Sunday, March 24, 2013

Born This Way | Lady Gaga

I actually wrote this review of Born This Way for my high school's newspaper in 2011 after the album had been released for a while. I figured it would be nice to throw this review up here just because I could.

Rating: ★★★★★

Although it seems like her life is entirely composed of trying to cook up bizarre outfits and new ways to scare the general public, Lady Gaga shows her true talent of music writing in Born This Way.  In Born This Way, she writes strongly for equality, freedom, and religion.

Born This Way, in addition to her extended play, The Fame Monster were both amazing strides forward in her development as an artist from her debut album, The Fame.

The Fame spawned amazing singles, ranging from “Just Dance” to “Paparazzi,” but was sadly plagued with auto-tune and uncreative lyrics.  I’m not implying that the songs aren't catchy and fun, but I am saying that they really aren't full of meaning.  The Fame Monster was a jump in a better direction, and Born This Way was the icing on the cake. 

Most of the songs on Born This Way have a strong message of freedom and equality for the self-proclaimed outcasts and minority groups. The album’s first single, “Born This Way” was released in February 2011, and was straightforward in meaning: be yourself, and don’t be ashamed of it.  The theme reoccurs multiple times in the album, with songs like “Hair” and “Bad Kids,” which both proclaim the message of loving and being proud of oneself regardless of what others say.

In addition to cutting the silence for certain individuals, Lady Gaga uses creative metaphors to overshadow things that are much bigger than its metaphor.  “Judas,” is an extremely edgy song with strong metaphors, references to the Christian religion and an upbeat tempo that is reminiscent of “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance.”

The fifth and latest single pulled from the album, “Marry the Night,” tells of Lady Gaga’s love for her hometown, New York City, and opens up with a beautiful a cappella verse before storming into the chorus. She brings up the Big Apple a lot in the album, and stresses that she would much rather live on east coast rather than the west coast, to say the least. 

Steering away from her pop roots, Lady Gaga spirals into a southern-rock inspired and “We Will Rock You” infused song, “Yoü and I,” a great song about repairing a relationship with that one person that you thought was your perfect soulmate. Ironically, by the time that the song was released and gained mainstream success, Lady Gaga had long since broken up with her “cool Nebraska guy,” a.k.a. Lüc Carl.  Nevertheless, the song is a great highlight of the album, and I loved it from the start.

Born This Way concludes with a strong song about death and passing into the afterlife.  “The Edge of Glory” may sound extremely carefree and happy, but its true meaning is actually revolves around the death of Lady Gaga’s grandfather.  The song also features the late Clarence Clemmons with a fist-pounding saxophone solo.

With one of the biggest fan bases in the world, Lady Gaga and her Little Monsters have the world of music sitting in the palms of their hands, and with an amazing release Born This Way, everybody can tell that neither Gaga nor her fans are going down the pipes anytime soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bow Down / I Been On | Beyoncé

Rating: ★★★☆☆

After taking a short hiatus last year to transition to becoming a wife and mother, Beyoncé Knowles has exploded upon her return to music, arriving back in the public eye as the distinguished and honorable Mrs. Carter.

Within the first two months of this year, she has managed to set up a marketing deal with Pepsi, perform at President Obama's inauguration ceremony and the halftime show of Super Bowl XLVII, release a documentary on HBO, and release information on her next studio album and the accompanying Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.

"Bow Down / I Been On" seems to actually be based around the Queen B's hiatus, speaking of her marriage and previous events in her life. However, she always reverts back to the phrase "Bow down, bitches. Bow, bow down, bitches," to signify that this marriage and pregnancy have not softened her conceited attitude.

I really enjoyed the instrumental track of the song. The whole glitchy and computerized sound is extremely in style in music right now, and I completely love it. When the instrumental track does leak from the song, I'm going to be sure to download it, because I could listen to it constantly.

I really wish Knowles-Carter wouldn't have pulled down the pitch of her voice for the second half of the song, which is mainly rapped. That whole idea was already tested by Lady Gaga last year, when she released "Cake Like Lady Gaga" with colleague DJ White Shadow via Soundcloud. I wasn't the biggest fan of the concept when Lady Gaga did it, and considering she's my favorite artist, my opinion isn't going to change when Beyoncé does it. Sure, both "Cake Like Lady Gaga" and "Bow Down / I Been On" have some really awesome, I'm-better-than-you lyrics, but the pitched voice idea just isn't my favorite.

Overall, I guess the song is okay. In no way, shape, or form is it Beyoncé's best song, but I guess it's a small improvement from anything on her last record, 4. However, I hope she has something big in store for this next album to help support her ego, or else she will turn into a Christina Aguilera of sorts: too much self-confidence and not enough substance.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lady Gaga's Best Live Performances

It's no surprise that Lady Gaga should appear on this blog; she's my favorite artist of all time, and in terms of live performances, she also reigns supreme, completely outshining all of her competition.

She's got everything it takes to be a successful live performer: the powerhouse vocals, the amazing dance moves, and the stage presence. Whether she's bleeding to death on stage or popping out of a vessel or performing an intimate rendition of "So Happy I Could Die" or "Speechless," viewers and fans can really tell that she loves being on stage. There's no doubt that she is a natural on stage.

