Before I begin, I would like to apologize for my absence. What began as a decline in personal health and an ongoing family emergency turned into starting up and losing a time-consuming job. On top of it all, I developed a bad case of writer’s block. But here I am. Back and rested. No longer a self-fulfilling prophetic joke. On with the show.

Welcome back, laaaaaaaaadies and gentlemen!

During my long absence, my neighbor bopped the summer away to every EDM, dubstep, and EDM-tinged song he could find. Or that his Pandora station could find. Or maybe it was five particular songs back to back to back to back to back to back enough times that they sounded like relatively unrelated material. I couldn’t tell. All I know is that one magical day, Etta James was everywhere I went. Whether she was on my old job’s speakers, in the form of Starbucks’ new “Greatest Of” compilation, available at select retail locations near you! or being echoed across the road over Swedish synths, she was alive and well that day.

I’ll save you half a Bing, depending on your age.

Ahh,  but there is more than one song out there with Etta James and synths. In the past two years alone, one version is Avicii’s “Levels,” which samples James’ 1962 gospel-tinged anthem “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” and supports Ms. James’ vocals against some smart, pithy synth riffs and pattern. The other, released within a few months of the former, is Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” which samples the entire Levels song and adds some rap verses and a catchy club-EDM breakdown. These versions are so similar that Flo Rida actually gave the Avicii boys songwriting credits on his version. It was the most blatantly uninspired move since Kanye West threw a drum beat on “Billie Jean” and called it a remix.

Pre-Taylor Swift genius

When they first came out, I remember discussing “Levels” and “Good Feeling” with a DJ, expressing my disgust with the latter, calling it a “sample of a sample.” At the time, I considered myself to be of an older school of thought: Music and larger art do not shamelessly copy-and-paste someone else’s 100% original work, tweak or add some elements, slap on a new name, and call it good. They toil in the fields and mines of Creativity: sweating, aching, straining, until pure creative gold veins are extracted, tapped like video girls on a Friday night, or junkies on a Saturday night.

A Kate Moss work week, circa 2003, if you will.

Ah! But my friend disagreed. His mind is of a newer school, one able to compose in EDM layers, free of academic pretense. “If the material is out there,” he said during a session, “and it’s in good enough condition to use, go for it!” He, like many others, consider sampling to be like scavenging the musical wilderness, fusing together bits and pieces from the most pedestrian and obscure sources into stunning hybrid creatures which embody the ethos of both times long gone and times shimmering milliseconds into the future.

Probably.

Soooooooooooo. I could go ahead and makes compelling arguments for either side, but this is my blog, not eleventh grade persuasive argument class. THEREFORE: in the comments section, tell me: is sampling-in-general plagiarism or innovative?

Getting to Know Ashia Grzesik

An article I wrote, which was picked up by Portland Monthly. A critical analysis of a rising Portland music star, disguised as a lowly profile. Read! Give us both hits like Huffington Post!

Photo by Andrew Jankowski

Ahhhs, the 2000s. The double-ohs, the Aughts, the Naughties, the Millennials, the Undefinable Generation. It’s hard to believe that talking about ten years ago is a post-9/11 world, not the safe, simple time of the 1990s. As strange as it may seem, there are walking, talking little meat larva who have no living memory of September 11, 2001. They do not remember 9/11.

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“YAY TERRORISM!”

After 9/11, America was looking to get out of her whitebread suburb and drown her sorrows in alkie-hawl. She was flushed with cash from a runaway “national defense” budget, and was just beginning to discover “da club,” and for the first time in her young life, she tried being friends with black people. By “tried,” I of course mean crafting the crunk and cross-faded urban thug, unashamedly saying “bling bling,” and getting White Girl Wasted.

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“Truly, as gods they were.”

What is White Girl Wasted, you probably aren’t asking? Why, it’s the most fabulous, crabulous level of Drunk there is, moron! See, when you’re White Girl Wasted, you can say (read: scream and/or slur) shit like that at strangers and get away with it. You know you look good — no, ravishing, goddammit! — you know everyone is listening to you, and you know you’re as invincible as a Thor wearing armor made of Zeus’ beard and Wolverine’s bones.

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“I are Jesus H. Ke$ha-Christ, and I am the Second Coming. Giggle.”

