Saturday, 29 August 2009

I Want to Know What Love Is

Yes, I surely do...but enough about me and my personal life, especially when there's a new Mariah Carey single to review - Mimi's gone and covered Foreigner's 1984 number 1 power ballad, 'I Want to Know What Love Is'.  Mariah's reps and label are trying to pass this second single from her upcoming album, 'Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel' as the album's first 'official' single because they were disappointed with the chart performance of the first single, 'Obsessed'. Excuse me while I give these jokers a roll of the eyes and exclaim 'Bitch...puh-leaze!'.  Don't even pretend that 'Obsessed' was NOT the first single when Mariah made a video for it and everything (albeit, a pretty weak video with one stagnant gimmick...although, Mariah made for a rather convincing F-2-M transexual).  So, 'Obsessed' peaked at number 11 on Billboard's Hot didn't cracked the top 10 and everyone at Island go into panic mode!  Well, 'Obsessed' just returned to the number 11 position this week so it could very well crack the top 10, yet!

Anyway, the new single is a nice update of a classic rock ballad, with plenty of high-pitch squealing that only hardcore Mariah fans will enjoy (like me!).  It's a reverent cover...perhaps, a bit too reverent. Considering that Chris 'Tricky' Stewart is one of the co-producers of this track, I would have expected something more radical and more contemporary.  After all, Tricky was one of the co-producers on 'Touch My Body', undoubtedly one of Mariah's most sonically innovative songs...EVAH!

I wonder if this will be a hit for Mariah.  She has had her fair share of successful cover singles, including Badfinger's 'Without You' (her rendition being so iconic that even 2008 Music Idol Bulgaria auditionee, Valentina Hasan, attributed her cover of 'Ken Lee' to Mariah), The Jackson 5's 'I'll Be There' and Lionel Richie and Diana Ross' duet, 'Endless Love' (to those of you who were wondering, no, I didn't forget about her cover of Phil Collins' 'Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)'...the omission was intentional) but the thing that all of these singles have in common is that it was a different pop chart landscape when they all came out, which was the 90s, when Mariah could do no wrong.  The only way this version will blow up the charts is if mainstream radio picks it up but I fear that it may just end up being relegated to adult contemporary and easy listening stations, instead.  Oh well, there's always the third (or is that 'second'?) single!  

One last thing, Mariah, I'll tell you what love is - love is a fan who has been devoted to your music since he was a 10-year old boy and in all 19 years since he first saw you in the video for 'Vision of Love', bought every single album...even the soundtrack to 'Glitter'!  That's true love.

For those of you who wanna hear Mariah's song, here it is.

For those who don't, enjoy the magnificently stout Valentina Hasan's 'Ken Lee'.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Fashion's Night Out

How come when I was in NY, I didn't hear about this event? 

On Sept. 10th, shops in NYC (all five boroughs!) will open until 11pm and this is being done to benefit the Sept. 11th memorial fund so you can shop without a guilty conscience!  Hey, times are tough and even an industry that's predicated on fantasies and unrealistic ideals have to face reality that we are in a recession...people are gonna need more persuading to part with their hard-earned cash! 

Below is the awesome PSA promoting this special event featuring many of the world's most respected designers (including, Diane von Fürstenberg, Carolina Herrera, Vera Wang, Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, Issac Mizrahi and....Diddy?), the hottest young design talents (such as cutie-pie Alexander Wang, Zac Posen and the boys behind Proenza Schouler...although poor Jack McCollough looks so uncomfortable...maybe he's afraid Jack Bauer was going to jump out from behind the camera and headbutt him again....I just remembered that I once met Jack Mack through a friend from acting school when we crossed paths with him one night in Meatpacking District, as he was walking his dog, over three years ago...yes, I remember everything...elephants never forget), boring-assed models (couldn't they get an old-school supermodel like Naomi or Kate or Christy...better yet, who has RuPaul on speedial?), contemporary fashion icons (the fabulous Sarah Jessica Parker of those annoying Olsen girls) and even the Queen of fashion herself, Anna Wintour, makes an appearance, eschewing Prada for a 'Fashion's Night Out' tee!   

