Highlights from the 2015 VMAs

(From The Campus Lantern – September 3rd, 2015)

First things first, when I say highlights from the 2015 VMA’s, I feel like I should touch upon one of the reoccurring themes of the night: marijuana. Miley hosted, so you know there was going to be some weed references. But there were more than just a few. She mentioned the ganj every time she came on stage. One of her skits even included her eating a “special” brownie with Snoop Dogg – the popstar got so high that the rapper turned into her pet pig. For a country that doesn’t want to legalize it, we really do love talking about how awesome weed is in the media. Anyway, onto the happenings of the show.

Taylor Swift took home Video of the Year for her lady-filled music video “Bad Blood.” She also won Female Video of the Year for “Blank Space” and premiered her new video for “Wildest Dreams”. Other notable award winners included Fetty Wap for Best New Artist and Nicki’s “Anaconda” for Best Hip Hop Video.

The VMAs are supposed to be about the awards, but the main focus of the night was the performances. The night started off with a jaw-dropping performance by Nicki Minaj, who donned a glorious, feathery red dress. After performing the beat-heavy “Trini Dem Girls,” she transitioned into “The Night is Still Young.” Taylor Swift came onto stage to join the performance and I will admit that tears came to my eyes when the two ended with a duet of “Bad Blood.” The girl power was serious, y’all.

Later on in the show, Justin Bieber performed on-stage for the first time in two years. Other performances included Demi Lovato, Pharrel, and Tori Kelly. The night closed with an interesting hip hop collaboration between Twenty One Pilots and A$AP Rocky.

Every time Miley came out on stage throughout the night, she had a different outfit on. The outfits ranged anywhere from a rectangle rainbow box to a bunch of different colored circles taped onto her body. One look that stayed consistent throughout the night was the dreads in her hair. Miley is notorious for appropriating black culture, and her VMA hairstyle proved that she still hasn’t learned. At one point in the night, Nicki called Miley out for saying that she should keep quiet on black women’s issues. Instead of admitting that she messed up, Miley blamed the whole thing on the corruption of the media.

Other awareness-raising events at the VMAs included an award for Video With A Social Message, which Big Sean won for “One Man Can Change The World.” When Kanye took the stage to accept his Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, he made a long, ironic speech about how unimportant award shows are. While his speech was pretty confusing, he talked a lot about the corruption of the media and how important it is to “listen to the kids.” The Black Lives Matter movement was briefly mentioned at the show, but it was ultimately turned into a joke by Rebel Wilson. She had a skit in which she mentioned how she knew many people have had it with police, but she couldn’t stand “police strippers.” She donned a shirt that read “F*ck tha Stripper Police,” and went on to make jokes about police violence.

We all know the VMAs aren’t the most serious award ceremony of the year. However, many young people such as myself do tune in each year. Cultural appropriation? Jokes about institutional racism? Hopefully next year the VMAs can do better.

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T-Pain Visits Eastern for the 2015 Spring Concert

(From The Campus Lantern – April 30th, 2015)

On Sunday, April 26, CAB hosted their annual Spring Concert featuring T-Pain with special guest DJ Earworm. Doors opened at 6:00 pm, and the show kicked off at 7:00 pm. DJ Earworm started the show playing remixes to popular songs by artists such as Beyoncé, the Notorious B.I.G., and Lil Jon. The crowd had a positive reaction to the special guest; hands were in the air the whole set, and students were dancing to the beat of the songs.

After DJ Earworm, T-Pain’s entourage came onto stage and got the crowd pumped up for the featured artist. Finally, T-Pain himself came on stage and the show really started. The rapper started off with his 2011 hit “Booty Wurk.” Throughout the night, he continued to play hits such as “I’m In Love With a Stripper” and “Buy U a Drank.” He also played some songs that he was featured on, such as “Kiss Kiss” by Chris Brown.

To the crowd’s surprise, the rapper also covered artists such as Queen and Lorde at the show. Throughout T-Pain’s set, lights flashed and the crowd danced and sang along to the songs. T-Pain and his entourage wore Eastern t-shirts on stage, which gave the concert an atmosphere of Eastern pride.

Hundreds of Eastern students attended the concert. It was another great success and there is no doubt that the whole student body is looking forward to the concert that will take place next fall.

of Montreal: An Unforgettable Show

(From The Campus Lantern – March 12, 2015)

If I had to choose one word to describe the of Montreal show that I went to on Monday night at Toad’s Place in New Haven, I’d have to go with “unique.”

The opening bands, Yonatan Gat and Deerhoof, were both raw and guitar-heavy.  Instead of playing in front of the crowd on the stage, Yonatan Gat played in the center of the pit so everyone had an equal opportunity to see the band.  The band’s songs had more guitars than vocals, and the crowd showed that they enjoyed what they heard by clapping after every song.

