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Thursday, Jun 16, 2011
Lady Gaga preaches acceptance and love. However, her music videos teach that love is only for the beautiful.

With over one million copies sold in its first week and three top ten singles leading up to its release in the US alone, Lady Gaga’s new album Born This Way has become a cultural phenomenon, in which Gaga’s declaration of individuality leads all her little monsters to the glorious truth: I’m OK, you’re OK. Actually, we’re all fierce and fabulous. 


Last year’s media attention on bullying seemingly inspired a slew of affirmation songs (for instance, Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Taylor Swift’s “Mean”), but no one has embraced the self-acceptance theme with the fervor of the Lady. This pops up repeatedly throughout the new CD, nowhere more clearly in the title track, in which she advises, “Don’t hide yourself in regret / Just love yourself and you’re set.” Why? Because you were born that way, baby, whatever “way” that might be. A more personal plea comes in “Hair”: “I just wanna be myself / And I want you to love me for who I am.”


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Thursday, May 26, 2011
There's another theme to the well-received new album from the chart-topping Chicago punk band besides cutthroat riffs and raucous drums: the end of the world.

Graduating in the same class as mainstream punk rock acts Green Day, Anti-Flag, the Offspring, and others, Chicago, Illinois-based band Rise Against crafts songs born of an ennui that long ago boiled over into rage. And there’s plenty to rage about, of course. Economic hardship, domestic and international imbroglios, and a rash of other injustices—plenty evidence for a gloomy forecast on the future. Add to this mix the prophecies of oddballs like Harold Campbell, the California man who caused a worldwide fervor when he predicted the Rapture would literally occur on May 21, 2011. These problems, and the anxiety they cause, infest Rise Against’s latest album, Endgame (2011)—a hymnbook of laments from a frustrated generation.


For the past ten years, Rise Against has conducted a series of Platinum- and Gold-certified seances where it channeled the collective consciousness of the self-proclaimed “orphans of the American dream”, those who grew up in the shadows of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, children who came of age in a era where people tweet about a tsunami’s rampage one minute and Justin Bieber the next. Obsessed with the search for truth, the band’s lyrics personify the anger beneath modern malaise, and document what happens when the inability to discern right from wrong collides with the desire to do so. What results, perhaps not surprisingly, is music rife with religious terminology.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011
While AC/DC's still-standing refusal to make its music available on iTunes is rooted in the widely-held view of the album as a complete work, it’s important to acknowledge that LPs really aren’t the immutable documents we tend to think of them as.

In an interview with Sky News during the premiere for AC/DC’s new concert DVD Live at River Plate earlier this month, schoolboy-uniform-clad guitarist Angus Young reaffirmed his band’s still-unwavering stance on not making its music available for sale as digital downloads on iTunes. Even though notable major holdouts from the online marketplace—Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles—have one by one acquiesced to digital sales in recent years, the Thunder from Down Under is having none of it. As Young told the interviewer, “For us it’s the best way. We are a band who started off with albums and that’s how we’ve always been… We always were a band that if you heard something (by AC/DC) on the radio, well, that’s only three minutes. Usually the best tracks were on the albums”.


Certainly the veteran Australian rock band is free to distribute its music the way is sees fit, although it’s necessary to point out that iTunes allows artists to make certain tracks “Album Only” purchases. Still that only goes so far, as Radiohead discovered when the retailer refused to honor the band’s wishes to make all its tracks “Album Only”, causing the British alt-rock group to balk at offering its catalog there (Radiohead eventually relented, and now all its album cuts can be bought individually at the store). No, AC/DC wants classic albums like Highway to Hell (1979) and its immortal masterwork Back in Black (1980) to be consumed by buyers as unfractured wholes, and nothing less will do.


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Thursday, Apr 14, 2011
The complicated origins of rhymin' and stealin'... Few, if any, artists have been as controversial or better practitioners of TS Eliot's famous dictum "good poets borrow; great poets steal" than Led Zeppelin.

“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” That’s according to the great T.S. Eliot. Or is it?


Debate rages (well, amongst the handful of people who are aware of—or care about—quotations like this, or literature in general) as to who actually said it. Pablo Picasso occasionally gets the attribution, as does the critic Lionel Trilling (replacing poets with artists in his version).  So, even trying to correctly identify the ultimate epigram about plagiarism can lead to charges of… plagiarism. Brilliant! And, upon reflection, could it be any other way?


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Thursday, Mar 31, 2011
Has there been anything else remotely akin to the waste of potential, time, and opportunity that we’ve had the last two decades with Eddie Van Halen?

Sammy Hagar seldom disappoints. When I heard he was tapped to replace ass-clown extraordinaire David Lee Roth in 1985, I anticipated uninspiring results. I was correct (your mileage may vary). And when I saw there were “tell-all” excerpts from his new book in the latest Rolling Stone, I figured there would be some avert-your-eyes ugliness. I was correct.


Look: it’s obvious that Hagar is a good businessman. The dude has made tens of millions from his own brand of tequila. Who knows how much coin he has pocketed from the Van Hagar albums and the recent tours? His book will sell plenty of copies and who can hassle that? The question could be begged: why would a very wealthy dude take the time to write a book detailing the degeneracy of his former bandmate? To make money, obviously. Of course, he also has a tale to tell, particularly as he may want to set the record straight regarding his involvement in the band (and the on-again/off-again status of the various redux reunions). It is a poorly-kept secret that Eddie Van Halen is difficult to get along with, and who could blame Hagar for wanting to put his imprint on the permanent record?


(Breaking news, real-time edit: he is now claiming he was abducted by aliens! And here I was, just praising his business acumen. Holy “let me learn from Charlie Sheen and up the ante to move more product”, Batman!)


The parts of the book that focus on pre-and-post Van Halen life will probably appeal only to the most ardent Hagar fans (are there ardent Hagar fans? Anyone whose life has been missing the inside scoop of the Montrose years or an elaboration on why he can’t drive 55?). And yet, whatever its literary merits, it may ultimately become a useful historical document. Since the semi-reclusive Eddie Van Halen is less than likely to ever write an autobiography, this may be the closest eye-witness account we’ll ever get from someone who lived through it—not necessarily the good but definitely the bad and most definitely the ugly, of which more shortly. Not necessarily the studio antics that produced OU812 or F.U.C.K., but rather some explanation (or evidence) for why exactly Eddie Van Halen went from being one of the best guitarists of his generation to the punch-drunk burnout he’s become.


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