For someone who has six Rihanna songs on his iPod, I’ve been incredibly slow to acknowledge her staying power. Time after time, single after single, I’ve kept thinking she’s an artist who can’t last.
I mean, really. She has had some amazing singles–including “S.O.S.,” “Don’t Stop the Music,” and the ubiquitous “Umbrella”–but she still hasn’t exhibited a clear artistic personality. To paraphrase my friend Kerri, she’s talented and pretty and a great dancer, but so are lots of people. Anyone could be singing her hits. Compared to fellow superstars like Beyonce, Pink, Ne-Yo, and Nelly Furtado, Rihanna is just a producer’s plaything, competently singing incredible hooks that someone else has written.
And yet… “Disturbia,” another great song with a killer video, just went to number one. That’s her fourth number one in roughly two years, and her ninth top ten hit in just over three. Throw in “Shut Up and Drive,” which peaked at a respectable number 15, and you’ve got enough material for a filler-free greatest hits disc.
What to make of all this? Has Rihanna just gotten really lucky? Has she hooked up with all the right songwriters and producers and managed to become a superstar?
I feel like that’s the case, but I will keep on buying her songs. It’s kind of nice, actually, that these great hits are all coming from the same person. It’s better to have one Rihanna than six sound-alikes with one hit each. Life is less confusing that way.
When I moved to New York, I never imagined I would be co-writing and co-starring in an Off Broadway play, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
On August 27, at the fantastically awesome Ars Nova, I will appear in Ruth and Esther’s Lemonade Revue, a mostly-improvised play that I wrote with my friend and co-star, Alex Dickson.
Here’s the official blurb:
Live and uncensored from their living room in Bulls Gap, Tennessee, scandalous single gal Ruth (Alexandra Dickson) and retired schoolteacher Esther (Mark Blankenship) will sweep you into their world of Southern hospitality and down-home sass. Offering up delectable homemade snacks, fabulous prizes and shoot-from-the-hip advice, a night with these ladies is sure to charm the pants off you. Grab your glass of Southern Comfort and settle in. These gals are so excited to make new friends, they just might sing about it! Directed byÂ Shira Milikowsky.
When I was in Chattanooga, my friends Collin and Russ introduced me to the sweet horror of Troll 2, a 1990 movie that has been dubbed one of the worst films of all time.
But as people in the film’s growing cult understand, this movie isn’t just bad: It’s transcendently bad. This montage suggests why…Â
Honestly, it’s just sublime. The acting, the writing, the fact that the director and crew were Italians who didn’t know English. The fact that one of the actors was an Alabama dentist with no previous acting experience. It’s almost too much to absorb.Â
But plenty of movies are bad. Why is this one so much fun?
I’d argue it’s not just because the audience can sit back and mock the travesty before it. That kind of irony makes it fun to watch films likeÂ Showgirls, whichÂ was made by experienced professionals. The backing of a major studio implies skill, so when everything goes awry, there’s perverse joy in seeing so-called experts crash and burn.
Troll 2, though, comes from amateurs and non-English speakers. It feels like a home movie shot on grandma’s farm, which invites us to remember our own plays in the backyard and home videos made with dad’s camera. We can identify with these people because they almost seem like us.
Also? The actors and director are totally sincere. Every moment in this movie is played straight, with no one winking at the camera. That earnestness is endearing because even though the movie is a train wreck, you kind of have to root for the people who worked so hard to make it. For me, that’s what makes Troll 2 a disaster I can love.Â
The Staples “Easy Button” campaign has existed for several years, and now there’s a new series of ads about people trying to use the button in other places. For instance, this lady wants to use it at a gas station…
If I could walk into a Staples, see some college-ruled paper for $2.99, slap the Easy Button, and then buy it for $1.50, then this commercial would be spot-on. But unless I’ve missed something, that’s not how Staples works. Just like at the gas station, their prices are fixed, no matter how many Easy Buttons I’m rocking. Â
That’s why this ad campaign has always confused me. In TV land, the Easy Button has real power. It can refill your ink cartridge,Â or if you’re British, it canÂ rescue you from a mountain of paperwork.Â
But why promote such an obvious a joke? Isn’t that kind of lame? Isn’t it an obvious attempt to force a catchphrase down our throats instead of letting it emerge organically?
Maybe. But maybe not. Apparently, people are buying Easy Buttons and using them as motivational tools in their offices and classrooms. I always thought the real-life button was a waste of money, but it might be a shrewd marketing tool that gets people to associate Staples with positive solutions for business and education.
But that aspect is not the focus of the ads. They’re still pushing the idea that the Easy Button works at Staples itself. Unless there are commercials I haven’t seen, this whole “buttons in the classroom” angle is like a grassroots movement.
