Tragically Mainstream

No guilt, only pleasure.

Mid-Aughts Throwback: T-Pain featuring Young Joc – Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)

by williedollars

As far as we’re concerned, pop music started in 2000. So we’re never going to throw it back any further. If you find that troubling, ask yourself, Do I actually want to listen to a guy named williedollars explain The Police to me? If the answer happens to be yes, well we do have a comments section.

Riding the bus in middle school provided a fascinating look into things I typically wasn’t cool enough to know about. The closer to the back of the bus I sat (always looking aloof, pretending like I was more interested in the book in my lap than the conversation behind me), the m0re scandalous the things I heard. A homeschooled version of me would probably be smarter and a more productive member of society, but he wouldn’t know intimately the mechanics of sex with mothers or the proper context in which to use the word faggot (answer: every context). And he wouldn’t have heard the pop music that one cool bus driver played every afternoon. You know that bus driver, the one you prayed to get on your bus at the start of each year because that bus driver turned on the radio. And in early 2007 (my eighth grade year), the radio played Buy U a Drank.

Public school me was cool with that. He was more than cool with it. He felt like he just got in on the ground floor of a revolution. I imagine what I felt the first time I heard T-Pain (and Young Joc!) was like what the Jacobins felt the first time Robespierre rolled out a guillotine. They were probably like, “Robots. Fucking robots.” And then that switched into: “This is the future. Oh my god. This, this is the future.” And that’s what Auto-Tune was like.

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Things to Do Now that Game of Thrones Season 3 has Finished: Part 1

by Henry Gorman

After a glorious ten blood-and-semen-drenched weeks, Game of Thrones has departed, leaving our television screens tragically bereft of bodily fluids for nine and a half months. I read the first four books of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire well before the first season of Game of Thrones came out, and I loved them, but never thought they would hit mainstream. I was shocked by how staggeringly popular and well-discussed the show became. But, looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The show’s producers recognized something there that I didn’t.

Tyrion

Which is why they are all now rich as Lannisters

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Hey Henry: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and What Makes Good Pop Radio

by williedollars

In this new series, williedollars asks Henry a question on facebook chat. Then they talk about it. And they’re probably the only ones who understand what they’re saying. But they post the transcript on the blog anyway.

Wednesday, June 6

8:12pm
williedollars: Hey Henry, what song on the radio is really pissing you off right now?

8:13pm
Henry Gorman: I feel bad about saying this, but
I don’t like that Daft Punk song which is now a hit

8:15pm
williedollars: Oh shit. But I kind of feel you. I spent about seven hours in the car today driving to Houston and it came on around about seven times. I listened once. But still man, people saying RAM is an instant all-time classic and you just dissed it. Explanation? I might give mine if you go first.

8:15pm
Henry Gorman: I feel like Daft Punk has huge goodwill
they’ve done so much excellent stuff
just thinking back to like, Discovery
an amazing album
so we all really, really want them to break out
and now, it’s actually happening
and we’re all really excited about it
but I feel like “Get Lucky” just isn’t a song I want to hear on the radio again and again
It’s too elevator-music-y and ambient-sounding, honestly
for a pop hit
no energy

8:23pm
williedollars: Pharrell’s voice doesn’t do anything for anybody. he’s just there. And then what we’re left with is a EDM meets seventies funk beat (is that inherently good?) with a pretty lame chorus. And once you’ve got that, I see what you’re saving about elevator music, no doubt
That said…
While it’s not a prototypical radio hit…
it’s still undeniable that the song has a great vibe to it and is about as perfectly realized for what it is (electro seventies throwback) as any song will ever be
kind of feels like teenage dream to me for just being so… complete.
or some vampire weekend stuff
and if we’re going to ever get variety on pop radio, shouldn’t it at least be in the form of fully realized songs like these, even if they don’t fit our definition of “radio song”?

8:27pm
Henry Gorman: Well, my definition of “radio song” is less about content than about function
I want a certain… intensity from my pop radio

8:27pm
williedollars: okay, I can dig that
like we have ipods and cds if we want a different feel? like that’s not radio’s inherent function?

8:28pm
Henry Gorman: well, not pop radio’s

8:28pm
williedollars: Pop radio is assumed in these conversations, henry
damn.

8:28pm
Henry Gorman: true, true

8:28pm
williedollars: this is for the fucking website bro!
but anyway, go on

8:29pm
Henry Gorman: but like, even alt-radio shit has a certain mainstreamness now
RAM was a #1 album
and that followed Vampire Weekend
but yeah
like, I want bit strident emotion or celebration
even if it’s really dumb
I think that pop music is fundamentally sort of performative
my appreciation of it is often less about the music itself and more about music-as-performance
(I often find the alt stuff that makes it through to mainstream sort of distasteful
I mean, Imagine Dragons, really?)

8:31pm
williedollars: oh god, yeah..

8:31pm
Henry Gorman: (They’re like Coldplay, but Scandinavian)

8:31pm
williedollars: I feel you so hard
(THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID)
Lyrics don’t matter in pop radio. Agreed?

8:32pm
Henry Gorman: hmmm
I dunno
I think that they’re secondary, but can still play valuable functions

8:32pm
williedollars: Unless they’re just all-time maybe, like meme-spawning, like SHAWTY GOT DEM APPLE BOTTOM JEANS, BOOTS WITH DA FUUUURRRRRR

8:32pm
Henry Gorman: Yeah, like that!
or if they have something like the immense beautiful camp vapidity of “Love You Like A Love Song”

8:33pm
williedollars: oh shit… dinner just got here….. finish that thought and can I get back to you a little later?
Selena is good at camp, btw

8:33pm
Henry Gorman: mmmhmm

8:33pm
williedollars: like, a little toooo good

8:33pm
Henry Gorman: the best

11:40pm
Henry Gorman: shall we resume this, Will?
I actually think that lyrics can really make a song, in some cases
“Somebody That I Used To Know,” for example, subverted the douchey-complaining-about-your-ex breakup song (exhibit A: “Grenade” by Bruno Mars– most ridiculous single line “Bad Woman! Bad Woman! That’s just what you are!”)
by including a verse from the ex’s perspective
and it wound up being way cooler as a result

11:44pm
williedollars: oh shit, sorry man. we ate pizza and drank wine and wattched v for vendetta and i’m kind of out of it. Is there the possibility of doing this tomorrow> i’m sorry

11:52pm
Henry Gorman: mmm, no prob, bro
we can just finish it then

Friday, June 8

10:34pm
williedollars: I think the issue we have to deal with here is that pop music is not monolithic
it’s not all club bangers and ex-disney bubblegum on pop radio
we have our indie rocker mumford-type people too and our alternative gotye guys and rappers like kanye who can manage to be fairly deep while being commercially successful
basically, the guys who supposedly exist on some higher plane of music (just ask your hipster friends, they know) who write a commercial song as a gateway to the non-commerical stuff
sara bareilles is another similar category: single white female with a guitar

10:39pm
Henry Gorman: urgh, I despise single white people with guitars

10:39pm
williedollars: but the point of this is that lyrics seem to matter for these artists, but I wonder if that’s just our idea that they’re “better” than pop radio coloring our impressions of them, making us think they’re smarter than they actually are
and “Love Song” is GOAT
so maybe the question is, why does some more alternative stuff like gotye work and other stuff like ‘get lucky’ not work?

