It’s the freaking weekend – links round-up

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Here is a selection of the best things that I have come across on the internet this week:

19 Successful People Who Had A Rough Time In Their Twenties [Buzzfeed] – an inspirational list of famous people who hit a low point during their twenties and went on to greatness later in life. Number one on the list is Jon Hamm, who was dropped by the William Morris Agency aged 27 after he struggled to land acting work. The list doesn’t mention that by the time he was 21, he had lost both of his parents, which is so unimaginably awful that I don’t know how he manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less go out onto the world stage every day and entertain us with his wonderful acting skills and lovely face and aversion to wearing underpants. If you’re a twenty-something who is going through a hard time, keep your chin up, work hard and one day your penis could have its own Tumblr. It’s the American Dream.

… and if things go really, really well, you could end up being so successful that you can get away with making unusual requests of your co-workers – like Marlon Brando, who demanded ‘a bucket hat and a personal dwarf’ during the filming of The Island Of Dr Moreau. Alternatively, why not take a leaf out of Lindsay Lohan’s book (#WWLLD?, as I ask myself every day), who refused to strip naked to film a ‘pivotal orgy scene’ (is there any other kind?) with America’s Sweetheart James Deen unless the film crew took all their clothes off too? Read The 5 Most Hilarious Actor Meltdowns Behind Famous Movies [Cracked] for more great tips.

A couple more little treasures:

The Homer Car From ‘The Simpsons’ Is Now A Magnificent Reality [Uproxx]

Cher Says That Tom Cruise Is in Her Top 5 of All-Time Best Lovers [Gawker]

… and the sadface emoticon of the week goes to the ongoing New Kids On The Block/Backstreet Boys turf wars. Stay safe out there guys 😦

Paris Jackson, Amanda Bynes and Stephen Fry: the answer we’re all looking for

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Paris Michael Katherine Jackson

According to recent news reports, a judge is ‘demanding answers about suicidal Paris Jackson’s state of mind’, and he’s not the only one. Since Wednesday the Mail Online has been playing sidebar psychiatrist and has published over 20 articles on the subject, trying to work out why a teenage girl they have never met would attempt to take her own life.

The Mail Online asks ‘Did a threat to reveal Michael Jackson WASN’T her father drive Paris over the edge?‘ Or was it because she ‘was under huge strain after being forced to defend her new-found relationship with her mom Debbie Rowe‘? Is it something to do with the fact that she allegedly ‘asked for emancipation from her family before suicide attempt‘? Or is it just yet another example of ‘the terrible proof fame corrodes all it touches‘? A cry for help? An argument with her brother Prince? A delayed reaction to the death of her beloved father? Legendarily shitty guardians (with Uncle TJ having moved far away)?

Same goes for poor Amanda Bynes. While her antics are becoming increasingly predictable (Amanda Bynes calls random celebrity ugly/tweets pictures of herself half-dressed in a raggedy-ass wig/goes to a public exercise class wearing something inappropriate something something Drake SHOCKER), there’s plenty more media mileage in an analysing her every tweet in order to make an expert diagnosis. Is it drugs and alcohol? Amanda says she’s allergic to both. Narcissistic personality disorder? She does love to remind other people of how much more beautiful she is than them. Schizophrenia? She claims there’s an imposter running around New York pretending to be her. The high price of child fame? Possibly.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to see the coverage this week on the news that Stephen Fry attempted suicide last year. If you aren’t familiar with the life and times of Stephen Fry, imagine that the Queen Mother had a baby with Oscar Wilde and that baby grew up to be a lanky genius who knows everything about everything. He knows whether there’s life on Mars. He knows how many roads a man must walk down before you can call him a man. He knows that I’m lying in bed right now eating handfuls of Everyday Value cornflakes and listening to Earth Song. He knows why the answer to the Great Question Of Life, the Universe, and Everything… is forty-two. (Yes. Seriously. He actually does.) But even he doesn’t know what would cause a person to attempt suicide.

For years he has spoken frankly about living with bipolar disorder, and is president of the mental health charity Mind. This week he told the press that there was “no reason” for someone wanting to take their own life. “There is no ‘why’, it’s not the right question. There’s no reason. If there were a reason for it, you could reason someone out of it, and you could tell them why they shouldn’t take their own life.”

Wouldn’t life be so easy if all incidences of mental illness could be traced back to a single cause? If we could all just scan through the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, tot up the headlines and say to ourselves ‘ok, I won’t sell my children into Amanda Bynes-style Nickelodeon superstardom. I’ll let them know who their biological parents are and try not to get accidentally murdered by Dr Conrad Murray’ and that that would be enough to guard ourselves against the unthinkable? The fact is, 5% of all people attempt suicide at some point in their lives. It’s not just Michael Jackson’s daughter and Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Sometimes people’s brains just don’t work properly.

