion of it. The album's standout, without a doubt, is this five minute magnum opus. From the moment Lana moans that first lyric, "My old man is a bad man," I was enamored. I love the almost sinister vibe the song gives off, which, combined with its already frank sexuality ("He likes to watch me in the glass room, bathroom"), makes for an intriguing pairing. I've mentioned this before, but when I listen to music, I rarely listen to lyrics. Usually, I base my opinions on how the song makes me feel. "Off to the Races" is no different, but the lyrics here add even more texture to a song I already can't get out of my subconscious. Lana Del Rey hasn't given me a dance track like a requested. Instead, she has given me something more than I could have ever hoped for: a living, breathing, unequivocal masterpiece.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Dame's 2012 Playlist: Justin Bieber "Boyfriend"

Even if "Boyfriend" doesn't end up as my favorite song of 2011, it will most certainly be the smartest song. Bieber has somehow managed to find a song that matures his sound and style while continuing to appeal to the kiddies who made him famous in the first place. And if you don't understand how difficult that is, just ask Miley Cyrus, who grew up too quickly on Can't Be Tamed for her teen fans. Yes, the fondue line is still atrocious, but Justin has so much swagger, you barely notice just how bad it is. Perhaps what is most impressive about "Boyfriend" is that it sounds so sexy, like a song you could easily see yourself having sex to at some point in the future, even though it's never extremely explicit or profane. Bieber gets the message across without turning into a Justin Timberlake sex machine. How he does it I'll never know. I'm just glad that the Biebz learned from the mistakes of so many other teen heartthrobs who have fallen once they reached the other side of puberty.

Monday, April 16, 2012

You Need to Practice Backing That Ass Up

When I tweeted a few weeks ago that Juvenile's "Back That Ass Up" was a seminal part of my childhood, I wasn't being facetious. And when I say that every time I think of the song I think of my mother, no, my family wasn't as fucked up as you're probably thinking. I've already spoken numerous times about how TRL ran my life between the ages of 11 and 14. One of the great things about the show was that it introduced me to music that I never would have heard otherwise. An obvious example of this would be "Back That Ass Up," a raunchy rap song that wouldn't have played anywhere near the Top 40 radio stations I listened to. The reason I remember this song, and especially the accompanying music video, so much is because my mother would literally force me to change the channel every time the video came on. Although my mother isn't the biggest fan of rap music--oddly enough, however, R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" is one of her favorite songs ever--she was mainly offended by the video. As you may remember, it featured a fair amount of curvacious women with luscious bottoms shaking what their mama gave them in front of the camera. While it looks like nothing more than a parody of late 90's rap videos today, something about it really irked my mother. Maybe she felt that the women were being exploited, which is a valid response. Either way, I always found it funny that my mother reacted so strongly to something as inconsequential as "Back That Ass Up."

Fast forward twelve or so years. On a whim, I decided to listen to Drake's Take Care, a decision based upon the fact that I loved "Find Your Love" a couple years ago and that I've claimed on many occasions that Drake could get it in anytime he wanted. After listening to the album, I decided that he could still get it in and that I liked the album. It didn't strike me until a day or so later that one of my favorite songs on Take Care, "Practice," sounded strangely familiar. After another listen, it clicked into place: "Practice" samples "Back That Ass Up"! In stark contrast to the original's bluntness, Drake's song uses the infamous chorus as a smooth, sexy come-on. By the end of the song's four minute runtime, I certainly wanted to back my ass up on Drake even more than I had before.

Okay, okay, I hear some grumbling, so I better get this out of the way: "Practice" isn't a completely perfect song. After you get over the initial boner-inducing hotness of it all and you pay attention to the non-Juvenile lyrics, the song loses some of its amazingness. "Practice" is about Drake coming to terms with his girlfriend not being a virgin and how he must rationalize this as her getting some "practice" in for their sexual relationship. Can you say ick? Have straight men not evolved to the point of accepting that girls get horny, too, and that it's completely unrealistic to expect a woman in 2012 to remain a virgin for one man some point in the future while he gets to go out and bang as many chicks as he wants because that's what men do? It's almost enough to hate the song, but then Drake gets back to that chorus and I forget any and all moral misgivings I have about the song. No one ever said I was a great moral crusader.

