A scar is born: Vox Lux

voxluxCast your mind back, if you dare, to the often-harrowing popular music landscape of 1999, for it’s now been 20 years since we bid farewell to the dying gasps of the last century. Slim Shady, “Mambo No. 5” and Smash Mouth’s future meme “All Star” mingled with pop punk, nu metal and other post-grunge horrors, as a generation of American man-children rose up to greet the new millennium with a regressive howl of baggy-shorted rage. In the charts, ex-Mouseketeer Britney Spears danced her way down a school corridor to rescue us with a hit that would define an incoming pop era, while in Columbine, two heavily armed teenage industrial-rock fans marched into their high school and murdered 12 of their peers, inaugurating the nation’s still-prevalent cycle of mass media–scrutinised school shootings. Continue reading “A scar is born: Vox Lux

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Fake it so real: Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Colette

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“It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” goes Noël Coward’s famous line from his 1941 play, and later film, Blithe Spirit. In real life, it was a paradox that the publicly guarded, privately homosexual bon vivant knew all too well. Perhaps fittingly, Coward was one of the cultural luminaries whose personal letters were embellished by the American writer-turned-literary-fraud Lee Israel, who, for a brief period in the early 1990s, successfully passed off forgeries purporting to be the letters of such noted artists. Israel was also queer, and developed a knack for performing to, and duly subverting, society’s expectations. Continue reading “Fake it so real: Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Colette

The Monthly music wrap: November 2018

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November was all about breaking up, moving on and self-empowerment: three of the month’s brightest and best pop singles – Little Mix’s “Joan of Arc”, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Party for One” and Ariana Grande’s ubiquitous smash “thank u, next” – celebrated the power of newfound solitude, dancing with themselves into an irrepressible dawn. Or maybe they’re bracing for the encroaching festive season, with its glut of forced revelry, annual life stocktaking and attendant loneliness – not to mention all the repackaged greatest hits and Christmas cash-ins. Continue reading The Monthly music wrap: November 2018″

I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story

boybandJessica Leski’s affectionate tribute to pop music fandom, I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story, couldn’t have arrived at a better moment. Conversations about music are no longer the exclusive domain of ‘knowledgeable’ men and their tired notions of rock ‘n’ roll authenticity. Today, the cultural discourse is finally making way for a refreshing inclusivity — a world of both Allys and Jackson Maines — and pop music feels like it’s getting the critical respect it always deserved. Continue reading I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story

A bigger, shinier cage: Julia Holter’s Aviary

julia“The first thing I ever recorded was a cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Crazy’,” the avant-garde musician Julia Holter tweeted recently. “Really emphasized the ‘crazy’ aspect. I remember people thinking it was scary.” Like Spears’ candy-coated, lovesick intimation of madness, there’s a restless duality to Holter’s fifth and latest record, Aviary, an unpredictable sonic landscape where a sudden exaltation of love can interrupt a tumble into the abyss – and vice versa, often within the same song. Continue reading “A bigger, shinier cage: Julia Holter’s Aviary

The Monthly music wrap: October 2018

robynIt was like a secret communion from five minutes into the musical future. Last week’s visit from a true British royal, Charli XCX, saw the micro pop queen preside, like a Powerpuff Girl on Fhloston Paradise, over a handful of sold-out solo shows in Sydney and Melbourne. (She plays again, this Friday, at The Oxford Underground in Sydney.) Though here in support of mainstream princess Taylor Swift, Charli’s sound is forged from an ever-so-alternate dimension: the forward-thinking artist and her collaborators, among them PC Music’s A.G. Cook and emergent avant-pop star SOPHIE, have taken pop’s elements and reshaped them into gleaming, hyper-synthetic new shapes. Her hits (“I Love It” with Icona Pop, “Boom Clap”, “Fancy” with Iggy Azalea) don’t compare to her fan “hits”: the candy-coloured experimental synth pop of the recent “Focus” or last year’s masterful mixtapes Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, which dictate the majority of the evening’s setlist. While sometimes duetting with a digitally disembodied Carly Rae Jepsen (on the majestic heartbreak of Pop 2’s “Backseat”), Australian singer Troye Sivan, or even herself, Charli’s main partner tonight is the audience, who know and chant every line of these songs like the bizarro-world smashes that they are. Continue reading The Monthly music wrap: October 2018″

Eternally Cher

cherTime-travel fiction maintains that the ability to move through the space-time continuum requires a constant, unchanging vessel, ideally of durable design. In popular culture, this has variously manifested as a police box, a glowing ball of neon energy, a 1980s sports car, and even a platinum-wigged diva. Not coincidentally, one of the more striking images of the American singer and actor Cher depicts her in flaxen ringlets and cavegirl two-piece, looking mannequin-serene and flanked by two gruff simian centurions from Planet of the Apes. It ostensibly comes from a goofball skit on 1972’s The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, parodying the original film, but such is Cher’s ability to slip in and out of time as a constant that it could be from 2018 or 3978 – so fluidly has she moved, Zelig-like, across a 54-year career with near-ubiquity. There she is, executing a perfect robot move next to a free-spinning teenage Michael Jackson, bringing a besotted David Bowie to his knees, pioneering the outré Oscar ensemble, tirelessly advocating for LGBT rights or casually inventing modern pop via Auto-Tune. For sheer cultural scale, consider that Cher was one of the back-up singers on The Ronettes’ 1963 urtext “Be My Baby”, which is the pop equivalent of being in the control room when the architects of the universe flipped the switch for the Big Bang. If there’s a person left standing when the apes do inherit the Earth, you can bet it’ll be her. Continue reading “Eternally Cher”