Friday, November 29, 2013

40 Things that are Wrong with Nicole Westbrook's "It's Thanksgiving"

Happy late Thanksgiving, everyone.

Here's something to be thankful for.  This gem given to us by media-obsessed corporate America.  One of the notorious creations of producer Patrice Wilson (known especially for birthing Rebecca Black's "Friday" through ARK Music Factory).

I present to you here, for your entertainment, my list of things that are wrong with this video.  There are a lot of them.  I'll try to keep it all in chronological order.

Before I start my actual list, I just would like to say that the fact that this video even exists is wrong in its own right.  The purpose of Mr. Wilson's company is to give young rich kids a chance to perform in a music video. Parents will shell out thousands of dollars to this company in hopes that their child will become the next Justin Bieber, not acknowledging the fact that their precious kiddies have little to no talent, and that they are putting the fate of their child's future into the hands of a "composer" and "producer" who writes nothing more than garbage. And, to make matters worse, these videos are posted on YouTube and the people involved are expecting them to be taken seriously!  Watch twenty seconds of this video and you know exactly what you're going to get: self-obsession and decadence in the form of a cheap music video.  It's a grand waste of time, money, and effort. You'd think we'd learn after the "Friday" debacle that this is in no way a good thing for society.  But no.

Alright... now to this music video in particular...

1.  While the video actually seems somewhat promising at the beginning, one can't help but notice just how many filler "ohs" and "yeahs" are happening as this long introduction plays.  When does this song actually START?  And what exactly is it ABOUT?
2.  She's sitting on a bed, in what could easily be the most awkward sitting position one has ever seen.  Who exactly is she singing to?  We still don't know yet what this song is actually about.
3.  Her shirt reads "Dance Until Dawn."  How old is this girl?  Doesn't she still have a bedtime, or are her parents even bigger idiots than I thought?
4. That "Come on" that happens 27 seconds in?  That did not need to happen.  This girl obviously is a better singer than Rebecca Black, but nevertheless, this is rather unimpressive vocal work.
5.  "I'm wide awake, and I should take a step and say thank you..."   An okay sentiment, I suppose.  It's good to say "thank you."  But "wide awake"?  Why is this significant?  How early is this?  She's still in her bedroom, so... Morning?  How early? She's fully clothed, looks pretty well-groomed...  At least with Rebecca Black, we saw her at "7 AM, waking up in the morning" with some level of disheveled bedhead.  If you're going to literally translate lyrics into images for the benefit of the lowest-common-denominator idiot of a viewer who can't figure it out without your spoonfeeding, you should probably be consistent.  Moving on...
6.  "For the things you've done, and what you did."  Redundancy at its finest.
7.  45 seconds in, we cut to a montage of ridiculous holiday scenes cut straight out of an American Girl catalog.  Contrived "Greeting Card" poses and all.  I feel sorry for all of those other kids.
8. In "Friday," we learned that Sunday comes after Saturday.  Here, we learn that "December was Christmas, January was New Year's..." etc.  How dumb do you think your audience is, Mr. Wilson?
9.  And heck, all you do is end what should have been a final independent clause with "And the Fourth of July."  Idiotic sentence fragment.
9. I'm sure Valentine's Day and Halloween feel left out.
10.  Fourth of July scene, at around 56 seconds.  Does no one see the definite EDGE of those fireworks?   It's a poorly-edited, square-shaped stock-footage firework video added in later.  Obvious low-budget editing going on here.
11.  Alright, this girl is preparing food on a stove, seemingly without adult supervision (unless you count the guy using the camera, but honestly who knows?).
12.  And what the BLEEP is she preparing??  Stuffing?  Something like that?  What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this actually going to be??
13.  1:22.  She's pulling out a giant turkey, by herself.  WHERE ARE THIS GIRL'S PARENTS??
14.  1:26.  That looks like mac n' cheese.  Nothing says Thanksgiving like Mac n' Cheese.
15.  I have failed to mention the fact that this girl is singing "We, we, we, we gonna have a good time."  I can barely tolerate it when 30-year-old black male rappers use this kind of grammar.  Having a 9-year-old white girl say it?  I shudder every time.
16.  1:36.  I am getting so tired of this camera trick.
17.  1:38.  I guess the only qualm I have here is how incredibly tacky that decoration is, and how much more tacky it becomes when juxtaposed with the tacky lighthouse.  And why is she putting this up ON Thanksgiving day?  Don't you usually put out decorations as a PREPARATION for the holiday?  (Actually, considering what I've seen this year, shouldn't there be CHRISTMAS decorations up at this point?)
18.  "No matter how you do, no matter what you say, this is my favorite."  Okay.  That sentence DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.
19.  And just when you thought the stinking holiday montage was as crazy as could get, now we've got the token middle-aged black guy (Patrice himself, who somehow thinks it's cool to cameo in his own videos) showing up in the middle of the tween festivities, smiling and nodding as if he were singing to two-year-olds who didn't have a clue when New Year's was.  He's the only adult ever to be seen in this video.  Any relation to the other kids?  Not that I can see.  It's a little creepy.
20.  2 minutes in, and now we have Thanksgiving guests.  Once again, no parents.  As happy and fun as this all looks, a part of me wonders how these kids are all allowed to just go over to a friend's house on Thanksgiving.  Don't they all have families they want to see?  Aren't they travelling?  Isn't there some familial obligation they must meet?  Where do a bunch of kids have the time (or the stomach?) to bring food over and have Thanksgiving with other kids, while their families may have their own traditions and plans?  Doesn't make any sense.
21.  2:07.  That pose.  "Put your hand on your hip, Nicole!  There!  Now you look NATURAL!"  There's mugging all over in this vid, but that one's almost as bad as the bed shots.
22. 2:14.  She says "turkey."  Those look like RIBS to me.  (Not like Nicole's complaining, look at that fist-pump she does at the sight of them!)
23. 2:17.  She says "mashed potatoes," but it looks like this boy has brought yams.  Or beets.  Or something.  Obviously Nicole doesn't quite approve.
24. And, of course, the token black guy shows up... in a turkey costume.  I'm sure that's a tradition in many American homes...
25.  NO PARENTS at this feast...  Just the turkey-clad chaperone, and I honestly am questioning his intentions at this point.  Perhaps he's a homeless guy just trying to get food.
26. 2:29.  All heads are bowed for the saying of grace... And then Nicole has the audacity to interrupt the group during a time of prayer!  No wonder she gets the death stare from several kids afterwards.
27.  Wait... the death stare isn't because she interrupted grace. It's because she's miserably attempting to rap.
28.  "It's thanksgiving-giving and I'm tryin' to be forgiving..."  Eminem could probably pull off that slant rhyme.  Nicole cannot.
29.  "Nothin' is forbidden."  Nothing?  Food fight? Alcohol?  Drugs?  After all, no parents here to stop us from doing anything.  Mr. Turkey's probably high already.
30. 2:36  "You know we gotta have."  Gotta have WHAT?
31.  "Can't be hateful/Gotta be grateful" is immediately reversed to "Gotta be grateful/can't be hateful."  Ugh.  This guy's lyric skills are pathetic.
32.  "I got ribs, smellin' up my neighbor's cribs."  Not sure what's more ridiculous: the notion of having ribs at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or the fact that this tiny white girl just said the word "cribs."
33. "We be laughing 'til we cry."  All kinds of awkward right there.
34. 2:58... Aaaaaand now she's using a turkey leg as a microphone.  Holy. Crap.  This has got to be a joke.
35.  3 minutes:  Not a joke.  She's still using that turkey leg as a microphone.
36.  3:06.  Turkey's in the Christmas scene.
37.  3:22.  And he's barbecuing on the Fourth of July.
38.  Those are some half-hearted "eh's" and fist-pumps there, background kids.
39.  3:34.  Cheesiest way to end a music video ever.  That awkward smile as you look at an awkward picture of an awkward thanksgiving dinner where some awkward, creepy guy in a turkey suit shows up to eat your ribs and mac n' cheese.
40. Oh look!  And there's the Christmas card picture, too!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Enabling Transformation of the Atonement

I am going to talk to you about the Atonement. At least the way I perceive the Atonement.  This has sort of become my pet concept in recent months, ever since a very special experience I had on January 9, 2013.  I've already told a lot of people about what exactly happened on that day, but I'd like to talk for a while here about the kinds of things I've experienced immediately following that experience.  I'm interested in the results of discovering the Atonement.  
For years and years, I've had a very particular attachment to a scripture found in the fifth chapter of Alma.  I’m not sure exactly what began that obsession.  It might have been a Janice Kapp Perry song.  But for years, I considered Alma 5:14 to be my all-time favorite scripture:
"And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God?  Have ye received his image in your countenances?  Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?"  (Alma 5:14) 
I think what I initially liked about that scripture was the fact that it’s a boatload of really important questions.  Actually, the whole fifth chapter of Alma is full of great questions.  These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself frequently.  
Where am I on the road to salvation?  
Have I been truly converted?  
Is Christ’s image really reflecting through my countenance?  

