Tag Archive: britney spears

  1. A Discourse on Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”

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    The candidly personal, the retro and the acoustic have dominated music for about a year.

    You could say it started with the massive and simultaneous hits “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky,” two songs that harkened back to an earlier era with their disco beats and gentle falsettos. Pharrell Williams, mastermind behind both songs, returned to the formula to create “Happy,” which predictably became the most ubiquitous song of early 2014.

    Finding the real source of pop’s current obsession with low-fi and low-key requires that we travel even further back: to the deluge of glitzy, futuristic, synth-pop ushered in by Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas and nurtured by the likes of Ke$ha, Flo-Rida and Katy Perry. The reign of techno was so relentless, that somewhere in the long expanses of 2012, I propose, the novelty wore off. People got Auto-Tuned out.

    The ensuing pendulum-swing has had a few major themes. Stylistically, hit songs have tended toward the acoustic, the folksy, the funky, the disco-ish and the Reggae-esque. In their lyrics and packaging, stars have chased after a stripped-down, vulnerable image. What the post-Gaga pushback has sought is entertainment that feels organic.

    We’re still living in the aftermath. Glance at the top 10 songs in this week’s Billboard Hot 100 and you’ll find that Pharrell’s minimalist funk is enlivened with comic candor in Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Listen to the Afro-Carribean lilt permeating Magic’s “Rude” and Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong.” Think of Sam Smith’s acoustic smash “Stay With Me” or the flavors of neo-soul running through superstar collaboration “Bang Bang.” Left by the wayside are those who refused to evolve — the Britney Spearses and Lady Gagas, clinging to their icy club bangers as current tastes drift away.

    It is in this climate that we get “Anaconda,” a song that jumped 37 spots last week, landing at number two and becoming Nicki Minaj’s highest charting single ever. Critics immediately called it an unlikely hit, and, it’s true — Minaj does seem like a holdover from inaccessible, turn-of-the-teens excess. But is she really so out of place? “Anaconda” is built around a sample from Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 classic “Baby Got Back,” which makes it precisely the sort of nod-to-a-bygone-era that has prompted so many downloads and spins for Robin Thicke and others. Insofar as Minaj candidly and playfully boasts of her impressive derriere, “Anaconda” is precisely the sort of quirky, brazen self-empowerment anthem that vaulted Swift and Trainor to the charts’ upper ranks.

    “Anaconda” speaks to the playful throwback jams that currently permeate the charts. But it remains to be seen whether the marketing of Minaj’s upcoming album will also follow larger industry trends: Justin Bieber tried to pitch his last collection as an intimate exchange with fans by naming it “Journals;” Taylor Swift’s new album includes Polaroids taken by Swift and a title scrawled in Sharpie; last year, Beyonce released her eponymous album without any promotion and gave a statement which read, in part, “I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There’s so much that gets between music, the artist and the fans.” If you’re wondering whether these marketing techniques relate to pop music’s rootsier sound, consider this: Katy Perry’s “Prism” came with literal seed packets. Albums are now framed as your chance for authentic connection with a celebrity.

    We’ll soon see whether Minaj packages her album as a revealing glimpse into the woman behind the constructed persona. Whether she follows the trend or, as she so often has, sets her own.


  2. An Unexpected Fright

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    Shivering from the cold, I’m one of many students waiting outside of Silliman’s entryway M on a crisp Tuesday night. We’re all here for the same reason: the college’s venerable haunted house. The line stretched far down the courtyard, and the anticipation after a year of the Halloween staple’s absence was evident. Needless to say, the wait was long, but I eventually found myself at the front.

    The first impression formed was one of playfulness. Two silent, masked actors wandered up and down the line that had formed, one passing out candy while the other overdramatically sulked about. With the rather cute decorations gracing the master’s house and the laid-back chatter that filled the atmosphere, the event seemed more lighthearted rather than fright-filled and serious.

    As the tour guide led my group down into the basement, my preconceptions were merely reinforced. The guide explained to us that we were about to enter a mental health care center for celebrities, and that we would meet Britney Spears, Kanye West and Miley Cyrus. Yet, as the door opened and we all shuffled into the grimly lit basement hallway, it took a turn.

    Just enough light slivered around the corners onto the walls for the tour group to make out their surroundings. Immediately, one could tell that the decorations were minimal and sterile, yet a little off-kilter — quite befitting of a dilapidated mental health hospital. Plastic covers taped to certain corridors acted to funnel the group into one-way tunnels, and while the plastic and tape did appear a little patched-up and crude, the overall claustrophobic effect it created was surprisingly heavy. The haunted house used the natural eeriness of the basement to its advantage, exposing it instead of drowning it in decorations.

    Entering the hallway, the thud of the closing door was quickly followed by screams. A girl previously hidden in the dark had crawled forward in contorted lurches, causing shrieks and panicked shuffling all around. Face shrouded by tussled hair, dressed in a dirtied white patient gown, the “patient” kept on walking until she was breathing down the neck of whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the back. Yet, unlike many of the actors and actresses in the haunted house, this patient, rather than becoming humorously melodramatic in proximity, remained truly hair-raising. This first encounter instantly set the tone for the entire experience.

