The Grammys® Transcript – Facebook Style

Watching the 52nd Annual Grammy® Awards, I was on a bit of a tear posting nonstop updates to my friends on Facebook as the show went on. Filmmaker Nina Paley suggested I post the entire collection as an article on Cinemalogue. So here are my comments and observations, unedited:

Rubin Safaya No WAY… GaGa just intro’d Pokerface in the lyrical meter of Bohemian Rhapsody!

Rubin Safaya That’s SIR Elton Freaking John, ladies and gentlemen. 52nd Annual Gramophone “Grammy” Awards.

Rubin Safaya Go to hell, Jay-Z. Have a sense of humor about your ridiculous-ass self.

Rubin Safaya Speaking of American Idiot… J-Lo, ladies and gentlemen.

Rubin Safaya Ok, Lincoln commercial… Listen, “which artist will CREATE the next song” for your commercial? CREATE? Um, that stupid ass band covering Major Tom did not WRITE it. Peter Schilling did. Thanks for contributing to music history illiteracy already furthered enough by P. Diddy and every rap producer this side of Los Angeles.

Rubin Safaya Security, please keep your eye out for that moron Kanye. Taylor Swift is on stage accepting the award for her dumb-assed watered down garbage.

Rubin Safaya Oh dear god. Beyonce you are NOT Michael Jackson. You can’t make this military marching thing work for you. You just look like an ass-clown. Works for me. You’re married to Mr. Ass-clown.

Rubin Safaya She’s covering Alanis? A bad artist covered by a far worse artist is like holding up two broken mirrors pointed at each other.

Rubin Safaya The Grammys are now officially known as The “this person feat. that person” awards. Seriously, NARAS/RIAA is desperate to boost sales by pairing up everyone because aside from GaGa, not a one of these morons possesses half the talent of a single recording artist.

Rubin Safaya Metro un-PCS. Wow, I’ve rarely seen a more racist commercial…. or a funnier racist commercial. And I’m Indian!

Rubin Safaya Ok, Seal is class. I can tolerate him.

Rubin Safaya Ok they’re not ALL morons. P!nk takes the stage. Good work collaborating with Linda Perry. Keep her employed behind the console, because I couldn’t stand another Four Non Blondes album.

Rubin Safaya P!nk, you’re wearing too much clothing!

Rubin Safaya Who the hell are these people? Best New Artist? I have no idea what anyone listens to any more.

Rubin Safaya (Referring to dancers’ costumes) What is this? Transformers?

Rubin Safaya Swift is really strangling the cat tonight, and every other time I’ve seen her perform live.

Rubin Safaya It is an interesting coincidence that Conan O’Brien’s run on the Tonight Show, which ran for the seven months since MJ’s death, ended with Conan asking us all to be a little less cynical. MJ, who like us, grew up in the Post-Kennedy era of American cynicism, asked the same of us… to be less cynical and more conscientious. He asked us for decades. When will we begin to listen?

Rubin Safaya Ok what the hell kind of dance is whatsherface doing back there behind Ritchie Sambora?

Rubin Safaya PLACIDO! MOS! There’s a range of talents for you.

Rubin Safaya Best Rap/Sung Collaboration… just call it the Kanye West Award already, since he inserts himself into EVERY freaking production.

Rubin Safaya Thanking Nike and your tux designer first? Jesus Christ, Jay-Z, you couldn’t be more tacky if you had a diamond studded grill and a bottle of Courvoisier in hand…. or a diamond studded grill with the word Courvoisier embossed on it in platinum.

Rubin Safaya René Angélil looks like a museum piece. Hang him in the Louvre… Céline too.

Rubin Safaya Oh great, Andrea Bocelli… the Soulja Boy of tenors.

Rubin Safaya Bridge Over Troubled Water? Apropos for the recording industry.

Rubin Safaya Hey, Emilio… I loved you in St. Elmo’s Fire.