Alma talks about experiencing a "mighty change of heart." Well what is that mighty change of heart?  It’s obviously a specific kind, since he put the word this in front of it... 
I have come to believe that what Alma is really asking here is this:  Have I allowed the ATONEMENT to change my heart? 
I testify that the Atonement changes hearts.  And when it changes hearts, it changes lives. 
One of my absolute favorite talks ever given is by Elder Bednar.  He spoke at a University Devotional in 2001, and his address is called “In the Strength of the Lord.”  It is a GREAT talk for college students and young people like us.  And I kid you not, it changed my life. 
First he quotes President David O. McKay: "The purpose of the gospel is… to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.”  Then Elder Bednar goes on to say, "Thus the journey of a lifetime is to progress from bad to good to better and to experience the mighty change of heart – and to have our fallen natures changed.”  He then explains that in order to experience such a change, we have to do as King Benjamin directs in Mosiah 3:  We must put off the natural man and become saints through the atonement of Christ the Lord. (Mosiah 3:19)
That statement right there is GOLD.  We must put off the natural man and become saints THROUGH THE ATONEMENT.  We can't forget to include the Atonement, because only with the atonement does real, permanent change happen. 
So that’s my first point.  We can – and we must -- change through the Atonement.  The Atonement is an agent for change.  Or, as I would rather say, an agent for TRANSFORMATION.  Point one. 
But now the question is HOW does the Atonement change us?  For a long time I was really caught up in this question.  I had trouble visualizing exactly how something so abstract and so eternal could actually have an effect on my life.  I never questioned that it happened.  I knew Christ existed.  I knew Christ suffered and died, and I knew that he rose from the grave and is now our Savior.  But HOW did Christ save me?  What was it that he did that makes his sacrifice able to change who I am?  How can something apply to me and yet still apply to someone else, with different problems and different sins and different experiences?  And more importantly, what do I have to do to make this Atonement thing work?  It’s not a pill I could take.  It’s not a hat I could put on.  For a long time I imagined trying to hold the Atonement in my hand, and all I could see myself doing was holding just air. It was an elusive mystery that I could never understand. It’s more of an idea or event than it is an actual thing.  And I was really frustrated by that, because I like things to be concrete.  I like things to be measurable, but how do you measure something that’s infinite?  If the Atonement is the result of an action by Christ, how can I really understand what that action was if it happened two thousand years ago?   If the Atonement is a reconciliation with God, how can I know that I’m reconciled with God without even seeing Him or witnessing His son's Atonement?  Everything is just so…  unknown.  Immeasurable.  Incomprehensible.  HOW CAN I USE THAT? 
And up until just this past year, I had no answer to these questions.  But then I experienced a few trials that helped humble me and turn to the Lord, and suddenly one fine day there were some things that clicked. I still don’t know the answer to this question 100%, but I do know that the key is Christ. 
One thing I now know for sure is in order to understand the Atonement enough to actually use it to transform your heart, you need to understand Christ.  And the way you understand Christ is to spend time with him.  Read the scriptures, you guys.  It’s such a smart idea.  You can find out exactly how Christ behaved and what his attitude was in the scriptures.  And the Book of Mormon… Oh Gosh, I learned so much from that book this week. 
So what have I learned about Christ through reading the scriptures?  Well, I've learned that he was both WILLING and ABLE to perform the Atonement.  He was ABLE in the fact that he was the only person on earth that could do what he did.  First of all, he’s the only begotten of the Father.  He had Deity in his DNA, and therefore he was able to do something that only a God could do.  He was also ABLE to perform the Atonement because he was perfect and without sin.  No one else can say that about themselves.  No one else can atone for us.  Only Christ is ABLE to change us by atoning for us. 
But the more meaningful part about this is the fact that he was not only ABLE, but WILLING.  Christ, like everyone else on this earth, had agency, and he CHOSE to perform the Atonement.  And I can’t speak for Christ, but from the looks of things, it was a REALLY HARD CHOICE. Because of that choice, he had to experience an infinite amount of pain and suffering, only to be betrayed, scorned, and killed by people he loved immediately afterward. We read in Luke that he said in Gethsemane, “Father, remove this cup from me.”  Obviously the conditions were less than desirable.
 But then he says “NEVERTHELESS (and I’ve recently learned a little about the power of that word, NEVERTHELESS) not my will, but thine be done.”  (Luke 22:44)
And what was God’s will?  “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Begotten son.” (John 3:16) “For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”  (Moses 1:39)
God LOVED us, so he sent his Son.  And Christ, he loved us enough to perform the work God appointed him to do.  Christ was motivated to do what he did by love.  He was not only ABLE to perform the infinite Atonement, he was WILLING, because he loved us. 
Now that kind of love is confusing and overwhelming.  Honestly, I've often wondered HOW someone could have that kind of love for me.  What kind of love is it? 
Last week, I went to the temple, and as I sat there in my white jumpsuit waiting to do baptisms, I thought about the love of Christ.  It began with me stressing out about how other people (mainly boys) felt about me.  I care so much about what this guy or that guy thinks of me... But I felt bad about it because I knew that I knew better than that.  Christ loves me.  Shouldn't that be all that matters?  And that's when I started having this little battle with myself.  I thought, “Okay. Sure. Christ loves me.  But that's nothing special. Christ loves everyone; what makes his love for me so important?”  
Have you ever had your mom say “I love you” and you’re all like, “Oh mom, of course you love me!  You’re supposed to love me!  You’re my mom!”  Well I sort of had that attitude towards Christ.  “Well, of course you love me!  You’re Jesus!  You love everyone!  How is that supposed to make me feel any better?  How does that make me special?” 
And then I heard this voice in my head, very clear.  It brought me to tears.  It said, “Hannah, surely you must know that my love for you is deeper than that!  I love you perfectly!  Because I KNOW YOU.” 
And then my thoughts turned to my dear sister Ellen, who is here in the congregation today.  She’s going on a mission to the Philippines in just three days, and I’m so excited for her.  There in the temple, I thought of her and I realized that I don’t just love my sister because she’s my sister and I HAVE to love her.  I love her because I know who she is. I've grown up with her.  I have seen what a sweet, gifted, loving, beautiful daughter of God she is, and I can’t help but love her!  I love her because I know her! 
He has ULTIMATE, INFINITE empathy for us.  It is impossible for any mortal to understand EXACTLY what another person has gone through.  We may have similar experiences and we can experience similar feelings, but none of us can TRULY COMPLETELY empathize with another person.  Except CHRIST.  Christ can perfectly empathize.  And because of this infinite empathy brought about by the Atonement, Christ can have an infinite love for every person.  He loves ME INFINITELY.  
And the minute I figured that out, this "How-to-use-the-Atonement problem I had began to make sense.  IF WE START SEEING THINGS THE WAY CHRIST SEES THINGS, WE WILL EXPERIENCE THAT MIGHTY TRANSFORMATION OF OUR HEARTS!  WE WILL EXPERIENCE A TRANSFORMATION WITHIN OURSELVES.  We will become like Christ.  Like God!  We will, as Moroni put it, be "made perfect in Christ."  (Moroni 10:32)
And when I discovered this, I found the process begin to happen within me! 
I had the chance to take a look at 3 Nephi 17 this week.  This is the chapter where Christ says “Behold, my time is at hand,” (3 Nephi 17:1) and he prepares to leave the Nephites after appearing unto them, but then he sees the multitude, “in tears, and they did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.”  (3 Nephi 17:5)
And what does Christ say?  He says, “Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.  Have ye any that are sick among you?  Bring them hither.  Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner?  Bring them hither and I will heal them.  My bowels are filled with mercy.” (3 Nephi 17: 6-7)
And then he commands that the little children should be brought unto him.  And he kneels on the ground and groans within himself, and says, “Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.” (3 Nephi 17:14) And then he prays unto the Father, and the “things which he prayed cannot be written…:And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things… and no one can conceive of the joy which filled [their] souls.” (3 Nephi 17:17)
I testify that Christ’s bowels are filled with mercy towards every one of us.  He sees us as we really are.  He knows us perfectly.  He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.  And when we disregard his healing power, he is troubled.  But I also testify that if we start to see ourselves the way Christ sees us, and when we start to follow his example and consider his Atoning hand in our lives, we will be blessed. 
I’ve always wondered why it was so important for us to share the message of the Atonement to the world.  If the Atonement is going to save us all anyway, why do we need to know about it?  Why can’t we just be good people?  And there are so many good people who aren’t members of this faith.  But then I considered the JOY that these Nephites felt as they heard Christ pray.  “No one can conceive of the joy which filled their souls.” (3 Nephi 17:17)  I believe -- nay, I know -- that the Atonement not only ensures blessings for those who accept it in the future, but it ensures blessings for us RIGHT NOW in this life!  Having this heart transformation brings you joy!  There are blessings that come from having a knowledge of Christ’s atonement! The moment last January that I figured out just how much Christ loved me, I found myself happier.  Living the Gospel made me HAPPY.  Obeying the commandments brought me JOY.  I found myself more grateful for the things I had.  I discovered that I saw other people differently – the way God would see them.  I was beginning to have CHARITY.  
It was like in those Claratin clear commercials.  After a few seconds, the sheet is pulled back and the world suddenly becomes "Claratin-clear!" You don’t realize how dull and blurry the world was until you see things through new eyes.  Through the lens of God.  When your heart is transformed, everything around you transforms as well.  When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  The problems in your life don’t go away, but you learn to see them differently.  
Last January, I had a chance to experience a change of heart.  I became converted, and for a short while, I could feel Christ’s image emanating in my own countenance.  There were some things I thought I could never change about myself… and they were changing.  I wasn’t always this bubbly, I promise.  I've had my depression.  I've had my trials.  And I used to always think “Oh I can’t do that, I’m not strong enough.”  I can’t fast for 24 hours, I don’t have the constitution.  I can’t read my scriptures every day, I’m so busy.  I can’t not be depressed, my life just sucks so much.  I can’t serve that person, I don’t know him well enough.  I can't forgive him, he's hurt me too much.
            But suddenly… I can!  Christ has not only healed me.  He’s ENABLED me.  Now I can do things I couldn't do before. 
How can I not share such an amazing, transforming message!? 
The Atonement is for everyone.  It is not rocket science.  If it were rocket science, then Christ would only be inviting the rocket scientists to come unto him.  He’s not.  He invites all men to come and partake of his goodness, and he denieth no one who cometh unto him. (2 Nephi 26:33)