Sound Of Change 2013: banging on about all the wrong things

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In an article headlined ‘”Why does female empowerment need to involve leather knickers and heels?”: Twitter backlash over Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez at Chime For Change concert’ the Daily Mail today asks:

Chime For Change’s Sound Of Change concert was meant to be the event that put women’s rights firmly in the spotlight. But the overall message of Saturday night’s star-studded concert at Twickenham Stadium in London seemed to be lost on some of the performers, according to many critics. Twitter brimmed with harsh but fair questions, including why modern day feminism requires wearing a pair of ‘spiked heels’ and underwear, and if the sexy performances were entirely appropriate.

Why does modern day feminism require wearing a pair of ‘spiked heels’ and underwear? Short answer: it doesn’t. Sound Of Change was just one concert, supported by a major high-end fashion label, featuring performances by a number of very famous pop star ladies who like singing songs about sex, dancing and wearing revealing clothes. Being mad that a concert to support female empowerment sponsored by Gucci features too many thin women in skimpy clothing is like being mad that McDonalds’ Fight Against Famine concert (not a real thing) features too many hamburgers. It doesn’t represent all of modern day feminism. It doesn’t have to.

Feminism means different things to different people. Beyonce’s particular brand of feminism – singing about being an independent woman while dressed like something out of the porn parody of Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome – may not be the same as yours. It’s understandable that some women feel disappointed that such a huge opportunity to raise awareness about global women’s rights issues has been given to represent such a small section of feminism – the booty popping, Brazilian bikini waxed portion. But that doesn’t mean that it is right to try and break down those who are trying to build the rest of us up – no matter how misguided they may occasionally seem.

Even if you believe that leather knickers and heels are the epitome of female oppression, then surely those who feel the need to wear them in order to forge a successful career are the victims of it, and should be given enough love and support from their fans that they feel comfortable walking out on stage in whatever they want. But who’s to say that they aren’t doing so already? Beyonce doesn’t look like an oppressed woman to me. She looks like a superhero.

God forbid women should want to look and feel sexy. As everyone knows, all women absolutely hate sex. Women need to be empowered and freed from the shackles of being able to have sex with any consenting adult that they want, whenever they fancy it, and feeling awesome doing it. Bonus points go to the lovely Twitter users who spiced up their feminist outrage with a dash of slutshaming. ‘Rita Whora sl*t dropping is kinda contradictory of the whole point of chime for change’ wrote one probable Mensa candidate.

Whatever it takes for a woman like Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce or Rita Ora to face a constant barrage of criticism about their every move, wiggle and ass shake – raising twins as a single mother after three broken marriages, being accused of faking a pregnancy, having your ex accuse you over Twitter of cheating on him with ’20 dudes’ – and to keep on coming out on stage in front of millions of viewers and absolutely killing it, is ok by me. If that’s leather knickers and heels, great. If that’s jeans and trainers, that’s great too. If that’s flannel pyjamas stained with ketchup, even better, because I’ve always hoped that one day Beyonce will look up to me as a fashion icon.

Even the one super famous woman who performed at the Sound Of Change who turned up fully covered – Madonna, in trousers, a turtleneck and lace gloves – attracted criticism for her appearance. As she told the audience ”We cannot change this world, nor begin to treat each other with human dignity, without an education. Let tonight be the beginning of this revolution because education is not a luxury, it is a basic human right”, some viewers were ‘distracted’ by her ‘puffy’ face, which looked as though she was recovering from cosmetic surgery.

For those of you who were too busy being horrified by other women’s bodies, faces and sexualities to concentrate on the concert, here’s a little bit more information about what those ladies were trying to raise awareness of (from chimeforchange.org):

  • Around the world, girls and women lack the protection and equal opportunity they deserve. Domestic violence and trafficking disproportionately affect women. And in spite of gains, women hold just 21% of seats in national parliaments globally. But given the opportunity, women empower themselves and improve outcomes for their families, communities and countries.
  • 800 women die every day during pregnancy and childbirth, but 80% of those deaths could be prevented with proven solutions and access to care.
  • 60% of the children not in school are girls, but studies show that investing in girls’ education raises GDP and employment. Providing opportunity for girls improves outcomes not just for them, but also their families, communities and countries.

Were you able to concentrate on that ok? Of course you were, because I’m not wearing leather knickers.

10 of the most criminally neglected songs by hugely successful artists

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Kanye West featuring Kid Cudi – Welcome To Heartbreak

Most of you probably weren’t aware of this, but did you know that celebrity impregnator and star of Keeping Up With The Kardashians Kanye West also has a rap career? It’s true! And very good at it he is too. It’s about time he received some recognition for it.

Welcome To Heartbreak comes from his much mocked 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak, which was followed by 2010’s universally adored My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I think the critics got it wrong. Any album which contains the masterpiece that is Love Lockdown is automatically better than any album which features a song that starts with the lyrics ‘one hand in the air, if you don’t really care’ (So Appalled) in my book.

