Tag Archives: pop culture

Ariana Grande, ‘thank u, next’

Ariana Grande’s 2018 release, sweetener, had only been on store shelves for two months before the pop star began recording its follow up, thank u, next. Prior to this, Grande had officially declared a hiatus from her music career following both the passing of ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller and split from fiance, Pete Davidson.

sweetener stood as Grande’s statement following 2017’s Manchester bombing and her newfound relationship with Davidson. Riddled with songs dealing with crippling anxiety and odes to newfound love, sweetener inched Grande’s image one-step closer to the sense of female empowerment that simmered under fan favorites such as “Dangerous Woman,” and “Bang Bang.” Obviously wounded, Grande would nevertheless assure interviewers and fans alike that she was in an optimistic place following a self-professed love of therapy and studio sessions.

thank u, next rewrites that story. For her fifth album, Grande ditches her pop roots for Beyonce-style R&B and a controversial trap sound that sent Twitter into a frenzy for weeks. With it’s vulnerable lyrics and upbeat sound, the album’s title track earned Grande her first #1 on the Billboard 100. Save for the risque “7 Rings,” (Grande’s 2nd #1, might we add) such confidence proves an exception on the 12-track collection; Grande herself described thank u, next in an interview with Billboard as ” [sounding] really upbeat, [although] it’s actually a super-sad chapter. [The album’s] not particularly uplifting.” 

Songs like the bouncy highlight, “NASA” and the quirky “make up” are prime examples. Playful rhythms and quirky synths try their best to sugarcoat the underlying themes of distancing and shortcomings within relationships. Sonically, the blaring synth horns and percussive groove of “bloodline” are reminiscent of 2016’s “Side to Side.” The first half of “bad idea” comes closest to Grande’s “Into You” days before seguing into a trap-lite instrumental. Throughout the record, buoyant arrangements and sanguine melodies repeatedly distract from Grande’s melancholic views; most fans probably found themselves listening to tracks on repeat just to understand the full gist of the album’s heavy mood.

Other cuts, such as the stripped-down “needy” and the eerie “ghostin’,” face her anguish head-on. It’s on these tracks that producers Tommy Brown and the duo, ILYA and Max Martin allow for Grande’s much needed vulnerability. While the aforementioned “7 Rings” tries to smother her disappointment under thick sub-bass and heavy braggadocio, the straight-forward heartache and disappointment heard on “in my head” and “fake smile” offer an honest view fans are sure to appreciate.

thank u, next has become Ariana Grande’s 4th chart-topping album on the Billboard 200 with a debut week of 360,000 total units. After five years since Grande’s debut album, thank u, next has finally scored Grande not one, but two #1 debuts on the Hot 100 (with “break up with your boyfriend, i’m bored” set to become her third). Still, thank u, next’s biggest achievement isn’t its commercial success; rather, its an unabashed embracing of the personal that allows the record to stand on its own two feet. On her latest release, Grande favors keyed-down production and vulnerability over the high-profile promotional schedules and controversies that have marked her career thus far.

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Madeon, “Imperium”

Since July 7th, 2011 —the date when Madeon’s 38-song sampler, “Pop Culture,” was first uploaded onto Youtube—the 20-year old DJ has steadily been on the rise. Between remixing deadmau5 songs, performing at major Music Festivals, and working on Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, Hugo Pierre Leclercq has had little time to release more than just a handful of singles and an attempted E.P.

This hard-hitting floor stomper, however, marks a major change in the young producer’s career; “Imperium” is Madeon’s battle cry of a lead single from his much-anticipated debut album:

“’Imperium’ is probably one of the hardest sounding songs I’ve made. . .It was inspired by the past couple of years of touring around the world. My intention was to write something that was fueled by the energy of dance music but with a narrative element. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the album yet it’s an important part of it, it’s the transition between two phases. I wanted to capture the feeling of ‘confidently walking into adversity.” — Madeon, On “Imperium”

True to the latin phrase, Madeon storms into the last quarter of 2014 with a synth anthem for the masses. Madeon blends sax samples, brass riffs, and squelchy synth stabs into a 3-minute electro-stomp that never risks too much repetition. The tracks mainstay, however, is the bold bass line which completes Madeon’s vision of a rebel yell to herald in an undeniably formidable debut LP.

Fight of the Clones: Why Mewtwo for the Super Smash Bros. Series?

Despite recent stock shortages in Japan, the first portable version of the Super Smash Bros. Series left many fans disappointed. Gamers worldwide were outraged at the inclusion of seemingly redundant character “clones” —essentially, characters that borrow movesets and movements from an already existing character—such as Lucina, Dark Pit, and Dr. Mario. Both the 3DS version and the yet-to-be released Wii U edition of the Nintendo brawler touts an extra 12 characters to Brawl‘s own roster. While the likes of Ganondorf, Toon Link, and Luigi prove to be repetitive, yet essential additions to a game highlighting the Nintendo canon, Dark Pit and Dr. Mario should’ve been obvious candidates for alternate costumes.

