Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sonic Sandwich: Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks

So I put down my headphones for a few weeks, and when I came back, it was nothing but butts, butts, butts.

Truly, this was the Summer of Butts™. Through some kind of booty singularity, we got not only Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea teaming up to literally tack their butts one on top of another, we got "Anaconda," Nicki Minaj's defiant, confident re-purposing of Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back," and of course Meghan Trainor's sweet, harmless, fluffy bubblegum ode to body positivity and confidence, "All About That Bass."

So naturally, it's the latter that's destroying young minds.

Somehow, of the three, Trainor seems to be the one who gets the most ink. I think when you're dealing with dance anthems, people generally expect the oversexed, crass imagery. But when you're the new kid on the block, and your speed is more in the range of a novelty - the type of song that uses standup bass and low-end horns to push its theme about being, well, a bit more than a size 2 - people start to pay attention to the lyrics.

Is it "Body-shaming Anti-Feminism?" Perhaps. (Trainor's own remarks on the subject don't help.) There's an argument there, that it just swaps one simplistic view of beauty for another, and worse, and that a woman's self-esteem has to be tied to whether men approve of her figure. I think it's going a bit too far to call it "disingenuous," though, because in the pop world, everyone's selling something about themselves. Trainor likely noticed some differences between herself and other singers, including the others listed above, and found a way to spin that for a buck or two, both from her physical appearance and her outlook on life. If the song's social politics are a bit gummed up by a need to be commercial, I don't think it totally breaks the message. Where Nicki Minaj says outwardly, "Fuck the skinny bitches," Trainor just teases them a bit:

I'm bringing booty back 
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that 
No I'm just playing. I know you think you're fat 
But I'm here to tell ya 
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

She leaves off more on a "live and let live - I'm good with me, you be good with you" tone, going out of her way to write up a slogan that is supposed to be for every woman, in fact every person who doubts their beauty. It's not switching one set of exclusionism for another, or fetishizing the plus-sized lady, it's just kinda clumsy pandering. Trainor wants to peddle feel-goodness with some sly wordplay and a sarcastic attitude that gets her noticed - and boy, it got her noticed. That's a feat.

There are arguments against the song, like its primary concern being "Boys like how I look, so I feel good." That probably wouldn't be the thesis of an article about actual feminism, but as far as a here today-gone tomorrow pop song goes, that might be fair play. It's still a piece of pop culture, so it deals in those black-and-white dichotomies: models and "real women," boys and girls, attraction and... lack of attraction, I guess... false opposites that are more complicated when you graft them onto real life. It might be expecting a bit much for a mainstream pop radio artist to do that much work to break all the taboos, on her first go-round at least.

Personally, I have no material reason to be an apologist for this song. It's not better or worse than anything else out there on the radio, but it's different, which is why it keeps being talked about. I think there's a collective disappointment that it wasn't better about it, but it started this really interesting conversation, which is more than we could have said for "Friday" lo those many years ago (besides, "Boy, 'Friday' was just wrong wasn't it.") Maybe Trainor will have a long career and have further opportunities to correct this. But it's just as likely that this is it for her, and if so I don't think she has anything to be ashamed of. Pop music was meant to score our lives, not define it, so even being slightly on the ball with this one is a good step. I say let the girl enjoy having a big ole butt. God knows everyone else seems to these days.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Maybe you're better than you think: Post-MasterChef thoughts

I knew several weeks out - maybe even before the halfway point of the season - that the finale of MasterChef was going to be Courney and Elizabeth. Not only were they the most consistently-performing home cooks, they were portrayed as somehow opposites: One a breathy dancer with an air of strong (earned) confidence and the vaguest impression of a haughty femme fatale, the other a down-to-earth, detail-oriented marketing manager who nonetheless soaked up every compliment the judges gave her with her giant facial expressions and gracious attitude. They were ice and fire, and nothing short of a colossal fuckup was going to send either one of them home early.

That's not to say they were the only interesting things about the show, only that they were the obvious choices. Leslie, the Malibu-based stay-at-home dad who joined them in the top three, could easily have played spoiler. He appeared in seven pressure tests, often winning comfortably, meaning that yes, he had a habit of getting into trouble, but he proved himself a survivor. Leslie's arc was among the most fascinating of the series: he came off as an obnoxious jerk who couldn't shut up, but he backed it up, even earning the respect of some of those he clashed with, including 18-year-old Ahran, and Elizabeth herself, who chose Leslie has her partner for a challenge upon his offer to let her "boss [him] around." The two made an effective team.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Time Out: Saved by the Bell Unauthorized

Of all the many hours I've spent plunked in front of a screen, it's likely that some of the least enriching are the hours I've spent watching Saved by the Bell. Even when I was the age of the characters, a decade after the show had first aired, I already knew every hollow laugh, every squeaky-clean kiss, every low-stakes non-adventure. This was not because I was such a fanatic about the show that I memorized each episode, but because you would have to seriously lack pattern recognition not to see where each line of the script was going. It was entertainment for kids at a time when kids' intelligence was not estimated to be very high. And yet, every so often, even at the age of Twenty-Whatever-I-Am, I feel the need to pull those old plots over me like a warm blanket and watch a rerun of Saved by the Bell at 7 PM on Much, at a time when the only possible audience is people like me who want to laugh at a bunch of shitty 20-year-old jokes about zit cream and final exams, not because they're funny, but because some writer thought they might be.

Whenever I do this, there's this creeping guilt about the fact that I could be doing anything else. I could finally be getting around to watching The Wire, or even the restored version of Metropolis that's on Netflix. Instead, I yell sarcastic responses to Zack Morris' microdilemmas as if I'm so great for deigning to watch. Yes, I have a sweet tooth for terrible television of my youth, and in certain company I wear it proudly: on my dating profile, under "I Spend A Lot Of Time Thinking About..." I answered, "How the characters on Saved by the Bell might be analogous to Greek mythology." Zack being Zeus, obviously. This one sentence probably forms a more complete portrait of my personality than the rest of my profile combined, and after I added it, it was the subject of much discussion. Mission accomplished. (For the record, Screech is Hermes, Lisa is Aphrodite and Jessie is Athena, but Kelly isn't quite Hera and I don't know for sure that Slater is Hades.)