Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Album Review: Kelly Clarkson - 'Meaning of Life'

We all know Kelly Clarkson. Or, rather, her music. We have all jammed out to “Breakaway”, “Behind These Hazel Eyes”, “Since U Been Gone”, “My Life Would Suck Without You”, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and “Heartbeat Song”, among others (if you didn’t, um, who hurt you?) In fact, 12-year-old Jeffrey sang “I Do Not Hook Up” for his audition for the sixth grade musical (maybe a bit inappropriate at the time but the teachers gave me a solo, so I must’ve done something right...)
All of this to say, Kelly Clarkson is one of those artists who has made great pop songs, but even her biggest of fans must admit that they all started to sound the same after awhile. And there’s nothing wrong with that. She nailed every single one of those songs and clearly she was doing something right, because they were all largely successful. But I would not really have described myself as a huge fan of Clarkson’s: I love the hits, but that’s about it. She’s never been an artist who I have sought out all of her full albums, because a part of me always felt they all sounded the same after awhile, so I was good with the hits. Because the hits were hits for a reason. But then along came Meaning of Life, Clarkson’s new eighth studio album that dropped at the end of October.
When I heard the first single from her new album, “Love So Soft”, I was baffled. I’d only heard snippets and seen a clip from the music video, but I swore it sounded like Kelly Clarkson was singing a Rihanna song. And my next thought was, ugh, oh no, now Kelly Clarkson is trying to transition to mainstream dance-pop and/or electropop and it’s not going to work. But I could not have been more wrong. Literally, I was so wrong. I am living proof that first impressions are often wrong (and, also, I probably should have listened to the new song in its entirety because it’s nothing like a Rihanna song).
As it turns out, Clarkson fulfilled the terms of her joint contract between RCA Records and 19 Recordings in 2016, which she had received as the winner of the first season of American Idol in 2002. Thereafter, RCA was reportedly interested in resigning Clarkson to their label without 19’s involvement (19 Recordings has the exclusive rights to sign contestants of the Idols series, since it’s owned by Simon Fuller, the creator of the original Pop Idol). However, Clarkson was hesitant to resign with RCA, recalling her contract with the label as an arranged marriage. Instead, she accepted an offer from Atlantic Records for a record deal with larger creative freedom. And Meaning of Life, her first album with the label, is one-hundred percent reflective of this arrangement.
As I already said, we loved jamming to Kelly Clarkson’s massive hits circa 2005. But just the hits. At least for me, she never peaked my interest in her full albums, because all the songs sounded the same: pop rock and/or power-pop anthems. And that was fine, because they were good. But as much Meaning of Life is so different from anything Clarkson has ever released, it’s the most raw and uplifting she’s possibly ever sounded. Say goodbye to the pop rock and power-pop anthem Kelly Clarkson you knew. The old Kelly can’t come to the phone right now, because she’s dead.
Meaning of Life is an R&B, soul and gospel influenced record that excellently displays Clarkson’s vocal ability while also finally trying something new for the singer of those loveable but unfortunately clichéd pop anthems. Her creative control is immediately evident, from the uptempo beat of “Love So Soft” (which, like I said, is absolutely nothing like a Rihanna song), to the certified catchiness of “Heat” (next single please!), to the feminist anthem “Whole Lotta Woman.”
This is Kelly Clarkson like you’ve never experienced before, and I’m sorry it took so long for her to branch out from her previous style to try something just a little different. Maybe RCA and 19 were scared to let her branch out before because her third studio album from 2007, My December, took on a whole rock angle that received largely mixed reviews. Or maybe it was just because her power-pop anthems were so successful and so secure for everyone involved (I’d like to believe the latter). In any event, I’m happy that Clarkson opted to sign with a new label for the sake of more creative control, because if Meaning of Life is just the beginning for the new Kelly, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Jeffrey’s favorite tracks from Meaning of Life: “Heat”, “Love So Soft”, “Meaning of Life”, “Whole Lotta Woman”, “Medicine” and “Slow Dance”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