If there is one thing we will remember the 2000s for, besides 9/11, it will be the divas who spent the majority of it plastered off their collective ass. Cheers, ladies, this one’s for you, and why you do matter. No particular order:

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“Courtney Love, America’s Sweetheart: The Heartbroken Trainwreck Diva.”

America has a love-mostly hate relationship with Courtney Love. Artist, actress, and lead singer of Hole, Love will forever be remembered as the Widow Cobain, the negligent mother, the off-her-nut drug addict. Or, as Love herself once said, “the junkie Auntie Mame.” While the 90s gave Love everything she ever wanted — a successful career as a Strong Female Musician, a loving young family, and adoration from fans across the world — the 90s also took it all away from her. By the 2000s, she was a shambling wreck of her former self. Years of drug abuse and a lifetime of psychological horror were taking their toll.

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Rock Star

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Model-Actress

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America’s Sweetheart

After the dissolution of Hole, Love was out to reinvent herself. And reinvent herself she did: During Le Disaster, Love went from being an A-list singing actress to being a whacked-out, cracked-out cartoon. Whether she was neglecting Kurt Cobain’s heir, or spending time in court/rehab, or having any combination of public meltdowns, you just knew she was on something. But for the stretches of debauchery and excess seen in America’s Sweetheart, it comes off as half-baked, or well overcooked. It lacked the uninhibited fury of Pretty on the Inside, the zeit of Live Through This, and the calculated pop polish of Celebrity Skin.

Or does it?

If, some crazy how, you’re not up-and-up on your Courtney Love history, you will know that following Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, Love went on tour to promote Hole’s new record, the prophetic “Live Through This.” Per interviews she has given, she did not take time to properly grieve. Taking that into consideration, as well as intense public scrutiny and post-suicide guilt, it’s hardly a shock that Love would lose it, big time. Even at her most drug addled, America’s Sweetheart is filled with deeply personal cries and a spirit of determined survival in the face of adversity. As someone who dealt with post-suicide guilt for a number of years while not grieving properly, the album screams of heartbreak, and is desperately hungry for love, and Love.

“Britney Spears, Blackout: The Tragically Trashy Diva.”


Miley who? Wholary Duff? Nahhh. Britney Spears is the prototype sex kitten pop star. Born into a post-Madonna pop age, Spears’ debut album, . . . Baby One More Time, went 14x platinum (fourteenple?), cementing Spears’ status as the first hypersexed jailbait pop starlet. As the Naughties (see what I did there?) progressed, Spears released three more #1 albums (two of which I forgot existed, silly me), became legal, and sexy, sexy, sexy. Whether she was dancing with a giant phallic python, making out with Madonna, or living the 90′s-00′s OTP dream with Justin Timberlake, Spears was the definition of outrageous pop sexuality. There was no end in sight.

“I’m thinking about math, y’all.”

“I’m thinking about passenger safety, y’all.”
“I’m thinking Christina Aguilera should get away from my Funyuns, y’all!”

