Lady Gaga Reinvents the Weird, Not the Wheel

If you’ve got stock in Lady Gaga Inc., sell it. Sell it now. All of it. If there was one thing to be taken from the 2011 Grammy Awards, it’s that Lady Gaga has lost “it” and she’ll be lost in pop obscurity by 2012.

Here’s why:

1. You can’t just show up to the Grammys inside an egg. I get it. Her fans get it. All along, Lady Gaga’s formula for success has relied upon batty shock tactics to force her name into the pop conversation, and so far, it’s been pretty effective. Her base is fully intact after last night, but I think casual fans may have lost interest. There’s a fine line between weird and desperate. Lady Gaga crossed it. In an egg.

2. You can’t create another iteration of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and sell it as your own. My girlfriend, hardly a music know-it-all but a Gaga apologist, pointed out last night some of her earlier work borrowed from Ace of Base. (Compare “Don’t Turn Around” to “Alejandro” — you won’t be the first.) Her latest single, “Born This Way” — which she performed last night — is a two-bit rip-off of Madonna’s classic. She hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but she has reinvented the weird.

3. You can’t dump the producer who created your sound and expect things to work out. RedOne is the genius producer behind hits like “Just Dance,” “Poker Face,” “LoveGame,” “Bad Romance” and “Alejandro.” No word on RedOne’s role for Lady Gaga’s forthcoming album, but “Born This Way” is clearly missing his signature beats. Artists typically go through producers like dirty laundry, but RedOne’s impact is so integral to Lady Gaga’s sound, it’s hard to imagine her duplicating early success without him.

4. You can’t offend your target audience. Lady Gaga has been a strong advocate for gay rights. However, it seems “Born This Way” is landing poorly with some groups. In a joint statement from several Phoenix-based Latino and LGBT organizations, Lady Gaga was criticized for lyrics in her single:

“Lady Gaga’s plagiarized song ‘Born This Way’ is an insult to minorities who have spent the past several decades trying to overcome discrimination. Her lyrics, which use racist terms such as “’Chola’ and ‘Orient,’ promote further racial stereotyping. We also believe the song will hurt the Gay Rights movement and cause further hate crimes against them. We are asking radio stations to act responsibly and stop playing this poor excuse of a song.”

At best, Lady Gaga’s “gay anthem” comes off as trite and opportunistic. Then again, if that’s her M.O., no one can say she’s in the wrong. It just might harm her popularity in some circles.

5. Everyone has a shelf life. Madonna — the most obvious comparison — has survived several decades because she’s been able to reinvent herself along with her music. Lady Gage, on the other hand, has been tripping on the same antics now for a few years, acting more as a mascot than a musician. In closing:

New Musics: James Vincent McMorrow

I’m not particularly fond of Ray LaMontagne and the bearded-troubadour-types. (Yeah, I get it — you look like a lumberjack but sing like Smokey Robinson.)

On three separate occasions, I’ve fumbled to bring up the Shazam song-identifying app on my iPhone only to find I was hearing this song (again). Enjoy “This Old Dark Machine” by James Vincent McMorrow.

A Deconstruction of P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass”

For some reason, I had pop artist P!nk pegged for a 40-year-old. It seems like she’s been in the public conscience for a long time – too long – and now she has a greatest hits album, aptly titled Greatest Hits… So Far!!!

(Now would be a good time to pause and explain to Ms. P!nk exactly what an exclamation point means. Her younger clone, Ke$ha, could use a similar lesson.)

P!nk’s latest single “Raise Your Glass” is charting at No. 19 on iTunes. It’s a pathetic party anthem riddled with cliches and the kind of disconnect you’d expect from an aging pop star. But she’s 30! Not 40! It’s closer to a new theme song for ABC’s Cougar Town than the high school anthem she’s going for. It’s as if the “cool” mom who buys all the upperclassmen booze went and made a single.

If you haven’t read the lyrics, you’re missing out. The track acts as an audio scrapbook of all the lame-ass things we said back in the ’00s. (The early ’00s, at that.) It’s even worse when you picture P!nk as I did — a washed-up hag making one last harrowing attempt to reclaim her 2001 form.

Have a listen as you read through this muck. Profundities and cliches have been bolded for your convenience:

 

Right right, turn off the lights
We gonna lose our minds tonight
What’s the dealio?

I love when it’s all too much
5AM turn the radio up
Where’s the rock and roll?

Party crasher, penny snatcher
Call me up if you are gangster
Don’t be fancy
Just get dancey
Why so serious?