    Walking through the “care center,” the group was led to a few wards that housed the celebrities. However, these wards, generally better lit and more open than the corridors, often lost the oppressed atmosphere that turned out to be the forte of the haunted house. In walking through the hallways, there was a constant fear that something would jump out at the turn of the corner or sneak up from behind; it promoted a kind of anxiety and panic that built on itself through paranoia, much of which was lost in the rather static moments when the group was left standing still. In fact, these moments often took away the mystery that accompanied movement into the unknown, giving time for the group to become familiar with their surroundings and making apparent the slight theatrical ridiculousness of the actors.

    In the narrow hallways that the group snaked through, the ambiance was unexpectedly ominous. From an actor stumbling down the hallway and “vomiting” next to the group to a man popping out from a ledge positioned six feet above ground, the erratic and distorted activities kept the atmosphere tense. And somehow, through it all, the haunted house still managed to keep its initial playful charm. The frightening moments were the kind that left me laughing at the fact that I was actually frightened — after all, having Miley Cyrus jump out at you quickly turns entertaining after the immediate shock.

    The haunted house proved not only to be fun, but atmospheric and well produced. While not taking itself too seriously, the haunted house was not the purely lighthearted joyride I anticipated going in, but it was this very contrast that made it all the more memorable.

  3. Backstreet Boys and Britney, tap-style

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    Remember the ’90s? Back when Britney was still hot and the Spice Girls were still together? Back before Taylor Swift had suffered her first breakup and before Justin Bieber was even born?

    Well, this weekend, you can relive those days. Only one block from Toad’s, where hapless students pulse to the beat of One Direction, you can go back to a time when boy bands actually had deep voices and chest hair. Or tap back to that time, as it were.

    “Tap to the Future,” the TAPS dance company’s 2013 show, is a tribute to five decades of memorable music — peaking with the ’90s — made five times more lively by the energetic moves of 13 Yale tappers. The diversity of the numbers and the wacky skits interspersed throughout the show create an energy that’s infectious.

    Maybe you heard tap dancing and thought you’d be getting an evening of Shirley Temple-style moves, good technique but little variety (okay, so, maybe those were just my first thoughts). Well, from the minute the show begins, Yale TAPS lets you know that is not the case. In the opening scene of the show, the audience is invited into Doc’s time-traveling DeLorean, a device borrowed from the show’s namesake, Steven Spielberg’s “Back to the Future.” After that, the stage is set for a wide variety of numbers that range from Adele’s “Rumor Has It” to “Audition” from “42nd Street.”

    Still, TAPS does include some old-school scenes for fans of classic tap. Rebecca Treger ’12 GRD ’19 MED ’20 and Isabella More ’10 LAW ’13 perform “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” with subtle moves and impressive technique. Swinging their canes and tipping those hats, they offer a tribute to the king of tap, Fred Astaire.

    And then zooming forward from the 1930s, the dancers do a number to Colbie Caillat’s “Brighter than the Sun.” Three tappers wearing bright sundresses and goofy grins match their delicate twirls to a light tapping beat. It feels a bit like going to your little sister’s dance recital — it’s perky and even the dancers are giggling throughout the number.

    The weakest link in the show’s series of entertaining numbers comes in Act Two. While a number choreographed to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from “Mulan” sounds promising, the pieces of the scene don’t quite come together. The tappers’ beat clashes with the melody of the song and the light-hearted dance moves just don’t fit the dramatic music. Though tap dance can be matched with many genres of music, the issues with the “Mulan” number illustrate that the pairing has to be intentional. A tap beat does have the potential to animate a song, but it can also clash with it completely.

    Still, throughout the entire show — and even during the weaker “Mulan” number — the company ensures that its production appears smooth and impressive. The production crew is especially inventive with the space, the jealously guarded Off-Broadway Theater, and the lighting. A bright orange bulb transforms the stage for the dancers’ “Brighter than the Sun” scene, and the crew adds energy to the finale with flashing neon lights. The show overall is about far more than just the dance moves. The company makes a concerted effort to interact with the audience and include them in the excitement. Before the finale, Becky Connelly ’16 plays “Name that Tap” with the audience, tapping out the tunes to popular classics like “Eye of the Tiger” and Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony,” handing out candy to audience members who can accurately identify the songs. This isn’t a case of high art being thrown in your face — it’s a conversation. (And you get a prize!)

    I know what you’re thinking — by dance No. 9, the audience has candy, Fred Astaire and Disney, but where, oh where, are the ’90s? The final number gives the crowd the explosion they’ve been looking for. Bringing together the genius of the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Destiny’s Child and more, the finale is full of booming taps and big dance moves. Safety may be dead, but this scene definitely brought neon back.

    If you’re not in the mood for Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen at Toad’s this week, head back to the past with Yale TAPS. I’ll wager that, before the show is through, these tappers will make a fan out of you.

