Friday, September 30, 2011

Indie Girls Gone WILD


As of late, it seems that a lot of indie’s leading ladies have been going the dance route. Most of their fan bases, comprised of a great deal of hip hip hurray hipsters, are quick to label them as sell-outs. I imagine it goes something like this, "I listened to her back when she was making music with her left nostril. Ugh, this actually sounds catchy. She’s dead to me!” Anyhow, is this really the case? Have these indie queens sold their souls to the music devil? Let’s examine.

Exhibit A is one our faves here at Unapologetically POP, Marina and the Diamonds, with the song "Radioactive" (click here to listen) off her upcoming sophomore release. Stargate produced the track. They’re a Norwegian duo that has worked with a number of pop divas including Beyoncé (on "Irreplaceable"), Katy Perry (on "Firework" and I wanna see your "Peacock" cock cock cock), and most prominently with Rihanna (on "Please Don't Stop the Music," "Rude Boy," "Only Girl," "S&M," etc.). At first, the synths sound like they do in any other club banger, but if you listen to the way Marina sings and to what she sings, it’s the same old gal from before, but in a brand new magical sonic sphere. Look at the chorus’ lyrics, “When you’re around me, I’m radioactive/My blood is burning, radioactive/ I'm turning radioactive/My blood is radioactive/My heart is nuclear/Love is all that I feel/I'm turning radioactive/My blood is radioactive.” The same honesty, pain, and vivid emotional landscape are painted in this song as was the case on all the tracks on The Family Jewels, her debut. She may not have sung many love songs in the past, but she’s said herself that before, she was trying to be indie cool and have credibility, without much regard to what she actually enjoyed, which was energetic, danceable, bubblegum pop. Doing something different to be viewed as respectable and cool if that’s not truly your style is just as fake as doing something to fit in with the radio crowd, so I respect that she’s finally embracing the fact that she wants to be a massive pop diva herself.

Exhibit B: Singer-songwriter Lykke Li’s "Until We Bleed" (click here to listen) with fellow Swede Andrew Kleerup, who’s known for his shimmering dance beats, particularly on Robyn’s "With Every Heartbeat." I’ve never been the biggest fan of Lykke Li. I have nothing against her musicality; she’s quite talented, but most of her stuff isn’t up my alley. However, this song is super catchy and grabs your heartstrings from the very start. The opening verse, “I'm naked/I'm numb/I'm stupid/I'm staying/And if Cupid's got a gun, then he's shootin',” exposes the vulnerability she feels, and the surrounding synths capture her mood perfectly, making for the perfect combination of lyrics and production. 

Exhibit C: Sia’s "Titanium" (click here to listen) on David Guetta’s album, Nothing But The Beat. Sia’s music has always been quirky pop, but I actually prefer the shiny spin that Guetta provides her soulful voice and lyrics. With a chorus in which she sings, “I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose/Fire away, fire away/Brick of shame, take your rain/Fire away, fire away/You shoot me down but I won't fall/I am titanium,” an electronic kick only enhances the ferocity of this power girl’s delivery.

Exhibit D is Kelis. She’s not necessarily indie, but she’s never been as well known as the leading ladies in R&B/Pop, including Beyoncé and Rihanna, except for 2003’s omnipresent "Milkshake" (For some reason my milkshake isn’t bringing all the boys to the yard. Girlfriend needs to send me her recipe. Kelis?). Her 2010 album, Flesh Tone, saw Kelis abandon the hip-hop beats of her past for a brand new direction that was totally gay and totally yay. On the single "Brave" (click here to listen), she starts out revealing the mistakes of her past, singing “I'm not ashamed of winning/But it wasn't that way in the beginning/It was this way/It was kiss me/Come kick me and diss me/I had to give it up.” She then states how having a child saved her, “All of this pain you had given /It's just a reminder of livin/It was crazy, had a baby/He's amazin, he saved me.” This chick’s no sell-out. The synths cloak her emotion and allow her to deliver a sort of truth that I can’t imagine being captured in any other style but dance.