Rubin Safaya I have never liked Dave Matthews… for the sole reason that there’s a famous person named Dave Matthews.

Rubin Safaya Dave Matthews is apparently re-enacting his autistic savant character from House.

Rubin Safaya Yo, Beyond-Sane, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish but Dee Snyder had the best hair of all time… OF ALL TIME.

Rubin Safaya L.L. Are you a banker from the 1940’s now?

Rubin Safaya RIP Maurice Jarre, Teddy Pendergrass, Ali Akbar Khan, Les Paul and that guy from The Godfather.

Rubin Safaya I think it’s hilarious watching Jeff Beck lean like a modern rocker while strumming “How High The Moon.”

Rubin Safaya Lil Wayne performing “Blankety blank blank.”

Rubin Safaya Pull up your goddamned pants, Lil Brayne.

Rubin Safaya Apparently the producers forgot to bleep a word in that performance. But there was no man-on-man kissing, so I don’t expect the religious nutcases in America to complain. Maybe the grammys should have more action scenes with lots of explosions and deaths… I’ll bet money the Christian fundamentalists wouldn’t phone in a single complaint.

Blood Lust

(Left to right) JACKSON RATHBONE stars as Jasper Hale, ASHLEY GREENE stars as Alice Cullen, KELLAN LUTZ stars as Emmett Cullen, ROBERT PATTINSON stars as Edward Cullen and NIKKI REED stars as Rosalie Hale in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON. Photo Credit: Kimberley French

(Left to right) JACKSON RATHBONE stars as Jasper Hale, ASHLEY GREENE stars as Alice Cullen, KELLAN LUTZ stars as Emmett Cullen, ROBERT PATTINSON stars as Edward Cullen and NIKKI REED stars as Rosalie Hale in THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON. Photo Credit: Kimberley French

Did Bram Stoker ever suspect that Dracula would become a cultural touchstone in the evolution of gothic romance? Did he endeavor to revolutionize the horror genre in the same vein as Mary Shelley’s hauntingly humanizing Frankenstein? Did he see a man or a monster in Vlad Tepes when he borrowed from the blood-stained legacy of the Hungarian tyrant? In the years since Stoker’s seminal work, others have fallen in love with his vampire mythology, so malleable as to be receptive to constant reinterpretation.

Hollywood’s vision of the Transylvanian Prince became iconic; Bela Lugosi’s death-blanched skin framed by a raven widow’s peak, his cruelty cloaked by a dashing suit and cape. Maidens were boneless beneath his deep voice and strong embrace. The hunt was a seduction, his teeth both penetrating and life-draining. It was a petit mort many women privately fantasized about succumbing to.

Author Ann Rice made her vampires both beautiful and obscene; as susceptible to piety and corruption as any human being. She stripped them of sexuality, replacing it with a classic romanticism that transcended all gender boundaries. Louis hated himself for loving Lestat. Marius found his muse in the eternal youth known as Armand. These vampires were bound by agape, not eros, and therefore pop culture was able to accept Rice’s proclivity for same-sex pairings.

Most recently, Stephenie Meyer has sought to re-imagine the vampire legend and in the process exposed an entirely new generation to the appeal of the perfect undead. At the center of her universe is an unremarkable teenaged heroine named Bella Swan and her century-old beau, the mysterious Edward Cullen. Many have interpreted the saga is an allegory for abstinence – Edward struggles to control his overwhelming bloodlust while in his beloved’s presence; in turn, Bella denies her own hunger for Edward’s form, which is otherworldly in its beauty. Meyer has taken the Lugosi Dracula’s sexual appeal and the Rice vampires’ pristene asexuality and brilliantly merged them for easy teen consumption.

At the center of this current phenomenon remains the complexity of the vampire myth, and how it has become inextricably linked to both romance and sex. By stripping her vampires of sexual lust, did Ann Rice tap into the appeal of the “safe” homosexual male, devoid of any predatory threat towards females? Is this why the porcelain-faced, willow-limbed – and essentially neutered – Edward Cullen possesses such an ardent female fanbase?

