Music

His Name is Baby Tap, and He Doesn’t Know Why

tumblr_mrdowx7YLW1ryrcqho1_1280
“Um. My name is Baby Tap. I don’t know why, but, my name is Baby Tap. It’s nice to meet you,” he says in a video message posted to his YouTube account in July.

A more important question might be who is Baby Tap?

But, it’s unfair to the essence of the human behind the art to ask such a question.

After all, it’s not like Avess Arshad isn’t a person in the first place.

With a steady job, full-time hours at a café, and a quaint London apartment he shares with his boyfriend, he’s most humanly human. It’s just that his musical endeavors are unlike anything the patrons he serves within a commercialized London could easily warm up to.

Beats of otherworldy flair. Electronic murmurs. Lyrics some might call crass—the package is chaotic yet calculated; There’s a science to Arshad’s craft. It just takes some getting used to.

Even he struggles a bit to define himself in “normal” terms.

“I feel music, I become music. I don’t sell that shit or ever intend to. It’s far too precious to me,” he says, like a rebel (revolutionary?) defending a countercultural identity as an independent artist. What a dead-on-arrival term in today’s music industry, huh? Independence. For some, it’s synonymous with a lack of grandeur. Of meager means heralded only when recognized by the masses. Is it possible to be an independent artist in today’s world without automatically shoving oneself into a niche with potential for fluke success? We see artists who were once firmly-planted atop the charts of yesteryear (Eve, Radiohead, Bjork) now releasing music independently—free of constraint—to satisfy their artistic craving seemingly stifled years prior.

Indie is synonymous with freedom. With uprising.

How does Arshad explore this freedom?

“I fit into the equation of music as a whole as an enjoyable catharsis through energy and expression, spirituality and dance,” Arshad says of his art. “It’s fire, you know. Music is like fire.”

It’s an elemental likeness that illuminates all the things which make Baby Tap an undeniably radiant spectacle. For Arshad, having conviction in songs like “Gay for the Hip-G Girly Girls,” “Fuck Me With No Rubber,” and “Kill Yourself” transcends mere shock value.

tumblr_mpl3zaJvjp1ryrcqho1_1280

“I know there are people out there with the same sense of humor as me,” he says of the tracks on his first full-length release, Gem Pop, released earlier this month. “I work hard. I say what I want to say. I am destined to find the most hyphy, insane beats. I am destined to give people the opportunity to release their craziness. Whether that works on a big scale or not, I don’t give a shit. As long as I’m enjoying my own journey I invite others to enjoy theirs.”

For Arshad, it’s a journey nearly ten years in the making. In 2003, a 14-year old Arshad began dabbling in electronic production. Never losing sight of what was once just a fun way to pass the time when nothing else could, he’s amassed hundreds of tracks, ten full-length demos, and a decade of experience. That’s more than most major-label pop stars. For Arshad, however, success has been defined by time spent perfecting his passion after 12-hour shifts at work. Of hours clocked cutting tracks and laying down vocals (with no pay) in a cramped apartment while the rest of the world (or his corner of London) toiled away just outside his window.

“I had to work so long and so hard to manipulate feelings into sounds the way I wanted to. I spend at least an hour on it almost every day,” he says of his process, which still includes balancing a “real” job aside from crafting videos to accompany the tracks in addition to writing and producing music. “I will never appreciate having to work to live under these rules from the government. I would rather just do what I want and take life slower and more freely but I just make sure I kick my own ass into gear and work on that music as much as I can.”

He pauses.

“But, sometimes I am so tired. I don’t know what the outcome is. I will let it be what it turns out to be. I do not know.”

If the amalgamation of pop-culture collage, candy-coated colors, and graphics inspired by the 90s digital era are any indication: does anyone know, really? Do we know how to define art? How to define ourselves? Or do we let a cyber-footprint fill in the empty spaces we’re too lazy to show in waking life? Is there vision in independent expression like the uninhibited beauty which flows forth from artists like Baby Tap? We see a portion of ourselves in this type of art. Perhaps this uninhibited display is what makes independent artists such as Arshad such clear points of interest in this mess of a society where slaving to unseen masters can inspire alternative output.