10 Movies That I Find Therapeutic

1. Juno (2007)

People are usually interested to know why I love Juno so much, and it honestly has nothing to do with the fact that it’s about teen pregnancy. I just think it’s a really cute young adult story (Ellen Page and Michael Cera will always be adorable together and there will be NO discussion about it). Also, the tone and dialogue of the script are very sarcastic and the more you’ve seen it, the more you pick up on it, so for me, King of Sarcasm, Sass and Bitterness, it makes me smile every time and always manages to pick me up when I need it the most.
2. 13 Going on 30 (2004)

I will accept no judgment when I say that 13 Going on 30 is one of my all-time favorites. I used to just love it because it was cute and funny, but now it always manages to calm me down when I feel like a child dressed up in an adult suit. It’s also a solid rom-com so if you’re looking for something deeper, why don’t you just take yourself to the theatre and go see Taken 5 or whatever the kids are watching these days.
3. Mystic Pizza (1988)

An absolutely underrated gem, Mystic Pizza will never get old for me. Three girls on the cusp of adulthood (including Julia Roberts in one of her first movies ever, before Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman) live in the small town of Mystic, Connecticut and work at Mystic Pizza, only the best pizza place ever (Mystic is a real place and Mystic Pizza is a real restaurant and I REALLY WANNA GO). It’s just a really heartfelt, well done coming-of-age story that may seem dated when you first go into it, but most of the issues the girls face are tales as old as time, so I think it stands up. Always manages to brighten me up when I need it to.
4. Easy A (2010)

Easy A is one of those great movies that no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you always manage to appreciate it in a new way the next time you go back to it. For those that are unfamiliar with one of the greatest teen movies ever, Emma Stone stars as Olive Penderghast, a high school girl who was never of much attention until one little lie becomes a really big rumor. Much like Juno, the tone and dialogue is very sarcastic, which I always appreciate. Amanda Bynes also co-stars as a blonde, bible-thumping snob, so there’s that.
5. Stepmom (1998)

Full disclosure: Stepmom is a total tearjerker so if you take my recommendation, please don’t come for me claiming I told you to watch a sad movie to lift your spirits. I HAVE GOOD REASONS. I first fell in love with Stepmom because, first and foremost, it features two of my all-time favorite actresses in leading roles: Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts. But I keep going back to it from time to time because I think it is a very poignant portrait of family drama...played out by two of my all-time favorite actresses. Okay, I might be a little biased here. But even though it is sad, I take a little comfort from it every time I watch it, so I do recommend.
6. Pitch Perfect (2012)

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t head over heels in love with Pitch Perfect the first time I saw it, like a lot of people were. It took watching it a few more times to recognize how truly and unabashedly AWESOME it is and only by watching it multiple times will you start to really appreciate the humor, and the music. We cannot forget about the music. One of the best movie soundtracks ever. Pitch Perfect never EVER fails to bring a smile to my face and make me feel better when I’m feeling down.
7. My Week with Marilyn (2011)

I actually only saw this movie for the first time recently, and I don’t know why I waited so long to seek it out. As someone who loves Marilyn Monroe for the person she was behind the sex symbol and icon (I’ve actually only seen bits and pieces of one of her movies and that’s it), My Week with Marilyn offers a great deal of insight into the woman behind the star and everything she went through and what her management put her through just so she could continue to be the Marilyn Monroe we remember today. I find part of it uplifting and relatable, because I think that a lot of the time, Marilyn just wanted someone she could trust to take her hand and tell her she was good enough and she could be the Marilyn they wanted. I think sometimes we all want someone to take our hand and say it’s fine, you’re fine, and you can do this. I don’t think Marilyn ever found that person, and maybe that person doesn’t really exist: you have to find the part within yourself that tells you you are okay and you are good enough. Michelle Williams also gives an AMAZING performance as Marilyn and she was ROBBED of that Best Actress Oscar.
8. Matilda (1996)

