Thursday, November 24, 2011

10 Reasons Why We Love NY


From Irving Berlin's Puttin' On the Ritz to Elton John's Monalisas and Madhatters, New York City has inspired countless artists and musicians, past and present.  Now, with Lady GaGa’s Marry The Night video fast approaching, we thought it was about time we assembled a list of songs about our favorite city in the world, New York, the subject of GaGa’s new single. Both of us plan on moving there in the near future – Gregory hopes to do so in the coming year, and Minna after she completes her Masters in History! We love the city’s energy, eccentricity, and eclectic (and electric) feel.  It is the city that is home to some of the world’s richest and most powerful, as well as the world's poorest and most deprived. It is the ultimate dichotomy. In Minna’s own words, “We’ve got to strut our stuff on those dirty streets and make them our runway!” New York is a global hub, and within it, you can be anyone you want to... somewhere comfortably in between fantasy & reality.

GaGa wrote The Fame about famous people, inspired by tabloid mug shots of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Lindsay Lohan, but at the center of that album is also an important message – the creation of your own fame.  Society and those who deliver its constructs to us (our parents, teachers, friends, etc.) tell us who we should be, when really, we should decide our destinies by getting in touch with our guts. Of course, this is easier said than done (we both struggle with it, immensely), but it’s incredibly important.  Basically, if you want to express yourself by walking down the street wearing pink belts on your ears and stilettos on your head, then you should be able to do so.  Most people will think you’re crazy.  Most people are also pretty bland, are NOT in touch with what they desire, and find it easier to bully than to follow their own inspired paths.  However, if wearing pink belts on your ears and stilettos on your head is you being YOU, then there is no other way to be; you’d be denying your identity by dressing like everyone else if the way everyone else dresses doesn’t suit your personality and taste.  One of the few places on Earth where you can let your star shine brightly (pink belted ears and all), and where at least one person will find you FIERCE (snap snap), is New York. We love you, NYC. XO

Gregory's Top NYC-Inspired Songs:

1) Jennifer Lopez - Waiting For Tonight - This song is a pure taste of New York nightlife, which was precisely JLo’s intention.  Jennifer recorded it as a reminder of the days when she and her girlfriends would wait all week for Friday, on which they would take the 6 train (hence the album title, On The 6) from the Bronx to Manhattan and dance the night away.  It's simple, it's memorable, it's fab.  Waiting For Tonight is JLo at her best. 

2) Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind - I was hooked to Jay-Z’s now classic ode to his hometown the first time I heard him and Alicia perform it at the infamous 2009 VMAs (Hey Kanye!). In it, he references the city’s sports teams, neighborhoods, landmarks, and his own ego (“I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.”). Rightfully so, as he is just as much of a New York icon as those he mentions in his song. The way he perfectly combines all of these elements is proof of his poetic genius. While I’ll never be a fan of the misogyny common to rap music, and used by H.O.V.A., himself, his talent is something that New York should be proud to call its own. 

3) Madonna - I Love New York - Madonna may be a textbook narcissist, but she is one of my biggest inspirations. In her 20s, she picked up and moved to NY, searching for fame and fortune (what else?).  By her mid-20s, she had found it with her first hit, Holiday.  Seeing as she is one my icons, I’ve done quite a bit of reading on her, including her early days in New York. She lived in some questionable areas with little money. While there were certainly times when she was scared and depressed, she had fun, too. After getting signed to Sire Records, she played her future hits for the diverse crowd of kids downtown, all of them dancing together. There was a club in New York that many future successes attended and/or worked at, including Cyndi Lauper and LL Cool J, and those who used to frequent it say Madonna never seemed to fit right in. She was always somewhat isolated and appeared to be a bit of a loner.  She then went on to become one of the most provocative, political, and culturally impactful artists of our time, taking female sexuality out of the hands of men and making it a source of power (rather than shame) for women.

I would imagine that this sort of progressive mindset was impacted by her stay in one of the most progressive cities in the world. She writes about her love for New York in I Love New York, off of one her best albums, the remarkable, meaningful, and severely underrated Confessions On A Dancefloor. Most people will overlook the song’s lyrics, but I find them really poignant; “other places make me feel like a dork” hints at the same idea I discussed in the intro – people can be themselves in New York.  In other places, they feel judged, ostracized, and ashamed of who they are, but in New York, that judgment is held at a relative minimum.

