Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Monday, Mar 29, 2010
Since Shahrukh Khan is showing Akon around Bollywood, imagine that awkward moment when the two are out on the town and they encounter the Fair and Handsome advertising chair, and Shahrukh Khan says to Akon, "I'd like you to meet my sponsor."

Rap star Akon’s March arrival in India has gone viral on the net-boob-tube, and youth commentators seem to have descended into a frenzy of excitement over the star’s potential work here in Bollywood. As a commercial rapper, Akon raps about women, but only the ones who strip and swing from poles. With global marketing deals as the spokesman for Fair and Handsome skin bleaching cream, Shahrukh Khan has appeared in TV commercials ridiculing skin half as dark as Akon’s, telling these darkies that they’ll never be successful in their careers or with women. What a match. Wow, hopefully Shahrukh Khan does not try to get Akon to use Fair and Handsome. That would be sad, but perhaps it will work the other way around. Maybe Kareena & SRK will find Akon’s chocolate skin so beautiful that they will stop promoting self-hate through self-destruction. Bleaching literally destroys the skin. Indeed, there’s no questioning that skin bleaching physically damages the skin, but to that I would add that skin bleaching destroys the spirit and births and nourishes a false self.


In the welcoming ceremony, a real craft in modern publicity, Akon claims to have this long interest in India and her popular culture. Yet, as an exotic star (blacks are popular in the Indian imagination and popular culture in a narrow range of stereotypical roles from blinged-out rappers, to cricketers, to criminality), he will likely continue to receive his local laudation and respect. Yet, like many other Africans who settle here in India and are confronted regularly with signs and symbols of India’s color caste, how might this impact this deliciously chocolate global superstar? Will his exotic roots and international status trump his darkness here in India? Will Akon rap about the Indian color caste? Though we would all like to sit aback and enjoy this Afro-Indian love, we cannot and should not let Mr. Khan off scot-free, not when millions of individuals around the world revere him as an icon and worship him as an idol, and he chooses to earn money through self-promotion and damaging habits. This is nothing short of gross.


Finally, on the streets of Delhi, Akon has undoubtedly made his mark. Here, for example, Once I encountered a group of adolescent boys in a park in South Delhi. Perhaps it is my gender and black skin that attracted the youth to me, announcing my admission into the global hip-hop corpus. The boys approached me as I sat quietly on a park bench one day, buffering my time spent at work, with the evening at home. At 14, the boys knew all the lyrics about girls swinging on poles. See for yourself:


“I see you windin’ & grindin’ up on dat pole”  by adolescents on the streets of Delhi!


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Monday, Mar 29, 2010

Finally, an all-star charity jam you might be interested in for musical reasons as well as altruistic ones. Legendary Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan assembled a small but impressive group of friends for this cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You”, including Nick Cave, Mick Jones, Johnny Depp (he of the ubiquitous guest guitar spot), Chrissie Hynde, and Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. There are few non-legends hanging about as well (Paloma Faith, anyone?), but I guess we can’t all be Chrissie, now can we?


These days, when Shaney Mac isn’t commented on for much more than his relationships with dentists or bartenders, it is nice to see him actually make this single happen. All proceeds go to Concern Worldwide for Haiti relief.


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Monday, Mar 29, 2010

Leave it to Peaches to make the drug references in The Wizard of Oz a bit less oblique. The video for “Billionaire”, from her latest album I Feel Cream looks like a Keith Haring by Patricia Field acid trip, where the flying monkeys have boobies and the joints are bigger than Toto’s head. Guest MC Shunda K comes in at the end to save the day…now I know we’re not in Kansas anymore.


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Friday, Mar 26, 2010

In 1983, the Circle Jerks released their third album, Golden Shower of Hits. The title track was a pastiche of AM gold by the likes of the Carpenters and the Starland Vocal Band, counterpointed by the punk-rock stylings of the Hermosa Beach-based band.  It was an exquisite end to an exquisite album, an album many hardcore fans consider the last “real” Circle Jerks record before the departure of original rhythm section Roger Rogerson (bass) and Lucky Lehrer (drums). The band would go on to record many more albums, but musically and stylistically, Golden Shower of Hits marks a departure point for them as a band.


Enter the year 1984, and the release of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s In 3-D album. The track “Polkas on 45” is a medley of popular favorites including the Who, the Clash, and Devo, only this time done in the style of traditional polka music. Whether or not Yankovic was aware of the Circle Jerks’ jaunt into similar territory is unknown; however, Yankovic has followed this up by including a like medley on nearly every album he has recorded since, intent on applying this basic premise to the evolving tastes of mainstream pop. 


Like much of Yankovic’s fare, these medleys are not meant to be taken overtly seriously, but as more of a light-hearted jab at the songs being parodied. But there is something of a biting edge here, and that becomes more apparent when someone like Aaron Roszczewski edits the original videos to fit the form of “The Angry White Boy Polka” from Yankovic’s 2003 Poodle Hat album, and posts it on YouTube. The glib seriousness with which such acts like Papa Roach or Disturbed approach their radio-friendly songs is made even more hilariously apparent when against a backdrop of music that has not been popular since the Lawrence Welk generation.


If the job of the satirist is to point out that the emperor has no clothes, then “Weird Al” Yankovic has got fashion tips for all of pop music.


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Friday, Mar 26, 2010

The only thing more buzz-generating for an artist than having a video directed by Johnny Depp is to have that video banned. Sheffield workhorses Babybird (of “You’re Gorgeous” fame) have the singular good fortune of Depp’s friendship, which led to his playing guitar on the single “Unloveable”, and then directing the video. It’s depiction of frontman Stephen Jones’ hanging has met with some controversy, which can only benefit Babybird. And since “Unloveable” is a great song and “You’re Gorgeous” came out way back in 1996, let’s hope so.


Tagged as: babybird, johnny depp
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