  4. The face behind the Franco factor

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    It all started in a kitchen. In November 2009, James Franco GRD ’16 had come to Yale for a master’s tea. Afterwards, the Yale Film Society invited him to a more intimate get-together. And, surprisingly, he came.

    “It was like magic,” quips Ari Berkowitz ’12, who attended the event through an invitation from a friend. “The first time I was going to meet him, it took me an hour and a half to get ready,” she said. After being introduced to him through YFS member Carina Sposato ’12, they spent 25 minutes talking in the kitchen about Berkowitz’s production, “BITE ME BABY One More Time: Twilight: The Britney Musical,” which had gone up the week prior.

    Now, a year later, Berkowitz is writing and directing a new musical produced by Franco, tentatively titled “James Franco Presents.” No one outside of the production knows much about the show — and if Berkowitz and the crew have their way, no one will until the show premieres in April.

    Three weeks after her first encounter with Franco, Berkowitz received a “cryptic and bizarre” e-mail from a YFS member asking for her information, and whether she was the “girl who did the Twilight musical.”

    Franco himself, who at the time had not yet decided to come to Yale for his doctoral degree, sent her an e-mail later on. In his message, he wrote that he had a good time talking to Berkowitz, and that he was interested in doing a project with undergraduates.

    What followed has been a yearlong process of developing Franco’s vision through several encounters, e-mail exchanges and conference calls: a meeting at Franco’s place in New York City, which he went on to film with a camcorder. A sit-down in Berkowitz’s off-campus living room, where he ate all the Halloween gingerbread cookies her parents had sent her. Being introduced to Zelda and Tony, his cats.

    “During the first three minutes of every meeting we have, I always see a screen in front of his face,” Berkowitz said. “Transitioning to the real person is weird.”

    Coordinating these meetings was difficult, Berkowitz admits, considering Franco’s busy schedule as an artist, actor and Ph.D. student. But whenever he does make it to the meetings, he comes focused, with opinions and ideas of what he wants to see in the production, she said. For her part, Berkowitz has continuously written (and re-written) the script and the song lyrics.

    “[Franco is] the guiding light, and he’s the one leading [the project] where he wants to take it,” said Stephen Feigenbaum ’12, one of the show’s music composers. “He’s the reason the show is happening, and we are just meeting him halfway.”

    Regardless, Berkowitz makes sure to stress the collaborative nature of the project.

    From assisting with the budget to adding a funny line in a scene, she asserts that everyone on the production team has a say in the show, even Franco. Just this past Wednesday night, Franco was able to attend callbacks, carrying books straight from class. During the casting deliberations, he chose to set the mood music.

    “’70s hits,” Berkowitz remarks, matter-of-factly.

    A blurb posted on the Yale Drama Coalition’s website, the only information currently available about the production, reads like several different shows meshed into one. Is it the story of a girl dealing with love? Is it a comedic drama? Does it revolve around the production of a musical about high school?

    “Sex, blood and surrealism” are “to be expected,” but aside from these sparse details, crew members interviewed were tight-lipped about revealing any additional clues about the plot. Berkowitz describes a meeting with Franco involving note cards. Using her full array of colored pens, they started jotting down types of characters, themes and plot points that they wanted to include.

    The show, she said, draws a lot from her own life experiences, “but it’s not autobiographical.” It is nothing like the “Twilight” musical, to be sure, although she pushed for a similar style. Berkowitz recalled how Franco chided her: “Ari, you have to pull back on the camp.” As such, the new production will touch on more emotional matters: Franco, she said, appears to be interested in the tones of adolescence and growing up.

    To help flesh out these dimensions, the show will include a film component that will begin shooting in February, directed by Austin Kase ’11, once the cast is confirmed. Kase is no stranger himself to working with Franco, who appeared in Kase’s short for the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s Halloween Show last October. He said his team has already begun plans for this portion of the musical, which is the only part of the performance which will actually feature Franco.

    “He might sing and dance,” Berkowitz said with a coy smile. “I wrote that in, but who knows if he’ll do it. He said he would, and he’s excited about it.”

    Despite sharing the student experience with the rest of the Yale community, Franco, a scholar, published author and Golden Globe winner, remains a celebrity, on and off of campus.

    The crew is already worrying about the space needs for the show, given Franco’s obvious popularity. Berkowitz herself missed the first half of Franco’s screening for his movie “Howl” in October due to a line outside the Whitney Humanities Center that stretched around the block.

    In all likelihood, the same fate may befall “James Franco Presents,” but crew members seem encouraged rather than disheartened by having Franco’s name on the marquee.

    “The work will definitely stand on its own,” said Adela Jaffe ’13, the other producer of the show. “His involvement can only add things to the project. I don’t think it will overshadow the students’ work at all.”

    In essence, Berkowitz maintains, it’s a Yale production. Franco is a doctoral student, and 25 undergraduates are working on it, she adds.

    It’s doubtful that this view is shared by everyone, especially those who pulled out of auditions when they found out Franco would not be present.

    At least for now, the draw of the show is still very much about Franco.