Sunday, December 4, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Absolutely dig the child chalkboard pattern turned adult rolling floor. Bravo, set designers!
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
"I think it’s a high point. I feel better about this record than I’ve felt in a long time, and that’s not a slight to any of my other albums. I know how hard it is to satisfy myself with any project, and it’s only happened once or twice before, if at all. [Laughs] I feel really good about this one. It musically represents what I do better than anything I’ve done in a long time."
Some more choice quotes from Scott Thrill's Wired interview with Shadow (lucky bastard):
The jist of the message...
"It’s a democracy failure Davis saw crushed up close, given his proximity to Silicon Valley, where titans like Apple and Google sprouted from technological culture jammers into the undisputed masters of Wall Street’s universe. ...The smart-ass gadgets’ emotional detachment, as well as the internet age’s intensified polarization, signify what DJ Shadow calls a disturbing trend of technocultural “groupthink.”
On working with Posdnous from De La Soul ...
"I find myself missing people who are actual people rather than caricatures, especially in hip-hop. When we were talking about the track, I told him how much I miss messages in rap that had to do with a shared experience."
(For this album, Shadow also collaborated with Talib Kweli, Tom Vek, Yukimi of Little Dragon, and African Boy:
Driving the point home...
"One of the creepier moments of the last year that struck me was how my mother, who barely uses the internet, clicks on a news story, and then is guided by algorithms to the same stories and publishers. It seems innocuous and innocent enough, but it does mean she’s getting a skewed sense of the news. The more I think about it, the more I see it manifested in her. It’s pretty worrying. I don’t think people really understand what they are choosing to engage, and it’s in no corporation’s interest to inform them. It’s very similar to early television. No one wanted to talk about its potentially harmful effects. It took a long time for television to develop a conscience, and I think we’re seeing the same thing with new media."
Have a listen to the full album.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Below are three lovelies that speak to this undeniable but oft overlooked sensorial link.
PAUL POPE's ROCK COMICS- More than just capturing the essence of sound in a visual format, Paul Pope infuses his early graphic novels with the energy, fashion, and attitude of rock 'n roll as a movement. Spilling over onto his personal silhouette, Pope appears to live his art, both emulating the messy-haired, tight-jean rocker look of an era lost and boldly pushing the envelope within his medium while openly advocating for the underdog that the comic format represents in the art world.
"In 2002 GEAR Magazine put Pope at # 11 in their annual TOP 100 list of "the most exciting people, places, and things on the planet," calling him "one of the most consistently inventive comics artists of his generation." In France he's been called "the Jim Morrison of comics." via Advocates for Self Government
Check out: "Heavy Liquid," Pope's graphic novel inspired by a song of the same name by Thee Hypnotics (below)
SAND EXPERIMENTS: THE DIVINE GEOMETRY OF SOUND - This incredible video demonstrates the power of sound waves to influence the material. Robert Jourdain's analogy referring to how people use music, like drugs, for mood enhancement comes to mind: "We 'take' a certain kind of music to steer our central nervous systems toward a particular condition; hard rock as the frenzied rush of cocaine; easy-listening genres as a martini; cheery supermarket Muzak as a pick-me-up cup of coffee; cool jazz as a laid-back marijuana high; the far-flung landscapes of classical music as the fantasy realm of psychedelics." It is my personal belief that music is medicine. From subsonic frequencies below the level of hearing causing nausea by resonating with our internal organs to Shamantic drumming inducing a state of deep meditative sleep by tapping into theta brain wave, sound is a potent tool for altering our physiology and consciousness.
