Monday, 31 March 2014

Friday, 28 March 2014

PRINTED WORDS / Iconic Magazine Issue #14 OUT NOW

The latest issue of Iconic is available for purchase. 

The theme? Michael Jackson's music, of course.


Highlights housed inside include a look at the 1984 Grammys when Michael Jackson kicked ass (x8), analytic looks at Jackson's use of sampling, his anthemic songs and the lyrics of 'Tabloid Junkie'.

There are also exclusive interviews with those who worked closely with Michael Jackson in the recording studio - Robb Hoffman (sound engineer on HIStory and Blood On The Dance Floor) and Matt Forger (held various technical roles from Thriller onward and is still involved with Jackson's estate today).

For my part, I've contributed a playlist of the music Michael Jackson himself liked to listen to. Plus an essay on his approach to love songs. 

As ever, Iconic continues to be an indispensable read for fans who are keen to deepen their MJ knowledge. 

Buy your copy HERE

Browse back issues of Iconic HERE

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

DIGITAL WORDS / Behind The Aura: The Risky Business of Lady Gaga

Find the original post HERE

Why did the world come to a shuddering halt a couple of weeks ago to watch and condemn Lady Gaga having paint spit up on her? Why wasn’t anyone more dazzled by her human BBQ rotisserie opening number? That shit was cool.

Lady Gaga’s SXSW show was hardly the first time she’s gone out on a limb in the name of risky performance art. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time regurgitation artist Millie Brown has spewed on her (see the ‘Exorcist Interlude’ from Gaga’s 2009-2011 Monster Ball Tour for evidence).

In the pop star stakes, Gaga has always been a risk taker. She hung herself live on stage for her MTV VMA debut performance, the following year she swept the board whilst dressed in preserved meat, and in 2011 she turned up in drag: the Video Music Awards and planet pop belonged to Gaga.

Yet for last year’s awards ceremony she opened the show with ‘Applause’ and spent the rest of the evening dressed in a sea-shell bra and nude thong… And no one really cared. The next day’s headlines did not belong to her but to the car crash spectacle of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke.

As well as the VMA upstaging and vomit-gate, a few of Gaga’s most recent moves haven’t exactly paid off either. She turned up to The Oscars and no one was sure why. Yeah, she made her silver screen debut in Machete Kills, but, again, no one was exactly fussed. The video for ‘Do What You Want’ with R Kelly never materialised and a new version was recorded withChristina Aguilera after critics, quite rightly, asked why a star with such publicity powers as Gaga chose to share her spotlight with a proven sexual predator. The Aguilera hook-up was less a power diva dream duo, and more a disappointingly ad-hoc exercise in barrel scrapping. Plus two pop stars, who have both endured media scrutiny of their sizes, singing about the insignificance of the physical form now that they have lost their previous excess weight wasn’t exactly inspiring. Lady Gaga’s loosening grip over her success was translated into cold statistics when first week sales of ARTPOP petered out at 258,000 – just over a quarter of the million-plus units Born This Way sold in seven days back in 2011.

Whilst Lady Gaga was right to complain during her SXSW keynote speech about the pressure placed upon her and the nonsensical competition drummed-up between herself and pop stars of the more conventional kind (e.g. Katy Perry), it doesn’t seem so unfair to compare her current work to that of Gaga of yesteryear… You remember her, the downtown NY girl with a hair bow on her head, a disco stick in her hand and a hunger for nothing but fame in her heart. She was once so sure of herself and secure in her self-made persona that she was happy to work “Gaga” into the vocal hook of many of her biggest hits.

What seems to be the crux of Gaga’s current hit-and-miss status is an apparent identity crisis. She once claimed “I would rather die than have my fans not see me in a pair of high heels” and yet there she was live at SXSW barefoot in ripped fishnets and a baggy Iron Maiden shirt. The video for ‘Marry The Night’ portrayed Gaga having a break down following the premature termination of her first record deal. So severe was her anguish that ‘Marry The Night’ showed her being hospitalised on the grounds of broken dreams. But she told the sold-out SXSW crowd, “You don't need a fucking record label, you don’t need a company you are the spirit of every artist!” And for concrete evidence of a conflicted sense of self, please compare the austere, gravelly-voiced Gaga who spoke slowly but assuredly about her artistic identity on Newsnight and the utterly bizarre faux baby-voiced interview she gave to Jimmy Kimmel recently.

With her nigh-on instantly iconic place in pop achieved through a succession of early, faultless singles it seems as though Lady Gaga feels the need to reevaluate what her fame and status means and should be used for. She came, she saw, she conquered – what next?

As she continues to preach her message of art and pop, creativity and rebellion (as if the concepts had been mutually exclusive until now…) and vital members of the Haus of Gaga drop away (manager Troy Carter – gone, stylist Nicola Formichetti – gone, choreographer Laurieann Gibson – gone), it seems Lady Gaga is seizing control of her own raging evolution. Whilst her current output may well be irregular in quality, her unflinching desire to take risks is the key to her pop supremacy. You may not like her next song, video or outfit, but you can never second-guess her. Most A-list acts are happy to tick boxes and fit moulds, but Lady Gaga is willing to challenge herself and her audiences regardless of whether she’s critically rewarded or not.