10:41pm
Henry Gorman: well, I feel like it’s because Gotye is… well, intense

10:41pm
williedollars: like how i feel about taylor swift?

10:41pm
Henry Gorman: yeah!

10:41pm
williedollars: so we’re going back to performatives here?

10:41pm
Henry Gorman: in both cases, there’s something plaintive and powerful and authentic
I feel like it’s say, Somebody that I Used to Know vs. We are Young

10:41pm
williedollars: so either the music has to be intense or the emotion has to be intense to make up for it?

10:42pm
Henry Gorman: STIUTK is clearly better-constructed of course
but it’s also way more directed and more meaningful

10:42pm
williedollars: STIUTK… sounds like an eskimo tribe

10:42pm
Henry Gorman: Gotye is their god!

10:43pm
williedollars: here’s the thing though: i always always always prefer we are young. i need to think about why here for a second..
now that i think about it, STIUTK is also an equally great song and my preference simply comes down to taste
what i think they have in common though
is that they both have a high-low dichotomy. Emotion and intensity come through in a completely unexpected chorus in both songs.
that’s the problem with get lucky: it’s too consistent
i can vibe to that but I can’t “pop music” to that

10:45pm
Henry Gorman: hmmmm
I actually like that
I feel like a good hit pop song has some kind of explosive burst
something like an orgasm, really

10:45pm
williedollars: it was the first slightly meaningful thing i’ve written
oh, and like the end of nelly’s verse in cruise, right?
because by the way that might be my favorite song on the radio now. but i digress

10:46pm
Henry Gorman: yeah!
“Get Lucky” is like nice foreplay

10:47pm
Henry Gorman: but, ironically, given its name, it never comes

10:47pm
williedollars: deeeeeep
and maybe it works as foreplay in the context of the album. We should remember that daft punk are supposedly more focused on the album than the hits

10:47pm
Henry Gorman: yeah
and that’s totally fine

10:48pm
williedollars: boring, yes, but fine

10:48pm
Henry Gorman: well, it’s not boring in context
just boring for radio
which pulls songs out of their album context all the time

10:48pm
williedollars: yeah, exactly.
not on my radio: NOMR.
not quite as catchy as NIMBY i guess

10:48pm
Henry Gorman: hmmm
like, Kanye is great because he throws together these whole albums that work really well together
which each have a bunch of songs which totally work well on their own

10:49pm
williedollars: facebook is creepy as fuck. There’s an ad for Fun. in the corner of my screen right now
HOW DO THEY KNOW

10:49pm
Henry Gorman: ewww
but anyway
Fun is basically like Queen
or trying really hard to be like Queen

10:49pm
williedollars: dude, you’re right. Way more similarities there than i’ve ever thought to notice

10:49pm
Henry Gorman: and, like Queen, their songs build to explosions when they work well
(like say, the awesome guitar solo in “Killer Queen,” or that crazy autotune voice guitar-solo like thing in “Some Nights”)

10:50pm
williedollars: yeah, and like queen they might not be the most heart-felt, gut-wrenchingly deep songs ever, but they’re perfectly constructed anthems
which work on pop radio
give me ‘livin on a prayer’ any day back in ’87 and I’d always turn it up
if i were alive, that is

10:51pm
Henry Gorman: mmmhmm
maybe Fun is like the rebirth of ’80s Anthem rock

10:52pm
williedollars: maybe we shouldn’t only rag on daft punk here though. that’s unfair

10:52pm
Henry Gorman: No
you’re right, it really is

10:52pm
williedollars: another song that never hits any high notes for me is that Philip Phillips song

10:52pm
Henry Gorman: which one

10:52pm
williedollars: love you when you’re gone

10:52pm
Henry Gorman: (I despise Philip Philips)

10:52pm
williedollars: when you’re long gone gone
how many “L’s” on his name?
2, 3, or 4?
oh shit it’s 4
says google

10:53pm
Henry Gorman: It’s called “Gone, Gone, Gone,” I think
the song
but it sucks
yes

10:53pm
williedollars: yeah, you’re right

10:54pm
Henry Gorman
really, Phillip Phillips is like Mumford and Sons if Mumford and Sons sucked

10:54pm
williedollars: exactly
so it’s like, there’s space for a banjo on pop radio as mumford have shown.

10:54pm
Henry Gorman: Yeah!
not just banjos
but really pretentious pseudo-intellectual lyrics
that don’t even rhyme
but I really like M&S even though they’re not as deep as they think they are

10:55pm
williedollars: but you need to add ebbs and flows, make songs sound epic. there need to be breakdowns and mumford do that well. Phillip comes a bit short because he’s hasn’t figured that out. And he doesn’t have pseudo-intellectual lyrics to fall back on either.
i’m pretty neutral on mumford in general though.
they still haven’t released anything as good as ‘little lion man’ which worked because the insane banjo in it was just frenetic enough for good pop music. their newer singles are just show-stoppy enough to be passable as anthems, but this is where the banjo hurts them for me. But anthems still have pop appeal.