Check out: David Sonnenschein's book "Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema" -->
Excerpt, pg 98: "Entrainment can be refelcted in the global environment, architecture, and even in our physiology. An electromagnetic field vibrates between the ionosphere and the Earth's surface at 4-8Hz (called the Schumann resonance), which synchronizes not only with that theta consciousness state of "oneness" and harmony with the universe, but is also said to be mathematically related to many sacred sites such as Stonehenge and the Pyramids"
NORMAN MCLAREN's HAND DRAWN SOUNDS- Just as sound may be reconstituted into a visual counterpart, a visual component such as a drawing can be directly translated for our ears. Norman McLaren's "Pen Point Percussion" is a rare example of this principle. A student of animation, McLaren invented many groundbreaking techniques for synchronizing music with the moving image. An iconoclast's iconoclast, McLaren built the Canadian animation scene up from nothing by choosing art students he thought has animation potential based on their portfolios and interviews and encouraging them to experiment under the camera in a haven he created away from the pressures Hollywood. The studio he headed at the National Film Board of Canada thrived on the "conviction that animation should be personal, experimental, and diverse in technique," and McLaren's belief that in film "how it moved was more important than what moved" inspired him to cross past the camera directly to film stock, playing with the relationships between the size of dots drawn on film to the pitch and tone outputted when the drawings were played through a Moviola.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Killer reveal of the band jamming on the dining room table.
Ahead of the anti-label/free culture wave, Tracy Bonham allowed this hit to remain publicly available for all to enjoy regardless of copyright infringements. #forwardthinking.
Happy mother's day.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Godin insists that leaders in the context of the internet must not be managers. Managers lead for themselves. Leaders lead for everyone. They define a purpose or provide a platform through which interested parties can connect and encourage the members of the tribe to engage and communicate. While it is necessary for a leader to set the ball rolling by motivating through passion and connect people with the same passion, in order to keep followers engaged enough to create a movement, it is vital for a leader to get out of the way.
BOOK REVIEW: HERE COMES EVERYBODY by Clay Shirky
reviewed by Sabrina Beram
Here Comes Everybody takes the new technology of the internet and deconstructs it’s effects on social organizing in comparison with technological revolutions of the past. Shirky identifies four such revolutionizing technologies: the printing press, the telegraph and telegram, recorded sound and images, and, finally, the ability to harness broadcast or to send media out to an audience (106). An observable pattern exists in which those technologies that made it possible to communicate bi-directionally did not enable groups to form (ie. the telephone created a one-to-one person information exchange) and those that inspired the aggregation of viewers/listeners did not make it possible for that audience to communicate (watching a particular television show is an experience shared by many people who have no power to interact back with the medium or the majority of other viewers). The internet is a break from that pattern; cybercitizens can create media, broadcast it to many people, receive comments from anyone and everyone who consumes it, and carry on a discourse around the object of attention. This system of increased expressive capability, successful due to a low barrier of entry, is empowering individuals by enabling them to connect with others who share similar interests at a very small cost. This fosters what Bill O’Reilly deems an “architecture of participation” in which “the former audience…react[s] to, participate[s] in, and even alter[s] a story as it is unfolding,” ergo becoming active sources of news, skill-based teaching, and social change (7).
The internet’s facility for “ridiculously easy group forming,” an alternative to managing large scale effort, is posing a challenge to managerial culture and specialized professions previously essential to allowing groups to “tackle tasks that are bigger, more complex, more dispersed, and of longer duration than any person could tackle alone” (22, 16). Thus, traditional institutions (commerce, government, media, and religion) quintessential to society as we know it are being debased by civilian groups who utilize the principle of power in numbers to call attention to bureaucratic flaws and impact them. This new group leverage can change existing rules, as in the case of the stolen sidekick where Evan Guttman drew on the expertise of many diverse, interested parties and their public display of dissatisfaction to pressure the NYPD to shift away from their power play resistance (“we make the rules”) and respond to Guttman’s rational request to have his complaint handled not as a lost property case, in which no action would be taken, to a stolen property case, in which the thief was jailed and the property retuned to its rightful owner.
We are already beginning to see the threat of replacement that the modern group dynamic poses to comparatively less effective organizations, such as news corporations and the music industry which are “still reeling from the discovery that the [production] and distribution [of news and music]…is now [not only] something their customers can do for themselves” but something that consumers can do differently (23). For example, a slew of bystanders with camera phones can document a newsworthy situation better than professional photographers who contend with time and geographical constraints. And once a picture hits the net in a group forum, the conversation around it can change the function of the photo from mere documentation to a method for awareness meant to galvanize viewers to help find a loved one who has gone missing in a tsunami (36). Especially poignant was the trend that even in situations in which a “change that threatens the profession benefits society ..the professionals can be relied on to care more about self-defense than progress” (69). The dictatorial response of the NYPD to Guttman demonstrates this as does the case of the French Bus Company TSE which shockingly attempted to sue former passengers for carpooling (79).
