Posts filed under ‘Pop Culture’

“I’d Rather Keep the Trash and Throw You Out”: Feminine Angstiest Songs #3

See also Feminine Angstiest Songs #2 and #1

“Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)” samples Carly Simon’s quintessential song of feminine angst, “You’re So Vain.” Janet Jackson sings, and Missy Elliott, a veritable hip hop guru, raps. The music video, clearly alluding to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” stars a fleet of undead women. Janet dances in the midst of the ghouls as she stalks her former lover through a creepy mansion, bathroom, and parking garage. She wields a baseball bat, strutting her svelte figure in a sexy outlaw getup. Missy accompanies Janet and the zombie women on this hot pursuit. In an eerily erotic scene, Janet seductively swallows a black spider and growls, “I’d never be your lover / I’d rather make you suffer / You stupid motherfucker.”

Basically, don’t fuck with, lie to, cheat on, steal from, or disrespect these women…unless you want to end up in a “show down, knock down, drag down, gun slugger, shoot ’em up” with demonic damsels. But this post isn’t about you anyway, is it?

March 11, 2010 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

Lolly’s Top 5 Hip Hop Hits of 2009

See also Lolly’s Top 5 Hip Hop Hits of 2008

Runner-ups: “Birthday Sex” and “Imma Star” by Jeremih, “So Sharp” by Mack 10 featuring Lil Wayne, “Best I Ever Had” by Drake, “Obsessed” by Mariah Carey, “Girls on the Dancefloor” by Far East Movement

#5 Omarion featuring Gucci Mane (or Lil Wayne) “I Get It In”

This song is cocky (pun intended) as hell: It’s about fitting really big things into tight places. Omarion brags about how his girl “fumble(s) when it hangs down,” and Gucci Mane is hooking up with gal who has “done fired” her panties. In the Lil Wayne version, Mr. Carter quotes Beyoncé’s “Ego” to make the same boast: “It’s too big; it’s too wide; it won’t fit, but…I get it in.” Ironically, the most phallocentric song of the year has a video that’s about as phallocentric as last year’s “I Kissed A Girl” by Katie Perry. Omarion has moves that would make most ABDC teams jealous, but he doesn’t save them for the few ladies in the video. Toward the end of the three-minute clip, the rapper forms a human seesaw with a male dancer. This quasi-homoerotic display is almost unheard of in hip hop videos. Perhaps the compact “parking spot” is unisex.

#4 Drake featuring Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Eminem “Forever”

The line-up doesn’t get much better than this. Unfortunately, some radio stations abridge the 6+ minute song by removing one of the rapper’s verses. In ascending order, here’s how I would rank each rapper’s rhymes: Eminem (“He ain’t had a real buzz like this since the last time that he overdosed”), Drake (“Labels want my name beside the ‘X’ like Malcolm”), Lil Wayne (“My mind shine even when my thoughts seem dark”), and Kanye West (“You would think I ran the world like Michelle’s husband”).

#3 Mario featuring Gucci Mane & Sean Garrett “Break Up”

Breaking up never sounded so good! It seems Mario would do just about anything for his girlfriend (“Don’t I lace you with the Gucci? / Don’t I deck you in the Louis?”) except, of course, be faithful. And, for him, it isn’t so much about getting back together but, rather, having one last midnight rendezvous (“If you leavin’, baby, don’t leave me till tomorrow / Tonight we gon’ get a lil’ tipsy with a bottle”). If the break up is final, Gucci Mane reminds us that “girls are like buses: Miss one, next fifteen, one comin’.”

#2 Keri Hilson featuring Lil Wayne “Turnin’ Me On”

Miss Keri, baby! This song should be renamed “Pleasing Women for Dummies.” Keri stresses the importance of “recogniz(ing) a real woman,” and Lil Wayne brags about his oral prowess (“I’ma kiss the spot for ya…I turn you on like a handle / Like a television on the Weather Channel”). Sporting “on” and “off” brass knuckles, Keri rocks the music video that’s full of dichotomous imagery.

#1 Kid Cudi featuring Kanye West & Common and sampling Lady Gaga  “Make Her Say”

“And we can have one hell of a night / Through the day,” promises the casual (hetero)sex anthem of the year. Kid Cudi wonders, “When it’s said and done, will she spit it up or swallow?” Kanye West wants to hook up with a shorty, but he doesn’t want to make it “statutory”: “Hold up…Born in ’88. / How old is that? / Old enough.” Common reminisces about a girl whose “head was gooder than the music.”