“At the end of the day we die alone and nobody will really understand us as we understand ourselves, so I’m just following my desires and needs,” he says. “Baby Tap represents the acceptance of confusion and the ability to ride on the flow of life.”

Whether it’s recording into the wee morning hours, filming a video like a pop icon on a London park bench, or merely toying with new sounds—boyfriend and day job tucked at his hip as a reminder that life exists outside of art—we’ll indulge in the flow of life Baby Tap wants us to see, and realize that a separation of the two is mere child’s play.

Download Gem Pop for free (payment optional) here:

Baby Tap will be playing from 10PM-4AM on Sunday, August 25 at:

Star of Bethnal Green
359 Bethnal Green Road
E2 6LG

Directions:

Tube: Bethnal Green
Overground: Shoreditch High Street

Bus: 8, 106, 388, 254, D3
Nightbus: N8, N253

Advertisements

No Doubt Looking Cowardly for Pulling “Hot” Video

Touchy subjects are meant to be poked and prodded. It’s then that you get the most genuine response from people. Gut reaction is pure, unfiltered, and often the most “right” response a person can have. If you call someone a racially insensitive word, they might scream at you or punch you in the face; an appropriate reaction to the hate-filled word slung their way. The nonexistent consideration for their being might provoke violence, but it’s a fleeting moment. Art isn’t afforded the same luxury of escaping beyond the scene of the crime, as it endures far beyond the momentary instance of a passing conversation or verbal jab.

That’s why we need artists to latch on to such subjects and make them topics of conversation. It’s my gut reaction that someone else’s gut reaction is often wrongfully violent. Take, for example, the release of No Doubt’s music video for their latest single “Looking Hot,” which has sparked outrage from Native American groups for being “insensitive” towards an entire culture of people, and was quickly taken down off the band’s official YouTube page.

Let’s start with the song, which is about finding something uniquely attractive, with Stefani’s lyrics at once welcoming objectification (“stare on my ragamuffin”) but at the same time consciously playing into the role of said alluring entity. It’s a stagnant message of “female empowerment,” but a message nonetheless. The song takes on a satirical air, poking fun at the “male gaze” and its obsession with things like ragamuffins and demeaning the entity of woman by labeling her simply “hot.” The male cages the female, the female breaks free and harnesses control. The music video merely compliments that idea—if you think about it, that is.

Let’s take a trip back to early America, not unlike the one depicted in No Doubt’s music video (if we want to get really philosophical—they don’t explicitly say this is America, or Native Americans, or—you get my point). It’s a time not a single person alive today experienced. But it is a time we’ve come to accept as being ruthlessly unpleasant for women. While the Industrial Revolution afforded women meager jobs, they were given just that in return; a meager way of life. Housewives, cooks, and family caretakers were still the most common roles for women to play. A woman’s say in politics, culture, and society was largely silent until suffrage movements reared their courageous heads in the early 1900s. Women and Native Americans were minority beings in every sense of the word.

So, we have a time period that valued male brutality, conquest, and strength over dark skin and vaginas. Do we see how it’s appropriate, purely in an artistic sense, for Stefani to take on the role of an imprisoned female Native who’s delicate frame is poked, prodded, and held captive (physically and ideologically) by the upper male hand? The clues are all there. In the lyrics and in the quick-draw between the attractive woman and Adrian Young as a “Cowboy,” Tony Kanal as an imprisoned Native, Stefani leading a tribal ceremony in dance around a fire…the list goes on; repressed versus the repressor, caging the “other,” and finally showing us the beauty of the uniquely mysterious “minority.” A battle rages towards the end, signifying an important clash of the underdog and the iron fist of dominant ideals keeping them down, an important message that, by all means, should not be stifled in today’s volcanic arena of social injustice.

