…but, she’s pretty

So, it’s been all over the media – Karl Lagerfeld called Adele fat!! O.M.G. But, as per usual with the media, Lagerfeld’s comment is only a small blip from a larger quote. Here’s the deal: Karl Lagerfeld, Paris based designer best know for his work with Chanel, was “interviewed” by Metro and I quote interview because the questions Lagerfeld was asked were not printed and I like to know the question so I can better relate to the answer.

According to Metro, this is Karl Lagerfeld on Lana del Rey:

“I prefer Adele and Florence Welch. But as a modern singer she is not bad. The thing at the moment is Adele. She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice. Lana del Rey is not bad at all. She looks very much like a modern-time singer. In her photos she is beautiful. Is she a construct with all her implants? She’s not alone with implants.”

The problem here is what is not being said about Lagerfeld’s comments – that the critical response to these remarks has focused on Adele’s weight with no mention of Lagerfeld’s response to Lana del Rey. He calls both singer’s beautiful and Adele’s voice he cites as “divine” – both compliments negated by the fat comment. While critics may think they are doing a service by calling attention to Lagerfeld’s narrow minded view of physical beauty they are also creating a serious backlash that reinforces our cultural belief that being fat is bad (or ugly, unfortunate…you name it we’ve said it). If we want to create a broader standard of beauty that leaves room for diverse body types then we can’t get all fired up when someone comments negatively on someone else’s appearance. Especially when that person has a talent that should make their appearance irrelevant. But, it doesn’t. Instead when we admonish Lagerfeld for his comments we are actually, on some level, agreeing with him. If it doesn’t matter that she’s fat then it shouldn’t matter that he said so – right? Was it obnoxious? Of course. Did I mention he is a fashion designer…from Paris. The man has spent his life in the most exclusive fashion house EVER. Clearly his views on beauty are ridiculously skewed.

But, he saved the worst for Del Rey; her talent as singer was deemed “not bad” and he supported this point by calling attention to the fact that she looks the part. (Yeah, her music sucks but she’s pretty!) Then he questions the realness of her body and finishes up by reminding us that …hey, implants happen. What really concerns me are the implications of his comments about Del Rey. Encouraging girls because they fit a certain standard of beauty is just as problematic as putting girls down because they don’t. Eating disorders continue to be an epidemic in this countrygirls as young as 5 years old are dieting and teenagers are having plastic surgery –  This is real.

Beauty affords you a certain amount of privilege in this world and, especially dangerous, a false sense of power – primarily for women. It’s a tricky argument to even articulate – when you have a socially accepted image of beauty nobody wants to hear you critique it and when you don’t fall into that category it is twice as hard to have your voice heard. What’s worse, as much emphasis as we put on female beauty in this country we match that with anger, jealousy, and suspicion when the beautiful are also talented. Don’t believe me? Take a look at any of the critical responses to Del Rey over the last few months before her album was even released. As NPR journalist Ken Tucker puts it – “There’s something weirdly mean about all the negative press Del Rey has received before Born To Die was even released. It’s like high-school level meanness, directed at someone who wants to be a star and is really going for it. It’s like being punished for ambition.”

The bottom line here is that both these women (in addition to Welch) are artists attempting to share their expression with the world and not simply label-created pop idols. That takes creativity, bravery, and a whole lot of self-confidence.  Here’s to working towards the day when looks have nothing to do with it.

Celebrating Whitney

Whitney Houston died yesterday. Saturday Feburary 11, 2012. She was 48 years old. In 1987, my Mom took my to my first concert. It was Whitney Houston at Madison Square Garden. I was 8 years old. This would be the beginning of a lifelong love of female vocalists (Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Nicole Atkins, Adele) whose raw emotion takes me to places where I just have to sing along or else my heart will explode.  Whitney could do this all in one breath.  With one lyric she is the light, a bright shining star, and with the next word she is falling, yearning, begging, or best yet, persevering. It’s a sad metaphor for her personal struggles, especially poignant in the wake of her tragic death, but ultimately, it didn’t matter what the song was about because every sentiment was communicated in her voice. So, in celebration of an amazing artist, a stellar career and a pop legacy, here are my top 5 “Whitney” moments.

5. I Believe in You and Me (The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack, 1996) – Whitney’s third starring role was opposite Denzel Washington as the titular character in this easily forgettable film. Not so easy to forget? Whitney’s remake of the 1983 ballad originally recorded by The Four Tops.  I love this song because of this moment.  2:29 – I would play the fool forever just to be with you forever. I believe in miracles and love’s a miracle…

4. I Have Nothing (The Bodyguard soundtrack, 1992) Another soundtrack cut. Uh, the best selling soundtrack of all time – still. Whitney recieved harsh feedback from critics for her portrayal of Rachel Maron in the 1992 film. Whatever – I love this movie. The soundtrack was full of great tracks, most of which were overshadowded by Houston’s recording of Dolly Parton’s “I will Always Love you” which Rolling Stone called her “Tour de Force.” My boyfriend gave me the CD single in 9th grade which also included this gem. All one breath! Really from this point the song just rides out. 3:00 – I can’t run from myself, there’s nowhere to hide – your love I remember forvever…

3. I’m Your Baby Tonight (I’m Your Baby Tonight, 1990) I was super psyched when I found this album on vinyl a few years ago. Got home and realized it was just the single. Probably the only song worth paying $5 for. Between the electric guitar and Whitney’s hip-hop like repitition its one of my all time favorites. Around 2:35 is where she hits it but honestly this entire song pulses with emotion. 

