Monday, June 27, 2011

If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

The Voice: my new favorite summer show. Why? Not only has it reawakened my 17-year-old's crush on Adam Levine, but it has all the makings of a true talent competition: no embarrassing "loser" auditions, bold voices and no pandering to the audience through grating taped segments. And it is quite possibly the most diverse show on TV.

Yes, unlike that celebration of all that is vanilla in the world --ehem, American Idol-- each episode of the Voice is like an understated celebration of diversity. While AI's last big voice, Adam Lambert, had to keep his sexuality a secret (well, only to the absolutely 'dar deficient), I heard more declarations of the phrase "I'm gay" on the first episode of the Voice than I can recall on any other single network TV episode. What's more, two of the finalists, selected by the home viewers, are openly gay women.

Who better to coach than Ms. "Beautiful" herself, Christina Aguilera, and Space Martian Cee-lo Green, ambassadors for the love yourself the way you are message (even when who you are is a hot mess imitation of Lady Gaga - looking at you Xtina). By combining mentors of different genres, an eclectic mix of artists and minimally messing with the artists' brands, the Voice truly seems focused on bringing the next big voice to the forefront instead of churning out forgettable one-hit wonder contenders (anyone remember Lee Dewyze? Didn't think so.). Somehow, I can't see tomorrow night's standout performer becoming the next Where are they Now.

What I respect most about the show is its spirit of collaboration. Here, you have arguably some of the biggest names in the music business hobnobbing with rising talent, teaching them, sharing group numbers with them and inviting them over for dinner at their homes. And it's also refreshing to see that the members of each team genuinely seem to support each other and enjoy listening to the others' music.

Over and over the judges emphasize that beauty lies in the quirkiness of its contestants, and it is exactly this concept that makes the show so beautiful.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baby, We Were Born This Way

If you have not yet seen X-Men: First Class, stop what you're doing, clear a space in your schedule and make sure you see it!

I could not speak more highly of this movie. I have already rec'd it to all my friends and my family, and would go so far as to claim it is one of my favorite movies of this summer. I caught the flick last week, and would definitely pay to see it again.

Not only does First Class feature phenomenal actors (McAvoy, Fassbender, yes, even Kevin Bacon!) who are also easy on the eyes (my personal favorite is Tony from Skins, Nicholas Hoult), but this origin story features emotionally layered characters. I never expected a summer action flick to be so affecting.

Since last week, I have not been able to get these characters out of my head. Especially Magneto. He is a beautifully complex individual. I have seen all the films in the X-Men franchise and I never gave him any further thought; I just assumed he was an evildoer. But Erik is not a bad guy. He's actually quite heroic. And even though he grows to be at odds with Professor Xavier and his team, I can't help but agree with his world view.

Because Erik is loud and proud. While Professor Xavier has developed his philosophy based on a fear of not being accepted, Erik takes ownership of his difference. Yes, I see X-Men as an allegory for gay/racial pride.

Throughout the film, Professor Xavier stresses that all he wants to do is blend in with the normal, un-mutated humans - you know, the mainstream. His mantra is not dissimilar from what I heard during my childhood, an iteration of the immigrant mentality: Mutants should do everything in their power to fit in. Act like everyone else and maybe you'll be accepted.

And that's fine for Charles, because he passes for human. The world can't tell there's anything different about him. And if they could, well, he would just convince them to think otherwise via his powers of telepathy.

While his beliefs are noble - unlike Magneto, he doesn't believe that mutants are a superior race to humans - he encourages the X-Men to mask their differences. He continually warns Raven to camouflage her natural blue appearance so as not to draw attention to how different she is. And when the poor, low-esteemed girl experiments in expressing her true self, he chastises her. Keep it in the closet, girl.

Magneto, on the other hand, feels that he shouldn't have to apologize for the way he is. He doesn't come from a place of privilege like Xavier. He's had to fight for everything he has. He sits down with Raven and tell her, "You are beautiful, no matter what they say...." Ok, not those exact words. But his advice holds the same power. He teaches her to embrace her differences and love her natural skin color. While I don't support his belief that mutants are inherently superior to humans and should therefore rise up against them (although I understand why his character feels that way based on his upbringing), I appreciate Magneto's message. Why deny that special something that makes you you?

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Am Not My Food

The next time you see meet an individual with a vaguely brown skin color and foreign sounding name, do not greet them with: "Oh my god! I love Indian food, egg rolls, burritos, [insert other "ethnic" dish]." You might be A.) Drunk B.) Just trying to make conversation C.) Looking for the right opening to announce your love for this dish or D.) All of the above. But please, don't let that be the first thing that pops out your mom.

You don't see me approaching British people telling them I love fish and chips (even though I really, really do), or proclaiming my love of pasta to Italian-Americans the first time I meet them. I love Indian food too. But it's probably not like the kind you're used to. The food my mother and my grandmother make tastes 100x better.

I am many things, Indo-American being just one facet of my personality. But I am not my food.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Maybe Kanye Should Try to Control Himself Instead of Other People

Despite all his flaws (or maybe because of them), I will always have love for Kanye. What I'm not loving at the moment is the newly released full length version of his "Monster" video, specifically the disclaimer at the beginning of the video.

The unfinished version of this video was leaked months ago, and Kanye caught a lot of media attention for his obviously disturbing video, which combines sexuality with violence in the form of disembodied and women and dead bodies in bed with him. In his attempt to quell the criticism, Kanye tacked this message onto his video: "The following content is no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any group of people. It is an art piece and shall be treated as such."

His statement raises a number of red flags. First, if I learned anything in college, it is that intentions and interpretation do not, and in most cases, will not always agree. You might have the best intentions in the world, but that does not matter to the individuals who will interpret your work as they see fit. For instance, think about the fact that different religious groups (even within the same faith) differ on their interpretations of holy texts.

Kanye's sad attempt to control people's perceptions is futile anyway. You can't control interpretations just by telling someone not to interpret something a certain way. If anything, he is further drawing attention to the blatant misogyny in his video. One quality that has always distinguished Kanye West is his disregard for people's perceptions of him. In the past, he has had no qualms speaking his mind, or being over-dramatic for the sake of drama, and has never shown any real remorse for his actions. Apologies for Kanye are virtually nonexistent and for him to issue this disclaimer essentially implicates his understanding of how inappropriate his video is. Think about it: During the Katrina fundraiser, Kanye never said, "Excuse me while I turn this charitable occasion into a selfish demonstration of arrogance" nor did he say before stealing the mic from Taylor Swift at the VMAs, "Let me apologize for being a douche."

As for artistry, I'm not sure I understand how Kanye's rape/murder fantasies serve an artistic purpose. The combination of his lyrics and images lead me to this interpretation: Kanye's sexual appetite is so insatiable that he has become a monster, with a power so great he kills women. Well, either that, or he just gets off on sexual violence. WHICH IS NOT OK, because yes, Kanye, your message is degrading to women.

And P.S. Slapping the word "art" on your work doesn't automatically absolve your sexism. There is plenty of creepy, disturbing and offensive artwork in the world. Besides, the best part of your song is Nicki Minaj's verse, which has nothing to do with your artistry.