The Atonement is a transforming agent.  It not only possesses a healing power, but also an ENABLING power. It changes bad people into good people, yes.  But it also changes good people into better people.  It is through the Atonement that a simple “I’m sorry” turns into repentance.  It’s through the Atonement that a simple promise is turned into a covenant.  It’s through the Atonement that a marriage is turned into a sealing. Through the Atonement of Christ, miracles are performed, and things that are dead are given life.  Yes, Christ turned water into wine, but he also can turn a trial into a blessing.  A meaningless thing into a meaningful thing. An ordinary person into an extraordinary person. It’s through the Atonement that “I can’t” turns into “I CAN!”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones... But Words have Power Also

I have this theory. I feel like it's in line with what the gospel teaches, but it also stems from other religious theories, particularly Hinduism. The main books of Hindi scripture are written in a language called Sanskrit. This is a very sacred language that represents the creation. When God utters something in Sanskrit, it is created and made real. Therefore, how the Sanskrit language is spoken in recitations is very important to Hindus. When Hindu priests learn Sanskrit passages, they say the words over and over again, using complex mnemonic devices so that they get every single word exactly right. Every time. By doing this, they are respecting the life-giving, creation-bearing language of God, and in a way mimicking God's behavior. They are attempting to align their language with their God's language. This brings them closer to deity.

God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
I see this principle of how language gives life in the Christian  creation story. God says the words "Let there be light," and there was light (Genesis 1:3). And when he saw it, he said it was good (Genesis 1:4). I think this is a scriptural testament to how powerful language can be. In the book of John, we read "In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1-2) Through modern revelation (JST John 1:1-2), we know that John is referring to the gospel when he says the Word, and the gospel was preached through the Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Christ embodies the Word. So, in other words, the Savior is the Word.

How interesting, that the Savior is likened unto, of all things, a word!

After reviewing what I know to be universal truths about God, the Savior, and the Plan of Salvation, I have come to the following conclusion: Words matter. They have consequence. As Gods in embryo, we are learning how we can use words to create. While we don't take the time to learn the Adamic language like Hindus take the time to learn Sanskrit, I still think God has entrusted us with the power of language so that we can learn how to be like Him and grow closer to Him. We, too, as God's spiritual offspring and potential heirs to his kingdom, can come closer to our Father in Heaven by mimicking his behavior and allowing our words to create good things.

In Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's conference talk, "The Tongue of Angels, an apostle of the Lord says the following:  Words are sacred.

You know the phrase, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?" Well, Elder Holland begs to differ. He quotes an Apocryphal scripture that says quite the opposite: "“The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones.”

Words not only possess the power to create. They also possess the power to destroy. Words can hurt.

What kinds of words hurt? Well, hurtful ones. Criticism, gossip, murmuring, complaints, and profanity are hurtful. But also manipulative words. Words of deception. Words of judgment. Words born by foul motivations. Even the way we say words can be hurtful. Shouting, whining, sharp sarcasm, etc. We all know it when we see it. But do we avoid it in our daily lives?

"Negative speaking so often flows from negative thinking."
-- Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Words of pessimism and negativity are, in my opinion, probably the most frequently-overlooked grievances in our religious culture. This is particularly sad because Elder Holland says it is especially important for members of the Church to bridle their tongues and avoid negative language. I think it's very easy for members of the Church to serve two masters with their tongues. In the words of Elder Holland: "The same voice that bears profound testimony, utters fervent prayer, and sings the hymns of Zion can be the same voice that berates and criticizes, embarrasses and demeans, inflicts pain and destroys the spirit of oneself and of others in the process." This passage hits me very hard. It's amazing that the same voice that proclaims forgiveness and love through the Atonement is the voice that can utter words of stubborn judgment and hate. I think this is one of those "unto whom much is given, much is required" kind of deals (D&C 82:3). I have been blessed with a testimony, with a knowledge of the Gospel and the Atonement. Should not my words be in line with what I know to be true?

Our words are a manifestation of what is in our hearts. And as members of the Church, we have promised that we would have pure hearts (as well as clean hands, which I think relates to our actions) (Alma 5:19). Therefore, our words should be as pure as our hearts. Purity is a difficult thing to quantify, but I think it's safe to say that in order for our language to be pure, it needs to be free of profanity, negativity, or unrighteous judgment.

Some of us, me included, have a very loquacious personality.
We are very candid. We say what's on our minds...
Some of us, me included, have a very loquacious personality. We are very candid. We say what's on our minds. Whether it's something I mean or not, there are times in my life when everything that enters into my head comes out of my mouth. While this in and of itself is not sinful, I think we chatterboxes of the world have to especially take this counsel to heart. Often we say things in the attempt to help other people, or just to let our ideas "air out." Sometimes it's how we process information. I think out loud. I solve problems by talking about them and working through them through dialogue. Heck, there are times when no one is around when I still find myself saying things out loud. We often use phrases like "No offense," or "I'm just saying" or "But that's just me" to cushion the blow of some of the more negative statements we make. It can be very easy for us to say something to someone else in hopes that our words will be taken as "constructive criticism" or "just a matter of opinion." But what we need to realize is that everything we say has an impact on another individual, and some very small things we say can leave a negative impact. We do not have a full understanding of another person's spirit, and therefore we do not know the impact that our words will have on another person. Even those who appear to be Teflon-strong against sharp comments can still be affected by words we say. I think the character Thumper from Bambi said it best when he said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all."