The next band, female-fronted Deerhoof, could also be characterized by their screeching guitars and hard-to-distinguish vocals.  The band, which last played at Toad’s Place seven years ago, had a stage presence that the crowd loved – cheers and whistles could be heard after every song.

Up last was of Montreal, a band that could be described as a mix between experimental pop and glam rock.  Throughout the night, the band’s set was a mix between theatrical fantasy and catchy tunes.  The lead singer, Kevin Barnes, was introduced by a character named Lanc that was dressed up in a red spandex suit, a black cape, and an all-white facemask.

The night continued on with other theatric characters coming onto stage during of Montreal’s set.  At one point, there was a character in an Abraham Lincoln mask wearing a Spiderman spandex suit grinding on two characters with poodle masks, American flag spandex suits, and huge, misshapen breasts.  All the while, the backdrop behind the band showed trippy, colorful shapes and designs.  The visuals of the show itself were unlike anything that I have ever seen.

Of Montreal’s setlist was a combination of old fan favorites and songs from their new album that was released only this month.  Their odd music complemented the theatrics of the show.  Of Montreal closed with the song “She’s a Rejector” from their 2007 album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?.  The unforgettable show ended with Barnes, along with the crowd, chanting the lines, ”Oh no, she’s a rejecter / I must protect myself / No, no, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”

Out of the one hundred odd bands I’ve seen live in my twenty-one years, of Montreal was by far the most entertaining act.  If the band is ever in your area, I would highly suggest checking them out – and be prepared to experience a visual and musical show unlike any other.

Nicki Minaj Video Causes Controversy

(From The Campus Lantern – November 13, 2014) 

On Friday, November 7th, Nicki Minaj released a lyric video for her new single entitled “Only.” The video, which features animated versions of Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown, is causing an uproar on the internet because of imagery that some are considering anti-Semitic.

The video portrays Nicki Minaj as a dictator sitting on a throne with red flags behind her.  The flags bear a black and white insignia representing Minaj’s record label Young Money. The image has a striking resemblance to the infamous Swatstika.  Throughout the video, there are images of bombs exploding, tanks and machine guns, and lines of soldiers clad with the Young Money symbol.

Minaj is a feminist icon and usually an advocate for social justice.  In a 2013 interview, for example, she made it clear that she was an ally to the LGBT community when she stated she was a “girl with [a] vagina.”  The interviewer looked at her confused and asked, “As opposed to a girl without a vagina?” With a straight face, Minaj replied, “Right.”  This instance was just one of the many times in which Minaj made a stand for marginalized communities; however, the “Only” video seems to be a step back.

“This video is insensitive to Holocaust survivors and a trivialization of the history of that era,” stated Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry (www.nydailynews.com).

With all of the negative backlash surrounding the video, Minaj made a statement on Twitter on Tuesday: “Both the producer and person in charge of overseeing the lyric video (one of my best friends and videographer: A. Loucas), happen to be Jewish. I didn’t come up with the concept, but I’m very sorry and take full responsibility if it has offended anyone. I’d never condone Nazism in my art.”

Still, the video’s director, Jeffrey Osborne, “has said that he will not ask for forgiveness for its content and admitted to being inspired by Nazi emblems” (www.rollingstone.com).  Hopefully Osborne can learn from Minaj’s willingness to admit that art can be problematic.  It is important to step up to the plate and apologize when art may be offensive, especially to marginalized groups.   

“Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” Crossover

(From The Campus Lantern – October 2, 2014) 

On Sunday, September 28, Fox aired the first ever Family Guy-The Simpsons crossover episode, “The Simpsons Guy.” The episode was an hour long instead of each show’s usual thirty-minute block. The crossover was filled with the usual raunchy jokes told by Stewie and Peter, as well as Homer’s usual donut eating and pranking by Bart.

The Griffins found themselves in Springfield after Peter published an offensive comic and was booted out of Quahog by protesters. The family ended up at the Kwik-E-Mart where they met Homer Simpson.

Each member of the Griffin family hit it off with someone in the Simpson family. As one would have expected, Peter and Homer bonded over eating donuts; Bart and Stewie prank called Moe’s together; Meg and Lisa played the saxophone; Marge and Lois saw a movie together; Chris and Maggie shared a pacifier; even Brian and Santa’s Little Helper went on a walk together.

Throughout the episode, running jokes from each show make appearances. In one scene, the infamous Kool-Aid Man called Peter and said that he went to the wrong location so he wouldn’t be able to burst through the wall. In another, Stewie wrote on a chalkboard in a Bart-like fashion. Towards the end of the episode, Homer and Peter took part in a seemingly never-ending “chicken fight.” The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy even made a snarky comment at the end of the episode.

