Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Best Stuff of 2013

Here are some things I have noticeably liked more than others in 2013...

Collage provided by kawaiihunny.tumblr.com 

Best songs of the Year

Drake – ‘Hold On (We’re Going Home)’ Well, duh. Of course this is the best song of the year.

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ Congratulations to Arctic Monkeys for getting their groove back this year and making music that sounds like they care again – typified by this engorged, slow-burning number.

Summer Camp – ‘Fresh’ *Sigh* If only there was something anywhere near as good as this swooning disco beauty on their self-titled second album…

Daft Punk – ‘Giorgio By Moroder’ We all felt similarly let down by Random Access Memories: “Wait, what do you mean it’s not got 13 ‘Get Lucky’’s? We demand JUSTICE” (not the rival French electronic group – the abstract noun). This explosive track was the album’s saving grace.

Lady Gaga – ‘Do What U Want’ ARTPOP’s finest cut by a long shot but how are we supposed to respond to R.Kelly’s participation? How are we supposed to digest Gaga’s sexualised live deliveries of this song which totally undermine the moral message? And when will she stop caring about that week when people called her fat and start fighting back against the idea that she’s over? Seems just a little bit more important…

Albums of the Year

WHO CARES? Why has every music criticism outlet bothered with an ‘Albums of 2013’ list? There has not been one single million-selling album this year. No one is buying them. Even when big hitters release an LP it sells an okay amount (i.e. enough to achieve a No. 1 debut) and then drops off the radar within a number of weeks (if not, days). There’s just no point… We need music with staying power.

Film of the Year

Behind The Candelabra Devastatingly good cinema thanks to all the right ingredients: a "I can’t believe it is, but it damn well is" true story, sensitive character portrayals and stunning visuals.

Book of the Year

Morrissey’s Autobiography It was worth waiting for: Morrissey, in his own words. There were lines which caused roaring laughter and passages that evoked intense sadness. Did it make the author any more knowable? No, of course not. Did it make you want to know everything about him? Yes, of course. Autobiography functions in the same way all of Morrissey’s lyrics do; posing as stark confessionals but in actual fact are unravelable paradoxes. 

Another special year-end title for Morrissey is Best Trousers of 2013 for the airy flares he sported at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert – very stylish.

Artist of the Year

Easy decision: Bruno Mars. For anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing his Moonshine Jungle Tour you don’t need me blabbering on about his faultless versatility. His half-time show at the Superbowl will be the moment the unconverted agree he is in the superstar league.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

DIGITAL WORDS / Seasonal Skincare Saviours

I wrote about winter skincare for Planet Notion

Read it HERE

Picture by Emma Hoareau

Saturday, 30 November 2013

PRINTED WORDS / Iconic Magazine Issue #13 OUT NOW

The latest issue of Iconic is out now. And it's a really good one.

Firstly, let's look at that cover. What you're looking at is a never-before-seen shot taken by photographer Scott Christopher (whom also took this rather newsworthy image) and I interviewed for the issue.

Another enlightening interview I conducted was with Craig Williams - the director of the forthcoming documentary Michael Jackson: The Last Photo Shoots. He's a fascinating fella with other MJ projects on the go that fans need to know about... 

And to complete a triumvirate of world exclusive interviews is a talk with Jonathan Morrish who (as fans will know) worked for CBS/Sony as Michael's PR from 1976 until 2001. He rarely speaks about Michael so this is an interview not to be missed.

Elsewhere in this business-themed edition is a definitive guide to the ATV Catalog, an article on a lost Michael Jackson perfume and an intriguing investigation into MJ's HIStory album track 'Money'.

Do not delay, get your issue here.

PRINTED WORDS / Album Reviews

Taken from Classic Pop issue 7 November/December 2013


(Click to read)

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I Like... Wishing upon stars / It Makes No Difference Who You Are, Y'know?

This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

This is happiness incarnate.

This. Is. It.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

DIGITAL WORDS / Lady Gaga "ARTPOP" Album Review

Like the rest of the world, I too have an opinion on Lady Gaga and her latest album/app/manifesto – ARTPOP. And the fact that everyone has their two cents at the ready to greet Gaga’s latest release is, of course, a testament to the Lady’s uncanny ability to generate intrigue and irritability in equal measure.

ARTPOP is the album that could have never been. Had a hip injury, subsequent surgery and a rest period of six months not derailed her Born This Way Ball world tour, Lady Gaga would have only wrapped up the globe-spanning jaunt in March 2013 – with precious little time to produce the 15-track, Jeff Koons sculpture-fronted ARTPOP.

Born This Way was a mess, something that was seemingly confirmed by the album’s utterly unappealing motorbike metamorphosis artwork. It was the kind of mess that isn’t made up purely of garbage, but more like the type of heap one accumulates when desperately trying to have a spring clean: should I keep this? Should I not? Oh, I may need that at some point for some reason in the future. A mish-mash of essentials and disposables. There was good amongst the bad, and treasure amongst the trash (the Clarence Clemons-featuring ‘The Edge Of Glory’ and roaring ‘Marry The Night’ were both distinct highlights).