Honestly, could any WRONG advice come out of this rabbit's mouth?
Honestly, I don't think it's ever our place to criticize other people at all; we have so many faults ourselves! However, if words of correction are to be given, (and there will be moments in our life where God will require us to do this), they must must MUST be done with charity as its main motivator. Charity suffereth long. Charity is kind. Charity is not easily provoked and rejoices in truth. That means our words should be full of patience, kindness, and love. Think in your head how Christ treated those around him. I can think of many cases where the Lord had to deal with people who made some pretty dumb mistakes. The story of the woman taken in adultery is a great example. Not only did Christ wait until he was speaking in private with the woman before he gave correction, but the words he said to her were direct, without guile. "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more." (John 8:11) I can imagine Christ's tone of voice as he says these words. Not icy and judgmental, but warm and inviting.

"Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more."
Speaking out of pride, judgment, or selfishness is not acceptable before God. In Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord counsels against any act of authority that is performed with ill motivations such as these. We read that "the heavens withdraw themselves [and] the Spirit of the Lord is grieved." (D&C 121:37) While this section particularly targets holders of the priesthood, Elder Holland says that "the sin of verbal abuse knows no gender." Anyone can be moved by pride to say something they oughtn't.

Unkind words may seem small, but they can lead to so much more. In the spirit of this same theory that I described in the beginning about how words can create, I believe that by saying something out loud, we are making it real to us. The more we say we believe something, the more inclined our brains are to believe it is true. That's why it's important that we not only have a testimony, but bear it in public. And that's why we are encouraged to pray out loud to our Heavenly Father from time to time. When we transform something as abstract and visceral as a thought into something physical like a spoken word, we are creating a reality in our minds that, with time, becomes part of our core beliefs, which are difficult to shake and result in action and behavior.

So words inspired by negative thoughts can then lead to negative attitudes and, in turn, negative behavior.

"Hold your tongue, Ella!"
We know that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass." (Alma 37:6) But it's important to realize that those small and simple things can lead to either great miracles and blessings, or great disasters and failures. We see this all the time in modern society, and we also see it in the scriptures. When James refers to the tongue as the "very small helm" of the ship that is the body or a small kindling that can beget a forest fire (James 3:4-5), he is emphasizing how something very small can yield very large, often disastrous consequences. Most of the time an abusive spouse or parent begins with simple words before turning to physical assault. An unrighteous sexual act often begins with simply casual talk and joking about sex. I honestly don't think Laman and Lemuel would ever have tried to strike their brother Nephi or tie him to a boat if they had nipped their negativity in the bud and avoided all that murmuring. In contrast, look at the kinds of things Christ brought about by using kind, loving, clean words. We don't really know what happens to the woman taken in adultery after her exchange with the Savior, but I have a feeling that the way Christ spoke to her had a profound impact on her future behavior. A bridled tongue can lead to a more positive change in people than an unbridled one. It is through Christ's words, as well as his actions, that we saw miracles performed. As Joseph Smith says, " by words, and with words, its mightiest works have been, and will be, performed."

Imagine what this knowledge of the power of small and simple words can do in our own lives! Not only will we bless the lives of others by using uplifting, positive language, but we will also change our own attitudes about life and about ourselves! How can a person who constantly accosts himself with negative language about himself feel good about himself? He can't! It's one thing to think poorly of oneself, but as I explained, it's even more hurtful to actually say things aloud because then it becomes real to us.

I have a good friend who is very successful and talented. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold. He's got a great job, lots of friends, and he seems to be good at everything! Piano, sports, video games, making friends, public speaking... He's like superman! One time I commented, "Geez, you have been blessed with so many great talents! I wish I was as awesome at all those things as you are, but I could NEVER be THAT good."

His reply was very passionate and from the heart: "Hannah, I think the only thing that separates you and me is the fact that I believe I can do something and you obviously don't. You wouldn't have said that if you did. You need to stop saying 'I can't' and start saying 'I can!'"
How does what we say about ourselves
indicate how we see ourselves?
I responded with a simple okay, but then he said, "And don't just think it. Say it. Say it now."

Elder Holland states: "In all of this, I suppose it goes without saying that negative speaking so often flows from negative thinking, including negative thinking about ourselves. We see our own faults, we speak—or at least think—critically of ourselves, and before long that is how we see everyone and everything. No sunshine, no roses, no promise of hope or happiness. Before long we and everybody around us are miserable."

Have you ever been tempted to say "Man, I suck at this"? I do it all the time! But the more I think about this friend's advice, the more I think that I need to change the way I talk about myself, even if it's just in jest. If we really understand who we are, and more importantly, who we can become, I don't think we would even submit ourselves to the kind of language that we so often treat ourselves to. Our words toward ourselves must be just as charitable, loving, and forgiving as they are towards others! Often there are things we say about ourselves that we would NEVER say about other people. I've called myself stupid, ugly, fat, incapable, worthless... Words I would never dream of directing towards someone else! How is it that we allow ourselves to be so negative towards ourselves, even though we claim to have a knowledge of our unlimited potential and divine nature!? It's almost like we think it applies to everyone BUT our own selves. That is a grave contradiction! Christ atoned for EVERYONE, including you, including me! God loves every one of God's children. And on the day of judgment, he won't stand for any unclean thought, word, or deed that has been committed towards any one of his precious sons and daughters of God (Alma 11:37). And furthermore, how can we expect to show love to other people when we don't show love towards ourselves? The words "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18, emphasis added) come to mind here.

Christ atoned for EVERYONE.  Including you, including me!
I testify that the words we say -- as small as simple as they are -- can lead to great consequences. These consequences can be wonderful, but only if they are spoken with Christlike charity and love. I testify also that the words we say towards ourselves can have as equally profound of an impact on our lives as the words we say towards others. If we start using uplifting, pure language now, we will see positive results in our lives, and we will serve and uplift those around us. If our language is in line with the Lord's language, we will find our will aligning with His will. We will grow closer to him and closer to his blessings.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

You are Not My Universe

I am a woman.
I am a capable woman.  A daughter of God.
And I don't need to be told these things.

I don't want to be seen as a fallen angel.
Damaged goods.
Jaded and broken.

As much as you'd like to see me as a project
An opportunity.
I can't stand the thought of you pitying me.

I don't need pity.
I need love.
I don't need sorrow.
I need faith.

I want to be seen as an equal.
Or maybe even above.
I want to be revered.

I want to be needed.
I want to be longed for.

I want your love to not be the cause of my happiness,
But the effect.

I want our love to be a product of righteous living.
Not because I need you in order to be righteous.

When you say I'm beautiful,
I want you to know that I already know these things.

I want to be deserved.
I want to deserve.

I don't want to need you.
I want to be needed.
Just for once.

I don't want to beg for your attention.
I don't want to waste away without you.
I don't want to depend on you.
I don't want to depend on anyone.

I don't want to be filled with holes so that you can fill them.
I want to be complete on my own.
And I want you to be complete.
So that together we are doubly complete.
Like a cup running o'er.
Not just filling minimum requirement.
But going above and beyond.
Enhancing life.
Not just making life bearable.

I want you to know that I am a champion.
I want you to know that I have faith in myself.
I wish you never had to see my insecurities.
I wish you never had to see my flaws.

Don't be my hero.
I don't need saving.

Don't be my beacon.
I have my own light.

Don't be my Savior.
I already have one.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Thoughts on "Raise Your Glass" by P!nk

Someone asked me to give my thoughts about P!nk and how she imbeds deconstruction into her lyrics and videos.  It's true, she often likes to make fun of herself, and one of the more obvious examples of this is her song "Raise Your Glass," which is basically a battle-cry for those who are beaten down and bullied.  Essentially she says, "We're all weirdos, so go ahead!  Embrace who you are, even if others don't like it."  And I believe she sees herself as one of these underdogs.  Thus, within that song, she allows listeners to see a more raw and naked version of the pop star that is P!nk, rather than the polished, self-assured "perfection" that we often see in today's popular music (the auto-tune, EDM, and the prim-pristine, magazine-worthy look of the female celebrity).   She does this by adding in spoken, humanizing commentary and by purposefully "messing up" her own lyrics.  At 2:06, she mutters a complaint about her empty glass, and it is seemingly presented as if we, as listeners, weren't supposed to hear it.  At 2:15, she throws in the words "I mean..." as if she's not positive that she's saying the exact right thing (all of this happening betwixt sung lines about being "too school for cool"). And then, at 2:29, the culminating and climactic moment of the song, she comes in 4 beats too early, utters an expletive under her breath, and then continues with the final renditions of the chorus, almost in triumph, even though she made the mistake.

