Lady Gaga

LOST: The Killing Joke

Did you ever hear the one about the 100 hour funeral? Lost has always worked like a well-formed joke. At its centre, amongst all the stuff it catches flak for – the dips into melodrama, the mess of sci-fi ideas and apparently unconnected weirdness – has been an understanding of how a joke, that most basic shape of narrative, works. You set up some expectations, hold them for as long as you can, then knock them down. If you don’t want to know the punchline, stop reading now. Go and watch all of Lost and then come back. I won’t be diving too deeply into spoiler territory, but avoiding discussion of important moments would rob this post-mortem of any actual insight. Faith. Misdirection. These were the meat, the themes of Lost, and of the experience of watching it. The audience were the survivors on the Island, splitting into those with faith (those who stuck around till the end) and those without. The writers were the mischievous spirits behind the curtain slowly feeding us the mystery. The thing about Lost is, as it pulled back that curtain – as it did repeatedly, in circles of slowly increasing size – we saw that whoever it was that appeared to have all the answers, was only slightly less clueless than we currently were. In the end, even God doesn’t really know what’s going on, is just trying to do his job. And that’s the issue with the finale, where the writers stand naked before us and say, weakly, ta-da! There were no answers, really. Well, there were answers, here and there, and one Big Answer to one of those Big Life Questions, but that’s not what we queued and paid our admission for. That’s the thing about a joke. It all depends on pay-off: traditionally speaking, the journey doesn’t matter as much as that punchline. And you laugh. Or you don’t. As a storyteller, Lost was one of those rambly comedians, strolling around the stage and trying to tell you about everything. And it’s too much and it’s ill-paced and you laugh here and there but it seems a bit messy. Except, afterwards, sitting in a bar with your friends you realise that that mess was crafted and honed, was on purpose. …I’ve written and deleted several deviations from the theme now, on how Lost was like one of those escape-the-room puzzle games (each little clue opens up a new wealth of possibilities), or how it’s ironic that a show that opens with a plane-crash ended up being more about the journey than the destination, or how Lost was like an astronaut (it comes back but it’s never the same). It’s probably telling that I’m struggling to stick to one metaphor explaining how I felt about Lost. It’s a leviathan, a huge creaking rattling monster. Which, I guess, is natural for anything stretching over so many hours, so many years of my life, the work of so many different people.I’ll allow myself one deviation: Lost worked a little like pop music. It’s silly, and it’s the kind of thing people look funny at me for loving. But, at its best, it delivered a shock of basal-emotion that bypassed all the correct channels. Or it worked by bending a familiar form: whether soap-opera or sci-fi. The Lady Gaga of TV, if you will, meshing weird ideas and strong iconography into something that bent back on its ancestry. The earnest stuff didn’t always work so well: in the same way I don’t tend to respond to pop ballads as well as clever-clever-post-modernism-you-can-dance-to*. At times Lost stepped out of itself a bit and said, look, you don’t know if we know what we’re doing. And we don’t, in the way you think. And that was what a lot of the series itself was about. But then, in other ways, they knew perfectly what they were doing: how to wait the perfect amount of time before pulling the trigger and unleashing that trap door underneath your brain, most notably. How to tell a story visually, too. How to be funny. When they broke those rules, it was painful because you’d developed so much faith in this deified storyteller… This hasn’t ended up anywhere near where it began, and I think that’s fitting. Whooosh. *For this reason I will never be one of those journalists who makes their name coining emergent genres.