2. The Greatest Love of All (Whitney Houston, 1985) The lyrics to this song have hung framed in my Dad’s office for as long as I can remember. This lyric repeats a few times but in this particular moment Whitney puts so much blood, sweat, and tears into one line I get chills every time. 3:00 – I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow. If I fail. If I succceed. At least I did as I believe no matter what they take  from me thay can’t take away my dig. ni. ty. 

1. The Star Spangled Banner (Super Bowl XXV, 1991). Easily on of Whitney’s most iconic performances and maybe one of the best renditions of the National Anthem…EVER. Proving she was just an around the way girl in her USA track suit, Whitney personified “bombs bursting in air.” Does anyone even remember who played in that game? 

We love you and thank you, Whitney. You will be missed.

Let me see you Footwork…

Last night I attended Homeroom at the Hungry Brain. The subject: Footwork 101. For those of you who don’t know, and until last night I was one of you, Footwork is a genre of music that led to the birth of a style of dance. On hand to give the history of footwork was Chicago Reader columnist Miles Rayner, whose segment was basically an audio journey through Footwoork’s musical evolution. Native to Chicago (debates ensue among South and West side as to who truly began the movement) Footwork is an offspring of House music but more directly Ghetto House which incorporates more elements of hip-hop (booty and bass). Ghetto House bred Juke and its sibling, Footwork.

Also on hand to educate the room, West Side dance champion Tee Jay “The Boss” Johnson and pioneering producer Lady So. Tee Jay is a member of the Footworkingz, a super group created by Lady So to put Footworking and Chicago on the global map. Just a kid when he first started dancing, Tee Jay’s impressive resume includes touring with Ginuine and performing with Footworkingz here.

The most fascinating and inspiring thing I learned from Tee Jay: Footwork’s very first origins in the early 80’s came out of gang members as an alternative outlet for aggression. Instead of taking to the streets to brawl they went head to head in dance battles. Make Hip-Hop not War!

The music itself is still very localized and many argue that it lacks mainstream appeal. Like we care. Raymer shared a new track Luuk Out Gurl by Chicago artist Josh Young of Flosstradamus and co-starring female MC Kid Sister. This isht is bangin’ and while it may not make it to the airwaves I would get down on this in the club.

Many thanks to the amazing people in Homeroom for putting this on.

Buy the Footworkingz DVD “Take Flight” here.

more on Jill Andrews

There is something to be said about a girl in boots. Boots offer a self-assured swagger, the ability to ride a horse or line dance, and allude to the presence of hard work. Girls in boots ain’t afraid to get drrrty. The first time I saw Jill Andrews take the stage, I was in love with her accessible, country inspired look: vintage dress, low-maintenance hair and, of course, a great pair of boots. Since her early days with the everybodyfields, Jill has evolved from a frontman’s sidekick into an evolved solo artist and mother, all the while maintaining her signature Tennessee gal style.

For an exclusive look into how Jill “Rocks Her Style,” check out this video profile from Bonnaroo care of Garnier Fructis.

Jeremy Jay – Splash

I spent a few years as a DJ for the college radio station during graduate school, and quickly learned that the fastest, most accurate way to assess if you’ll like an album is to pay attention to the label. If you really dig a band, it’s worth your time to research the label that produces their albums – chances are it will be home to other artists you’ll enjoy. Such is the case for K Records, a division of Secretly Canadian, and home to some of my favorites like anti-folk heroine Kimya Dawson, dance-pop lovliness, The Blow, and low-fi, folk rocker Jason Anderson.

It is easy to hear how pop-folk artist Jeremy Jay found a home at K, but if the aforementioned artists are seniors at the top of their class, Jay is a freshman. Though Splash is Jay’s third release on K, at just over 25 minutes, it plays more like a debut EP.  One song is no more diverse or interesting than the last; I was in the middle of track 3 before I realized the album had played all the way through and was on its second rotation. Even the album’s title conjures images of excitement and disruption that would be more fitting for an artist poised to make waves. Jeremy Jay is not this artist.

Every song reflected the influence of another musician, but never did I get a feel for Jay’s own unique voice or style. “Just Dial My Number” is an upbeat, summer ditty but the use of piano is so similar to Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Ones,” that every time it played I thought I was hearing the latter. There are moments when he channels Morrissey; I even heard a little Tracy Chapman on “Someday Somewhere.” But the most notable comparison is to Magnetic Fields front man, Stephin Merritt. However, whereas Merritt’s distinctive bass nearly demands you pay attention to his lyrics, Jay’s more delicate timbre only adds to the ambiguity of his songwriting.  While he certainly evokes the mood of agenda-free days exploring the city, the lack of imagery and individuality leaves Splash too malleable to make an impression. It would serve well as a soundtrack to a film where visual images and plot might add some heft and dimension to his sound.

Cross-posted at Elevate Difference