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Let's not pretend that we're something we're not

This episode of Sex and the City is resonating with me right now...unfortunately.

RIP, Teddy Kennedy (1932-2009)

I woke up this morning to the news of Senator Edward Kennedy's passing of brain cancer late Tuesday night at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.  This is incredibly sad news.  One of the great champions of American liberalism has passed away.  Having served in the Senate since 1962, Ted Kennedy will be remembered as one of America's greatest legislators (and the third longest-serving senator of all time).  As the youngest sibling of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy (both of whom were assassinated, the former during his presidency in 1963 and the latter during his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination in 1968), Edward Kennedy's life in public service seemed inevitable.  

Although he didn't realize his White House ambitions like his brother, Jack (his only presidential bid would be in the 1980 election, when he failed to secure his party's nomination, losing to the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter), for whatever reason (historians cite the 'Chappaquiddick incident' of 1969 as the dark cloud which loomed over his presidential bid), Edward Kennedy achieved a great deal as a senator and was instrumental in many of the key pieces of legislation that would change the course of American history, including the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974 (campaign finance reform), the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Ryan White AIDS Care Act in 1990 (which assisted people with HIV and AIDS who lacked health insurance) and the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 (working closely with President George W. Bush, which was exemplary of the late Senator's brilliant gift of making allies across partisan lines to achieve significant social change...Ted Kennedy's cooperation with President Bush would end soon after due to his opposition to the Iraq War from the very beginning, with Kennedy later calling his 2002 vote against the War 'the best vote' he ever cast in the Senate).  

He is often accredited with being the pioneer of health care reform and his long work to bring universal health care to America is now being given the push that it deserves by President Barack Obama, who was given Ted Kennedy's endorsement early in the primary season of 2008.  

Senator Edward Kennedy's passing comes fifteen months after he was diagnosed with malignant glioma.  His sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, passed away just a little over two weeks before the Senator's own passing.  Having spent the early part of his career in public office living up to the legacy of his brothers, Senator Edward Kennedy spent the rest of his career in the Senate working to achieve many of the advantages that many Americans take for granted today and thus, left behind his own magnificent legacy.

Watch a short clip of Senator Edward Kennedy's iconic speech at the 1980 Democratic Party Convention.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Like She Never Left

On August 28th, Whitney Houston's latest album, 'I Look to You', will be released (in Germany and Italy; in other markets, it will be released subsequently).  It's her first album in almost seven years.  It's been so long that I, along with countless other fans around the world, feared that the woman who sang some of the most glorious pop and r&b songs of the 1980s and 90s might have had the life force knocked out of her after a long and publicly tumultuous marriage to r&b bad boy, Bobby Brown.  No doubt, it's tempting to call 'I Look to You' Ms. Houston's comeback album, except that you would stand to be corrected by the diva herself:

'Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years
Through all the drama and the pain, and all the tears'.

It's also tempting to speculate about the significance of the placement of the song from which the above line was taken, 'Salute', coming in as the closing number of the most anticipated album of the year.  A kiss-off song to a man who did her wrong, it is reminiscent of one of her past hits, 'I Learned from the Best'.  However, all the other songs on the album revolve around the central theme of love; different types of love, appreciating the love of someone else ('Worth It', 'I Got You', the title track) and more importantly, loving oneself ('I Didn't Know My Own Strength') and loving life ('Nothin' But Love').

Is there room in the world of popular music for a singer who rose to prominence almost a quarter of a century ago (her first number 1 single, 'Saving All My Love for You', came out in 1985)?  Not only is there room for Whitney but pop music fans need her more than ever. Whitney Houston will resume her place in the pop hierarchy by remaining true to herself and to her extraordinary talent, not by succumbing to current trends and sounds.  She evades the need to recruit the rapper du jour for cameos (her only vocal collaboration is with Akon in the soulful mid-tempo number, 'Like I Never Left') or to use Auto-Tune to the point where a human voice loses its humanity. No, with a voice as magnificent as Whitney Houston's, there's no need for such gimmicks.  