I can understand backlash against things that are mindlessly provocative. Incoherence in art makes it easy to target those merely using something like race at face value to make a fleeting headline on Perez Hilton. Art with intent beyond making a momentary splash, however, is different. Think of the episode of “The Sarah Silverman Program” where Sarah mistakenly dons blackface to experience what it’s “really like” to be black. She believes she’s starting a racial dialogue, but merely brings criticism upon herself for her careless decision and strayed focus from the task at hand. The act becomes about her, not about the issue. It’s a brilliant episode. The same logic can be applied here. Trying to empathize with the struggles of another group of people is pointless and irrelevant to the progression of society. You can’t understand struggle unless it happens to you. Sympathy turned into action, however, is where change is made. No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” music video may be part gorgeous aesthetic and part social commentary, but the thread of coherence runs throughout the entire piece, which deserves a fighting chance to be heard versus quick dismissal like its subjects and real-life counterparts years ago.

Shower me with accusations of premature vitriol, but they’re cowards for taking it down.

Why Carly Rae Jepsen Will Work

Sweet voice. Dimpled smile. Tiny frame sporting clothes stripped right off the freshest rack at the hippest Justice in the world. The girl in question looks no more than seventeen years old. An average, suburban-bred cutie pie indiscernible from the hordes of others who sing along to the multi-platinum single she released earlier this year when it makes its rotations on the local eight at eight.

The reality is that this “girl” is Carly Rae Jepsen, nearly thirty and poised to ascend the ranks of worldwide pop royalty with the release of her new album, “Kiss,” today.

Of course any pop artist would kill to have a track like “Call Me Maybe” in their repertoire; the single reached #1 in major markets around the globe within the first few months of its release. Jepsen joined the ranks of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry as one of the biggest successes for contemporary pop in the past year. The question on everybody’s mind, however, soon turned to how exactly Jepsen would turn a massive single hit into an extended career as a pop superstar.

“Kiss” is armed with an artillery of songs that sound like a raging battle of young love, where lollipops take the place of swords and Hershey Kisses burst out of candy-cane shaped cannons. It’s sweet, catchy, and represents a much-needed escape from the pretentious, watered-down theatrics of some of today’s biggest pop acts. The one thing that separates Jepsen from the aforementioned poster children for contemporary pop music is her image. She doesn’t really “fit in” with any of the industry’s other leading ladies. The dichotomy between the “old” and “new” has never been more apparent as it is today. We still have tried-and-true traditional icons from past decades like Britney Spears, P!nk, and Christina Aguilera still impacting international charts; then you have the “newcomers” (as Xtina so lovingly refers to them) in the vein of Gaga, Minaj, and Rihanna making a colorful (albeit an arguably superficial) splash with their outlandish costumed antics both onstage and off. Jepsen lacks the maturity which anchors the former group firmly into our iPods (she’s 26), nor the “freshness” the latter possessed when their “originality” first impacted the industry (um, she’s 26).  In essence, Jepsen is the first “traditional” pop star we’ve seen sift through the bullshit, feathers, and pseudo-subgenres to the top of the mainstream charts in years.

Of course she’s done it all without bleeding to death on stage or kissing Madonna, but that’s not to say Jepsen hasn’t had any “help” along the way. Her career, persona, and musical output at this point strikes me as such an interesting dichotomy between forced and genuine that it’s hard to discern whether or not she’s actually a “pop star” or she’s simply hit the industry jackpot at a time consumers crave simplicity and no-strings-attached innocence over anything else.

Take, for example, Jepsen’s alternate medium equivalent, Bella Swan of the Twilight novel and film series. The girl is a vapid, lifeless character who resonates with young readers (particularly girls) largely due to her “non-existing” existence. She has no personality, wholeheartedly emotionless, and is played by perhaps the most boring, stony-faced actress of our generation, Kristen Stewart. At the risk of sounding like a generalizing asshole, it’s hard not to think the female fanbase of a series like Twilight is simply indulging in a cut-and-paste series of events where they’re subconsciously interchangeable with a lifeless protagonist and her experiences. After all, Bella is paired with a hunky guy she’s “forbidden” to “have” (uh oh, cue rebellious teen girl phase), ultimately portrayed by arguably the most intense-looking, attractive young man in contemporary Hollywood, Robert Pattinson, who really looks at them when he’s framed, close-up, on the silver screen in front of them (really, now, how many shots can you have of one actor looking into the camera in a single film?).

