Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BritPOP

Holler!

No, the title’s not a reference to Britney. My apologies.

Every time I pen a song, I think of British POP stars.  When the result doesn’t sound traditional, I don’t feel upset or peeved, but rather, like an individual. This would most certainly not be the case if I had never been introduced to artists like Marina & the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding, and Paloma Faith, among innumerable others. I consider British music and its consumers (primarily the British public) to be far more open-minded than those who only listen to American radio. The Brits (sorry for generalizing – I’m doing it for the sake of the article) have always loved some American POP tunage, whether it comes from super-creatives like Prince, Michael Jackson, and GaGa, or those who just sing sugary goodness, like Britney and Rihanna.  However, unlike many Americans, they are open to, and aware of, so much more. Their POP charts range from the super commercialized and pre-calculated, written and recorded solely for the purpose of getting your money, to the supremely artistic. They embrace everything, from mindlessly fun POP groups, like The Saturdays, to artists with emotionally intricate lyrics/rhymes, like Plan B (check out Prayin & She Said).  The Brits don't necessarily have better (or worse) taste in music. Its simply wider.

Much of the diversity in the British music scene results from the power and prominence of the BBC.  The UK singles chart is determined solely by sales, but consumers' purchases are obviously influenced by radio airplay.  In the States, the Billboard Hot 100 is assembled using a statistical combination of radio airplay and sales. The stations with the largest influence on the American charts are owned by Clear Channel Communications (i.e. KISS 108 in Boston, Z100 in New York, etc.)  Clear Channel stations tend to play the safe choice - recent chart-topping artists.  When a new artist arrives on the scene, he or she is much more likely to get played if his/her song was composed by/with a hit-maker producer, like Dr. Luke or Stargate (whom we LOVE, but that's beside the point).  Usually, the few alternative artists who make it to the top of the American charts are first played on independent stations, then on Cumulus Media and/or CBS Radio stations (the second and third largest radio conglomerates in the United States, respectively), and finally on Clear Channel stations.

The most recent examples of such rarified occurrences are Adele, with the #1 hits Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You, and Foster The People, with Pumped Up Kicks, which tapped out at #3. One artist who reintroduced this trend (that ebbs and flows through the years - Nirvana is an example from the early '90s) was Amy Winehouse with Rehab, which peaked at #9. I'm certain that Adele's record label poured blood, sweat, and tears into getting her music onto American radio. (This was despite her second album, 21, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart based on pure demand built from her internet presence, performances on American television, and awards from her debut, 19.) I doubt it was an easy feat, as she's a singer-songwriter who, aesthetically, doesn't fit the POP star mold, lacks any synths in her music, and works with producers like Paul Epworth, who is renowned in the UK but unheard of by the American radio elite. The fact that her songs are spun is intriguing, particularly because, like Amy, she was unable to get her first album's singles played on Clear Channel's stations. Alternative radio has continuously given her props, and even CBS radio played songs like Cold Shoulder a few years ago, but Adele couldn't quite get the mainstream airplay she deserved from Clear Channel... until now. Amy most likely achieved the feat through similar efforts from her label, as well as the adoration and support of the hip-hop community, which has for the past 10+ years received a great deal of spins from Clear Channel. 

As we all know, corporations set out to make a profit. Therefore, Clear Channel stations play what executives feel will make the most money. Unfortunately, this often leads to a great deal of monotony.  By contrast, the BBC (also a money-making business) is partially state-controlled. It thereby has an additional socio-cultural obligation to promote the arts. In other words, British radio views music not only as a product, but also as an art form.  As a result, artists who are left-field get a fair shot at success in the UK. For example, Florence + the Machine's first single, Dog Days Are Over, off of their debut, Lungs, received a similar amount of BBC 1 radio airplay as that of a mainstream track, like I Kissed A Girl.  This was obviously not the case in the United States.

Some may respond by saying that there are independent American stations playing alternative POP, but these stations are small by comparison. The BBC is the largest, most powerful communications/media company in the UK, so what its stations play has a far greater effect on left-field artists' sales and overall success.  If you've looked at the Top 10 on the UK singles chart this past year, you've seen a lot of variety - everything from American Top 10 staples like Rihanna's We Found Love and Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger, to Ed Sheeran's The A Team and Charlene Soraia's Wherever You Will Go. Even American artists whose songs don't get their deserved attention stateside, like Christina Perri's Jar of Hearts and Lana Del Rey's Video Games, reached the UK Top 10.