And each wants a ménage à trois the only socially acceptable way he can have it (XX/XY/XX). To emphasize this common goal, each rapper begins his verse with a version of “She wanna have whatever she like / She can if she bring her [girl]friend.” Cudi wants a dominant girl with a “fat ol’ ass.” Kanye makes me wonder why I didn’t love college. Common likes to take charge – even if he has to pay for it.

That which is explicit in this hit is misogynistic at best (Cudi and Co. sample Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” to the tune of, “I make her say, ‘Oh…Oh-Oh-Oh…Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh’ when I p-p-p-poke her face.”). That which is implicit, however, is compelling and provocative. Just as most novels have autobiographical inspiration, lyrics often reveal aspects of artists’ personal lives. Each performer in “Make Her Say” shares more information on sexual preferences than would most hip hop artists. It’s one thing to talk about getting “brain on the train.” It’s another to express as-yet-unfulfilled desires, previously secret reflections, and subtle sociopolitical commentary to boot.

The melancholy undertone of an upbeat song that’s entirely about sex seems strange. The subject matter, however, isn’t as lighthearted as the music video’s balloons and peaceful scenes would have you think. “Casual sex” is a misnomer: There is nothing casual about sex. As a society, we take healthy sex lives for granted, and yet sexuality influences most of us in some very problematic ways. Whether they realize it or not (I think they do), all three rappers express this tension between carnal desire, heteronormativity, and mainstream constructions of masculinity. Lady Gaga, who defies gender norms, genre, and Jehovah, creates the backdrop for this musical dialogue. The final product is far from a “Bad Romance.”

February 12, 2010 at 7:26 am 2 comments

The Sexism Behind “Sexy-Ugly” (Updated)

“You don’t have to be beautiful to turn me on.”
– Prince, “Kiss”

In Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), Helen describes Harvey Keitel as “very sexy-ugly.” Urban Dictionary defines the term as “a person (usually male) who is not conventionally good-looking but who is, through their idiosyncrasies, charisma, attitude or other mystery factor, sexually attractive.”

I take issue with this concept for a number of reasons. First of all, pseudo-lesbian movies like Kissing Jessica Stein are – to me – mostly fodder for heterosexual male masturbation and not accurate depictions of the LGBTQ community. Exploiting a group of people for capital gain and trying to pass it off as art is not cool in my book. Aside from that, why are only males usually “sexy-ugly?” I can think of quite a few reasons.

For better or worse, society assigns a much higher value to the attractiveness of women than to that of men. To an extent, this makes sense because men tend to be more visual than women, but I cannot help thinking of how it is the exact opposite in the animal kingdom (male birds’ vibrant plumage attracts mates). In addition, most women would find the description “sexy-ugly” offensive (if applied to them), whereas men might see it as a compliment. Implicit in this double standard is that–unlike women–men don’t have to adhere to as many social conventions to be attractive. Bottom line: It’s somehow OK for men to be “sexy-ugly,” but women have to be “sexy-sexy” to be considered attractive.

In efforts to resolve this gender bias, I have composed of list of male and female “sexy-ugly” celebrities. But, first, I want to express my feeling that “sexy-ugly” is a misnomer: There’s nothing ugly about being sexy! Instead, I term it “unconventionally sexy” or “uniquely attractive” because these people have some kind of physical feature and/or intangible quality that makes them attractive beyond traditional standards.

Men: Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, Sean Penn, Lil Wayne, Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Jack Black, Tommy Lee Jones, Alfred Molina, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Willem Dafoe, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Malkovich, Tom Petty, Stephen King, Peter Dinklage, David Spade, Quentin Tarantino, Jason Segel, Kevin Smith, Dennis Rodman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, 50 Cent, Lyle Lovett, Elijah Wood, Thom Yorke, John Lithgow, Sid Haig, Tommy Lee, Trent Reznor

Women: Francis McDormand, Lucinda Williams, Chrissie Hynde, Sandra Bernhard, Liza Minnelli, Missy Elliott, Natasha Lyonne, Christina Ricci, Sandra Oh, Amy Winehouse, Pink, Heather Matarazzo, Courtney Love, Anjelica Huston, Joan Cusack, Toni Collette, Siouxsie Sioux, Margaret Cho, Nia Vardalos, Juliette Lewis, Tilda Swinton, Mariel Hemingway, Martha Plimpton, Lili Taylor, Whoopi Goldberg, Amanda Plummer, Cher, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), Patricia Arquette

I’ll add more as I come up with them. Any suggestions?