How many times have you seen a “Will you be my Edward Cullen?” Facebook posting, message board comment, poster, sticker, binder, trapper keeper (still using those, right?), or any other form of studio propaganda convincing girls this is the type of man they want—the type of man they need—and is ultimately a fictional creation whose only contributing a blank slate for which girls to project their desires unto with (no return) in a one-sided “relationship” rooted in fantasy. The only way they can “have” him is by, well, buying more Twilight bullshit.

Jepsen’s music, as gleaned from a quick listen to “Kiss,” calls upon listeners to fill the same set of shoes. The lyrics are almost unbearably saccharine, too sweet to be taken entirely seriously as a 27-year old woman’s deepest confessions, yet tinged with just enough suggestive flirtation to make her fit in with the contemporary Top 40 crowd. Her appearance begs us to disregard her body as a canvas (something Gaga or Ke$ha cringe at) and as a mere playful vessel just being cute and “doing what girls do” as she dances onstage with all the coy innocence of a high schooler at their first boy/girl party. She’s relatable for lacking a concrete personality. Her songs don’t require much thought to really enjoy, and she’s singing them without the theatrical flair that make her industry counterparts so readily accessible at awards shows and on magazine covers. They come with previously established standards of eccentricity, Jepsen merely comes with a song and a smile—there is a superstar, and then there is a famous girl. Gaga is revered as a performer, as a star, as someone associated with the outlandish, a clear border between her and the “normality” of the consumer. Jepsen, however, is simply “a girl with some cute outfits and catchy pop songs.” How does that manage to burst through the corsets, pink wigs, and glow-in-the-dark capes?

I’ll tell you how; with the help of a male pop star. Jepsen’s rise to fame came as a contestant on “Canadian Idol,” where she placed third. Her superstardom, however, didn’t come until after she exchanged tweets with Justin Bieber, who then signed her to his record label. Bieber’s commanding force of millions of young girls swayed the tides in Jepsen’s favor. She didn’t necessarily “do” anything besides bask in the spotlight Bieber fixed on her. Clearly we’re past the social mindset that men “need” women and the other way around, but it’s hard not to think that Jepsen would never have succeeded if it weren’t for the sexually-crazed girls blindly following wherever Bieber’s dic—erm, point of interest—directed them. In interviews, magazine articles, and even on “Kiss” where she sings a duet with him, she’s consistently associated with the teen heartthrob. A point of reference for teen girls, a simple façade, but the receptor of Bieber’s attention, something these fans so desperately seek.

Even the likes of Adele and Taylor Swift have their identities carved out for them, whether by genuine artistry or by studio analysts. Adele is brooding, not physically atypical for a “pop star,” and has a voice that elevates her beyond the Katys and the Rihannas; Taylor Swift dabbled in a genre that’s all about consistency and wholesomeness far before she dipped her hands into the well of pop. She got her start crooning about idolizing a country icon, Tim McGraw, as many women have, and has ridden the waves ever since. What Swift does, however, is pen her own tracks in the vein of authenticity. She publicizes breakups and turns trivial moments like Kanye West stealing her microphone at the VMAs into a song that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place if sung to someone who raped her. Carly Rae isn’t really doing any of this on her own. She kind of wants you to “know” her, but kind of really wants to have her song played in a club, too.

But, what’s fueling this desire to return to pop’s roots as a traditional outlet for “normal” people turned superstars? Have we finally tired of putting effort into caring about Gaga’s meat dresses, about the vomit in Ke$ha’s hair? The truth is that people like Gaga and Ke$ha are genuine artists. They pen their own tracks, compose their own music, and even write for other artists. They’ve established themselves as a business with an edgy shell that happens to involve a little glitter and grease. But has the public given up on recognizing their artistry in favor of the glitzy bits? Carly Rae represents the opposite in a time where it’s convenient to simply say “fuck this mardi gras bullshit, I just want a pop star I want to fuck.”