10:56pm
Henry Gorman: hmmm
true, true
also in banjo-space are the Lumineers

10:57pm
williedollars: ahh, yes.
no way in hell they ever have another hit single, right?
they won’t have another great song because they’re too anonymous. Marcus Mumford’s got a distinctive voice, this guy doesn’t
still, Ho Hey worked because it was explosive in just the right places

10:59pm
Henry Gorman: hmmm
I think that even songs with serious, serious weaknesses can benefit from having the right sort of orgasmic pop
“Can’t Hold Us” is a great example, I think
it’s a huge hit despite Macklemore’s enormous weakness as a rapper
because its structure and hooks and builds are so strong

11:00pm
williedollars: Is ‘skittery’ a word? I don’t think so. But like, the beat just skitters along beneath that track and you want to move and that’s what a lot of pop is about.
the reason is falls short of its potential is because macklemore doesn’t give it time to breath. we never get a build up or a drop. This is a fairly common thing in much of rap music and as a result many of the so-called “best” rap songs ever aren’t successful on pop radio
they’re not following the formula.
but rappers are forced to go commercial for a single or two each album as well and there comes the money.
not suggesting that macklemore’s a good rapper btw
but he made (or hung out around Ryan Lewis making) a great radio hit in thriftshop, which allowed him to put his second single on the air, and while the production on ‘can’t hold us’ is incredibly pop friendly, he didn’t modify his rapping enough to allow it to be so effervescently pop friendly.
he actually almost killed thrift shop this way too imo
and having no flow doesn’t help his cause either

11:04pm
Henry Gorman: hmmm
well
I guess that this raises questions about the role of vocalists vs. producers and so forth
honestly, the record seems to suggest that production is way more important
we just need to think about Katy Perry’s last year
she can’t sing at all

11:05pm
williedollars: yes, she can’t sing

11:05pm
Henry Gorman: but hit after hit after hit!
and you and I both love a lot of those songs
“Teenage Dream” especially
is all-time great

11:05pm
williedollars: okay, but we should also remember TD is like 2009

11:06pm
Henry Gorman: wait, wait, no

11:06pm
williedollars: more recent KP songs have been hits but not quite as big simply because the hook wasn’t there
‘the one that got away’ in particular comes off as trying too hard.

11:06pm
Henry Gorman: true, true

11:06pm
williedollars: was it 2009? or was i off?

11:07pm
Henry Gorman: well, the album came out in 2010
but crazily, it was producing singles for two whole years

11:07pm
williedollars: wow. that is crazy
but it had like six number ones, right?
but i’m digressing
but it was like totally six

11:08pm
Henry Gorman: mmmhmm

11:08pm
williedollars: so, anyway, all this is really just a round-about way of saying that
POP MUSIC NEEDS A HOOK
(or at least some musical or emotional intensity to try to back it up)

11:08pm
Henry Gorman: yeah
I also think that we can say that “Get Lucky” is not a bad song
just not really meant to be listened to in a pop radio context
we can’t hate on Daft Punk for that
they’re swell guys who make good music

11:09pm
williedollars: and helmets too!

11:09pm
Henry Gorman: yeah!

11:09pm
williedollars: but when you only have one chance to impress someone in their car on the radio, you’ve got to reel them in.
And i don’t think ‘get lucky’s’ got that kind of pathos

11:11pm
Henry Gorman: hmmm
does Daft Punk have a single song that does?

11:12pm
williedollars: well, i guess not
And that’s why the only time they’ve ever been in a radio hit was when, again, kanye  samped “better, harder, faster, stronger”

11:12pm
Henry Gorman: yeah, exactly

11:12pm
williedollars: so basically, DAFT PUNK GET OUT OF MY RADIO

any final thoughts?

11:16pm
Henry Gorman: nah, I think that we got this cleared up
we took a single song that didn’t seem right for radio, and spun it into a whole conversation about what “being right for radio” means

11:17pm
williedollars: slightly ambitious for a first conversation
and at least 75% of what we just said was bullshit
but so it goes.
bye henry.

11:19pm
Henry Gorman: later, Will!

Sound and (no Nick) Fury– Why Iron Man 3 is a Disappointment

by Henry Gorman

Spoilers ahoy!

Okay, first things first.

There’s a pretty good chance that you liked Iron Man 3. And you probably liked it for some good reasons. Robert Downey Jr. is still funny and charming. Gwyneth Paltrow is an assertive, capable, fully-characterized Pepper Potts. The twist revealing that Ben Kingsley’s Baptist-preacher-speaking Mandarin is just a hoax and his subsequent performance as a coked-out former stage actor are hilarious. The mandatory big superhero spectacle moments– especially Iron Man’s rescue of 13 people tumbling from Air Force 1 and the final battle at the end featuring all the suits– came off beautifully. The film’s soundtrack team hilariously and effectively called us back to 1999 at the very start. And the film offered us an excellent movie child being adorable and calling on the protagonist’s inherent morality and doing all the other stuff that movie children are supposed to do. (Yes, I know it’s fashionable to hate on movie children. But you know who else loves tossing kids into movies? Stephen. Fucking. Spielberg.)

LincolnAndSon

BOOM, LINCOLN (Spielberg and Kushner were robbed here. Fucking robbed)

But I suspect that you might have walked away from the theatre thinking that something was missing. Iron Man 3 clearly failed to fall among the best of superhero films. It never achieves The Dark Knight‘s epic, portentous thematic sweep, or the flawed but wonderful X-Men First Class‘s touching human drama or the criminally underrated The Amazing Spider-Man‘s resonance. It fails to provide even the meaty satisfaction of simple-but-solid summer blockbusters like The Avengers, Thor, or even the first Iron Man. And this is true even though many of its individual elements (acting, scene-to-scene direction, humor, spectacle) are as good as or better than those of many of those films.

So, what went wrong? Well, the film had a big chance to be about something that mattered. And it blew it. What’s up? Politics.

So, the Iron Man franchise has pretty much always been about a dude who runs a weapons-making company and then gets all upset about the consequences when he finds out that the weapons are falling into the hands of bad dudes and being used to kill innocent people. So instead, he takes the most powerful weapon of all, uses it to lay the smackdown on the people who misuse his weapons, and refuses to share it with anybody but the US government and a nebulous scary-powerful secret security organization. Which still leaves him a dude who uses his enormous wealth to put himself beyond the reach of international law and uses technology beyond the reach of everyone else to kill and injure people with impunity. He might be a morally superior dude, and the people he hunts down might usually be bad, but there’s still something kind of uncomfortable and problematic about this. In some ways, Tony Stark is a metaphor for some of the grayer aspects of US power. He’s threatened by people his firm helped to arm (just as the US was attacked by the henchmen of Osama bin Laden, who it had trained to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan), and in order to secure himself and the people he cares about, he sets himself above any authority and uses novel technology to hunt down and destroy threats (drone strikes).

The first two movies were pretty popcorny, and of course, failed to use this to do anything meaningful. But come on, guys. This was the fourth movie featuring a hugely popular character who your audiences are invested in. But at the same time, they’re probably getting tired of same old, same old Iron Man. So if you wanted the movie to be a super-success, you would need to offer them something new while still pulling on their prior investment. If this movie actually explored a real contemporary issue in a meaningful way, everyone would go apeshit. Most superhero movies generally only talk about politics in the most ham-handed and goofy way possible, even when their writers and directors should know better (*cough*Christopher Nolan*cough*)

 BaneRevolution

1% OF THE BATMANS HAVE 99% OF THE WEALTH. OCCUPY GOTHAM

The only films that have done it successfully have been the X-Men movies, which tend to work because they can talk about issues without explicitly talking about them– being a mutant can be a metaphor for being Jewish, being black, being gay…

XMenFirstClass_CharlesEric

By the time X-Men: First Class came out, the writers were tired of you not getting the point and just made the homosexuality explicit.

