Wednesday, June 02, 2004

GHOSTFACE REVISITED

Not only is this one of the best examples of music criticism I've read on a blog of late, it's just a great piece of thinking about music, period - regardless of medium. Abstract Dynamics muses on Ghostface's Pretty Toney album - an album he found lacking - and surmises that what we have here is a CD that is decidedly less exciting than Ghost's mixtape cuts. Many of you have, for example, heard "Beatles," "The Sun," "The Watch," etc. - all songs that Ghost left off his current and previous albums because of sample clearance issues (though that didn't stop the bootleggers from white-labelling them joints, god bless 'em). AD's William Blaze suggests that this built a false expectation from the audience, all of whom wanted Pretty Toney to come stack with heaters like those but instead ended up with whatever Def Jam's legal department was willing to pay for. Blaze nails this brilliant idea home at the end:

    "Instead of representing the cream of an artists output, it becomes the repository of their detritus, a legal document filled with legal music in an illegal world. With Ghostface we can see glimmers of the legal cd transforming into a vestigial organ. A ritualize release that has little to do with the real flow of music. The tension that once existed with a new release is gone. Once people waited in anticipation to hear what their favorite artists had created. Now the songs filter in through the internet, arriving often with surprise, not anticipation. The songs streaming through the internet, or the black market mix tape network, often fail to reach a proper major label cd, but they don't fail to reach the fans. And with each release the major labels fall behind both in terms of release dates (a major label cd is always stale), and legality. In a move perhaps learned from internet engineers, culture is routing around the obstacles of law."

This is something worth thinking about, especially as mixtapes have gone from being the pariahs of the music industry to the illegitimate sibling you're not supposed to know about but love all the same. I can't tell you how many "promo mix-CDs" I've received to help stir buzz on upcoming projects (many undeserving but that never changes) but in many cases, what you hear then is not what you'll get now. (Kanye West is a great example of this since he released practically 10 CDs worth of material leading up to College Dropout, much of which has now been bootlegged onto five separate 12"s. Holla at Turntable Lab.com and act like you knew.

What Blaze is talking about though isn't necessarily the industry of mixtapes but how the culture of music has had to respond to them. While his observations about Ghost's new LP may only be a prediction at this point, I think he's onto something here: from the educated consumer's p.o.v., if your "real" album isn't as hot as the shit you leaked beforehand, why should we care at all? Artists might develop some nice buzz but a lackluster album is sure to kill that high quickly.

For the record - I thought Pretty Toney was excellent even without the songs I heard beforehand. I'm agreeing with Blaze in principle but not necessarily over this LP specifically.
(credit: catchdubsdotcom)




QUEST USA

Thank god for TIVO. I finally caught the first episode of this Mandarin-language reality show that pits four teams of Chinese players against each other on an extended road trip from Boston to Florida (I forget which city). The show is pretty low-budget (hey, Mark Burnett ain't producing this sucker) and not exactly super-creative - the first challenge is a relay race. Yaaaaawn.

However, Quest USA is not without its points in interest. One is over language. The entire show takes place in Mandarin (though everything is subtitled in English - good move) and that means Team Hong Kong had to find three folks from HK who knew enough Mandarin to get by on the show. This may make no difference to those who can't speak either but it is telling how the politics of language play out. In China, this gets played out in complex detail with nothing short of national identity on the line. I've had people tell me that those who only speak Cantonese aren't "really Chinese" even though they number in the tens (if not hundreds) of millions. For Quest USA, picking what language to present in is therefore not just a question of efficiency but also politics.

The other observation is that if you watch enough American reality shows, you'll notice how different Chinese cultural humor is by comparison. I can't adequately explain it right now, but there's a built-in tendency towards camp that you see in Chinese entertainment that just is not present in the same ways in America. For the Chinese viewer, these jokes are familiar as hell - at one point, host David Wu (Wu Da Wei) reveals that Reebok has donated shoes for the relay race and he quips something like, "their genorosity brings me to tears," - a joke that you'd never hear Ryan Seacrest or Burnett making yet it's perfectly at home for a Chinese show.

Anyways, I'll see what this show has to offer but so far, it's mostly been melodramatic whining - this isn't a bad thing per se, but again, it's "very Chinese."




ELSEWHERE

  • Upgrade: The Shield: This show is consitent all season long yet they still manage to ramp things up for the end of the season. The Armenian mob comes looking for payback, with a vengeance. This show couldnít be more on fire if was doused in kerosone and had a big wick stuck in it.

  • Upgrade: Superstar USA: Still very evil. Still a riot. Rosa and Jamie are emerging as the front-runners by taking bad singing to new levels.

    Mario continues to prove heís just John Stevens without the red hair. Tamra reminds me of some students Iíve had in class - half-asleep and disinterested. Her voice is terrible, sure, but itís not enough to be laconic and bad...you have to really make people FEEL the badness, ym?

    Jojo isnít terrible but the fact that he refers to himself in the third person earns him extra points for suckiness. As for Nina Diva...sheís straight off the hook. Makes me rethink all the bad things Iíve ever said about Koreans. This said, sheís like that crazy aunt you donít mind visiting but who always kind of creeps you out. Sheís another one who really needs to stop referring to herself in the third person.

  • Speaking of bad singing, our favorite boy William Hung is still doing his thing, straight gangsta: Hung Butchers 'Take Me Out to Ball Gameí. Blasphemy perhaps but peep: dude sold 100,000 albums. Take that Coco Lee!
    (credit: angry asian man)

  • And just one more tune from the API side: ĒYou Got Beef?Ē. Moral? Donít mess with Viet Gs. Iím straight scurred.

  • Something serious: 11 year old Japanese student slashes classmate's throat, lets her bleed to death. Damn.
    (credit: Sharon Mizota)

  • Something not so serious: Soy sauce made from hair? Let me speak for everyone: yuck.
    (credit: catchdubsdotcom)