I hope none of this sounds like a sexist rant, because industries like the music business have always banked on gendered appeal whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Whether Carly Rae Jepsen’s success will ride on the genuinely catchy tunes that provide the bulk for her “traditional” pop album, “Kiss,” or her ability to “happen” at a time when simplicity and innocence provide a convenient escape from the cluttered state of the world is still yet to be seen.

XxXtina Releases “Your Body”

Many a workers’ commute were made a tad brighter as Christina Aguilera—diva extraordinaire, human balloon, and all-around pro at tossing her gum into a sea of screaming fans—released her new single, “Your Body,” in the wee hours of an otherwise dreary Monday morning.

Along with thousands of gals, gays, and fans of hate-fucking (isn’t that a requirement to be an Xtina fan?) I, too, spent the day zipping through town with my windows down blaring the pop icon’s latest pseudo-R&B/electro club banger, but not without a typical writer’s bout with self-reflection and a need to expel any and all feelings regarding its release via the expertly written (erm, typed) word.

The summer months of 2012 were an explosive rebirth of 90s pop culture indulgences. Thankfully, no one in my circle sported a “Rachel” or a fanny pack, but we did see an exponential increase in the cultural relevance of Madonna (her “Ray of Light” era counts here, right?), No Doubt, and Britney Spears. If you haven’t purchased music from any of these artists and/or watched “The X-Factor” lately, the 90s sends its sincerest apologies for purging itself of your existence.

Christina’s potential return to “form,” however, comes after giving her PR team the toughest two years of their lives after the abysmal performance of her last LP, “Bionic,” her film debut, “Burlesque,” and her divorce & DUI arrest in 2011.

Thankfully, the Gay Gods answered her prayers and sent her a gig as judge on NBC’s surprise hit “The Voice,” which catapulted her asshole antics into every living room in America. While this new platform provided Christina with an extremely important outlet for which to give herself masturbation material (she thinks her critiques are really good), no perk of being on the show could come close to touching her newfound ability to suckle the vitality of the up-and-coming contestants and funnel it into the flaming release of “Your Body.”

The track roars with the audacity the entire “Stripped” album thought it had, albeit tinged with a bit more nearly-middle-aged sexual desperation; My initial reaction to the song went a little something like this: “mmm damn gurl you still got i—‘ALL. I. WANNA. DO. IS FUCK YO BODAAYY’– *SCOOBY DOO EARS* RRHUUUUH?!” Heart attack and panic as I rolled up the windows in embarrassment, the family sitting next to me in idle traffic casting their Jesus rays my way.

I was not prepared, but I guess I always knew Xtina was a forceful top.

It’s just that she’s doing exactly what made “Bionic” an absolute bore; provocative for the sake of being provocative. There’s no substance in trying to sound like Santigold on “Bobblehead” or M.I.A. on “Elastic Love” (a track I still think she penned for Christina knowing how awful it was) beyond making a point of reference that merely indicates the attempt at being provocative, thereby tearing down the veil of authenticity we so desperately desire. Because we want to believe Christina is penning her own tracks, cutting them in the studio with producers, and touring her music in tip-top vocal condition; but the reality of “Bionic” was anything but, seeing the singer instead dilute herself into a cloudy mixture of genres that didn’t suit her, but probably sounded edgy in the pitch meeting. The bottom line remains that her voice defies channeling, especially into already-specific styles of the likes of people such as Santigold and M.I.A.; when Christina mimicked their vocal stylings, she lost what made her stand out, and “Bionic” resulted in a failed attempt at playing ‘catch-up’ than it did a triumphant sprint across the finish line.

Don’t get me wrong, I love indulging in Christina’s asshole antics, but can she really come through with another hit album after this long? One that does something new—or, for the least part, something consistently well—that showcases her as the talent we fell in love with in the first place? She’s poised for success, but lacking the element of originality albums like “Stripped” and “Back to Basics” oozed with so many years ago.

