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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.

I was a seat-filler at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards

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It’s possible that I am in this picture. Via AP Images/Invision

“Come with me, right now!” our wrangler commands, one hand on her walkie-talkie, before she takes off into the auditorium.

A voice announces over loudspeakers that the show will resume taping in a few moments.

I try to keep the wrangler in my line of vision as I hurry after her over the uneven flooring — hastily-laid carpet covering clusters of wires and power cords, some sort of plywood functioning as speed bumps, and a very sharp incline. I am hyper-aware that if I trip over my six-inch heels and faceplant, I will be doing so directly in front of Channing Tatum.

I was a seat-filler for the 2014 MTV Movie Awards on April 13.

Seat-fillers exist to fill in gaps when a guest gets up to perform onstage, hang out at the bar, use the bathroom or go home because they’re bored, so there are no empty seats when the show is aired on TV. I am well-suited to this particularly glamorous Hollywood job because filling seats is basically my strongest talent. I’ve been training my entire life, and I was really excited for the opportunity to finally take sitting in chairs to the professional level.

Here’s how it went down:

My day as a seat-filler began at 10 a.m., when I had to assemble the red carpet look I was going to wear that day (by “red carpet,” I mean the Metro Red Line I would take from Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles, where the event was taking place inside the Nokia Theatre).

Our meeting location was outside of a parking structure underneath the Santa Monica Freeway. There, they separated us into three groups: the “pit fans” (who stood for the duration of the event closest to the stage), the “red carpet fans” (who sat in bleachers to watch the procession) and the seat-fillers.

We weren’t allowed to bring our cellphones along, so we had no way to judge the passing of time. I can only estimate that we stood around approximately forever, and then we moved to another waiting area where we sat down forever.

Finally, we made the long trek across LA Live toward the venue in rows of four, passing Lakers fans and tourists shooting confused stares at the parade of weirdos looking ready for a long night of clubbing in our “hip and trendy” best in broad daylight. Once we passed through a security checkpoint and were finally inside the Nokia Theatre, we got to, well, stand around some more before they brought us to the holding areas on either side of the stage.

From there, we were moved around a lot. If someone returned to their seat, the seat-filler had to go back to the holding area for their next assignment. This resulted in a lot of sprinting across the room at a moment’s notice and, in one fantastic instance, a fellow seat-filler getting stuck crouching on the floor between two seats when someone came to sit down after the show had already resumed.

Here are the coolest parts:

When seat-fillers are not filling important celebrity seats, they fill significantly less important regular ol’ seats in a holding area at the very front of the auditorium. My holding area was in the path leading from the auditorium to the backstage area, where everyone was entering carrying popcorn and champagne. I didn’t get to partake — in fact, I didn’t get to eat or drink anything all day because I’d been busy with all that standing around I was doing. But I did get to watch a lot of people make their entrance: Max Joseph and Nev Schulman from “Catfish,” the entire cast of “Teen Wolf,” Snooki and JWoww, etc. And that is how I learned that Nicki Minaj is incredibly tiny – she’s apparently only 5’2”! Who knew!

Zac Efron took off his shirt onstage. Actually, Rita Ora forcibly removed his shirt onstage, but the result was achieved. And I was in the same room as that.

Being in the front row for the musical performances was not a bad time. Twenty One Pilots, an all-Christian kind of indie rock-rap group, started off with the song “Car Radio.” About two seconds before they began, lead singer Tyler Joseph passed masks into the audience and gave everyone an incredibly speedy rundown of the complicated choreography we were supposed to perform. It turned out alright, though, and the song and performance were both great. I also enjoyed being in the front row for Eminem and Rihanna’s “Monster” duet because that’s a situation I can’t imagine I would find myself in under any other circumstance.

Here are the worst parts:

I ended up sitting a short distance behind Grumpy Cat, who was slumped over in her chair (a front row seat) in what looked like a heavily-sedated stupor, living a pretty crummy life as a newly-minted feline celebrity. I disagree with cats-as-celebrities anyway because that’s ridiculous, but after seeing Grumpy Cat in action at one of her many public events, I just felt really bad for her.

She barely moved, aside from her head lolling lethargically as she was grabbed, petted and held up for photos with nearly every guest in attendance. Otherwise, she was kept in her seat and subjected to pyrotechnics, loud music, explosions, flashing lights and fog machines, which I’m sure she loved because cats love being famous. Everybody knows that.