In short, I’ve been waiting for this game for 10 years now—specifically, since my 10th birthday when I unwrapped my own smoke gray Nintendo 64, a copy of the original SSB, and Pokemon Yellow. Within hours of playing, I dreamt of a copy of the SSB game I could play anywhere and everywhere.

Then Mewtwo was featured in the SSB sequel, Brawl. Needless to say, I was nostalgically ecstatic.

Mewtwo has long reigned as one of Pokemon’s most controversial members—both in and outside of Super Smash Bros. When Melee was released to cater to the original’s success, the Smash Back Room (forums of the most popular SSB online forums, SmashBoards), listed Mewtwo as the worst character in the series. The website cited an awkward combination of large stature, light weight, and “floatiness”(“Smash Wiki”). Despite impressive throws and and superior jumping abilities, the notorious villain would only climb 5 more spots on the Smashboards list.

Mewtwo clones would come and go.  Lucario, and Greninja were crammed into the series in an attempt at cross promotion with the most recent Pokemon game releases at the time. Nintendo would try to mold Lucario into the newest Pokemon rebel through feature length movies and prominent roles in game storyboards that capitalized on the psychic-like possibilities of “aura” and Lucario’s preference for solitude. It seemed Nintendo itself yearned for the return of its own Frankenstein. Even Greninja’s “Water Shuriken” move in SSB3ds would invoke the nebulous imagery of Mewtwo’s preferred projectile in Melee, “Shadow Ball.”

water-shuriken

True, I am biased. I grew up with the original 151 Pokemon (Yes, Mewtwo was my favorite) and saw the first feature length Pokemon film, Mewtwo Strikes Back, in theaters. This nostalgia, however, seems justified. Sakurai’s decision to not only include Charizard (a first-generation veteran) as a playable fighter (sans Brawl’s Pokemon Trainer) but also his Mega-Evolution as a Final Smash, showed the creator’s own willingness at reaching back to the generation that started it all. Why couldn’t Nintendo capitalize on Mewtwo’s two Mega-Evolution’s which single-handedly raised Mewtwo back from the 90’s and into the awareness of a new generation of gamers? You can stream hours of Youtube videos of Melee and Brawl hackers who’ve created a convincing mod of Mega Mewtwo Y (Watch Here!). Why couldn’t Mewtwo—arguably, the more complex and influential of the two— receive the Charizard treatment?

10 years after receiving SSB, I am by-far pleased with Masahiro Sakurai’s newest release.  I hardly consider myself the gamer or Pokemon fan I was as a kid; if anything, the release of SSB3DS has reawakened my innate game junkie. Still, the likes of Dark Pit and Dr. Mario are agonizing options for such a landmark release in the SSB. franchise. Meanwhile, other newcomers such as Greninja and the Duck Hunt duo (which seem to have replaced the veteran Ice Climbers—or maybe that was Robin?) are quirky, (even refreshing, perhaps?) nods to Nintendo’s past and present.

While many forum lists have debated which Nintendo elites—some veterans, others new SSB possibilities—would’ve been better suited for inclusion in the newest generation of the SSB franchise, I find Pokemon X & Y’s recent unveiling of Mewtwo’s mega-evolutions, and the character’s reputable past in the series as more than sufficient reasons for Mewtwo’s return—in terms of playability and promotion of other concurrent series.

Got a better fighter in mind? Leave a comment below!

American Archetypes: Five Jungian Motifs You’ve Adopted

You don’t have to be a psychology student or psychiatrist to know what Carl Jung recognized as archetypes. We can easily discern that Gandalf and Dumbledore both serve a familiar function in their stories as the old, wise man (impressing the “little” people with magic, offering brain-racking riddles as solutions for saving the world) just as much as we all acknowledge that Mario and Beowulf are both heroes. All memorable narratives have timeless motifs threaded through them that attempt to explain universal dilemmas and experiences. Like any great narrative (thank you, Hayden White), American history is filled to the brim with its own unique, yet recognizable archetypes. The following figures listed below include five of the most prominent —and unexpected—archetypes that inform our own collective American unconscious:

5.) Bigfoot as the Wild Man

While stories of the wild man can be found on every continent (maybe not Antarctica), the most famous and publicized ape-boy is America’s own, Bigfoot! While native legends extend the Sasquatch’s history back several centuries, the year 1958 and the Bluff Creek footprints helped catapult the Big Monkey straight through the canopy and into the limelight. Eight years later, the Patterson-Gimlin Film would transform the old Indian wives’ tale into an unmistakable American Icon.