If we’re to judge by “Your Body,” Christina will see a spike in sales if only for her appearance on “The Voice” to thank for it. The show is promotion within promotion, and it’s sad to see a former powerhouse icon rely on another format to provide a crutch or training wheel support for an ascent up the charts a’la Jennifer Lopez during her stint on “American Idol.” To me, being a child of the 90s, Christina’s voice defined a generation when Britney’s cleavage and coochie were busy defining a fleeting instance of blossoming teenage sexuality. “Your Body” is good, listenable, and ultimately an enjoyable pop outing, but lacks the punch of iconic artistry Christina should be pumping out at this stage of her career. The whole “Pussy Eat Everything” mentality isn’t becoming on anyone, let alone a one-in-a-billion talent often compared to the likes of Billie Holiday and Etta James.

For the fun of it, please picture Etta singing the chorus of “Your Body.” Shade, shade, shade.

At the end of the day, we’re all just bitches sitting in a little spinny chair judging the shit out of the dancing monkeys placed before us. And while I still thought I looked cute singing “Your Body” en route to work, channeling my best “Alicia Silverstone in the white jeep from Clueless,” I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror of what is actually my parent’s old pickup truck; a beautiful contradiction, if you will, one which reminded me that, just like Christina, even the shittiest of vessels can still carry the most beautiful of packages.

Catching Up with Alex Young: Excerpts from my Interview with her from East End Fashion Magazine

“It was a sweet bird,” she says, fumbling for words in the most endearing way possible. “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize birds before this particular photo shoot, but now I know they have a lot of personality. They’re really willing to pose.”

She’s ever a gracious soul, even to feathered co-stars unable to understand a single thing that comes out of her mouth.

It’s a good thing humans easily understand the effects of sweet, sonically seductive musical stylings is as easy as kicking back and switching your brain’s pleasure dial to the tune of “indulge.” It’s the essence of grace that makes indulging in everything about up-and-coming New York City-based pop singer Alex Young so unbelievably satisfying. One day her crystalline voice wafts through a set as the opening act for Cee-Lo Green, the next she’s modeling gorgeous vintage clothing alongside toucans and a python, poise and grace successfully intact for both.

So, let’s give her credit; she has actually far outgrown the generic label of “pop singer.” After all, you don’t make it to MTV’s airwaves without paying your dues, although it helps when talent is imbued at a young age. She says music has been a huge part of her life ever since she was a  child, with memories of her childhood involving parents who filled the house constantly with music, embedding it in her mind and forming a warm relationship that endures to this day.

Sentiment aside, her contemporary career was built upon electronic and pop sounds, but her latest single, “Don’t Play With Me,” threw a funky wrench into the musical machine, complimenting her signature quirkiness and flamboyant performing style.

“The song was just a natural evolution and progression. I’ve always been a lover of old-school Motown and funk music,” she says. “I wanted to incorporate funk somehow… and we took it from there. I’m really excited with the sound.”

The risk paid off. “Don’t Play With Me” garnered Young extensive airtime on MTV-U and the music video for the single (featuring Young in a dazzlingly stylish old-school red jumpsuit) now has over one million views on YouTube.

“You work so hard on putting music together and getting the right sound,” she says of creating the song. “Thankfully the fans were very receptive of the new style. I wanted to go in a slightly different direction, so I don’t think it’s a departure from my sound. It’s derivative of my music, but I always want to push the envelope and keep things new. When you start to concern yourself with what other people are thinking, your music is totally screwed. Your focus is external when it should be internal, and I try my best to concentrate on only that.”

If there’s one thing that’s clear about Young’s career, it’s that she harbors a deep appreciation for the fans that make her work possible. Always a present force on social networking sites, Young never misses an opportunity to interact with her growing set of followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook, 30,000 of which she’s netted on the former. Her page promotes her latest endeavors and projects while Young communicates with her fans, shining a bit of positive light on those who make her career possible.

Along with the new single, Young says she’s currently working on a killer follow-up album to her debut LP, “Amazing,” released in 2009. The album is a return to her roots in electronic pop, while moving in a new direction entirely less traditional than funk.

“Trap” music, as it’s known, is a relatively new stylistic subgenre incorporating elements of dubstep and urban dance, although infinitely “more listenable” than those, Young assures of the new style we can look forward to on the album.

