Sunday, January 29, 2017

DIVA TOUR DIARIES: "Madonna Truth or Dare" & "Mariah's World"

Back in 1991, Madonna was everything innovative and exciting to young girls. Especially young impressionable girls who took in that year's super-scandalous tour documentary: Madonna: Truth or Dare.

And a scandal it was! There was homosexual kissing, simulated sexual acts on dinnerware, and of course the ever-popular masturbation scene during "Like A Virgin" and Madonna's subsequent threat of arrest while performing it in Toronto.

Her relationships with Warren Beatty, arguing with her manager Freddy DeMann, and lusting after Antonio Banderas. Reflecting on Sean Penn, flirting with her dancer Oliver, and nursing a sore throat. The movie was a hit that year, and took in $29 million in box office sales. The Blond Ambition Tour was quite possibly the height of her career, relevance, and stardom. She had figured out the formula for pop success. From time.

I know this movie like the back of my hand, because I watched it religiously as an adolescent. Not only did I love Madonna's music, but I loved how BOLD she was! I loved her for the same reasons all of her fans did: because she was interesting and entertaining. Add a love for the entertainment industry and behind-the-scenes fanfare, and you have a perfect storm of drama, music, logistics...and of course, diva behaviour.

I hadn't thought much about Madonna's tour documentary in decades, until the last episode of Mariah's World aired today, and I realized how similar her 8-part docuseries was to Madonna's feature film. The perfect lighting. The staged scenes. The accommodating entourages and the after-hours antics. Definitely interesting to see these carefully scripted "inside looks" at their lives, and there are definitely similarities between the two pop stars who couldn't possibly be more different as women.

Yes, so I'm a Mariah fan to the core. Clearly. Don't judge me. EVEN after the nightmare that was New Year's Eve (which seems to have been swept up and forgotten in the mess that is the aftermath of the U.S. elections). So in an attempt to distract myself, and avoid fearing the end of the world as we know it, I took a good look at these tour documentaries and eventually had to applaud the women for their business acumen and career longevity.

Just like Beyonce's super-personal (sarcasm) documentary back in 2013 "Life is But a Dream"...both Madonna and Mariah went to great lengths to make their intimate video footage SEEM as authentic and "look how cool and regular I am" as possible. Of course, between Beyonce, Madonna, and Miss Mariah...the efforts for "normalcy" are blatantly constructed. And unrealistic for the majority of us.

Really and truly, how can you be normal if you're Beyonce? How can you not have an entourage if you're Madonna? And how can you DARE be filmed in elevator lighting (gasp) if you're Mariah Carey? They're Divas. Self-professed or not, these women don't know HOW to be anything less than fabulous, and fabulously in control.

Unfortunately, the extreme control they have on their images and the maintenance of their brands is in itself what makes them come across as contrived and phony a lot of the time. Madonna is from a different era entirely, so her tactics for creating a unique brand and persona had to go to different lengths back in the 90s. So her wild actions and provocative music videos and performances were where she set herself apart from the other stars of her day.

With Beyonce and Mariah, fortunately they have a plethora of social media tools, outlets, and business strategy to manipulate in order to create the precise image that will preserve their diva-dom for years to come.

Miss Mariah literally staged this entire "natural" tour documentary, and casually lounged in fishnets and stilettos, and always seemed to have the perfect lighting and make up...even in the most low key and intimate of settings.

I love her by default, and am a byproduct of decades of musical brainwashing and melodic admiration...but yo. She is just toooooo much. The footage of her during The Sweet Sweet Fantasy Tour across Europe was not believable for one second. Not the conversations. Not the turn of events. Nada. Perhaps the interaction with her children, and the odd moments of laughter and spontaneity from her people...but I actually walked away from the 8 weeks of programming thinking she is more insecure and contrived than I realized!

Mariah is the epitome of extreme extroversion and publicity, yet completely exudes insecurity and awkwardness. It's the strangest thing. While Madonna walked with over-confidence and a definite sense of self in her film, Mariah seems to struggle with just...being...normal. Her posture. Her words. Her facial expressions. Even the fake singing. EVERYTHING seems like she's trying too hard, and it's unfortunate.

Sucks that her engagement to James Packer didn't work out in the real world, but the docuseries ended up seeming like an 8 week setup to her new relationship with the dancer Bryan Tanaka, who she's apparently dating now post-Nick Cannon, and post-billionaire dreams. Sounds a little Jennifer Lopez-esque to me, which also seems deliberate. Insert scandal with young, sexy dancer.