Also, no one seemed to know what they were doing. Amanda Seyfried couldn’t read her lines. Chris Pratt didn’t get a microphone when he went onstage. Someone promoted the upcoming “Godzilla” movie (an actor, probably), but nobody could see him through the excessively thick fog from the fog machine. It was a bit of a mess, but, to be fair, it’s just the MTV Movie Awards. I don’t think anyone was watching anyway.

Afterwards:

As the show ended, I awkwardly realized that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself. I was lost in the crowd: Shailene Woodley was trying to squeeze past me toward the exit and Holland Roden was leaning onto my chair to take a selfie. I figured my job was complete. I sat like a pro. I was proud. I headed off into the night.

My feet hurt, and I deeply regret not trying harder to sneak into an after-party. But will I sit again professionally? I really, really hope so.

Live: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Battle of the Seasons

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Willam, Detox, Michelle Visage, Pandora Boxx, Ivy Winters, Carmen Carerra, Sharon Needles, Alaska Thunderfuck and Manila Luzon perform in “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Battle of the Seasons. Via Pandora Boxx/Facebook

On Feb. 6, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Battle of the Seasons brought eight performers from the reality television show, as well as host Michelle Visage and RuPaul himself, to Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles for a phenomenal display of theatricality.

Individually, Willam, Alaska Thunderfuck, Pandora Boxx, Sharon Needles, Detox, Manila Luzon, Carmen Carerra and Ivy Winters all took the stage to show off their individual talents at least twice.

Interspersed between performances were videos of the stars backstage and on the road, as well as promotional material from the sixth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which will premiere on Feb. 24. The entire event was incredibly seamless and professional. But with a lot of dick jokes.

While I would deem the whole evening a success, some performances stood out more than others. My jaw actually dropped in awe at Ivy Winters, who juggled gigantic knives while wearing a tall, silver-horned helmet and walked on stilts to Little Mix’s “Wings.”

Alaska wowed me with her singing talent and impressive vocal range during an impassioned cover of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” (a nod, perhaps, to announcing the breakup with longtime boyfriend Needles late last year), as well as her original song “Ru Girl.”

Detox and Willam were fantastic as usual as two thirds of DWV (missing fellow drag queen Vicky Vox, who has not appeared on “Drag Race”) while performing their parody songs “Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A)” and “Boy is a Bottom.” Detox, especially, is not a bad rapper, and her black light shoes were fantastic, although her solo numbers were considerably less interesting. Willam, however, looked amazing, performed flawlessly and had a commanding stage presence throughout. But, of course.

And Needles, my personal favorite and the fifth season winner of “Drag Race,” was as hilarious, creepy and sexy as I’ve always dreamed she would be. For her first number, she was carried onstage in a coffin before launching into “Call Me on the Ouija Board” from her 2013 album “PG-13.”  It’s a really, really great goth-pop song with a catchy hook, smart lyrics full of tongue-in-cheek references to classic horror movies and a super polished sound. I actually haven’t stopped listening to it since. In the song, Needles declares, “I’ll be your Carol Anne, / I’ll be your pentagram. / Let’s dabble in the black arts.” Onstage, Needles picks up a dollar bill that was thrown at her and takes a few bites out of it before throwing it back.

Fun aside, there was also talk about the growing popularity of the show and its increasing influence on creating “drag queen society,” which is not entirely an exaggeration. The show and its contestants appeal to a wide range of audience members, reaching many underrepresented demographics. The wide appeal of fun, kitschy drag queens has allowed for stars that use the platform for political advocacy.

Carerra, who came out as a transgender woman after competing on the third season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” has since become a very public proponent for transgender equality. In January, she appeared alongside “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox on Katie Couric’s talk show to speak about transgender issues, and last year, an online petition aimed at persuading Victoria’s Secret to have Carerra as its first transgender model gathered around 45,000 signatures.

Luzon, also a competitor from season three, has been pretty involved in AIDS awareness since appearing on the show. She and other “Drag Race” alumni appear regularly in public service announcements on Logo TV promoting safe sex and HIV testing.

Fittingly enough, the Battle of the Seasons show took place just as I’ve been following another story of drag queen activism unfolding overseas. On Feb. 1, Irish drag queen Panti Bliss spoke (amazingly effectively and eloquently) about gay rights and oppression in Ireland. Shortly thereafter, a video of the speech garnered such international attention that it has been discussed everywhere from Ireland’s houses of parliament to Russia, where anti-gay legislation was famously passed in 2013 to prohibit “propaganda” in support of “non-traditional” sexual orientation.

All of this just makes me feel like there should be way more drag queens occupying political office.