That is not to say that Ms. Houston doesn't let loose...far from it. While the ballads present on the album are elegant and most definitely 'classic Whitney Houston', it's in the faster-paced tracks where we are reminded of the girlish joie de vivre that she used to charm the world twenty-five years ago.  'Million Dollar Bill', produced by Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys, contemporary hitmakers who probably owe a great debt to Houston's trailblazing success, is a slice of summer lovin' that lifts your spirits everytime you hear Houston's 'Oh oh, oh oh oh's.  'For the Lovers' is a funky club jam that sets the mood for a Friday night party.  Even her surprising cover of Leon Russell's classic ballad, 'A Song for You' gets reworked into an entrancing house number.    

The world of pop music is a fickle place. Today's divas are tomorrow's has-beens. However, what the public loves to see more than a diva falling off her pedestal is a fallen diva who rises up again and with 'I Look to You', Whitney Houston, the singing superstar, rises to the occasion and straight to the top, where she belongs.

'I Look to You' is released in the US on August 31st and in the UK on October 19th.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Whole Foods in a whole lot of mess

Whole Foods Market Inc. has found itself embroiled in the most controversial and topical debate in America, the debate over President Barack Obama's health care reforms, thanks to an op-ed piece written by the upscale grocery retailer's co-founder and CEO, John Mackey, published in the Wall Street Journal on August 11th, 2009. Mr. Mackey (a proponent of the free market...well, I can only assume that he is one if he's choosing to begin his article with a quotation by Margaret Thatcher) lays out, in his concise essay, the arguments against and some alternatives to the president's reform proposals.

While he doesn't actually come out and say it, the gist of what is spelt out by Mr. Mackey is that the American people do not have an 'intrinsic right to health care'. It's a polarizing topic so to take one side or the other in this debate is a no-win situation...either way, you'll be sure to piss people off. Of course, it's critical for every American to be engaged in this process because health care reforms affect every single one of them. However, now that Whole Foods has gone and mixed commerce with politics, there have been protests against the chain outside several branches, including in Washington DC and New York. What's noteworthy about these protests is that they're being staged by former loyal customers of the company; consumers who have long endured the higher prices at Whole Foods because they viewed the company's corporate values to be aligned with their own (e.g. liberals who assuaged their environmental guilt by purchasing biodegradable detergents and organically-grown produce...myself included, back when I used to lived in NY, the above Whole Foods store on W24th and 7th was my local haunt!). It is a place where high-minded liberals (i.e. people who are for universal health care and the proposed reforms) go to shop and thus, it is not surprising that a great segment of this demographic might feel betrayed by John Mackey's stance.

Considering that Wholes Foods has long promoted and distinguished itself as a grocery chain with a social conscience, I respect Mr. Mackey for taking a position so publicly. He co-founded Wholes Foods on his principles and convictions and look at how much they have grown since the first store opened in 1980. With 276 locations and approximately $7.9 billion USD in revenue in 2008, John Mackey is putting his money where his mouth is...and even his critics can't argue with some of his logic, as illustrated in the essay:

'Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices'.

As a dear friend of mine living in NY (a person without any health insurance, mind you) tells me, why should they have to pay for the careless choices of other people when they themselves have consciously made lifestyle choices to minimize the need for health care. Of course, eating well and exercising and not smoking or drinking all contribute to your wellbeing but these lifestyle choices cannot account for those who require medical attention, whether it's short-term or long-term, due to accidents, assault or impairing conditions due to genetics. Without more comprehensive universal health care, individuals or households that, for whatever reason, do not have health insurance will be left behind in a two-tier system. What it boils down to is how comfortable a society is with the concept of 'survival of the fittest', or, in this case, 'survival of the richest'.