The chief downfall of Gaga’s Born This Way was the multifarious vision behind it. In her self-appointed role as liberator of the underdog, Lady Gaga took it upon herself to write anthems for the freaks, the geeks, the gays and Mexican immigrants (see ‘Americano’) in the hope of liberating pretty much everyone everywhere who has ever experienced oppression in any form. It was a noble quest but too far-reaching and a little hard to swallow from a woman who had previously admitted to wanting nothing more than to be famous, and so accordingly named her previous releases The Fame and The Fame Monster.

With ARTPOP, Gaga has responded wisely by producing a rave-pop record that acknowledges that she is indeed a massive pop star, first and foremost. Unlike Born This Way there is barely any genre experimentation and her penchant for Euro dance ruthlessly dominates which, in turn, makes one half of ARTPOP an entirely worthwhile unified vision of glossy brilliance and the other a rather monotonous affair.

So, the bad news first… Lady Gaga, we get it; you like fashion, sex and weed, but unless you are going to do something new with such boring topics, please don’t bother at all. Having recently stated that outlandish attire allows her to deal with her “insanity”, one would hope for anything more illuminating on the subject of the sartorial sphere than what Gaga gives us here in the form of ‘Donatella’ and ‘Fashion!’ (the latter not to be confused with the similarly vacuous ‘Fashion’ of 2007). Equally yawnsome is ‘Sexxx Dreams’ which, not-so-scandalously, touches upon the subject of sex! And – cover your ears, Ethel – female masturbation! ‘G.U.Y.’ (an acronym for “Girl Under You”) has some beginner’s attempts at gender politics but the beats outshine the lyrics with ease. And no matter how tearfully Gaga sings “I need you more than dope” (on ‘Dope’), it’s still the lowest compliment I can imagine anyone dishing out or receiving.

And onto the good news… The same enticingly bonkers sensibility that produced ‘Paparazzi’ and ‘Bad Romance’ is still alive and well in the form of the self-produced galactic throb of ‘Venus’ and wandering EDM of ‘Aura’ – although step lightly when it comes to the misplaced musings on burqas in the latter. However where Gaga does successfully serve up a well-meaning message is ‘Do What U Want’: “You can’t have my heart and / You won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body”. If only someone had communicated the actual, liberating moral of the song to Gaga’s collaborator, R.Kelly; whose body, his body is telling him "yes", and remains fixated on the corporeal with a phoned-in-from-the private-jet couple of verses. It’s a shame too that Gaga chose to illustrate this metallic R&B jam with cover art that depicts a barely dressed, airbrushed arse-only shot (the deformed gruesome guise she tries on for ‘Dope’’s promotional picture is far actually intriguing and challenging).

“Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?” Gaga asks on ARTPOP’s opening number. Honestly, no. The idea and artifice of Lady Gaga is wildly more captivating than the Stefani Germanotta that lies behind and, thankfully, Gaga knows this too. On ARTPOP Gaga graciously accepts her pop queen crown and puts down her homemade freedom-fighter megaphone. Gaga plays the fame game well and to stay ahead of Miley, Rihanna, Katy et al – all of which blindly followed her, sometimes literally, naked ambition – she must continue to distort and disfigure pop music and it’s accepted conventions, as she does just intermittently on ARTPOP.

Written for Rock's Backpages

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Friday, 18 October 2013


Taken from IDOL Magazine Issue #6

Photography by Eli Schmidt 

I meet Cody Critcheloe at a London hotel, on his day off between European tour dates. He s curled up in a lounge chair dressed in a neon yellow twin set. I can't help but notice he bears a notable resemblance to a young Alice Cooper, but he's so meek and unassuming. It's initially difficult to reconcile him with the outlandish, dissident art collective he's been leading since 1996.
Cody Critcheloe is the head of Ssion (pronounced "shun" - we'll get to the name later). Ssion is a communal art group that produces music, visuals and films of the seemingly contradictory punk pop kind. The energy is raw and DIY. The delivery is accessibly glossy. With revolving cast members, 30-year-old Cody is the one continual presence. "It's a spearheaded collaboration," Cody explains.
However, when asked to define himself and what he does, it's not so easy to pinpoint: "I'm a musician, an artist, a director - all of the above. I guess it depends on what I'm doing at the time." To get a clearer idea of who Cody Critcheloe is, refer to the subversive spirits he lists as his idols: Kathleen Hanna, Courtney Love, Little Richard, Prince, Dead Kennedys. "Anyone who comes along and is fucking shit up and causing some trouble," he says. 
While it cannot be denied that Cody has an eye and talent for visuals (he's directed videos for CSS, Santigold and Peaches as well as his own fanciful shorts), Critcheloe admits that music is the beating heart of Ssion. "The music is the vehicle for all of the visual stuff and gives life to Ssion. I love directing, drawing and making videos but those things wouldn't exist or exist in the same way without the music." Ssion's music has evolved over the years. For those who got wise to Ssion via the 2011 LP Bent, Cody's punk background may come as a surprise. Compare and contrast the technicolor alt-disco fest of Ssion's 2010 track and video 'Clown' with 2006's 'World's Worth', which features rough garage guitars, Cody snarling the chorus "you only wanna come" whilst dressed like a cow, thrashing around against a background of barely censored porn snippets.