What I liked most about this book was the incorporation of anecdotes to demonstrate each of Shirky’s claims. The stories were succinct and well chosen. Shirky does a great job of clarifying key concepts by first, defining the concept, second, showing how the concept has played out in society prior to the invention of the internet, and third, applying that concept to the effects of the internet on society. Because Shirky drew on the history of the scribe succumbing to the influence of the printing press to demonstrate the power of technology to change existing media systems, he prepared his readers to accept his projections of the future disintegration of news corporations resulting from grassroots journalism, thus, making his assertion credible.
Shirky is incredibly skilled at raising practical questions of latent ambiguity that are becoming pressing issues as the tectonic plate shift occurs within media, my favorite topic in the book. “Who are the journalists” who should enjoy journalistic privilege when anybody can report and publish (70)? If everyone is a journalist entitled to this “safety valve for investigative reporting,” will journalistic privilege compromise the law’s ability to uncover and prosecute wrongdoing to the point that the privilege becomes counterproductive to the maintenance and protection of society (71)? Maybe in the lawmaker’s eyes, but not in those of the journalists’ who fight for the right to get information from sources that wish to remain anonymous and are unwilling to share what they know if their identity is to be publicized. If this investigative tool is extended to civilian Internet reporters, perhaps the traditional journalists will publicly disapprove of their own methods of effective journalism out of self-interest to limit the amount of people who are enabled to do their job in attempt to resist the effect of mass amateurization breaking professional categories (If I can’t have it, no one can). These tough conundrums regarding competing sovereigns and latent ambiguity were the strength of the shift in media topic, because they were thought provoking. It peaked my interest to take action to find out more about the process of how this is being handled and even get involved.
I have two main criticisms of this book. The first is that the repetition made it a laborious read. General ideas that had been solidified very early on (the cosean theory, transaction costs) were reiterated in subsequent chapters with nearly the same amount of detail. I understand that these ideas form the core of the book, but it often felt that Shirky was filling up space, wasting ink and my time by not bringing anything new to the table.
Second, the overt optimism left the book feeling a bit skewed. This book brings to mind Jonathan Zittrain’s z-theory, by which we celebrate the good and do not pay enough attention to the bad when examining the internet as a generative platform. Shirky’s accounts of influential collective action show the ability of groups to motivate change, as exhibited by the “smile mob” which used social networking as a tool for protest in October Square and the 2006 Myspace school boycott in California, but they also illustrate the power of groups to upset order. The power of the groups he cites are only going to grow stronger with each small success. The ability for the underdogs to work together to support one another is a great check on the abuse of power, but what will happen when multiple groups try to influence authorities to opposite ends? Shirky maintains that “technology doesn’t free us from social preferences or prejudices” and that “opposition can strengthen [a] group’s cohesion” (225, 210). What if groups created by large scale divisions organize against each other? When groups resisting authoritative rules become more massive than the authority in question, say the government, how will society function? Once various groups bond together online and reinforce each other’s conflicting views, might we find that a single unifying government is no longer as effective as a sub-divided, group based democracy? Will it mimic the groups within groups within a group structure of Myspace? I think that these questions are beyond the scope of the futuristic timeline in which Shirky sets his predictions. We are in the era of the initiation of lasting internet cooperatives, at the moment where technology has become boring and can be taken for granted while the network is becoming interesting because it is starting to use that technology for new purposes without being bogged down by bugs in the system.
Also, Shirky sanguinely concentrates on the internet’s encouragement of sharing, conversation, and collaboration, but neglects to explore the darker side of the internet as a medium for negative interaction within a group. He identifies love as a motivation for internet groups and points to wikipedia, but offers no equivalent for hate.
A friend of mine has a slight addiction to TMZ message boards, on which fans discuss celebrity gossip and entertainment news. The fact that users return to this site on the daily is evidence that this is a successful platform for group aggregation, but the communication largely consists of participants engaging in inane bickering as they rip each other’s opinions down with personal attacks and hurtful comments, creating a toxic, rather than harmonious environment.