I do not think I would be who I am today without Matilda, both book and movie. Yes, a movie made for children, but with themes that I only learned to appreciate as I got older. Childhood favorite that will also be an adulthood favorite until the day I die.
9. Boys on the Side (1995)

Another tearjerker but PLEASE bear with me and try to find the positive messages you can take from this movie. Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and Drew Barrymore star as three friends who take to the road, all of whom are going through different things. Boys on the Side has brought me a great deal of comfort in the past and I will always recommend it to others looking for the same deal.
10. Girl, Interrupted (1999)

To say that Girl, Interrupted has literally saved my life on more than one occasion would not be an exaggeration. As someone who has come to struggle with anxiety, Girl, Interrupted always makes me feel better. Always. There are times where I will try to watch one of my typical “go-to” movies to make me feel better, but it’s so bad that even my favorites won’t help. Girl, Interrupted always helps and always puts things into perspective. It works on so many levels. I have a lot of gratitude towards this movie for what it has brought to my life and I only hope that it brings similar things to others.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Review: 'Fans of the Impossible Life' by Kate Scelsa

"We were three bodies that didn't know the end of each other, breathing together. We knew that we would have to go back. Kick off the leaves and become three separate people who would go off into the world, forced to breathe on our own. But not yet. Not quite yet."

Part of me wanted to just give this book 3 stars and say, "Meh, not bad, not great." Because, I have to admit, Fans of the Impossible Life is slow to start. Contemporary YA books of its kind don't usually take about 100 pages for me to become fully invested, but this one did. I don't think that necessarily has to be a bad thing, but the beginning was slow and it was at least 100 pages before I had become invested in these characters and/or fell in love with them, y'know, the usual.

Fans of the Impossible Life is about three high school students: Mira, Jeremy and Sebby, who are all dealing with their own problems before their three-way friendship begins. Mira, who is trying to start over at St. Francis Prep and convince her parents that she can be a functional human being, only feels alive and worthwhile when she is with Sebby. Enter Jeremy: a shy art nerd who is only looking for random signatures in order to grant extra time in the art studio after school. Before long, Mira and Sebby (a gay foster kid who doesn't feel like he belongs anywhere) have taken Jeremy under their wing. Not to mention Jeremy has fallen hard for Sebby. Hard. But all they're trying to do is survive, and live the better life: the impossible life. There's also their friend Rose, who is constantly breaking up and making up with her girlfriend, Ali.

This book does have a great deal of strong points: it does the LGBT elements very well (it also has a very nice portrait of gay parenthood), the characters and their "typical" problems do end up being very relatable (especially the elements of teen depression, which continues to be misunderstood), as well as Sebby's painful story as a foster kid. Jeremy being an introverted gay boy also hit home, very much so. It is also very well written: there are some passages (such as the one above) that are worthy of being copied into a notebook.

However, despite having its fair share of strong points, my main issue with Fans of the Impossible Life is that I feel like the author tried a bit too hard to make this her own version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower: the back cover even promotes it as perfect for fans of that book, which a lot of YA novels do, but Fans of the Impossible Life's similarities to The Perks of Being a Wallflower (or the outsider humor element in Mean Girls, for that matter) borders on cliché and unoriginal. I don't wanna say the whole book is cliché and unoriginal, because there were a lot of parts that were in fact original and heartfelt (Sebby being a gay foster kid was something I'd never seen in a YA book before, so that story was nice to see), but there were points when I was reading where I was like, um, this is almost a perfect copycat of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. C'mon, you can do better. And I feel like the second half of the book does make up for the clichés in the first half, but it is worth mentioning that it does feel like The Perks of Being a Wallflower more than influenced this book: at times, it does feel like a copycat.