The diamonds. The yacht life. The Mariah soundtrack while Mariah narrates, and Mariah acts as Mariah is just too much. Of course, as a long-time "fan" I had to watch all of the episodes and take it for what it was, but I was a bit disappointed that I walked away feeling more convinced that she's a bit "off"...instead of feeling like she did a good job of exposing her true colours.

Where does this leave Mariah? Clearly still on top. She's extreme, and we all still seem to tolerate it, so her reign as one of the top female artists of all times will continue. Regardless. I don't think the New Year's incident, or this corny ass documentary will really change things. I thought NYE was career ending, but haven't heard much else about it once Trump took that oath the other day.

Where's Madonna at? Still being provocative and trying to be controversial in her old age, but inevitably just existing in a different generation, yet still holding her crown. Her crown was set in the 90s, and there's really nothing or no one that can take her legacy away from her. I believe Mariah's at the point now where the same goes for her.

If neither lady ever makes another hit album, or rediscovers the pure voices of their youth, they'll still be OK. They'll always be legends. Divas. Powerful music industry folks. That will never change, no matter how many times they mess up, or how ridiculous their lives and actions get. Regardless.

BUT, as a lover of all things music and entertainment, and as a fan of the entertainment industry who has an insatiable appetite for watching, reading, and trying to understand the ins and outs of showbiz...I was definitely disappointed that I walked away from the recent Mariah story feeling more detached from her as a person, and more aware of her as a brand instead. I'm not sure if that's the way it's supposed to work.

There was half of a real moment towards the end of the 8th and final installment, when Mariah is at the piano and begins to play two chords of "Vision of Love" and begins to sing along...and then cut to staged beach scene with her and her new boo Tanaka, 15 minutes after calling off her marriage to James. The slight glimpses of her actual personality and her actual passion and aptitude for music, were just completely overshadowed by the ridiculousness of the show's plot and players.

In a nutshell, that sums up both Madonna and Mariah to me...they surely do have a real "down" side to them, but unfortunately they live so deep in their illusions and perceptions of who they think they're supposed to be, that the actual talent sometimes gets lost in translation. I'll always be a fan of both ladies, and I appreciated the look into their opulent lifestyles...but especially at a societal time like now in the post-Obama era...there is a great need for inspiring content. This only celebrates their entitlement, rather than their motivations as artists.

And yeah. I'm still going to Mariah's Toronto concert. And I will love every lip synced second of it.

Now, back to Donald Trump and the devastation of humanity...

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Money Can't Buy Class (Sorry, Mariah)

Don't believe the hype.

Mariah Carey. Chris Brown. Souljah Boy. Donald Trump. Discuss.

No? Tired of discussing these people that are highly irritating and have nothing to do with you trying to pay your mortgage and Christmas credit card bills this month? Well, as far fetched as they are, they are prime examples of just how money can turn you fool.

I'm as die hard a Mariah Carey fan as they come, but I can't help but feel that sense of superficial celebrity fear when you start to see someone talented go in the direction of Whitney or countless other drug-and-fame abusers before her. It's the saddest sight imaginable, because what MOST of us would do and accomplish with ONE million dollars...we sit and observe these ridiculous "public figures" squander and exploit with many, many multiples of that. And have the nerve to be unhappy and unfulfilled.

But clearly. They are unhappy, and unfulfilled. The alcohol, the drugs, the spotlight, and the attention must be a major mind f*ck because time and time again, we see these fools (what else can we call them?) turn into trainwrecks before our very eyes.

In the case of Mariah, I believe she has a drinking problem...I believe she is a ridiculous diva on levels of diva-ness that others don't have time to get to. I believe she lives in a false reality, and that she needs to check herself before...oh. The worse has already happened. She's wrecked herself. She's been exposed. She is coming across as a class-less, petty, unprofessional, whiny, botoxed diva, who can't even humble herself enough to admit that she is not the flawless songstress I fell in love with musically in 1990, and instead she is turning into a strained has-been who is desperately trying to stay relevant.

Even her reality show is a hot mess. The lighting is music-video-perfect, the segments are beyond staged, and her "people" are clearly only there for one purpose: to do, and be whoever she needs them to be.

It's sad. It's sad to watch one of your creative "idols" turn into a joke. It's sad to see someone who has/had soooo much talent, waste away into an attention whore, and a delusional addict. It's sad to feel that like Michael Jackson, and countless other "stars" who had so much going for them...that they couldn't mentally handle it, or the industry that they ruled...eventually ruled them.

By the way, I've already spent over a hundred dollars to secure tickets to Mariah's Toronto concert in the spring with Lionel Ritchie (I have NEVER missed one of her Toronto tours. EVER.) And I hope she at least has the decency to give us SOMETHING live. For the sake of the money.

