Sunday, January 20, 2013

1991 | Azealia Banks

Rating: ★★★★☆

The name "Azealia Banks" has been flying around social networking sites and internet forums for a while, and I finally decided to see what this woman was up to a few weeks ago and instantly took a liking to the rapper. I stumbled across her songs "1991" and "212," and subsequently purchased 1991. After only a few listens of the extended play, I am actually pretty impressed with it.

I rarely listen to rap and hip-hop music and I'm actually quite surprised that I took a liking to Azealia Banks, but she has a very unique sound that has the ability to attract fans of many genres, whether it be fans of pop, electronic dance, or rap.

In terms of vocal ability, Banks has the ability to sound like a completely different person in each song of 1991. In one of my favorite songs from the extended play, "212," she has a younger, childish sound, while "Van Vogue" and "Liquorice" carry a bit of an older tone. The title track of the extended play, however, has the most mature sound of all.

While I like the vocals of 1991, it was the instrumental beats of the songs from 1991 that originally attracted me to Banks. All four songs from the extended play have great instrumental backings with a lot of electronic and house-style elements that help make the tracks completely infectious.

The instrumental tracks of "1991" and "212" had me returning to YouTube constantly to replay the songs, and after a few rotations, I finally started to pay attention to the details of the lyrics, as well. I quickly realized that Banks has an amazing ability to create lyrics out of extremely witty comments. Lyrics from "212" like, "Bitch I’m bout to blew up too / I’m the one today / I’m the new shit, boo, young Rapunzel / Who are you bitch, new lunch / I’m-a ruin you, c***" and "You got a lot, but you just waste all yours and / They'll forget your name soon / And won't nobody be to blame but yourself, yeah" just show that Banks knows exactly what she's setting out to be and is ready to fight for the high-ranking title in the music industry.

This massive level of self-esteem also leads Banks into some giant fights with other celebrities. According to the article "A Beef Breakdown: Azealia Banks Vs. Every Rapper, Oh, & Her Management," by Brittany Lewis, Azealia Banks has gotten into feuds with Kreayshawn, T.I., Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, and most recently, Perez Hilton. Some people say that these arguments will ruin her career, but the fact of the matter is that all of the people listed are either irrelevant (Kreayshawn, T.I., Lil Kim) or universally hated already (Minaj and Hilton), so she's simply saying what everyone else has already been thinking.

Banks has even gone as far as writing, recording, and releasing a hate song towards Angel Haze called "No Problems." All of this attitude doesn't just stop there, though. In fact, Banks throws more shade than a palm tree throughout the entirety of 1991, although the hate isn't directed towards one specific person, but is rather used as a warning to everyone that she will be the top rap star at some point. I'm not going to try to judge to whether or not she will be reigning the hip-hop nation one day, but I can assure that at the current moment in time, I think Banks is a pretty impressive artist.

Fans of house-style and techno music, as well as rap and hip-hop followers, ought to look into Azealia Banks and 1991, because they will more than likely be just as impressed as I have been with this up-and-coming artist. The only problem that I can foresee is Banks' language in her music, as she frequently uses offensive words (especially ones beginning with 'c' and 'n'), but it's rap music; it's going to have a lot of 'colorful' language.

Azealia Banks will be dropping her debut studio album, Broke With Expensive Tastes, next month, and I'm sure I'll be taking a listen, especially after her impressive attempt with 1991.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Warrior | Ke$ha

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ke$ha, a name that was spread up and down the Billboard Hot 100 chart two years ago with singles off of her debut album and subsequent EP, Animal and Cannibal, has begun to reappear on the charts with a new release, Warrior.

During its first week of release, Warrior sold 85,000 units, a sales tally that is surprisingly unimpressive from an already-established artist such as Ke$ha. However, many people will agree that Ke$ha sells many more singles than albums. Her singles are strong enough to sell, but not convincing enough to direct the general public to buy an entire album.