It’s about time we gave 808s another chance, starting with this little treasure. It’s easy to see why fans might not have taken to this ode to mo’ money mo’ problems the first time around. Coming so soon after the 2008 global financial crisis, we weren’t ready to have our synthesised heartstrings plucked by a mega rich rapper moaning about having to leave a wedding ‘before they even cut the cake/welcome to heartbreak’ (although we all know that missing out on cake is the greatest tragedy of all). But in 2008 Kanye did have a lot to cry about. His mother had recently passed away following cosmetic surgery that went horribly wrong, and he had just broken up with his fiancée. All the cash in the world couldn’t bring his mother back to life. Money couldn’t buy him love (although please feel free to challenge that last statement in light of Kanye’s current romantic situation and disregard it completely).

See also: Monster; Roses; Runaway Love (with Justin Bieber)

Daft Punk – Aerodynamic

This genre-busting epic of strings, church bells and electric guitar solos would sound just as good heralding the new age of Atlantis or welcoming our Martian overlords as it does as a rap sample (in Slum Village’s Aerodynamic and Wiley’s Summertime). It’s the soundtrack to a life you’re not ready for yet.

See also: Tron: Legacy. Yes, the movie. You say “two hour long Daft Punk video” like that’s a bad thing.

Björk – All is Full of Love

The video, which features two large-breasted Björk cyborgs (cybjörks) snogging each other, has been on YouTube for over two years, and still has less than a million views. What is wrong with you people?

(The song isn’t half bad, either.)

See also: Isobel; Venus As A Boy; Hunter

Basement Jaxx featuring J. C. Chasez – Plug It In

Likewise, I would’ve thought that a video of one of the biggest pop stars of the 90s presiding over an explosion in a robotic love doll factory would’ve had more than 30,000 views, but what do I know? I’m not Queen of the Internet (yet).

See also: Scars; Cish Cash (with Siouxsie Sioux); Jump and Shout

Chemical Brothers – Swoon

This sparkling gem entered the UK charts at #100, before creeping up to the nosebleed-inducing heights of #85. Be careful up there boys! Make sure you’ve got plenty of oxygen and please don’t do too many drugs.

Sure, it’s little more than catchy hook repeated over and over and over again, but that didn’t stop Hey Boy Hey Girl (#3), Block Rocking Beats (#1) and It Began In Afrika-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka (#8) from becoming hits.

See also: the score they did for Hanna – an underrated soundtrack for an underrated movie.

Lady Gaga – Dance In The Dark

Much like its subject matter, a young woman who is too insecure to make love with the lights on, this exhilarating sonic romp needs to step out of the shadows of the more widely played power ballads that followed it (Marry The Night, Edge of Glory) and let its freak flag fly for the whole world to hear.

See also: The Fame; Speechless; Chillin’ featuring Wale

Beyoncé – Countdown

Lord knows why this lovestruck belter only made it to #77 in the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Illuminati conspiracy? The revenge of Sasha Fierce? The series of unflattering wigs she wears in the video?

See also: Fighting Temptations; Ring The Alarm; Video Phone featuring Lady Gaga

Drake – Loonies To Blow (A-Trak remix)

This one is a bit of a cheat because it’s an independent remix of a reasonably dull song, but this utterly chronic dancefloor tearaway is enough to make Amanda Bynes-level fangirls of us all. Bonus points for renaming it ‘Loonies To Blow’ after Canadian dollars in honour of Drake’s homeland.

Rihanna – Numb

Regardless whether you find her fascinating, infuriating or completely charming (or all three at the same time), Rihanna is an intriguing character. I find her most appealing when she succumbs to the dark side, as in this hypnotic ballad of slowly spiralling drops, distorted vocals and Marshall Mathers at the Slim Shadiest he’s been in years.

See also: Princess of China (with Coldplay); Jump, which samples Ginuwine’s Pony; that one with T.I. that sampled the ‘Numa Numa’ song (Live Your Life)

Amy Winehouse – F*** Me Pumps

Remember Amy not as a desperate addict who was hopelessly devoted to drink, drugs and dreadful men. Remember her as a feisty minx who sang this snarky little ditty about golddiggers, who told an interviewer that she’d ‘rather get cat AIDS’ than collaborate with middle of the road songstress Katie Melua, who had healthy curves and who looked, as my friend so perfectly put it, ‘really beautiful. Like a dinosaur, but a really beautiful dinosaur.’

See also: In My Bed; You Sent Me Flying; Cherry Wine (with Nas)

Macklemore, Major Lazer and the importance of being earnest

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Macklemore (8465188669)
One of the highlights for me of watching Major Lazer in Bristol on Friday night, was when the DJ started playing Macklemore‘s Thrift Shop, and the crowd went wild. I was really surprised. I would have thought that most of the people who would go to a Major Lazer gig would be far to cool to completely lose it over a song that’s only a couple of swear words less poppy than Call Me Maybe.