So I've watched one of my all time faves, Mariah, turn into a class-less old hag. It sucks. As for Chris Brown and Souljah Boy, their fall from grace was so less dramatic. Equally entertaining (yup, I watched all of the Instagram beef go down, because I'm addicted to entertainment media like that)...but ridiculously class-less. Yes, they're little boys. And yes, maybe a bit less refined than Mariah to start the race. But ew. Like, take your millions of dollars, and albums, and awards, and mansions, and sports cars and STOP YOUR MADNESS.

I won't even give Donald Trump more attention by getting into his cyber mess. All I'm saying is, I do kinda fear for my future, and hope that the nuclear fight doesn't cross the Canadian border. God help us all.

Moral of the story: I'm tired of these uber-rich jerks thinking that just because they have money, that they can act a fool, and get away with anything.

Let me bring it back to the Toronto level. There's no amount of money (and we all know, money doesn't run that deep with our "celebrities" they way they perceive it to), and no amount of "status" in the world that is acceptable for you to act like an assh*le. Especially when everyone in this small town knows WHO you are, WHERE you came from, and in most cases can cut you back down to size with a few short--but true--statements of fact.

People need to slow their roll, when it comes to public exposure, and the braggadocia, and the flossing, and flaunting. Self proclamations of excellence and showing off lifestyles and creating these false illusions about what is real, and what is cool. It's not cool. It's tacky.

Class is a serious thing, and the older I get the more I realize it has less to do with money and financial status, and 100% to do with community respect, common manners, and a broad understanding of how the "real world" works. Whether you're Mariah Carey, or whether you're [insert local celebrity name here], when you're in a higher class than most financially, that doesn't mean that you have permission to be a jerk, act entitled, and expect anything more out of life...than what you've put in.

Not naming names, but I do believe that HAPPY IS THE NEW RICH, and based on what I've seen over the past few weeks, and experienced personally, I'd take the happiness route ANY day, over the rich-and-switch wankster way, if it means I can walk in public with my head high, and my dignity in tact.

Somewhere along the line, it would be nice to see the people with money and power (or at least access to power) learn how to act, and use all those superpowers for good, instead of continuing to feed into their erratic impulses and fabricated lifestyle imagery.

I'm just saying.

But I still can't wait to hear Mariah lip sync "Hero" and "Butterfly" in March...those songs got a young Canadian sister through some hard times back in the 90s and early 2000s. I hope old Lionel (someone who has handled his success and fame, and millions with grace) will give Ms. Carey a bligh, and hopefully show her how it's done to transition into old age with your fame AND dignity.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

6 Rappers I'm Finally Interested in Listening To

Better late than never.

So, there's 6 rappers I'm finally interested in listening to this year. I've taken in their music before: mainly the hits. Not to the mixtape level, or to the downloading-their-music level...just on an extremely surface in-the-club, or livestreaming-Atlanta-radio level. But it's finally time for me to really see what the "kids" out there are hyping up about.

All of the year-end hip hop music reviews have left me feeling like an old auntie in the dance. I started to realize that I had no idea who the majority of the new rappers were by face, or by voice recognition. While I've "heard" of dudes like Yachty, and Migos, 21 Savage, and Party Next Door...I really and truly couldn't identify them if I saw them walk by me at Scarborough Town Centre. I definitely wouldn't know their voice different from say a Drake, Kanye, Common, Nas, Q-Tip, or other age-appropriate favourites from my era/city.

But somehow, these past few weeks I've been re-stimulated by hip hop. Even though the release of Tribe Called Quest's album a couple months ago had me all, "new hip hop sucks...nineties forever," I started to really, really vibe to the sound. Forget the lyrics and the strangeness of them all (in comparison to the legends of my day, like my boo Nas)...there was just something very cool about the sound. With the sound, came my need to understand WHO these artists were as people, before I could really jump into the music. I started watching interviews. Reading stuff about them. Curious about what they represented...beneath the face tattoos.

I was pleasantly surprised that I really LIKED some of these guys as MEN. Definitely for different reasons, but it was their characters and their personal stories and dedication to "making it" that made me feel compelled to finally turn off the soca and reggae, and start to Apple Music and YouTube some new tracks. Some of it was fabulous...some of it trash, but I feel happy that I found 6 artists that I'll be taking the time to catch up on for the next few days, ushering in 2017 like a real, mature grown ass woman...blasting 21 Savage in my car.