Which brings us back to Mr. Mackey. Will Whole Foods survive through this controversy? Without a doubt. The question is will its core of socially-conscious and principled customers be able to feel as good about themselves when they fork over $9 for buffalo mozzarella when they know that the man at the top of this 'food chain' doesn't want his tax dollars to go towards providing health care for those who need it the most?

Read John Mackey's WSJ op-ed piece for yourselves.

The X Factor Season 6 begins

Full disclosure - I love American Idol and The X Factor...I resisted reality tv for the longest time and it was really only last year that I really got into American Idol and The X Factor. Why did I resist it for so long? I don't know...probably some churlishly arrogant part of me thought that I was above the mass appeal of these shows, that I was more discerning than that, which, if I really think about it, was absurd because I was watching Julia Roberts movies and listening to Madonna since I was 10 years old!

Since The X Factor airs in the UK on a Saturday evening, I rarely ever see it on its first airing and I have to play catch-up later on YouTube. I already read about the highlights from this first audition episode of the new season so I knew about who did a good job and who...well, didn't. I think that many of us like to indulge that childish side of us that take pleasure in the humiliation of others...hell, I'm as guilty as anyone else...however, at the very least, you gotta respect them for having the gall to go through with their fantasy, as foolhardy as it may seem to some, to be brave enough to share your aspiration with the world.

What excites me more are the auditions that take our collective breath away...the ones that confound us by exceeding our expectations and then, putting us in the rather uncomfortable position of having to question ourselves over how we came to form such negative notions about perfect strangers in the first place...honestly, did we learn nothing from the marvellous Susan Boyle? By the way, this year, the producers of The X Factor decided to adopt a live audience structure for the first audition process, à la Britain's Got Talent (not surprising since Simon Cowell is responsible for both shows), and while I think that the change is for the better, I couldn't help but think that by doing so, the show just made Britain's Got Talent that much more redundant.

Joseph McElderry is a cute 18-year old boy who sang 'Dance with My Father' by Luther's kinda made me cringe, though, when certain members of the judging panel commented on how 'the girls' are gonna love if gay men don't even exist...even more ironic hearing it from the mouth of dubious closet case, Louis Walsh. I couldn't find a full clip of his audition to embed on here so you'll just have to go on YouTube and search for this young man yourselves.

A 19-year-old single mother from Dagenham, Stacey Solomon made a similarly smart and mature song choice, singing Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World'.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Ben and Freddie should make a movie together

I just got home from seeing the latest Harry Potter movie (I know, I know...five weeks after it opened...oh, the shame, the shame!) and I gotta say that it was pretty much what I expected. Not a whole lot happened, in terms of action sequences and all that. However, that's to be expected since this movie is based on the sixth and penultimate book in the series and thus, it has the burden of being the one where there's a lot of setting up for the future movies (since the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is being turned into two movies). I found the movie to be as engaging as some previous installments of the franchise. The development of the two central romances in the series was endearing and the theme of tackling great responsibilities as adulthood beckons (for both Harry and Draco) was compelling and resonant. Above all else, I shall remember this installment of the Harry Potter movies for introducing me to the absolutely delicious new 'talent', Freddie Stroma, who portrayed...oh, who the hell cares about his character's name? If you must know, he played Cormac McLaggen.

Oh, meanwhile, one of the trailers that I saw tonight was some new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Colin Firth and Ben Barnes. The movie looks dreadful (but who knows, right?) but it seems that it, at least, has one trump card in the form of young Mr. Barnes, who's portraying the eponymous character. I just had a thought...let me pitch this just about a new period piece, let's say, Victorian era, Ben can play an aristocratic playboy who falls for the handsome new valet, played by'll be just like Maurice...only hotter...a gay Wings of the Dove, if you will...if anyone out there steals my idea, I will come after you!!!

Friday, 21 August 2009

New in Provincetown

As I take a break from criticizing the career choices of former Oscar-winners (it's called tough love, Renée, but seriously, I can't wait for BJ3...and did you get the homage to your last movie in my post title?), I am going to share with you all some photos from my holiday...not that I think you should care about what I did on my vacation but hey, this is my blog and I can talk about whatever I want! So, above is a shot of me on the Pier, the gayest of gay places to hang out along the Hudson River Park on Manhattan's west side, with my friend, the beautiful model/actress, Noelle (a.k.a. Nellie) Lynch.