After all, Macklemore and Major Lazer are very different: one is a super conscientious rapper who is trying to improve the world one beat at a time; the other is ‘a fictional cartoon character, who fought as a Jamaican commando and lost both arms in a secret zombie war in 1984. He fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket-powered hoverboard.’ It’s really great dancehall music, but ultimately, it’s really great dancehall music made by a blonde guy who used to star in BlackBerry commercials, and it shows – to call it a pastiche wouldn’t be a stretch. My favourite Major Lazer song, Keep It Going Louder, has an official video directed by Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric fame, and it is essentially a parody of rnb/reggae/dancehall videos, featuring scantily clad women whose faces have been digitally altered to appear grotesque. It is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen. It’s cartoonish, silly and fun, and doesn’t take itself, or the genre it’s modelling itself on, too seriously.

Such is the power of Thrift Shop. Of course, like anything popular and fun, the song has its detractors. In ‘Stop saying nice things about Macklemore’s Thrift Shop’ on Spin.com, Brandon Soderberg writes:

Probably shouldn’t have to explain this in 2013, but when you didn’t have to wear hand-me-down threads or thrift-shop clothes your whole life, there’s a novelty to wearing them in your 20s so you have some extra beer money. And hey, maybe you even feel like you’re getting one over on a world of American Apparel-wearers by spending $2.99 on an already-worn-in colored T-shirt… Macklemore’s embrace of the thrift shop is exclusively for wacky outfits to get him attention at parties, as well as something to lord over his peers in Gucci. He is, in the hierarchy of people poring over cheap-ass clothes in the Goodwill, only slightly above jerks who go there for Halloween outfits. At the top of this hierarchy, of course, are people who don’t have enough money to buy new clothes.

So far as donating to charity goes, money is money. Your $2.99 goes the same way towards helping support those in need whether you spent it on much-needed work clothes or ironic lols. If lording over his peers in Gucci and making your grandad’s clothes look incredible encourages his impressionable fans to shop at charity shops, that’s great. I think it’s wonderful that, during these dreadful economic times, you can go into a thrift shop with ten dollars and come out looking like your favourite rapper.

That’s one of my favourite things about Macklemore: anyone can join in the fun, with cheap clothes, moral messages that hit you over the head like a wolf on your noggin and pop culture references that even your nana could get. You don’t need a PhD in Overanalysing from the University of Critical Outrage to understand what he’s about. Homophobia is bad. Being addicted to drugs is bad. Pirate ships are awesome.

He has covered race (‘But we still owe ’em 40 acres, now we’ve stolen their 16 bars” from White Privilege), sexism (‘She said “We have a flame, your fire’s ignited with sound. Are you building the empire up, or using your fire to burn it down?'” from Contradiction), materialism (‘They told me to just do it. I listened to what that swoosh said’ from Wings), drugs (‘I’ve seen Oxycontin take three lives/I’ve seen cocaine bring out the demons inside’ from Otherside) and homophobia (‘If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me/Have you read the YouTube comments lately?/”Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily’ on Same Love).

Now that the nineties revival is in full swing (but is swing really the right word to describe the nineties? Full bop maybe? Full nod your head and kind of sway a bit) and everything but the fanny pack (or as we call them in England, bumbags – fanny means something very different here) is back in fashion, it seems like the right time for a pop star who is so certain and earnest in everything he says. He could have been a spokesrapper for D.A.R.E. I can imagine him rocking out the Bayside Diner as the credits begin to roll, as Zack, Kelly and the gang jiggle along out of synch with the music to shake off the stresses of having learned a valuable lesson about the dangers of caffeine pills or whatever. It’s as though he has spent the last decade and a half holed up in a cave playing Pogs (or off his noggin on syrup) and missed the point in history where we stopped being sure what we actually liked.

The dream of the nineties is alive in this one. Listen to one of his songs, close your eyes, and you are transported into a world where the best bands of your teenage years haven’t been dividing the past few years between lighting cigarettes with handfuls of $100 bills and fighting with their Playboy model ex-wives on Twitter; where not every politician you’ve ever believed in let you down; where you can hear a straight, white rapper talk earnestly about homophobia and racism without cringeing.

We’re nearly done with revivals now. Pretty soon we’ll be through with the nineties, and then there won’t be anything left to revive (unless we decide to start going way back in time and dress like Henry VIII and listen to Greensleeves or something). We’re bored of constantly harking back to classic songs and giving them sacred status, or enjoying bad ones ironically. It’s time for something fresh, and new, and different – music that catches you by surprise, shows that let you lose your self-consciousness for a couple of hours, and pop stars that make you feel like together, you could actually make a difference.