So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways
All my underdogs, we will never be, never be
Anything but loud
And nitty gritty dirty little freaks
Won’t you come on, and come on, and
Raise your glass
Just come on and come and
Raise your glass

Slam, slam, oh hot damn
What part of party don’t you understand?
Wish you’d just freak out (freak out already)
Can’t stop coming in hot
I should be locked up right on the spot
It’s so on right now (so f_ckin’ on right now)

[Chorus]

Oh shit my glass is empty…
That sucks!

So, if you’re too school for cool
And you’re treated like a fool (treated like a fool)
You could choose to let it go
We can always, we can always
party on our own…

[Chorus]

There’s no such thing as adult onset ADHD, but if there was, “Raise Your Glass” is what it would sound like.

The changing of a decade generally ushers in a new wave of talent and sound, leaving behind many artists, albums and singles we’d rather store away in a box to be labeled “Bad ’00s music.” The current Top 10 on iTunes includes Britney Spears (No. 1), Avril Lavigne (No. 3) and Enrique Iglesias (No. 6) — artists whose careers never should’ve taken off, no less survived into this decade. What in the hell is going on here. I don’t know whether to be mad at P!nk for making new music or the music industry for not replacing her with new talent.

Then again, maybe I’m just too school for cool.

Late to the Trampled By Turtles Party

Thanks to bands like The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, we’re witnessing the resurgance of the banjo in alternative music. But with Trampled By Turtle, there’s no half-stepping. The Duluth five-piece outfit does bluegrass as God intended, and they’ll bring their act to First Avenue for two sold out shows next weekend.

I’m late to the party. Didn’t really appreciate the band until recently when I downloaded their latest album, Palamino. Check it out.

Save the Music — Get Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 2

I’m not much of a Beatles fan. Give me The White Album, you can keep the rest.

The past few weeks, I’ve been working with the promotion of Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 2, a compilation featuring 16 Beatles tracks re-imagined by Minnesota-born-or-based acts. The album features Soul Asylum, Mason Jennings, Meat Puppets and P.O.S., to name a few. The best part: All of the proceeds from the album go to Minnesota public school art and music programs.

Last year, Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 1 raised $25,000. With the state budget deficit hovering at $6 billion, many public schools are being forced to cut back or cut music and art programs altogether. That’s a shame, because now more than ever, students need the opportunity to be creative and exercise their imagination.

Music requires great discipline. That’s why I’m not surprised my youngest cousin, a senior saxophone player for the best high school marching band in the country, has tested off the charts and been admitted to Indiana University to pursue a career in medicine. Every student deserves the opportunity she’s had. We need to save music and art programs — now.

All right, stepping off the soapbox. MBP Vol. 2 is a great album, Beatles fan or not. Give it a spin here. If you buy it, know that the money is going to a great cause.

Atmosphere at First Avenue on Nov. 28

Two firsts on Sunday night: My first Atmosphere show and my first show at legendary First Avenue.

The concert was gravy, because a few hours before the show, I stopped by Fifth Element to buy a shirt. Slug, Atmosphere’s emcee, was hanging out, talking merchandise with the store manager. I have no autograph or picture or cool story to tell. I said, “See you tonight, man.” He said, “Aw, cool, thanks.”

For just a moment, I felt like an 11-year-old girl. I’m rarely star-struck, but that was pretty damn cool.

50 Tyson’s Sudden Fame Raises Concerns Over Handlers

I live about three blocks from Edison High School, where one of the most popular rap artists on YouTube is a senior.

Antonio Henderson-Davis, 17, is better known as 50 Tyson. His viral YouTube videoshave been viewed more than 10 million times, he’s been featured on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 and even landed a record deal with former NBA point guard Troy Hudson‘s label.

One more thing: 50 Tyson has autism.

On Sunday, the Star Tribune ran a feature on Henderson-Davis and the story is now free online. It’s a gripping tale about the autistic teenager, bombarded by newfound fame, whose eager to please. He’s surrounded by watchful parents, concerned teachers, supportive classmates and handlers, like Hudson, who may or may not have his best interests in mind.

You can read the story here. And if you do read it, I’m curious what you think. Please come back and comment.

 

Lady Gaga — Gay Rights Activist and Opportunist

If Michelle Obama is FLOTUS, is Lady Gaga FLOGR?

The gays have been good to pop artist Lady Gaga, and so in return, she’s become a frontline activist in the fight against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the controversial military policy which could be repealed this week.

On Monday, speaking before a crowd of hundreds in Portland, Maine, Gaga said:

“To the senate, to Americans, to Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, both of Maine, and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.  Equality is the prime rib of America. Equality is the prime rib of what we stand for as a nation. And I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer. Are you listening?”

