Things Alex Didn’t Want to Write 2000 Words About

Published on January 24th, 2012

Alex collects a few shorter, unposted things he wrote about Blue Ivy Carter, Tom Cruise, LMFAO, and how to decide if somebody is cool.

Okay, so I was going to write this thing about how racist the Blind Side is, but then I couldn’t get through it because that movie is awful. But what with The Help getting Oscar nominations today, I’ll probably have to write about the stupid “southern belle saves black people!” thing at some point. Watch your back, Sandy. BUT NOT TODAY. Today you are spared. Here are a few things I wrote that I never posted for various reasons.

 

The First Baby of Hip-Hop

When Blue Ivy Carter stormed the charts with her appearance on her father Jay-Z’s decent but forgettable song Glory, she became the youngest person to ever appear on the Billboard charts. This record will almost certainly never be broken, lest Lady Gaga places a microphone right next to her vagina while she gives birth and releases it as a single. But what baby Carter has already attained is a placement in hip-hop that is both unprecedented and probably important. And while I feel a little weird writing about the iconography of somebody who isn’t yet a month old, I’m going to.

Jay-Z has been the figurehead of popular hip-hop for about a decade now, probably since 2001’s The Blueprint, when I.Z.Z.O. seemed to be the only song hip-hop radio would play. There have been others who have been more popular at times (50 Cent, Ja Rule, possibly T.I. briefly, etc.), but the only person who comes close to the same kind of dominance is Kanye West, and he is almost more of a pop star at this point anyway. If Jay-Z put out an album of him farting over Neptunes beats tomorrow, it would be the number one album on the charts. He still has the ability to make colossal (albeit mediocre) hits like Empire State of Mind, and I assume the album he has allegedly been working on recently will have another huge hit on it. But what will make that album interesting is that Jay-Z is now forty-plus, with a wife and kid, and remains the most popular non-Kanye figure in hip-hop.

Hip-hop has never had a star that has been allowed to grow old in the spotlight, and that’s precisely what Jay-Z is doing. (Jay-Z’s brief retirement was partially a reaction to the idea that middle-aged people can’t rap.) He’s been called hip-hop’s Bob Dylan, or perhaps Bruce Springsteen, and now he kind of might be. I assume Jay-Z will continue rapping for decades, and I assume not everything he releases will be good. Perhaps he will fall into the trap many other aging artists do and lose their hunger for their art in exchange for changing diapers, or perhaps he will release an album out of nowhere that makes critics shit their pants despite being mediocre (see: Modern Times). But whatever Jay-Z does next will be truly new: he will be a living legend in a comparatively young genre, and he will be afforded the luxury to rap about aging in a position that people might actually care about. Hip-hop is a genre desperately in need of maturity on a wide scope, and despite her youth, Blue Ivy Carter might be the catalyst behind that actually happening. The music could suck, and Jay-Z will continue to use his tried and true album formula until they stop selling, but on each of those albums will be something new. Not necessarily saccharine tracks like Will Smith’s Just the Two of Us, but a man with his own issues with his father, reflecting on correcting those mistakes himself, in a genre woefully lacking in father figures. Hip-hop will always be materialistic and arrogant, as it is a reflection of the country in which it was created, but it could desperately use an infusion of genuine reflection and emotion. And I hope it allows itself to grow up alongside Blue Ivy Carter.

A GUIDE TO TELLING IF SOMEBODY IS COOL

So, you’re at a party and you meet somebody who may or may not be cool, and you begin to wonder how you should figure that out. One way might be to just get really drunk and see which version of yourself ends up speaking, but that’s typically a terrible idea. (If anything, you should drink less than normal in these situations.) But, I digress. Here is a simple way to find out if a person is cool before you find out the hard way that their apartment is actually an asylum for 48 feral cats.

1. Mention The Sandlot.
If I say, “You’re killing me, Smalls!” and the person I am speaking to gets the reference, I know they’re at least kind of on the same wavelength as me. You can replace The Sandlot with any movie you really liked as a kid; reenacting Henry Roengartner throwing laundry detergent into the machine while pretending to start for the Chicago Cubs is much riskier, but can also provide great results.

