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Album review: Taylor Swift, ‘1989’

Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

In a schadenfreude kind of way, I like that “1989” represents Taylor Swift’s further descent from hopeless romantic toward bitter cynicism. Thanks for joining us, Taylor.

She’s always been great at capturing a uniquely Millennial kind of loneliness characterized by a desperation for love but an inability to figure out how to really connect with anyone. This is especially evident in “Out of the Woods,” a haunting song about struggling to hold onto a new relationship with the chorus repeatedly chanting, “Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet?”

Another excellent melancholy song about ill-fated love is “I Know Places.” Again, Taylor depicts clinging to a doomed relationship, singing, “See the vultures circling, dark clouds. / Love’s a fragile little thing, it could burn out. / It could burn out. / ‘Cause they got the cages, they got the boxes, / And guns. / They are the hunters, we are the foxes, / And we run.” The dark tone of the song is enhanced with a few edgier vocal embellishments and an overall lower, more somber pitch to the music.

Probably the best straightforward pop song on the album is “All You Had to Do Was Stay.” It features a strong chorus and deals with an all-too-relatable subject matter, which is Taylor’s specialty. The ultra high-pitched punctuation of “stay” throughout the song is an amazing touch.

I do wish that we, as a society, knew less gossip about Taylor’s personal life, because I found it essentially impossible to separate what I “know” about her from the music itself. Maybe I would have liked “Bad Blood” more if I could have heard it as a song about being betrayed by a friend rather than a song about that time Katy Perry snatched all of the dancers from Taylor’s tour to use for her own, but we’ll never know because Taylor’s music can’t really stand on its own anymore. (Although I would venture a guess that the song would still suck either way.)

In addition to “Bad Blood,” there are some real weak points on the album.

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Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

The first single, “Shake It Off,” is quite bad, but it still gets stuck in my head all the time. It’s an obnoxiously catchy pop song that sounds like Avril Lavigne circa 2007, which is also coincidentally the last time it was clever to use the phrase “Haters gonna hate.” The worst part is the horrifyingly embarrassing spoken word bit in the middle: “Hey, hey, hey! Just think: while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world, you could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.” Let’s not and say we did.

“Wildest Dreams” is such an overtly obvious attempt at a Lana Del Rey track it’s a little painful. It’s not a bad melody, though. I also enjoyed it when it was “Without You” on Lana’s 2012 album, “Born to Die.”

Overall, I think Taylor is a good storyteller, a strong songwriter and a great businesswoman. She’s phenomenal at marketing herself and interacting with her fans. The deluxe edition of the album includes three “voice memos” that detail Taylor’s writing process for a few choice songs, which is a cool insight and makes me kind of want to hang out and write music with her.

However, I don’t think she has a commanding presence or any star power, which is weird because she’s become a huge star. She doesn’t have much vocal range, and she was wildly disappointing when I saw her perform live a couple of weeks ago on Hollywood Boulevard.

Altogether, I can’t really say that “1989” is any better or worse than any of Taylor Swift’s previous albums. It has about the exact same handful of good songs as ever, alongside the same number of boring ballads and boring dance-pop tracks. The tl;dr of it is that she attempted to go in a different direction but achieved basically the same result.

Taylor Swift
1989
Release Date: Oct. 27
Genre: Pop
Grade: C+

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Live: Miley Cyrus Bangerz Tour

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Miley Cyrus performs “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” with Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips at the Staples Center in February. SCREAMfmLondon

On May 6, Miley Cyrus plans to finally return to the stage, resuming her world tour in London after rescheduling an Amsterdam concert date and postponing the final leg of her US tour. The final US dates of the Bangerz Tour were pushed back until August, when Miley will perform nine additional concerts in the Eastern part of the states.

Earlier in April, Miley faced some considerable setbacks when her beloved dog died, causing her to have a pretty heartbreaking public meltdown. Shortly thereafter, the medication she was taking for a sinus infection caused a severe allergic reaction, and she had to be hospitalized for many days.

It’s a bummer to see her slowed down when the Bangerz Tour began with such incredible forward momentum.

I attended one of the first Bangerz Tour dates on Feb. 22 at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. It was a truly impressive spectacle with enough costume changes, larger-than-life props and choreographed dance routines to make your head spin, really.

Anchored by Miley’s strong stage presence, her concerts are the perfect blend of both polished performance and off-the-cuff spontaneity. I was expecting some zaniness — I knew that she would enter via her trademark tongue-slide protruding from a giant projection of her own face, for example. She delivered zaniness and then some: she pretended to fellate a dancer dressed as Bill Clinton during “Party in the USA” and leaned off the stage to initiate a kiss with Katy Perry, who was in the audience, during “Adore You.”

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Protesters outside of the Bangerz Tour at the Staples Center. SCREAMfmLondon

About halfway through the concert, Miley migrated to another stage at the back of the venue, where a band was set up to play an unplugged cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, cheering and proudly clapping along from a few feet behind her. Not long after, Miley introduced Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, who approached the stage carrying large silver balloons in the shape of the words “FUCK YEAH” and dressed in a red cape, respectively.

Together, they performed an amazing cover of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” and then they decided that they were drunk enough to do it a second time — so they did. And it was awesome.

The acoustic set, the old-school country and the unexpected cover songs are great elements of the Bangerz Tour. It’s the perfect way to remind the audience that Miley Cyrus isn’t all spectacle. She’s smart.

There is no doubt in my mind that Miley’s entire rebranding has been carefully planned from the moment the very first video of her twerking in a unicorn suit went viral in March of 2013. It’s kind of genius. And it’s been executed incredibly well. And, best of all, Miley has the talent and personality to back it up.

Ultimately, I am really rooting for her. Not only do I love her ability to get under the skin of the general public, but I am impressed with her in-your-face feminism, musical talent and down-to-earth attitude on- and off-stage. Of course, there are large elements of the media she’s produced that are problematic and worthy of criticism. But I think the “Bangerz” era is an important one in the evolution of pop music, and I would love to see her continue to grow and succeed.

Outside of the venue, middle-aged men with potbellies and bucket hats smugly unfurled signs that read “SMILEY VIRUS WILL WRECK YOUR LIFE” and “SLUTS, ETC. TRUST CHRIST OR END IN HELL!” One wore a shirt proclaiming him “Holygound Security” and shouted through a megaphone at the teenage girls walking past him that they were prostitutes and whores.

Somebody’s got to stand up to those guys.