It is worth noting American POPsters whose stars don't shine as bright on American soil.  More and more American artists with a tinge of the alternative are seeking British recording contracts.  POP musicians like The Scissor Sisters, Alex Winston, and Lissie have used this methodology to succeed without compromising their musicality and styles.  Those three bands/artists are completely different from one another, but all have been embraced by British audiences.  However, they've all struggled in America because the biggest key to their success, radio airplay, has been missing.

So is it understandable that Minna subscribes to the BBC to listen to a wider variety of popular music - from dubstep to female singer-songwriters? I think YES.

Unapologetically,

Gregory


(c) Unapologetically POP, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Our Letter to Lady GaGa


Dear GaGa,

You inspire us to write this.  We’ve so appreciated your efforts to tear down society’s constructs in relation to gender and sexual identity, brick by brick, stone by stone. You are such a steadfast advocate for the LGBTQ community and for anyone who’s been bullied or felt like an outsider.  You give a voice to the voiceless.

We write to you about an issue that is close to our hearts: the portrayal of "beauty" in the arts & entertainment industry.  We would so appreciate if you could use your access to mainstream pop-culture and insider status in the fashion community to help redesign society’s conception of "beauty" in future music videos.  For example, replacing a classic Adonis with someone who doesn’t abide by "beauty" stereotypes as the love/lust interest in your videos.  You have the ability to catalyze changes in the definitions of sexy and beautiful.  We yearn to see different body types: those covered with hair in addition to completely without; full heads of hair and those that are balding; rounder, softer bodies to accompany those that are jacked; and those with wrinkles and age lines in addition to smooth skin.

We turn to you, Lady GaGa, because no other POP star has used his or her media power as progressively as you have.  We want everyone to feel glamorous, no matter how big or small, no matter how old or young.  Big is beautiful.  Balding is beautiful.  Old is beautiful.  Hairy is beautiful. We want to see the day when these truths are portrayed honestly, and we know that you can help us get there.

We love you! Thank you so much for all that you have done thus far - for our generation and for those to come!

Unapologetically,

Gregory & Minna
(c) Unapologetically POP, 2011



He made you perfect, babe.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

JFF - Class Actress


Now this is some sharp & foxy synthPOP.

Have you heard Weekend yet? It has been everywhere since new indie POP act Class Actress released Rapproacher.  Formed by singer-songwriter Elizabeth Harper, along with producers Scott Rosenthal and Mark Richardson, Class Actress's music sounds like Madonna's affair with Depeche Mode.  On Weekend Elizabeth coos "you make me late for work / you make me late for church" against a background of chilling '80s-style synthesizers.  At their best, Class Actress sounds simultaneously lugubrious & scintillating, much to the credit of Elizabeth Harper's rich & sensuous voice.  We're lovin it.

As stated on their twitter, the band is touring Europe right now- we wish we were in Paris with them! (what a perfect match)  Keep it classy, Class Actress, & have a great tour! 

Unapologetically,

Minna

Thursday, November 24, 2011

10 Reasons Why We Love NY


Holler!


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. 


Unapologetically,

Gregory & Minna

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Beauty Construct, Deconstructed

Holler!