The repeated jokes about how Family Guy copies off The Simpsons – there was one scene in which similar characters from each show sat next to each other and the obvious lack of creativity between the shows was painful – were a little too forced. I prefer the Simpsons over Family Guy – to me, the former is a classic and the latter is a little too offensive and straightforward for my taste.

Overall, the episode was entertaining. Crossovers are easy to mess up and hard to get right – I’d say “The Simpsons Guy” was somewhere in between.

Miley Cyrus’ Fight Against Homelessness: Activism or PR Stunt?

(From The Campus Lantern – September 4, 2014) 

At the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards on August 24, 2014, Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” won the award for Video of the Year. Instead of going on stage herself, a 22-year old homeless man named Jesse Helt accepted the award for Miley.

Jesse accepted the award “on behalf of the 1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving, lost and scared for their lives right now.” He stated, “I know, because I am one of those people.”

Jesse continued, “The music industry will make over $7 billion this year, and outside these doors are 54,000 human beings who have no place to call home” (www.nytimes.com).

Jesse’s speech hit home because it took place at the VMAs, an annual award ceremony celebrating the top successes of the music industry. Not only is this an eye-opener, it was especially noteworthy because Miley was the one who put him in the spotlight.

From playing Hannah Montana to twerking at the 2013 VMAs, Miley’s public image has changed quite a bit over the years. However, it seems that she’s recently returned to wearing a halo. Aside from her actions at the VMA, she’s been volunteering at My Friend’s Place, an organization that provides “life-changing services to homeless youth in Los Angeles” (www.myfriendsplace.org). She’s also been tweeting up a storm to her 18.5 million followers lately: About bongs, her new pet pig, and homelessness in America. One of these things is not like the others, and I think all of us are kind of confused at this point.

Is it possible that Miley could post pictures of herself smoking weed and yet still be a good person? Can someone sing lyrics about doing drugs in the bathroom and still care about people who are worse off than her? Even though every other word in her twitter feed is the F-word, can she still want to help the millions of homeless youth in America? Is the sky blue? The answer, I think, is yes. It’s not hard to believe that people, especially celebrities, have different sides of themselves that they show to the public.

Bottom line, it doesn’t matter if Miley’s recent dip into raising awareness about homelessness is sincere or just a cover-up of the considerably immoral actions she’s partaken in in the past; homelessness is a problem that needs to be in the spotlight, and Miley’s support for the cause is doing just that.

Fall Out Boy, Marketing Geniuses

(From The Campus Lantern – October 17, 2013) 

After being on hiatus for over three years, Fall Out Boy came back this year, bigger and better than ever before. In April they released “Save Rock and Roll,” the follow up to their 2008 album, “Folie à Deux.” “Save Rock and Roll” has had positive reception from the critics. Simon Vozick-Levinson at Rolling Stone gave the album 3.5/5 stars. Vozick-Levinson got it spot on when he said, “There are sleazy disco grooves and a fat dubstep breakdown; there’s a semicoherent rant by Courtney Love, a random Big Sean rap verse and a song that manages to bite both Willie Nelson and Adele.” As a long-time Fall Out Boy fan, it was interesting to hear the band grow from their pop punk days of “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” to the pop rock anthem from their new album, “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up).”

After coming off hiatus and releasing a new album within only a few months, Fall Out Boy fans everywhere rejoiced when the band announced that they would be releasing yet another album in 2013. The album, which is technically an EP, is called “PAX•AM Days.” Although it was officially released on October 15, it was put up for streaming earlier in the month. The album was made for fun in only a few takes in the studio. Although they were released in the same year, this 8-track album is significantly different from “Save Rock and Roll.” While “Save Rock and Roll” is a solid pop rock album, “PAX•AM Days” is a tribute to the Misfits, Black Flag and other late ’70s and early ’80s punk bands (www.fuse.tv). The seemingly only similarity between the two albums is leader singer Patrick Stump’s voice. The music is almost entirely indistinguishable.

From a marketing standpoint, Fall Out Boy are geniuses. They released one “safe” album with melodic choruses and catchy hooks, yet with the same bizarre, sensory lyrics that the fans love (for example, “We are the jack-o-lanterns in July / Setting fire to the sky”). Months later, they released “PAX•AM Days,” which is perfect for listeners who are fans of the more “punk” Fall Out Boy from so long ago – “Take This To Your Grave,” anyone?

As if two albums (and quite a few tours supporting them) weren’t enough, Fall Out Boy is also releasing a music video series called “The Youngblood Chronicles.” The band is releasing a music video for all eleven songs on “Save Rock and Roll,” and they all make up a mini-film. So far the band has released six of the videos, and they are filled with violence, evil women antagonists, and lots and lots of suspense. Stay tuned for what Fall Out Boy will be up to next, because they seem to always be up to something, and it’s always something good.