Lessons in Youth “Culture”: Volume 2

It’s that time again.  Time endure the judgment of the ten men working out on the machines behind me while I tune into MTV.  If I continue this series on about the aftermath of culture’s downward spiral – as in, today – I am going to invest in white tee-shirts and a Sharpie pen; the back of my new gym shirts will read “RESEARCH”.  With any luck, the aforementioned gentlemen will be staring at my ass and not at my tiny screen filled with Ludacris, half-naked girls, and commercials for Proactive.

Let the games begin.

It All Goes Downhill from Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber – Never Let You Go

I’ve been meaning to write about Justin Bieber for some time now.  I caught this video during a previous “research” session, but I already had too much hysterical fodder for the blog that day.  That, and though I hate to admit it, I had to process the fact that I am in love with Mr. Bieber.  Dear Justin, let me count the ways.

–       The video is loosely reminiscent of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet.  Think stormy beach, makeout sessions by a fish tank, etc.   This might not be what the director intended, but when I see a boy in a white button-up shirt with sleeves rolled up and a neo-90s interpreted bowl cut, I think of Leonardo DiCaprio in that pointy collared, I-wanna-be-Prince-the-symbol-not-the-name dress shirt.  It is quite possible that I am projecting all of my long lost unrequited middle school hormones on Justin Bieber.  I am aware that this is weird.  Moving on.

–       Now, call me crazy, but Justin Bieber strikes me as an entertainer with staying power.  The kid is fucking charming and adorable, and unless he throws his life away on hookers and drugs a la Lindsay Lohan – though she turned into a hooker and didn’t bang hookers herself as far as I am aware – I think he’ll do just fine.

–       His wardrobe brings to mind the early fashion faux pas of a young Justin Timberlake, all of which the public took in pop culture stride, embracing his pseudo white kid jerry curl look and turning a blind eye to his head-to-toe denim ensembles.  Why?  Because Justin danced like a dream and sang like a little girl.  That’s why.  You know who else specialized in that?  Michael fucking Jackson.  And this kid’s got it, too.  He just do.

Sincerely, Justin Bieber’s Number # Cougar

Sex Ed with Ciara

Ciara – Ride

The video opens with Ciara’s insanely muscular body writhing around in silhouette. At this point, I know that “Ride” will not be about her ’67 Cadillac; it would be impossible to drive a vehicle moving around like that.  The lights come up, revealing a Janet Jackson inspired version of Ciara, fucking an invisible man while wearing yoga pants and a baseball cap.

It is interesting to see what the music industry is doing for music videos these days without the big budget days of yore.  Long gone are the times when a whole crew of dancers could be featured humping the air in unison.  Perhaps that’s what makes Ciara’s whole video so awkwardly intimate: you have no choice but to just stare at her and only her.  Her butt, her crotch, her snarling lip curl.  Had I been in a strip club, this wouldn’t faze me, but at the gym I am concerned that the people behind me think I am watching taped rehearsals for porn.

To clarify what Ciara is “hinting” at, she hops up on a mechanical bull, fake sweat transforming white her tee shirt into transparent cotton saran wrap while she, well, rides.

The entire 4 minutes and 39 seconds is a visual manifestation of TMI.  I don’t personally want to know what Ciara looks like having sex.  I don’t need to be able to make comment on the quality of her recent bikini wax.  I’d just rather let sleeping dogs lie.  On a positive note, she could definitely make a buck turning this dance into the Tae Bo of 2010.  Those moves look pretty intense.

We’ll be a dream…or possibly your nightmare

We the Kings – We’ll be a Dream

Two seconds into the song’s opening guitar riff and I already hate my life.  Whiney, cutesy wootsey, rock “influenced” pop music.  Anthems for white suburbia.  Here it comes.

A group of kids hurl themselves down a wooded ravine in slow motion.  A hand plays a guitar in ambient lighting.  Pull back to reveal…a fraggle.  I almost die laughing when the band is shown in their full, over-stylized glory.  The hairdressers should really be shot.  Seriously.  Like, no one hire these people.  Ever.  The lead singer looks like the love child of Beast from Beauty and the Beast and Animal from the Muppets.  In case you were wondering what that looks like, it’s not a Jolie-Pitt baby, I’ll tell you that much.