This is an oft-discussed subject, so I’m not going to delve too deeply into it, but I would like to briefly write about the beauty construct presented to us by the media. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been really self-conscious, and with my life currently feeling like a mess, that insecurity is boiling over. I love my glam POP gals & guys, but I’m just tired of the same body image being repeatedly thrown around. The sad part is that it’s our fault, because this is a capitalist society. We, as consumers, empower and enforce a cycle of six pack abs after six pack abs. If we didn’t want it, we wouldn’t buy it, or maybe we just haven't known any better. That goes for me, too. I love Rihanna, and I love how she looks, the skinny binny that she is, but that’s part of the point. Just because I want to diversify the beauty ideal, doesn’t mean I want to completely throw it away. I simply want to add more to the equation. Rihanna is beautiful, but so is Adele, and I don’t think the "Rolling In The Deep" singer would look better skinnier - her full figure suits her and enhances her beauty. Adele is absolutely radiant, and I wish we were presented with more examples of such beauty. Robyn, who I’m planning to write an entry about, is an example of beauty in the form of androgyny. I think her short hair and fun, playful clothing makes her adorable and gorgeous. It's the best look for her. That’s why I was upset after watching her "Indestructible" video. While her multi-colored water suit is to-die-for, the rest of the viddy does not live up to girlfriend’s creative open-mindedness. It's filled with people having sex with each other, which is fantastic (depending on the age of the video’s intended audience), but all of those actors look like models. There's no diversity among their body types. I don’t want Robyn to get rid of them, but I would like her to bring more variety into the mix. It would be nice to see some people who are hairy, who are full figured, and who have lots of freckles. The ideal would be to mix the partners in the video – a skinny with a full figure, a non-freckle with a freckle, a baldy with a full head of hair. We all deserve to feel sexy, beautiful, and loved. Therefore, we all deserve to be presented with videos that make each and every one of us feel like we ARE sexy, beautiful, and lovable.

Some of you may think I wouldn’t care if I fit the ideal, and you’re probably right. If I wasn’t hairy everywhere on my body, including all over my back, had a six pack, and didn’t have a receding hair line, maybe I would enforce the ideal and make fun of those who didn’t fit it (the insecure a$$ that I can be), but the fact is I don’t (and I can’t afford the operations in order to). Neither does most of the world’s population, for that matter, so why don’t we evolve our purchasing patterns in order to see more representations of ourselves in music, film, television, and fashion? Why do we keep buying into this ideal and pushing it forward, in turn escalating our insecurities and self-image issues? Doesn’t this seem particularly unhealthy? Maybe it’s time we stop buying that Vogue or People Magazine on the shelf, as hard as it may be to resist, until those publications redefine beauty by throwing in some diversity. In a capitalist society, the most effective form of protest is boycott, because companies will only change if they think that doing so will make them more $$. And maybe, when we’re upset with a POP star we love for a video that makes us self-conscious, we should tweet them about it, so that’s what I’ll do for now – take it day by day, moment to moment. 

Unapologetically,

Gregory

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Musical Fashion Icon – Gwen Stefani

Holler!

Gwen Stefani’s influence on POP showWOMANship is underrated. She West-Coastified Madonna’s looks and sprinkled in some fairy dust, creating an image that was simultaneously sexy, cute, and cartoonish. She’s mixed sporty pieces, like cargo pants and sneakers, with more formal touches, like retrofied hair. Some might say that Gwen simply copied Madonna, but those people must realize that every fashion icon has been inspired by her/his glamcestors; Nicki Minaj borrows from Lady GaGa and Lil Kim, who have both been inspired by Madonna, Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, etc.  Madonna looked to David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe for inspiration, and Marilyn grew up admiring pictures of her idol, Jean Harlow.  I could go back even farther, unfolding Harlow’s inspirations.  There has been no evidence of carbon copying.  Every old touch has been accompanied by something fresh.  You might see the cone bra designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and worn by Madonna on somebody else, but with modern modifications, including guns (Lady GaGa) or whipped cream cans (Katy Perry) tied to the bosom.  Everything is derived from something that came before, but with a bit of a modern twist; it’s an evolution, not a revolution.  Society takes steps forward, while keeping the past in the back of its brain.

Over the past few years, recent POP stars have taken inspiration from Princess Gwen, and it’s coming to a peak.  When Katy Perry launched onto the scene (a few months before anyone had heard of GaGa), many thought of her as a freshened up Madonna, playing with sexuality using 1940s hair and red lipstick.  What they didn't realize was that Gwen, not Madonna, was actually at the center of Katy’s image.  Ms. Perry has idolized the No Doubt front woman for years, loving her from the Don’t Speak days.  Katy has openly stated her admiration for Ms. Stefani’s combination of toughness and old-world glam.  Moreover, Katy even said that when she first arrived in Los Angeles, she met two POP stars, one of which was Gwen.  While the other (who went unnamed) was horribly rude, Gwen was especially kind and warm-hearted to Katy, who was, at that point, a struggling singer.