So, if you pulled this off, it would have meant a lot. And you had something big that would have let you do that. And you blew it. What did you waste? BEN FUCKING KINGSLEY.

Yes, the revelation that Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is no more than a coked-out actor was fucking hilarious. But consider what the film loses when it makes that revelation. In his videos, Kingsley’s Mandarin is compelling and menacing. His voice is like “a Baptist preacher’s.” He speaks with a chilling moral certainty. And he totally raises a whole bunch of issues about capitalism and American power, some things that Tony Stark totally represents– albeit in a vague and incoherent way.

If they had stuck with him as the main villain, and actually developed it well, it would have been amazing. Because Kingsley is a compelling motherfucker. And he’s Gandhi! Dude, just think about Gandhi calling out and challenging Tony Stark (and implicitly us, America) about the problems surrounding capital accumulation and arbitrary exercise of power. And then being terrifying and horrifyingly killing a whole bunch of people in unpredictable ways, Heath Ledger Joker-style. It would have shocked us hard and made us really think about shit. Postcolonial-type shit.

 FrantzFanon

Frantz Fanon Approves (I can’t figure out who painted this.

Anyone who helps with attribution gets a cookie!

UPDATE: It’s by Mustapha Boutadjine.  Ike Jose figures it out within an hour of posting!  )

But instead, Kingsley is a fraud and his backer, a much less compelling man who has a much more boring plot to inflict perpetual war on the world in order to make a profit from arms-dealing, is the real villain. Yawn. We had evil arms-dealing profiteers in the first Iron Man movie, guys, and it didn’t really mean anything then either. This shit’s played out. You had a chance to get some major thematic depth out of your villain, and blew it. Don’t be proud of yourselves.

PS: The film also totally screwed up its handling Stark’s PTSD, but I’ll talk about that later, with my own personal Greatest Disappointment of Oscar Season 2012.  I’m talking about YOU, Silver Linings Playbook

The Week in VEVO: A Painting with Your VEVO

by williedollars

If you want to just see all the newest music videos from everyone who matters, no one’s stopping you from going to VEVO.com’s music video premieres page. But if you want a different gimmick each week to add a totally unnecessary new layer of meaning to these videos, well, you’ve probably come to the only place on the internet for that.

This week: ART HISTORICALLY NOTABLE PAINTINGS TO COMPLEMENT YOUR MUSIC VIDEOS

I like to imagine the guys in the thawbs are actually Kanye, Big Sean, and 2 Chainz fresh off the set of the Mercy video, having decided sensibly to resell the car and invest the profits in Baroque paintings. But I guess you can read this photo differently too if you want to.

I like to imagine the guys in the thawbs are actually Kanye, Big Sean, and 2 Chainz fresh off the set of the Mercy video, having decided sensibly to resell the car and invest the profits in Baroque paintings. But I guess you can read this photo differently too if you want to.

Mariah Carey – #Beautiful (Explicit Version) ft. Miguel

Let’s count the ways Mariah phones it in on this song and video: 1. She lets Miguel sing the opening verse AND the chorus! 2. She makes a video that consists of absolutely nothing but her doing a little sexy dance for Miguel! 3. She obviously ad-libs the entire dance! 4. She puts a hashtag in front of the song name!

How could Mariah do this? This seems as preposterous as, I don’t know, like, the formative French impressionist painter  Édouard Manet giving up painting masterpieces like Olympia and Le déjeuner sur l’herbe to paint stalks of asparagus! Something like that would never happ–Oh, wait.

Ke$ha – Crazy Kids ft. will.i.am

Since Ke$ha’s gone RiFF RAFF-style crazy in this video, I figured it’s only appropriate to introduce her to one of modern art’s crazies, the surrealist Yves Tanguy. Why a lesser-known surrealist like Tanguy? Well, because for one thing, Crazy Kids is not as good as some of Ke$ha’s best work, just as Tanguy wasn’t as visionary as someone like Dali. However, it also seems like the song’s slowly building chorus could bounce around nicely in the otherworldly landscape of Tanguy’s Mama, Papa is Wounded! Or at least will.i.am could swim through it I guess.

Il Volo – We Are Love

Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier isn’t laughing at them for singing pop opera because hey man, that shit’s HUGE in Austria. He’s laughing at them for guy on the right’s outfit at 1:24.

Jessie J – WILD ft. Big Sean and Dizzee Rascal

Jessie J is a little bit too full of herself much like a certain Young British Artist who covered a platinum skull cast with a couple thousand diamonds, called it “art,” and then couldn’t find any poor sap to buy it off him for his ridiculous asking price. It’s starting to get embarrassing listening to her “show off” her voice by recklessly throwing it at whatever gratuitous power note she can find and coming up with a warble that autotune can just barely save. She does this in Domino too, but that is a much better-composed pop song than WILD, so we overlook it there. WILD simply won’t stay in my head like its predecessor, even if Jessie struts alone like a star for a full minute at the beginning of the video. Speaking of the video, Jessie is apparently surrounded by other over-inflated-ego people including the supposed artiste directing the video, Emil Nava. Dude, Emil, if you’re going to put your name in big letters at the start of the video, at least make sure it’s better than Mariah’s phone it in video from above. I’m not sure it is.

Also, I know that skull’s not a painting.

P9 – My Favorite Girl

This is apparently an up-and-coming boy band from Brazil. I’m truly sorry for having introduced you to them. There are many questions to ask about this video (like what the fuck is every person in the band except the blond kid doing?!) but I will limit my analysis to the lyrics. I don’t fault them for not speaking English as their first language, but there is literally more literal meaning in the “words” in Cy Twombly’s Blackboard Paintings than there is in the lyrics to My Favorite Girl. I don’t know how but there just is. Also, what sounds worse? Fingernails screeching across that painting or P9ers screeching the word “GIRRRRRRRRRRRRLLLL”?

Snoop Lion – Ashtrays and Heartbreaks ft. Miley Cyrus

Apparently there’s enough darkness in the world right now to make Snoop change his name and start kind-of-singing and make Miley Cyrus believe that even she is qualified to help people through their addiction issues and stuff. All these concerning revelations should indicate that the end is near, so prepare yourself by studying the work of Ad Reinhardt which reveals all the subtle little gradiations where lives, and musical careers, can go wrong.

