Tag Archives: pop culture

Freeing Britney and Holding Power Accountable

free britney sign

©Andrew Cullen, The New York Times

When I first started working on this post in January, the spin was a bit different. My jumping off points were the wild gossip mill stories that wrapped up 2020 and then launched 2021: the journalist who ruined her life for the much-despised (and imprisoned) pharma bro Martin Shkreli, the truly bizarre (and unfounded) rumours of Kanye West’s affair with makeup guru Jeffree StarHilaria Baldwin faking a Spanish accent for years, and the still-developing Armie Hammer cannibal stuff (please exercise caution when reading this story!). Throw in the political circus of an actual attempted coup on the US Capitol, and the headlines of 2021 seemed to be Mad Libs generatedThe world is a glitching simulator, and we’re just living in it.  

The truth about me is that I live for gossip and scandal—like Marie Kondo says, I love mess. But there is a threshold for scandalous entertainment. For example, the Caroline Calloway or Fyre Fest stories from 2019 were compelling in the way they revealed the blithe incompetence of wealthy influencers. Or the Tiger King circus from last year, which single-handedly saved our collective sanity at the beginning of quarantine. In these kinds of scandals, the people involved are dopes or straight up criminals; the stories are schadenfreudeinducing in the distribution of karma to terrible people. But scandals become not so fun when they affect innocent people (or animals, in the darker side of Tiger King). Once the Armie Hammer allegations started to veer beyond kink into potentially dangerous abuse, the story lost its giggly water-cooler gossip status. Instead, what emerged was a story of generational depravity hidden behind the veneer of Old Money, the case for which was made stronger by the publication of Surviving My Birthright by Casey Hammer, Armie’s aunt.  

I officially decided to rewrite this post after watching the New York Timesproduced Britney Spears documentary Framing Britney Spears, which, as its title suggests, adjusts the picture of the popstar’s mental health struggles as we’ve come to understand them. There’s been a lot of handwringing over who exactly is to blame for her descent in the mid-late 2000s, which famously culminated with a bald-headed Spears attacking a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella. Anyone who remembers 2007 will recall the Wild West days of paparazzi culture, which was demonized even then as harassment but which was allowed to continue because, well, money. While we may all have been somewhat complicit in this culture, just by virtue of living in it, I’d say some are more culpable than others. Paparazzi are the scum of society, no doubt, but tabloids like Us Weekly were the ones forking over millions of dollars for a single photo of Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car.  

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The Return of Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell.pngLana Del Rey is a study in opposition. Simultaneously manufactured and authentic, out of time and very much present. When she appeared on the scene in 2011 with her YouTube breakouts “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games”, the internet seemed split down the middle on what to make of her. Who was this mysterious crooning woman and where did she come from? Her perfectly-honed, old-world glam persona wasn’t like anything else at the time: the top artists of the year were Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Adele in her “Rolling in the Deep” phase (special shout-out to the #2 song of the year: “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO. What were we doing in 2011?). Lana maintained her persona, despite the internet quickly uncovering her true identity as Elizabeth Grant from New York City—even going so far as to claim she never had plastic surgery (brazen lie). She was an alluring and exasperating figure, and her image overshadowed her music. Not that we’re in an especially kind environment now, but in 2011 it was perfectly acceptable to rip female artists to shreds without a care in the world. We did it as a pastime. And Lana’s refusal to be cowed by criticism was both frustrating and—in hindsight—exactly what the world needed.  

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In Praise of Pop Music

It took until my late 20s to admit to myself something I’d been trying to deny for years: I love pop music. Yes, it’s true. And I refuse to be ashamed any longer! When I was a teenager, I ran in the rock/indie crowd. We worshipped either male-fronted bands or manic pixie dream girls. It was patently not acceptable for me to admit that I was secretly grooving to whatever Lady Gaga hit was out at the time. Well, guess what? Lady Gaga is an Oscar winner now, and rock has—for the first time in history—fallen to the conquering hip hop superstars 

Since pop music is mainly associated with women, it’s never taken as seriously as traditionally male genres. It’s met at best with flippancy and at worst disdain. And for a long time, this was my attitude as well. But I realize now that pop can be all the things normally associated with the more “serious” genres: progressive, subversive, political, empowering. This really shouldn’t be a surprise to me. I mean, if we jump back in time 20 years you’ll see me making up Spice Girls routines in the living room, yelling “girl power!!” and exalting the power of female friendships. I didn’t know it at the time, but the seeds of feminism were being planted, and all through Top 40 smash hits. But it took years of undoing whatever damage internalized misogyny had done to me, to see pop music not just as some silly, fluffy nonsense but as an important addition to the music landscape.  

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