Much of TMZ’s content is the product of paparazzi invading the privacy of the famous and, by giving them attention, the site praises celebrities who engage in unhealthy behaviors such as taking drugs, making obnoxious comments, suffering from body image issues, and snubbing authorities by assuming that they are above the law due to their financial status. By glamorizing such behavior, TMZ indirectly encourages it.
Speaking out in response to TMZ’s posting of a personal and unflattering recording of a heated conversation with his daughter, Alec Baldwin stated “You find out that everybody who works in tabloid media are people who are filled with self-hatred and shame, and the way they manage those feelings is they destroy the lives of other people.” I presume that many of the pedestrian consumers and producers of tabloid culture are similarly afflicted and that is reflected in their bitter group interactions. When they are not threatening physical violence or engaging in offensive name-calling, TMZ commentators are making fun of celebrities. Sure this interaction qualifies as sharing, but the content, in my opinion, is not productive use of time because it is not a healthy influence on users. It is a breeding ground for the reinforcement of insecurities.
I don’t think that such a community would exist outside of the anonymity of the internet. In the real world, when two adults meet, they don’t immediately insult each other’s tastes or open with controversial and opinionated subject matter. Such behavior would be frowned upon and reprimanded. Instead, there is a process of introduction and getting to know one another. This helps foster respectful conversation. If I know my opponent and have the opportunity to find aspects of their life and personality which align with my own interests, I am much more likely to argue a point without attacking them, and a vicious cycle of unproductive hate spewing does not emerge.
Exploring this aspect of group interaction would not have benefited Shirky’s theme that assembly and collaboration on the Internet leads to positive social change, so it is not surprising that he barely touched on it. The negative social change brought about by the ridiculously easy formation of this group as a byproduct of the internet still falls within the jurisdiction of Shirky’s book topic (how society and our lives are transformed by net-enabled social tools) so from the perspective of a reader, his report is lacking.
More time should have been spent on the propagation of rumors and the role of fear, jealousy, and hate within and as a product of group organization on the internet. Have nazi-sympathizers achieved collective action through virtual planning? Are authorities monitoring the potential of such behavior? Are impressionable teens being prepared to and resist recruitment by responsibly processing the content on sites that promote hate? Are cults on the rise? I would have also liked to have read more about how the time individuals dedicate to internet-chat reduces their opportunity to form personal connections with the people in their real-world communities. Is the education system suffering because kids are spending more time learning from internet peers as opposed to teachers? Is this alternative education necessarily a bad thing? My aunt, an art teacher who sees kids getting “dumber” each generation due to internet usage would. Virtual friends cannot provide the same emotional support as is offered by a real world person who comforts a friend in trouble with a physical hug or a place to stay. Is the increase in virtual group support as opposed to physical support contributing to depression?
I think Shirky would respond to my criticism first by maintaining that positive collaborative groups survive negative groups interactions since the pattern is that users who feel mistreated will leave a conversation or troublemakers are chastised and blocked in most online communities. Then, I think he would look at the positives by stating that message boards like TMZ’s and the social group interactions that take place on them support the right to free speech, so their existence is valuable. He would add that the member retention rate demonstrates that it feeds some desire of the members who use it as a platform for discussion, so it does enrich their lives by their standards. Shirky addresses the questionable nature of groups that bond over unhealthy behavior in his comments surrounding the pro-anorexia self help groups, when he states, “Sorting the good from the bad is challenging in part because we’re used to social disapproval making it hard for groups to form (207).” It is dangerous to condemn individuals for exploring interests considered taboo by the general public, since that stifles freedom of choice, but I think that Shirkey would have better substantiated his position that group forming on the internet will lead to positive social change if he has proposed some potential solutions for the regulation of harmful efforts. His optimism would have come off as more credible if he has tipped the scale more towards the middle, acknowledging crime as an alternative outcome of anonymous internet group forming and providing examples of how checks on these behaviors have been implemented.