A lot of readers online were upset with the ending of Fans of the Impossible Life, because it's very open-ended. But, honestly, I think with everything that goes down, the ending had to be open-ended. You don't necessarily heal from depression; you can get better and have a good period, but it's still there, so Mira's ending is good in that regard. I feel like people were upset mostly because of Sebby's ending, which I think was done perfectly, given everything that happens. If you like YA books with nice queer characters and elements, I recommend. I think there are a few things that hold it back from being totally perfect, but cute and enjoyable nonetheless. 4/5 stars.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Album Review: Shania Twain - 'Now'

The time had finally come. Some thought it might never happen; after all, there was a Las Vegas residency show and a “farewell” world tour, but others still held out hope, and the day finally came: after 15 long years, which included a lot of turmoil in her personal life, Shania Twain released her fifth studio album, Now, her first studio release since 2002’s Up!.
Shania Twain was the first artist I ever loved. 6-year-old Jeffrey had her Up! Close and Personal concert on DVD and sang along to every word on Up! and her 2004 Greatest Hits album until all of his friends and relatives were ready to kill him and/or beg him to please listen to something else. Before the days I fell in love with any other music, there was Shania. So to say I was excited when the announcement came that she was finally putting out a new studio album is a vastly large understatement.
I’ll admit, I was one of the people who had begun to believe a new album from Shania might never happen, and everything considered, I didn’t really blame her. As some may quickly forget—Twain retired from performing publicly in 2004 after the release of the Greatest Hits album, initially saying she wanted to focus on raising her son but would confirm years later that she was forced to step back from performing due to a weakening voice. By 2008, things would change forever for Shania when the media got wind of her separation from her husband and longtime producer, Robert “Mutt” Lange, who had been confirmed to have been cheating on her with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud. The following year, she attributed her lack of new music to personal pains and by 2011, Twain would reveal that lesions were found on her vocal cords and she was diagnosed with dysphonia (a.k.a. chronic hoarse voice). But 2011 would prove to be a pretty good year for Shania: not only were her vocal rehabilitation and recovery chronicled on her OWN reality series, Why Not? with Shania Twain (following the release of her autobiography, From This Moment On), but she also remarried…to the ex-husband of her former best friend! Isn’t it funny how things work out? She also released her first single in 7 years, “Today Is Your Day,” which never got the appreciation it deserved.
In 2012, Twain landed herself a Las Vegas residency show, Shania: Still the One, which ran until 2014 for a total of 105 shows. She stated several times that she was working on a new album during her time off from Still the One, continuing to post cryptic photos of herself in the studio or at home playing guitar for years to follow, but nothing ever seemed to materialize. As it was, people were already theorizing that her career was dead, because Vegas residency shows seem to have a bad rap of being where an artist goes to perform after their heyday has withered and died, but any Britney Spears fan will tell you that is largely false.
In 2015, Shania launched the Rock This Country Tour, which was said to be her farewell tour (and was also the first time I got to see her live! I’d only been wanting to see her in concert since the days when I watched her DVD until it didn’t work anymore so, yeah, dream come true). After that, a part of me seemed sure that new music might never follow: that might have been it, and I started to make my peace with that. But then, this year, after so many years of emotional turmoil, illness and promises that new music was coming, everything came true: in June 2017, Twain released a new single, “Life’s About to Get Good” (hoo boy, did that ever seem like a promising title!) and later announced that her fifth studio album and first in 15 years, Now, was to be released on September 29, 2017.