Tyga – For The Road ft. Christ Brown

The video for the catchiest song of the week (mainly because Chris Brown is on fire right now) switches up the color palette from that last downer. The only thing to remember about this video is that while Tyga and Chris may be looking extra fly in all white and about to head to Rack City for one last “fuck for the road,” once the camera turns off and their girls are gone, they’ll look a lot more like Gilles in their white clothes, like lonely, mocked pierrots as painted by Antoine Watteau. And with that, I think I just created an unnecessary downer out of this video too! Mission accomplished for just another week in VEVO.

Counterfactuals: On Cherche Nemo

by Henry Gorman

Pixar has never been afraid to tap into well-beloved mythologies to drive its films. Brave pulled its threads from a rich tapestry of Celtic folklore. Cars derived its appeal from America’s cult of motorsport. Up has a high-adventure ancestry stretching back through Indiana Jones and the tales of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs to a foundation of Western literature, the Odyssey itself. The Incredibles drew its strength from two of the mightiest modern American myths: the all-powerful superhero and the even stronger nuclear family.

TheIncredibles

 Nothing can stop the power of heteronormative procreation!

But Pixar has also tapped into a mythos even more sacred to filmmakers’ hearts. I’m referring, of course, to that 1960s-era explosion of cinematic creativity, the French New Wave.

JulesEtJim

 A poster from Jules et Jim, an archetypal French New Wave film.

Yes, this counts as meeting the art history quota.  Shut up.

Where, we might ask, is this influence most visible? Perhaps, one might think, in Toy Story, a film which simultaneously highlights its characters’ artificial nature and their very real pain, using its characters’ status as commodities themselves to subtly comment on the condition of human beings trapped in a capitalist world. Or, perhaps in Ratatouille, a film that raises questions about the nature of creation, authenticity, and art. Or The Incredibles, which, like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, appropriates the iconography of speculative fiction for its own possibly subversive purposes.

But no! We see the influence of that French cinematic tidal wave most sharply in the most surprising of films: Finding Nemo, that heartwarming tale of a father clownfish’s quest to save his son. What you probably don’t know is that Finding Nemo is a remake of On Cherche Nemo, a mostly-forgotten masterpiece released by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963.

FindingNemo

100% Pure Art Cinema, motherfuckers

On Cherche Nemo is set in the big French port city of Marseilles. There, a moody, withdrawn widower named Marlin (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) lives alone in his apartment with his beloved, crippled son, a boy named Nemo. Marlin is finally convinced by his caring neighbors to take the boy to school. Unfortunately, at the day’s end, the lad, in a fit of rebellion, wanders off on his own at the day’s end and becomes lost.

BelmondoForlorn

Belmondo as Marlin, wandering forlorn through the city

The shy Marlin is forced to explore the world for the first time as he wanders the streets of Marseilles searching for his son. He is accosted by three vicious gangsters who debate what to do with him while pointedly imitating the tropes of 1930s American gangster film. As Marlin is about to perish at their hands, he is saved by the intervention of  Dorée, a playful young woman (played by Anna Karina, of course) who has such disdain for the past that she refuses to acknowledge its existence. Together, Marlin and Dorée wander about Marseilles looking for the boy, frequently turning to talk to the camera about their adventures. Dorée’s deliberate forgetfulness underlines the fragmentation produced by Goddard’s typical narrative style and his extensive use of jump cuts.

 MBDTWWO EC001

Belmondo as Marlin again, in the now-infamous “chicken scene”

Nemo, meanwhile, finds himself in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. He is surrounded by a motley cast of characters, representative of a broad variety of human types. All of them have been waiting to leave the office forever, but have failed to escape. They talk to Nemo about themselves. It quickly becomes clear that the room is symbolic of life in what Jean-Paul Sartre calls “bad faith,” and none of them will be able to escape until they recognize the nature of the human condition.

Marlin and Dorée negotiate a series of hazards, including a mysterious mob of masked knife-wielding strangers who reveal themselves to be harmless when Dorée plays with them (the jellyfish in Finding Nemo), and a kindly, carefree beatnik who gives them a ride in his car (the turtle). Marlin develops courage and no longer lives in fear of the world around him, at one point driving a car into the water to demonstrate his liberation.

 PierrotCarInWater

Their car, in the water

Ultimately, the pair arrive at the waiting room, where, with the help of the inmates, Dorée and Marlin are able to save Nemo from the depths of anomie. The film ends happily with all three liberated from the chains of past experience.

Disclaimer: Everything above is totally made up.  But you probably wish it was true.

Did you REALLY need that guest verse? Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly – Cruise (Remix)

by williedollars

Did you know you can make a pop hit WITHOUT a guest rap verse in it? Haha, that was a joke–in 2013, you can’t! These verses immediately make any song “edgier” and therefore more playable, but do they really make it better? The answer: it depends. That’s why every week I’ll take a look at whatever new hot pop song is tearing up the airwaves and rate from 1 to 10 how much the song REALLY needed its guest verse.

DISCLAIMER: In this post I will attempt to take the band name Florida Georgia Line seriously. It’s way too ridiculous to take seriously in real life, but I’m afraid that if I started unloading every corny joke I’ve got, then well, I’d be here for awhile. So consider this restraint a New Blog Resolution.

Florida Georgia Line had it all: a guy from Florida, a guy from Georgia, a brand-new Chevy with a lift kit, and the most successful debut country single ever in Cruise. But maybe after ten weeks atop the country charts, they grew tired of watching bikinis popping right out of the south Georgia water (did the Florida guy push hard for “north Florida water?”) and admitted to themselves that there was something missing.

They needed a Line.

Wait, shit. I wasn’t supposed to do that … … … Fuck it. Time to take it a step further.

They found one: NELLY.

#nellystrong

The history of country music and hip hop is neither long nor illustrious. (That said, I see you Jason Aldean and Ludacris!) Nevertheless, when Florida and Georgia decided they needed a Line, Nelly saw this as a chance to confirm GOAT status in the country-rap genre (aka CRAP?).  Wait, you say. Confirm? Yes. You see, this is not Nelly’s first CRAP (I’m keeping it) collaboration. The truly ancient among you might remember his first, and still greatest, hit was 2000’s Country Grammar. But that’s not actually CRAP, just a hint that he was open to the idea. His crowning achievement in the genre, in fact THE crowning achievement in the genre, came four years later. I hope I’m not showing you anything new:

Nelly made a statement with this song and video. This isn’t about highlighting the differences between hip hop and country: this is about showing the potential for remarkable similarity, both in musical stylings and life. Tim and Nelly wake up together! They wear do-rags together! They sing the chorus together! Nelly probably made up for at least 75 seconds of slavery with this video, which, trust me, is more than you’ve done. Oh, but just to make sure no one thought that he hadn’t quite ventured the way from CRAP to *whisper it* modern country, he did this too:

God, was 2004 a great year or what?