In truth, women are not innocent of objectifying males. Men openly approve of feminine sexuality, particularly the appeal of lesbian eroticism.  Within the anonymity of the internet, where society is less prone to judgment, multitudes of women express their appreciation of masculine sexuality in the form of homoerotic fiction often known as “slash.” There, they can remove themselves from the equation and operate as voyeurs in a world where a romantic pair is comprised of physical and emotional equals. Lust is safe from afar; this is a rule that females have been taught from a young age. However, that coda has been seized and re-invented by women authors exploring the vampire myth, who in turn gave their peers permission to view men as meriting desire outside of a female reference point. Little did Bram Stoker know that his horror novel would eventually play a seminal role in the evolution of feminine sexual emancipation. Dracula is no longer the predator he once was.

Radio Goo Goo

How does one analyze a business model that is sprawled upon shifting sand?   Media pundits and industry insiders are treading with care; there is no longer a magic formula on which to pattern an artist’s career, no roll-out progression guaranteed to rake in enough profit to repay hefty recording advances.     Careful observation and analysis of light-speed trend changes rule in an era of a la carte purchasing.

The internet generation set this shift in motion more than a decade ago with the emergence of MP3 audio encoding.   File sharing services like Napster and Limewire became the distribution vehicle of choice, complete with a storm-cloud threat of a piracy law that seemed to garner little credence.   The record labels threw tantrums in their ivory towers; lawsuits were lobbed at a few unsuspecting Joe Publics, high-profile recording artists tested fan loyalty and the future seemed uncertain.  Then Apple swooped in with an entirely new business model; a virtual store peddling $0.99 cent songs.  It was radical in its simplicity and the dust began to settle as a brave new world was formed.

We live in an age of playlists, lovingly assembled on portable MP3 players and mobile phones.   Space is finite; we choose our songs carefully, based on mood or the call of childhood nostalgia.   We shuffle our songs to break up the monotony of genre or keep us on our toes.   The internet is like a smorgasbord of musical tastes, and we are free to pluck whatever we want from the table.

The conventional industry model, most thoroughly examined in M. William Krasilovksy and Sidney Shemel’s This Business of Music, dictates that an album of 12-13 tracks would retail between $12.98 and $15.98.   The public is titillated by a single – something indicative of the artists brand of “sound”, and catchy enough to earn radio spins.   The bulk of the label’s financial clout is placed behind this single, complete with music video and late-night television performance tour.    However, when expectations have been set to under a dollar per track, few artists can demand an all-or-nothing album purchase from a fickle and ravenous public.    Singles prevail and profits are barely enough to cover the album’s hefty advance.

Gimmick releases (think holiday albums, movie soundtrack compilations, Best-Of collections and cover recordings) are low-risk ventures with relatively high returns.   It is a cut-throat arena for an emerging artist, who must carefully balance between the lure of something new, and the safety of predictable pap.    In the rare instance of an album boasting multiple potential hits, the record label will carefully stagger the release of each new single with the standard publicity blitz each time.   It is expensive and risky; they are largely dependent upon radio (primarily Clear Channel) for embracing each song so that it may slowly accumulate station adds and audience exposure.   It may take months for a song to seep into the public consciousness, at which time album sales may be temporarily buoyed until the next single can be debuted.   It is a delicate and nerve-wracking process that can be only be undertaken by the industry cream like Beyoncé and Lady GaGa.

As a medium, radio allegedly died with the advent of MTV in the 1980’s, so how does it still wield such power in the music industry?   Essentially, people remember music that is experienced with other people; whether in a car, restaurant, nightclub, park, sports stadium, or family room.   Radio is everywhere.  Teenagers used to come home from school with their friends and visually connect with their favorite songs by way of the music video.   When Viacom-owned MTV became a reality television network its mantle was never picked up.  YouTube, now owned by Google, is the modern world’s music video headquarters, but the sensory experience is lonely and cold in front of a computer monitor.   Where is the sense of community that is so intrinsic to music?