Even today, while promoting her perfume, Katy talks about how she looked to Gwen’s Harajuku Lovers’ bottle and overall product-line as a guide for her own.  (Note: the one thing that bothers me about Gwen is how she commodified harajuku girls for her solo music, stage show, and products. I find this to be cultural objectification, no matter how cute and pretty it is, and it’s really cute and pretty.)  When Katy first appeared in full-form, ready to sing I Kissed A Girl, she sported a style quite like Gwen’s in the late ’80 & early ‘90s, before No Doubt was signed to Interscope.  One of Ms. Perry’s 2008 outfits is reminiscent of one worn by Gwen when No Doubt performed at The Roxy in Los Angeles in 1989.  Gwen sported a tank top (which was to become one of her signature pieces) with a bright pink belt, poofy see-through skirt covering leggings decorated with red hearts and polka dots, knee-high socks with orange bows, and a bow in her hair. In the picture, Gwen can be seen with the red lips that nowadays, she’s rarely without.  Katy also has red lips and a bow in her hair, accompanied by a dress with a poofy skirt covered in grey and red sparkly polka dots. Notice that Katy’s hair has the retro curls that became a Stefani classic in the mid-90s through the noughties (my favorite decade name).  

Later, while shooting her California Gurls video, Katy infused the cotton candy Alice in Wonderland vibe previously used by Gwen in her What You Waiting For? video.  Recently, Katy’s been sporting some GORGEOUS pink locks. Who was the first to do that? Oh yeah, Gwen, circa 1999/2000. When I look at the beautiful photo of Katy with pink hair (shown below), I get the feeling she’s pretending to be her favorite superstar as she stares off into the distance.





While promoting their most recent albums, Katy and her best POP gal pal, Rihanna, both wore colorful latex dresses, originally donned by Gwen in the mid-90s. If you look below, you'll notice Gwen’s is a tad looser, but shines brightly in an eye-POPping red. In the S&M video, Rihanna’s is pink with a bright orange bow, a standard Stefani accessory.  Katy accompanies her latex with with a colorful rainbow ring and bracelet, which is quite like the one worn by Gwen.


















I love that Gwen's image is totally playful. So many artists, including Bowie, Madonna, and GaGa, have attached a sort of symbolism to their aesthetics, which I think is fantastic, powerful, and super effective, but it’s also nice to see someone playing with image just because it’s FUN!  Gwen tries out different styles without hinting at some deeper meaning. This mindset is finally returning to POP.  Last week, Ryan Seacrest interviewed Rihanna, asking the POP Princess what her look is for the upcoming album, Talk That Talk. RiRi responded by saying that, for the first time, she isn’t making a look the central part of her record.  This time, she’s stripping it all back, letting the music speak for itself.  That's not to say that Rihanna hasn’t been exhibiting some fabulous fashion lately, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that it's so evocative of Gwen because there’s no rhyme or reason to it.  It's not meant to represent A Good Girl Gone Bad, a vulnerable woman scorned who’s taking things to a Rated R level, or a party gal ready to get LOUD with her bright red hair.  I adored all of those looks, but I like this one best because Rihanna’s simply having fun with it, throwing caution to the wind and trying on anything and everything that suits her whimsy, something Gwen has become famous for.

In the We Found Love video (one of RiRi’s BEST), the Bajan beauty wears a denim bra-like top and poofy skirt, along with platform sneakers and garters. The whole ensemble reminds me of Gwen’s outfit at the 1998 VMAs, where she wore a blue bra-esque top and a poofy velvet-like skirt over shiny pants with platform flip-flops. Gwen’s influence may not be noticed immediately when viewing Rihanna’s look, but it is definitely there, in the shape of the skirt, the red lips, the casual (but actually took-hours-to-do) hairstyle, the bracelets, and the overall combination of materials, textures, and colors. I don’t love Gwen’s outfit as much as RiRi’s (from the Jeremy Scott Spring/Summer 2012 collection), but I can’t help but admire how experimental and ahead of her time Gwen was.  The creative designers who dress POP's reigning Princesses reference Gwen quite a bit, including Jeremy Scott, Henry Holland, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, and Ashish, among others.





