Pop Music

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.

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Help Alex Young Pick Her Next Single

Alex Young, NYC's finest rising pop diva

She’s at it again.

As many of you will remember, I interviewed rising NYC pop singer (and total sweetheart) Alex Young last summer for PopSmut. Her interview was candid, funny, and one definitely one of my favorite set of answers I’ve ever received. Click here to refresh your memory.

Since our interview, Young has had some radio success with her bass-banging club hit, “Government Name”.

Now, she needs your help.

Young is currently in the process of picking her next single, and she wants us to help her choose it. Click the link below and check out snippets of three potential hits, “Headphones” (my personal favorite), “Get Back”, and “Don’t Play With Me”.

Right now, it seems as though everyone is favoring the Kylie Minogue-esque throbber “Headphones”, and frankly that seems like the most logical choice to me as well. It’s definitely the strongest track out of the three, as well as the most in-tune with industry trends (while still maintaining Young’s individual sassy stylings).

Click hereto help her decide.

Follow her on twitter @AlexYoungMusic

Follw us on twitter @joeynolfi

Robyn Speaks Her Body: Announces Deets on 3rd “Talk”

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The reigning Queen of underground pop music has announced details concerning the last installment in her truly epic Body Talk series today. The singer confirmed everyone’s speculations that an electrtonically orgasmic reworking of the last acoustic track on Part 2, entitled “Indestructible” would serve as Part 3‘s lead single.

Robyn also revealed the track’s cover art (seen above) which will accompany the single as it is released to the public on November 22nd of this year.

Although all of this comes as infinitely exciting as the second coming of Christ  (well…to me, at least) I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the last bit of information we’ve been given about the LP; it’s actually more of an EP. The complete “album” will include 15 tracks, only 5 of which will be new. The remaining 10 will be the “best” tracks from Part 1 and Part 2.

All gripes aside, though, I think we’re seeing something truly epic happening here that’s reflective of major shifts in the way we’re going to see music released. The trend that was popularized (notice I didn’t say “started by”) by Lady Gaga last year with her 8-track holy grail of music, The Fame Monster, is definitely trickling down through the industry. Kelis released a 9-track album earlier this year, and each of Robyn’s Body Talk albums have been short and sweet (ranging from 6-8 “new” tracks each). And not one of them felt in the least bit rushed or unfinished; completely cohesive, brilliant albums that went above and beyond being short but sweet. I say bring on the more frequent short EP’s…hell, established artists have a hard enough time selling complete albums as it is nowadays *cough* Bionic *cough*.

Look for Body Talk: Part 3 on November 29th.

Ana-Analyzing the Brilliance of Ale-Alejandro

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-An opinion piece by Joey Nolfi-

“Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”

These words, so carefully and eloquently chosen by Christian-singer-turned-bisexuality-exploitress Katy Perry, are just a sampling of the love-it-or-hate-it response Lady Gaga has received en masse since releasing the video to the brilliant single Alejandro at noon today. We’ll ignore the fact that it’s even more cliché to jump the spectrum and go from praising Jesus to praising another girl’s cherry-chapsticked lips (*gasp*) or that it’s even more uninspired to use food as a low-brow metaphor for a penis, but we’ll let Ms. Perry have another one of her look-at-me (PLEASE! NOW I HAVE BLUE HAIR! I CAN BE DIFFERENT TOO!) moments while the rest of the world continues to discuss Alejandro, at once one of the more simplistic yet ultimately more personal and riveting pieces of Godga’s illustrious videography.

(Watch the video for Alejandro by clicking here)

If she’s proven anything to us over the course of the past two years, Lady Gaga has definitely proven that she’s wholeheartedly unafraid. And I’m not talking about the Lindsay Lohan Rumors type of unafraid, I’m talking about the fearless way she genuinely disconnects herself from any and all media scrutiny so many of her peers let under their skin.  Gaga puts out what she puts out, after all it is her art, and she’s unafraid to displease followers of what is considered commercial normalcy. And like any good artist, she knows it’s incredibly time consuming, pointless, and silly to try and convince the polar-opposite crowd of the already-convinced of what is to them the unconvincable; that what she’s doing is in fact art. She’s unafraid to show us what’s brimming beneath that gorgeous blonde (and sometimes black…and sometimes with a bit of yellow…and sometimes, um, gray…) hair. She’s unafraid to take something other artists have done before and re-envision it. I mean, no one is claiming that the visually “blasphemous” (I use that word very loosely, I don’t necessarily agree that the imagery does in fact fall into that category, but we’ll get to that later) elements within the Alejandro video are unique. Or revolutionary. Or foreign to the commercial masses, for that matter. We’ve seen this all before; Madonna’s been crucified live onstage, Kathy Griffin told Jesus to suck it, and hell, 40 years ago Linda Blair was shoving crosses up her piche. The art of visual stimulance by way of religious iconography is nothing new. So what makes Gaga’s much more personal crack at this so moving? Well, this is how I see it…

Simply in terms of the song itself, Alejandro has been described as the Lady’s “fear of sex” anthem in countless interviews since her sophomore album (which contains the song) debuted in late 2009. The fear of intimacy, being possessed by someone (or possessed by sex, for that matter), and the gloomy strain that lust can put on the human heart and mind are all relatable things Alejandro’s lyrics cover.  And as much as I cringe when I hear someone pretentiously say that their body is a “temple”, I can’t help but to acknowledge that this cliché is the best way to introduce my analysis of the song and video. Lyrically Alejandro presents us with the idyllic, over-romanticized (primarily by other commercial media) portrait of the Latin male, represented here by Alejandro, Fernando, and Roberto. What better way to represent love banging down your door than by commercial media’s classical depiction of the stereotypically-exotic, dark, romantic male?

