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Last Week We Loved…Howard Stern, Miley, K-Pop. Plus: Macklemore & Parks and Rec 0

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Howard Stern’s Birthday Bash

Ten years ago it would have been Beetlejuice, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf, Fred the Elephant Boy, Henry Hill, queefers, squirters and porn chicks. Now it’s Robert Downey Jr, Lena Dunham, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Louis CK, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Silverman, and even a birthday video from Kathie Lee Gifford. Hard to feel like an underdog and an outcast when everyone you’ve ever insulted, feuded with or ignored lines up to kiss your ring. Music-wise this was an unending nightmare for me, but perfectly in tone with Stern show tastes: Train, Adam Levine, John Mayer, Jon Bon Jovi — introduced by Chris Christie! — John Fogerty and a Steven Tyler/Slash/Dave Grohl supergroup. Jewel, displaying the humor and personality she never puts into her own music, won the night with a version of “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes,” the song Howard wrote in sixth grade. Highlight of the night, and indicative of Howard’s interviewing skills, which have never been sharper: a 30-minute Q&A with Letterman conducted in front of a rowdy, 15,000-strong Manhattan Ballroom crowd — at one point host Kimmel had to quell the more voluble element with a brusque “Shut up, you rapists!” — that had all the intimacy of two men in a darkened studio. His Sirius contract is up in two years. I hope he leaves us wanting more but know (and also sort of hope) he won’t.

White Guilt

Wacklemore’s tragic text to Kendrick Lamar apologizing for robbing him of his rightful Grammy and being too scared to tell the watching millions of his unworthiness was a strong indicator this was going to be a banner week for Caucasian Shame. Then Jane Pratt’s xojane.com site published a piece entitled “It Happened To Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Classes And I’m Uncomfortable With It.” I’m sure by this point you can recite it in your sleep, but here are a few delicious extracts: “A young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down behind mine. It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio…I saw the fear in her eyes snowball into panic and despair…Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down…over the next hour I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed towards me and my body… I thought about how yoga’s been shamelessly co-opted by Western culture as a sport for skinny, rich, white women…what could I do to help her? If I asked her to articulate her experience to me so I could just listen, would she be interested in telling me about it?…I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying.” If that was a joke, it was a brilliantly observed piece of character comedy. If it wasn’t, it was still a brilliantly observed portrait of its author. The internets agreed. Parody posts — ”I’m The Only White Woman In The Twerking Class!” — proliferated. It turned into the “Harlem Shake” of white guilt. The editor who commissioned the post and witnessed the barrage of mockery it inspired finally stepped up to offer her defense. The xojane person, who identifies as a curvy black woman, spoke of the discomfort she felt on vacation with her white friends and the white privilege of their bodies. The yoga piece, she felt, summed up her experience. Except, xojane editor, you didn’t stumble unwittingly into a yoga studio.You had known and socialized with a group of people long enough to take an extended trip in their company. I would suggest you were less a victim of white privilege and more of bad vacation planning. As for Jen Caton, the author of the original post, she can expect, at the very least, a ton more writing assignments, if not a publishing deal for her oversensitive memoirs. And now you can feel outraged about white privilege.

Two Hot K-Pop Singles

I’m a sucker for assembly line pop and South Korea has an approach to manufactured music that is both vibrant and disturbing. Production companies scoop platoons of bewildered young people off the streets, incubate them for two years, plastic surgerize them, break their individual spirits until they’re tirelessly dancing automatons– the singing tends to figure low on the list of desireable qualities– and then puts them on a punishing schedule of recording, touring, endorsing products and appearing in their nation’s nightly pop shows and soap operas. It’s a dehumanizing process  but somehow oddballs, eccentrics and loose cannons manage to not only survive it, they also make exciting records.

Gain, from the group Brown Eyed Girls, has K-pop’s dysfunctional psychosexual relationship niche all sewn up. The video for her debut single saw her clinging to her departed lover’s ankle for most of it’s 10-minute duration. Her new bossa nova-tinged “Fuck You” is equally tormented.

Girl group Spica’s “You Don’t Love Me” is the exact opposite. It’s all about being super-adorable. It’s also far goofier than any American group would ever be permitted to get away with.

Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe Leave Parks & Recreation

Good. I love Rashida Jones as much as any everyone else in America does, maybe more because I’m very very very vaguely related to her (so vaguely that I’m probably not actually related). But, beyond the storyline about the pit in front of her house — back when Leslie Knope was the butt of the joke rather than the widely-worshipped role model she evolved into — the point of Ann Perkins’ presence in the show, let alone the Parks and Recreation office, dwindled quickly away to nothing. Rob Lowe I’m sorrier to see go. He was the least gifted of the Brat Pack actors, which is saying a lot, but he became someone you actually looked forward to seeing. Chris Trager was a one-note character but it was a funny note played by a virtuoso. One the plus side, their departure rids Pawnee of one of its vast population of happy couples. Seriously, we don’t watch to see Aubrey Plaza smiling every week.

A Grown-Up Person Listens to Every Song on Pitchfork’s Top 100 of 2013

 Here’s both an incredible feat of modern-day endurance and an amazing piece of sustained comedy. Scott Seward, a blogger and, I think, one-time music critic, is, like me, is getting up in years but still has a passing fascination with what’s current in music. Unlike me, his main area of interest is indie-rock. So he slogged through the entire Pitchfork 100.

http://skotrok.blogspot.com/2014/01/i-listened-to-all-of-pitchforks-top-100.html

 Like me, the only things he found any merit in were the rap entries. He also comes out and says something I’ve always thought but never heard anyone actually put into words: the reason bands like Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire  and the National never appeal to anyone outside of their own devoted fan-bases is they all have terrible, weak, repellent singers. It’s true. Imagine if any of these bands allowed their guitarists or their drummers or their producers to perform in a manner as half-assed as they let their singers.  Would they still be on the Pitchfork 100? (Probably.) ( I can’t remember if The Black Keys were on the list but they suck, too.) Elsewhere, Seward shits on Chvrches, a band from my hometown of Glasgow that I really like. But he references Modern Romance, which is astonishing. (The mention, not the band.) I didn’t just enjoy reading Seward’s take on songs I will never hear, I was actually moved to seek one out. This one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtp-Vl90uDU

And talking about Chvrches:

Miley Cyrus Unplugged

Some erudite cineaste recently defended Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives on the grounds that it was the director’s deliberate attempt to weed out the hipsters and drooling Gosling fans from the audience Drive brought him. The first ten minutes of Miley Cyrus: MTV Unplugged seem like they were designed to provoke a similar response. Hate Nasty Hood Crotch Tongue Miley? Here she is with her tongue lolling out, her hand rarely straying from her crotch, her butt out, line-dancing her way through a grotesque drag queen hoedown scenario complete with dancing midget and two luckless stagehands stuffed into a horse costume. Worse, she was yowling her strip club anthems over an acoustic accompaniment which added the unwelcome stench of Mumford. But when she got back from the first break, there was no more Mumford, no more midgets and no more twerking.(Quick footnote here: the Ying Yang Twins recorded “Whistle While You Twurk” in 2000, back when the South became the epicenter of hip hop and the ability to get strippers bouncing became a legitimate career aspiration. If you’ve tolerated every rap and R&B video of the past 13 years but are moved to outrage over Miley Cyrus, I know an xojane editor who’ d be happy to commission a piece from you.) If the first part was calibrated to confirm the world’s worst fears, the remainder was a different kind of statement. It said, “In case you forgot, I’m the best singer — and worst actress — Disney ever discovered.” So true. Even back when she was doing quasi-new-wavey stuff like “See You Again,” she was a cut above Duff and Gomez. Her album doesn’t have a whole lot of listenable songs on it, but it has “Wrecking Ball,” “Adore You,” and a couple of others whose names I forget, and a cover of “Jolene,” all of which she came out and killed. And then, right at the end, a horrifying thing happened. Cyrus, who currently bears a striking resemblance to “Papa Don’t Preach”-era Madonna was joined on stage by someone who no longer bears much of a resemblance to Madonna. They lurched through a duet the sole purpose of which was to allow Madonna to penetrate Miley with the same invisible tentacle she’s previously used to siphon off the youthful essences of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, MIA, Nicki Minaj, and Justin Timberlake. It didn’t work in the past and I don’t think it’s going to work now.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Last Week We Loved… 1