4) Lady GaGa - Beautiful, Dirty, Rich - This is the first POP song GaGa wrote (with Rob Fusari); she originally wanted to be a ROCK chick, which actually makes sense if you listen to her rock-tinged songs on Born This Way.  And what did she write about?  Why, her experience living on the Lower East Side, of course!  When she first arrived moved down to LES GaGa encountered a great deal of hipsters.  Many of them were a tad weary of her, as she dressed more traditionally back then.  They didn’t think she had the artistic know-how and brain-dead savvy they did.  GaGa eventually realized that they were all trust-fund kids who grew up in Manhattan penthouses pretending to be poor and paying for their cocaine habits, partying, and fit-for-a-starving-artist apartments with Mommy and Daddy’s money (I won’t judge... too much.)  Does the song make sense, now? “Daddy, I’m so sorry, I’m so s-s-sorry, yeah / We just like to party, like to p-p-party, yeah.”

Minna's Top NYC-Inspired Songs:

5) Sophie Ellis-Bextor - New York City Lights - This song hails from Sophie's third album Trip The Light Fantastic, released in 2007.  The album is more New York than you may think; Sophie told the Times that parts of Trip The Light Fantastic were inspired by anarchist & feminist Emma Goldman, famous for her radical speeches in Union Square (once a hotbed of political/social-unrest, now a hang-out for NYU students).  Although not one of her singles, Sophie's ode to New York City feels authentic: "Do it.  Feel it.  Touch it.  Taste it.  Be it.  Live it," she implores us.  Lovely Sophie communicates the thrill for adventure, the lust for pleasure, & the thrill of New York City (it doesn't take a New Yorker to appreciate it!)

6) Matt & Kim – Block After Block - indie POP prince & princess Matt & Kim released Block After Block when I needed it the most- as an uninspired post-grad living with her grandparents in upstate New York.  On their album Sidewalks, Matt & Kim draw on "everything I've learned / every step I took / and street I've walked" from Grand Street to Williamsburg.  These high-energy, Brooklyn-happy POP rockers, with drumsticks and keyboard at hand, could cheer up anyone suffering from depression.  So thank you, Matt & Kim, for bringing a slice of Brooklyn to devoted listeners around the globe. 

7) The Wombats - Moving to New York - I hold this song close to my heart, though I actually prefer their earlier version or this acoustic one to the official release off of A Guide To Love, Loss, and Desperation.  The Wombats are undeniably English, but Moving to New York is a surprisingly touching tribute to the NYC dream (it's international!) It chronicles the aspirations of an young man suffering from wanderlust, disillusionment with "real life," and the urge to escape - themes that I identify with strongly.  The Wombats remind us that New York is always waiting for us when the time is right... & when we are ready to chase a dream.
8) Jennifer Lopez – Jenny From the Block – As a young girl I was thrilled when I first heard Jenny From the Block on the radio in 2002, especially since my family hails from the Bronx.  Now, as a young adult, I appreciate it even more – for the simple fact that Jennifer Lopez admits her success.  JLo may be a household name, but don’t be fooled by her wealth and fame, she will never forget her East Bronx roots (or so she says).  Genuine or not, there is refreshing honesty in this song.  It is a true classic.

9) LCD Soundsystem - New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down - I recognize James Murphy's brilliance, but I am not a huge LCD Soundsystem fan.  New York, I Love You is an exception, unique in its kaleidoscopic and honest perspective on New Yorkers' relationship with their city.  It tells the story of a very regular, unexceptional New Yorker's love & disgust with the city that reared him.  The best summary is in this lyric: "New York... you're filthy, you're fine."  

The average NYC resident is severely overlooked, & that is part of what makes New York, I Love You so special.  In truth, the majority of New Yorkers are not at all glamorous... but the constant soundtrack of ambulances & honking horns, the minimum-wage paychecks and the dreadfully late trains, none of this detracts from their genuine affection for New York City.  They love it all- the grime, the grit, & the glory.  This honesty and punk-rock sentimentality makes New York, I Love You a favorite amongst New Yorkers and LCD Soundsystem fans everywhere. 

10) Lady GaGa Marry the Night - Where do I begin with this one??  GaGa struck gold opening Born This Way with Marry the Night... I love the idea of New York as a husband, as a lover, as a friend.  Lady GaGa's expressive lyrics and bold vocals communicate her sense of total empowerment, even as "a soldier to her own emptiness."  Marry the Night  is more than just a love ode to New York City - it is about marriage to your identity & to your roots.  In this song, GaGa celebrates her roots instead of obscuring them.  A-mazing!  Go GaGa!  Marry The Night is a flippin’ fantastic, universal ballad of love for your hometown, whether it is New York City or Sarajevo.  Your city, your roots, your city streets are always there for you.  And that is a comfort we all need. 


Gregory & Minna

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