And it’s kind of brilliant to let it stay underground. That lets consumers feel empowered to create a trend themselves. People can use Easy Buttons because their friends told them to, not because a commercial did.Â
Does anyone have any Easy Button experiences to share? What are your thoughts on this $5 piece of plastic?Â
Talk about an appropriate theme! After trips to both Vermont and Chattanooga, my wild summer vacation is coming to a close. It has brought me Cracker Barrel visits, aÂ brief illness, andÂ a movie called Troll 2 that I’ll be writing about very soon.
And finally, my vacation has brought me here: The last night before everything goes back to normal. Before work creeps in and all of the food comes out of my own refrigerator. Obviously, I need songs to help me wind this thing down. Obviously, I need to Crank. That. Hit.
Remember when “Bawidtaba” came out, and it seemed like Kid Rock wasÂ aÂ marketing ploy gurgling up from an oil slick on an abandoned Nascar track? And then he released “Only God Knows Why” and “Picture,” and despite his Michigan roots, he was suddenly the heir apparent to Southern rock?Â And then he kept marrying Pam Anderson and talking about porn?
I still don’t understand it. Kid Rock and I seem really dissimilar, yet IÂ like a lot ofÂ his songs. Even “Bawitdaba” has trashy-white-rapper appeal. How does he keep doing this to me?
Here’s the biggest sign that Kid RockÂ casts a magic spell: His current hit rhymes a word with itself, andÂ I don’t even care.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that inÂ the chorus to “All Summer Long” (shown above), Kid musters some late-80s nostalgia for an adolescence spentÂ ”trying different things” and “smoking funny things.”
And… um… it’s possible that all the funny things he’s been smoking have blunted K-Rock’s ability to writeÂ a decent lyric, but come on. Couldn’t someone have given my boy a rhyming dictionary? It just sounds so lazy to repeat yourself!
Yet the song? Still works. Who can fight the Lynyrd Skynryd groove? The arrival of soul divas,Â just likeÂ in “Remedy“? This is every Southern rockÂ hit rolled into one, and I like it.
Another song that gets away with lyrical sloppiness is Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” In the chorus, B sings, “I could have another you in a minute/Matter fact he’ll be here in a minute”: My friend Rachel graciously suggests that Beyonce is so mad atÂ herÂ boyfriendÂ that she can’t be bothered to come up with a rhyme. She just has to get those words out, regardless of how they sound.
Well… maybe. But does it matter? This song owns me. It owns you. It owns that Burger King in the mall. I know it was overplayed in 2006, but give it another listen. Repeated lyrics or not, it’s pop gold. If Beyonce and Kid Rock collaborated, the results wouldÂ undoubtedly be strange, addictive, and invole onlyÂ three words,Â repeated over and over until we fell weeping to our knees.
The Movie: Nick and Norah’s Infinite PlaylistÂ (opening October 3)
The Buzz: Michael Cera wants to validateÂ the (much-deserved) affection he generated afterÂ Juno, Superbad, and Arrested Development. Hence, this indie comedy with a carefully constructed soundtrack about two unlikely twentysomethings falling in unlikely love.
Chattanooga Update: Tomorrow will involve barbecue.
As for today’s theme… You see, when I was driving to and from Vermont over the weekend, I ended up listening to CDs in the car.Â I know, right? CDs!Â It was like 2001 up in that Mazda!Â
One of the discs I had with me wasÂ The Essential Cyndi Lauper,and when I popped it into the CD player, somewhere around Boston, I decided to listen to every track. None of this iPod-style cherry-picking for me! It was every song or no song at all!Â
Because of my decision, IÂ discovered threeÂ Cyndi gems. (Not including “All Through the Night,” whose video is above. That song has been carved on my heart for years.) I’ll praise my new friends after the jump…
For those who missed them–or who don’t have my name on Google Alert like I do–here areÂ links toÂ three of my recently-published pieces:
The first is from last Sunday’sÂ New York Times,and it sheds light on some of the many talented “backstage artists” who make theater happen. Let me tell you: I never expected to meet a “puppet specialist,” and it was incredibly cool. I got to play with some of the actual puppets from The Lion KingÂ while standing onÂ theÂ stage of the Minskoff Theater. It was awesome. And during a performance of The 39 Steps, I was onstage during a scene, watching people make shadow puppets. In doing the research for this piece, I had tons of experiences like that. If I’d had the room, I could have stretchedÂ it to 4,000 words.
The second piece is from Sunday’s New York Daily News, and it explores how to have a successul housing swap in New York City. This still seems like a fantasy world to me, but I’m pretty sure the people I interviewed weren’t hallucinations.
Finally, there’s this Monday’s review of the spectacular Off Broadway play Animals Out of Paper.If you can, you should see it. It has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in New York.