Exhibit E. Robyn. Of all the indie chicks now doing dance music, Robyn is the most prominent. Ironically, the dance direction she took after her teen pop ‘90s years actually made her more popular among indie music lovers. She serves as an excellent example of the beauty and purity that dance production can provide to some raw, emotional lyrics. One of my favorite tracks is "Cry When You Get Older" (click here to listen) on Body Talk Pt. 1. “Hey girl in the strobing light/what ya momma never told ya/is love hurts when you do it right/you can cry when you get older/Young boy by the traffic light/what ya daddy never told ya/is love hurts when you do it right/you can cry when you get older…I start out with good intentions, but mess it up like all the time/I try to keep up with appearance, but always end up way out of line/I need some kinda miracle, cause I've lost all my faith in science/so I put my faith in me.” This song appeals to those who have felt like outsiders (so basically, that’s everyone). Many of us have been the boy in the traffic light or that girl in the strobing light, and that’s what I love about this song and all of the songs that I’ve mentioned in this post. A bunch of people view electronic pop music as a betrayal of all that’s real and true, but I see it as the opposite. It gives us a chance to dance through our pain, to exorcise ourselves of our insecurities. These girls’ lyrics allow us to do it with songs that reflect our own feelings (as opposed to listening to another song about taking shots, which has its place but gets a bit monotonous after a while. I don’t need anyone telling me how to take a shot. I’m a big boy and am well versed in the practice). During these moments on the dance floor, we connect with our wounded inner selves in a spiritual way, and it’s all thanks to the indie gals who’ve bypassed the coffee shop on their way to the gay club.



Thursday, September 29, 2011

JFF - Robyn

We <3 Robyn.

What's that you say?  You're looking for a new song to shake it to this weekend?  Baby, you're in luck!

Check out this AWESOME Kaskade remix of Robyn's Call Your Girlfriend here.  Kaskade is, surprisingly, one of the very few American progressive house artists that we can tolerate (sorry, but if you want trance or house done right, you have to travel to Europe.  That's why God made Armin Van BuurenATB, & Tiësto.  'Nuff said.)  Props to Kaskade for an amazing Robyn remix!

Shake thoroughly & enjoy!



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Playing in the Shadows... should stay in the shadows

"Playing in the Shadows" is Example's third album.

Elliot Gleave, aka Example, has journeyed from hip-hop, to pop-hop, to an odd mishmash of dubstep & electro that showcases the production quality more than his own lyrical ability.  This odd trend leaves us with songs like Stay Awake, which sound better as a straight up dubstep track than as a second single.  
Now, don’t get us wrong, we have adored Example since Kickstarts hit the summer charts in 2010.  I expected great things from Examples first album... but sadly, Playing in the Shadows only finds Example capitalizing on the current trend of drum n’ bass club bangers.  When done right, the fusion of power-pop & power-party can be uplifting & bold.  I mean, why was Lily Allen’s album still golden after she made the transition to electro-pop?  Because girlfriend Lily weighed down her bubble-gum pop with some substantial lyrics, themes and imagery!  Was it too much to expect fellow Brit Example to follow in her footsteps?  In his defense, he tries in Stay Awake, but falls dreadfully short (how the song made it so far up on the charts we will never understand).

Let me point out that Example has some serious star quality.  His previous two albums found him simultaneously adored by ladies primping for the club as well as lauded by bros as a “fuckin’ legend.”  His rap skills earned him the street-cred cherished by London artists.  Even his only-a-mother-could-love face somehow makes him sexy (don’t ask us how!).  I remain a massive fan of his earlier, indie-inspired stoner rap tracks (“you can’t rap my friend / you’re white & you’re from Fulham”) but in “Playing in the Shadows” his new, big, cocaine-sniffin’ party attitude is even not remotely matched by vocals.  C’mon Example, we know by now you CAN rap!

Thankfully, one track stands out on the mediocre album.  Never Had a Day is super sharp & sexy.  “Your friend's still lying on the floor / half dead, half snoring / a cup of tea won't do, a kiss from me won't do / I gotta get out of this habit we're in” Example sings.  Aaah.  Yes.  The bad influence.  We’ve all been there.  The track ends with a positively thrilling dance explosion.  At least this song’s a keeper!

So, how to sum up our feelings on Example’s new album?

