Wednesday, 29 February 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- The Bullitts’ “Supercool”

If there's one thing about life in London that is hard to deal with, it's the number of crazy people walking the streets, unmonitored. Some of these crazy people can be downright scary, while some others are ludicrously entertaining enough to even charm the socks off Hollywood starlets like Rosario Dawson.

Jeymes Samuel's British dance project known as The Bullitts is an intriguing concept that has somehow managed to rope in the services of celebrity figures like Rosario Dawson, Idris Elba, Mos Def, Tori Amos and Lucy Liu, all this despite The Bullitts having only relatively diminutive transatlantic popularity.

Notwithstanding the enjoyably vérité nature of the Supercool music video, it's obvious the whole thing is staged to a tee. What makes the video work though is Rosario Dawson's game attitude. She elevates the premise of Supercool, bettering the concept and sound through her brilliant reactions.

Supercool is destined to become a viral classic and deservedly so, even if one has to admit the actual music is pretty pedestrian to say the least.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Funeral Party’s “Finale”

Goodness me America, why on earth do keep on buying the 'music for sectaries' we export to you when you're putting out records as good as this?

California's Funeral Party have maintained traction in the UK thanks to their signing with Sony Records, who've managed to keep this track on video playlists and music channels for almost a year now.

Finale is kind of old news now (2011 was a long time ago) but I love the fact that our boring high street gym continues to play the video. The sight of bearded Muslims and heavily tattooed white folk pumping iron together while this song plays loudly in the background is a vision that warms the heart (and stuns the senses).

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Movies of an Alternate Universe

Movies are so much a product of the exact time in which they get made. A film project can spend decades in development, but when it comes out the other side, it probably bears little resemblance to what it was initially conceived as.

For example, Katherine Heigel's latest comedy One for the Money was optioned by Tri-Star back in 1994. Had the film been put into production 18 years ago, it could have potentially starred someone like Meg Ryan, Winona Ryder or Alicia Silverstone as its protagonist Stephanie Plum. It would've been just as crap as it is now, but it may have recouped more than $26 million of its projected $40 million budget. Likewise, had George Lucas made his superfluous Star Wars prequel today instead of in 1999, he would have cast the now ubiquitous Michael Fassbender as Obi-Wan Kenobi over the then ubiquitous Ewan McGregor.

In order to visualise this concept, one has to turn to the artistic skills of Peter Stults and Sean Hartter, who on their respective blogs, revise the historic timeline in which a particular movie was made, reimagining a different director and cast for the film, but utilising an appropriate poster style for the period its been reworked. So instead of Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 arthouse thriller Drive starring Ryan Gossling, it now becomes a '50s John Ford directed melodrama with James Dean in the lead role. Even The Hangover is refurbished as a Rat Pack vehicle headlining Dean Martin.

The fun possibilities to be had are endless. If only the same could be done with Hong Kong and Indian cinema, though I fear the people of those countries are too busy making money than to bother engaging in unpaid creative endeavours of this kind.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls”

London rapper Mathangi Arulpragasam has been making headlines all week, and it's not because of her one finger salute at some overblown American sporting event.

Nay, M.I.A. is garnering much attention for her new big-budget music video, Bad Girls, which depicts decadent Middle Eastern archetypes dressed in stylish niqābs, kanduras, kaffiyehs and military gear, while sporting huge guns and engaging in the recklessly dangerous Gulf Arab pursuit of "hagwalah" (drift racing to you and me).

It's a spectacular video directed by the ever brilliant Romain Gavras, who paints a visually surreal interpretation of contemporary Arab culture. At a time when much of the Western world can't envisage Muslims being anything other than fanatically repressed terrorists, M.I.A. reinterprets them as blazingly fabulous rebels, pimped out in larger than life ways. It's a worthy reminder of the groundbreaking nature of British alternative music.

But let's be honest, M.I.A. is hardly a stalwart paragon of British music. In fact, can we really say M.I.A.'s success has anything to do with her being British? No we can't, because M.I.A. is hardly a big star over here. Her main success has come from the hip-hop crazy States of a United America, where M.I.A. is a major icon. Her albums have been largely overlooked in the UK, whereas across the Atlantic―they've been huge. Even the British Asian community―who should rejoice M.I.A.'s success considering she's one of them―has largely eschewed the singer on grounds of her not being 'desi' enough. Likewise, the British urban scene has hardly embraced M.I.A. either, largely due to the fact the singer's elitist art school heritage tarnishes her pseudo-gangsta image.

Regardless, for a British Asian to have performed at the Super Bowl half-time show last week is an achievement all us Brits should be proud of. M.I.A. souring the evening's events by protruding her middle-finger is hardly something to be annoyed at. Rather more, it's the least we can expect from a creative insurgent bribed into doing a cutesy dance number with some geriatric musical has been.

British artists have always made an effort to offend Americans. Whether it is the Stone Roses who in a radio interview accused the US military of infanticide, or the Sex Pistols' infamous 'Big Tits across America' rant; the British have a longstanding tradition of insulting the world's biggest music market.

I like to think Americans wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Pop Goes the Politician

Barack Obama singing Al Green's Let's Stay Together at a fundraising event in New York last month was a smooth move by the American president. There is no one in the history of politics that could have pulled it off the way Obama did. The guy oozes an ineffable sense of coolness that evades contemporary politics. Obama has never been known for musicality, but his ability to semi-sing Al Green's soulful track pleased many and boosted his poll ratings.

Obama's rendition of Let's Stay Together increased the track's weekly sales by 490%. The song, which was originally released in 1971, sold over 16,000 downloads in the week ending January 22, and helped Obama raise $3.1 million during the day spent campaigning in New York, thus proving how a politician's music choices can either make or break their vote worthiness.