But then 2005-2008 hit. Nobody saw those three years coming. During this period, Spears seemed out to destroy all that had been built around her: the sex appeal, the sanity, the respectability. After getting married-and-annulled/divorced twice, having kids twice, and seemingly shoveling junk food down her svelte gullet twice a day, there was nothing Spears could do right. Raise your hand if you remember when she peed on that defenseless ladybug. The scandal! For a brief, shining moment, even Aguilera got to look down her nose at Spears.
Some saw this breakdown as years of pent-up teen rebellion springing out. Some saw this as Spears’ attempt to have a normal life, being a Louisiana mother of two with a GED and a fine film of Cheetos dust. Some saw this as sheer batshit insanity. Whatever it was, the paparazzi wanted blood, and it only seemed a matter of days before they would have it.
Blackout, the culmination of four years’ worth of effort, was a problematic album. Gone was any of Spears’ faux urban flavor, or any shred of soul, for that matter. Autotune was used as a glossy veneer over unspirited vocals, and any hint of real instruments in her past log were gone. Back when famous-for-famous’-sake was looked down upon (we have all the Kardashians with a reality show nowadays. Don’t tell me it’s looked down upon now), this was surely the final nail in the coffin of Britney Spears and the ashes of her white hot career.
But somehow, even after the reviled VMA performance, this was not the end. Rather, it was the dawn of a new era for Spears. In her subsequent releases, Circus and Femme Fatale, she has become a self-aware android, laughing at those who mocked her in her gutter daze. Maybe she helped switch American pop music into this soulless direction; maybe she just went with the flow of her team. After all, there have been reports that the conservatorship she has been under since 2008 have left her feeling miserable, and no blip of life flickers behind her eyes, but hey, at least America is happy. REMEMBER 9/11.
Lindsay Lohan, A Little More Personal (Raw): The Petri Paparazzi Diva
Speaking of Britney Spears, how can we forgot the heyday of her meltdown, when she, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton were running around Hollywood without panties? Ahh, golden days, they were.
Lohan has been a paparazzi staple for so long, it’s almost hard to believe she was once a triple threat teen queen. For fuck’s sake, the Huffington Post has a section solely devoted to Lohan’s Lindsanity. But believe it or not, Lohan was the biggest star draw to Mean Girls, long before Tina Fey, Amanda Seyfried, or Rachel McAdams rose to prominence. A rising, risque star from the Disney stable, Lohan was Hollywood’s it girl, the ravishing redhead of Rodeo Drive. Or the ravishing raven-hair? Blonde? Who knows, she was the triple threat!
“A half decade of hard partying turned her from this . . .
 . . . to this. Or did it?”
Scientists are still studying how Lohan did not wind up a drug bloated carcass (she’s still alive, dammit, so she’s not legally a carcass), between her wild nightlife and her volatile upbringing with two media-starved stage parents. Her downfall may have laid in her hubris: she was hailed a prodigy from the moment Disney sank his cryogenically frozen fangs into her, and was shown all the glorious excess of stardom from a young age. Like America, her dreams and self-perceptions rarely matched up with reality, making her fall from the A-list all the more painful. Will she ever recover? Who is to say. All we do know is that like Love and Spears before her, Lohan’s life under a microscope have made her shortcomings seem like national tragedies. She is the new posterchild for addiction: she carries years’ worth of recovery, versus a simply 30 minute fix with commercials; constant struggle and disappointment; and a long lingering air of regret, when faced with the images of What Could Have Been and What Is.
It is in this sense we realize A Little More Personal (Raw). Back when Lohan’s private issues were still somewhat private, but after the paparazzi tasted blood. She was still living on top, working with a crafted image and starting to venture beyond it, into the wild of the L.A. nightlife. It is a work of a young woman in transition, her final masterpiece. Indeed, it is still thrilling to think that much of Lohan’s turbulent life has not been explored on a critical level. Who knows what stories she hides in her hair filled with secrets? Oh wait, that was Regina George.
Amy Winehouse, Back to Black: The Wild-Even-By-American-Standards Diva
Oh Amy. I still do miss you. I really do. We all do: after all, most Americans never knew you during Frank, your debut album that won the hearts of your countrymen. We never got to really know the beautiful, sober you. No, what we got in America coincided perfectly with our fledgling troubles with the Drank: the seemingly defiant foreigner who refused to go to rehab. After that, a&E! media seemed more content to showcase you as the rambling, shambling drug addict you were. In case we need even more visual aid to illustrate my point:
“America’s new D.A.R.E. propaganda.”
But Back to Black was an amazing pop-blues album. When she was clean, Winehouse shined like a diamond. When she wasn’t, she was the Rough, for better or worse. Regardless, Winehouse’s attitude was not that of a haughty, entitled diva. Rather, she was a classical diva with demons. She accepted her self-constructed lot without a cry of defiance. Rather, at her peak, she seemed humble and honest. When she said no, no, no to rehab (I’m sorry, it’s an unavoidable cliché), she outlined her reasons why, none of which were “I’m too good” or “I don’t have a problem.” She flatly admits she’s no good. Maybe that’s why she never truly caught on in America: we want our disasters to be kicking and screaming, self delusional, and otherwise crying for attention. America still holds onto the puritanical veil of Victorian chastity, while Europe has forgotten it. She wasn’t a witch; she was none of those things you’ve heard. She was simply Amy, back to black again.
Whitney Houston, I Look to You: The Classically Fallen Diva
I can’t properly sum up what Whitney Houston meant, or means. She was before my time — before the time of any of the divas mentioned, even Courtney Love (though all these ladies did start self-destructing around the same time). Houston was calibers above any of them, in a league of her own. Rather, I will let Internet comedienne GloZell Green sum up what Houston meant:
I Look to You was Houston’s final triumph; though she arguably could not deliver what was on the album to the public, and though the golden voice which made her a household name, per Ms. Green, was smoked away, she was able to temporarily put her past behind her and move forward artistically. Like Michael Jackson, Houston was planning a major comeback before she died. We will never know what could have been, only what was. I Look to You is a fantastic final piece Houston left to this world, but a bitter reminder that it is her final piece. No more chances, no more hopes of redemption.
So there you have it. Five disastrous divas whose disheveled lives define a period of American culture leading up to the Great Recession. Their fame, glory, excess, and ruin are parables for America, who to this day is in denial of her problems. Get help, America. We all love you and want you to be around for years. But get help, and for the love of anything, forget 9/11.
Cheers,
-Andrew.