“It’s really an evolution of dubstep. There are a lot of DJ’s playing it right now. It’s very, very new and a lot of people haven’t heard of it yet, especially from a mainstream artist” she says. “I really wanted to bring it to its full scope. It’s relaxed, it’s not as hyped up…it’s that groove that keeps you moving, listening, and involved.”

As for what’s inspiring these slight alterations to her music career, Young says it comes in the form of, well, typical everyday experiences.

“I take a lot of my creative process through ordinary things. The city is constantly inspiring me, and fashion on the street is a huge part of that,” she says. “In New York City you never know what you’re going to see. When you walk on the subway you’ll see someone in a bumblebee outfit or an outfit that’s pop art with a modernistic touch, huge headpieces, leggings and platform shoes… all kinds of style that’s always pushing and inspiring me.”

While we won’t be seeing Young take to the stage in costume as a five-foot insect in stilettos, her appreciation for unabashed confidence and fashion shines through in her clothing line, simply titled A Young Rose.

The line, a collaborative endeavor with her stylist, Arlinda McIntosh, is a minimalistic reinvention of the classic, funky styles of yesteryear.

“The next installment is going to be old Hollywood with a lot more funk,” she says. “I want to throw some fun colors in there and have some fun. Arlinda is in her 50s, I’m in my 20s and it’s an interesting dynamic between the two of us creating a line that speaks to everyone. There’s no age base, it’s style-based.”

Young also cites two very interesting inspirations for fashion and style in general. Audrey Hepburn, the classic film beauty who exudes class and regality. The other? Studio 54 legend Rollerina, a large-and-in-charge drag queen personality straight from the heyday of the club kid scene, whom Young recently had the pleasure of meeting.

Cranking out pieces for a fashion line isn’t the only way Young unleashes her inner fashionista. She creative directs many of her photoshoots, including the aforementioned shoot where she posed with various birds and reptiles.

“I love creating concepts and imagining a scene, whatever it might be, how it relates to my music, and producing it,” she says of the visual creative process. “This photoshoot was always a dream of mine, from the setting to the clothing to animals to the dark and mysterious, yet powerful tone, it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

But, there are some aspects of her career, found in the most glamorous of places, which test her fearless demeanor.

“Alright, I did have mixed feelings about the snake,” she admits.

Alas, the end result is gorgeous. The snake looks happy. She looks comfortable.

So, Ms. Young does have limits. Luckily for us, she isn’t prone to paying them much attention.

One Year, One Voice; Remembering Amy

It’s been one year, down to the day, that one of the greatest voices in contemporary music was silenced forever. July 23, 2011 marked the death of Amy Winehouse; an artist’s death that affected millions around the world. As we go one year without the voice that inspired so many, I want to revisit an article I did for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last summer, explaining my frustrations at the outrage over the media coverage of her death. As we endure an age where media oversensation runs rampant, I wanted to touch on various aspects of celebrity culture I think are entirely important to cover in the news. Detractors cite her various addictions as reason to “expect” her death and, in turn, somehow justify it as something trivial and unworthy of our attention. I wanted to cover these topics in the article. The fact remains that Amy’s voiced touched millions, and while her physical voice may be silenced, the part of our hearts she illuminated will sing forever.

ORIGINALLY POSTED IN THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, JULY 2011

He can only hold her for so long,

The lights are on, but no one’s home.

Amy Winehouse, “He Can Only Hold Her”

It’s a seemingly trite verse lifted from a tune which appears on the late Ms.  Winehouse’s sophomore (and, unfortunately, final) album “Back to Black.” Without  context, it doesn’t mean much. When examining the all-too-brief life of the  woman who wrote it, though, it becomes as searing as her out-of-this-era  voice.

The lights were certainly “on” in one way or another for Ms. Winehouse. Five  Grammys. International sales certifications named after every precious metal in  existence. Top 10 hits in what seems to be every country that hosts broadcast  radio.

But no one seemed to be “home” to discipline the young lady with all the  accolades. Certainly not Ms. Winehouse herself.