2. Ask them if they have ever listened to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music in its entirety.
This is the, “Oh god, you rescue feral cats on the reg, don’t you?” question. Most likely, this person doesn’t instantly know who Lou Reed is, and might not even know Velvet Underground outside of the Andy Warhol art on the cover of the record they did with Nico. This is fine, and possibly even preferred. However, if the answer to this question is yes, the person you are talking to is either a serial killer or a music critic. Both of these groups of people are extremely dangerous.

3. Ask them what they thought of Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park 3.
This is a trick question: this book doesn’t exist. If they say they haven’t read it, or that it doesn’t exist, that’s great. If they pretend that they’ve read it, it means that this is the kind of person who will lie to seem cool. These people are terrible. Flee the scene immediately.

4. After a bit of talking, say the most contrarian, ridiculous thing you can think of.
Things like “Almost Famous is a shitty movie!” or “Pippa Middleton’s ass was underwhelming,” or “U2’s Stuck in a Moment isn’t the worst song ever recorded!” will work. If this person enjoys talking to you, they will forgive you for being ridiculous this one time. If they’re actually interested in your reasoning for making this statement, then you’re well on your way. Now you can actually ask them questions about themselves, and get to know them as a person instead of using media to test their normalcy.

I suppose this is a flawed list, in that it is based almost entirely around media. But media is how we get to know people, so it makes sense. You can learn all about somebody’s own daddy issues after finding out what they think about Steven Spielberg’s. If you follow these simple rules you will be able to quickly identify people who are cool, and awful people who have never watched the Great Hambino hit a home run.

OMG LMFAO

LMFAO seems to be accepted not just as a thing that exists that people like ironically, but as an actual music group; enough people actually like them that irony is no longer integral to appreciating their music. It’s okay to listen to I’m in Miami Bitch while you’re drinking heavily, because nobody cares about the music they’re listening to when they’re drinking (unless they’re drinking alone). Consequently, there are more LMFAO fans in my life than would make sense. But there probably shouldn’t be.

I’m not necessarily a hater of fun… Fun is fun, that’s why it’s called that. But I’m not going to pretend that I find LMFAO any more enjoyable than the Vengaboys. After all, like the aforementioned Danish Eurodance group, LMFAO makes the most disposable, thoughtless music of their time period. And like the Vengaboys, they, like, they like to party.

There is a market for LMFAO’s type of music, I know, and that market is full of drunk people and/or children. (I assume drunk children really like LMFAO.) They like LMFAO when they’re out at a bar, but they’d vomit uncontrollably if you played one of their songs the next day (likely because their ironic fandom of Shots caused them to do a few too many shots). But these same drunk people never cared about the previous incarnations of LMFAO’s ilk. When they were younger, they were too busy thinking the Vengaboys and Eiffel 65 weren’t cool enough to publicly dance to… and this wallflowering would happen at a middle school dance where you brought a can of Campbell’s soup to save a buck. At least we were thinking about the local food bank then, but now we’re just done with thinking. Do another shot. Yell a catchphrase repeatedly. Do yet another shot. Come on, just one more shot. EVERYBODDDDDAAAAYYYYYY!

Pop music has become overly and overtly soaked in irony; Katy Perry’s video for Last Friday Night features possibly more ironic cameos than any piece of media since Dickie Roberts, Child Star (Kenny G, Hanson, Corey Feldman, etc.). And that seems to be the way these things are tricking us into liking them. When the Vengaboys and Eiffel 65 were simply being weird instead of ‘ironic,’ we knew how stupid they were, but that was back when pop music tried to earnestly believe in itself. Now, pop music stars want to make sure you know they’re being stupid, and they seem to be saying, “Don’t take our music seriously.” Which is kind of absurd.