As many mutations as Ssion's music may undergo, one thing will remain unchanged: the baffling but brave band name. "Ssion is such a good name," Cody says, smiling. "I love the way it looks. The name has been the one thing that's constant. And considering how much my opinion changes on things! But I will always love that name." He admits to some "ridiculous" band monikers in his high school days, such as a punk trio called The Khaos Kittens, but Ssion is the perfect stylishly perplexing name for the artistic statements that Critcheloe makes.
Ssion made their musical debut back in 1999 with a self-released cassette called Fucked Into Oblivion. The aforementioned Bent album earned Ssion some long overdue attention. It must have felt like a significant step forward, right?
"I didn't see it as a breakthrough," says Cody, "because everything's so slow. It's more about being successful over time. I don't see it as necessarily a bad thing. I mean, you don't want to peak when you're 23." Bent is an underground gem of a pop record and the most accessible of Ssion's back catalogue, which was Cody's unashamed goal: "I wanted to make the most pop record I could." The title too was a perfect fit: "I was like, 'Oh, it sounds like a Pet Shop Boys album.' I liked the negative connotations of it too. It's a good pop title - it's easy and direct."
Bent was another self-release for Ssion. As Cody frankly states, "There was no one who was interested in putting it out. There was no label. It was a very do-it-yourself operation." So with a lack of traditional outlets, the decision was made to give the album away for free online: "It reached a lot of people. There was an insane amount of downloads within the first week." This release method for Bent was a DIY move that recalled the ethics of Cody's punk background. Speaking of which...

Where did Ssion's visionary frontman come from anyway? Was he hatched from a disco ball incubated by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol? 
"I'm from Kentucky originally," Cody relays. It was a secluded, small-town upbringing. It was the isolation of his hometown that allowed Critcheloe to discover and nurture his creativity. "It just pushed me further in that you have to make do with what you have. It was really good because you don't get jaded by things so you stay excited and remain idealistic." Cody made a move to Kansas City, and that's where Ssion was first formed. "It's a cool city. It's really small but has a lot of very proactive art communities." 
Although Cody lives in New York, KC will always have the edge over NYC for him: "I still do a lot of my work back in Kansas City because it's a lot cheaper, and I just love the way it looks. It's a way weirder environment and is so much cooler than New York." Ssion is sometimes referred to as a New York outfit, yet Cody says his work isn't about New York. "I do not come from New York, and we're not a New York band."
But the city did provide a significant performance platform. Ssion played a three-night stint at the Museum of Modern Art PS1. Cody had the opportunity to stage the kind of pop-punk spectacle he had only fantasised about.
"It was the first time I've ever had that type of budget to do the kind of show I've always wanted to do. We spent two months putting the show together in Kansas. It was really awesome and well received. I would love to travel a show like that. That is my dream." Ssion's headline European tour, 10th to 30th June 2012, couldn't be more removed from their large-scale installation and performance piece at PS1: "The show we're touring now feels rooted in punk rock. It's been one of the best tours we've ever been on." 
In fact, touring is a part of the job Cody really loves. Talking about life on the road, he declares, "I love it. I'm actually more apprehensive about when we get off the tour! Even when touring sucks and it's a nightmare, I would still rather being doing it."

After the tour, Cody isn't planning on taking a break. "We will definitely be doing another record but right now it's all about figuring out what direction I want to push that in."
In terms of film projects Cody has big plans: "I would like to do something more along the lines of a short film. I like the idea of it having specifically a soundtrack, as it means I could move away from writing pop songs in the traditional way and have a bit more freedom to experiment - and have more fun with the format." 
As I sit listening to Cody running through all these ideas, he continues to develop them during our conversation. "I don't necessarily want to make a musical-type movie," he continues, "I would prefer it to be more about acting and to have dialogue. I just don't want it to be like a bunch of show tunes!" Anything else? "There's some photography and art-related projects I'm interested in." As we're wrapping up, I remember that this was supposed to be his day off. "I have down time - but I don't do very well with it."

Friday, 11 October 2013

PRINTED WORDS / Klaus Nomi in Classic Pop

Calling all Klaus Nomi fans.

I know you're out there. 

Please pick up the latest issue of Classic Pop magazine as dear Klaus is the subject of a "Pop Art" feature written by yours truly. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

DIGITAL WORDS / "Michael!" Book Review

Find the original post HERE

‘Michael!’ by Mark Bego
Book review by Kate Allen

The enthusiastically titled ‘Michael!’ is a slim vintage book published back in 1984. It serves as a capsule insight into the time when Michael Jackson was truly, without question, considered a global phenomenon.

Written when Michael was just 25 and the world was reeling from the videos for ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’, plus his Motown 25 performance, Mark Bego ensures that his narrative conveys the contextual mania of 1984 through lively prose and a generous smattering of exclamation marks – which is slightly grating after a few pages but as you read on the punctuation does become somewhat humorous.