Even the indie gals are stylistically inspired by Gwen (which actually makes sense, considering No Doubt wasn’t a record label concoction, but rather a band that pulled itself up by its bootstraps, touring California in order to develop a following and make a name for itself)!  Similarly, a record label never concocted Gwen’s style.  On the contrary, it was, and continues to be, an entirely organic creation.  Therefore, it’s only logical that females in music who are in control of their own images find themselves following in Gwen’s fashionable footsteps.  I’ve already mentioned how much Rihanna’s new style choices are reminiscent of Gwen.  This is once again evident in her upcoming album's back sleeve pic.  Rihanna dons red lips, loopy curls, a red and white striped bra top, and a black and white striped skirt with black leather Doc Marten boots - she looks like Where's Waldo Gone Vixen, which can only be a good thing. Rihanna's getup reminds me of an outfit worn by Gwen in 1989 featuring a black and white striped bra top, cartoon-like print skirt, red lips and shiny red nails. Indie soul queen, Florence Welch, was photographed at a music festival wearing a short black and white print tank covering a dress with a black skirt featuring white stripes.  Florence’s outfit definitely possesses that same laid-back feel of Gwen’s 21 years prior.



Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds has an obsession with Americana, evident in her Hollywood video, but Gwen hasn’t been shy with her patriotism, either, wearing an American flag shirt on the cover of Nylon Magazine and a mini-white tank with blue and red stripes in No Doubt’s Just a Girl video.  Marina has confessed to seeing herself as a modern-day version of '90s Gwen Stefani, using multiple elements, some more sporty and others more carefree and fun, when putting together her many eclectic looks.  She loves utilizing an array of cartoonish visuals, including flee-market varsity jackets and mickey-mouse prints, and combining them with classic components, like Mad Men hair and red lips.  Sounds like a synthesis of Stefani proportions to me!




While I’ve never been a huge No Doubt fan, and have only liked a select few songs from Gwen’s solo albums, I've always admired her for the glamazon that she is. I remember eating lunch with my sister and my friend, Stacey, at Balthazar in Soho one day. Gwen Stefani walked right by our table on her way to the bathroom. I never thought I was the starstruck type, but let me tell you, I was flabbergasted.  I screamed, “OH MY GOD, LOOK, IT’S GWEN STEFANI,” while flapping my wrists so vigorously that Stacey thought I was about to fly away.  Do I care that I looked like a complete dork?  Just a little, but let me tell you, Gwen was totally gorgeous.  She was a bit more casual, out to lunch with her hubby, sons, and their babysitter, but she still looked amazing.  Her platinum blonde hair was tied into a pretty little pony tail.  Her lips were the perfect shade of crimson and she was wearing leather sandals, a white tank, and a black leather jacket, all topped by a hat that perfectly matched her army green cargo pants.  Here’s a picture of her leaving the restaurant that very day, flawless, as always.  Did I mention that I saw four paparazzi sitting outside on the bench waiting for her to leave?  It was quite an exciting day.  While looking for a tabloid shot when I came home, I read that Gwen and one of her sons had gone to the nail salon that same day, where she let him get his nails done.  He's just as fabulously fashionable as his mommy.  She seems like the coolest, most progressive, open-minded and loving parent (and rock star, obvi).

Go Gwen! You are our fashion icon!

Unapologetically,

Gregory


Friday, November 11, 2011

JFF - Miami Horror

Looking for some Friday tunes?  Open your ears POP-lovers, because these Aussies are worth a listen!

Miami Horror makes synth-POP at its absolute yummiest.  I believe I first heard them on the radio in Croatia, and let me tell you, I have never looked back.  To new listeners, I would describe Miami Horror as a funkalicious Cut Copy with a twist of I Created Disco-era Calvin Harris - though we can definitely hear the influence of '70s and '80s dance-POP on their tunes (like Prince, Electric Light Orchestra, and so on).

Miami Horror's debut album, Illumination, is so damn groovy that even my sister (the one who refuses to listen to music produced past the year 2004) requested that she borrow it.  On Illumination the boys behind Miami Horror joined forces with New Zealand POP artist Kimbra (more on her to come) for the beautiful and successful song I Look To You.  Miami Horror also collaborated with indie-favorite Alan Pallomo of Neon Indian - namely on the nu-disco gem Holidays, a track guaranteed to get you dancing.  My personal favorites are Sometimes and Moon Theory (love the cowboy music video too), but the album is full of hidden surprises.

