I interviewed Trent Reznor and Rob Sheridan about the truly astonishing visual presentation of the current NIN tour. Gifs and youtube videos can’t really do this justice — it’s a very full aesthetic statement, and technologically so far ahead of what anyone else is doing.
“If you grow up in the United States, it can be very easy to have no perspective on living in a culture dominated by art and media from another country. Some music from around the world seeps into mainstream American culture, but it’s never dominant, and music from abroad is made with the understanding that you have to cater to the American market to be a big star. Americans are used to the rest of the world bending over backwards to blend in with their culture, and think nothing of foreign stars from ABBA and Björk to Shakira and Phoenix singing in their second language to appeal to the English-speaking world. Americans are almost never asked to adapt, and very rarely have to feel as though their culture is being infiltrated by the value systems of foreign nations.”—
“ARTPOP is interesting in that it’s somehow both deeply weird and conventional at the same time. Unlike her last two records, in which Gaga expanded the range of her sound, this album is almost exclusively focused on the sort of thumping straight-up Euro dance pop that made her a star. The lyrics and thematic conceits, however, go way further than ever before. She seems eager to push the envelope of what level of artsy absurdity she can get away with in a pop hit — name dropping Jeff Koons, quoting Sun Ra, sketching out a loose philosophy about “art pop,” having the chorus for one of the catchiest songs be “you’re just a pig inside a human body,” and generally coming off like something from Mike Myers’ old “Sprockets” sketches from Saturday Night Live. ARTPOP sounds like it was recorded in an igloo made of cocaine and feels like diving headfirst into the most glorious extremes of her narcissism and pretentiousness. It’s gleaming and glamorous and relentlessly ecstatic, as if all the chords were just slamming down the buttons on every pleasure center in your brain at once. If you’re cool with Mother Monster’s excesses, ARTPOP is pure, uncut Gaga-ness and you will loooooove it. Everyone else should just skip it, because Gaga is at the point where she’s not really interested in entertaining anyone but her core fans.”—
“Oh, and while Reflektor is ostensibly a concept album shouting down an Internet-based lifestyle, the event was populated by folks who won some kind of social-media contest. Further, it was being filmed as part of MTV Iggy’s “Music Experience 2.0” and was cosponsored by Intel. There was a booth full of laptops that weren’t even for sale, just hinging on the possibility that you might hear “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” and become intrigued by the possibilities of Pentium processing.”—
“While it’s nice to hear Arcade Fire expand their musical range, their idea of what styles to experiment with on Reflektor is very conservative, and are exactly the same moves The Clash made to expand their sound in the early ’80s with London Calling and Sandinista. This was all radical and fresh back then, but now it’s all stuff that is permanently classified as cool and timeless. Every move they make is something based in music that is pre-approved by the majority of people who would consider themselves to have good taste. The record will only remind you of stuff no one is ashamed to say they love. There’s no real creative risk here, and almost no trace of influence from the recent past.”—
“Perry’s kitschy side is mostly cringe-inducing, but at least her whole Candy Land burlesque thing is something that sets her apart from other pop stars. “Birthday,” one of the better tracks on Prism, pushes this aesthetic to the max. Its central conceit of equating a birthday celebration with sex is so obvious that it seems too generous to call it a double entendre, but Perry fully commits to the song’s over-the-top cheesiness and delivers the its climax, “Let me get you in your birthday suit / It’s time to bring out the big balloons,” with an exaggerated wink that would put Lucille Bluth to shame. Singing unapologetically dorky dance-pop songs that frame love and sex in the context of regressive, childlike imagery is, for better or worse, Perry’s strong suit. But she was already pushing it on Teenage Dream; remember how she spent an entire song chanting, “I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock”? Now she’s almost 30 — isn’t it time to at least approach sexuality with the maturity level of, say, a high school senior?”—
I wrote about why I think Katy Perry’s new album is a total disaster. I kinda think of this as being like the third part of a trilogy that includes my Pitchfork reviews of Jessie J’s Who You Are and Madonna’s MDNA.
This argument doesn’t work because it operates on the assumption that Arcade Fire is in any way, shape, or form on the same plane as anyone playing CMJ, or CMJ as an institution. Arcade Fire are now a major label arena band in the process of rolling out a multi-platform promo campaign. This event in Brooklyn was mainly intended to drum up press and hype for the new album. You know who else does stuff like this? U2, Coldplay, R.E.M., Radiohead, and other high profile rock bands. Arcade Fire did not take attention away from a legion of CMJ bands because those bands were not going to get that attention anyway. If Arcade Fire took attention away from anyone by doing this, it was Pearl Jam, who were playing at Barclays Center both nights they did this thing in Bushwick. That’s their peer, that’s their context.