Unfortunately the book both begins and ends by talking about Michael’s burgeoning film career – a venture that, of course, was never to be. It’s a shame Bego gives so much time to talking up Michael’s acting aspirations and potential as he is writing at a time when Michael, musically, could do no wrong. Surely this should have been his focal concern.

Another unfortunate slip-up made by Bego is his story of the early days of the Jackson 5. Someone clearly didn’t check their sources as Bego, amusingly, informs readers of how Diana Ross made her first-hand discovery of the Jackson 5 in their hometown whilst the band performed as part of a benefit for Richard Hatcher in his bid to become Gary, Indiana’s first black mayor:

“When Diana saw Michael and his brothers she flipped, and immediately got Berry Gordy Jr., the president of Motown Records, on the phone to tell him what she had seen. She made arrangements for the Jackson Five to audition for Motown at Berry’s home in Detroit.”

This is all completely fictitious but as all later books on Jackson tell this same tale in order to contrast it with the true series of events that lead the Jackson family to Motown, it is interesting to see how this casting of Diana Ross as fairy godmother to Michael was believed at the time.

A couple of chapters of ‘Michael!’ are dedicated to interviews of varying significance. An unedited transcript of Bego chatting with Julie Klein – who styled Michael for a promotional photo shoot that saw him don a rather fetching yellow sweater vest and matching bowtie – reveals a few pernickety factoids. An interview with John “Jellybean” Benitez on the other hand is a waste of time and paper. So Jellybean, who is most well-known for his relationship with a young Madonna, remixed ‘Say Say Say’ – umm… okay. Anything else? No? This is a chapter to skip.

Overall ‘Michael!’ is a valuable primary source that conveys Jackson’s global popularity during the early ‘80s. There are attempts to add a layer of analysis to the Michael Jackson story as Bego incorporates quotes from J.M. Barry’s ‘Peter Pan’ to provide a better understanding of this untouchable pop music sensation. However, the principal function of this book is fervent propaganda which wants readers to know that Michael Jackson is the be-all and end-all of popular culture. As Mark Bego excitedly concludes:

“It’s very rare that people all around the world agree on much, but in 1983  it was clear that people on the four corners of the Earth unanimously concur that they are all into Michael Jackson.”  

Written for The Michael Jackson World Network

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

DIGITAL WORDS / Drake "Nothing Was The Same" Album Review

Find the original post HERE

In a post Kanye-West-interview-with-Zane-Lowe world, Drake is looking like an average Joe. He’s a heavyweight big-name, big-bucks star, yet he registers nowhere on the insanity scale of fame. Good for you, Aubrey.

It’s been two years since Drake truly established his widespread appeal with Take Care and, helpfully, this is exactly where Nothing Was The Same picks up from. In a “last time on…” style reminder, Drake lets us know on opener ‘Tuscan Leather’ that he made “20 million” off his last record and he doesn’t plan on changing his winning atmospheric sound or his well-played conflicted sense of character any time soon. Yet it’s not money that Drake sees as his biggest boasting point.

Yes, he may have recently come in at No. 11 on Forbes’ highest-earning hip-hop list, but mainstream success and recognition is what Drake seems to want to show-off and have his contemporaries bow down to. “Degenerates, but even Ellen loves our shit,” Drake quite appropriately points out. He’s right – how many other rappers can comfortably appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show? And when he semi brags, “I’m just as famous as my mentor” it feels like Drake is displaying that rare beast of modesty in hip-hop as, let’s face it, Drake is making better records and accruing more fans than Lil Wayne right now.

Drake’s growing fame is down to the fact that he is a different calibre of rap star to that of Weezy. Although he has mastered his dichotomy of braggadocio rapper and sensitive singer well, we all prefer the latter mode. Girls love the Drake who says the stuff they want to hear. You know, like liking your hair when it’s wet, noticing that you’ve been eating right, working out and getting an education… Swoon. Again, how many rappers could get away with professing, “Next time we fuck, I don’t wanna fuck, I wanna make love” (‘Own It’) or plainly talking through a deep sense of regret and loss over an ex (‘From Time’)?

More than this, it’s Drake’s ability to get introspective and show off his vulnerability (all the while propped up by a gorgeously minimalist yet sprawling R&B backdrop) that sets him apart and makes his brand of hip hop so prevalently esteemed.

The straight down the line R&B heartthrob is his strongest suit and he should stick to it more often. As showcased on ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ – aka the best song of the year, no question – he can do insanely catchy hooks and auto-tune-free vocals. And as the accompanying video proves, Drake can and will save you from a hostage situation and put his jacket over your shoulders once his heroic mission has been completed. This is the Drake we want, know and love; if he can curb the seemingly requisite ego trips, Drake could produce an entire album as perfect as ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

PRINTED WORDS / Karley Sciortino Interview

Taken from IDOL Issue #4 (not sure why I didn't post this online sooner...) 