It seems we are still trying to figure that out.   According to Wired Magazine, Univeral Music Group, Sony Music and Google are teaming up for the launch of VEVO, a video streaming site that will boast only professional content—think Hulu, but for music videos.  Will it be successful?  Some big name recording artists (Lady GaGa, Adam Lambert) have already signed up for ad campaigns to market the site.   The appeal lies in the exclusivity of its branding.   Again, warmth and approachability seems lacking in this business model.

The next chapter in the transformation of the music industry will, I think, be written in mobile cyberspace. Technological convergence devices such as iPhone bring about the potential for purchasing access to live, streaming concerts in high quality picture and sound from anywhere. Record companies have before them an opportunity to resurrect tour support, a form of promotional subsidy that hasn’t really existed since the 1970’s.

Recorded in high definition, distributed across mobile broadband networks to mobile convergence devices, the marginal income from pay-per-view live streaming of concerts could replace conventional channels of record promotion—e.g. radio—while simultaneously recovering costs of advances paid to the artist on singles released side-by-side on the same internet retail outlets. There is still hope for the album in the form of the iTunes LP, but the success or failure of that product—liner notes, extras and videos packaged with the album tracks—depends in part on whether or not the pricing relative to the value added is attractive enough to sway younger consumers who grew up with the digital single.

For Your Entertainment – Adam Lambert

Title: For Your Entertainment. Release Date: November 2009. ©2009, RCA Music Group

Title: For Your Entertainment. Release Date: November 2009. ©2009, RCA Music Group

Adam Lambert can’t be accused of timidity.   His debut album, For Your Entertainment, hasn’t re-invented the acoustic wheel, but his bucking of any one genre is a risk most non-established artists would shrink from.     In an industry where pop icons themselves are branded as a commodity, music often takes a backseat to pomp and circumstance.   However, Mr. Lambert is a rare creature; his show-stopping style is backed by a preternatural vocal ability.   As Madonna (more a businesswoman performer than a vocalist) sagely stated, “An image and a good hook can get you in the door, but something has to keep you in the room”.    Mr. Lambert has made a bold and sweeping entrance.

The hook comes in the form of MUSIC AGAIN, the album’s opening track, and an irreverent, joyful hymn brimming over with 80’s enthusiasm.   The cheeky “Queen” sound makes this patchwork throw-back an homage of the highest order.    Why aren’t we treated to music like this anymore?   FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT, the debut single, really brings sexy back to commercial pop music, proudly displaying an element of sexual titillation usually exclusive to female pop stars.  Mr. Lambert gives men permission to be objects of desire; if Hellenistic Greece had possessed a techno-anthem, this would’ve been it.

P!nk’s WHATAYA WANT FROM ME is a bittersweet and simple song with an annoyingly catchy chorus designed for radio domination.   Its generic nature isn’t helped by Mr. Lambert’s careful reverence of P!nk’s signature style; his oft-admitted admiration of her may have prevented him from making the track his own.

Who knew that a man of such ear-piercing octave punches also possessed a lower-register growl with a tremolo capable of curling toes?  STRUT combines a kick-ass guitar riff with a gripping hook, but its verses seem plucked from Doctor Seuss.  Is the near-ridiculous rhyming scheme deliberately tongue-in-cheek, or a foray into junior-high-calibre Lyrics 101?   Mr. Lambert’s taste for kitsch suggests the former.

Those familiar with the rock-opera/futuristic-fusion sound of Muse will delight in Mr. Lambert’s treatment of Matthew Bellamy’s SOAKED.   The astonishing vocals are both immaculate and dreamlike, providing a stark contrast to the bombastic orchestra lending accompaniment.  Take a moment to fully absorb the lyrics and emotion evident in Mr. Lambert’s delivery.   Who knew that the self-flagellation of a person inured to one-night-stands could be so beautiful?