While it's always a joy to return to NY (it'll always feel like going home), the main event of this trip was a gay wedding in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

It was my first time in Provincetown and it was incredible for me to experience a part of America that was so open to gay culture while, at the same time, managed to have a historical and contemporary identity beyond its sexual inclusivity. This is the site where the first pilgrims from Europe arrived in America...and we know how well that turned out for the Native Americans but I disgress...and even today, there's a lovely sense of classic Americana that's almost anachronistic in Obama's USA. There were many highlights to my short trip to Provincetown, including the incredible 2lbs lobster that I had for lunch the day before the wedding.

As an out and proud gay man, the issue of same-sex marriage equality is very important to me. Having carefully followed the progress that had been made in America since the hateful passing of Proposition 8 in California last November, it was with great joy and poignancy that I got to witness another gay couple being afforded the same dignity and generosity of spirit that would be given to a straight couple celebrating their love and commitment to each other.

Every couple's love is special and a gift but unfortunately, not every gay couple are as lucky as my friends are - to be able to proclaim their love to the world and make their union a legal entity. With six states affording the same-sex couple the right to marriage, the rest of America better wake up soon and realize how important love is to the progress of society, whether it's between straight or gay couple.

And so, it begins...

I have been flirting with the idea of blogging for so long now that I can't even tell you precisely when the seed of this idea was planted in my distracted mind. Thanks to my dear friends, G-Dawg and Nellie, I am finally getting my act together. I needed that push like a child who's learning how to ride a bicycle. My friends have been telling me that I should blog about personal anecdotes and my take on movies, pop culture phenomena, global human interest stories, etc. While I'm inclined to believe that another voice in the blogosphere is akin to a tear drop in the ocean, I guess the whole point for me to doing this is to have a forum for organizing my thoughts on an array of subjects, to make personal discoveries about myself and to reflect on the direction of my life and where it's heading.

It's Friday afternoon and it has been a day since I arrived back in London from New York City so the most exciting thing to happen since my arrival was going to the cinema to see Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds'. It was a thrill to watch and behold from start to finish. The two and a half hours running time flew by. I am not one of those people who have been obsessed with Mr. Tarantion's film since 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Pulp Fiction' but I gotta tell you that I haven't responded to a movie like I did to this one in a very long time. It was a fantastically irreverent, poetically visceral piece of historical revisionism and I say, why the fuck not?

All the actors were amazing but I gotta give props to the following: Brad Pitt (a good sport considering that his role was more supporting than his billing would suggest), Diane Kruger (so much better here than in her previous movie costarring Brad Pitt, 'Troy'), Mélanie Laurent (hope we'll be seeing more of her very soon), Michael Fassbender (the handsome Irish/German actor is a Hollywood leading man on the rise) and the phenomenally gifted, Christoph Waltz (let's hope his brilliantly chilling and charismatic performance is remembered by the Academy come Oscar season, although I'm not sure if it'll be in supporting or lead...I'm inclined to say lead actor since Waltz has already won the best actor award from one major awards body - the jury of this year's Cannes film festival, where 'Basterds' had its world premiere).

On a separate note, before the movie began, we were treated to some shockingly awful previews, the one that left the biggest impression being 'Case 39', a horror film starring Renée Zellweger. I remember seeing stills from this movie on IMDB since 2007 so I have a feeling this one has been on the shelf for a few years now...not a good sign. Combined this with the failure of her early 2009 release, 'New in Town', and the upcoming 'My One and Only', I gotta take to task those responsible for her career: her agents, her manager (if she has one) and, of course, Miss Zellweger herself. Having been a fan since she won Jerry Maguire's heart and ours in 1996, I know that this lovely actress deserves better material than what she's been getting offered and accepting. C'mon, Hollywood...DO BETTER!