Now that I've reached the end of this post, I realized that the point of this whole essay was probably to post pictures of Drake. Ah, such is life. At least you all get a reward for reading this damn thing!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Violence & The Hunger Games

From the moment the advertising campaign for The Hunger Games kicked into high gear, a lot of questions were raised about the film's central conceit of children murdering other children for sport. How would the film handle it? Would they embrace the violence or sanitize it completely? Just how much could they show and still get a PG-13 rating? Surprisingly, The Hunger Games handles this delicate balance between genuine suspense tastelessness gracefully. In the process, it becomes a commentary on the role of violence in contemporary cinema. No, it's not the most thorough, nor is it the most insightful investigation we have seen. But it's probably the best we were ever going to be given in a PG-13 studio-produced blockbuster aimed at both teens and adults. Besides, this is the film our blood-thirsty culture needs to see and reflect on right now.

Our culture's obsession with violence, particularly in the media, has been discussed ad nauseum since the Columbine shooting over a decade ago. We have no problem letting teens watch people gleefully kill one another in endless action films or sadistic "torture porn" horror films (Show a woman receiving oral, however, and suddenly we must think of the children and protect them). The Hunger Games is one of the few recent mainstream films I can recall where we are forced to stop and think about the violence going on. The first image we see of kid-on-kid violence doesn't occur until about 30 minutes into the film, after only hearing about it up until then. The Hunger Games commentators are showing clips from previous years, explaining how the game works. At the very end, they pause on this photo of a kid holding a brick, standing over another kid with blood coming out of his head. I laughed at first but quickly understood what I was watching was not funny. Instead, I was uncomfortable. The image only appears for a couple seconds, but I'm sick to my stomach thinking of it now. The context it's presented in passes the moment off as an ordinary moment, just an instance of one kid bringing glory to his district by winning the Games. But it's clearly not what the filmmakers want us to come away with. They are asking us to think about how anyone could not only condone this but actively participate in it every single year, looking forward to it like a six-year-old child looks forward to Christmas.

When the film gets to the actual Hunger Games, the violence becomes even more confrontational. Most of the murders take place off-screen or are obscured by rapid editing and blurry camerawork. The ones we do see, however, are just as uncomfortable to watch as that first image. We don't celebrate any of the deaths or wish for more gore as we would in a typical action film or, at least, one that starred adults; what we see is enough, thank you very much. Even when one of the contestants is killed by another to save Katniss, we don't cheer on her demise. The gleeful, psychotic monologue she delivers as she has Katniss in her clutches makes it easier to watch her death, sure. But we're only relieved that Katniss is okay, not that one of the villains is dead. Her death is just another sad consequence of this game and this culture.

When people do die, it's often presented in a surprisingly unsentimental way. There is no excessive outpouring of emotion, just the bare minimum needed to get through the scene. While watching The Hunger Games, I was reminded of Grave of the Fireflies' presentation of death: a scary reality of this harsh, unpredictable world the protagonists are thrown into. The lack of sentimentality makes the film sadder, but it also makes the deaths scarier and more realistic. Rue's (relatively) quiet death forces us to ponder the violence much more than if there was an emotional buffer to distract us. We have to question how anyone could allow such a thing could happen to such a little girl because there's nothing else to think about.

The Hunger Games makes no definitive statement on violence on cinema. To do this, the film would have needed someone like Michael Haneke to confront us openly and directly with these murderous children instead of hiding behind a blurry camera. What The Hunger Games does, though, is start the conversation by directly addressing the very same audience who goes to see these gratuitously violent films. I'm not saying it will change the world, but maybe The Hunger Games will get some people to start questioning why they enjoy watching people mutilate and kill other people at the cinema.