SURE FIRE WINNERS is tailor-made to be a romping, stomping stadium staple.  More observant listeners will recognize the song for what it is; a championing of male virility at the most primal level.

Close your eyes while listening to A LOADED SMILE.  Mr. Lambert’s flawless falsetto merges with the buoying synthesizers to create an almost aquatic ambiance that is both etherial and transporting.  The lyrics (brilliantly penned by Linda Perry) reflect the conflict of a person hopelessly in love, and the disenchanted object of their desire.

IF I HAD YOU is credible Euro-pop with guts.  Its rolling, cyclical refrain and staccato chorus perfectly compliment each other.  This is light fare and Mr. Lambert knows it, delivering the beguiling lyrics with a delirious abandon.  It is a song made for dance clubs and thunderous remixes, but is unlikely to have mainstream appeal.  Its mid-way placement on the album is somehow apropos; the song is forgettable until you hear it.

Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Mr. Lambert collaborated to create PICK U UP, the album’s bravest and most subjective song.  Bold in its musical theatre roots, the track blends a fluid guitar with happy-go-lucky lyrics designed to elicit smiles.   It progresses predictably until the “money-shot” arrives; an insane vocal run that ascends toward a breathless key-change so unbelievable that you’ll have to stop and rewind just to make sure your ears aren’t deceiving you.

Don’t let the heavy disco-era references of Lady GaGa’s FEVER  deceive you;  its maturity and sophistication is belied by an appropriately sparse, yet raucus, musical arrangement which Mr. Lambert perfectly executes with a petulant and sinewy wail.  The opening line, “There he goes, my baby walks so slow,” will raise eyebrows, but years from now may be regarded as an important step in blurring the line between gay and straight cultural segregation.  Mr. Lambert doesn’t need to do the cover of Out magazine to be a human rights trailblazer.  FEVER is hands-down the best up-tempo track on For Your Entertainment.

SLEEPWALKER is an inevitable single; Mr. Lambert’s voice is earnest, pleading, yet unbearably sexy, making it a pop-ballad with an edge.   A killer guitar solo by This is It‘s Orianthi Panagaris gives this romantic lament some teeth.  AFTERMATH could be easily written-off as the accessible and bombastic rock anthem, but it serves as an empowering chant for all the faceless LGBT youths struggling to be themselves within a society that still largely rejects them.  With the simple urging “tell a stranger that they’re beautiful”, Mr. Lambert reveals not only his desire to spread love unprovoked, but gives us a glimpse at his own adolescent insecurities.  Every awkward teen hungers to hear such a simple affirmation of self-worth.   Perhaps next time we will be treated to musical composition worthy of such moving lyrics.

Closing out the album, BROKEN OPEN is easily For Your Entertainment‘s best slow-tempo song, and perhaps the best track overall.  Mr. Lambert’s sophisticated (and under-appreciated) abilities as a lyricist are showcased here; he gently urges a friend or lover to feel vulnerable enough to weep.  It is a song so other-worldly in its beauty that it evokes more traditionally “new age” electronic artists like Vangelis (Voices) and Enya (Shepherd Moon), but with a hitched, industrial influence.

There is brilliance peeking beneath the edges of this eclectic and brave album.  The fact that Mr. Lambert recorded it in a few short months boggles the mind; I am compelled to wonder what his limit would be if given sufficient time and resources.  His talents are immense and varied, and the untapped potential here is astonishing.  American Idol had to wait eight seasons for a discovery of this calibre.

The Evolution of Cinematic Violence

Of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Pauline Kael wrote:

The movie’s confusing — and, finally, corrupt — morality is not, however, what makes it such an abhorrent viewing experience. It is offensive long before one perceives where it is heading, because it has no shadings. Kubrick, a director with an arctic spirit, is determined to be pornographic, and he has no talent for it.