“Die Young” was released last year as the lead single for the album, and eventually peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. At first, I was completely annoyed by the song, simply because it sounded so cliché. But since it was released, it has grown on me immensely. I don’t like the song in the sense that it’s creative, (because it is far from creative), but in the sense that it is just a feel-good song that makes listeners want to dance.

Last month, the song dropped significantly on the charts after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. Many radio stations pulled “Die Young” from rotation after the shooting, although the tragedy has no correlation to the song.

But really, does anybody expect any different from Ke$ha? She has never really strived to make herself look professional or artistic. She has said in multiple interviews before the release of Warrior that she wanted this album to show the general public that she has vocal ability. Seriously? Let’s be honest: Ke$ha burst out on the scene as the party girl who woke up in a bathtub and has a strange obsession with glitter. She’s not going to transform into a vocal goddess anytime soon.

Ke$ha tried to write some rather meaningful songs on Warrior, such as “All That Matters (The Beautiful Life)” and “Out Alive,” but they both turned out as rather catchy pop songs with simplistic lyrics, because again, she’s Ke$ha; nobody can take her seriously. “Wonderland” is another attempt from Ke$ha to be a deep songwriter, but instead of sounding like a nice pop song, it turned out to be a cheesy ballad about how she misses living in her car

The second single to be sent to radio stations from Warrior is entitled “C’mon.” The song is yet another typical Ke$ha song, featuring extremely weak verses and bridge, while the chorus is a bit more exciting. “C’mon” is just as cliché as “Die Young,” but doesn’t have the catchiness that “Die Young” had. The song is far from a highlight on the album, but I’m sure it will prove successful on pop radio, simply because everything sounds the same on pop radio.

One of the best songs from the albums is called “Supernatural.” The chorus and bridge of the song are extremely impressive. The chorus is slower in comparison to the song’s verses, and is stripped down to a few electronic instruments, while the verses and bridge contain an explosion of dubstep and electropop elements. The bridge is primarily instrumental, and could be considered the equivalent to the breakdown of a Skrillex song, with Ke$ha’s overly-autotuned voice spiking through the instruments in random variations.  

Overall, Warrior is a catchy pop album. Was it impressive in any extent? Not really, but then again, I wasn’t expecting much from an artist like Ke$ha. I can say, however, that it was an improvement from her last two releases. For anybody who is looking for a good album to dance to, Warrior is a must-have. However, somebody on the market for a creative masterpiece better keep searching.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top Seven Music Videos of 2012