Last Week We Loved…

Bieber!
justin-bieber-mug-600JB: Yeah, I know: old news. But it pertains to one of themes of our book, which is about blowing up the formula that made you famous, something the new wave artists of the eighties did consistently and with varying degrees of success — and something that today’s pop stars are way too terrified to attempt. The exception: Miley, who outgrew her audience, shrugged off her Disney skin and shut down detractors with a couple of hot records. Bieber’s in the position to do the same. He could have sauntered out of that bail hearing, gone straight into the studio and put out a kiss-my-ass-I’m-rich-as-shit song. He could have made an instant career-changer out of his current badass-you-love-to-hate status. Don’t think that’s in his DNA, though. I’m not in any way a fan. Couldn’t name one of his songs. But I get the space he’s in and it’s a tricky one. Imagine you’re a 19 year-old guy. What matters more to you: the undying love of the nation’s 12 year-olds or the approval of other 19 year-old guys? That’s why he acts like a dick. Because 19 year-old guys act like dicks. But, unlike Miley, there’s zero guarantee he’ll ever get his peers to think he’s cool. So he has to keep the tweens sweet because if he alienates them and their parents, there’s no audience waiting for his next move.

LM: Not all teenage guys act like dicks. If I learned anything as a teen-magazine editor (and there’s no guarantee!), it’s that the way an underage artist treats parentals can be predictive of their future. It was in 17-year-old Britney Spears’ trailer that I heard an 18-year-old Justin Timberlake respectfully refer to her mom and dad as “ma’am” and “sir.” And at the last VMAs, while collecting an award, Bieber wannabe (at least until last week) Austin Mahone gave a heartfelt shout-out to the most important woman in his life, his mother. Now, with Mahone running with the Cash Money crowd, there’s no guarantee that he’ll stay squeaky-clean forever, but I don’t recall Justin Bieber ever having any great respect for authority — and that’s a big part of his problem. Another part: The authority figures in his life refuse to act like them.

JB: Isn’t part of the reason you get into music so you don’t have to deal with authority figures?

Lorde on the Grammys
LM: Watch and learn, Biebs. She’s several years younger, yet in her very first year on the scene, the Kiwi’s scored a smash that we’ll be singing for decades to come. And on Grammy night, her minimal performance of “Royals” was my undisputed favorite among the night’s female pop stars. For all the shock and awe of Beyoncé’s surprise-album drop, Mrs. Carter’s opening number, with all its bleeped-out profanity and upper-thigh stroking, felt a bit been-there, done-that. And all the staging and dry ice in the world couldn’t distract from the fact that Katy Perry is no great live singer. Honorable pop-diva mentions go to Pink — whose singing while spinning in mid-air bests most’s standing still — and TSwift, whose moving, no-frills performance at the piano almost made me forget that time she duetted with Stevie Nicks at the Grammys and sounded worse than Linda McCartney backing up Wings.

Nile Rodgers’ Grammy winns alongside Pharrell and Daft Punk at the Grammys
LM: New Wave might still exist if not for Nile Rodgers, but no way would it be as funky. INXS, Duran Duran, ABC, Thompson Twins, and Howard Jones — they all worshipped at his altar and, thankfully, their records reflected it. Three decades later, Nile’s having one hell of a year, one that should culminate in Chic’s induction into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame following numerous nominations. Watching Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono disco-dancing to the “Get Lucky”/“Freak Out” mash-up during the Grammys, I’m reminded of all the good times Nile has given us. Aside from the Chic smashes. there’s Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and “Modern Love,” Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family,” Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” — I could go on and on and on. Hopefully Nile’s contributions to music will do just that.

Disclosure feat. Mary J. Blige, “F For You”
JB: The worst interview I ever did was with Toni Basil for this book. I may run the whole thing in future posts, or I may simply chronicle the catastrophe. Let’s just say, I didn’t take it like a man. The second worst interview I ever did was with Mary J. Blige. I filled two bath towels with flop sweat under the disdainful glare of her side-eye. Still a fan, though. For a singer of her years, she’s barely scratched the surface of what she can do. I’ve seen her, mostly on award shows and other people’s TV specials, kill it singing rock, pop and standards. I’ve even heard her singing Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me.” But I never get excited at the prospect of a new record. For the last ten years, it’s like she’s been on pause. Nothing but mid-tempo motivational message r&b. Nothing remotely memorable. Which is why it’s such a bold and unexpected move for her to show up on this remix from 90s Brit house revivalists Disclosure’s debut. Should this collaboration continue I would happily buy a whole album. Buy might be stretching it, but I’d find a way to acquire it.

Noel Gallagher’s Video Commentary
JB: The best thing Russell Brand ever did was his BBC radio show and the best part of that was his weekly face-off with Noel Gallagher, who turned out to be a great, wry, disgruntled, cynical counterpoint to Brand’s uncorked hysteria. This clip, which was posted everywhere last week, is filled with the same kind of weary, pained disbelief Gallagher used to fire at Brand. Only here, he’s watching all Oasis’s terrible videos and their mostly terrible post-Morning Glory output. It’s a long moan and it makes you want to hear him do this to all the videos everyone’s ever made.