The lesson here is, dear readers: when you buy into the genre, at least make it your own.  The producers easily had the most fun on this album.  Our request to Example is baby, bring the fun back!  We miss your original playfulness.  We want pop anthems to blast in our car!  For a highly skilled artist with tons of pop potential, it is sad that only one song on the album got us dancing.  In short, let’s hope the next single is Never Had a Day.



Ra Ra Ra Ra RihanNa


Have you heard Rihanna’s first single off her upcoming sixth album? Six albums by the age of 23; I envy her because there are days when I want to be her. I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it, too, mister! "We Found Love" (click here to listen) is her first collaboration with Scottish DJ turned producer Calvin Harris, famous abroad, but viewed as more of an underground electronic artist out here. Obviously, working with Rihanna is great for him. Once this song becomes a hit on American radio (and it will), he’ll join the ranks of top producers as more American based recording artists will hear it and likely gravitate toward him when they gear up for new album cycles. 

I’ve had mixed feelings about Rihanna for quite some time. After "SOS" made her the dance diva she is well known as today, I couldn’t help but love her songs. "Please Don’t Stop the Music," "Disturbia," and "Only Girl" were irresistible for a gay man like me who loves to dance in a Hanes T-shirt and undies by myself in front of my bedroom mirror. Plus, girlfriend’s got some undeniable swagger! Eventually, though, I was a bit annoyed with her.  A portion of my sentiments surely sprung from my jealousy of her pop success, as I’m an aspiring pop artist myself. But other parts of my feelings were more justifiable. Her voice wasn’t great live (it’s since gotten better), and she didn’t dance up a storm. In other words, she wasn’t as magical on stage as Beyoncé, currently the best live performer in pop. Furthermore, I was a bit turned off by her sex shtick hitting the repeat button with each album. Actually, I was getting annoyed with everyone’s sex shtick to a degree. Madonna was the pioneer in that regard, but she used pop to snatch the power of female sexuality out of males’ hands and place it into females’.  She used sexuality to break social barriers (and to further her career, but at least positive social change came out of it). Awesome examples of respectable, powerful, sexual women on television like Samantha in Sex and the City wouldn’t be around without Madonna’s work.  Basically, I love everything Madonna’s done.

At least Lady Gaga has used sexuality to focus people’s attention on LGBT issues. Katy Perry, whose music and look I love, doesn’t have a social agenda (apart from "Firework"), but at least her sexuality has been semi-original; she’s twisted it in a tongue-in-cheek, hipster, cute, sundress, candy girl/Chiquita Banana direction and made it her own.  On the other hand, Rihanna seems to copy Madonna move for move but without any political point and without revealing much of her own personality, unlike Katy who makes her personality known. In other words, she uses sexuality solely to push product, which sometimes puts a bad taste in my mouth. However, after talking to my friend Laura, a progressive bi-sexual with a buzz-cut, I’ve realized that maybe Rihanna is doing something right. Laura said that in many Rihanna songs, the pop siren is in the power position. In "Rude Boy," she tells the guy to “take it, take it.” In "S&M," she’s the one wielding the chains and whips. At the end of the day, it’s all about pointing that out to the naïve, impressionable youth who hear these songs and see these images so that they interpret them in a way that’s beneficial, as opposed to detrimental. Young boys need to comprehend that women aren’t sex objects. Young girls need to know that sex, while an important and essential part of life, is not the end all be all. They need to see the positive in what Rihanna’s doing, which is something that Rihanna may not see herself (I don’t know; I’ve never met the girl). They need to understand that when they are ready for sex, or to express themselves sexually, they can do it however they want to, as loudly (“S S S & M M M”), or softly as they want to.  They need to know that they have power, just like Rihanna does in her songs. We need to highlight those points because the media system, which everyone enables, including Rihanna and ourselves, doesn’t. That system emphasizes the “sex sells” part, which isn’t empowering, so we need to push back and stress the positive messages where we can find them, in the fun, entertaining, danceable, omnipresent hits by Ms. Umbrella herself. Love you girl! Can’t wait till your album drops.  Until then, I’ll be obsessively listening to "We Found Love." It’s absolutely addictive.