Following the success of Illumination, Miami Horror is definitely destined to join the ranks of Aussie POP stars Cut Copy, Pnau, Empire of the Sun, and Ladyhawke.  We hope we can we expect some new music soon!

Unapologetically,

Minna

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Introducing Tastebuds.fm

It’s a Monday night and a local club has a killer line-up.  I’m new in town.  My boyfriend has class.  My acquaintances are not interested.  And to drag my mother with me is going a little too far.

How many gigs have I missed because I had no one to go with?  Because none of my friends liked the band?  Because no one was adventurous enough to check out an under-the-radar artist?  Far, far too many, and more of us have been in this situation than we would like to admit.  This is one of the many reasons I am genuinely excited about Tastebuds.fm, an innovative social networking service that helps you meet people who share your love for music.

Music connects people.  This is undeniable.  I met some of my best friends over a shared love of bands as diverse as WHY? and Balkan Beat Box.  Gregory and I bonded over a love of TiK ToK on an overcrowded tour bus trekking through the desert.  Tastebuds.fm helps facilitate these kinds of connections between people of all musical tastes.

I would describe Tastebuds.fm as the offspring of a beautiful love affair between Last.fm and Facebook.  Tastebuds takes your musical preferences - or “likes” if you will - assesses them, and instantly matches you with like-minded people.  I have been a loyal Last.fm user for 4 years, but Tastebuds.fm truly takes it to another level; they match people based on musical compatibility and the site is incredibly easy to use.  Tastebuds also sports a witty music blog - check out their recent post on musical turnoffs which is absolutely hilarious.

I guarantee that Tastebuds.fm will surprise you.  I myself gave it a spin last week and was shocked to see all the attractive 20-somethings who listened to The Klezmatics within a 50-mile radius of me! (dude, only my grandparents listen to the Klezmatics!)  Who knows how Tastebuds will surprise you?  You might find fellow music lovers,  meet future pals, or even snag a date.  One thing is for sure: thanks to Tastebuds, we may never have to go to a gig alone again – and that is truly something to celebrate.

So have you checked these guys out yet?  Start here - just enter your favorite bands or your Last.fm ID.  And guess what?  It’s free!

Gregory and I know exactly what it takes to make an idea a reality.  We congratulate the guys over at Tastebuds.fm on their originality, creativity, and chutzpah. We look forward to watching the site develop.  Bravo!

Unapologetically,

Minna

PS - Don't forget to follow us on Twitter: @Tastebuds & @UnapologeticPOP. Cheers

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Hidden Gems of Marina & the Diamonds


We. Love. Marina.  Marina Diamandis is a POP star unlike any other.  She uses glorious visuals, including fantastic shoulder padded designs by talents like Hannah Marshall and Ashish, glow-in-the-dark pink and orange lip stains, lollipop hearts that light up, and felt hamburgers! She can take POP methods, twist them, contort them, flavor them with personality & emerge with a musical style that is completely her own. She has an honesty quite like Lily Allen, which is not very common in POP, and she muses on a multitude of issues in addition to love, including ambition, depression, and feminism. In anticipation of Electra Heart we compiled a list of our favorite, lesser-known tracks by Marina and the Diamonds in the hope that they can hold us over until the big release day!  


Let us begin with Minna's Unlocked Hidden Gems

1. This is L.A.– Released in 2007 off of her first EP, Mermaid and Sailor, This is L.A. is very rock n’ roll - more rock n' roll than we are used to from modern Marina ( I nearly envision her jumping onstage with a mullet & flannel shirt, rocking a grungy guitar solo to Smells Like Teen Spirit gone glam!]  A rock-pop prelude to her electropop ballad Hollywood, This is L.A. finds Marina trapped in a world of false values: “Come, come flash your clean, clean cash / gleaming on the outside but your teaming with decay / please don't make me stay, don't make me stay,” she begs.  Marina is consistent.  Even in the formative years of her career she was inspired by America, pop culture, vapidity, and superficiality.  This is L.A. is less polished than her later work, but it demonstrates Marina’s versatility, raw talent, and her genius at story-telling. 