God, was 2004 a great year or what?

Not simply awkward. Not boringly seamless. But awkward to the point of seamlessness.

That’s why Over and Over was the CRAP GOAT.

Was.

With the Cruise remix, NelLine outdid himself. Let’s remember seamless awkwardness and go through a video checklist: 1. Plausible rapport established between Line and FlaGa via a phone call in which Nelly replaces the words “All right,” with something like “Oaheh” and then says “Yo I was checkin out the Cruise video mane, hey dat thing the deal bruh. I think we need to turn it up though, whadcha think?” Check.  2. Equal-opportunity objectification of women via the inclusion of both white and black models in skimpy outfits? Check. 3. Country solidarity via Line donning a denim shirt? Check. 4. Hip hop solidarity via Line and Georgia making swagged out circular motions while Florida shouts an obscenity?

Delicious Check.

Of course, I could analyze the video all day long, but then I’d be missing the point of this exercise. The question is whether Nelly’s verse makes the song itself better. When I’m driving around with my radio turned up, what gets me more excited: the original Cruise or CRAP Cruise? It’s best to look at what Nelly’s verse replaces. In the original’s bridge, FlaGa break it down into a classic modern country campfire sing-along ballad complete with parked cars and loving looks between artist and muse. Instantly, we’ve switched from rollicking good time buddy song to Alabama-style let’s-get-serious monogamous crooning. It just feels off for this particular song and even more off for any kind of a pop radio adaptation.

Nelly, what with his keen feel for the sentiment at the heart of any song, understands that what’s most needed is the complete opposite: a verse to speed things up. Sexual excitement has only been building since the song’s first chord, so why doesn’t he ratchet it up all the way, faster, faster, faster, with a bunch of little “Yeah, yeah, yeahs” before his verse and then slobbering lines like “I like saw all that, all that / head to toe, you all that” and “So come on shawty let me show you what the fast like” until, and this is the genius part… he catches himself. It’s as if one of Fla and Ga tapped him on the shoulder mid-verse and said “Whoa whoa whoa Line! Remember, this song is called Cruise.” Snap back to reality (mid-verse!) and Line’s back posin’ with his new boys, cooly rap-singing the almost definitely metaphorical line “Whipping ‘cross the border / Florida into Georgia” before bouncing back and setting them up before the final chorus with one of pop music’s great, shit’s-about-to-explode break-downs: “‘Cause you make me wanna roll my / Roll my / ROLL MY / RA-RA-RA-OHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ROLL MY WINDOWS DOWN...  AND CRUUUUUUUUUUUISE

ROLL MY WINDOWS DOWN…
AND CRUUUUUUUUUUUISE

Questions remain about the future viability of CRAP. But no questions remain as to its reigning king. Florida and Georgia put out a song that got Nelly hot and bothered, and rather than wither back into his safe space of generic sing-song radio hip hop, he realized that all three of these country boys wanted the same damn thing and powered through with a verse that unceasingly escalated into the bombastic orgasmic climax that Cruise always deserved. Long live Line.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

“New Slaves,” Class, and Kanye’s Identity:

by Henry Gorman

kanye-west-new-slaves-dj-fresh-direct-remix

(image credit: hypetrack.com)

A few days ago, Kanye West’s face appeared on the walls of the world’s great cities. And like another great apparition-on-a-wall, the hand that wrote at Belshazzar’s feast-hall, it transmitted words of doom. Yeezus, our new, self-proclaimed messiah told us of “blood on the leaves” to come.

belshazzars

Meeting our gratuitous art history quota: John Martin’s Belshazzar’s Feast

As Will noted in his last post, this message only appeared in a few cities, to the one-percenters who could gaze upon the walls of Prada shops and Williamsburg brownstones. He argued that this choice indicates that Kanye has grown fundamentally distant from the masses and thrives on the support of one-percenters as he spits on Middle America.

And there is something in the lyrics of New Slaves that supports this. The song’s first verse quickly becomes a series of take-thats to critics of his fashion line, and the second opens with a proudly proclaimed “I throw these Maybach keys!” and laments his inability to escape from the papparazzi. For Kanye’s non-super-rich fans– most of us– there is something distancing about all of this. Most of us will never own a Maybach or open a fashion line or have strangers want to take pictures of us. And so, these moments– like Kanye’s choices of place to issue his revelation, make it feel like Kanye is trying to tell us that he’s not one of us.

Excelero

 A Maybach Excelero, which you will never own (wikimedia commons)

But the song’s class politics are also intensely hostile to the propertied class Yeezy is a member of. Kanye’s song seethes about social injustices. He invokes discrimination against his mama’s generation. He laments blacks’ higher rates of imprisonment, driven by the selective prosecutions of the DEA and the greed of private prison corporations like the CCA. And the 1-percenters who operate these institutions are not his friends, not one bit. To them, he declares “Fuck you and your Hampton house!/I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse!/Came on her Hampton blouse!/And in her Hapmton mouth!” He sees “the blood on the leaves.”

Perhaps then, he chose his broadcast locations not so that he could identify with his inhabitants, but so that he could warn them. West comes like a Jonah, warning the wealthy sinners of the world’s opulent metropolises to repent before he starts “going Bobby Boucher” on their asses.

But as he chides and admonishes the rich, he remains one of their Maybach-driving number Alexander Wang-wearing number. The song presents a paradox– how could one who chides the rich also spend so much time (in this song, other songs, and the twitter feed where he proclaimed himself “THE LOUIS VUITTON DON”) talking about being one of their number?

If we are to understand this paradox, we have to thoroughly examine Kanye’s discussions of his lifestyle. At first glance, they appear to be simple genre-conventional bragging and image-making. Like warriors in old-Norse poetry, rappers are obliged to assert their skills with epic boasts and denigrate their opponents in order to assert their identity as badasses.

Jay-Z, Kanye’s one-time patron, friend, and collaborator is a master of this sort of contemporary flyting. He manages to turn almost every aspect of his self-narration into an assertion of his own worth. On the opening track of The Black Album, “December 4th,” he even traces it back to before his birth: “I was conceived by Gloria Carter and Adaness Revees /Who made love under the sycamore tree/Which makes me/A more sicker M.C.” His whole body of work acts to present a carefully cultivated persona.