Teachers are underpaid. Scientists are misunderstood. Firemen, for all their sexy calendars, are devalued. These have been staple comedic truths for decades. Who is to blame for this injustice? Entertainers! With all piles of money, their loose morals, their luxurious gluttony, their skimpy outfits, their shiny whores, it is they who must answer for this travesty. After all, they don’t contribute anything to society. Just mind-rotting smut. Right?

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“The poor bastards. Can barely afford clothes.”

Obviously, this is a bullshit conversation, and one I hope has never happened word-for-word. It may even be out of date, given the economic plague of past years, and rumblings that the music industry, among other Hollywood machines, are themselves broken and outdated. But there does seem to linger this unspoken rivalry between the realms of education and entertainment. Education is important, but underappreciated. Entertainment is indulgent, but gets more money and societal attention than other noteworthy careers.

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“LTR: Education, entertainment, and me, circa 2006.”

This is a more realistic representation of the wage discrepancy, the main point of contention in the War on Useful Careers. And I must pause briefly to note that, in my discussions of pop culture, I’m not usually referring to more traditionally “high brow” forms of art, like orchestras, fine art, theatric or operatic acting, etc. These people are dramatically underpaid, given the amount of training and finesse that makes up their performance. This is not to say that there isn’t an un/conscious effort to devalue the arts. No, that’s another point entirely. Rather, this paragraph is to let you know that we’ll be focusing on “low brow” arts: pop culture and all her facets. Pop music, television, sports, movies (sidebar: my body is in pain for not typing “films.” The lengths I go to for you!), tabloids, all of it. Despite the fact that, yes, low brow pop culture does not always offer much in mental substance, it is an important media to understand. Pop culture is a reflection of society, and even its ugly bits have meaning.

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“We hope.”

Education and entertainment are two single working mother systems that have had to collaboratively raise the lot of us bastards while our meat parents went Off to Work. (They’re not together, these parent systems. They might be divorced lesbians: one having us during the week, the other on weekends and holidays. Their marriage was a mess.) Education is the disciplinarian mom, the one assigned to with homework detail, moral development (or psychological programming), and keeping those bastards in line. They’re good kids, really, but just so damn frustrating.

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“The popsicle, like, represents talent, and the glasses totally represent altered states of mind, you know?”

Entertainment, meanwhile, gets to be a Pohelerian “cool mom,” the one who “forgets” to lock the liquor cabinet, who teaches her kids about style, self-esteem, and kissing-and-beyond. Or, alternatively, consumerism, self-perceptive moral development, and sexuality. Media consumed in childhood is used as a tool for worldview formation, for understanding the self and the other, and for instilling and perpetuating cultural myths. Likewise, as we mature and advance, education and entertainment continue in their functions. Underneath it all, there is no real split between education and entertainment because entertainment is, among other things, a tool for learning. In the end, many people end their formal educational training, but continue it in the Real World, where Mommy Entertainment has lived for their whole lives.

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“She’s one of those ‘cool’ moms, in case you’re online and not aware of ‘Mean Girls.’ Some crazy how.”

By this point, you may be saying “Andrew, we get it! Pop culture kind-of matters! We get the why. What about the how?”

Well, that, my dears, will be elaborated upon in future pieces. This is the “inaugural blog post,” where I introduce myself, my voice, and my mission. Before we can see concrete examples of how pop culture matters, we must first start a conversation and freely admit that it matters. After all, they do say that the first step in fixing a problem is admitting one exists. So let’s raise our glasses, comrades, to the beginning of a glorious cultural revolution of understanding. Or to the latest in an online dredge of two post-and-dead blogs. You’ve been on the Internet longer than I have, you should know where this is headed.

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“You knew exactly where this was headed.”

Cheers.

-Andrew.

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