Images by Jesse Untracht-Oakner

Karley Sciortino was a squatter. Sharing with 12 of her friends, it was "all the things you want when you 're in your early twenties. No rules. No rent. Just parties. But it had its drawbacks too. "Not having a shower was the worst thing ever," says Sciortino, "I always looked dirty and had partial dreads." Picking food from the garbage, only eating carbs and weird Marks & Spencer mayonnaise salads... My skin was green. I couldn't do it now."
Sciortino's ketamine chronicles and squatter tales were a large component of her now infamous blog Slutever when she established it in 2007. There's no point in me recounting the utter insanity that made up Karley Sciortino's everyday life – living in abandoned warehouses and sleeping in stairwells –  as no one could possibly tell her story better than the girl herself. If you want to know exactly what life is like when you're making £80 a week, living with three drug dealers and getting arrested three times in six months, do yourself a favour and go raid the Slutever archives.
However, the salient facts are these: Karley Sciortino's writing experience before creating Slutever was limited to enjoying English classes at school and writing "really bad poems." Harbouring ambitions of  becoming an actress, she studied Drama at Kingston University as an exchange student. But she quickly found herself disheartened by "pathetic losers" and frustrated that her higher education consisted of having to "listen to music and make shapes with our bodies."
Dropping out of university aged 19, she committed to the rent-free modern bohemian life of her artist-friend Matthew Stone, whilst "not doing anything, being a little bit of a bum, taking a lot of drugs and hanging out." Another acquaintance of Sciortino's, a staff writer at Dazed & Confused, encouraged her to take up some intern work and advised that "the best way to be a writer is to practice." Thus Slutever was born – a blog made up of Sciortino's carefree lifestyle and, perhaps most provocatively, the peaks and pitfalls of her sex life.
Fast forward to 2012 and the unwashed, unmotivated, sallow-skinned squatter is a far removed image from the Karley Sciortino I meet today in her native New York. Turning up to our interview, she's Amazonian height, dressed in a short denim skater skirt with a bright block coloured blouse and a pair of leather Frye platform sandals that she sourced from a thrift store for $9. Her hair is a scintillating shade of ultra-pale blonde, and her makeup is flawless; even in the 95 °F heat of the city her complexion is a natural matte canvas, and her Amy Winehouse-esque sweeping flicks of liquid black eyeliner remain intact.
It's difficult for me not to be in awe of her. I feel like Aubrey to her seductive Lord Ruthven, or, to be more modern, the Amy Farrah Fowler to her Penny. I've been an avid reader of her blog musings and professional freelance commissions since being introduced to her work as columnist in 2008. I was downright shocked by the outrageous content, but the relaxed informal tone of her writing instantly won me over. And I'm not her only admirer. As we wait to catch the subway later that day, it feels as though every other commuter can't help but look at her – not that she notices. Plus I'm just one of the 100,000 readers that visit Slutever each month.
Slutever is a personal website and a labour of love that's changed over the five years of its existence, says Sciortino. "A lot of what I wrote about when I was in London was my own sex life, and then when I moved to New York I got a boyfriend. And I remember thinking after a while, 'What are you going to write about? Because you can't keep writing about having sex with the same person over and over again' So that's what led to me to start interviewing other people more."
And the "other people" she tends to shine her unique spotlight on are those with particularly outlandish sexual fetishes – with the aim of creating a natural and very real dialogue with people who would normally be perceived as, for lack of a more eloquent word, freaks. Sciortino is adamant that her aim is to humanise sexual misfits. "You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Like, if you drink pee cocktails and saunter around your house in women's nighties, you know what I mean? I'm kind of laughing, but also I'm trying to humanise these people and say, 'Sure, you can laugh at them, but also they can laugh at themselves,'" she explains. "Which everyone should be able to do," she adds, "The main goal is to never exploit anyone, and to be able to show them for who they are."
Her one-woman investigations into sexual behaviours extend into a video series for Vice – her blog in an extremely watchable visual form. She searches for the answer to questions like what to do when you're "at the age where you don't want to date losers anymore." She meets her Internet slave who gets his kicks from financial domination and would send Sciortino gifts and pay her rent. Her videos also provide moral messages like, "If you remember to read lots of books, take your vitamins and not be a total bore, one day you will find that special person who will love you for you, will give you semi-regular orgasms and ask nicely before he puts it in your butt."
A further video venture of Sciortino's is a monthly short film release for the French culture title Purple. Her videos for Purple consist of a series of distinct, unconnected aesthetic projects. Sciortino takes inspiration from the photography of Nan Goldin to create "simple beautiful videos that feel intimate." Sometimes they have a narrative, sometimes they don't. Sometimes Sciortino stars in them, sometimes she doesn't. It's an artistic project that operates completely on her terms and is often an outlet for her brazen exhibitionist side.
Yet although she is willing to share images and information of and about herself that most others would consider strictly private – she once claimed that it's a good idea to post photos of yourself having sex online in order to beat "an asshole ex" inevitably doing so in the future – Sciortino rationalises her unashamed openness as a case of closeted exposure. "I don't want to psychoanalyse myself, but there must be an element of exhibitionism. I like the idea that it's provocative; but I guess there is an exhibitionist quality to me, and I get off on that a little bit. But almost in a cowardly way because I'm not performing in front of people. I'm not reading the words out loud. I'm not stripping," she says. "It's really easy to do all that stuff when you're alone in your apartment – like blogging about sex, or taking pictures of yourself – but you don't have to be there when anybody else sees it. There's a barrier that kind of makes it not so scary. You can upload something, walk away and then not have to think about it."