The music video presents this vision of liberation from social norms almost immediately, where a larger woman grabs a corn dog and swats a cardboard-cutout of a stereotypically beautiful blonde.  Further images of feminism and glorifications of the outcast ensue.  P!nk portrays herself in a variety of ways, including Rosie the Riveter, a half-pipe skater, and -- during the moments when she lyrically presents herself as the most vulnerable -- she appears as a bespectacled, socially inept highschooler, checking her armpits, jumping up too early, and then dancing with a fellow nerd without a care.

I have always seen P!nk as an advocate for individuality and self-love. What I'm hearing her say is this: Not only does everyone make mistakes, but these mistakes should not only be accepted, but embraced.  I agree that she's playing with the idea of the "perfect" pop singer and the "perfect" pop song in "Raise Your Glass." She definitely is more subtle in "Raise Your Glass" than she is in her other famous empowerment ballad, "F**king Perfect."  Often, P!nk displays two very stark personalities directly next to each other to show that everyone has a Jekyll and a Hyde, a dark and a light. Everyone makes mistakes, but everyone also has potential to be great. I think there is some specific commentary here about celebrities and popular music ("Stupid Girl" also takes a crack at the life of pop fame, but again "Raise Your Glass" does it much more subtly). Thus, as if to defy the stereotype, she deconstructs. She allows for moments of weakness, rather than have a completely polished, generic pop song that supposedly no one can relate to.

Hand-in-hand with P!nk's "it's-okay-to-be-different" battle cry, there is another unspoken side of P!nk that she doesn't want us to see.  I feel like P!nk -- regardless of what she ideally wants to be -- is still an influential pop star who is very self-aware of her impact and therefore still has a lot of pride and takes herself very seriously. So when she purposefully makes these "mistakes" in this song, she's attempting to humanize herself and basically say, "If someone as awesome, rich, and famous as P!nk can do it, so can you!" And it is highly effective.  P!nk successfully falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the crazy, cares-thrown-to-the-wind nature of Lady Gaga and the highly polished anti-vulnerability of Britney Spears (although I think she shares more with Gaga than she does with Spears at this point in her career in the fact that she is rooting for the little guy and presenting a more rough-around-the-edges image of herself).  She's different, intelligent, and self-aware, but she is also accessible and in many ways incredibly sexy.  I believe that there are many people in this world who want to be like P!nk. Confident, strong, with just the right amount of weird.  She's been around the block, but she's learned from it all and now leads a happy life with some stories to tell.  For all the people out there who have made some sort of mistake, P!nk becomes a role model.  There is an obvious agenda in this song. She's creating a cult of egoism that I don't wholly appreciate or believe in. We can't overlook the fact that, while these "mistakes" sound like mistakes, they really aren't. They are all done on purpose. And just because P!nk can get out of a sticky relationship and continue on to stardom almost unscathed does not mean everyone can. P!nk has money, connections, and other resources to help her hide a lot of the consequences that have resulted from her alleged mistakes. Does that mean the consequences aren't there?  No.

 I feel worse about "F*cking Perfect" than I do about this song, but that might be just because what this song lacks in sincerity and genuineness is made up for by a SUPER catchy hook, a singable tune, and a very entertaining music video. (Of course those things can make a song of this nature even more dangerous, because people are drawn to these aspects and then are more likely to accept the lyrics and further idolize the song's creator.) Whether I like it or not, it's a very well-created piece that serves its purpose.

Advice to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Wannabes of America

The minute you start trying to fit some stereotype is the minute people stop taking you seriously. I tried SO hard to be this goth girl in high school. And while I wore all the right clothes and listened to all the right music, and totally embraced the lifestyle, NO ONE thought I was a goth. Not the goth kids, not the popular kids, not anybody. I was a poser, through and through, because I was too worried about the label and not worried enough about being the person I actually was. And the minute I quit the black thing and started wearing what I want to wear was when I gained respect from everyone. Kid you not, my life got so much more full and healthy the minute I stopped trying.

Just throw every supposed archetype out the window and focus on being the YOU that YOU want to be. Don't do anything you wouldn't naturally do on your own. If you don't like the hipster music, don't listen to it. If herbal teas make you gag, don't drink them. If skinny jeans make your butt look big, don't wear them. If a vintage bike is too expensive for your budget, don't buy one. And if the hot guitarist can't hold his own and take care of your needs in a relationship, break up with him. Be the awesome girl that you are and don't settle for the fake stuff that society throws at you all the time.

My Favorite and Least-Favorite Moments from Lady Gaga's Videos

So the "Applause" video came out this week... And I'm very impressed.
So impressed, in fact, I wanted to take a minute and evaluate exactly where this new video ranked among my other favorite Lady Gaga music videos.  Surprisingly, this took a bit of thought, and it led to me going back and re-watching each of the 15 Lady Gaga music videos and coming up with a very deliberate list of best to worst, in my own personal opinion.
In this post, I am going to reveal that list, one video at a time, from worst to greatest, according to my personal opinion at the present time.
The cool thing about opinions is that they are able to change.  There are no immutable rules when it comes to art and taste.  As new videos get released and as I change as a person, this list may very well change.  But for the moment, let's just appreciate Gaga and her iconic work since the beginning.  Maybe this will change the way you see some of her videos. 

#15: The Edge of Glory
Definitely the most minimal of all of the music videos by Gaga. I understand that there were some extenuating circumstances in the creation of this video.  The planned production fell through and they had to come up with something brand new at very short notice.  It's quite a shame, because this is probably the most epic and the most personal song on Born This Way.  This video really could have been great.  But it turned out to be very uneventful, unexciting, and unimpressive.  It's just Gaga dancing around on what looks like an empty stage for Rent.  To add insult to injury, the amazing Clarence Clemons, who features in the song, was given hardly any stage time.  This was his final public work before his death in 2012.  I sure wish there was a little more for him to show for it.

Favorite Moments: Considering its clumsy creation, this is still a pretty good video. It's nice to see Gaga all alone, without any fancy choreography and backup dancers to distract us from her raw emotion and passion for what she is singing about.  There is only one real outfit worn for the entire video (another unique factor): some archives borrowed specially for this purpose by Donatella Versace.  The look was well chosen. Love the hairstyle, especially. The video has some beautiful moments, as well.  The lightpost shot (a la Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain) was pretty iconic, as well as the few moments where Clarence is pictured.  But overall, you hardly need to watch this video twice, and for Gaga, that's almost challenging.  

#14: Born This Way
I'm sure a lot of people will be upset that Born This Way is so low on my list.  It's not terrible.  None of Gaga's videos are terrible.  But this video is (in my opinion) very immature and puts Gaga in a very pretentious light.  I feel like Gaga is taking herself WAY too seriously in this video.  Okay, sure, she's passionate about social issues like marriage equality and self-worth, but I feel like this video not only feeds into the ever-growing cult of self-esteem practiced by today's youth, but it also puts Gaga up on an almost God-like pedestal, as if she herself can change people's opinions about prejudice in one fell swoop, single-handed.  She can't.  Ironically, so many people judge her for using religious imagery in her other videos like for "Alejandro" and "Judas," but I think this video is more sacrilegious than any of her other endeavors.  She's a creator of a new race, embodying all-powerful forces of good and evil. Calling the birth of the new non-prejudiced race "infinite," referring to herself as an "eternal mother" hovering in a multiverse, and redefining the origins of good and evil... Such language makes me uncomfortable. Particularly the last line: "How can I protect something so perfect without evil?" Sounds like she's trying to play God, or at least be one of his chosen prophets, campaigning for self-worth and punishing those who disagree with her view.  I understand it's all metaphor, but it seems very self-righteous and short-sighted.  As influential as Gaga is, she had let her fame and influence get to her head by the time this video was made (ironic, since she is so obsessed with Fame and claims to have such control over it).  
Favorite Moments: Aside from the message and dialogue, this video is pretty impressive as far as imagery and music goes.  I love the moments where Gaga is just rocking out, without planned choreography.  Whether she's dressed in the bikini, the skull make-up, or the strange alien-like zipper outfits she's got when she's surrounded by other alien heads... I just love seeing Gaga caught up in a passionate moment.  She's quite pretty when she doesn't have eyes on her chin.  The exchange she has between Rick Genest (aka Zombie Boy -- the guy with the skull tattooed on his face) is my favorite part.  I also love the final scene -- the references to Gaga's childhood, as well as icons like Michael Jackson with those gloves. That carried so much  more meaning for me than the flowery language and ridiculous kaleidoscopic birth scenes you've got at the beginning of the video. I would watch the final refrain to the end over and over again and be just fine.  

