Friday, February 13, 2009

Taking it Personal

Although I haven't been following the Chris Brown/Rhianna story all that closely, I felt that there was an interesting element here that makes this story bigger than the run-of-the-mill celebrity scandals.

Not that I in any way condone Brown's actions, but it will be interesting to see how this story continues to play out as far as public opinion. Not because of who he is or what he did, necessarily, but because of who she is. 

Let's take R. Kelly, for instance. Although the alleged sex crimes of R. Kelly and Brown's alleged assault against Rihanna are far different altercations--the proverbial sex versus violence, though both were assaults on women--who they involved (or in Kelly's case, who it didn't involve) has an impact on each singer's ability to recover in the eyes of the public.

It's hard for me to believe that had R. Kelly thrown the waterworks on an up-and-coming super-starlette, one as beloved by the MTV crowd as Rihanna, against her will, that he would still be seen as any kind of a hero. Although his offenses are often just seen as a punchline to a joke, or just some acceptable fetish kink, had the victim been famous as well, Kelly may have been singing a different tune.

Because knowing who the victim is makes it personal. For us.

Because, as it's been reported, Brown physically assaulted Rihanna--not just an unknown girlfriend, but a superstar--his reputation may not be salvageable. For fans of Rihanna and, to some extent, general music fans alike, Rihanna is somebody that we know. We know her face, her voice, bits of her personality. She seems as real to many people as their sisters, friends, acquaintances. The feigned familiarity that her fame has allowed us to experience makes Brown's actions personal to us. It hurts us. He assaulted somebody that we feel we know, even though we don't really, and that will make this altercation something all together harder for him to recover from.

As for Brown's fans who feel that they know the R&B star personally, beyond the shock that someone they admire has done something so atrocious, knowing the victim as well may make it too hard for them to stand by the singer after his actions. Not that they should, mind you, but it is often strange what celebrities can survive with their fan base in tact.

When this story eventually blows over, Rihanna will come out stronger and will, no doubt, have a larger stable of fans than ever before cheering her on. As for Brown, if being dropped from two endorsement deals and from rotation on at least one radio station already is any indication, it's going to get a lot worse for him before it ever gets better. And that's a big if.

Blurring the Lines

I don't usually watch SNL and I  missed the super bowl, so I'm a bit behind
on this one.

Basically, SNL produced a series of Pepsi commercials for the soda giant starring it's popular McGruber character, a bumbling McGuyver parody. The three commercials increase in what I'll call "Pepsi awareness" and clearly makes fun of itself in the process:

"Are you sponsored by Pepsi or something?" the real McGuyver asks McGruber during the ad that ran during the Super Bowl. "Maybe I am,"  he responds.

BUT, innocent though the skits/commercials may seem, the first of the series in particular sets an uncomfortable precedent for the cross between entertainment and advertisement. As more and more films begin to feel more like two-hour advertisements (I'm looking at you Transformers), in ten or, more realistically, five years maybe that's what they will be.

Although these SNL slots still rub me the wrong way for that exact reason, I can't really say anything negative on NBC's part: the actors were paid separately for the ad, apart from their SNL wages. And the NBC logo did dissappear during the advertisement that ran during the SNL broadcast.  And, short of running a tag along the bottom screaming "HELLO! I AM AN ADVERTISEMENT!" the network couldn't really do anything to make it clearer, especially in the second and third ads.

Really, it all comes down to media literacy. Most formats of mainstream merchandisable expression--movies, music, television, even magazines--already play host to any number of product placements and as advertisers get smarter, so should we. You can't really blame them for trying to pull one over on us--and, sorry, all the re-branding jargon and attempts at a new image aside, Pepsi wouldn't have done it if that wasn't one of their underlying objectives--if we don't have the smarts to see through it. Being able to spot a liar is an invaluable skill that will only become more important as the advertising industry becomes more and more clever, and that's just one benefit.

As for myself, Pepsi can co-opt every good SNL character and it still won't make me like soda. So at least there's that.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reunited and it feels so (not) good...

Please, no more Nu-metal! | Photo by Holly Karrol Clark
Following the unbelievably awkward announcement at the Grammy's of Blink 182's reunion, another late 90s act has followed suit: none other than nu metal "pioneers" Limp Bizkit.

