Latest News: Nicki Minaj

Musical Realness

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It was just a couple of weeks ago that Peter Rosenberg, a DJ for New York's iconic Hot 97, caused a small wave in music culture by dissing Nicki Minaj's song “Starships” by saying it wasn't real hip hop. Minaj responded by withdrawing from her appearance at Hot 97's Summer Jam. Although it may seem like that issue is dead and buried, the beef squashed and people moving on, rest assured that it will come back again, if not with Nicki Minaj, than with someone else. This argument is part of a cycle; it's always going to come up. This is the battle to define a genre through one intangible that has many names: realness, street cred, artistic integrity – take your pick. For evidence of this, one only needs to look to last year's Lana Del Rey explosion and pushback, where the battleground was in indie culture. While it's obvious now that Lana Del Rey belongs squarely in the pop genre, her debut was met with a little more flexible vagueness: she utilized a retro style in her persona, video and music (retromania being a modern indie hallmark), and she could have passed for a pure singer-songwriter if she stayed in this lo-fi, low budget space. The Pitchfork Best New Music review, which went a long way in establishing her in the indie culture, even compares her to Cat Power. So when it came to light that this was a rebooted career of Lizzy Grant, and perhaps this whole thing is just a major label sham and ham-fisted attempt at creating an indie crossover star, the blogosphere exploded with criticisms and counters. These, and all arguments about realness and credibility, are merely efforts of people to define the genre they love when they feel it is slipping away from them. The only difference is in the players and pieces. Hip hop still has gatekeepers like major radio stations whose words and opinions can still cause some sort of sea change. Indie has abdicated their cultural guarding to the collective blogosphere, especially in the major news websites like Pitchfork and Stereogum. Funkmaster Flex rails against commercial rap that has “lost the streets”, and every blog big and small has something to say about Del Rey. The reason these things inspire so many urgent opinions and thinkpieces is that what's at stake here is a genre: is it real, or is it corporate? Is it art, or is it the manipulations of capitalism? Is it for us, or is it for them? The problem with this line of thought, while passionate and well-intentioned, is that genres can never be defined by something as vague and tenuous as realness. As soon as you take out the microscope to scrutinize the nature of credibility and integrity, it begins to fall apart. It begins to get into the complicated, head aches of determining the definition of truth – who’s to say someone’s emotional expression is fake just because a major publisher is backing it? Why can’t someone work in more than one genre? Do manipulations matter if they convince us completely? Have we already been manipulated? Whenever this type of speech has been brought up, in any medium (real sci-fi, real street art) it has always been the same dynamic: purists of what was once a small, counter-cultural genre feeling the whole thing slipping away from them. It's hard not to sympathize. We identify so strongly with our tastes that we start to feel ownership of the things we love, and that can be hard to accomplish when the door is kicked down and the Johnny-come-lately crowds rush in. But that's not only how cultures expand, it's also inevitable. In our consumerist culture, where marketability eventually absolves every subculture into its dark heart, it's going to happen sooner or later, and it's going to happen often. The important thing for enthusiasts and purists to remember is that genres are big tents, and they can let anyone in without ruining the structural integrity of indie, or hip hop, or folk. Because even when Bob Dylan went electric, folk music didn’t just change, it thrived. The simplest solution has always been to work on the parts you can control in the self: like what you like, and don’t what you don’t.