Images of the singer trolling the streets of London, barely coherent, come  quickly to mind. This seems to be how the media favored her. She was the celebrity screw-up. The headline disaster that struck once a  weekend. An easy target. The butt of the joke. All for being brutally honest  about her life, including her addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine.

She was an addict. But she was also one of my biggest inspirations.

Fans know the tragic last years of her life as the “old” Amy. This wasn’t the  Amy they wanted to see come out with another album. This was the Amy that  whenwillamywinehousedie.com preyed upon; certainly not the Amy I hoped would  survive.

The media awaited — and at certain points, even I painfully expected — the  breaking news of her death-too-soon.

“I’m absolutely disgusted that her death is receiving more coverage than the  tragedy in Oslo,” one of my friends said to me. “People are crying for Amy but  can’t even point out Oslo on a map,” he continued, “It’s just proof of this  country’s pathetic obsession with fame as well as the total lack of empathy with  the common person, albeit in a different part of the world.”

His frustrations have been echoed by many a hipster-Greenpeace-vegan hybrid  since the news arrived of Ms. Winehouse’s death. I mean, “anti-establishmentism”  is the bees knees nowadays.

It’s not hard to see that Ms. Winehouse was a godsend to many. The fact that  news of her death impacted so many people is no fault of the media which is  reporting it. If a story is being read, it would only make sense for an outlet  to cover it. The public has spoken, and news of Ms. Winehouse’s passing seems to  be hitting home with far more than just those “pathetically obsessed with  fame”.

News of her death hit me as hard as the first note I heard escape her tiny,  delicate frame. I was 16. She was around the same age that I am now. But her  voice smoldered with tinges of another era (though it’s done heapings of  injustice by any comparison whatsoever) that took me to a place I could  experience only by way of headphones and “Back to Black” on repeat.

The time I spent with her music was time I spent getting to know her. Loving  Amy was not, for me, about an obsession with fame, as my friend seems to think.  When an artist becomes a celebrity because she expresses extraordinary  creativity, as Ms. Winehouse did with every song she wrote and performed, she  forms a relationship with her listeners. Not only of a consumer-supports-artist  nature, but even on a spiritual level.

The darker side of life pervaded Ms. Winehouse’s music. Whether it was in  crooning a beautifully subdued rendition of the 1958 Teddy Bears’ hit “To Know  Him Is To Love Him” or tackling original tracks like the disturbingly honest  “Rehab,” Ms. Winehouse never downplayed her struggles. She needed no safety net,  and the public certainly never provided her one.

Underneath the veil of fame was a dark, lonely, self-deprecating human being  who placed herself on display through her art. Any fan of hers will tell you  that. Her songs are like a diary, written for all of us to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big of a Britney Spears fan as the next guy, but  I’ll never be more than a “fan” of music products like her. We feel safe with  products. Ms. Winehouse was anything but “safe,” in both her artistry and her  personal life.

She was a danger to herself and no one denies that. But her public struggle  made her a shoulder to lean on for so many people she never knew. And it made  her death more tangible to those who loved her. Ms. Winehouse’s lyrics touched  the similarly afflicted hearts of those who clung to her as the second coming of  Billie Holiday.

Many of the hundreds of thousands mourning her death are simply mourning a  friend. We’re not elevating her death above the tragedy in Norway; we’re  grieving a personal loss that just so happened to coincide with an unspeakable  act of terrorism.

As a culture, we seem to have an “I told you so” mentality. Amy Winehouse  detractors “aren’t shocked” or “couldn’t care less” about her death, as I gather  from countless Facebook postings and conversations with friends. Now that their  “prophecy” has come true, the stake needs to be driven deeper. It can’t suffice  that she succumbed to a disease that’s little different from a fast food-induced  heart attack or smoking-induced lung cancer. We feel the need to keep talking.  Like it’s an addiction.

The song “He Can Only Hold Her” continues:

How can he have her heart,

When it got stole?

Ms. Winehouse’s heart may have been damaged and easily stolen in her search  for acceptance, but I’m thankful that I was given at least a piece of it in  recompense for the part of mine she’s since taken to the grave.

Rest in peace, Amy. I have a feeling the angels will be doing more listening  than singing thee to rest.