The concept of the video is pretty much this:

Get a ton of white kids.  Throw in one Asian girl for good measure.  Put them in a forest.  Give them pillows.  Watch them fight.  Let them raid craft services.  Watch them fight.  When you run out of food, give them water balloons.  Watch them fight some more.  Film their plastic smiles and plaid shirts.  Feature a generically attractive female singer I’ve never heard of and have her walking through the pillow fight.  Feathers, yeah, feathers will make for a beautiful visual cue.  Floaty things in the air are always beautiful.  Make sure to include more shots of the folliclely disturbed gentlemen on stage.

By the end of the video I feel like throwing up.  I just can’t take it anymore.  May God strike me down.

In case Ciara didn’t teach you anything, here’s sex ed with Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxtina

Christina Aguilera – I’m Not Myself Tonight

It seems that Lady Gaga has opened the floodgates for the heightened version of music’s long-standing commitment to “anything goes.”  Dress like a tranny hooker.  It’s okay.  For whatever reason, Lady Gaga somehow pulls it off.  This is probably because her introduction to the world was already knee-deep in Crazy Town.  It’s hard to take Christina Aguilera seriously as a sizzling, sexually uninhibited maniac when just ten years ago she was making Christmas albums with Lil Bow Wow and wearing heavily padded bras

The video is a badly done homage to Madonna, another musical icon who was somehow able to push the boundaries of bad taste without looking disingenuous.  To accomplish this, you need cash and backup dancers.  Fortunately for Xtina and myself, it appears that she is one of the few remaining artists still given a budget for her music videos.  That much liquid latex in one video is expensive, surely.  Also commanding a high cost these days are bondage masks, stripping lessons, and a computer-generated closet inferno.

Each individual scene is like a little shop of sexual horrors.  If I were a man, all of this would terrify me.  That much glitter and sexuality is enough to render a man impotent, in which case I am pretty sure Madame Xtina would probably just eat you for dinner instead.

I patiently allow the video to play out despite the fact it’s hurting my ears and burning my eyeballs.  The song essentially legitimizes getting shit housed and batting both ways.  Deep, Xtina.  Real deep.  Oh no, not like that!  Jesus!


In Happiness and Youthful Taste

Screen shot 2009-11-08 at 5.29.12 PM

I sometimes wish that my parents had been more obsessed with music, thereby passing on some of their good taste to me during my crucial developmental years.  Mom wasn’t into the Rolling Stones because they were “loud” and my dad , after having grown up on Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, moved on to James Taylor and Garth Brooks in early 90s, much to my disappointment: James Taylor bored me to tears even at  five years old and I just couldn’t boot stompin’ boogie with Mr. Brooks.  Alas, I was left to fend for myself.

Early musical conquests – in the form of a cassette, of course – included a double-sided MC Hammer joint featuring “2 Legit 2 Quit” and “Can’t Touch This.”  Needless to say I was more than pleased when I came across a sweater at the JC Penney Outlet Store in which both titles were knitted with neon yarn over and over again until they collided in the center at a giant holograph of MC Hammer himself, busting a move on the front of my sweatshirt.  I was similarly enthralled by one of the bands formed from some Mickey Mouse Club stars, whose collective name now slips my memory but I do recall their single “Free 2 B Me.”  The 90s was all about abbreviation, ergo the death of the written word.  This is perhaps why many of my peers still do not correctly identify the difference between “two” and “too.”  Sucks 2 B U, my friends in illiteracy.

My first CD was by Ace of Base and was purchased with my dad at the local Target.  I came directly home, put “I Saw the Sign” on my gigantic black, 6 CD changer, AM/FM tuner, two tape deck radio and danced my heart away on the carpet of my shared bedroom.  Madonna’s “The Immaculate Collection” came next.  The black and white photographs of her in a bathroom, legs akimbo, both confused me and made me want to join a contortionist circus.  While I would never be as flexible as Madonna, I was certain of my prowess as an adept singer.  I pranced around, swinging from my bunk bed as far as the room’s square footage would allow, mimicking the tone of her voice to the point of precise impersonation…at least I thought so.

Mom took me to see my first concert at the Universal Amphitheater.  Kenny Loggins was ever the long-haired, mellow dreamboat I had imagined.  Out seats were on the first floor, closer to the back and just under the balcony section above.  The result was a dense reverb that did not necessarily make for stellar acoustics.  That, and a woman nearby was apparently far more turned on by Kenny and screamed with drunken gusto.  Mom was annoyed and I can’t remember if she told her to shut up or just complained about it.  The experience was a wild success.

Mine was a youth full, unbridled 1990s pop.  Amy Grant (before she found religion), Paula Abdul (all albums, no exceptions), Mariah Carey (when she could still sing and maintained at least the pretense of sanity).  Although, I did miss a few key pop movements that were marketed specifically towards girls like me; namely, boy bands and Britney Spears.  NSYNC just seemed a little too, well, gay for my taste and I could never bring myself to actually purchase a Britney album.  More easily done was to dole out faux judgment on those who did.  However, I had no qualms on screaming “I’m Not a Girl” out of the window of my friend’s two door, parent purchased BMW provided we were more than a mile away from school.  One must keep up appearances, cynical or otherwise.

My brother, being a boy, was more easily sucked into the grunge movement, which I interpreted as an excuse to not shower or be happy.  I attribute my previous lack of enthusiasm for Nirvana to my then undeveloped intellectual maturity.  That and the cover for In Utero really just grossed me out.

When grunge evolved into something more palatable for my delicate sensibilities, Green Day came out.  Around the same time, parental advisory stickers had become de rigueur and my mom took an active interest in what I was listening to.  I enjoyed the uncensored Dookie for a week before my mom made me return it for the kiddie version.  Much good did it do me; I still learned how to say f*&#, sh^%, and g%d da#% in due time.

As I grew older, I more quickly devoted myself to a CD collection mirroring that of a 45-year-old divorcee.  Sheryl Crow, Shawn Collins, Tori Amos – the emotive, broken hearted works.  Jiving with my more “raucous” and “rebellious” side, I had Third Eye Blind and Everclear.  I found that “Semi Charmed Kind of Life” really summed up my middle school experience, mainly associating with the line “…to get me through this…”.  For whatever reason I remember specifically listening to the song pour out of the speakers of my karaoke machine cum radio while taking a shower and wondering if I would ever be popular.  These were also the days in which I was learning to manage razor burn on my legs (i.e. avoiding goosebumps).  Those are two memories I associate with that particular shower.  Third Eye Blind and goosebumps.  Dododo do do do dooo…

Although my dad purportedly grew up on some of the best rock ever known, I didn’t hear about it through him.  I initially learned about Jimi Hendrix on a PC encyclopedia application, long before Google and long before wireless internet.  On Dad Weekends, I would sit in front of one of many Sony Vaio’s he would have to purchase, listening to white noise dial-up as I logged onto my AOL account.  After that there wasn’t much to do besides sign into strange chat rooms and read the poetry of suicidal teens.  When boredom set in, I would turn to the computer Encyclopedia, which was at that point a breakthrough in multi-media: I could read Jimi’s bio and watch one 20 second clip of him performing “Mary.”

My high school days were strongly influenced my high school boyfriend, who introduced me to Tupac and Biggie – who I didn’t like at the time because it sounded like his words struggled to get past the fat in his neck and into the microphone.  Might it be known that a Parental Advisory treaty was made when my mom gave me the foul-mouthed version of Tupac as a Christmas present my freshman year.  DMX, OutKast, Dr. Dre and Eminem followed.

The first time I heard Eminem was leaving the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory.  It was raining and my boyfriend had somehow scored a label-less demo from someone who knew someone who had a connection.  Once again, this was before the days of rampant internet bootlegging and pirating: a demo like this a rarity and truly sacred.  The first beats in “My Name Is” were something I had never experienced before.  It was so new, fresh, utterly and delightfully obnoxious.  I became a devotee.

When I arrived at college I was shocked by the breadth of knowledge my New Jersey roommate possessed about classic rock and other alternatives.  Her taste was far more developed and refined then my own: she had embraced Radiohead at a young age and loved Pearl Jam, she liked songs like “Night Swimming” and knew about Modest Mouse before I had even heard of them.  She spoke of being introduced to music by her parents, causing me to become disheartened because I essentially had eighteen years of learning to do.

To to be fair, my parents did provide me with a few, but visceral, memories in music.  Alana Miles “Black Velvet” reminds me of the parkay flooring behind our bar and the stacks of Atari games that existed there instead of bottles of booze.  Carol King “Tapestry” will always be associated with my mom.  Seal takes me back to a road trip with my dad and brother out to June Lake, eating Certs Mints until my stomach hurt and going for burgers at The Tiger Bar.  The Smashing Pumpkins song “1979” will always remind me of carpooling in Mom’s old brown leather Mercedes to the middle school, mostly because that’s what she says every time she hears the song.  The Cars “Greatest Hits” bring to mind dinners at my dad’s first trailer: he would make al fredo noodles and, later, my brother and I would share a blow up mattress in the living room even though there was a bedroom for us in the back; we just liked to listen to the waves crash off of the PCH.