Whilst she consistently ups the shock factor of her writing and film work, could there be a danger of going from Slutever to "whatever" in the provocative stakes?
In one installment of her Purple video series Sciortino talks about her occasional side job as a dominatrix, specifically how she urinates on men (earning $350 an hour and content for future blog posts). She also talks about the surprisingly short amount of time it took for her to become desensitised to the extreme situations she found herself in. She hesitantly admits that constantly delving into the darker recesses of human desire may be leaving her emotionally indifferent.
"I am conscious of it a little bit," she says, "I was doing an interview with a stripper, and she was talking about how her career as a stripper has now made her become what she believes to be asexual…  I guess I already am there." She pauses. "It feels bad to say, but I feel like I'm at a point where I can have sex with someone and it doesn't mean anything. But you can have sex and it means something as well, but I feel like more often I have the other kind."
However, a common phenomenon amongst the comments left on Slutever.com is the expression of compulsion. Which generally goes along the lines of, "I've read one post on this blog, and I've now spent the day reading all of it." I put it to Sciortino that it's not necessarily what she's writing about that draws in dedicated readers, but rather the fact that it's her writing it. A key strength to her blog is the ease with which she transmits her effervescent personality.
Sciortino agrees that her blog thrives on its protagonist-centred delivery – in a similar vein to Tavi Gevinson's Style Rookie. Both blogs focus on "a girl writing about her personal life and something else," she says. But she also sees her exceptionally gonzo style as the combination of  "the idea of a character" and a real, relatable "normal person."
The explanatory tagline to Slutever is that "This blog is intended to trick strangers into thinking my life is more exciting than it actually is." Therefore it begs the question, what exactly is the fact to fiction ratio to Sciortino's work? "My blog is like a sensational version of my life because it's only the good or interesting parts," Sciortino explains, "It's all true, but it's a very edited-down version of my life."
She compares her editorial process to that of social media. "We all have the ability to curate our lives and edit our lives so that the public perception is the best that it can be," she says. "No one Instagrams when they look like shit or they're crying because they've broken up with their boyfriend. Or no one uploads pictures to Facebook where they look bad." Similarly, Sciortino doesn't write about her part-time job as a waitress as she views it as "a symbol of being unsuccessful."
Through carefully curated diary entries (these being the pieces of written work she feels most proud of due to the time, effort and creativity she invests in them), Karley Sciortino has carved out a niche for herself as perhaps the premier "it girl" of the Internet age. She lures in readers and media interest through an enticing combination of tenacity and well-selected and documented moments of glamour and debauchery whilst still having something of a regular life.
Yet as successful as her online outreach is, the world of printed media – as for everyone everywhere – is not so kind. Following a more professional approach to her blogging duties around 2009, Sciortino's popularity is growing. Professional commissions arise. Sciortino puts her name to cover stories and interviews for a wide variety of high-brow culture titles, but it's no secret that the magazine industry in the 21st century is a bitch. "It angers me a lot that I don't get paid very well. I get paid in pennies for everything I do. It's at the point where I feel like I don't want to do stuff because magazines and websites really exploit the people that work for them. It's actually like, fuck you, I'm working really hard. If you work in the magazine industry or write or make art, you're expected to intern – and you're expected to pay your dues. But when does it stop? When am I going to make money from this? Ever?"
Sciortino justifies her frustrations. She talks about the sacrifices she has made to pursue her creative ambitions, "wanting to be thought of as a successful, powerful woman and not someone who refills soy sauce bottles at a noodle restaurant" and not having a real room in the apartment she shares with another girl.
Her Williamsburg living quarters consist of a cornered-off area of the living room shaped by two curtains with just a mattress in amongst piles of clothes, books and magazines behind. She does find some solace in the philosophy of photographer Bill Cunningham: "If you never accept money from anyone, then they can never tell you what to do." "Which I think is a cool idea," she adds. "So I suppose, not getting paid is a good thing. But that's a bit of a stretch."
Despite the setbacks, it seems that Karley Sciortino is determined to take her reputation as a writer to the next level as she's currently in the early stages of composing her first novel. "I'm kind of writing a book," she somewhat cautiously tells me and keenly stresses that it will be a novel and not a memoir. "I'm calling it fiction because – although it's heavily based on my own life – I feel like if I was calling it a memoir, I would have to be so accurate about facts. But I like the idea of creating and using my own life but also having the freedom to write." She's aiming to have her first draft finished by autumn and is escaping the city for her family home in upstate New York in order to focus on her work and meet her self-imposed deadline before approaching publishers.
Dennis Cooper, Sciortino informs me, is one of her idols. "I think when I started writing, his writing was a really big influence on me. He writes fiction and novels that are very poetic.  He writes about sex and young, skinny, long-haired boys with sunken eyes who are sexually confused. I feel like reading his books really formed the type of guys that I like because I fell in love with all his characters. Like, I want to date a skinny, long-haired, sexually confused teenage boy! Which I still do!" She gushes: "His writing is really beautiful and sexy, but also what I really like is that he expresses a lot of emotion and pain and sadness and love in a very minimal, colloquial way. It's not in any way difficult or academic writing."
It's an evident influence that shows itself on Sciortino's blog through a natural, conversational tone that mirrors her spoken voice. Sciortino concludes, "I think that's why it's readable because it's like someone is talking to you." One can only hope it's an influence that will permeate into her novel. What's sure to remain ever-present in Karley Sciortino's work – whether it is on Slutever, in a magazine, a book or on film – is her headstrong, unapologetic attitude. "If you do something that everyone likes, then there's a problem," she says.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