1) GUCCI MANE - Definitely not a new artist, but also definitely not someone I studied in the past. Yeah, I've heard him on collabos I like, here and there...but I never really took him in as a man. I was never interested in his rapper beefs and Twitter wars, or in him getting incarcerated, shooting a man, yadda yadda yadda. When Gucci got OUT of jail now and dropped that "First Day Out Da Feds"...I was like...who's song in THIS?! Loved it. Enter Gucci Mane into my list of rappers with a huge body of work that I know nothing about...but will catch up on soon. Speaking of bodies...the weight loss may have also made me look twice. Just saying.

2) YOUNG M.A. - This Brooklyn native caught me with her song "Ooouuu"...especially because until I really, really took it in, I just assumed it was a dude rapping. Clearly, once listening to the lyrics I realized that she's gay and just happens to sound like a dude, but either way...I liked the song. Watching a few interviews with her, I also realized how much hip hop needs some more females in the mix. Not necessarily the fake booty girly-girl type of rappers either, but like a real hood chick dedicated to her lyrics and the craft. I hope she is able to excel at what she's doing, because a voice like hers is necessary. She's only 24, so she's got plenty of time to grow in the game. Also, because hip hop has traditionally been homophobic to a certain extent, it's cool to see someone openly be who they are sexually...without it affecting the quality or judgement of their music. Plus she's a Jamaican: bonus points.

3) CHANCE THE RAPPER - Had no idea this guy's family was so deep in the political game, and that he was so smart. So ridiculously early in his career (he was listed in XXL's Freshman Class in 2014), he's already been up in the White House and collaborating with Obama on his My Brother's Keeper initiative. Also in his own lane, he's been working towards eradicating gun violence in his hometown of Chicago. The game needs more leaders, and I think he's already well equipped to be a positive voice, with the ability to mobilize people for good. Along with the development of his rap career, I hope he never loses his political passions because his perspective is too important to overlook.

4) 21 SAVAGE - He's super duper hood, but really likeable and soft spoken. Such an interesting combination of characteristics that make him particularly appealing. His life story is tragic, with the loss of so many close friends and also being the victim of a shooting himself. Six bullet wound recoveries later, he was featured in XXL's 2016 Freshman Class, and he's already made an impression on the industry. I was shocked to see the views on his YouTube videos and wondered what rock I had to be hiding under to have no idea what was gwaning. He has a really interesting tone, and the vibe of his songs is grimy and wonderful. Love his sound...looking forward to seeing where it goes.

5) WAKA FLOCKA - He's been around for a minute, but I never cared to listen to what he was up to. I did kinda dig his song "Let's Do It" back in 2009, but other than that...didn't know what he was on. Again, it was his personality that drew me into him as an artist at this point. A 30-year-old Atlanta man, married to reality star Tammy Rivera, Waka seems particularly savvy and "woke" to me. Like he has an understanding of the industry that I can appreciate, and doesn't floss or promote too much of the visual bullshit. He comes across as a thinking man, and I like that. So apparently his wife and mom are both on Love & Hip Hop...can't say I'm about that, but I guess he's letting them live their dreams and get their own money. Whatever works.

6) J COLE - Another positive soul, this North Carolina native is 31, a graduate of St. John's University (I'm a sucker for a university-educated rapper), and has a youth foundation Dreamville that helps to inspire and develop. Plus he plays the piano and violin: I also default like any rapper who can play an instrument. He's been on the scene for a minute too, since around 2007, so I've always known he existed...just never really cared. This past December, however, I noticed a particular hype around his new album and knew that if he'd lasted this long in the game, then he was probably someone worth tuning in to. Is it bad that I can't name ONE of his previous songs/hits though? How did that happen? Even weirder...I Googled them and noticed that I've apparently been listening to (and liking) J Cole all along. Go figure.


07) 2 Chainz: I effing LOVE 2 Chainz
08) Emotionally Stable & Musical Kanye West
09) Nas, my eternal favourite rapper
10) Old School T.I...not new Reality TV T.I.
11) Eminem (where's he at?)

12) Kendrick Lamar (shame on me, I know)
13) A$AP Rocky
14) Travis Scott


15) Lil Yachty (I refuse)
16) Desiigner (is he serious?)
17) Meek Mill (lame)
18) Lil Wayne (gone too far)
19) Tyga (Kylie thanks)
20) Kodak Black
21) Young Thug
22) Future (I have a feeling I might like him, though)
23) Migos
24) Lil Uzi Vert (huh?)
25) Rae Sremmurd (but that "Black Beatles" is a banger, love it)

Regardless if I get around to all of their music or not this year, even just writing this has shown me just how many [relatively new] rappers there are out there, and that this is a musical force that will hopefully never lose its realness, and never lost its ability to impact, influence, and move generations. If rappers get it right, they will eventually, collectively, use their superpowers for the greater good. Organized. Fingers crossed.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.