Gaga also said:

“Doesn’t it seem to be that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is backwards? Doesn’t it seem to be based on the Constitution of the United States that we’re penalizing the wrong soldier? Doesn’t it seem to you that we should send home the straight soldier who hates the gay soldier? The straight soldier who has prejudice in his heart where the military asks him to hold our core American values … If you are not committed to perform with excellence as a U.S. soldier because you do not believe in full equality, then go home.”

I’ve written about DADT before, so I’d rather not go there. (It’s a complex issue with mostly grey area.) Let me angle this a bit differently: This was the latest in a series of brilliant calculations which have defined the young career of one Ms. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. I’ll battle anyone who says she’s the next Madonna — give her a decade before making that comparison — but like Madonna, she understands when to assert her political beliefs and how it will impact her base.

She couldn’t lose speaking out on this issue. I wonder if all the meat references came from being pitched an absolute meatball. She knocked it out of the park, buying herself more time on a career that passed 15 minutes long ago.

Obligatory Atmosphere Plug

Minneapolis hip-hop outfit Atmosphere hit No. 1 last week with the release of its double EP, To All My Friends/Blood Makes the Blade Holy. How it is an independent hip-hop act from the Midwest did with a double EP that was barely promoted is beyond me, but nevertheless, I celebrated by snatching up tickets to their November 28 show at First Avenue. (Anyone else going?)

Fifth Element — the home base of Atmosphere and it’s record label, Rhymesayers Entertainment — posted three clips on YouTube last week, with the first two focusing on how Sean Daley (Slug) has grown as a writer and how the double EP came to be. The No. 1 spot may have been a fluke, but give Daley a few minutes and you’ll jump on the bandwagon:

New Hip-Hop From the Home Team

This isn't a record store — it's a Center for Hip-Hop Appreciation.

In 1993, for the time, I heard bass thump from a 10-inch subwoofer in the trunk of Casey Ugland’s 1988 Chevy Beretta. He was playing an NWA cassette tape, and it was like the music was alive, kicking and punching at his backseat like someone was tied up in the trunk. Strange, but that was the moment I fell in love with hip-hop. Casey was my best friend Travis’ older brother, and we would have him buy parental advisory albums which we’d hide from our parents. Hip-hop was my first (and only) rebellion.

Yesterday, Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere released a double EP, To All My Friends/Blood Makes the Blade Holy. I first heard Atmosphere in 2002, but never really “got it” until 2005. I’ve purchased — not downloaded, purchased — everything they’ve released the past five years. Their music’s even better now as I recognize street names and landmarks often mentioned in their songs. Furthermore, it’s thinking man’s hip-hop, often steeped in political and social commentary. Every Atmosphere album release day takes me back to that garage in 1993 and back to hiding tapes between my mattresses.

Atmosphere is the most successful act on Rhymesayers Entertainment, the Minneapolis-based independent hip-hop label. You can find all of the label’s music and merch at Fifth Element in Uptown, where it’s not uncommon to catch an artist roaming around the store or someone who’s been mentioned in a song running the register.

I picked up my copy from Fifth Element and forgot how good it feels to flop a CD on the corner and hand over $10. I damn near left a tip just for the experience. The double EP clocks in at 12 songs and just over 40 minutes. The content’s noticeably shorter on profanity and big on political commentary. It seems the Recession has inspired MC Slug, like on the “To All My Friends”:

I was the ugly kid that didn’t listen
Little big man, full of ambition
Based on imagination just like you
Daydreaming, thinking about the things I might do
I used to paint, draw, illustrate
Mom would facilitate, and it would feel okay
Seems like yesterday still plays a part
When I grow up, I wanted a job making art
Picture that, how many years old
Young enough to mix up love with career goals
But I was just this tall when they told me
That the world was mine, but the papers weren’t signed
There’s no deed, so proceed to go see
Up the whole piece like it owes me groceries
Don’t breathe until you formally know me
Won’t leave, better call authorities
It’s all love we’re cool
But you don’t tell an astronaut what to do

On “Americareful,” Atmosphere puts a broken health care system in the crosshairs with unfortunate stories about a Tommy and Katie. (Pardon the quality. This video will likely get taken down at some point today for copyright reasons):

On Friday at 10 a.m. CDT, tickets go on sale for back-to-back Atmosphere shows at the legendary First Avenue on Nov. 27-28. The tickets will sell out in minutes, because short of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, few local celebrities get more love from the locals.

(You can download their new track “Freefallin'” by going here.)