I think that the power of organizing without organizations will have many affects in the future. I predict group organization online will guide the way we organize reality. More easily than ever before, the internet enables us to find others with similar interests, and those people affirm each other’s identities. This is attractive and leads to individuals investing more of their time interacting virtually, yet Shirky reminds us that the “popularity of Meetup groups suggests that meeting online isn’t enough” (198). When internet users bond online, trust is built and communities thrive. Why not use those groups as the basis for interest-themed housing communities? My second prediction is that group action on the internet will be increasingly regulated by code by changing the architecture to reduce anonymity. This will be necessary to crack down on the dangers of bringing anonymous group formation from the realm of the internet to that of reality. For example, if more strangers meet up in person, this may lead to untraceable crime. Untraceable crime will lead to more crime since there is less threat of consequence. More crime will inspire terror, and as Lessig explained in Code 2.0 with the Patriot Act example, terror gives the government license to increase control. Thirdly, I think that huge strides in intellectual development will be made at a faster speed than ever before. Pulling resources and diverse contributions together will advance the upper academic sphere. Just as free software collaboration lead to the creation of the valuable GNU/Linux Operating System, academic collaboration may lead to the concoction of better vaccines, the development of alternative energy, or the design of a high dynamic range video camera. More can get done faster with more people working together in a virtual environment that allows for flexibility in time and geography. The threshold for finding and integrating good ideas has been lowered. What affect this will have on education, law, and the market is yet to be determined.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
CHRISTINA AGUILERA; Past, Present, and Future
by Sabrina Beram
Christina Aguilera is one of the few, if not only, modern popular musical artists who understands the importance of visual aesthetic expressed through fashion as just as vital an element in imaging as musical output. She has remade herself nearly as many times as Madonna, twisting her look in every direction, and, not surprisingly, has cited the older American music icon as an artist whose career she emulates, gushing, “I love Madonna for her strength and discipline. Her ideas are amazing, and she tries to go above and beyond in challenging herself. I love people who stand up for what they passionately believe in and don’t back down.” (3).
Christina lives by these words, pushing the limit both in her personal life and career aspirations. She exhibits Madonna’s discipline, excelling at everything from video gaming, “I’m extremely good at video games…I have all the top scores…I love absorbing information,” to re-aquiring her pre-baby body in record time through a rigorous 90 minute a day workout regime, as well as Madonna’s drive for innovation (3, 1). “I constantly change my image. I’m a very visual artist and am constantly trying something new,” the petite bombshell announced with assertion in a Billboard article titled “Better with Time.” (Better with Time).
After nudging her way into public consciousness as a preppy Mousekateer at the age of twelve, Christina used the recognition garnered from the Disney Channel stint in combination with her powerful pipes (she was selected to record “Reflection” for Mulan based on her ability to sing a high “E” in full voice, which she documented with a cheap Radio Shack recorder in her bathroom circa 1998) to obtain a contract with RCA. Her self-titled solo album Christina Aguilera released August 4, 1999. To put it lightly, Christina was less than satisfied with the experience of working with a major label under the exclusive representation of Steve Kurtz, lamenting “The first album was an uphill battle for me, and I really feel like I paid my dues on that first record. Being part of a huge pop explosion, I was very pushed by the label to be, act, dress a certain way, and it was tough” (4).
Looking back, especially in the wake of her more empowered incarnation of femininity, one can conclude that Aguilera was blatantly exploited as a tool for maintaining male domination of the media during America’s cultural pop phase. The music video for “What a Girl Wants,” in which Christina performs for what is presumably her boyfriend, demonstrates this point. The entire video is framed from his perspective, or what is deemed the ‘male gaze’ in Fashion, Clothing, and Social Revolution. The function of the cinematography reflecting such a gaze is to reduce the female—here Christina is symbolic for all females—to “being [an object] to be viewed,” thereby rendering her passive and subordinate (148). During the song’s breakdown, Christina whispers “What I want is what you got. And what you got is what I want….You knew me better than I know myself,” which reinforces the notion that men, who produce most of the media consumed by young women, know best. This validates their superior stance while insisting that their influence over the construction of feminine inferiority complex is inescapable. The garter worn on Christina’s leg, a key signifier in the video, speaks to this ideological entrapment. Christina, adorned with a tiara and fluffy crinoline skirt to emphasize her childishness follies, pulls up her skirt and flashes her garter, a wedding leg band meant to suggest her ownership by a man, to the shock of geisha-like, faceless powdered girls dancing circles around her. This is to say that it is alarming that she would share her sexuality with others besides the man to whom she belongs.