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Halftime Shows Are Weird

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America's sporting events provide some of its biggest and best spectacle. But what would a spectacle be without a musical interlude for the half-time show? The most recent one that had people talking was Pitbull, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown at the NBA All-Star Game. However, the granddaddy of them all is and always will be the Super Bowl. This year saw controversy yet again with the half time show featuring Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj and MIA; a big brouhaha generating the most significant chatter since that thing with Justin Timberlake & Janet Jackson. But you know what? At least it's something to talk about. It's better for a halftime show to generate some controversy to add to the spectacle than for it to be just plain bad. Case in point, the halftime shows of Super Bowls past. Although the game itself has always been a major event, it was not always such a prestigious venue for the biggest acts in pop music. At its worst, it was awkward and poorly-chosen filler. It was January of 1989 and the San Francisco 49ers were taking on the Cincinatti Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. In the months before, the likes of Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, Guns N' Roses and Whitney Houston were tearing up the charts. But superstars like these were not scheduled to perform. Instead, a singing magician/ Elvis impersonator, by the name of Elvis Presto, performed a giant card trick. Check this out: There is absolutely no reason for this guy to have to sing his magic tricks – or, rather, lip sync his magic tricks. He doesn't really look like Elvis, either. As far as I can tell, the only possible reason for his shtick could be that he came up with that Presley/Presto pun, and justified it by building his entire career around it. But the ultimate legacy of bad halftime performances has to be that of Up With People, which Wikipedia insists is an educational organization, yet they keep on dancing and singing. Seriously: Up With People performed during the Super Bowl halftimes for '76, '80, '82 and '86. One man with a narrow sense of entertainment must have been booking the show for the better part of a decade. If you watch the performances today, it is amazingly dated, yet somewhat entertaining in a bewildering, ludicrous nature. The tacky fashions of the day, the decidedly uncool choreography, the complete absence of youth; it is the type of pop culture time capsule that makes you think “I can't believe that people once considered this to be the pinnacle of entertainment”. Of course, it's possible that you're just not jaded or cynical. Maybe you see these Up With People shows as good, old-fashioned, harmless fun. That's okay. But you have to think about this: Why, at America's biggest sporting event, was it decided that the musical entertainment would be an educational organization (sporting bad mustaches and bell bottoms, no less) doing musical theater renditions of other artist’s hits? Halftime shows, in whatever sport, are always going to tread into some weird territory. Because of the one-time crossover audience, they often book acts that are irrelevant to the average sports fan. I doubt many NFL die-hards are big Madonna fans, let alone enjoy spending their off-nights watching Elvis Presto dazzle the crowds at the local VFW. Still, it's better to do it big and bold, rather than bad and butt-ugly.

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Predicting The 54th Grammys

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It wasn't too long ago that the nominees for the 54th Grammys were announced, and it looks like a crowded field out there. In the interest of blogging, here's a look at the four big categories, the nominees, and a measured estimate of who's taking home the gold. Song Of The Year Nominees: Adele – Rolling in the Deep, Kanye West – All Of The Lights, Bruno Mars – Grenade, Bon Iver – Holocene, Mumford & Sons – The Cave. If we're talking about impact and having an amazing year, it's hard to imagine any other song getting this honor besides Adele's “Rolling in the Deep.” It's been everywhere with good reason. I can see Kanye's hook-laden “All Of The Lights” getting a win, and Bon Iver is the unpredictable indie longshot, but Adele seems like the safest bet. Bruno Mars and Mumford & Sons have relatively young careers that probably haven't begotten their biggest work. Record of the Year Nominees: Adele – Rolling in the Deep, Bon Iver – Holocene, Bruno Mars – Grenade, Mumford & Sons – The Cave, Katy Perry – Firework. The key difference between this category and the previous one is that this is dedicated to the overall recording process of a single track, so the award goes not just to the songwriter, but the performer, producer, engineer and mixer. With that said, I'm most impressed by Bon Iver's “Holocene.” It's an elegant, moving production that invokes gravity better than “The Cave.” So that's my pick. But, as anyone who has ever liked music knows, the Grammys can be a little weird in their actual awarding. If the Academy is being the Academy, I can imagine Bruno Mars and all the shiny frills of “Grenade” getting the nod. Best New Artist Nominees: The Band Perry, Bon Iver, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, Skrillex What a diverse category. Last year, when Arcade Fire won Album of the Year, there was a portion of the listening populace that thought their win was more of a recognition of their classic album “Funeral” than a statement on the quality of “The Suburbs.” If Bon Iver wins this category, I think the same idea applies, as his real breakout was 2008's “For Emma, Forever Ago.” The Band Perry just seems to be the dark horse candidate that can very possibly take it home. The “wouldn't it be crazy if?” option is Skrillex and his brand of dubstep dissonance. Album of the Year Nominees: Adele – 21, Foo Fighters – Wasting Light, Bruno Mars – Doo Wops and Hooligans, Lady Gaga – Born This Way, Rihanna – Loud. The Foo Fighters might come away with the delayed recognition for their body of work, the way Scorcese never got his Oscar until 2006, but in my gut it feels like a toss-up between Adele and Lady Gaga. Both performers have won the year in terms of pop culture pervasiveness, but as you know, the Grammys can be weird. None of the nominees are set to frustrate young people (see 2008's Herbie Hancock win) so whoever ends up with the big one is going to have a ton of supporters.

Be sure to check out:

Vitamin String Quartet Performs Adele Available at iTunes and Amazon

Vitamin String Quartet Performs Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Available at iTunes and Amazon

Vitamin String Quartet Performs Lady Gaga Available at iTunes and Amazon

Shape and Colour of My Heart: The String Quartet Tribute to Foo Fighters Available at iTunes and Amazon

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