August 28, 2009 at 1:48 am 10 comments

“Jumbo Jessica” and the Marlon Brando Paradox

Jessica Simpson needs to fire her stylist. Ever since the singer donned a pair of high-waisted jeans and double-layered leopard print belt to the KISS Country Chili Cookoff, the tabloids haven’t given her body a break. The New York Post described her as a “corpulent country star” and assigned her the hurtful “Jumbo Jessica” moniker. Us Weekly eagerly repeated the nickname, and People used the same series of unflattering pictures to publicize “her new fat curvy body.”

Days before her humiliating and oh-so-public breakup with Tony Romo, Jessica sang the National Anthem at the AT&T National golf tournament in a horizontally striped Michael Kors dress. The Daily Fix commented, “As the ditzy blonde singer’s career shrinks, her bottom line continues to expand.” Not to be outdone, Perez Hilton blogged, “Is JSimpleson finally pregnant with her dream baby?…That’s an ass you could serve Thanksgiving dinner on!”

Just under 5’3″, Jessica is a petite woman who has been blessed with curves in all the right places. Minor weight fluctuations become exaggerated on her small frame. Case in point: Within the same month, OK! ran stories on Jessica’s wardrobe woes, Romo breakup, and “revenge diet.” She “look[ed] like a blimp” one week and boasted a fit physique the next.

This repulsive practice of inventing weight problems for female celebrities certainly takes its toll on the common (wo)man. I’ve found myself turning down desserts lately and worrying about how I look in form-fitting jeans. It also serves as yet another example of our society’s rampant sexism and double standards: Tom Cruise’s diminutive stature and Jack Nicholson’s gut receive little press/criticism. This is what I call the “Marlon Brando Paradox.”

Marlon Brando is rightfully considered one of the greatest actors of all time. The Academy Award winner’s career spanned over half a century, but his svelte form progressively widened throughout. At almost no point, however, did the media criticize Brando’s weight or deny his talent because he wasn’t as conventionally attractive or as physically fit as he had been as a young man. With performances as “Vito Corleone” in The Godfather and “Paul” in Last Tango in Paris on his impressive résumé, we didn’t need him to look a particular way. But if he had been a woman, he almost certainly would not have landed comparable roles.

The Marlon Brando Paradox perpetuates our society’s commodification and fetishization of the female body.  By scrutinizing the female form in this manner, we are preventing progress and gender equality. While Jessica Simpson is the latest victim, almost no one–celebrity or not–escapes being viewed through this perverse, distorted lens: I am anxiously waiting for it to shatter.

August 17, 2009 at 4:16 pm 2 comments

Current and Classic Rentals & Ratings

Year of the Dog
Genre: Comedic Drama
Starring: Molly Shannon, Laura Dern, Regina King, John C. Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard
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Molly Shannon shines in this quirky drama about the multi-layered relationships between co-workers, friends, loved ones, and, of course, animals.  Mike White, the writer of The Good Girl and School of Rock, makes his directorial debut in what hopefully will be the first of many cinematic triumphs.

New York, New York
Genre: Musical Drama
Starring: Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro

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Minnelli and De Niro sizzle with musical and sexual chemistry in this Scorsese film set in the post-WWII 40s.

He’s Just Not That Into You
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Scarlett Johansson

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I expected more from this all-star cast. It has its funny and sweet moments, but, overall, this film portrays women as weak and inept players in the game of love and war.

Summer of Sam
Genre: Crime Drama
Starring: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito

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Set in New York City in the summer of 1977, this Spike Lee Joint follows a close-knit group in an Italian-American neighborhood as it responds to the surrounding violence, heat, humidity, and hatred. Son of Sam’s carnage serves as the backdrop for a reflection on the complex nature of relationships between members of a seemingly cohesive community. Make sure to check out Adrien Brody’s compelling performance during the “Teenage Wasteland” montage.

June 5, 2009 at 5:44 pm Leave a comment

From the Vault: Nine 1/2 Weeks Gets 8 1/2 Stars

Three years after I was born, Adrian Lyne (Unfaithful, Indecent Proposal, Fatal Attraction) directed Nine 1/2 Weeks, starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. I saw it for the first time this weekend and felt puzzled by the film’s poor critical reception. Lyne manages to forge a balance between art and sex, creating an erotically-charged drama rather than soft core porn. The film is a meditation on the ambiguities and limitations of consensual liaisons between women and men.