Christina’s Sketchers advertisement campaign has similar implications. As deduced from the 1930’s vehicle, the ad is set in a 1930’s/ 1940’s time period, an “era before patriarchal dominance was threatened by racial, gender, and sexual liberation movements [in which] pulp fiction novels [which] capitalized on violent masculine fantasies of heroism and highly sexualized female victims” were popular (Lemley 7). In her insightful dissertation titled “Gendered Construction of the Female Identity,” Julie L. Lemley deconstructs this product of “consolidated media [which] proceeds from a narrow ideological range which is dominated by a white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal perspective” (3).
In this advertisement, Christina poses as both a submissive woman under arrest and a dominatrix police officer. Lemley argues that these two images of a single person, “while showing both sides of her character, actually limits her within a narrow and sexualized range” (3). As the arrestee, Christina appears “weak and childlike” wearing “a studded leather belt and chains [that] identify her as youthful” ala the youth punk aesthetic, while holding a pose in which she “stands on toes which lifts her rear end upward, exposing it while turning it sideways to reveal her chest” and expressing a “look of surprise/ fear…[which has an] association with sexual vulnerability and victimization” (Lemley 6). As the aggressor, Christina touts “leather boots, knee highs, high-heels, [a] too-tight, opened, shortened shirt, [and] tight pants” which, along with “glasses pulled aside to reveal eyes” and a pose (unlike that of a male cop) consisting of a “twisted, hard ‘S’ turn at the hips,” strip her of power by sexualizing her and defining her as a seductress (Lemley 6).
To add insult to injury, Kurtz took advantage of Christina financially by over-working her while embezzling funds. She terminated their contract early and embarked on a new ‘dirrty’ phase, through which she therapeutically processed what had happened through her music and imagery. On her next studio album, “Stripped,” Christina aligned with social rejects and presented herself as a victim of aggressors, not the least of which was her father, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army whose physical abuse prompted her mother to leave for Pennsylvania with a then-seven-year-old Christina and her sister. At this tender age, Christina began pursuing a career in entertainment, performing in local talent shows and on Star Search, which spurred jealous peers to slash the family’s car tires and attempt assaults on Christina in gym class.
The images presented on the album “Stripped” were “highly suggestive of battery and violence against the subject” characterized by “blackened eyes, [being] stripped of clothing, fetal positioning, avoiding eye contact with the viewer, and/or a timid frightened look” (Lemley 9). In an analysis on the effect this may have on Christina’s young female fan base, Lemley interprets the aforementioned imagery as sending the message “no matter how powerful you are, no matter how high you go, no matter how successful you become, you will always be a sexual object. Your ability to achieve is sustained entirely by your value as a sexual object” (9).
However, this narrow view does not take the entire “Stripped” image and concept into account. In a comment on the intention behind the album, for which Aguilera co-wrote 14 songs, the newly brandished ‘Xtina’ stated, “I feel a responsibility almost to share some of the things that aren’t kind of the brighter sides of my life. If I can give [people] something that they can relate to they might not feel so alone in the circumstance” (4). This materialized in the video for “Beautiful,” which took on issues of body image and sexual identity, featuring an anorexic girl smashing a mirror, a man cross-dressing in a bra, two boys locking tongues, a skinny nerd weight lifting, and an outcast girl having her nose broken by a gang of three classmates- after which each character smiles in acceptance of their circumstances and self. The message here seems to be less one of validating the perpetrators, than one of defiance against the status quo. This is supported by the track “Oh Mother,” in which Christina “praises her mother’s bravery and courage in the face of her father’s abuse” (4). Again, the vibe is one of ‘the underdog will prevail, will survive, and will emerge stronger.’