PRINTED WORDS / The Blueprint Group

Taken from IDOL Magazine Issue #6

Illustration by Leornardo Corredor

Music sales figures in 2013 are not as healthy as they may appear. Single sales continue to soar but the popularity of individual track sales come at the expense of albums. And since album sales are where the real money lies, our shift to cheap digital downloads also comes at the cost of the music industry at large. It's more important than ever for music acts to seek capital elsewhere: touring, endorsement deals and product placements. This is where the Blueprint Group come in.
The Blueprint Group is a full service, multi-platform management and artist and brand development firm with an exclusively hip hop roster of A-list artists including Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. Born out of a merger between management and production companies Hip Hop Since 1978 and Bryant Management, The Blueprint Group turns rap artists into crossover superstars.
They masterminded world tours of Nicki Minaj (Pink Friday), Lil Wayne (I Am Still Music),Drake (Club Paradise)and Jay Z and Kanye West (Watch The Throne) — all of which reached audiences around the globe and brought urban artists into lucrative arena venues. But besides live music, The Blueprint Group's other serious forte is branding.
The company prides itself on aligning its artists with brands to produce high-income business partnerships that raise music artists' profiles and earning potentials. Just a handful of the branding deals The Blueprint Group have generated include Kanye West's line of Air Yeezy sneakers for Nike and a further shoe collection for Louis Vuitton, Lil Wayne's TRUKFIT clothing range, and Nicki Minaj as the face of Adidas and star of MAC cosmetics campaigns.
In essence, The Blueprint Group makes brands out of rappers; and in the process turns their clients' dreams of success into a reality through savvy business acumen. "I'm honoured with that definition," says The Blueprint Group's co-CEO, Cortez Bryant. Alongside Gee Roberson, 33 year-old Cortez Bryant heads up this entertainment branding powerhouse and has amassed an estimated personal net worth of $66 million.
The New Orleans-born entrepreneur learned his craft hands-on — by hitting the road with long-time friend Lil Wayne as well as DMX and Nelly, while still a student at Jackson State University on a music scholarship. Fresh from graduating, Bryant started managing Lil Wayne. He became the Chief Visionary Officer of Wayne's Young Money Entertainment and founded his own management company, which ultimately turned into The Blueprint Group. "Wayne always had trust in me," says Cortez. "He had trust in me to come in straight out of school and ask me to be his manager."
Despite an unsteady start to his career, with the support of his friend and now client Bryant quickly thrived: "It was rocky at the start because I had to prove myself but Wayne has always been loyal to me, even when there's been times when I didn't believe in myself in the music business." On balancing his professional and personal relationship with Wayne, Cortez explains, "It works perfectly… We can turn off and talk about the past and growing up anytime, but we can also turn and talk about business… He trusts me and The Blueprint Group to carry out and represent his brand."
The Blueprint Group have had to fight to give their clients the high profile sponsorship deals and entrepreneurial opportunities they're known for. Despite Cortez's worry that "people are always scared of hip hop", he believes his clients are leaders when it comes to making hip hop mainstream: "As far as I'm concerned, our clients have knocked down a lot of doors for the hip hop space to move forward and to get the culture into that branding space. Now more than ever hip hop is more accepted in the corporate community."
Bryant is being coy. Hip hop is not only accepted by the corporate world, it's positively welcomed. And the jewel in the crown of rap music's crossover success is Onika Tanya Maraj, known as Nicki Minaj. Just as Motown invested heavily in their crossover queen Diana Ross, The Blueprint Group have similarly thrown their weight behind Minaj's widespread appeal. Minaj's pop culture supremacy has been cemented by a continuing string of extracurricular business ventures including, but not exclusive to, a seat on the judging panel of American Idol, being the face of MAC's Viva Glam campaign, creating her own fragrance with Elizabeth Arden, producing a line of nail polishes for OPI and inking a seven-figure endorsement deal with Pepsi. Minaj raps on Drake track 'Make Me Proud', "…best legal team so the deals is ill/It's MAC, OPI and a fragrance too/Apparel, I'm dominating every avenue." You can see why Cortez Bryant says the concept of "selling out" is an "outdated ideal".
To compliment her burgeoning business portfolio, Nicki Minaj has also developed a distinctly loyal and passionate fan base, bolstering her career's longevity. She has accumulated in excess of 16 million followers on Twitter, and her constant activity on social media is an asset that The Blueprint Group admires — but this isn't a requirement they force upon their artists. As Bryant points out, "when we signed her, she was already doing all of that."
He also fondly remembers a dinner date with Minaj that confirmed the closeness between her and her fans — or her "Barbz" and "Kenz" as she's christened them. "Once she was trying to give me a taste of Caribbean food for the first time, so she invited me to this restaurant in New York. I went to the restaurant and there's like 20 people at the table. I thought it was her family but she actually sent out a tweet asking her fans if they wanted to come and eat dinner with her. I thought that was amazing! She knew them by name and was talking to everyone like she knows them. And this was afterSuper Bass. This wasn't like an artist just starting out."
