Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011: A Year in Music

1. ADELE 21
Adele brought a solid album with her debut 19. No one could have imagined her topping that. She did that, and more. Born out of heartbreak, 21 is a magical offering that transcends genres and audiences. In tracks such as Don't You Remember, one can feel the pangs in Adele's vocal performances. The young British talent captivated audiences with her understated performances and elegant styling. Rolling in the Deep's monstrous success and the chart topping piano ballad Someone Like You have solidified Adele's place in music. Evoking the soul of Aretha Franklin and the heart of Patsy Cline, Adele managed to outsell her peers and break through the dance heavy nature of today's popular music. Not too shabby for a twenty-three year old.

Key Tracks: Rolling in the Deep; Someone Like You; Rumour Has It

2. Watch the Throne Jay-Z & Kanye West
3. House of Balloons The Weekend
4. Born This Way Lady Gaga
5. 4 Beyoncé
6. Take Care Drake
7. F.A.M.E. Chris Brown
8. Femme Fatale Britney Spears
9. Bon Iver Bon Iver
10. Late Nights & Early Mornings Marsha Ambrosius

Having an almost folklike quality, Adele's Rolling in the Deep became ubiqitous this year. Spawning severl covers, including a stunning rendition by R&B crooner John Legend, Rolling in the Deep has a backwoods revival storytelling type feeling with its tribal drums submerged beneath Adele's smoky and soulful voice. Easily one of the best pop songs that isn't a pop song, Adele makes heartbreak and bitterness sound so sweet.

1. Rolling in the Deep Adele 21
2. Marvin's Room Drake Take Care
3. Motivation Kelly Rowland Here I Am
4. 1+1 Beyoncé 4
5. You & I Lady Gaga Born This Way
6. Firework Katy Perry Teenage Dream
7. Fool For You Cee-Lo featuring Melanie Fiona The Lady Killer
8. Far Away Marsha Ambrosius Late Nights & Early Mornings
9. So Gone (What My Mind Says) Jill Scott featuring Paul Wall The Light of the Sun
10. Novacane Frank Ocean Nostalgia, Life

Hip-hop heavyweights Kanye West and Jay-Z set radio airwaves afire with their Redding sampled juke joint stomping track Otis. But it was the controversially titled N*ggas in Paris that made the most impact from the Watch the Throne cuts. Armed with a Will Ferrell sound byte and a jagged and non-conventional hook - "I ball so hard muthf-ckas wanna fine me" - the track does what Jay-Z and Kanye do best. It marries grit and aggression with a glossy polished beat. The tune became large enough that it was performed as many as nine times during a Watch the Throne tour stop. Provocative, eh? "That shit cray."

1. N*ggas in Paris Jay-Z & Kanye West Watch the Throne
2. Look At Me Now Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes F.A.M.E.
3. We Found Love Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris Talk That Talk
4. Van a Bailar (On the Floor) Jennifer Lopez featuring Pitbull Love?
5. Til the World Ends Britney Spears Femme Fatale
6. 6 Foot 7 Foot Lil Wayne featuring Cory Gunz Tha Carter IV
7. Moves Like Jagger Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera Hands All Over
8. Give Me Everything (Tonight) Pitbull featuring Nayer & Ne-Yo Planet Pit
9. Black and Yellow Wiz Khalifa Rolling Papers
10. Party Rock Anthem LMFAO Sorry for Party Rocking

Monday, November 14, 2011

Beautiful.Dirty.Rich: A New Brand of Feminism

Are Pop Divas the new Hip-Hop?
Allow me to explain...

As I was strolling down memory lane, I listened to some 90s girl group music. It then occurred to me that, unlike En Vogue's Free Your Mind or TLC's Unpretty or Waterfalls, Destiny's Child never did a political song. (Stand Up For Love doesn't count. That was trash.) These days, pop divas are about a different empowerment. Beyoncé is a girl power artist. She likes to "empower the women" as she says so often. Rihanna and Gaga love to push the boundaries of sexuality and bring women from the video vixen background to showing more ownership of their sexuality.

Beyoncé's both asked and answered an important question: Who run the world? Girls. Gone are the male pop idols of before. These days, women do indeed rule the charts. Ask Adele's chart topping album. Katy Perry and Rihanna's number one singles are shattering records. Beyoncé and Gaga's stage shows trump any male entertainer out there.
What exactly are they proclaiming with their music? Women overcoming body issues? Women leaving bad relationships? Equality of any kind? Not really.