I’ll never forget the feeling of pure joy I had on June 15, 2017 when I logged onto YouTube to hear the audio of the lead single from Shania Twain’s first studio album in 15 years. It took a couple of listens for me to form an opinion—I was surprised by her vocals, which sounded oddly processed in a way I wasn’t used to hearing from her—but that didn’t impede on my overall opinion that the song was a light, summery BOP. She released a few other songs as promotional singles over the next few months, which I ultimately decided to stop listening to, because I wanted to experience the full album in all its glory when it came out. September 29, 2017: Jeffrey bolts to his local record store, praying to find a physical copy (physical CDs are becoming hard to come by in this day and age, and it makes me DEPRESSED), but there was no need to panic, several were in stock. I paid the highway robbery for the deluxe version of the CD (Shania deserves it regardless, so it was worth it). I came home. I imported it into iTunes. I pressed play. I listened. I tried to formulate what I thought, and I can finally say what I think of Now: it’s just okay, and maybe that’s okay.
Several people have asked me what I think of Shania’s new album (as they should, I mean, I wasn’t kidding when I said I lived and breathed Shania Twain as a child), and you know what? I can’t say it’s amazing. I can’t say it’s terrible. It’s just okay, and I’m satisfied with that. Like I said, while “Life’s About to Get Good” is a good tune (probably the most solid track on the album, honestly), it introduces us to a processed Shania we have never heard before. I have no beef with her for using pitch correction, and I have no beef with any artist who uses pitch correction (you can read more about that in my think-piece about auto-tune and pitch correction here). Shania can sing, and we know that. We’ve always known that. Her reasons for using pitch correction are none of our business, and even then, I don’t think we can really blame her: she all but completely lost her singing voice for several years and went through rehab to regain it, all while going through a painful separation and divorce with the man who produced a large part of her music for the first decade of her career. All of that to say, I’m sure Shania’s vocals aren’t what they used to be, and that is fine. Life happens. She wanted to finally put out a new album, and short of sounding less than stellar on the tracks, I’m sure some electronic manipulation was seen as necessary. And, on top of the processed Shania we weren’t used to hearing, Now is a much more somber, subdued Shania, and only some of that works for me, to be perfectly honest. As much as I sympathize with her for finding out that her husband was cheating on her with her best friend, the album contains more than one song whose lyrics obviously deal with her separation and divorce, which one wouldn’t exactly think are fresh wounds. Wounds, no doubt; I don’t delegitimize what she has gone through. But certain songs like “Poor Me” and “Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl” seem almost immature in retrospect, and combined with the fact that no song on the album is really OH MY GOD amazing, it continues to make it difficult to say Shania can still knock it out of the park, at least in this regard. Again, don’t get me wrong: her talent will always be valid, but with this new album it has become increasingly clear that she’s just not the old Shania anymore.
But like I said: that’s OKAY. With an artist like Shania Twain, who more than proved her presence in the music industry in the first decade of her career and then took a lengthy break, she doesn’t exactly have to continue knocking it out of the park when she knocked the ball so far out of the park years ago that we are still looking for it (her third studio album from 1997, Come On Over, would become the best-selling album by a female artist in any genre before Twain turned 40). In other words: she’s proved herself, so there isn’t always a need for artists like her to continue proving themselves. Her Greatest Hits album is still selling like hotcakes, no doubt. I’m sure she and the ex-hubby of her best friend have enjoyed many a meal off the royalties of those babies. Now is not a terrible album. If you like Shania, I will still encourage you to listen to it. There are some definite highlights. But we just have to accept that the old Shania exists in the past, and this is the current Shania. And that’s okay. Because, at the end of the day, if you really love an artist, you will continue to support them no matter where they take you on their journey as artists (case in point, guess who has tickets for the Shania Now Tour next June!)
Jeffrey’s favorite tracks from Now“Life’s About to Get Good”, “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed”, “Home Now”, “Poor Me” (I know I just criticized this song, but lyrical content aside, I do kinda like it), “We Got Something They Don’t”, “I’m Alright” and “You Can’t Buy Love”

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review: 'Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life' by Annie Spence