Golden rules for auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent

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On today’s Guardian online, Stuart Heritage asks ‘Has Britain’s Got Talent been faking it?’:

After more than a decade of reality TV talent shows, we’ve become inured to this, haven’t we? Every year, audiences are expected to endure at least one story about an act that already has a record deal, or has a lucrative cruise ship career, or was brought in as a ringer by the producers. I mean, how long has that dancing five-year-old from Saturday’s show been in the business? Two decades? Three? And, frankly, I’ve yet to be convinced that Pudsey the dancing dog wasn’t just a kid with a rug taped to him all along. By this point, all the backstage jiggery-pokery should just wash over us, so why am I still bothered?

I know why I’m bothered.

Here are the three golden rules for auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent:

Practice is for suckers

If you weren’t born with the kind of once-in-a-generation talent that could reduce David Walliams to hysterical tears, forget it. Your skills are basically worthless unless you fell out of the womb a fully-formed Cheryl Cole impersonator, Pavarotti-level opera singer or breakdancing border collie.

When it was revealed that Paul Potts, the winner of the first series of BGT, had received professional vocal training and had previously performed in front of 15,000 people, his victory was called a ‘sham’. To some people, apparently, mobile phone salesmen who just happen to be blessed with world-class talents that they have done absolutely nothing about for 36 years are more worthy of praise than mobile phone salesmen who worked 13 hour days in a job they didn’t like very much so that they could save up enough money to take six months off work to go to opera school in Italy.

The only exceptions to this rule seem to be street dance crews and teenage boy choirs, and even then practice is mostly just a way to keep you off the drugs for a couple of hours.

So is having actually embarked upon your dream career before, and having a decent level of professional success

One of the strongest contenders in this year’s Britain’s Got Talent competition is Francine Lewis, who sailed through to the semi-finals after performing solid impressions of Katie Price, Stacey Solomon and Cheryl Cole.

Backstage before her audition, she told Ant and Dec “I started doing impressions when I was about six, and then back in the nineties I entered a talent show.  I came second to a puppet. I carried on for a little while, but never got to the level I always dreamed about, but then I came out of it when I got pregnant.” She confided “I love being with my kids, I really do, but I wouldn’t die happy if I didn’t pursue what I feel I should be doing.”

When David Walliams asked her “do you have a day job, Francine?” she replied “well I’m a mum, a mum of two, so I do my impressions to entertain everyone when I can.”

When she says “I do my impressions to entertain everyone when I can”, I think this implies that she occasionally manages to squeeze in the odd Stacey Solomon “OHMAGAAAWWWDDD” in between nappy changes and school runs to make her kids giggle. I don’t think it implies that she recently did her impressions on a comedy show watched by over a million viewers, as Francine Lewis did in Channel 4’s Very Important People. She also didn’t mention that she has previously appeared on Time and the Place, Pebble Mill, The Big Big Talent Show, 5’s Company, Bushell on the Box, Fully Booked, Big Breakfast, Generation Game, This Morning, Loose Women and the Ian Wright Show. She does on her website, though.

This is why I like The Voice more than Britain’s Got Talent, in spite of the incessant ‘denim-on-denim’ jokes from Jessie J, the fact that they wear the same clothes in the obviously pre-recorded Sunday evening results show (smelly) and the impossibly small-scale set that makes Countdown look like the Superbowl. If Sean Conlon from Five and Cleo Higgins from Cleopatra had auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent rather than The Voice, they would both have had to pretend to be stay-at-home mums who thought an octave was a type of wild boar.

Confidence is gross, especially on a woman

Ideally, you should be a young mum who whispers Katie Price impressions under your breath to yourself as you drain off tinned carrots for Lily May’s tea, letting a slight smile spread across your lips as the nasal squawk echoes off the metallic hollow of the kitchen sink, thinking maybe, just maybe, one day, you might pluck up the courage to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. Don’t be silly! you tell yourself. You would never have enough confidence to stand there and perform in front of all of those people!

Ideally, you shouldn’t have recently done your Katie Price impressions in four episodes of a comedy show watched by over a million viewers, like Francine Lewis.

Another talent show contestant who has been hitting the headlines this week is Alice Fredenham. Here is Alice, a 28 year old beauty therapist from Hertfordshire, belting out The Lady is a Tramp for The Voice judges and receiving a unanimous ‘no’:

Another talent show contestant who has been hitting the headlines this week is Alice Fredenham. Here is Alice, a 28 year old beauty therapist from Hertfordshire, wimping out My Funny Valentine for the Britain’s Got Talent judges and receiving a unanimous ‘yes’:

What happened there? What happened to the confidence, the sassiness, the killer cleavage, the shimmying, the retro styling, the supportive family on standby? I’m not even going to ask what’s going on with her hair, and ask why it looks like she’s about to have half a head of highlights put in, because it makes me sad (I think she’s possibly going for the SuBo effect).

The official line is that after being rejected by all four Voice judges (and having Will.I.Am ask her whether she was a trumpet), it knocked her confidence so hard that she didn’t want to invite her family along to watch her again. Do we believe it?  I don’t.  Not really.  Sounds plausible enough, but this is Simon Cowell world – a place where even walking egos like X Factor UK‘s Katie Waissel have to simper and shake their way onto stage like all they want to do is release this pent-up monster of a voice that is clogging up their throat and not have to deal with this pesky fame part – like she couldn’t think of anything more dreadful than making interactive online reality shows about her life sponsored by Sprite, or allegedly trying to sell kiss and tell stories on Apprentice contestants (both of which Katie did before auditioning.)

Quoth Francine: “I’ve been out of it for quite a while, and I just lost all my confidence. Coming back in front of such a big audience, it’s very nerve-wracking – I’m not gonna lie. I just feel so lucky to get this second chance today.”

I’m really happy that Francine has finally found a platform from which to show off her talents to over ten million people. After all of her hard work, she deserves it.

5 pieces of pop culture that helped me through hard times

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Persepolis (2007)

Of all the scenes in the film adaption of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, the one that made the biggest impression on me was when the teenage Marji takes to her bed after she discovers her boyfriend has cheated on her.  She is upset that he betrayed her, upset that she ever loved him, and upset that she’s upset.  She is distraught that, after a life of hardship, spending her adolescence escaping the shadows of oppression and tragedy – the Iran/Iraq war, being separated from her parents in her early teens, the torture and murder of her favourite uncle – breaking up with some spotty twerp has driven her to attempt suicide.  Among the lessons that Persepolis helped teach me is the realisation that our emotions don’t react in predictable ways.  It is easy to imagine that that day you experience a tragedy is as tough as it gets, and each day after that is a little easier.  It doesn’t work like that.  You can fight through a war and let teenage heartache knock you for six.

So What – Pink

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to tell everyone you know that you’re splitting up with your husband after only a couple of years of marriage.  I especially can’t imagine how hard it must be to tell everyone who knows you that you’re splitting up with your husband after only a couple of years of marriage when you’re one of the most famous pop stars in the entire world.   With that in mind, it takes gigantic ladyballs to not only release a song about it (with the opening line ‘I guess I just lost my husband, I don’t know where he went…’) , but also to release a video for that song in which you sing it to said husband and mime strangling him (and also appear naked from behind while doing some sort of T-Rex dance?  And have a 1990s Nicholas Cage doppelganger set fire to your hair?  Whatevs, it’s a weird video.)  One time when I was feeling very low, I put this song on repeat for about an hour and a half and told myself that I’m still a rockstar too goddammit.  Bonus awesomeness: they’re now married again, and have a baby together.

Beginners (2011)

I watched this film for the first time on New Year’s Day, 2012.  Having had a few friends over the night before, I spent the day alone, hungover and tired, eating re-heated leftover mozzarella sticks in a filthy apartment, thinking about New Year’s Resolutions and all of the uncomfortable self-questioning that comes with them.  That evening, I downloaded this wonderful little movie about an elderly man (Christopher Plummer) who comes out as gay after his wife of 44 years passes away, and chases love with all the energy and enthusiasm of a man a quarter of his age.  The film is based on director Mike Mills’ own experiences of his father coming out at the age of 75.  Watch it next time you’re feeling inadequate about what you have achieved during the short time you have been on this earth.

Invisible Monsters – Chuck Palahniuk

‘”Now,” those Plumbago lips say, “You are going to tell me your story like you just did.  Write it all down.  Tell that story over and over.  Tell me your sad-assed story all night.”  That Brandy queen points a long bony finger at me.

‘”When you understand,” Brandy says, “that what you’re telling is just a story.  It isn’t happening anymore.  When you realise the story you’re telling is just words, when you can just crumble it up and throw your past in the trashcan,” Brandy says, “then we’ll figure out who you’re going to be.”‘

I want that whole passage tattooed inside my eyelids.

Peep Show

This British sitcom is perfect for when you have done something you regret and need to put it into perspective.  Next time you do something awful and/or embarrassing, you should try what I shall call ‘The Jez Test’: assessing your actions against those of Jeremy from Peep Show to see which is worse.

The Jez Test:

  • Have you tried to run over your girlfriend’s lesbian fiance accidentally on purpose?
  • Have you accidentally killed your girlfriend’s dog, set fire to it to dispose of the remains, and eaten a bite of its charred leg in front of her?
  • Have you bested a love rival by pooing in the pool of the gym he works at, and blaming it on him?

No?  It’s probably fine then, you shouldn’t worry about it.

Why aren’t you a superstar already? John C. Reilly edition

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He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Chicago, and has appeared in basically every film ever since the beginning of time (Boogie Nights! Chicago! Gangs of New York! The Thin Red Line! The Hours! The Aviator!), but I still have to say “you know, the guy from Step Brothers who isn’t Will Ferrell” every time I mention him, and that is a bloody disgrace.  Until his name is instantly recognisable among the general public;  until he gets an Academy Award and until the United States of America is renamed John C. Reillytopia and has Boats n Hoes installed as its national anthem, I will consider him underrated.