Politicians have often used pop music as means of enhancing their persona. Modern politics has become less about policies and more about personality. Vladimir Putin, the current Russian president, is hardly known for being a connoisseur of Western pop music, but his rendition of Fat Domino's Blueberry Hill at a charity fundraiser event in St. Petersburg warmed the cockles of even the most hardened communist haters. It proved that if politicians want to be thought of as 'human', they need to pledge their allegiance to a popular band, singer or song.

Britain is a unique country in that it has a pop music history not many other places can rival. From John Lennon singing Give Peace a Chance to the Sex Pistols screaming out Anarchy in the UK, British popular music often encourages its listeners to think about the inequities of modern life, and subsequently, urges them to change things.

Perhaps one of the most formidable political bands to helm from Britain is The Smiths. Their music evoked a poetically elegiac picture of working-class life, giving a lyrical voice to the undervalued people of northern Britain. The songs were identifiably anti-establishment and abjured the unfair nature of Thatcherism.

It's no surprise that neither Morrissey nor Johnny Marr, founding members of The Smiths, is comfortable with our current Prime Minister, David Cameron, claiming their band is his all time favourite. Cameron's leftist music tastes seem completely at odds with his conservative political legislations. He has ushered in some of the most rightwing policies ever seen; the kind of policies designed to disrupt the lives of disadvantaged people across Britain.

As much as it pains me to admit it, our inept Prime Minister Cameron actually does have pretty good taste in music. (Rather humorously, Johnny Marr immediately took to Twitter, forbidding David Cameron from liking his band's music, saying: "David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it.") Though artists like The Smiths and Paul Weller have cringed in the revelation that Cameron is a fan of their work, he does seem to be genuine in affirming his enjoyment of quality music. Cameron seems a true liker of popular culture, informing the Sunday Telegraph last month that he has recently been rocking out to Lana Del Rey (rich people tend to like the work of other rich people) and Band of Horses on his iPod. He became even cooler when he said in the same interview that he dislikes the music of Bruno Mars and Katy Perry, describing them both as "appalling."

The notion that a politician like David Cameron can actually have a praiseworthy musical palette is a disorientating thought. His political policies are nothing short of abhorrent, yet his love of good music almost humanises him in a manner many of us are not comfortable with. Cameron discusses pop music as someone with an admirable knowledge of the things he's talking about. He's not just saying he likes music for the sake of increasing his poll numbers; he actually cares about the music he enjoys and thoughtfully admonishes the artists he's not fond of.

Often when a politician tries to be down with the kids, it usually backfires. Cameron's predecessors, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, both tried to use pop music to varying success. Ironically, despite their duplicitous veneer of adolescent-friendliness, both Blair and Brown were also responsible for the proliferation of youth poverty in Britain caused by improper strategies to close the gap between rich and poor stratums of society.

As a teenager in the '60s, Tony Blair was obsessed with rock music and fronted a rock band known as the Ugly Rumours. Blair expertly used the Britpop scene of the '90s to capture the attention of young voters, posing with his guitar in numerous photo shoots and inviting Noel Gallagher of Oasis to promote his cool credentials by endorsing his campaign at the 1996 BRIT Awards. The trick worked and Blair became the first Labour Party Prime Minister in a generation; though his immediate introduction of university student tuition fees exemplified just how hoodwinked the British young populace had been. (Considering that The Smiths―a perennial student favourite―are David Cameron's top band, his party's decision to exorbitantly increase university tuition fees from this September is a further reminder of how far removed his politics are from that of his favourite band.)

Blair's heir-apparent, Gordon Brown, was another political disappointment who tried to use the pop music scene to win the hearts of young folk, but failed spectacularly. Unlike Blair, Brown was bereft of charisma and seemed almost mechanical at times. Everyone knew that Brown was never a real fan of pop music. It was obvious that he had spent his youth bookishly festering away in libraries of Scotland, reading up on politics, economics and philosophy: not learning how to play the guitar like his colleague Blair. Therefore, it was nothing short of embarrassing when Brown told New Woman magazine that he is a fan of the Arctic Monkeys, enthusiastically declaring their music "wakes [him] up in the mornings." When Brown was later quizzed on the subject by GQ magazine, it transpired he didn't even know the title of a single song by the Arctic Monkeys, saying: "I prefer Arctic Monkeys to James Blunt, and I think I said I'd prefer Coldplay... Arctic Monkeys would certainly wake you up in the morning. So, I mean, I've heard Arctic Monkeys and they're very loud." (Huh?)

The barefaced shame of modern politics is that it has become something it shouldn't be. Showing off your knowledge of music trends totally isn't what is required from a politician. Political parties have often used classic pop songs to underscore their campaign junkets, and while that may help to boost their profile in superficial ways, it can hinder their appeal in more important ways. Artists are very quick to rebuke politicians for misusing their songs, and that can affect their standing in the eyes of voters. Although politicians may think we want them to be identifiable, the truth is that we want them to be honest and responsible leaders first.

Voters will always look at policy. There's no way that even the most mentally incapacitated American citizen voted Bill Clinton to office on account of his ability to play a saxophone, just as there is no way Cameron is likely to remain our Prime Minister simply because, according to the Sunday Telegraph, he's confessed to having "finished Angry Birds and moved on to Fruit Ninja" on his iPhone. It's highly condescending that politicians flag their knowledge of pop culture as means of fooling the public into thinking they are just like them.

A politician's political agenda and their personal taste in pop music are mutually exclusive interests: or at least they should be.