Alongside “Beautiful,” the song and video for “Dirrty” hit the media ciruit like a shock. This was the 21-year-old’s undeniable attempt to shake off the squeaky clean image with which she had been associated since the Mickey Mouse Club. A Newsweek article, “Red Hot Blue” described the music video look as “black-market adult film” in which Christina “dressed in leather chaps, red undies, and a bikini top...writhed around in a skeezy boxing ring surrounded by signs that read, in Thai, YOUNG UNDERAGE GIRLS” (8). Christina’s sexual rebellion was encapsulated in her break from the Western standards of beauty with tattoos, piercings (including one on her genitals), black streaks tainting her blonde hair and dreadlocks, a hairstyle which originated in an early 1930’s sect of Rastafari when “the marginalized poor of Jamaica ceased to copy the hairstyle of Haile Salassie I of Ethiopia” (Wikipedia: Dreadlocks). In a Bowie-esque move, Christina put her money where her mouth was with this risky career move and literally reinvented herself into an outcast; her “scantily clad alter ego ‘Xtina’… widely derided for dressing like a streetwalker” appeared multiple times on Worst Dressed lists (9). When questioned regarding her overt sexualized image promoting the objectification of women in a Glamour Magazine interview, Aguilera employed the feminist strategy of reversal as she ‘soapboxed’ about a woman’s right to choose to wear as little or as much clothing as she sees fit, asserting, “I think women are sensual, beautiful beings, and I feel empowered when I express myself sexually” (10).
Ever bolder with each ensuing album, Christina stood her ground against the cautionary words of her label boss Clive Davis and set to work on her next album, a concept piece in the form of a “2 cd, 22 song set executive-produced and co-written by Aguilera - with the aim of paying homage to her heros while inventing something completely new” (4). Christina was forced to find a new producer when, again, she was slighted by a significant male in her life, Scott Storch, the hip-hop heavyweight from Miami who produced seven tracks for “Stripped.” Storch made several egotistical cocaine-induced demands of Christina which inspired the track F.U.S.S., or Fuck You Scott Storch, which ended bitingly with “Looks like I didn’t need you. Still got the album out” (9). Realizing the importance of finding the right person to work with, Christina explained, “I put together a CD of music I’m inspired by. I called it the “producer’s package,” and I wrote a letter to [prospective producers] saying “These are songs that I’m inspired by. Please listen to them, reference them, use bits and pieces, experiment, and enter this world with me” (3). She settled on not one, but two producers. The first disc, primarily produced by DJ Premier, “combine[d] old-song sensibilities with hip-hop elements, samples and modern technology” such as drum machines and synths, while disc two, produced by Linda Perry feature[d] all live instrumentation,” including horns and a Georgian choir, “with no samples” (4).
“Back to Basics,” as the project came to be titled, demonstrated Christina’s creative potential, and she received praise in the Rolling Stone feature “Dirty Girl Cleans Up:” “It’s impressive for Christina to see such an ambitious take all the way through. Overhauling her image, conceptualizing her album, overseeing every facet of production down to the CD booklet- it’s control freak perfectionism worthy of Madonna” (9). Billboard Magazine saw the same maturity emerging in Christina, emphasizing how “She stressed continuity that would run through all facets of the project from the songs, imaging, videos, and touring that would combine the music with visuals that were a “throwback to old Hollywood glam, that kind of old, retro, pinup style of sexuality” (4).
Again, Christina aligned herself with a marginalized demographic, although this time around, it was based in race as opposed to gender. In an interview for the L.A. publication Advocate, she shared, “I’m reading Etta James’s autobiography right now. I love her ballsy attitude. In her day, with racism going on in extreme and having to face all that, that’s very powerful to me.” The influence for the album was the vintage soul, jazz, and blues singers of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s whom Christina had grown up listening to as an escape from the domestic violence characterizing her early home environment. “There’s a lot of pain and angst in those songs,” Christina reflected, “They spoke to my life before I moved in with my grandma- my father, all the abuse I endured” (8).
Although Christina cites retro African American singers, Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker astutely observes “she establishes her affinities, but saying doesn’t make it so… there are precious few audible connections to any music pre-dating the seventies soul of Stevie Wonder.” The early 1900’s influence is more evident in the look Christina adopted while promoting the album; “I would surround myself with old imagery of [Billy Holiday, Pearl Baileys, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis]. Actors call it ‘method acting,’ It was my way of method signing” (4). Christina lugged photos of the greats to board meetings and brought them along on tour. She emphasized the importance of image and clothing and the emotional response it evokes when prompted to speak about her signature vampy red lipstick, purring “Just to get into the song… to convey that emotion and high energy, especially to belt out some notes, the red lipstick helped me get to that mind frame…The red lips are- I don’t want to call them armor but they’re the clothes of my character, and I’m in the business of entertainment. Wearing red lipstick helps get me into that world… There are so many more sides to me than my voice. I love theatrics and have a huge imagination.” (4, 10).