After writing on Mary Harron’s satirical take of 80s society in American Psycho, I began wondering about the evolution of violence in cinema… It’s argued in numerous intellectual circles that Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a marvelous work… but I can’t help feeling that we’re looking at the film through the lens of history, disregarding its place as the first of a kind, leaning toward a film that appears to argue against violence, yet seems to revel in it. The only problem is that it only seems to…

Harron’s piece is far more satirical, with caricatures of society that would be bordering on the nonsensical if they were occurring in any other decade… But the 80s were, in fact, a decade of archetypes who behaved nonsensically. There are several dimensions along which American Psycho is a decidedly superior film to Kubrick’s krankenspiel.

Kubrick’s vision uses society as a framework for examining the character of Alex. In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is merely one symptom of a larger, diseased society. In the latter, we get a strong sense of that society that takes itself seriously, though Bateman is not to be taken seriously… and there’s a reason for this. Alex is made out to be the victim, but Harron’s film doesn’t make this error… Bateman is not a victim. Yes, Bateman is a nobody… but he’s not a victim. Kubrick, instead, chooses to infer that a society that acts criminal towards criminals deserves what it gets. Does anyone learn anything in such a society? Is there any lesson to be learned in such a film?

In Kubrick’s Clockwork, everyone in society seems to be an extreme caricature, against which Alex plays the relatively “normal” individual for whom we are intended to feel pity.

Kael writes:

The writer whom Alex cripples (Patrick Magee) and the woman he kills are cartoon nasties with upper class accents a mile wide. (Magee has been encouraged to act like a bathetic madman; he seems to be preparing for a career in horror movies.) Burgess gave us society through Alex’s eyes, and so the vision was deformed, and Kubrick, carrying over from Dr. Strangelove his joky adolescent view of hypocritical, sexually dirty authority figures and extending it to all adults, has added an extra layer of deformity. The “straight” people are far more twisted than Alex; they seem inhuman and incapable of suffering. He alone suffers. And how he suffers!

Roger Ebert notes:

Kubrick’s most obvious photographic device this time is the wide-angle lens. Used on objects that are fairly close to the camera, this lens tends to distort the sides of the image. The objects in the center of the screen look normal, but those on the edges tend to slant upward and outward, becoming bizarrely elongated. Kubrick uses the wide-angle lens almost all the time when he is showing events from Alex’s point of view; this encourages us to see the world as Alex does, as a crazy-house of weird people out to get him.

One gets the impression it was here, in this film, that the nexus between hero and antihero was crossed… Alex is the good guy, or so the director wants us to believe. Patrick Bateman, by contrast, is not ever to be mistaken for a good guy. Yes, he has idiosyncrasies that make him seem human, but deep down there isn’t any substance to him. He rattles off his critiques of music, art and current events as though they are not his own thoughts, but preprogrammed commentaries he must have read in a magazine. This, however, is entirely consistent with Bateman’s character.

The interesting thing is that Bateman knows there is something wrong with him, he even appears to confront it (though nobody believes him). It’s not remorse Bateman is feeling. It’s not absolution he’s seeking. His self-analysis is the product of both his lack of a conscience, and his insanely amplified ego. He is not crying out for help. He’s crying out for recognition. Alex demonstrates not even an egotistically-motivated introspection, and incidentally makes a far less convincing criminal. In the end of Clockwork, Alex escapes into a sexual fantasy. Initially, we believe Alex is escaping his choices in life, but if you think about it, it’s really Kubrick escaping the accountability there.

Where Harron manages to make Bateman an entertaining character who does harbor lessons about the excesses of the younger generation and their ability to get away with murder (literally) facilitated only by the fact that everyone is too self-absorbed to notice the horrific things occurring in the world around them, Kubrick manages to fail on both counts… Which is not to say Kubrick’s vision isn’t stunning. However, Kubrick’s vision is stunning in the way that a roadkill sculpture would be stunning… but that only works the first time you see it.

For reading: