A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘beyoncé

[MUSIC] Twelve music links: Beatles, Annie Lennox, Shakespears Sister, Céline Dion …

  • There is now a play expanding on the urban legend–is it?–that the Beatles came close to being reunited in a meeting in an Eastern Townships library divided by the Canadian-American border. CTV reports.
  • The Annie Lennox-curated exhibit “Now I let You Go …” at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art sounds amazing. The New York Times reports.
  • This Guardian feature on the reunification, after two and a half decades, of Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit in Shakespears Sister made me very happy.
  • Céline Dion seems to be in the middle of an interesting sort of renaissance. Why not a headlining appearance on Carpool Karaoke? VICE reports.
  • CTV News profiles the Summerside-born and Montréal-based electropop fiddler Denique, gaining praise for his innovative music and videos.
  • Noisey recently reported on an interestingly different early version of the Beyoncé song “Sorry”.
  • Dangerous Minds shares footage of a 1977 Bryan Ferry concert in Japan.
  • Vice provides readers with an introduction and overview to the best songs of Elton John.
  • Vice did readers the service of providing readers with an entry point into the discography of PJ Harvey.
  • Le Devoir looks at the phenomenon of K-Pop.
  • Josh Terry at Noisey makes the accurate point that the decision of the Chicago White Sox to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Disco Sucks riot, given the racism and homophobia of that movement, is a bad misstep.

[NEWS] Some Monday links

  • Bloomberg looks at the Vietnamese government’s response to a mass fish death, examines political instability in Iraq, notes a potentially problematic nuclear plant in the United Kingdom, and studies an illegal amber rush in western Ukraine.
  • CBC looks at the recent New Brunswick ruling on interprovincial alcohol shipments, notes an auction of Prince’s blazer from Purple Rain, suggests that a Facebook rant by a man convicted of neglecting the health of his son may not help him in sentencing, and looks at the retirement of Pierre Karl Péladeau as head of the Parti Québécois.
  • The Inter Press Service notes African support for West Papuan freedom.
  • MacLean’s looks at the Island’s preparation for Mike Duffy’s return to the Senate, notes Karla Homolka’s children will have to deal with their mother’s past crimes, and reacts to the new Drake album.
  • National Geographic interviews the author of a new book on abandoned cities.
  • NPR notes how Somali-British poet Warsan Shane has become a star thanks to Beyoncé.
  • Universe Today notes Russia’s first launch from its Far Eastern Vostochny cosmodrone and reports on the identification of an extragalactic neutrino source.

[MUSIC] Beyoncé, “Formation”

I may well not belong to the core demographic targeted by Beyoncé’s “Formation”. I’ve still be listening to the song on repeat, playing the striking video over and over again over the past week. It really works for me.

(I’ve gotten interested in the guest stars, too. Messy Mya strikes me as overrated. Big Freediavideos and songs, though, I like. In this bounce singer’s exuberant non-heteronormative gender presentation, the music’s exuberant sexuality, and the close relationship with place, he really evokes a latter-day Sylvester for me.)

Recognizing that I’m approaching this song as an outsider in so many ways, I have to defer to Naila Keleta-Mae‘s op-ed for Vice’s Noisey, “Get What’s Mine: “Formation” Changes the Way We Listen to Beyonce Forever”. “Formation” is a complex song, musically and lyrically and visually, that works so well at doing so many things. It’s danceable; it’s political.

Beyoncé’s a performer. That said, she’s invited us to watch her get free in “Formation” but she also needs us to witness—to “get” it; to get her as an artist. What we’ve witnessed, with the release of “Formation,” is a master class in how pop artists can clearly articulate political views that differ from the mainstream without being labeled didactic and marginalized by the media. And “Formation” couldn’t be quietly relegated to the ether of the internet because it’s such a good pop song. Its mainstream trap beat is skillfully created by producer Mike WiLL Made It; the lyrics, co-written with Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, provide just the right amount of braggadocio, sex and cute one liners; the looks, styled by Shiona Turini and Marni Senofonte, got the attention of bloggers, and the video direction by Melina Matsoukas delivers just the right artsy-pop-documentary feel.

“Formation” is a notably complex meditation on female blackness, the United States of America, and capitalism. And the blackness that this song and video articulates is not some kind of abstract, cool, costume that can be put on and taken off at will. This female blackness is specific.

It’s “My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana / You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama.” It’s 26 brown-skinned black women of multiple shades and shapes dancing in step. It’s dark basements and large mirrors where queer black male hips twerk and revel. It’s sun aversion, high collared dresses, corsets and spread thighs. It’s Messy Mya’s voice from the grave asking what happened to New Orleans. It’s black women’s braless breasts bouncing in hallways lined with bookshelves and brocade. It’s homes underwater because 11 years ago Hurricane Katrina broadcasted to the world that systemic and institutionalized anti-black racism was still state-sanctioned and real. “Formation” is Big Freedia, the queen of bounce music, announcing on behalf of Beyoncé and herself that, “I did not come to play with you hoes / I came to slay, bitch.” It’s Gucci Spring 16, Chanel pre-fall, vintage, and custom clothing. It’s declarations of the coming of a black Bill Gates. It’s a breadth of black cosmologies that means that worship happens on streets, verandas, floats, churches and parking lots. “Formation” is blue hair, piercing eyes and rows of snatched wigs for sale. It’s black hetero marriages where wives are non-monogamous and reward their good lovers with Red Lobster, shopping trips, chopper rides, and the possibility of radio play. It’s the words ‘Stop Shooting Us’ spray-painted on a wall. “Formation” is a magical place where police cars sink under the weight of female blackness; where white riot squads surrender to black boys’ rhythmic complexity; and where black girls play ring games unbothered and uncontained. “Formation” is a newspaper called The Truth with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and the words “Why was a revolutionary recast as an acceptable Negro leader?” “Formation” is a warning to mainstream media not to attempt to strip Beyoncé of the politics born of her Creole Texas Bama blackness. But it’s also a warning to black folks to lay off the respectability politics that obsessively dissect and admonish Beyoncé for things as absurd as her daughter’s hairstyles (which, for the record, Beyoncé likes with “baby hair and afros.”)

The impact of “Formation” is derived precisely from this rich multivocality. Mae Gwendolyn Brooks argues that black women writers have long used multiple voices in their work because it allows them to “communicate in a diversity of discourses.” Not as a means to integrate into the white mainstream but instead to “remain on the borders of discourse, speaking from the vantage point of the insider/outsider.” In “Formation,” black women’s bodies are literally choreographed into lines and borders that permit them to physically be both inside and outside of a multitude of vantage points. And what that choreography reveals is the embodiment of a particular kind of 21st Century black feminist freedom in the United States of America; one that is ambitious, spiritual, decisive, sexual, capitalist, loving and communal.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 3, 2016 at 8:15 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster

Today, as I’ve been reminded for this week, marks the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster in 1986.

I do not remember where I was when the explosion occurred. I was only six, at at school in a country uninvolved in the launch of the Challenger. I learned of the disaster and its causes at a somewhat more mature age, perhaps in the context of the scandal erupting when it turned out the space shuttle was launched prematurely in very adverse weather conditions for no good reasons.

Is it because of Challenger that my generation learned not to indulge in the dreams of regular and inexpensive space travel, in the Challenger as a functioning space bus? Did Challenger underline the extent to which bureaucracies invested in the public’s trust are willing to compromise basic elements of safety in order to look good? Maybe. Richard Feynman’s famous O-Ring demonstration remains as damning of the actions of everyone involved as ever.

I would have to say that, when I think of the Challenger disaster now, I think of it less as a specific proof or disproof of anything, and more as a background element of disaster. Reading Carole Maso‘s The Art Lover, where the protagonist sees the explosion live on television even as she learns that her best friend is hospitalized with AIDS, that televised scene of disaster was an effective punctum. Much more recently, as I noted in January 2014, the use of a vocal sample from that broadcast in Beyonce’s “XO” was effective in underlining the potential for catastrophe that can lie underneath everything, ready to bring us to ruin if we do not take care.

[MUSIC] Three links on popular music.

  • Wired’s Douglas Wouk defended Beyoncé’s controversial use of a sample from NASA’s reaction to the Challenger disaster in 1986 in her song “XO”, on the grounds that others have done it before and that her sample works.
  • “XO” is a love song, but it’s a love song with the threat of mortality hovering over it; if you didn’t know the title, you might well guess from the song’s lyrical refrain that it was called “Lights Out.” In that context, the six-second clip of Nesbitt that begins it isn’t a non-sequitur or a trivialization. It’s a memento mori: a swift, understated and brutal reminder that everything can go horribly wrong before anyone understands what’s happening, and that the light could be extinguished at any moment.

  • Why is Sweden so good at pop music, The Atlantic‘s Nolan Feeney asks? A variety of reasons are responsible, from universal education in music to an efficient and effective media industry to the fluency in English.
  • Sweden’s knack for high-quality pop songs isn’t a genetic trait that gets passed along from generation to generation alongside like blond hair and blue eyes. [Swedish academic Ola] Johansson argues that it’s the result of the fact that no other small country has the right combination of language skills, cultural values, tight-knit industry, and supportive public policy to transform itself into the music-exporting phenomenon that Sweden has become. So the next time you find yourself humming along to “The Sign,” don’t write it off as simple, reggae-lite relic of decades past. Get into the light and accept the song for what it really is: a triumph of some complex geopolitical systems.

  • NPR’s Chris Molanphy argues, meanwhile, that in the age of memes popular music is very erratic and doesn’t necessarily produce enduring acts.

    Here’s a list of a dozen chart-topping songs from across the 55-year history of Billboard’s Hot 100. Each wound up as Billboard’s No. 1 song of the year. Which song, arguably, has the strongest legacy?

    1958: Domenico Modugno, “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu)”
    1961: Bobby Lewis, “Tossin’ and Turnin'”
    1967: Lulu, “To Sir with Love”
    1979: The Knack, “My Sharona”
    1981: Kim Carnes, “Bette Davis Eyes”
    1986: Dionne Warwick (& Friends), “That’s What Friends Are For”
    1994: Ace of Base, “The Sign”
    1997: Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997”
    1999: Cher, “Believe”
    2006: Daniel Powter, “Bad Day”
    2012: Gotye (featuring Kimbra), “Somebody That I Used to Know”
    2013: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (featuring Wanz), “Thrift Shop”

    Depending on your age, you can probably sing half or more of the songs on this list. At least a couple, including Lulu’s ’67 smash, Warwick’s ’80s AIDS-charity single and Sir Elton’s ’97 elegy for Princess Diana, are considered pop standards.

    But for this thought experiment, the correct answer is 2013’s No. 1 single, “Thrift Shop.” Why? Because it wasn’t Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s final No. 1 hit.

    I’m not seriously arguing that the Seattle rap-pop duo, less than two years into their career as stars, have a stronger legacy than Elton John. But if there’s one thing the Billboard charts reinforce over and over again, it’s that — to borrow a term from Wall Street — past performance is definitely no guarantee of future results. In the age of YouTube, iTunes and Spotify, the machinery that allows acts to rocket out of nowhere and top the charts has expanded and accelerated; it’s never been easier to become a flash in the pan.

    Go, read.

  • Written by Randy McDonald

    January 10, 2014 at 8:48 pm