I really, really enjoyed this. Do you ever come across a book on Goodreads and think OMG I need this book right here, right now, but then you remember you're poor and your library might not have it yet? Yeah, my life. Anyway, I saw that my library did in fact have Dear Fahrenheit 451 on order, so I put it on reserve, thinking it would be awhile before I got a call saying it was in. But it was barely a week later when I got the call and I was very excited.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is a book of love letters and break-up notes to the books in Annie Spence's life, a Michigan librarian who has dedicated her life to books and has spent most of her librarian career being asked by others what they should read. So, she wrote a book full of book recommendations, loves and hates, all in the form of letters, notes and lists. And it was GREAT. I hadn't even heard of most of the books Spence was talking about, but her voice was so witty, snide and sarcastic that I felt like I knew her and could feel her voice in my head (I am also witty, snide and sarcastic about most things including books, so I think Annie Spence and I could be good friends!) Her break-up note to Fifty Shades of Grey was especially hilarious. I was reading past midnight and burst out laughing on that one. She also signs every letter and note with a handwritten print of "Annie," which I thought was super cute and creative.

The book also promotes the importance of reading and stories and how they shape our lives. We may not remember everything from every part of our lives, but often us book lovers will remember what we were reading when something significant happened in our lives, and Annie Spence's letters and notes to the books in her life remind us of the importance of all of that. I may or may not have added a few books to my to-read shelf on Goodreads after finishing Dear Fahrenheit 451 which I should probably be mad at Annie about because my TBR is never not a mess but I'm not upset in the least because I really valued her insight into what books others should read! The patrons at her library should feel lucky to have her to ask for book recommendations because she definitely knows what to do in every situation. Book lovers, I definitely recommend Dear Fahrenheit 451. Annie Spence has got you covered. 5/5 stars.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Album Review: Fergie - 'Double Dutchess'