#13: Beautiful Dirty Rich
This video ranks low mainly because it is not memorable.  It is, however, very iconic of Lady Gaga's early style.  The bottle-blonde, hooded, pantless, glasses-wearing superstar that has become a household name no longer exists.  She has long outgrown the retro Bowie-homage that she had in her early twenties, but videos like this immortalize that iconic "Gaga" image so well.  If you ever miss the old Gaga, watch this video and the nostalgia will come flowing back to you. However, this video doesn't do as effective of a job as the film for "Just Dance."  They are both very similar, and this one has sort of followed off the radar, while "Just Dance" has continued to stay in the limelight, even five years after it came out.
Favorite Moments: It's kind of nice to see Gaga just being young, wild, and free. This video, along with the video for "Just Dance," represent the grassroots, rags-to-riches, love-in-the-little-things attitude that so many young people enjoy.  The statuary, the piano, the wads of cash, the lipstick... No agendas, no huge shock-value stunts, just sex, fashion, and lotsa dough. It's less about specific imagery; it's just the overall party atmosphere I love. This was what got Gaga on the map.  I sometimes wish she remembered her roots.  What makes an icon are the things that you do consistently without fear that make you memorable.  

#12: LoveGame
Another unmemorable music video, but I like the costumes, setting, and choreography in this one more than that in "Beautiful Dirty Rich."  This is during Gaga's "lavender-blonde" stage, which I like a lot.  And there's the use of the iconic "disco-stick."  There is a lot of questionable content here.  She's very naked in some scenes, and the dancing is pretty suggestive.  But this still follows with the more simple time of Gaga's career when it wasn't as much about making a statement and pushing the envelope as it was about just being your crazy no-pants self in the middle of a subway with a bunch of sexy friends, both male and female.
Favorite Moments:  The motifs.  The lavender-blonde color scheme, the disco stick, and the Stevie Boi fence glasses.  Also the pretty bob she's got going on during her nothing-but-glitter scenes.  You appreciate this video more if you've seen the Monster Ball.  Very urban-chic.  The kind of thing that inspires you to appreciate the mundane scenery in your life.

#11: Eh Eh (Nothing I Can Say)
Okay, I wish Gaga knew how wonderful she is when she's not being pretentious.  This video, like the song, is just adorable.  She's constantly smiling throughout the whole thing, and while not very much goes on during the video, it just gives the audience a chance to sit back and enjoy Little Italy the way Gaga would: in heels, with friends, and with plenty of man-candy.  This video becomes more meaningful when you learn that Gaga's parents are Italian immigrants, and that she's a sucker for Italian cuisine.
Favorite Moments: The hairbow.  Definitely one of my favorite Gaga looks ever.  Also love the yellow flower dress she wears near the end, complete with the Baby-G watch.  And there's something super sexy about pink heels in bed, ironing in a leotard, and slurping up spaghetti with a hot man. This is a have-fun video.  Bubblegum pop reborn.  I like it.

#10: Just Dance
You've probably noticed that all of Gaga's earlier videos come one after another on this list.  That's because most of them are very similar to each other.  As I mentioned before, "Just Dance" and "Beautiful Dirty Rich" are almost carbon copies of each other.  Gaga's look is basically the same, and she's doing pretty much the same kind of goofing off and partying with friends in both videos.  But, of course, "Just Dance" has become the iconic, go-to video if you want a good look of how Gaga got her start.  You've got the partying, yes, but also the disco bra, the blow-up whale, and the cameo appearances of the likes of Space Cowboy and Colby O'Donis.  There's the nod to David Bowie with the big blue lighting bolt on Gaga's face.  There's antics and shenanigans had by all.  No inhibition, no worry about tomorrow.  This video captured the "carpe deum" movement that is so prevalent in music today before it was cool.  It's this kind of stuff that probably inspired divas like Ke$ha to try a crack at party-girldom.
Favorite Moments:  The disco bra, the iconic hairstyle, the Gaga hand gestures, and the overall atmosphere.  I tend to live vicariously through videos like this one.  And I have for a long time. This video definitely unlocks a great deal of nostalgia for me. This is the Gaga I would try to emulate when I looked in the mirror when I was a senior in high school.  It was after watching this video when I started wearing huge sunglasses and animal print.  It was this retro, electro-pop style that got me out of my goth phase and into the world of mature art and fashion.
#9: Telephone
This video is so full of amazing, I'm sort of surprised it only comes in at #9.  But then I remember that there are several things in this video that I don't love.  Namely, the overabundance of shock without much substance.  As awesome as it is to pay respects to the pop art movement pioneered by folks like Andy Warhol, it's not as revolutionary or inspiring in today's world.  Now, I know it's Jonas Ackerlund's style to stylize, and that's fine.  It's just not my favorite style.  I like the more grown-up approach to telling a story, rather than feeling like I'm standing before a firing squad of brand names, references, and Americana.  I'm also not the HUGEST fan of the whole short-film style that Gaga uses in some of her videos. In this one, she has been sent to jail, but then gets bailed out by Beyonce, and the two of them proceed to poison everyone in a little diner before making a Bonnie-and-Clyde escape in the famous Tarantino Pussywagon. The narrative is only indirectly connected to its supposed predecessor, "Paparazzi." I almost wish there wasn't a connection between the two, because they're different enough for the flow to not be there.  Furthermore, the song is broken up by silly dialogue. Part of me feels like the music should speak for itself.  And speaking of music, another complaint I have about this video is the fact that it has hardly anything to do with the message that is presented in the actual song lyrics.  Prison? Crime? Diners? Pussywagons? What does this have to do with leaving your head and your heart on the dance floor?  NOTHING!
Favorite Moments:  All this being said, I obviously like the video enough to have it in my top ten.  First of all, it's definitely engaging and entertaining.  It's colorful and iconic.  And while I dissed all the comic-book and brand-name allusions in the earlier paragraph, I'm going to go ahead and applaud them here in pretty much the same breath.  The Coke-can hair is ingenious, and it is genuinely GAGA. I don't think any other artist has done anything like that before. And the caution tape look is amazing.  While there were a lot of things in the video -- particularly during the prison scenes -- that made me feel a little uncomfortable, I really think the fashion choices were epic.  The striped jailbird look, the chains and cigarette glasses, the studded bikini, and the departure outfit (complete with that cute little sashay) create a very artistic approach to prison.  That's fun.  And Beyonce is such a good sport!  She's put in these ridiculous situations and she actually sort of pulls them off.  Finally, the Americana dance number at the end of the video is icing on the cake for me.  That choreography is spectacular!  I definitely felt moved by this video when I saw it for the first time.  And that means, to me, that it was successful and important.

#8: Paparazzi
I probably like this Ackerlund-directed Gaga video more than "Telephone" because it came first.  This was Gaga's first venture into the genre of short-film style music video.  It depicts two destructive relationships: the one between Gaga and her boyfriend, and the one between Gaga and her fame.  Unlike "Telephone," the music in this video is not half as fragmented and cut up for the sake of dribbly dialogue.  It's got a provocative beginning and a very concrete conclusion, with tons of great fashion choices in between.  While it is definitely a little out there, I feel like this video represents one of Gaga's high points.  Her epic VMA performance, her iconic blonde bangs, and her complete obsession with fame... all of this stemmed from endeavors like the "Paparazzi" music video.  This video stays out of my top five mainly because it's a little boring.  There's not a ton going on for the whole middle of the video.  It's not quite as visually interesting as some of her other works.
Favorite Moments:  I love the wheelchair/crutches scene.  The symbolism behind that -- that Gaga is just as crippled by the pressures of fame as she is crippled by a broken leg -- is portrayed very effectively.  This whole idea continues throughout the video as images of murdered women flash on the screen, all with impeccable apparel and stylized poses.  I also love the dance sequence where Gaga's in a white jumpsuit with oversized "poufs."  There are moments there where she just lets the music take her into a frenzy, and I live for those moments.  Finally, the murder scene is quite epic.  I love her makeup, glasses, and jumpsuit.  Very naughty.  And, as icing on the cake, you've got the mug shots that just glue into your brain.  This video shines in the fact that its message is very clearly portrayed in a very artistic way.  Props.