2010: The First Quarter

After realising how easily I lose track of what I’ve actually listened to/watched/read/played over a year by the end, I came up with the notion of a more regular periodic journal of what I’ve listened to, loved, or been affected by. So, as we arrive at the end of March (and the beginning, apparently, of Spring), I give you more lists, and links (Spotify, unless unavailable or irrelevant).This isn’t the end of any discussion, it’s the start. Take this list and recommend stuff I should be immersing myself in. Please.x Also the source of my most commented-on t-shirt of 2010:Los Campesinos! – Romance is BoringI pre-emptively called this “almost definitely my favourite album of 2010” before even hearing it. Whether that will stand true remains to be seen – come on, 2010, if you think you’re hard enough. I said it immediately, expecting it to change with time, but it hasn’t and I don’t think it will: this isn’t my favourite LC! record. I wanted it push further in the direction The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future suggested, into full-on emo territory. But I’m damning with faint praise here. Romance is Boring isn’t boring. It certainly isn’t a disappointment, and it sparked my love affair with LC! again completely effortlessly. It just doesn’t strike me as a particularly good entry-point into the band, and so isn’t a terribly useful record to talk about. That doesn’t stop it being a stunning piece of work. Hairiest album:Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip – The Logic of ChanceAbout which I suspect I’d have slightly different things to say, had I not been to see them live yesterday. With the beats pushed to the fore (in full t-shirt-quivering bass-heavy glory), and Scroobius’ lyrics feeling slightly more organic in person, the new stuff makes more sense. But it hasn’t changed the fact that Dan Le Sac has grown hugely, and absolutely owns this record, while the words sometimes come off a bit contrived. As recently found in my (lovely) girlfriend’s fridge:Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New HereOne of those things that dropped into my life (thanks, Sam Cowley!) to immediate awe. It deserves more time than I’ve given it, and I don’t know enough about Mr Scott-Heron to comment properly (apparently it’s a more personal album than his usual political material, he hasn’t been around for decades, he was in prison) but that’s part of it. This is one of those albums that is bigger than you, that you just have to bow down to and accept. The ‘companion to reading’ album:The Knife – Tomorrow, In A YearI guess this is the most ‘challenging’ album I’ve spent time with this year (having rejected Joanna Newsom as not for me), being the mysterious Swedish duo’s foray into opera. It’s about Darwin and evolution, apparently. I’m proud to say my boy Sam Langtree beat Pitchfork to the idea that it works mimetically, evolving from a sparse nothingness into some top-quality, almost-traditional Knife material. You must, must, must listen to this through the best speakers you can possibly get access to. On a laptop, it sounds underwhelming but, through a nice soundsystem, it overwhelms. Whether it stands up past that experience, I’m still not sure, but it’s worth a go. It’s already been a strong year for albums which, being an over-analytical music-type, is reassuring. Last year was all singles, but we seem to be looking at a healthy long-form crop in 2010. But the singles are still important. When aren’t they? I can’t believe I didn’t drop a mention to Music Go Music’s Warm In The Shadows in my 2009 round-ups. On repeat, it helped me through 12,000 words of essay-writing in January, and while that’s made it kind of difficult to love the same way in a non-work context, it’s still beautiful and ethereal. Then there’s the Lady Gaga Telephone video, which is of course phenomenal and the pinnacle of everything the Lady’s been working toward – for now. It’s also retroactively increased my enjoyment of the song in general, which I’m always faintly suspicious of. On the other hand: cigarette sunglasses. Right now, my life is dominated by Rihanna’s Rude Boy. It’s one of of those delightful moments where a big pop star finally clicks for me, though I haven’t experimented with Rihanna’s backcatalogue to see if it does more for me post-Rude Boy. Just… the ultimate dominant/submissive, self-aware/silly, masculine/feminine, endlessly quotable/catchy sexy song. I mean, you’ve heard it, haven’t you? “Give it to me baby like boom boom boom”. My 2010 cinematic life has been more dictated by what I didn’t watch rather than what I watched. I haven’t seen Avatar, still, or The Hurt Locker. Ponyo fled from cinemas before I got a chance to see it, and I never got to rewatch Where The Wild Things Are, which I still think deserves better treatment than the melting-screen, broken sound version I saw. I have seen Alice in Wonderland which was okay but had a lack of ideas (always an issue when you’re doing an Alice story) and wasn’t all that stylistically impressive (crippling when you’ve got Tim Burton to direct an Alice film) and 3D is still a load of rubbish.* One game has pierced through all the (rather good, but still largely unexplored) Christmas games to unquestionably dominate my year so far. It’s also dominated the year of my housemates, as discussion of nefarious plans (and misfunctioning files, being a play-by-email game) becomes a standard between those involved in the game. That game is Solium Infernum, a very much turn-based strategy boardgame set in Hell. It’s as little of an Alex Spencer game as exists in this world, and I don’t have the vocabulary to fully capture its majesty, but it deserves your time (try the demo), and the time and annoyance of the people around you. In comics, it’s a bit harder to judge what’s (as they most certainly do not say in the business) hot […]

TOP OF THE POPS, TOP OF THE POPS!