Despite what some have said, and despite what others have said despite not even listening to Double Dutchess, Fergie’s long-awaited second studio album does not disappoint. In fact, it’s one of my favorite new albums released this year. And there’s been a lot of new music in 2017.
I’ve never really described myself as a huge fan of Fergie but I’ve always enjoyed her contribution to The Black Eyed Peas and, I’m sorry, if you didn’t blast “Big Girls Don’t Cry” for most of 2007 (and still don’t blast it from time to time now), we really can’t be friends. Not to mention the fact that I don’t know a single millennial who doesn’t know all the words to “Fergalicious,” and I’m pretty sure “Clumsy” is on a mixed CD I made recently that I keep in the car. All of this to say, Fergie set the stage for herself as a solo artist with her largely successful debut solo album The Dutchess, released in 2006. YES, 2006. It’s been 11 YEARS that people like me whose ears were intrigued by The Dutchess have been waiting for Fergie to release a follow-up record. Sure, she and the Peas were busy for a good 5 years following The Dutchess—but Fergie had been teasing and releasing new solo material since 2014 with promises that her second solo album was “on the way.” I for one lost a bit of interest. Other artists I like were giving me new albums in less time and I wasn’t a huge fan of the new singles Fergie first released over the course of 2014 to 2016. But when she finally announced that Double Dutchess, her long-awaited second studio album, was to be released on September 22, 2017, you bet your sweet bottom I was so happy I would finally get to listen to it.
I knew going in that Double Dutchess was going to have some weird contemporary hip-hop tracks that only Fergie can produce. Like, let’s call a spade a spade—she’s a hip-hop artist. I wasn’t expecting the latest revolutionary dance-pop album when I first downloaded it, but I was also hoping to hear a glimpse of the Fergie that gave us songs like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Clumsy,” and oh boy, does she ever. The album begins with a few bizarre hip-hop/rap-ish songs that, like I said, only Fergie can produce, but then we slowly start to hear the rawer, honest, and vocally talented Fergie we remembered from 2007. Bear in mind—not long before Double Dutchess finally dropped, Fergie and hunk hubby Josh Duhamel announced their separation after 8 years together. I didn’t think much of that at first in terms of the album, but one can only believe that they announced the news of their separation purposely before the album came out, because some of that raw and honest Fergie we get to become reacquainted with on Double Dutchess is for sure singing her way through some emotional turmoil—some of which we can only assume is about her marriage.
And when I say she’s singing her way through some emotional turmoil, I don’t mean that lightly. Without a word of a lie, Double Dutchess contains some of the most powerful and important songs I’ve heard this year. It starts with “Just Like You,” a slower, R&B-sounding track with the lyrics, “Oops, look what you made me do, I’m crazy just like you, I’m tainted just like you. Table set for two, look what you made me prove, I’m crazy just like you, I’m tainted just like you.” I was really taken aback by the subject matter, clearly about her marriage, because I really wasn’t expecting that. But I was pleasantly surprised—and the surprises would only continue from there. After that, our ears are blessed with a song called “A Little Work,” which is hands down one of the most important songs I’ve ever heard. It’s about mental health. It’s about your problems. It’s about my problems. It’s about dealing with those problems. It’s about how hard that is. It’s about how you are a warrior more than you know (that’s a lyric, I’m not that poetic). As I listen to this song more and more, I can’t help but close my eyes and smile at how important and groundbreaking its subject matter is. And yes, it’s by Fergie. I don’t know what the stigma surrounding Fergie is, perhaps it’s because she has this smutty and/or slutty quality to her (or so I’m told—more than one person has told me that) or maybe it’s because people associate her with Black Eyed Peas hip-hop and “Fergalicious,” but it’s time to let go of that vision. The Fergie we get to see on Double Dutchess is Fergie in all her glory, but with a new layer of emotional complexity that one can only applaud and commend her for sharing with the world through her artistry.
My other favorites from the album are “Life Goes On”—an upbeat, modern-day pop song about how no matter what you end up doing, at the end of the day, life goes on (the music video is also one of my new all-time favorites)—and “Save It Til Morning,” which is most assuredly the 2017 sequel to “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (the people in the YouTube comments section agree with me so it must be true, OK). “Save It Til Morning” is about a couple—no names are given, but based on that song’s music video, we can’t help but assume it’s drawn from real life—who are constantly forced to save their issues until the morning, when the event with red carpets and cameras is over. With the news of Fergie and Josh Duhamel’s separation so fresh in our minds, one can’t help but think that “Save It Til Morning” is about them, and it just about breaks your heart. Well, at least mine.
Other highlights from the album that I think are worth mentioning are “Enchanté (Carine)”—another rather weird Fergie hip-hop song, but it features vocals from her young son Axl Jack, so you have to think it’s at least a little cute—and “Tension,” an up-tempo dance track which has already been hailed a bop by Gay Twitter, so again, it must be true. And, I will probably catch judgement for this, but “M.I.L.F. $,” most probably the weirdest hip-hop song on the album that was released as a single in 2016, has begun to grow on me. I’m starting to find it catchy. LOOK AT ME FUNNY ALL YA WANT, SWEETS (but, actually, if you read Fergie’s explanation of the song, it’s actually a female empowerment track, so I guess the music critics missed the memo on that one). Oh, and if you’re looking for clarification on what that whole Double Dutchess: Seeing Double visual experience is all about, Fergie merely filmed a music video for every track and put it together to make a visual experience for the album, to make up for lost time. It was actually quite impressive.
Overall, I think Double Dutchess is a very unique and well put together album that is authentically Fergie and was worth the 11-year wait. I can singlehandedly commend it for “A Little Work” alone, which I do think is one of the most important songs I have ever listened to and for which I am grateful Fergie put into words, but I do think that she does not disappoint in delivering some bops that are of the same caliber as the bops from The Dutchess. If you liked Fergie circa 2007, a.k.a. the “Big Girls Don’t Cry” era, I do recommend Double Dutchess. In my honest opinion, I think it comes through.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: 'You Know Me Well' by Nina LaCour & David Levithan

This book is officially my all-time favorite LGBT novel written for young adults.