Lifetime’s Lizzie Borden Took An Axe and Flowers in the Attic
LM: I’ve spent many an unmemorable evening on my friend Patty “Punk Masters” Palazzo’s couch watching ;ow-budget Lifetime movies. My favorites: Sex, Lies & Obsession, starring Harry Hamlin and his ample-lipped wife, Lisa Rinna, and Secrets in the Walls with Jeri Ryan. Pass the vegan, gluten-free popcorn! But times, they are a-changing. With so many movie stars migrating to the small screen, it’s getting pretty crowded. It’s not just HBO, Showtime and AMC that are luring the A-listers; these days you’ve got Kerry Washington starring on an ABC nighttime soap and Academy Award-winner Robin Williams anchoring an NBC sitcom. Of course, Scandal turned Washington into a household name, and Robin Williams is at least using The Crazy Ones as an excuse to reunite with Mork & Mindy throwback Pam Dawber. But what does Ellen Burstyn — an Oscar winner in her own right, a revelation in Requiem for a Dream — stand to gain from lowering herself to the Lifetime ghetto for a turn in a melodramatic made-for-TV take on V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic? For starters, everything! If Flowers was 1979’s 50 Shades of Grey (to us then-fourth-graders, anyway), then Burstyn’s belt-whipping performance as Andrews’ evil grandmother is 2014’s version of Faye Dunaway’s wire-hanger-wielding Mommie Dearest — which is to say, an instant camp classic! And don’t forget Heather Graham as Burstyn’s daughter, who locks away her four kids and feeds them arsenic-laced doughnuts. Not sure if the bad, over-the-top acting was on purpose — after all, Graham plays a gold-digging mother who pretends to miss her banished babes even while she runs off to Italy with her unsuspecting, rich new husband. However, it was the perfect partner to her half-wrinkly, half-Botox-smooth forehead and overly-wide, perpetually-surprised eyes. (JB, you once remarked that Andrew McCarthy had eyes “likes a cat’s asshole” in Pretty in Pink — I’d say the same for Graham’s here.) She must’ve figured that that every housewife and gay man would be tuning in. And they sure did: Flowers in the Attic was a ratings smash for Lifetime.

Also making its Lifetime debut this week (and as part of a Saturday-night double feature when I tuned in): Lizzie Borden Took An Axe with another film actress, Christina Ricci, as the accused murderess. From Ricci’s puritanical yet Prada-inspired wardrobe — her waist was so tightly cinched, it made her eyes bug out of her head — to a soundtrack laden with licensed tracks from modern-day hit-makers, like the Black Keys’ “Psychotic Girl,” Lizzie looks like she’s angling for some Golden Globe love from the Hollywood Foreign Press. Hey, don’t laugh — would Behind the Candelabra and Lifetime have made that strange of bedfellows? I think not.

Afternoon Delight
JB: An unfulfilled early thirty-ish Silverlake housewife with a non-existent sex life opens her heart and her home to a young stripper and learns important life lessons. That’s right: It’s the lap dance version of the The Blind Side. No, wait, it’s NOTHING like that. Kathryn Hahn is so great, so flustered and so messy as the privileged basket case who sees Juno Temple’s chirpy hooker half as a project who needs rescuing and half as a weird itch she’s too scared to scratch. Director Jill Soloway piles on the awkwardness and discomfort almost reaching Abigail’s Party level when Hahn finally comes unglued at her aptly-named Woman and Wine soiree. Great, small film. Amazing lead performance that makes me want to start a mission to get Hahn’s campaign manger character on Parks & Rec bumped up to her own spin-off. (The mission pretty much began and ended with the preceding sentence.)

Donald Glover Leaves Community
JB: Everything I love and cringe at about Community was in this episode. The pace, the detail and the commitment to the lava game was incredible. Gillian Jacobs was insane. Jonathan Banks’s desk vehicle. Chairwalkers. The revelation that Magnitude is English. Loved it all. But then, everything became about Abed’s feelings because everything’s always about Abed’s feelings. Which is the price we pay for Dan Harmon, who crazily over-identifies with the character being back at the helm. Weep-worthy final sequence which I choose to regard as Donald Glover pouring out his actual emotions to his fellow cast members. I also choose to believe the door’s open to his occasional return because the odds seem good that this strange, unkillable show — which is wildly out of place at 8 p.m. on network TV which is watched by no one but it’s devoted cult — is going to make it to a sixth season.