Elizabeth (Basinger), a “divorced white female, beautiful statuesque blonde,” meets John (Rourke) while shopping for dinner party fare.  John is concomitantly creepy and desirable as he makes overt sexual advances toward Elizabeth. “You’re taking a hell of a lot for granted, aren’t you,” Elizabeth remarks as John pointedly changes the bedsheets after their first outing. And thus begins a 9 1/2 week sexual journey. Elizabeth’s endearing naiveté complements John’s carnal authoritativeness. Scenes of sadomasochism, female masturbation, spontaneous lovemaking, and erotic food usage ensue. Lyne’s images at once titillate and disturb as the couple crisscrosses sexual boundaries and societal norms.

In her early 30s at the time of the film’s production, Basinger is, in retrospect, living proof that some women are like wine; they improve with age. While undoubtedly attractive, Basinger’s Renée Zellweger-like poutiness in this film pales in comparison to her fetching sophistication in L.A. Confidential and The Door in the Floor (both filmed over a decade later). Rourke, on the other hand, has endured a transformation in the opposite direction. The intensive reconstructive surgery he underwent after his professional wrestling career has rendered his once-alluring face almost unrecognizable. That said, he still has the body of an Olympian and acting talent that ranks him among the very best. His portrayal of John in Nine 1/2 Weeks made me further appreciate his wide range as an actor, as evidenced in Body Heat, Sin City, and The Wrestler.

If nothing else, this film depicts two major actors at pivotal moments in their respective careers. Beyond that, the disquieting interactions between Elizabeth and John speak to the complications of human nature and the overwhelming responsibility that accompanies sexual desire.

June 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm Leave a comment

Blame It (On the Concert Hall)

Warning: This post contains a lot of adult language.

I surprisingly didn’t feel offended when D12 ordered “all the independent women in the house” to “show [them their] tits and shut [their] mother fuckin’ mouth[s]” in 2001’s “Ain’t Nuttin’ But Music.”  Nor did I get upset when Jay-Z boasted, “I thug ’em, fuck ’em, love ’em, leave ’em/’Cause I don’t fuckin’ need ’em/Take ’em out the hood/Keep ’em lookin’ good/But I don’t fuckin’ feed ’em,” in “Big Pimpin.'” With lyrics so blatantly misogynistic, it’s difficult to take these songs too seriously. Maybe that’s why I rhymed along with the rappers instead of sending them hate mail. Lately, however, two songs have almost made me lose sleep at night.

“Baby, Let Me Rape You” might be a more appropriate title for Jamie Foxx’s (feat. T-Pain) latest hit, “Blame It (On the Alcohol).” The song describes a relatively innocuous situation: A bachelor is in town for the weekend and hits up the club scene because he wants to get some tail. But then he meets a “girl” whose looks probably wouldn’t suit him in the light of day (I was unaware/How fine you was before my buzz set in), and she doesn’t seem too interested in hooking up (She say she usually don’t/But I know she front). Deciding to create his own window of opportunity, the guy “seduces” the girl with alcoholic beverages (Girl, what you drinkin’?/Go on, let it sink in) until she gives in to his sexual advances (Fill another cup up/Feelin’ on your butt, what?/You don’t even care now).

I could be overreacting. After all, there’s nothing wrong with sippin’ on some “‘tron” and gettin’ it on. But if the prospect of having sex isn’t consensual before drinks enter into the equation, it’s not OK to proceed. Jamie Foxx goes beyond just talking smack about women: He seems to endorse forced sex through inebriation. All that said, the song is catchy as hell. Maybe I just need to take a few shots, crank up the stereo, and blame it on the ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-alcohol.

If “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” teeter-totters the line between impertinence and acceptability, 3OH!3’s “Don’t Trust Me” completely obliterates it. The female victim is under 21 (X’s on the back of your hands/Wash them in the bathroom to drink like the bands), and the guy we shouldn’t trust preys upon her vulnerability and anonymity (B-b-b-bruises cover your arms/Shaking in the fingers with the bottle in your palm/And the best is, no one knows who you are/Just another girl alone at the bar). The instructions he gives her speak for themselves: “Shush, girl! Shut your lips/Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.” If “Don’t Trust Me” is an electronica or hip hop parody, it’s one thing, but the song doesn’t give me satiric vibes a la Weird Al.

Sometimes I really miss the days when Milli Vanilli and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam dominated the air waves.