#7:  Marry the Night
This is definitely the most autobiographical of Gaga's videos, and most likely the one with the most emotional investment put into it.  When I first saw this music video,  I didn't like it that much.  But the more I learn about it, the more I appreciate it.  It is definitely more of a cerebral artistic work than it is a music video.  Meant more for a gallery than for MTV.  A lot of it goes over my head, but I think that's part of the nuance of it.  These are things GAGA understands and GAGA cares about -- it's like a glimpse into another person's soul.  You really can't understand everything, but you can at least enjoy the aesthetic of it.  I'm a little more satisfied with the monologue of this video than I am with the "Born This Way" monologue. I love that line about the beadazzler. The burning car scenes and the stripped down "rehearsal-mode" shots in the middle of the clip are sort of passive, but that may be just because I don't understand the imagery. It's a lot more introspective and a lot less pretentious.  But still, Gaga's taking herself pretty seriously here.  But what artist doesn't?
Favorite Moments:  The Ballet scenes.  Hands down, I LOVE that outfit and those awesome Tatehana shoes.  I'm also a pretty big fan of how artistic the hospital wing became in the hands of the Haus.  Gaga's whole spiel about the nurses and their Calvin Klein coats and romantic beret-esque nets... Way to see beauty in the details. The apartment scenes -- although in some ways a little disturbing -- were beautifully executed.  I'm also a pretty big fan of the ending of the video, pretty much from around the point where they begin dancing in the street up to the final shot of that cosmic Philip Tracey hat.  That montage of images hearkening back to Gaga's early days were something I could relate to.  Grassroots artist becomes worldwide superstar.  This is the American dream, with a dark Gaga twist.

#6: Pokerface
This was the first Lady Gaga video I ever fell in love with.  Even though not much goes on in this video, it is visually stimulating, colorful, and incredibly sexy.  Furthermore, it contains some of my absolute favorites of Gaga's looks.  The hairbow, the crystalline motifs, the disco mask, the Haus-of-Gaga video glasses...  It was this video that got me into Lady Gaga.  Strip poker and pelvic thrusts aside, it's pretty calm, by Gaga standards.  Again, there's something to be said for just making fun music without pretentiousness or agenda.
Favorite Moments: The fashion and the close-up shots.  The poolside choreography is also pretty sweet.  I love that blonde hair.  She's just so young here! And there's just enough poker in it for the music to be relevant. It's fresh and wonderful!

#5: Applause
Now you know where her newest video goes on the list!
I honestly feel like this is a rare instance where the music video actually adds to the song and makes the music more enjoyable.  Usually videos do the opposite for me.  But the thing about this song is it needs a visual context.  It's a club piece, so it's less about what you hear and more about what you experience while hearing it.  Thus, having a video to attach some extra-sensory, multi-media contexts to the music was not only pleasant, but almost necessary.  And the visuals that were chosen were on the whole very good choices.  There's plenty going on in this video.  I've read several reviews that state that the endeavor was more of an artistic one than a pop one, and I'd have to agree.  Inez and Vinoodh are good at this kind of montage work.  Gaga moves from one look to another, and manages to fit in all of them like a glove.  From the crazy Marilyn-caged look to the simple brunette in underwear on a mattress.  It all looks natural for Gaga.  The only part that I personally deem unsuccessful was the part where her head is precariously juxtaposed with the body of a goose.  Not only does it look a little hackneyed, I also don't understand the reference or symbolism in that image.
Favorite Moments:  I love the way Gaga looks in the black bodysuit.  Very classy and very effective.  And when you add the colors to her face to create this sort of harlequin-esque display is almost haunting.  I also love the dance parts, particularly when she's just rocking out in her natural brunette hair and underwear.  There's passion in that.  I also love when she just goes bat-crap crazy and has a nice little seizure in her bikini made of black-gloved hands.  I appreciate the symbolism of the wings (sign of liberation and rebirth), the leg she carries into the spotlight (reference to her recent surgery that led to the sudden cancellation of her tour last year), and the Boticelli Birth of Venus (once again, a sign of a new birth).  Her sandy-blonde hair with that shell bikini reminds me of Mariah Carey, which is a compliment because Mariah is hot.  Her crazy faces are also pretty awesome.  I just like it when artists lose themselves in whatever it is they're doing.  It looks like Gaga had a fun time making this video.  I sense the emotion and joy behind it.  It's well-made.

#4: Alejandro
There are moments in this video that give me chills, even now, after watching it dozens of times. But before we get to the amazing stuff I'm gonna just mention the parts of this that bug me.  First of all... I think it's supposed to be about marriage equality, but I honestly get lost in the narrative.  You've got guys in fishnets and heels, sure.  And you've got lots of military motifs, perhaps representing the ferocity and aggression that exist within this "war" of ideals within American society.  And you've got the images of burning buildings and overall mayhem... a reference to a specific event?  I'm not sure.  There's just a lot going on in this video, and while I appreciate this kind of narrative more than that of the "Telephone" video, I still get a little lost and I must rely on the music and the aesthetic quality of the video to keep me interested.  Perhaps this is as it should be.  After all, shouldn't the music video be about the music?  And the music of "Alejandro" is not really about all that stuff.  It's about Gaga's fear of commitment.  And you can see that in some of the imagery.  The heart left exposed on a black silk pillow, the queen-like Alexander McQueen look, also seen at the beginning of the video, the gun-bra, even the choreography with the other male dancers... I understand all of these images.
People give Gaga a lot of crap for using religious imagery in this video, but I honestly don't mind it.  People have used religious motifs -- particularly Catholic motifs, because there are a lot of them and they're easily recognizable -- in musical and artistic endeavors for ages.  It denotes piety and devotion.  The fact that Gaga is dressed as a nun for parts of the video, for me, help add to the message of the song; she's afraid to commit to a sexual relationship because of events and convictions she has made in the past.  The cross is purposefully placed in the region of her crotch to symbolize the hopeful preservation of her virtue in the face of selfish and prideful men.  It really all makes sense.  Of course, these things make people uncomfortable, and that's yet another reason why Gaga does it.  She loves shocking people and goes to great heights to do so.
Favorite Moments:  The most amazing part of this video is, in my opinion, the black-and-white shots of Mother Monster, clad in a sexy black halter-top and wide-leg pants, strutting herself in solitude, a la Madonna during her "Vogue" period.  It's SUCH an effective shot.  And while the dance she does with her femmy male dancers and gun bra are definitely striking, there's nothing quite like that sexy snap-strut she does near the end of the video.  I also love love love the images of her singing on a makeshift stage, with the glasses and the microphone.  The McQueen look is also so regal. These shots are beautiful to me.  The whole video remains in a very stoic, bi-chromatic place.  The theme runs like a lifeblood throughout the whole thing.  It's well crafted.  Well done, GagaKlein!

#3: You and I
Choosing between "You and I" and "Alejandro" was very hard because they are both great for similar reasons.  While "Alejandro" maintains a cold, stoic mood as it cuts from one unique image to another, "You and I" also maintains its mood, despite all of the crazy changes that occur within it.  Except "You and I," on the whole, is more warm and approachable than "Alejandro."  It's got more of a personal touch, and it isn't quite as self-aware.  In this video, Gaga gets a chance to show her more goofy side.  What with Yuyi the mermaid, the frolicking wood nymph, the aqua-haired dominatrix, and Joe Calderone, this was Gaga's way of exposing the broad spectrum of Gaga's personality.  It also tells a definite story.  She's returning to a love she once knew. After a long period of experimentation and self-discovery, Gaga discovers that the thing she really wants may very well have been the thing that was there all along. As strange and unorthodox as home may seem, it's still home.
Favorite Moments:  There are many, but above all, Joe Calderone.  I'm almost disturbed at how attracted I find myself to this character.  Even though he's obviously got a drinking and a smoking problem and he's feeling up his alternate identity like no one's watching.  But man, don't they both look like they're having a ton of fun out in that cornfield?
I also love the daylight scenes, as Gaga's making the journey to the barn.  That cyborg look is awesome.  And while I feel like the mermaid sex is a little graphic, I appreciate the notion of mermaid/human romance.  And that's a pretty well-created mermaid costume. There's just something very beautiful and simple about it.  The fashion in all of this is really creative.  And the sweet wedding images that we see throughout really are icing on the cake for me.  Great song.  Great imagery.  Just great.