Random Roles: Sherilyn Fenn
JB: Since The Onion’s AV Club changed its layout, finding this fun little recurring feature is something of a chore. It’s usually worth the effort. Even if — especially if — you’ve come to hate celebrity interviews, Random Roles is usually rewarding. The idea is simple: interviewers armed with actors’ IMDBs, throw roles at them and sit back as the memories flow. Teri Garr and Lily Tomlin were probably the most candid. Elliott Gould and Sam Elliott were the most verbose. Sherilyn Fenn, the most recent RR subject, is not one of the column’s classics. But her entry is a good example of why the feature is always worth reading, because once the discussion turns to Twin Peaks you get this: “…it was a silly thing that Audrey Horne and Agent Dale Cooper didn’t stay together, because that’s what should’ve happened. It happened organically, without anyone making a plan for it to happen. But they had to stop it because… [Takes a deep breath.] People got mad and jealous and… it was just stupid. Ugh. I’m not supposed to say it. But David [Lynch] knows I tell what happens, and what happened was that Lara [Flynn Boyle] was dating Kyle [MacLachlan], and she was mad that my character was getting more attention, so then Kyle started saying that his character shouldn’t be with my character because it doesn’t look good, ’cause I’m too young. Literally, because of that, they brought in Heather Graham — who’s younger than I am — for him and Billy Zane for me. I was not happy about it. It was stupid.”

Carrie Fisher confirms holy trinity reunion for Star Wars Episode VII
LM: While I’m still scarred from the abominations that were Episodes II and III (yeah, I kinda liked Ep. I; RIP, Qui-Gonn Jinn), I’m happy to say that this time around, Obi-Wan Kenobi is not our only hope. For starters, George Lucas isn’t in charge of the CGI, writing the script or directing. And now we get further confirmation — from Princess Leia herself — that her HRH Organa will be back, along with Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. May the Force be with us . . . always.

The Vampire Diaries 100th Episode
JB: I used to feel like it would be an affront to my Buffy fanhood were I even to acknowledge this show’s existence. But I’m not much of a fan. After I kept hearing it was good, I started watching towards the end of the first season and it’s been on the DVR ever since. Like Community, there’s no way to recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It IS just another vampire show. It DOES strain to maintain even a slightly coherent storyline. The writers ARE way too in love with their creations to the degree that they not only forgive but defend them being mass murderers. I’ll just say this: I like The Vampire Diaries the way I used to like Friends. It’s filled with pretty people with unexpectedly sharp comic timing. Ian Somherhalder, who plays the main sulky, boozy, bad-boy vamp, slouches through every scene like he’s Dean Martin. Paul Wesley, his straight-arrow brother, is almost Noel Gallagher-like in his awareness of how ridiculous his role is. And then there’s the actress who plays the nitwit at the center of the love triangle between the two brothers. There are approximately 458 awards shows. Most of them air this month. Each hands out ten to fifteen acting awards. That means if you’ve even seen a film or TV show in the past year you stand a chance at getting honored for your participation. Nina Dobrev. leading lady of TVD, will NEVER get an award. She’s on a vampire show on The CW. But let me just tell you, the non-viewer, what she does on this show. She plays Katrina, the 14th century Bulgarian vampire victim. She plays Katherine, the 17th century homicidal bloodsucker who turns the two brothers. She plays Elena, the sappy high-schooler, who falls for the bros and becomes a fully paid-up member of the undead. She plays Katherine pretending to be Elena. She plays Elana pretending to be Katherine and failing. She plays a third character who predates the other two and, earlier this season, played all three in one scene. She does a phenomenal job. In fact, she’s become so good at playing the smirkingly amoral Katherine,and the character’s become such a fan favorite, that the evil twin has actually moved to the center of the show. Listen, I watch Orphan Black. I know how good Tatiana Maslany is. But Nina Dobrev is also Canadian and also working miracles. Okay, I’ll clamber down from the soapbox. TVD 100 had everything long-time audiences would have wanted: someone got stabbed and recovered, someone got their neck broken and recovered, everyone was drinking the entire episode and there was an amazing procession of cameos from dead characters.(I swore I wouldn’t waste my time on the spin-off, though. Guess what…it’s great!)

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