Just as Christina looked to pinup artist Alberto Vargas was inspiration for her video, “Candyman,” she is purportedly looking to another graphic artist, Andy Warhol, to inform the look to accompany her forthcoming album Light and Darkness. Light and Darkness will undoubtedly bring about another radical image reincarnation, as suggested by the titillating sneak previews from the commemorative exclusive Target-release “Keeps Getting Better: A Decade of Hits” which includes “ new remixed versions of “Genie in a Bottle” and “Beautiful,” titled “Genie 2.0” and “You Are What You Are (Beautiful), respectively, plus the new songs “Keeps Getting Better” and “Dynamite” [alongside staples].” After taking listeners back in time, it seem only appropriate that the Mickey Mousekateer- turned sexpot shift gears and race towards the future. Christina’s audio team- including Sia, Le Tigre, and Ladytron- is poised to support her fresh vision: “I wanted to go in a completely opposite direction- a very futuristic, robot sounds and computer- sounding vocals. I’m experimenting with my voice in ways I’ve never done before, almost like a technical, computer-generated sound, which is different for me because I’m the type of vocalist that just belts” (2). Christina is already expressing her embrace of technology in her latest video “Keeps Getting Better,” in which the ipod touch makes an cameo, an animated robot jolts to the electronic beat, and Christina meshes with the digital world, appearing as a digital vixen laser projection- only one of the custom comic bookesque versions of herself that she conjures on pixelized flatscreens as a hoodied computer hacker-like mastermind dressed like you and me. Living the new image, Christina premiered the Peter-Berg directed video on October 27, 2008 on iLike, the music social networking site’s Facebook application, “making Aguilera the first major artist to use iLike for a video premiere” (2).
Christina Aguilera is an independent thinker and talented musician. She is a marker of our time, reflecting societal cultural and political trends. Her themes about feminine pride echo key moments in the Third Wave feminism movement of the 1990s such as the Anita Hill testimonial against sexual harasser Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, the passing of the Violence Against Women Act, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s rise to prominence in politics, and the popular phrase “You Go Girl.” She remains just as relevant in the 21st century contributing to and incorporating the mass acceptance of gay rights, multiculturalism and the election of America’s first black president, and the lightning speed growth of the Internet into her work. Christina is constantly trailblazing, walking herself down the marriage aisle, fearlessly confronting taboo subject matter, and always keeping an eye to the future. A true role model, the substance she brings to the music community is a refreshing necessity in light of most talentless, shallow, pretty, and vacant pop queens of today.
(1) Christina Without All the Drama
By: Laurie Sandell
July 1, 2008
(2) Better with Time
By: Mariel Conception
November 25, 2008
Billboard 120 (no. 45)
Copyright 2001, VNU Business Publications, USA
(3) Christina Up Close
By: Dennis Hensley and Jill Greenberg
September 12, 2006
Advocate (Los Angeles, Calif)
Pages: 43-4, 46, 49
(4) Old School
By: Melina Newman, Ellen Von Unwerth, David Greenwald
July 29, 2006
Billboard 118 (no. 30)
Copyright 2001, VNU Business Publications, USA
(5) Pop Rocks
By: Marion Fasel
In Style 15 (no. 13)
Pages: 150-2, 154
(6) Sex Symbols: Pop Music
By: Sasha Frere-Jones
September 4, 2006
The New Yorker (Vol 82/ Iss 27)
Conde Nast Publications Inc.
(7) Better with Time
By: Mariel Conception
November 25, 2008
Billboard 120 (no. 45)
Copyright 2001, VNU Business Publications, USA
(8) Red Hot Blue
By: Lorraine Ali
July 31, 2006
Newsweek 148 (no. 5)
(9) Dirty Girl Cleans Up
By: Austin Scaggs
August 24, 2006
Rolling Stone (Iss. 1007)
(10) Christina: An Initmate Talk About a Past That Still Hurts
By: Laurie Sandell
December 1, 2006
(11) Gendered Construction of the Female Identity
By: Julie L. Lemley
Journal of Undergraduate Research, MSU-Mankato (vol. 5)