Eyes Wide Shut: The Best Music Videos of 2016

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worshipOnce upon a time in West Hollywood, a friend of mine dragged me out to paint the town red and make me stop using old timey phrases like that when I was visiting Los Angeles. He took me to a gay club called Tiger Heat, which was supposed to be like the magazine in the sense that the twinks there were just as seemingly depthless. But I found one of my first true loves on the dance floor that night: the music video. As I don’t drink often and was then disinclined to engage with anyone in that kind of space socially, I spent the night swaying back and forth to the music, bathed in neon lights, and I stared up at the monstrous screen playing random music videos.

Perhaps surprisingly, yes, there were other music videos released this year not by Beyoncé. And while one may be quick to quip, “And I’m not sure why they bothered”, the little pieces of pop art pleasure here are just as worthy of attention as the tome Lemonade. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Is You: Reflections on 16 from 2016

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KEVIN

Who is you, man?

BLACK

Who, me?

KEVIN

Yeah, nigga. You.

The question lingers in the air like the ribbon of smoke that’s unfurled from Kevin’s mouth after a puff from a cigarette. It carries a whiff of both genuine curiosity and the subtle nod that it’s almost rhetorical. Last year, Wesley Morris proposed that 2015 was the year we obsessed over identity, which is not incorrect. But what of this year, when the challenges marginalize communities face grow more visible in the public eye? Even the most loved and adored icons, as they’re so often called, were in some ways center points for discussions of identity – Prince, Bowie, Kiarostami, etc. In essence, haven’t we always been fascinated with not only who we are, but the politicizing of that question, so frequently without a clear answer? Read the rest of this entry »

Blind Dance: Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”

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la-la-land-ryan-gosling-emma-stone.jpgAs Nick Pinkerton’s review notes, the musicals that have come and gone in the last couple of decades have – through form and, to some degree, theme – noted, “They don’t make them like they used to.” But La La Land does try earnestly and effortfully to make them like the used to, “they” being the likes of Jacques Demy or Vincente Minelli or Stanley Donen. I can’t help but wonder why Damien Chazelle, an incredibly proficient director, wanted to “make them like they used to”. Is he just a caustic nostalgist? Read the rest of this entry »

Grace Under Pressure: “Dogville”, Donald Trump, and Catharsis

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The Town of DogvilleThe town of Dogville is filled with Trump voters. Not merely the aspect of their working class status, but their benevolent condescension to the one that doesn’t belong in the town. Their justification for abuse, for prejudice, for causing trauma, for turning a blind eye. Even the intellectual among them makes logical leaps to justify his actions, which seem all the more anti­-intellectual. They are both beholden to a particular system of homemade bureaucracy as well as suspicious of it and anyone else that threatens their way of life. Read the rest of this entry »

Perform This Way: Lady Gaga’s “Joanne”

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01-lady-gaga-press-photo-cr-collier-schorr-2016-billboard-1548Over the summer, I briefly plunged myself into studying camp for a couple of pieces I did. Its definitions varied, one of the great conceptual terms whose definition is as elusive as the transient nature of what it may or may not describe. For some, it’s merely the love for kitsch; for others, it’s pointed exaggeration to subvert normative values in art; and for some others, it’s the enjoyable bad, where badness does a 360 and becomes good again in spite of itself. The common connection was the role artifice plays. It’s either tool or catalyst, coding in each second of a given text a kind of language recognized and shared by a niche group of people.

And then at some point, camp was mainstreamed, and what was once kind of secret became kind of populist, even if in a tangential way. Ryan Murphy, Madonna, Hairspray as a musical, and the grande dame, Lady Gaga. Read the rest of this entry »

Greatest Expectations: Sia’s “The Greatest”

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maxresdefaultThere are two things about Sia’s music videos: 1) they are a voyeur’s delight and 2) they are made to be projected upon. These two ideas intersect fairly often, so it’s curious that such a perspective should be at once reinforced as well as negated for her most recent track and video, “The Greatest”, which, the artist says, was made in dedication of the victims of the Orlando massacre in June. Such an assignation of purpose is a little frustrating, honestly. Read the rest of this entry »

Lie Up On the Wicked Stage: Kim David Smith’s “Morphium Kabarett”

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Early in Kim David Smith’s show Morphium, someone let out a “Woo!” at the end of one of his songs. He grinned – or was it a smirk? – and, hands outstretched, quipped, “10 points to Slytherin!” Such an offhand, improvised remark becomes an indicator for Smith’s on stage persona. He is, proudly I would add, not your grandmother’s cabaret performer. Rather, his sly attitude and his mix of casual and biting delivery, and his deliberately femme mannerisms can be compared rather favorably to Alan Cumming’s iteration of the Emcee in Hal Prince’s Cabaret. (Smith has spent time at the Cape Playhouse in that role in their production of the musical.) But the most curious thing about Morphium is its subversion of how cabaret theater is supposed to operate: instead of revealing everything, the heart is guarded by cutting wit. Read the rest of this entry »