From starting out as a dramatic actor, he has transitioned to mostly performing in comic roles.  So many successful funnymen go into dramatic roles, and it’s generally regarded to be a step up from slumming it in comedy.  I don’t think that’s entirely fair.  Making people laugh isn’t easy.  It’s a sad, mad, bad world out there at times, and we need talented people who can serve LOLs on the regular.

And serve them he does, in everything from Pixar (playing the lead in Wreck-It Ralph) to indie dramedies (Cyrus, Carnage, Cedar Rapids) to more Frat Pack comedies than you can shake a shake and bake at. Step Brothers is a personal favourite of mine.  I think it needs more love among the Judd Apatow fan community.  Hey Will Ferrell fans, why not ease off the “I Love Lamp” and “Sex Panther” quotes and add “you and your mom are hillbillies.  This is a house of learned doctors” to your arsenal?  It works just as well on dinner party guests as it does on new relationship partners.

The little seen Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story deserves a special mention – while it isn’t knicker-wettingly hilarious, it is a very well observed parody (of Walk The Line and Ray) with a lot of heart.  Naturally, John C. Reilly does a great job of spoofing the kind of standard Oscar fodder that he has done so many times before – after all, he knows it inside out.  Not only that, but he was nominated for a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack.  Lest we forget, he has the voice of an angel: here he is singing Mr Cellophane in Chicago.  He truly is the songbird of our generation.

Even in his dramatic roles, he brings much-needed lightness and warmth.  As a hard-working cop trying to save the life of a pretty junkie, he is the sole ray of light in Paul Thomas Anderson’s suffocatingly bleak Magnolia, (to be fair to the other actors, most of them were playing child/parent/spouse abusers).  As full-time porn star, part-time magician Reed Rothchild in Boogie Nights, he bounds into each scene with a puppydog energy, providing comic relief in even the most disturbing scenes.

More recently he has been starring in his own comedy show, the surreal and silly Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, which is a spin-off from ‘Brule’s Rules’, his recurring feature on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It’s not the most highbrow, intellectual humour: Dr. Steve pronounces sushi as ‘shushi’ and refers to wasabi and pickled ginger as ‘guacamole and peaches’; mistakes a ‘crasino’ change machine for a ‘one of paper equals four of coin’ game (he always wins); goes onto the real-world streets to sell copies of his ‘BCBs’ (DVDs) to confused drivers.  Could you imagine any other Oscar-nominated dramatic actor doing that?  Well Joaquin Phoenix, obvs, but it would probably be some sort of semi-serious performance art orbiting the eighth circle of uber-meta-irony that no-one would understand.  Ok, and Adrien Brody, but he will appear in anything.

Any dingus in Hollywood can play the put-upon husband of a murderer, or the put-upon father of a murderer, or the put-upon porn star and part-time magician bumbling sidekick of an idiot, and give an impactful performance.  It takes a truly gifted actor to take what could be an incredibly one-dimensional character (he says he’s a doctor but doesn’t understand what a man’s ‘pennis’ does; he pronounces words incorrectly; and, that’s about it) and sell it like it’s Shakespeare.  Check out this video in which Dr. Steve interracts with his ‘brother’, watch it until the very end and try not to be moved:

On reviews, reviewers and reviewing things

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This week one of my favourite writers, Nicole Cliffe from The Hairpin, has been discussing what makes a good review.  As a guest reviewer of the ‘Critical Hit Awards’ at Electric Literature, she wrote: 

I believe it is very difficult to succeed with a book review if you lack generosity of spirit and a genuine love of books. There are plenty of terrible books, there are far more mediocre books, there are many good ones, and there are some that are great. Books that are terrible or mediocre are rarely worth your time to review. Which is not to say that a negative review has no place in your arsenal, but when I am reviewing a book, I try to imagine that I am speaking to the author, that that author wants to have written a good book and has proceeded with that desire in good faith.

Linking to the article on The Hairpin, Nicole reflected:

But then, when I think about some of the book reviews which have really stayed with me, some of them are mean and brilliant. And I greatly prefer Anthony Lane’s more withering movie reviews to ones that are all, oh, Jessica Chastain is a revelation. So, hm, who knows?’

For me, the distinction isn’t between positive and negative reviews.  Whether it’s affectionate yet clear-slighted love like Nicole’s Cliffe’s own Classic Trash, where our heroine takes us on a personal journey through her experiences with the best trashy literature through the decades, or vicious slamdowns (there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t shed a tear for the untimely hiatus of Videogum’s ‘Worst Movie of All Time’ reviews), I believe that the best reviews are highly personal and passionate ones.

We all have different experiences and worldviews and different reasons for loving what we love, and hating what we hate.  When I used to write about music for another site, the editor would send me singles and albums to review.  My biggest problem was never not liking them, but being able to acknowledge that they were good, but just not to my taste.  How do you critically assess something like that?  All the noises sounded good in my ears and everything, but once the review was written, I would never listen to them again.  I was never particularly proud of those reviews – I would much rather write about something that provoked a strong response in me, one way or another.    