2. Jealousy  - Marina is so damn good at expressing the universal emotions that overtake us, whether they are insecurity, greed, or, in this case, Jealousy.  "I never say a word / unless I come off needy," Marina confesses, "what's this taking over me? Jealousy / Bubbling inside of me? It's jealousy."  We’ve all been there.  Jealousy irrationally bubbles up from deep down inside of us, releasing our demons which, for a moment, overtake us and become us.  Marina's powerful vocals, chantable chorus and insightful, emotive lyrics make Jealousy a song of POP-perfection.

3. Hermit the Frog - Obsessions is probably Marina’s most famous keyboard ballad, but Hermit the Frog does NOT lag behind in its POP quality.  Although the lyrics are rather ambiguous, the subject matter is definitely inspired by Marina's fascination with loners.  "My heart just burst like a glass balloon / We let them fly too high and they shatter too soon / I was the wrong damn girl in the wrong damn room / I broke my glass balloon," she gently coos.  When once asked why she felt she could write music, Marina responded that she had always been a confident poet.  It shows.  The grace of Marina's songwriting is a gift.  Every song is as unique as a fingerprint, and Hermit the Frog is a perfect example.

Gregory's Unlocked Hidden Gems:


4. Sinful - This is one of Marina's first collaborations with French producer Pascal Gabriel, who worked with her on Shampain, a song that made it onto her previous album, The Family Jewels. Marina's second record, Electra Heart, is rumored to be far more electronic, but she dipped her feet into the synthesized pond with Pascal the last time around. This track is not on her debut, but it definitely has the same shimmer possessed by all of her others. It's energetic and sparkly, yet has an underlying sadness to it, particularly when she sings, "I lost my spine inside the center of a star / And every day I wonder where the bad bones are / You die an ugly day if you hit and miss, I know my own grand daddy worked so hard for this." As Minna stated earlier in reference to Hermit the Frog, it's sometimes difficult to know what the indie princess alludes to, but regardless, her emotion is evident in her tragic nursery rhyme-like lyrics.


5. Living Dead - Marina has said that this track will be on Electra Heart. Someone (presumably her or an exec from her label) has leaked it to help build hype, get feedback, etc. In it, she makes reference to the same black balloon mentioned in Hermit the Frog. This song is exactly the kind of music Marina said she would make. It's more electronic than her previous material, but her sound, composed of insightful lyrics and creative melodies, is still very much the same if you scrape away the beautiful production and beats. Furthermore, the electronic element doesn't take away from her strong, emotive voice. It only adds to it, creating a sparkly sound filled with dark hues of green, purple, blue, and black, thereby enhancing the sense of numbness she sings about.


The following two songs may be on Electra Heart, although no confirmation has been provided: 


6. Sex, Yeah - Here, Marina expresses her feminist sensibility, singing "If women were religiously / recognized sexually / we wouldn't have to feel the need / to show our a$$es to feel free." Take that, society! Girlfriend speaks the truth.


7. Scab & Plaster - This song is '80s synth-licious. I LOVE the chorus - "I've lost, I've lost my innocence / I've found my self-belief / And in a cup of loneliness / I've found instant relief" and then she cheers "You hold me down, you hold me up / Oh Daddy, are we out of luck? / You brought me up to bring me down / You shut me in, You shut me up." She just makes you want to chant right along with her in an effort to empower us all. 


With songs like these, Electra Heart has the foundation  of a successful album. As I've said before, the rest depends on how well her label promotes her globally, especially in America, and on whether radio executives and DJs will spin her tunes. Marina's rumored to have worked with some great producers on this record like Liam Howe, Diplo, Greg Kurstin, Dr. Luke, Stargate, and Swedish House Mafia - such an eclectic mix of indie, pop, and dance. In her interview with Popjustice, she said that "Electra Heart is the antithesis of everything that I stand for. And the point of introducing her and building a whole concept around her is that she stands for the corrupt side of American ideology, and basically that’s the corruption of yourself. My worst fear - that’s anyone’s worst fear - is losing myself and becoming a vacuous person. And that happens a lot when you’re very ambitious." She's putting together a photography exhibition entitled The : Archetypes in London for the album release in February. Some pics can be seen on Marina's Electra Heart Tumbr. She's also going to accompany the songs on the album with corresponding videos that, all together, will tell the story of corruption by the hands of American ideologies. View the first two, Fear & Loathing and Radioactive here

We love you Marina!

Unapologetically,

Gregory & Minna