Although I like Lana Del Rey's live performances, Lady Gaga is better than her in every way, shape, and form when it comes to performing. She's always solid with her vocals, she's got the energy to make an entire crowd scream with joy, and doesn't act nervous or scared while on stage.

In fact, Lady Gaga has had so many great performances, I had an extremely hard time choose which performances to put in the list, but without any more rambling, here are my favorites!

10. "LoveGame" | The Monster Ball 

9. "The Edge of Glory" | American Idol

8. "Telephone" & "Dance in the Dark" | The BRIT Awards 2010

7. "Bad Romance" | The Born This Way Ball

6. "Bloody Mary" | The Born This Way Ball

5. "Judas" | The Ellen DeGeneres Show

4. "Born This Way" | Grammy Awards 2011

3. "So Happy I Could Die" | The Monster Ball

2. "Paparazzi" | MTV VMAs 2009

1. "Scheiße" | The Born This Way Ball

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Yung Rapunxel | Azealia Banks

Rating: ★★★★☆

Ever since she appeared on the music scene last year with 1991, I have really taken an interest in Azealia Banks. I am not, by any means, a fan of most rap music, but Banks has some of the coolest house beats and most bad ass lyrics I have ever heard.

"Yung Rapunxel" was announced a few months back as the lead single to Banks' upcoming album, Broke with Expensive Taste, and actually isn't supposed to be officially released until later this month, but Banks leaked the song early on Soundcloud last Monday. Before she leaked the song, she also leaked the single cover, which was enough to freak me out. I hate imagining teeth anywhere else on the body except the mouth, so having her mouth superimposed over both of her eyes kind of scares me. 

Now, in terms of the actual song, "Yung Rapunxel" is right on par with "212" and "1991." Banks still has those great house-style beats and can still rattle off a great deal of rap lines. However, the song is definitely more experimental than her previous works, especially with the inclusion of some sort of screaming rage in the middle of it all. On Twitter, Banks calls "Yung Rapunxel" a 'screamo track,' which is partially true, considering portions of it actually do sound like a screamo song. I originally didn't like the screaming in the song, but after a few listens to it, those parts grew on me and I began to like it a lot more.

The only massive problem I could find with the song was that the audio mixer screwed up when trying to level Banks' voice and the instrumental. Her voice seemed buried underneath the instrumental, which I'm sure could be fixed quickly with a little audio leveling before the song's official release. Other than that, the only other problem I can see with the song is that the screaming part of it might deter people from listening to it, creating a commercial disaster. If one has already enjoyed 1991 as a whole, they will probably enjoy "Yung Rapunxel," but everybody else probably won't become hooked on the song. However, with Banks already building a solid fan base, this one highly-experimental song will not make or break her at this moment in time. 

After listening to and really enjoying "Yung Rapunxel," I cannot wait to hear more from Azealia Banks, and will definitely be picking up her album, Broke With Expensive Taste, when it drops later this year.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lana Del Rey's Best Live Performances

To fill the gab between reviews, I've decided to make some little lists of my favorite performances, songs, videos, etc., which will show up periodically throughout the year. Now, I want to start of with my favorite live performances by my two favorite artists, Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey. I'm having a lot of trouble picking favorites from Lady Gaga, because so many of her live performances are amazing. Lana Del Rey's options were easier to narrow down, so I decided to post her countdown first. Since she has had a smaller amount of time on the stage, I will only do a top five countdown for Del Rey, but Gaga will get ten spots.

Ever since her less-than-satisfactory performance on Saturday Night Live, Lana Del Rey has been constantly been bashed for her lackluster stage appeal. Heck, I'm a big fan of Lana, and I even mentioned that SNL mess-up in my review of Born To Die. However, now I've seen that people have spent too much time putting down her live performances, so I figured I might as well show some love for some of her great moments on stage. After all, when we're still in an age where people stand by Britney Spears' vocal 'talent,' I have every right to defend Del Rey.

What I do like about Lana Del Rey's performances is how casual she is. She doesn't get too fancy with her wardrobe; I've seen YouTube videos of her performing in a nice sweater and jeans. It makes her look so humble and down-to-earth. I can also appreciate how she doesn't overproduce her shows. Sure, I love Lady Gaga and her massive dance breakdowns and pyrotechnics, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, I also love Lana Del Rey's classy approach to live performances. It's usually just Lana, a microphone, and the orchestra, piano, or backing track. No back-up singers, no explosions, no props, no wardrobe changes, nothing. You can just tell how much she wants you to just enjoy the music instead of being distracted by other things.

Lana Del Rey's live performances are not something that people take a liking to instantly; I know I wasn't too big on her performance in the beginning either. I saw her on Saturday Night Live, and watched a few low quality videos of her at a few small venues on YouTube. Then, in September of last year, that changed when I stumbled over her professional-recorded performance during the iTunes Festival concert event in London. I fell in love with her improved live vocals and casual performance attire after a few songs of the setlist. Visually, she still was quite awkward and nervous, but she sounded great (with the exception of "Million Dollar Man.")

Now, I must stop my rambling, because I could go on forever in this post. Here is my list of favorite live performances from Lana Del Rey!

5. "Born To Die" | BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge

4. "Video Games" | Late Show with David Letterman

3. "Summertime Sadness" | iTunes Festival 2012

2. "Ride" | Langs de Leeuw

1. "National Anthem" | iTunes Festival 2012