Kanye, however, is far looser than Jay-Z. We need only consider the body of songs where the two men rap together. Sometimes, as on “Monster,” where Ye proclaims “Stop it, stop it, n*ggas I got this, EVERYBODY KNOWS I’M A MOTHERFUCKING MONSTER!”, and Jay bemoans the “vampires and bloodsuckers” who have followed him into fame, Kanye’s boasting style seems aligned with his mentor’s. But in “N*ggas in Paris,” where Jay-Z starts off the track with much more conventional boasting (“I’m gonna go Michael/Take your pick/Jackson/Tyson/Jordan, Game Six”), Kanye takes the track to a weirder and more delightful places, most memorably when he talks about how he would one-up Prince William (“If I was him I would have MARRIED KATE AND ASHLEY!”). The contrast is even sharper on the remixed version of “Diamonds in Sierra Leone” on Late Registration. In his plaintive opening verse, Kanye talks about civil war, conflict diamonds, and the high human cost of bling (“I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless/ ‘Til I seen a picture of a shorty armless”). Jay-Z focuses instead on his own capabilities: “Difficult takes a day/Impossible takes a week.”

Kanye’s discussion of his wealth is not simple rapper image-building. It’s just a facet of the single most important thing about him. He states plainly states that fact in “New Slaves” after declaring “I throw those Maybach keys!”– “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” Kanye’s music and his public persona are mostly-unfiltered expressions of his emotions and experience. This is a guy whose first two albums featured songs about his love of Jesus, his anxiety about kids dying for his bling, his sorrow at his grandmother’s death, and his unrestrained love for his mother. These are not songs recorded with the intention of making you think that he’s a badass. And Kanye hasn’t fundamentally changed in recent years. Even “Power,” a self-celebrating tune about fame, he displays a characteristic vulnerability: “How’s Ye doin?/I’m survivin’/I was drinking earlier/Now I’m drivin’/Where the bad bitches, ha?/Where ya hidin’?” Even in a song highlighting the peak of his fame (which he has complicated feelings towards, wryly referring to himself as “the abomination of Obama’s nation”), he paints a picture of himself as a sad, tipsy man trolling about town in his car seeking bad bitches that just won’t come to him. He’s willing to reveal himself at his most vulnerable and pathetic even as he celebrates his high status.

If we read Kanye’s discussions of his wealth and success in light of this total emotional openness, we really see that they are mostly just statements about his experience of his life as a rich and famous person. “New Slaves” is uneven because it reflects an unevenness within Kanye’s own experience. He lives as one of his society’s wealthiest and most powerful people, but remains conscious of the plight of the people he grew up with. He still feels their pain, and throws it, and all the anger he feels about it into his music.  A friend of mine suggested that he really is a confessional poet, much like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath.  It is fitting that Kanye, the champion of American poetry’s most popular genre, is also the heir of one of its most respected literary forms.

220px-Anne_Sexton_by_Elsa_Dorfman

Anne Sexton, ready to lay down some rhymes (wikimedia commons)

Forsaken by Yeezus

by williedollars

On the night of May 17, Kanye West projected a performance New Slaves on 66 screens in ten cities throughout the world. The rest of the world remained dark.

On the night of May 17, Kanye West projected a performance New Slaves on 66 screens in ten cities throughout the world. The rest of the world remained dark.

If only by the grace of Jørn Utzon, Sydney was saved. All bets were off before the feudal reigns of Drake and LeBron, but fortunately for Toronto and Miami the sixth coming occurred in 2013 and they too were saved. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Paris and Berlin never had to worry: they would always be saved. As for the rest, cities and towns from the American bible belt to the Argentinian Pampas to the Altai Mountains, the night of May 17 will henceforth be remembered as the night the dark lord kept mum, the night they were forsaken by Yeezus.

It was foretold. He gave them time to make the necessary preparations. At 6:34 Eastern, his twitter feed sprang to life with the proclamation in all caps and they knew they had four hours. Some desperately scanned the darkened map of locations then refreshed and scanned again, wondering when the red dot would appear over Tokyo or Barcelona or Rio, wondering when He would realize his mistake. He’d made mistakes before, they reassured themselves. Yet the map stayed dark. Even worse, the world grew dark around them as day slid into joyless, unholy night and the walls of their city stayed dark too. The betrayal was felt less deeply elsewhere. Maybe a few in Houston optimistically clicked the link, but those in Pittsburgh simply nodded and resolutely accepted. They had been living on borrowed time anyway, as if those churning, primal utterances beneath Clique were pacing a select few to the promised land and the rest to their final silence. He said as much on that record itself: “Break records at Louis / Ate breakfast at Gucci.” For those in cities without hulking Art Deco flagships on the corner of the Champs-Élysées, warning was delivered months ago.

The forsaken masses were forced to turn to the internet to watch how it unfolded secondhand. For all it has done to subvert the monoculture, the internet is just as capable of turning any video or meme into a tour de force in a new global mainstream. In this mainstream, Gangnam Style has 1.6 billion views. And as with every other star today, the internet is culpable for Kanye West’s transition from a man once ridiculed for his suggestion that He would be a bit player in a modern day Bible to an immortal whose fans excitedly believed His new album would be titled I Am God and were almost disappointed to end up with just Yeezus.

But once assured of His throne, He moved to weed out unbelievers from his court. He targeted the flyover state masses, the ones who still participate in the old modes of monoculture. First He humiliated country/pop radio sweetheart Taylor Swift; then He swept in and impregnated reality tv icon Kim Kardashian. What angers these women’s followers most  is that they cannot figure out how Kanye became a star on equal footing with those two in the first place. And how has His destabilizing influence only grown over the past three years? Did He not lose the respect of millions of people with those blasphemies?

Yes, and that was the plan. Those millions are not the right kind of people. They are neither trendsetting youth nor luxury globetrotters. They have  never “popped champagne on a plane / while getting some brain” or asked “What’s that jacket? Margiela?” They are merely the 99%, associated with a lack of money but more importantly with a lack of the nebulous term “taste.” In these times, the worshipers at Yeezus’ temple are the 1%. The backing of the 1% of every kind of tastemaker–from the music critics who hailed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as an instant classic to the fashion designers who sat Him in the front row in Milan–can keep an artist’s career more than merely “afloat.” And it goes unsaid that Kanye’s chosen ones are most highly concentrated in the ten global cities where he debuted New Slaves the night of May 17.

Well, Margiela for H&M. But it still makes Him happy and a happy god is a benevolent god!

Well, Margiela for H&M. But it still makes Him happy and a happy god is a benevolent god!

But the internet insistently remained as the leveler. Not all who love Kanye live in the chosen cities. Lot lived compassionately in Sodom, did he not? Somewhere, a whisper carries out of China, “So many of us here love your music too even if we continue to be persecuted for listening to it! Persecuted by those who do not understand! Oh please help us Yeezus, please!” Yeezus had no choice but recognize that He could only gradually tone down His accessibility to the masses. Music videos became rarer, always confusing and never normal length. YouTube populism could be saved for Bieber. The twitter feed would continue, but only for strictly regulated promotional purposes: a feed with only 3 tweets for 9 million followers. Over the past month, videos of performances of any new material leaked onto the internet, of course, as did videos of the 66 buildings of New Slaves so the forsaken ones can sneak glances even now.