Another high-ranking figure who admires Nicki Minaj's fan interaction savvy is The Blueprint Group's general manager and partner, Al Branch: "The thing about Nicki is that she knows how to conduct herself. I'm really impressed with how she does it." And Al is a man to listen to.
Back in 2009, before The Blueprint Group had come to exist, he wrote an article forBillboard titled "The Deals Of The Future" in which he essentially predicted the formation of the innovative firm he is now a part of. In 2009 Branch argued: "record labels are exploring new and drastically different business models. The model du jour is called a 360 deal, which allows labels to get income from live performances, merchandise sales and other revenue streams… this model could help revolutionise the label as we know it by giving a way to make up for the loss of revenue from sales of recorded music." When asked about the foresight of his Billboard article, Al roars with laughter. "Nobody believes I wrote that!"
So do record companies welcome the money-spinning non-music endeavours The Blueprint Group offer their music artists? Al stands firm that his company supports rather than distracts artists and that whilst record labels are busy surviving, The Blueprint Group is thriving. But surely if branded deals are making up more and more of artists' incomes, they must also be giving a similar ratio of their time and energy to corporate arrangements as they do to their art, which begs the question: should an artist ever compromise their art for the sake of a business opportunity?
"Never," Al asserts.
"Ever" he stresses.
"No," he confirms.
"If a deal isn't right for you, it's going to hurt you in the long run," Branch explains. He points to Jay Z as a shining example of striking the right balance. "He's successful, but at the same time he has never compromised himself." Lil Wayne too, Al believes, is an artist who maintains the right music and business equilibrium. "Wayne is generous, but at the same time he never compromises himself or his art for any brand or partner."
That brings us around to the tricky subject of Lil Wayne's sponsorship deal with Mountain Dew. In March 2012, a multi-million endorsement deal between the PepsiCo-owned soft drink brand and Wayne was announced. It was the biggest sponsorship pay-out in Mountain Dew's history. At the time of the partnership Jamal Henderson, Mountain Dew's brand manager gushed, "We are celebrating Wayne through this campaign as an artist who found his personal success by following his own path." He also praised Wayne for "always dancing outside of the box but mak[ing] no apologies for who he is." Unfortunately, Wayne would be making a public apology just months later.
A lyric written and performed by Wayne on a cameo spot for Future's 'Karate Chop' remix track sparked complaints and the rapper was dropped by Mountain Dew. The lyric in question sees Wayne boast, "Beat the pussy up like Emmett Till". Till's family were incensed and pressured Mountain Dew to sever ties with the rapper.
Emmett Till was a black 14-year-old boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after reportedly whistling at a white woman. The teen was beaten up, had one of his eyes gouged out, was shot in the head, had a cotton gin fan fixed around his neck with barbed wire and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Two white men were acquitted of his murder by an all-white jury. Once Till's mutilated body had been recovered, Emmett's mother insisted on holding a public funeral with an open casket. It was an act that shocked the civil rights movement into America's dialogue.
"We're dealing with Emmett Till's family right now. Direct," Cortez informs us. Whilst Cortez admits he "understands people's sensitivity to this issue," he is also defensive of his client's intentions. "Artists are artists. They use lyrics and words to paint pictures. That applies to artists of every genre." When specifically addressing Wayne's lyric, Cortez maintains, "I think that the emphasis was on how good Wayne is in the bedroom. He took a historical moment and he applied it to his prowess in bed to make a picture… Wayne didn't have any intention to attack what happened or to make light of it. If anything, his plan was to make people realise who Emmett Till was and make people go back and look into that." Nevertheless, Lil Wayne issued a public apology to Emmett Till's family. PepsiCo cancelled their deal with Wayne.
Lil Wayne's endorsement deal, rather than his music, was the focus of the Till family's campaign. Business Week ran the headline, "How Mountain Dew's Hip Hop Ads Misfired".
However, it's onwards and upwards for Cortez, Al and The Blueprint Group — a company that the pair refer to as "a family" and "a blessing." Cortez is excited about the development of young rapper Lil Twist. "You can look out for him as the next artist coming up," Bryant promises. Al too is enthusiastic about the fresh talent The Blueprint Group are involved with, in particular the alternative rock pop sounds of G-Eazy.
As their roster and infrastructure expands, so do their business ventures. They are busy planning projects — a Nicki Minaj KMart clothing line, her own Beats Pro headphones, a range of wine-based low alcohol content beverages called Myx, a part in a movie and a return to the studio.
As Al Branch succinctly concludes, "We want to be like the guys who brought George Foreman to the George Foreman grill."