The most omnipresent type of media is a really popular song, like Hey Ya was, or Crazy in Love before that, or more recently Rolling in the Deep. Some of these songs are exceptional (the ones I mentioned), but most of the time the charts are topped by songs that are sometimes decent but generally pretty forgettable (Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and LMFAO’s entire catalogues). Those songs, however, are still everywhere, regardless of whether or not you put them on your iPod. Katy Perry’s music is there when you’re buying jeans, and Party Rock Anthem is playing while you’re trying to decide which brand of baby carrots is fortified with the most vitamin A.

By acknowledging that their pop music is stupid, artists are forcing us to not take them seriously… which kind of invalidates their existence. If these artists know they’re stupid, what’s the point of existing? I recognize for the purpose of fun and commerce, but why not do something fun while at least pretending like you think your work is valuable? These artists are recognizing their own stupidity, but in doing so in possibly the most accessible way, they are implicitly saying caring about pop culture is dumb. Which it’s not. In ten years, what will be remembered will be things like Katy Perry records and Michael Bay movies, which do nothing but make us look stupid. This is something we have no control over, really; popular culture seems to be self-generating at this point, somehow. And as long as these artists continue to be upfront about making crap, that machine will only continue to repeat the same thing. Which is unfortunate, because I like some of these things. I want Ke$ha to take Tik Tok a little bit more seriously, so I don’t get weird looks for doing the same.

THE TOM CRUISE ACTION VEIN

(No, I’m not talking about his dick. Come on.)

Every time Tom Cruise is embroiled in a bout of international intrigue, or in charge of saving the way of the samurai, his fucking forehead vein pops out… and it’s disgusting. We’ve all seen that viral video of Tom Cruise running to the tune of I Need a Hero, and we all know the Mission: Impossible 3 clip at the end is exceptionally hilarious because it doesn’t seem to end. The Tom Cruise Action Vein is in half of these shots, and if you’ve seen his stellar trenchcoat and briefcase running in The Firm, you will have noticed it there as well. I recently got an email asking if all that running in his movies makes him seem more masculine than he is, but that seems ridiculous. Tom Cruise has shown in recent years that he is incredibly self-aware (for the record – the Oprah couch jumping incident in 2005 is the single moment that lead to the era of self-aware movie stars), and by all accounts now he is an exceptionally nice guy who doesn’t try to convert you to Scientology (unless you’re Scarlett Johansson). So if he’s self-aware, he knows that runs in every movie. He knows all the stunts he’s done, and he knows which ones resemble his previous work. But since running is often used as a metaphor in movies, it probably means something that one of the biggest movie stars of the last few decades seems to do it constantly.

People that worked with Cruise in the early 1980s often say how they knew he was going to be a star. Many of them thought he was weirdly obsessed with the idea. While he would go have dinner with Martin Scorsese’s parents after meeting them on the set of The Color of Money, he would also be focused enough to alienate some of his young co-stars on The Outsiders. Profiles have been written about Cruise suggesting that his terrible relationship with his father have lead for him to look for parental relationships, but that’s probably not what he’s running to either. Again, he’s a bit too smart for that. (Plus, that role in Magnolia pretty obviously covered his issues with his father.) Perhaps his career-centeredness is the idea here; he’s not looking for parental figures and alienating his teenage costars. He just wants to succeed in his career, and doesn’t care about whatever it was Matt Dillon did in the early 80s. Perhaps adults get that a little bit more than soon-to-be Hollywood stars in the coke-fueled 80s, and Cruise wanted to spend time with people that could at least understand his drive.

Tom Cruise is obviously a hard worker. He produces and stars in movies, and seems to particularly hold a large creative influence on the Mission: Impossible franchise. He does his own stunts, because he’s kind of insane and doesn’t mind swinging around on the exterior of the Burj Khalifa. But whatever he does, he’s going to work as hard as he can to make sure he, and his film, succeed. This might not always happen, but he’ll never stop trying. He’s not running away from anything, nor to anything. He’s running because he just wants it so fucking badly. Cruise might be crazy, but we could probably learn a thing or two from him.

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