ARTPOP is a frustrating record, no doubt about it, but with the luxurious revenge drama of the ‘G.U.Y.’ video looking like her best short-film yet and the mammoth, lucite stage set for her ‘artRAVE’ world tour, we may be about to witness the second coming of Lady Gaga… Or maybe not. You never know with her. 

Written for Planet Notion

Monday, 10 March 2014

I Like... Learning about Swan Lake / "I was perfect"

I implore you and everyone you know to watch this brilliant BBC documentary, Good Swan, Bad Swan: Dancing Swan Lake. 

In just an hour you will learn about the history of Swan Lake's story, music, choreography, performance evolution, and the psychoanalytic touching-points of this ultimate dark fantasy. 

Plus it focuses on the production of Swan Lake given by the English National Ballet last year in-the- motherfucking-round at the Royal Albert Hall. It was the most unbelievable spectacle my eye balls have ever witnessed. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

I Hate... The Metro's two-star review of 'G I R L' / "Come get it bae"

I don't usually get riled up enough by inept music reviews to write about it (a disappointed huff is normally sufficient) but I cannot and will not let today's Metro (March 7) get away with their judgement of Pharrell Williams' G I R L.

Alex Macpherson awarded this gorgeous triumph of an album two measly stars.

It's a five-star affair, all the way.

He calls it "nostalgia-pandering retro". 

I highly doubt that Pharrell's target market and biggest fans are old enough to have been around for disco and Prince's heyday - the influences that dominate G I R L - the first time round.

He labels Pharrell "an artist content to make conservatively tasteful decisions".

He is an artist that has made his name by being a leader and a trendsetter with a tireless work ethic. "Content" is the last word that should ever be ascribed to Mr. Williams.

'Happy' is maligned as being "cruise ship cheesiness".

Lighten up. Stop trying to make people feel guilty about enjoying life, even if it is just for the few minutes they listen to 'Happy'. 

'Gust Of Wind' (featuring Daft Punk) and 'Brand New' (featuring Justin Timberlake) are described as "forgettable radio fodder".

In what twisted universe are these beautiful, uplifting and perfectly executed songs "forgettable radio fodder"? This really pushed me over the edge. Macpherson is now picking on the album's best songs. My mouth fell open at this judgement. And what radio station is he listening to anyway? It must be hella good...

'Hunter' is dismissed for sounding like a "demo".

It's actually rather stylishly minimal but with an insistent dose of funk. Just because it doesn't have the luxurious flushes of, say, 'Marilyn Monroe', does not make it any less worthy.

Pharrell's voice is branded as a "lightweight falsetto" and his lyrics an "embarrassment".

Actually, the number of guests that pop up on G I R L frustrates me a little as I want to hear Pharrell's delicate vocals through and through his songs. As for his lyrics, he portrays himself as smooth and playful and clearly pays no mind to conforming to the macho ideals for R&B male protagonists.

Who knew a reviewer could get so many things so wrong in less than 150 words. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

DIGITAL WORDS / Five Pharrell Williams Tracks You Forgot You Love

Find the original post HERE


It just came out yesterday but you’re probably already captivated by Pharrell Williams’ new album G  I  R  L. He dominated the sound of the summer with his turns on ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines’, and can anyone remember what life sounded like pre ‘Happy’? As the most prolific artist of our generation let us not forget the resplendent treasures Pharrell has spoiled us with previously.

Here are five Pharrell Williams tunes that you forgot were wholly amazing…


A baby faced Pharrell (not that he’s actually aged at all…) dropped the sparkling ‘Frontin’’ as his premiere solo single. At the time he insisted that this minimal groove was to be a one-off as he wanted to be recognised as a producer rather than a standalone artist… Thank the heavens he changed his mind about that. 

Can I Have It Like That

The lead single from Pharrell’s debut solo LP In My Mind (which, weirdly, is not available on iTunes – WTF?) is a stone cold stonker. Feast upon its glam brass intro and bridge, that deep down throbbing bass and the nonchalant one line exchanges between Skateboard P and Gwen Stefani. Yes, Pharrell, you can have it like that. (NB The official video is not on YouTube. I repeat: WTF?)

Take It Off (Dim The Lights)

An album track from the aforementioned, and criminally underrated, In My Mind, this smooth R&B jam sees Pharrell proclaiming himself to be “a master baby with your bra” and offering to “help you slide those panties off”. ‘Take It Off’ is also notable for complimenting the texture of a woman’s backside (“Damn that booty’s so soft”) rather than its size. Get moisturising that behind. 

Rock Star

Here’s the definitive example of how masterfully N*E*R*D melded rap and rock into fluid swag. Let’s also take a second to remember how cool those Neptunes trucker caps were. Pharrell was setting headwear trends way before that Vivienne Westwood mountain hat happened ya know.  

Lap Dance

Whilst Pharrell has described G  I  R  L as being inspired by the power of women, back in the day (and by “the day” we mean 2001) he was all about the strip club and being a “dirty dog”. Funk doesn’t come much filthier than ‘Lap Dance’ and its accompanying video makes every other rap depiction of fleshly indulgence seem shy and retiring. 

Written for GALORE

Saturday, 1 March 2014


I wrote about must-have music apps for the March edition of Company.