In terms of the actual video, Gaga lets us know right from the beginning that she is in fact the Queen of her very own dark, twisted (and cold) castle. The harem of men penetrates her gates as any budding relationship would do to, say, a guarded and closed-hearted soul. This entire beginning sequence is punctuated by loud stomping, banging, and altogether startling noises representative of the breach that sex has ultimately made into Gaga’s mind. I won’t deny that what the men carry (most notably the Freemason-esque pentagram one conspicuously brandishes) is overtly “evil” or “satanic” in terms of thematics, because in part I genuinely feel they represent a very dark and evil entity Gaga wrote the song about; sex. I mean, did anyone ever think that perhaps the symbols commonly accepted as “satanic” or “evil”, as associated with the group of invaders, perhaps represent something that Gaga truly rejects? I mean it’s not like anyone is sitting down to a nice cup of tea with her at any point in the video. She’s certainly not fraternizing with them, and she’s definitely not accepting their presence. These men are violently and feverishly knocking the Queen off her royal pedestal and ultimately pulling her into a twisted world of sex devoid of color or emotion. Remember, sex is what is to be feared, at least within the lyrical context of the song, and by all means this is a personal depiction of the dark, twisted depths sex can sink the heart and mind into. And what better way to represent something evil than with, well, “evil” imagery? After all, everything in the bulk of the video takes place after we see a very attractive male sitting half-naked on the edge of a bed…perhaps an impending sexual partner leading to the provocation of internal insecurities and struggle?

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As the video moves along, we see the barrage of men stripped down to nothing but a tiny loin cloths, fishnets, and fierce stilettos; a subtle yet impactful shift in footwear from the rugged and masculine combat boots they donned as we were first introduced. Gaga has also been stripped of her royal regalia and now sports a “bowl cut” (for lack of better description) of shared similarity to the ones the intruders possess. What happens next includes intense sexual grinding, positioning, groping, etc., made all the more effective by the shift in attire resulting in minimal decoration on the now seemingly-genderless bodies of the men and Gaga. Sexuality might be a gateway to the darkest depths of the human heart, but sexuality is something that connects nearly every human being, regardless of gender or sexuality (two of the men are also seen caressing). Stripping down the subjects and deindividualizing them (and even having Gaga herself simulating active anal penetration on one of the men) creates an air of equality on the now-even playing field of human sexuality.

The video itself can also be viewed as an embracing of religion by Gaga through one key scene. As Gaga lays on the bed preparing for whatever sexual activity might occur between her and the shirtless male at the foot of the bed, she swallows a rosary, perhaps a nudge to the fact that she embraces a much lighter, higher power and allows it to envelop her. We then see another shift to the black and white visuals as the now fully-clothed men sashay past Gaga, who dances and almost joyously prances amidst them as they cleanly and solidly bounce past her. Perhaps a glimpse of a life where sex can be resisted? Where overt sexuality is not a concern and men will waltz right past? Where the bearing of having to please someone with your own sexuality is not a concern? Whatever it is, the gravity of sex ultimately weighs down on Gaga for the last time as she is encircled and disrobed by the gang of men, becoming truly exposed as a person, not only in terms of outwards sexuality. The powerful video concludes as, assumingly after sex, Gaga lies lifeless and cold on her bed, having lost the battle between insecurity and sexuality.

I could go on for days about whatever else I think about the video, but I just wanted to express my feelings regarding what seem to be the biggest issues people are having with what Gaga has created. She’s so far beyond anything else that’s out there right now. How often do you see another artist succeeding in the commercial market that produces, art directs, composes, designs, and sings on top of that? The answer is no one. Gaga has risen to where she is because she doesn’t do things like everyone else. Sure, she’s using thematic material that’s been apart of mainstream culture since Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” or Munch’s “Madonna”. But it’s the way in which she personalizes her craft that sets her apart. Her personal mark is on every single thing she does, and she wholeheartedly takes credit for everything she does. She doesn’t have time to be singing about CAliiFoRniA GuRlZ or 10,000 fucking lightning bugs, she’s busy exploring herself as a person, only on a much larger (and more heavily-funded) scale than the rest of us can. Gaga isn’t a product, she simply produces. There is a difference. And what she produces is an extension of herself that becomes that much more beautiful because she infuses it with her audience. Her art is impactful because she’s able to communicate with and experiment with the millions who devour what she puts out. The masses become her subjects, but also her listeners. Her supporters-and at times when her work seems like it’s getting her high-her enablers. Utilitzing such recognizable symbols for personal expression in art is an entirely different ballgame. It’s one thing to calculatedly say “look at me, I’m gonna shock the hell out of you and put a flashing heart over my vagina” and an entirely different thing to say “look, here’s what the fuck is inside my brain”.

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So in coming full circle, yes, Ms. Perry, what you meant to say (but ever so elegantly failed to) was that using religious imagery in entertainment is, in fact, a rather common occurrence. Well now that you’ve overcome your dark days of exploiting the “Lord” in hopes of selling a few Christian rock albums (remember the early days, bitch?), it’s good to see you can in fact make coherent observations regarding the industry you’re “involved” in. But do me a favor…write a few songs yourself, compose some of your own music, art direct a few of your own videos, hell, just give your whole soul to the industry like Gaga has and then maybe I can respect where your disrespect comes from. But until you’ve walked even a half a mile in Gaga’s invisible-heel monstrosities, until you’ve crafted a video that can even come close to being open to as much interpretation as I’ve put into Alejandro, put a god damn popsicle in it.

by Joey Nolfi