Interesting here is that both of these acts are pretty  much in the same boat. For these reunions to work, these bands need to bank pretty heavily on two things: late '90s nostalgia and the likelihood that current 12 year old boys are still interested in the same things (this should be the easy one). As often as these two bands butted heads on the now defunct "TRL" it's only fitting that they should make similar announcements within the same week. Well played, Durst. Steal that thunder.

Interesting too, is that both bands broke up for similar reasons. Both bands came apart at the seams due to personal conflicts within the bands, which, if anyone saw Blink at the Grammy's, seem to not quite be done with. Although the Blink 182 statement simply refers to these conflicts as "friendships reformed", Limp Bizkit doesn't quite make amends but commits to live with the issues:
"We decided we were more disgusted and bored with the state of heavy popular music than we were with each other. Regardless of where our separate paths have taken us, we recognize there is a powerful and unique energy with this particular group of people we have not found anywhere else. This is why Limp Bizkit is back."
There's nothing like putting up with people you can't stand--in a creative relationship no less--for the cold hard cash, right guys?

What's my age again? Again?  | Photo courtesy

To Blink's credit, I firmly believe that, if this reunion is for real, the trio has a decent shot at a rebound. The trend in mainstream music that they began (and, really, co-opted from Green Day) is still going strong. Fall Out Boy and Paramore are both in Blink's debt and, worrisome though this makes me, many studded belt and Chuck-clad teens view Mark, Tom and Travis as pioneers. Not to mention that the success of Tom DeLonge's Angels and Airwaves should bring along even more fans for the ride. As for Fred Durst, though, when was the last time you heard anybody name drop "nu metal" in a positive light? Probably close to never.

The Limp Bizkit reunion, to me, appears less as the band's response to their own popular music boredom as much as it's clear that Fred Durst & Co. haven't really had, you know, careers since Limp Bizkit went the way of the dodo. And the band's appeal was always far more about the frontman's brash attitude and MTV appearances than it ever was about the music. Really. Though that time, for him, has certainly come and gone. I can't imagine a scenario where it's appropriate to unleash Fred Durst upon the music world once more, but I guess the industry really will try anything these days.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oh, the smell of freshly printed magazines...

I'm a little late on this one, but wanted to give a shout out for the new issue of Athens Blur that made it's way to my mailbox two days ago. My cover story streak is over (haha) but you won't be dissapointed by DeMarco Williams's feature on Ludacris. My two-page story on the All-American Rejects and my spotlight on The Bird and The Bee are also within the periodical's pages.

Although I've never really claimed to be an All-American Rejects fan, their catchiness--and penchant for writing radio-ready pop tunes--can't really be denied. My favorite here, though, is my piece on nostalgic pop duo, The Bird and The Bee. If you're new to the group--comprised of chateuse Inara George and production mastermind Greg Kurstin--check out their latest disc entitled Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future. I won't be shocked if it turns up on my "Best of 2009" list come December. Yeah. It's that good.  The Bird and The Bee is the most musically knowledgable band I've interviewed to date, but also one of the funniest, and the article is one of my favorite I've written for Blur.

If you're in the Athens area, definitely pick up this latest copy. Now on it's fifth issue, Blur is looking better than ever. I am so proud of my editors Alec Wooden and Nicole Black for putting together such a great magazine in such a short amount of time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Perks of the Job

Sing it, Brody! | Photo courtesy

Sometimes when I do interviews, I get the added bonus of a little bit of advice. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Brody Dalle, former frontwoman for The Distillers, on her new project, Spinnerette. Somewhere in the conversation she even gave me a bit of astrological advice and, seeing as my 26th birthday is fast approaching, assurance that growing up is, in fact, a good thing:
"And I’m not trying to scare you, but you have to grow up. You have to. You have no choice and if you don’t, then you’re fucked for life."
Pretty obvious, but Dalle would certainly know this to be true better than anyone. Having gone through her fair share of public scrutiny as well as personal and professional trials over the past few years,  the punk vixen sounds like she's finally found peace on the other side of 30.

The interview is certainly one of my recent favorites. Although it didn't make it into my write up,  Dalle even put me on hold breifly to give her husband (none other than Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age) a kiss goodbye. It was unbelievably cute. The entire interview is now posted over at Stereo Subversion. Check it out, here