#2: Judas
I love this video.  It's colorful, it's interesting, it tells a story, it's unique, and in some ways it's very simple.  First of all, it's not one of those crazy short films.  It's mostly just about the music, and the images pertain to what the music is talking about.  You've got a twist on the story of Christ and Judas Iscariot, ingeniously told within the setting of an urban biker community.  And in the midst of it all, you've got Lady Gaga, who plays a role similar to Mary Magdalene, although there really isn't much there to support the notion that she actually is Mary.  She obviously has feelings for both Jesus and Judas, and she obviously knows the right choice, but it's still a very difficult choice to make.  There are very few criticisms I can make about this video.  I guess she's got a few immodesty moments, but this is honestly one of the more tame and clean Gaga videos.  And (as with "Alejandro") there is always the whole sacrilege thing.  But I don't think it's that terrible to portray the story of Christ this way.  It's really no worse than Jesus Christ Superstar.  Again, Gaga is using religious imagery (particularly the notion of betrayal with Judas) to carry a message.
Favorite Moments: The clothing.  The setting.  The colorful palate.  The gangsta moves.  The premise.  The makeup and nails.  The hair (particularly in the washing scene) and the final image of Gaga being stoned (killed by fame?) while wearing dapper dancing shoes. Plus... a lipstick gun to accompany the betraying kiss?? What a novel idea!  Also, this ties with "Bad Romance" for best choreography.  This is one of the few videos where I actually really like watching Gaga dance in synchronization with other people.  It's airtight and full of energy.  I am in love with this video.

#1: Bad Romance
Honestly, the one thing that keeps this video at #1 and not "Judas" is the sheer impact that this video has had on Gaga's career and the way we see pop music and videos.  It cannot be denied that "Bad Romance" was one of the greatest music videos released during this decade.  The iconic images that have come out of this video, the level of shock that it stirred, and the pure artistic beauty of it was leaps and bounds ahead of its peers.  This is where Gaga introduces the notion of the "Monster" into her fans' vocabulary.  And this is where she finally sealed the deal in regards to her complete nuttiness in the eyes of the industry.  You've got the twitchy, anime-eyed bath scenes, the sallow ribcage that make her nude scenes not sexy, but monstrous, and the last image of her lying in bed with a pyrotechnic bra and a burnt skeleton.  Yep.  Gaga's nuts.
Favorite Moments:  The choreography.  It's powerful and unique.  Definitely the greatest Gaga has ever seen.  I mean, can you imagine Gaga without her monster claws?  You can't!  Also the Alexander McQueen Armadillo shoes.  And the black outfit. And the "Orbit" look is in this one, too.  And the bathing scenes.  Oh gosh, the whole thing is just so classic, you can't pin down just one point that is more awesome than the others!  I love this video, and I think the entire world loves it too.

August's Playlist

1. "Shadow" by Keane
2. "Still Getting Younger" by Wynter Gordon
3. "Stars" by Fun.
4. "School's Out" by Alice Cooper
5. "Where does the Good Go?" by Tegan and Sara
6. "And Then Some" by Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra
7. "Emily" by MIKA
8. "American" by Lana Del Rey
9. "Theme from Lawrence of Arabia" as performed by the 101 Strings Orchestra
10. "Annie" by James Blunt
11. "Applause" by Lady Gaga
12. "Never Grow Up" by Taylor Swift

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Robin Thicke, Blurred Lines: Album Review

It's amazing what you can get away with when you've got
a pretty face. Robin Thicke is fueled almost completely by sex
appeal with a sprinkling of shock value.

Name: Blurred Lines
Artist: Robin Thicke
Released: July 30, 2013
Label: Star Trak -- Interscope
Genre: R&B, pop, soul
Produceers: The Cateracs, Cirkut, Dr. Luke, Jerome Harmon, Pharell, ProJay, Robin Thicke, Timbaland,

Robin Thicke's music serves a definitive purpose: Getting girls in bed.  This in mind, it's no surprise that there is not much more than dirty lyrics, buttery-smooth voice, and club-meets-Motown undertones of his most recent album, Blurred Lines. 
Thicke is smooth. This cannot be denied. His talents lie in hooking people in with his lazy drawl and his sultry falsetto.  Not unlike other popular artists like Justin Timberlake, there's a lot of sex appeal mixed with good-boy charm.  However, unlike Justin Timberlake, sex appeal is pretty much all this guy's got.  But if you get down to brass tacks, sometimes it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you look good doing it.  And Thick is dang fine
Blurred Lines is campy and playful, but generic and stylistically sprawled. Thicke clumsily attempts to branch out from his token R&B crooner style into the world of pop and dance.
We are constantly getting pulled back and forth from the warm ballroom hall to the dark nightclubs from track to track.  Almost right away, Thicke stumbles from the washed-up Motown-style of "Ain't No Hat 4 That" and "Get in My Way" to the herky-jerky hodge-podge of electronic hooks in "Give it 2 U," which is a song who's highest point is actually not Thicke but featured artist Kendrick Lamar. Thicke tries to rap himself in "Top of the World," and that just didn't work.
It is important for listeners to understand that this album cannot be defined by the style (or the success) of its leading number-one single, "Blurred Lines."  Little else on the album can even hold a candle to the quality of that one opening track. I fear that many will buy this album with false expectations.  That's the curse of the single, right there.  You get ONE song to Number 1, and people assume they're all gonna be that caliber.  Unfortunately, you don't really get too much of the minimal and catchy "Blurred Lines" for the rest of the album.  Most of it is Thicke trying to be Enrique, Justin, and Bruno all at the same time.
One thing an artist must do -- especially when he's on the fringe of his field to begin with -- is to stick to his strengths.  If sex appeal was what sold his previous album Love After War, perhaps he should stick to the creamy voice and take-me-I'm-yours lyricism.  You hear this once in a while on Blurred Lines. "Ooo La La" is a decently romantic track, as well as "Go Stupid 4 U."  And I dig the minor-key ukulele in the dance ballad "Feel Good." And while "Give it 2 U" is helter-skelter in its hooks, the Deluxe Edition track "Pressure" is a little more successful in its delivery of dance-worthy beats.  Why that song couldn't have made it onto the basic album set, I do not know.
One of the highest points on this album is the final track -- and ironically the one song that isn't about sex,"The Good Life."  If this rocking waltz were on the radio, I probably would take a minute before switching the station.  Odds are this track will get lost amid the rubbish.
And then, of course, there's "Blurred Lines," the first track, and the song of the summer.  Without a doubt, this song on its own is ingenious.  It's very catchy and dang sexy, but it's also minimal, stealthy, and complex.  You don't get the initial... well... "rapyness" of the song upon first listen, and that's the genius of it! No bells and whistles on this track -- just a groovy bass and Thicke's playful tone, mixed with Pharell's jovial interjections and T.I.'s no-nonsense attitude, reels you in, cushions the blow and creates a very subtle scandal; proof that sometimes, the best way to sell sex is to patiently whisper and wait for the audience to come to you, rather than scream and shout.  The music epitomized its own lyric message: "You know you want it."
It was an obvious move to release this single - as well as it's shocking video -- as the album's sole promotion, and it's a shame that the whole album isn't this clever. Immediately following this masterpiece of a hit, you get "Take it Easy on Me," which is not only super obvious in its intentions, but generic in its electronica and Enrique-esque lyricism.  Sadly, this song is a better representation of what you'll hear for the rest of the album.  Too much of this record is just THERE, without depth and substance.
But, of course, you must consider the audience and purpose. If you want a mottled smorgasbord of musical foreplay for any occasion, you've got it here.  You've got flirt, you've got passion, and you've got downright maniacal craft. But as far as success and reception go, Thicke may end up being no more than a guilty pleasure for most. If you're looking for the next dreamboat with some significant talent in R&B, pass on this album and take a chance on JT's new disc instead.

I give this album a 5.5 out of 10.