I have always been extremely picky with reading LGBT YA because they are either a near-hit, or a miss. Not even a hit or miss. A near-hit or miss. In other words, even with LGBT YA books that I have enjoyed, I still take issues with a few things here and there. They may not necessarily be because of the LGBT elements, but still, I don't think I have ever felt the inclination to rate an LGBT YA book the highest possible rating, until now.

My main issue with LGBT YA books is that, 9 times out of 10, they are usually what I like to call a painful coming out story - a gay or lesbian character going through large amounts of stress while coming to terms with who they are because of the unfortunate heteronormative society and culture we live in. I do not disrespect or devalue that these stories are important; I understand that YA books are, for the most part, aimed at teenagers and for LGBT teenagers, coming out is a large part of their experience. I've been told that if I'm looking for books with LGBT stories that don't have to deal with coming out and the (unnecessary) stress therein as main issues, I shouldn't be reading LGBT YA books. But I still disagree. I still think that despite coming out being a large part of the LGBT experience for gay teenagers, most of the LGBT YA books I've encountered don't shed light on what it's like to live and be alive as a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer person AFTER the "coming out" process, outside of the quintessential suburban high school experience. You Know Me Well does

You Know Me Well is about Mark, a baseball player who is in love with his best friend and sometimes boyfriend Ryan, and Kate, who is scared about an impending relationship with a girl she has wanted for a long time. Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but never really exchanged more than a few words until their paths cross when Mark and Ryan have sneaked into a gay bar at the start of Pride Week in San Francisco, and Kate has run away from her chance to meet Violet, the girl she has wanted forever. Mark and Kate develop a fast connection and bond almost immediately over his turmoil for Ryan playing with his feelings and his heart, and her anxiety over leaving for college to be an artist also while trying to juggle how she wants to be with Violet. The chapters shift between the two characters' perspectives, with Nina LaCour writing Kate and David Levithan writing Mark.

Not only does You Know Me Well provide an insight to what it means to be LGBT outside of coming out in high school suburbia, but the book doesn't shy away from including coming out whatsoever. It just isn't told with the two main characters, which I value and appreciate. While I do value coming out stories for what they represent, I happen to be much more interested in queer stories about living as LGBT people. Coming out isn't the whole story for gay teenagers; it's just the beginning, and hopefully in the future, it won't have to be such an ordeal. There are other stories to tell with LGBT teenagers, like finding your footing on living in a gay culture that's all your own. That culture has always been out there, and You Know Me Well gives gay history a subtle nod by having its story take place in San Francisco with scenes taking place in the Castro, one of the best known and most important gay neighborhoods in history.

All of this to say, You Know Me Well accomplishes what other LGBT YA books fail to include: life as gay people outside of high school, even when in high school. I can't be the only one who picks up LGBT YA books and read the back covers thinking, "Is this it? Stories of being blackmailed over your sexuality and having your straight girlfriends get jealous over who the gay boy came out to first? Is this all? There must be more," and I finally found the more I was looking for in You Know Me Well. I read reviews from several people on Goodreads who said they enjoyed the LGBT elements in this book but only rated it 3 or 4 stars at best because they thought the friendship between Mark and Kate was way too fast-paced and unrealistic; they become close within a week and are sharing their deepest, darkest secrets and apparently, that's unrealistic. Maybe it's just a connection they both felt so strong, so quick? An LGBT connection, perhaps? Interesting how the thing you take issue with is the friendship between a boy and a girl who aren't even straight when there are so many other things to enjoy and appreciate in You Know Me Well. Ugh, heterosexuals have to ruin everything with their opinions. Go read your Colleen Hoover and Jennifer L. Armentrout novels and leave these ones alone then.

I highly recommend You Know Me Well to anyone who likes LGBT YA books, even if you enjoyed some that I have blasted because they deal mostly with the coming out process. This book is an outstanding entry to the genres of both YA and LGBT literature, and I hope others will read it and appreciate it the same way I did. 5/5 stars.