     We've finally hit 2013, and as promised, here is my list of the top seven music videos of 2012. (This should be obvious, but I'm mainly writing about pop music videos.) I wasn't able to embed the music videos here because Vevo doesn't want the videos played on other websites besides YouTube, so I posted the single cover art instead of the video. The URL to the video is right below the cover art.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0BWlvnBmIE
7. Wide Awake | Katy Perry
     I cannot believe I stooped to Katy Perry's level... I have stated on this blog before that I, for some reason unbeknownst to me, enjoy Katy Perry's music. No, it's not deep or meaningful or thought-provoking, but it's catchy. (Please don't judge me.)  This video, however, actually impressed me. The video takes a look back at the entirety of the Teenage Dream era, with at least one element from each of the album's singles appearing in the video, such as the bicycle from "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" or the firework flying out of her chest from "Firework." The fact that each of the singles from Teenage Dream was able to be weaved into a story line for the video of "Wide Awake" is pretty astounding, especially for a rather simplistic artist like Perry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOubzHCUt48
6. Die Young | Ke$ha
     Ke$ha has underwent some transformations this year. She used to be that drunken party girl that seemed to always be covered in glitter, but now she's trying to pass off as a deep songwriter and a complex artist of music videos. The video for "Die Young" is undoubtedly a nod towards the Illuminati, which scares me but also excites me. The Illuminati theme also adds to the demented theme of the video, which includes Ke$ha being the homicidal leader of a group and attempting to murder most of the members of this group. The video brings a whole new (and scary) meaning to the song, and I like it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3Rp_0hoNTY
5. Power and Control | Marina and the Diamonds
     One of the many artists that caught my eye this year was Marina and The Diamonds, whose real name is Marina Diamandis. "Power & Control" was one of the first songs I heard by the Welsh singer, and I was thoroughly impressed with both the song and the video. There's not much of a plot to the video; it simply contains scenes of Diamandis and her boyfriend in a dark room. What I liked the most about this video were the camera angles and the dramatic scenes, which were almost chilling when paired with the song. I'm also going to throw it out there: Marina Diamandis is extremely attractive, so this video offers a bit of eye candy, if nothing else.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJgoHgpsb9I
4. Blown Away | Carrie Underwood
     I'm not usually a fan of country music, minus Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, but Carrie Underwood has recently joined the list of country music artists that I enjoy. Her latest album, Blown Away, impressed me, while the video for the single of the same name amazed me. The video is a complete visual companion to the song, with both of them focusing on a girl being raised by her alcoholic father, and as a tornado hit the girl's town, she left her father to die in the house while she sought shelter. I'm probably going to embarrass myself by saying this, but the video was strong enough to make me tear up the first time I watched it. Underwood has easily surprised everyone in the nation, including myself, with the song and its video and I really enjoy the way that she used them to stray away from traditional country song topics like love, being a redneck, and good 'ole 'Merica.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60cvtxwlJr8
3. National Anthem | Lana Del Rey
     Although I loved the video for "Born To Die," Lana Del Rey's videos began to get truly epic with the ones for "Summertime Sadness" and "National Anthem." The fact that the video mocks a love triangle between former President John F. Kennedy, former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Marilyn Monroe and allowed Lana to play duel roles of both Jackie O and Marilyn Monroe is astounding. I love the risky ideas that Lana used in this video, including the love triangle and pushing the envelope further with the inclusion of the assassination. However, the assassination itself wasn't graphically shown, but was rather focused on the reaction from Lana's character. I also love the authenticity of the video in the sense that she covered "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," in a similar dress to what Marilyn Monroe actually wore when she sang the song to John F. Kennedy in 1962. To add to that, Lana Del Rey also used some direct quotes from Jackie O at the end of the video while describing the assassination. It is quite apparent that all of these elements combined resulted in one great music video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVjsGKrE6E8
2. Summertime Sadness | Lana Del Rey
     This video is really intense, to the point that I got goosebumps the first time I saw it. The plot can be really touchy to some people, being that it includes two lesbian lovers killing themselves, with one jumping off of a high cliff and the other jumping off a bridge. From what I could tell, Lana kills herself first by jumping off of the cliff, and then is transformed into an angel-like figure surrounded in smoke, because after her girlfriend (played by Jaime King) dies, she also is transported to this cloudy, heavenly environment. The whole video is haunting, yet very enjoyable. It, however, only outshines the video for "National Anthem" because of its dramatic suicide scenes, which are shown in a cinematic yet respectful matter, much like the assassination scene of "National Anthem" was displayed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Py_-3di1yx0
1. Ride | Lana Del Rey
     Two other Lana Del Rey music videos have already made it onto this list, but the one for "Ride" is definitely superior to the ones for "Summertime Sadness" and "National Anthem" by a small margin. I loved the song when it was first released, and the plot of the video, along with the added monologue, complimented the song well. A lot of people have been tearing Lana Del Rey down after this video because she plays a prostitute in it, which really irritates me. The video is in no way, shape, or form endorsing that anybody should go out and be a prostitute, and I'm not sure why people can't understand that the true message of the video is to simply do what makes you happy in life. For Lana's character in the video, being a prostitute was what made her happy. It was never said that being a prostitute would be fun for everybody or that it is ideal, but it was simply what made her happy. Is it a strange metaphor? Yes, but viewers have to be smart enough to be able to turn that metaphor into a meaningful message like I have.