You remember Christmas; you know, tinsel, presents, over-indulgence. When all you could hear were the classic Christmas hits, and the big Christmas Number One. Killing in the Name Of. There’s more to say about the event than even this lengthy article has room to support. Rage Against The Machine getting to #1 with a song that peaked, nearly two decades ago, at #25. Not just that, but to Christmas Number One, the one chart result the whole country is trained to care about. People’s reactions? Well, we’d need a whole new website to talk that one through. All the backlash about “oh it’s still going to Simon Cowell” (not true, the man doesn’t own Sony) or “it’s a silly song” (being honest, 17 years removed, it kind of is) isn’t the point. The point they missed is, do we still care about the Top 40? The music in the is the world to a certain demographic (shudder); the pop-discovering, identity-forming young teens. But the spread of that isn’t top-down, it’s bottom-up: what a marketing person would be able to call viral without having difficulty ever looking their reflection in the eye again. It spreads across playgrounds and the backseats of buses, through word-of-mouth and mostly, through phones. Ringtones; playing a new song to your mates; Bluetooth, if you’re that old-skool. Y’know, for the kids… It’s this kind of able-to-hear-it-anyway method that renders the chart unimportant, I guess. Who needs the public at large acting as a taste-maker, when you’ve got your friends skimming for the best bits and playing them to you? For me, card-holding Indie Kid, this means flicking through blogs and occasionally even traditional magazines with Spotify close to hand, and the recommendations of a few particular friends. I get to choose whose taste I trust and listen to the songs immediately. No more relying on the general public. But us alternative types, the indie kids, the obscurity seekers, we never should have to care about that anyway, should we? But I think the charts are important. As historical record for one. What was it like being young in 1977, really? 1982? Check the charts. Look at freakytrigger.co.uk’s genius Popular, which is going through every British #1 ever since the first (Al Martino’s Here In My Heart, since you’re asking) and writing an essay on each. They’re also important as a way of making music feel like it matters. Giving us a story. You might well have sneered at a sudden Michael Jackson fan produced by his death. But, to go one notch more credible, how much of the Blur/Oasis enjoyment rode on that feeling of being in a gang? Still sneering? Have you ever worn a band t-shirt, liked someone because they liked the same type of music? You like being in a gang, admit it. But ultimately, it’s all just music, right? Sounds that do or don’t vibrate your ear drums the right way to make you feel something. Why should all the trappings matter? Because it makes people interested. Let’s look at the Top 40 right now as I write this (for the blog-o-sphere, now a week ago). Numbers five and six in the chart right now are the same song, in two versions- Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, the original and as performed by the cast members of American smash-hit TV programme Glee (which I still haven’t seen and am holding out hope will be good, but that’s a mainstream-embracing story for another time). That song has snuck back into the public consciousness loads of late- your university life has probably crossed paths with an anthemic singalong at some point. We’re all just a smalltown girl… It’s the same story as Rage- a third-party makes you suddenly care about the song, and before you know it it’s being thrust to the forefront of pop culture all over again. But those are old songs. The Top 40 is a signifier of the new. Singles are the currency of freshness in music; something new every week please, more and more until I’m full. My esteemed colleague Tom Lowe suggests here that this is a dangerous attitude.But how is this desire any different to the music obsessive’s constant hunt for a new favourite band? Not necessarily following them but being aware of the charts, I have discovered a lot of stuff I genuinely love. It took months of singles for Lady Gaga to click with me and now I celebrate every time I hear Bad Romance (#7) because something so unusual made it through. Weirdness being the lifeblood of pop, the home of the novelty single. The rest of the chart is hit and miss. I hate Iyaz’s Replay (#1), still don’t get Florence or her Machine (You’ve Got The Love, #8). I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Owl City’s blatant Postal Service rip-off Fireflies (#2, and I implore you, if you like this, to seek out their seminal album Give Up). I probably shouldn’t but I adore Sidney Samson’s Riverside (#3, though it seems much bigger than that) and rather like 30H!3’s Starstrukk (#4) which cheekily combines Katy Perry, a few great lyrics and some good gimmicks to hide the fact that it’s a bit generic. There’s no denying that ‘pop music’ today is an umbrella that covers a whole lot of ground, a lot of it really interesting. Who’d have thought something that sounded like a Death Cab For Cutie cast-off would ever make it to number two? And more good stuff more popular means less overplaying. Only you can prevent another Sex On Fire, kids. …But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve hit that point in life where I mellow out, stop caring about music with the intensity of a teenage zealot. I’m also less exposed to overplayed, overproduced rubbish- I club a lot less these days (getting old), am generally exposed to the radio only for short bursts, and can’t afford music TV. But I think the charts are important- even when […]