But they are only glances at shadows. The world has gone dark outside of the chosen cities, dark with nothing left but grainy bootlegged audio through laptop speakers. They have been turned around so that the fire now burns behind them and the true glory can no longer be seen save for by the New Yorker who himself walked outside the cave right into the Met Gala or a Williamsburg brownstone or the SNL audience.

Kanye grudgingly accepts that certain modes of monoculture must still be utilized, however it is not difficult to tell that he appears cold and alone during the credits of SNL.

Kanye grudgingly accepts that certain modes of monoculture must still be utilized, however it is not difficult to tell that he appears cold and alone during the credits of SNL.

Did Yeezus feel anything when He cut the excess weight, leaving so many followers out cold due simply to location? When He damned them to silence with ten red dots at the wrong spots on a map? The World Wide Web has not stopped integrating all humanity into a single network, but Yeezus has decided to stop patronizing it. And why would He when the World Wide Yeezy Projection Network is doing such a brisk business in the production of a supernova of hype, cult and exclusivity? Call Him an egomaniac or a Luddite and condemn Him for betraying those who were loyal. Or praise Him because He possessed the resolve to see his final vision through. It will not matter. He does not listen. He judged your city a dick or a swallower and will not be questioned further. Those in Sydney especially should care to celebrate unobtrusively.

Oh hey there, it's just me, Italy, haaaanging out over here, wondering exactly how exactly zero of my cities got picked. Keep it 300, like the Romans, right Kanye? Oh yeah, we totally get that chorus line from your new song Black Skinhead because, believe it or not, the historical era you're referring to was actually centered in ROME, unlike any of your premiers.

Oh hey there, it’s just me, Italy, haaaanging out over here, wondering exactly how exactly zero of my cities got picked. Keep it 300, like the Romans, right Kanye? Oh yeah, we totally get that chorus line from your new song Black Skinhead because, believe it or not, the historical era you’re referring to was actually centered in ROME, unlike any of your premiers.

A Perfect and Beautiful Imagination: Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby

by Henry Gorman

Image

Spoilers will follow. But you probably read this book in high school anyway, so you should go right ahead.

First things first: Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is really fucking different from that book you read in high school. Fitzgerald’s novel is measured, subtle, and delicately crafted. Its title is ironic. It ends with a revelation of Gatsby’s hollowness. His grandstanding, elaborate public persona is but a paper-thin sham covering pathetic dreams.

Baz Luhrman, glorious grandiose cinematic man-child that he is, has no time for boring things like “subtletly” or “irony” or “ten minutes without any intense images or sound.” His Jay Gatsby is unapologetically great. His film preserves Gatsby’s history, but it reveals his deceptions at its midpoint rather than its end, and changes their presentation. Gatsby’s fabulations cease to be shameful marks of his hidden life, and instead become manifestations of his idealistic and incorruptible dream. As Carey Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan would say, they emanate from his “perfect and beautiful imagination.” The film shares his excess, replacing the book’s dry sensibility with a sustained explosion of color, costuming, and copulation, all set to a furious soundtrack of thunderous hip-hop beats, bombastic contemporary pop, and roaring automobile engines. Clearly Luhrman, himself a mad dreamer of the first class, could not but celebrate the earnest young man who, in his film, once gazed at the Milky Way shining above his tawdry North Dakota home and decided that he could become more.

Some among you will shout “Baz is bastardizing Gatsby! It’s time to pan this motherfucker!” But I do not make a fetish of any novel, and I have no truck with those who demand that adaptations not transform their source material. The unsanctioned offspring of Fitzgerald’s prose and Luhrman’s lurid mind is a powerful and original work of art which exquisitely captures the atmosphere and feel of its setting.

Again, you will cry out: “But how can this be? Surely, there was not rap music in the 1920s! Girls should be doing the Charleston, not anything this booty-shaking! Also, parties were not that crazy! Colors were not that bright! New York was not that sunny and shining! Motor-cars were not that fast or loud!”

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(1920s star Josephine Baker doing the Charleston)

But here, Baz Luhrman’s abandons specific visual and auditory details in service of the “feel” of the city in the 1920s. Skyscrapers had just begun to spring up. Jazz was a new, transgressive, and indubitably black form of music. The “Modern Girl” flirted and smoked and Charlestoned her way into American cities’ streets and American boys’ hearts, aggressively challenging traditional ideas about female sexuality. The speed and energy of motorcars was so fresh and astonishing that an Italian poet could build a new art movement on the experience of a single night out running over dogs and crashing in a ditch (This is in Filipo Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto. Go google it and read it. You will not regret it). And life in the modern city, with its constant barrage of information and stimulation, was absolutely overwhelming to people who had just journeyed there. German thinkers like Walter Benjamin and Georg Simnel, seeking to explain the turmoil and unease that gripped their world, treated this overwhelming sensory stimulation, and the sense of both awe and disorientation that it caused, as one of the determining features of life in the modern capitalist world.

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(The City as seen by Modernist Painter Fernand Leger)

It’s just impossible for us to experience the reality of 1920s New York as 1920s New Yorkers did. Jazz today is for bourgeois-bohemians and old people. Flapper dresses and the Charleston are the province of quaint theme parties. Cars are just how we get to work. And thanks to TV and the internet, we’ve been stimulated since birth. So Baz Luhrman replaced all the period-accurate things that just wouldn’t evoke right sensations with things that would. Jazz not edgy or black enough? Use hip-hop! Cars not loud and crazy enough? Crank up the speed and volume! World not stimulating enough! Fill it with color! By ignoring the details of the 1920s, he captures their feeling better than a measured, unstylized, accurate representation actually would. And that is a fantastic achievement.

Of course, all this stimulation will leave some viewers exhausted. The film could have used more variation. Its grittier moments in the Valley of Ashes, which reveal the darker side of modernity– pollution, industrial ugliness, a dirty and alienated working class– are striking because of their contrast to the rest of the film. Luhrman should have given us more of this kind of feeling– both to better represent the era and to heighten the most intense moments of debauchery.

But I am willing to forgive this flaw in such an audacious film. One scene, where Nick Carraway gets drunk for only the second time in his life, will remain in my memory forever. Never has a director made the simple act of partying so gloriously Dionysian. The whole film is a Bacchanal, suffused with the same savage, joyous imaginative intensity that fills its male lead’s heart.