“Cyrus, who is about to turn 21 in November, is young enough that her frame of reference for pop music has always been dominated by hip-hop. She’s also from a generational cohort that has grown up on social media and is conditioned to share culture in a performative way. Think of it like Tumblr’s reblog function — where what you share with others represents how you want people to think of you, even if what you’re sharing isn’t necessarily who you are. This mentality disrupts a lot of the self-consciousness earlier generations have had about cultural borders. Miley — and many, many, many other artists and music fans around her age — aren’t “not seeing color” as Jay Z says, but they’re not seeing race as a boundary they can’t cross, or something they can’t freely integrate into their own identity. Miley isn’t actively trying to be a cultural imperialist, and she has no statement to make other than “I really like this!”—
“Lorde’s underdog position is very appealing, and on her own terms, her music is as relatable as Katy Perry’s songs about triumphing over adversity, or Rihanna’s hits about glamorous, doomed romance. This makes her a very good pop star, in her ability to synthesize common feelings, fantasies, and self-perception into evocative, accessible music. There’s a touch of melancholy and angst to her music but she mostly comes off like someone who is happy with who she is, and comfortable with standing apart from the crowd. Unlike Perry, she’s not in the business of telling herself or anyone else that they’re some special “firework,” but she does spend a lot of time repping for working class people from small towns and far-flung places, which is sort of hard to come by in contemporary pop. When she sings songs about love and romance, the details are pointedly small in scale and low key in sentiment, as if to highlight that she’s just a normal person. A normal person like you.”—
Kristine McKenna: Why is the notion of originality so valued in the creative arena?
Brian Eno: It’s a red herring, the originality thing. People are original all the time, and some people choose to regard it as important, while others dismiss it as an aberration. One of the things that’s interesting about nearly all ethnic music is that it doesn’t pivot on the idea of newness. In reggae, for instance, you hear the same riffs year after year in a shifting context. The idea there is to use a thing for as long as it still means something. The idea in the high culture of the west is to drop something as soon as you can no longer claim it as only yours. As soon as other people are onto it you have to drop it and go elsewhere, and that’s such a stupidly childish attitude.
”—From an Kristine McKenna interview with Brian Eno in 1980, which you can find in a collection of her interviews called The Book of Changes.
I wrote a short story based on the Nirvana song “Very Ape” for a collection of stories inspired by all the cuts on In Utero in celebration of the album’s 20th anniversary. It’s a period piece set around 1993. I’m pretty happy with how it came out, and thanks to Kristen Kim for inviting me to contribute. There are also stories by Nick Sylvester, Jayson Greene, Adam Moerder, Kim Kelly, Mish Way, Jeremy Gordon, and some other cool people, so check those out too.
“As post-Weeknd acts like Banks and PARTYNEXTDOOR crop up, Pharrell serves as a reminder that the R&B/pop zeitgeist consists of songs like “Blurred Lines”, “Get Lucky”, and “Take Back The Night”. These songs might not be a reaction to the Weeknd, but they do suggest that love is more than sex and sex is more than just a transaction. These loving and lovable songs serve as soundtracks for people who go on silly dates, make asses out of themselves at karaoke, get married, attend Bar Mitzvahs, and are capable as seeing everyone and everything as something other than an enabler.”—
“The jokes are fun, but the difficulty and power of his vanity cannot be emphasized enough. To assert that, despite the boundaries of a racist world that strangles your very view of what is possible, you are still going to be out here stuntin’ on everyone, that you will love yourself and love yourself excessively, is powerful beyond measure. And as many black artists have said before, for black folks to love themselves is a political act. The poet Audre Lorde captures it best: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Kanye’s “vanity” is meant to be inspiring; it is not a mindless arrogance but it is pointed and intentional.”—
“I, for one, look forward to the day when technology allows us to skip over the humiliating courting and coitus process, and we can 3-D print a baby without having to mash together our revolting genitals.”—
“More than half of the songs on Modern Vampires of the City are about young people who hyperbolically conflate adulthood with death, or at least with permanently surrendering a sense of possibility and license for recklessness. Koenig’s characters sense doors closing behind them at every turn, and feel the weight of decisions they might have not considered to be particularly important even just a few years ago. For his protagonists, YOLO isn’t a declaration of freedom; it’s a nagging pressure to make the most of their finite youth.”—
“The 90s were better than the 80s, and one key reason was that there was less originality. Originality is unmusical. The urge to do music is an admiring emulation of music one loves; the urge toward originality happens under threat that the music that sounds good to you somehow isn’t good enough.”—The late Scott Miller in his excellent and thought-provoking book of music criticism, Music: What Happened? You can buy the digital version of the book for less than $4 through Amazon, FYI.