It’s Britney, Bitch II: vs. Lady Gaga

Right now, the Q music channel is running a Britney week. Song after song by Britney, the constant video stream only interrupted by adverts. All day.Last night, I had an argument with my mom (never a pop music aficionado) over the Britney miming scandal, and the relative merits of Take That’s current touring Circus over Britney’s. Britney exposure is at an all-time-high. It’s time for a rethink. In my last post about our Princess of Pop, now Queen, I talked about Britney’s various, occasionally incongruous, identities. Watching all her videos in sequence, I think this is much more consciously realised by Britney (or, perhaps, Team Britney) than I gave credit for. The video to Womaniser shows her splitting into various aspects of herself (or, to the right pretentious viewer, of Woman). This tradition stretches back as far as Toxic, at least. It’s there in One More Time: Britney playing both schoolgirl and teacher. The fragmentation is within videos, within songs, as much as in the greater body of her work. There’s a forthcoming video (for Kill The Lights) based on “fan fiction”- a pop star who inspires her own fiction.Britney is brunette, blonde, redhead; cartoon, real, fictive. Debating the New Princess of Pop (now Britney is officially, definitely Queen- no arguments), Lady Gaga was put forward as Britney’s successor (and also superior. This opinion is foolish). She’s certainly modelled herself as such. But my issue with Lady Gaga- and at the same time the reason I like Lady Gaga- is how self-aware she is. Creating image, iconography, a legend for herself to dance into.I like it, because she’s so wonderfully arch-Pop. The costumes, the overblown weirdness, that silly voice- I think it puts a lot of people off, I’ve heard a lot of moaning about her Teacup. But, to my desperately Pop-addicted mind, that silliness is everything I’m looking for.It seems too early for it all, though- the beauty of Britney was that this all came with the reinvention (by my reckoning between In The Zone and Blackout, for those counting at home), working on a ready-made pop empire. She was already hugely popular and reasonably iconic (I’m thinking the videos to …Baby One More Time and Oops! …I Did It Again in particular) and has simply crystallised since then. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga is doing the Fame/Paparazzi thing (with, I admit, enough sense of irony/metaphor to save it from vanity) on the back of two big singles. She’s not proven- not yet. However, by far the most important thing I have learnt from watching all those videos is that Britney has a very lovely stomach. I would like to live on it. If not, opening a restaurant on it where I could eat would be acceptable. And, on the other hand, my mom points out, Take That have a giant silver elephant. (Confession: at time of polishing/going to (Word)press, the dates suggested in the opening are actually a good three or four days untrue. Sorry to break the illusion kids, but this one took a few days to hammer out. Confession II: I’m sorry this post features the B-word 14 times. Typing “her” just seems disrespectful, and frankly it’s a damn fun word to say and type. Britney Britney Britney. Perhaps that figures into why I love her so much… It’s Britney, Bitch III?)