I think that there’s a huge gulf between loving something and acknowledging that something is very good with few, if any, flaws, and not a lot of traditional reviewers cover that space.  How often does Roger Ebert write reviews like “Terrence Malick’s new film is a profound and stunningly accurate examination of the human experience with a first-rate script, career-best performances from the world’s greatest actors and flawless direction, but I could have watched White Chicks twice during its 280 minute run time, and would much rather have done so”? (and he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, so he should know the joys of great trash better than anyone). 

That isn’t a problem – that is where bloggers can come in and win hearts and minds with their ‘OMFG guys, you just have to watch this movie right now’ views.  (To quote John Cheese from Cracked.com: ‘If I have to explain who Leslie Nielsen is, you need to stop what you’re doing right now and go watch the Airplane and Naked Gun movies, and the Police Squad! TV show. Call in a sick day to work or school, explaining that you just discovered his body of work. They’ll understand. In fact, the only punishment you might receive would be a dock in pay or grades for not having done it sooner.’)  There are a huge number of reviewers out there, in print and online, so what can set you apart is having a unique perspective and a story to tell.  What can you see that no-one else can?  Do you still love a much mocked movie because it came along at just the right time in your life when you could appreciate it?  Do you love Freddy Got Fingered and hate The Godfather?  Tell me why! 

The Big Reunion on ITV

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“When we’re on stage, we’re going to rock the shit out of it.  Fact” boasted Scott from Five at the beginning of last night’s  The Big Reunion on ITV.  And rock the shit out they did, which must have been a welcome relief to Michelle from Liberty X, who informed us at the beginning of the show (twice!) that she hadn’t vacated her bowels in three days.  After a shaky start, the programme has found its feet, and it looks as though the live shows, featuring performances from Five, Atomic Kitten, Liberty X, Honeyz, 911, B*Witched and Blue, are shaping up to be a big success.  I would do anything, anything, ANYTHING to go and see it, except actually pay £40 for a ticket because that is a lot of money.

In his introduction to the live show itself, Andi Peters said “the acts you see tonight are going to impress you and make you wish that today was ten years ago all over again”, but did it?  Should it?  Huge portions of the programme are devoted to each former pop star talking about the dark side of fame and how they have struggled since their band split up.  Ten years ago doesn’t sound like a tonne of fun from their perspective.

Having so many people speak only about their experiences with mental illness on primetime TV can only be a positive thing, but the constant criss-crossing between bands and sob stories can be awkward: for example, when one person is crying over being bullied as a child for having cancer (seriously, can you think of anything more horrible?) when others are complaining about being called a ‘flopstar’, or having told the press that killing elephants and whales is worse than 9/11, or having a ‘phobia’ of stairs.

There are a few real stand-outs for me – people who may not have been setting the charts alight over the past few years, but should feel very proud of themselves nonetheless:

Kerry from Atomic Kitten – three years’ clean, whoop whoop!  And she can actually sing!  Who knew?!

Michelle from Liberty X – whether it is having an elective double mastectomy, turning Duncan from Blue gay or being best friends with Katie Price, Michelle takes all the troubles life throws at her on the chin with a smile, and admirable openess and a well-chosen onesie.

Keavy from B*Witched – while working as a wedding singer and professional stilt walker may not be many people’s idea of post-pop stardom success, she seems to have conquered her demons now and that is an achievement worth more than a thousand Smash Hits awards.  I can’t even imagine how depressed you must be to not enjoy your sister’s wedding.  B*Witched’s sibling drama makes me want to give my sister a big hug the next time I see her (also: because I owe her money).  And Keavy is training to be a counsellor and volunteers for Make a Wish Foundation, which is wonderful.

Everyone from Blue – these late arrivals have been a fantastic addition to the show, bringing new energy and a rich source of gossip for the others.  Duncan is a personal favourite for having the courage to come out and for being so adorably self-satisfied, all the time, always.  While most of his Big Reunion castmates have been hit hard emotionally by the fall from fame, in terms of self-esteem Duncan is still partying like it’s 2001, and why shouldn’t he be?  He’s Duncan from Blue!

Abs from Five – always my favourite Fiver, the the second baddest boy from the baddest boyband in pop now lives on a farm on Lincolnshire (nuff love to the East Midlands massive), where, from what I can tell, he divides his time between cotching, flexing and keeping it real.  Also, his name is ‘Abz Love’ now, because of course it is.  Country life seems to have mellowed the artist formerly known as Richard Breen (was that tweed he was rocking when they were auditioning rappers?)  He appears to provide a calming influence on the group, particularly on troubled bandmate Sean.

Special recognition goes to Scott from Five, for suggesting that Rich wear crotchless chaps on stage.