Covered in shaggy fur and leading a life devoted to bipedalism, Bigfoot joins the ranks of the satyr, Yeti, and medieval Green Man in an archetypal lineage that extends all the way back to what was, perhaps, civilization’s first wild man, Enkidu. As the ultimate wingman in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu provided the standard for the wild man archetype that Bigfoot would inherit: gigantic, feral, furry, and all about “green living.”

With the recent airing of Animal Planet’s freak-nomena, Finding Bigfoot, the Tall Guy was reintroduced to the average American consciousness and allowed to maintain a cultural phenomena established by America’s first people, the Native Americans.

4.) Uncle Sam as the Father

Originally, there was “Brother Jonathan.”  Jon held the role as a vague personification of the Union before ultimately yielding to the charisma of his younger brother, Uncle Sam. While Old Sammy can originally be found in the 1775 lyrics to “Yankie Doodle,” his rise to fame supposedly began during the War of 1812, a conflict usually brought up during reviews for G.E. History courses or as a possible candidate for war re-enactors. His most famous appearance, however, was his spread for J.M. Flagg’s 1917 recruitment poster that infamously reads, “I Want You for U.S. Army.”

Like any good father, the U.S. government’s persona, Uncle Sam was protective, militaristic, and completely willing to pay for your college education. America’s Lord Kitchener became the subject of many political cartoonists who felt citizens could easily relate with a figure who strongly represented the demeanor of America’s founding fathers.

3.) Hurricane Katrina as the Deluge

For Christians, no flood was more important than God’s wrathful flooding of Noah’s world in Genesis. Anthropologists might claim that the Judeo-Christain account was nothing but a knock-off, with Greek, Mayan, Mesopotamian, and Native North American variations supporting their claims.  Most Americans, however, would probably cite Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 tempest tantrum as the most influential flood in recent history. As a category 5 hurricane, Katrina became the costliest cyclones in U.S. History in terms of both property damage and lives lost.

As a symbolic act of a deity’s compensation for sin, some (namely, The Westboro Baptist Church) might say the flood myth stood as God’s variation of ethnic cleansing. According to the likes of Pat Robertson, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and the W.B.C., Katrina was God’s reprimanding for America’s various purported offenses of abortion, Antisemitism, and provoking Al-Qaeda. Needless to say, Hurricane Katrina not only proved to be one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. History but also unveiled America’s unabashed ignorance.

2.) The Mob as the Trickster

As an archetype, the trickster holds prestige. Whether it’s Old Man Coyote redirecting rivers or even Bugs Bunny (yes, Warner Bros. mascot is quite the charlatan—just ask Elmer) outwitting the best of them, the trickster has swindled cultures around the world since the beginning of civilization. While Bugs may be a fair candidate for the title of America’s trickster,  his PG-Rated pranks fall flat compared to the pervasive influence of America’s most notorious gang, the American Mafia.

Although the Mob has roots in the Sicilian Mafia, our own version began to flourish along East Coast metropolises such as New York during the Italian diaspora at the turn of the 20th Century.  Maintaining holds in cities such as New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago, the Mob would rely on a rigid hierarchy and harsh codes to rise to national notoriety. At the height of their influence, the Mafia would work with the U.S. Government during World War II and attempts at Fidel Castro’s assassination. Pop culture relics such as Scarface, The Sopranos , and the Oscar-winning The Godfather would pay tribute to what The Wall Street Journal claims is “the largest organized crime group in the U.S.”

1.) Communist China as the Shadow

Carl G. Jung, founder of analytical psychology (and the whole reason this article is able to exist!), claimed that the Shadow represents “those aspects of oneself that exist, but which one does not acknowledge or with which one does not identify” (Fordham). Essentially, our own Shadows consist of traits we either refuse or fail to acknowledge in ourselves. Jung himself claimed the Shadow was the “seat of creativity” and akin to the “unconscious” of his mentor, Freud.

Seeing both the constructive and regressive qualities of what the Shadow is capable in an individual, how might America’s own Shadow be expressed? The answer might lie somewhere West of America’s Promised Land in the unlikely tendencies of Communist China.

Although America’s First Red Scare seemed mainly concerned with Russian Bolshevism, which later became the Federation’s own Communist party, the Second Red Scare roused suspicions in Americans following Communist China’s success in the Chinese Civil War and consisted of the infamous act of “McCarthyism.” With media hysteria plaguing the minds of Post-WWII America, Communism was undeniably off-limits to any respectable American. Nevertheless, the Communist Party USA remained to remind us that as an ideology, communism has free reign in a constitutionally founded country and is very much on the mind of America.

While America may boast of its own self-empowered system, a stroll through your local Toy-R-Us or Walmart will quickly remind any consumer that China practically monopolizes America’s production of goods. Furthermore, with China owning $1.268 trillion in U.S. debt (Amadeo), Communist China appears to be more of an underlying economical backbone rather than a foreign competitor. At this point, American patriotism might as well be another name for Jungian repression and denial.