May 27, 2009 at 6:57 pm 1 comment

Current Redbox Rentals and Ratings

Frost/Nixon
Genre: Drama
Starring: Frank Langella and Michael Sheen
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Langella deservingly received an Oscar nomination for his role as Richard Nixon in Ron Howard’s provocative retelling of the post-Watergate interviews between British television personality David Frost and the former president.

The Poker Club
Genre: Drama, Suspense
Starring: Johnathon Schaech
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Although it has a few interesting plot twists and startling moments, The Poker Club comes across as a decently-made student film. But if you’re looking for visual stimulation, actors Johnny Messner and Michael Risley and actresses Jana Kramer and Lori Heuring make good eye candy.

The Wrestler
Genre: Drama
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood
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Rourke delivers an artistic tour de force as a has-been competitor trying to make a comeback in his professional and personal lives.

The Spirit
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure
Starring: Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Gabriel Macht, and Scarlett Johannson
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Even with an all-star cast and the talent of Frank Miller as screenwriter, The Spirit managed to lower my spirits when I saw it in theaters this holiday season.

Doubt
Genre: Drama
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis
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Some critics bemoaned Streep’s “over the top” performance as a hyper-judgmental nun, but I think Sister Beauvier’s ferocity and relentless inner struggle could have only been depicted by such a seasoned and dedicated actress as Streep. Hoffman, Adams, and Davis also triumph in expressing what playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley likely had in mind when he helped transform his story from stage to screen.

Yes Man
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel
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With a handful of laugh-out-loud scenes, this lightly romantic comedy achieves its goal of providing 90 minutes of entertainment. While Carrey and Deschanel have some chemistry, their age difference is a bit distracting and doesn’t manage to completely pass off as believable.

April 24, 2009 at 9:34 pm 5 comments

“I Hate You So Much Right Now”: Feminine Angstiest Songs #2

Kelis’s “Milkshake” brings all the boys to the yard, but her rhymes in “Caught Out There” put them in their places. She dedicates the song to “all the women out there/that been lied to by their men/over and over again” and admits “maybe you didn’t break the way you shoulda broke, yo, but I break.”

From her 1999 debut album Kaleidoscope, “Caught Out There” paved the way for the cocky and confrontational lyrics of “Bossy” (featuring Too $hort) and “In Public” (featuring husband Nas). In fact, when Kelis declares herself “the first girl to scream on a track” in “Bossy,” she’s referring to exercising her irate shouting skills in “Caught Out There”: “I hate you so much right now / I hate you so much right now / I hate you so much right now / Ahhhhhhhhh!” Kelis repeats the angsty chorus no less than seven times and outdoes Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” with threats like, “So sick of your games / I’ll set your truck to flames / And watch it blow up, blow up / (Tell me how you gonna see her now?).” I certainly think that’s worse than taking “a Louisville Slugger to both headlights!”

It may seem like I’m hating on my man right now, but that’s not the case at all. I do, however, feel severe animosity toward “The Man.” He can go fuck himself. And I’m grateful to “the one that’s tattooed on his arm” for giving me an outlet to vent my ire through.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

April 14, 2009 at 10:43 pm 1 comment

Book of the Month: “East of Eden”

“It is probable that if [Charles] had found [Adam] that night he would have killed him, or tried to. The direction of a big act will warp history, but probably all acts to the same in their degree, down to a stone stepped over in the path or a breath caught at the sight of a pretty girl or a fingernail nicked in the garden soil.”

-John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The Simpsons Halloween Special from several years ago explores the repercussions of time travel when Homer serendipitously discovers that his broken toaster can take him back into the Paleolithic era. During his first visit, he slaps and kills a mosquito as it lands on the back of his neck. When he returns home, his family and Earth as he knows it has dramatically changed. After a series of trips to the period of the dinosaurs, he finds that the modern world around him alarmingly alters in very different ways whether he slays a pterodactyl and tyrannosaurus rex or if he merely steps on a twig and breaks it. Knowing that his presence and seemingly insignificant interactions during time travel will inevitably affect the future, he settles for a life that most closely resembles his pre-toaster adventures, save for his family members’ use of amphibious tongues at the dinner table.

This pop cultural example demonstrates the irreversible impact events of the past have on the present and future. Whether major or insignificant, incidents prompt a domino effect without particular rhyme, reason, consistency, or predictability. In East of Eden, Steinbeck reflects upon mundane events as much as he does on formative moments in a character’s life. That the reader is rarely bored by Steinbeck’s expository passages is evidence of his talent as a writer.

March 4, 2009 at 10:57 pm 2 comments

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