"All we care about is runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles," raved Gaga on the title track from her first album Fame. Beyoncé wants women to be independent, but it isn't in an emotional or political sense. Every ounce of her female empowerment is rooted in financial fortitude. "The shoes on my feet? I bought 'em." "Make that check. Come at they neck..." If a woman can support herself and prove that she doesn't need a man's money, she is set. Gaga's music has also mostly teetered between sexual liberation and boasts about materialism. Many of their tunes make Madonna's Material Girl seem modest. Ciara's Ride and Love/Sex/Magic videos were highly controversial and sexual, but some argued that she was just flipping the roles.
Even the gay following has changed. Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive and Cher's Believe were mostly about repairing your heart, while the newer generation of gay Diva stans are more concerned with the glitz, glamour, and socialite lifestyles. Rihanna's newest effort Talk That Talk is laden with lewd content and fans are eating it up. Of course Madonna and Janet surely paved the way for the new hyper sexual antics that were missing before them. However, the coin stacking paper chasing concepts seem to be new, perhaps being a direct result of hip-hop influence in Beyoncé's case.

Hip-Hop acts have been long criticized for couple hyper sexed images of women with an unrealistic thirst for material wealth. Are Beyoncé and her fellow divas gaining an edge by taking the reins into their own hands and owning it? Or are they perpetuating the same problems that are women are trying to combat?
Is this new way of I don't need your heart being replaced with I don't need your wallet healthy? Only time will tell. We will have to wait until Britney stops partying and the Rihanna reign let's up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

True Colors: Tafari Hinds for Re-bel

Model Tafari Hinds
Magazine: Re-bel
Photography: Daniel Sannwald
Styling: Rasharn Agyemang
Hair: Teiji Utsumi Makeup: Thomas De Kluyver

I am not an insider in the world of fashion. I am a spectator. Therefore, I view it as art. I adore the way that they employed the use of bold color palette for contrast against his skin.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fun House: Omarion for Contributing Editor

Singer Omarion
for Contributing Editor
Editorial: Fun House
Photography: Kevin Amato
Fashion Editor: Robyn Victoria Fernandes Fashion Assistant: Staci Pearson
Grooming: Adrian Fanus for Adrian Fanus Grooming

I'm by no means an Omarion fan, but I adore Contributing Editor's point of view. This colorful spread pops off of the screen and manages to shroud every ounce of douchebag in Omarion. That's no easy feat. hehe

Pay it 4Ward

Of course my first post back on the blog scene would be about Beyoncé. The pop superstar was recently awarded an Artist of the Millennium honor by Billboard and is set to release a new album in two weeks. The album caught many by surprise with it's ballad heavy nature. Many fans and critics have griped that they want the fun Beyoncé back. Though risky, I think 4 is the best career move she has made in a while.

Run the World (Girls) was the first track lifted from her fourth studio album. Brazen and laden with drums, the female empowerment anthem was along the lines of Independent Women and Single Ladies in terms of content. However, the chanting hook, or lack of a hook, was a stark contrast to those tracks. Sampling a track by indie act Major Lazer, Beyoncé went left field. Animalistic in nature, the track was hardly the glossy pop hit that the Crazy in Love star usually serves up. As risky as the hit was, it was not representative of what the album sounds like. 4 is an album of an adult woman who has nothing to prove. There isn't really a chart topper in sight. But what we have is a collection of timeless songs. From the soul wrenching 1+1 to the exuberant early Whitney-esque Love On Top, Mrs. Knowles-Carter aimed to take us back to a place when singing was real. This sets her apart from the big pop albums of this year. Synth heavy albums from Britney, Gaga, and Katy Perry are not close to the album Beyoncé has crafted. Free of autotune, she is looking to show her artistry.

Time will only tell how this pans out. We asked Beyoncé to grow up and to make real music with real messages and heart. She has done so. With her singles failing to pick up steam on the charts despite glowing reviews of the album, will she prevail? Or will she have to resurrect Sasha Fierce for a little help? I'm banking on this being a win in the long run.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In the Trenches: Nate Gill for GQ Style Germany

Models Nate Gill, Daniel McSweeney, & Roy Pratt
Magazine: GQ Style Germany
Photography: Xevi Muntané
Styling: Grant Woolhead

Blogger's Getting a Makeover

Great new features are going to be added to blogger! Yay! I had fallen off with blogging but I have gotten back on the train. Thanks to everyone who follows. I often forget that people read it. Then I will get a new follower and become amazed for about five minutes. haha
Anyway, I plan to launch another blog soon. [More news to come] That one will be sort of a professional outlet. Compose Yourself is more about my love for pop culture.

Check out the video above to see the new improvements coming to Blogger.
Thanks to my good friend over at for the heads up.
Check out his blog. Great stuff.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Icons: The Dancing Queen

Icon: Paula Abdul, Singer/Choreographer

"Everyone is your best friend when you are successful. Make sure that the people that you surround yourself with are also the people that you are not afraid of failing with."
Paula Abdul

Long before American Idol, Paula Abdul had her own stint as an idol. The Grammy winning artist/dance/choreographer had massive success in the eighties and nineties with a string of hits. First discovered by the Jacksons while dancing as a Laker girl, Abdul went on to serve as their choreographer. She worked on the Jacksons video for Torture and helped to shape the dance image of Janet Jackson. During the rise of music videos, Abdul was highly sought after as a choreographer.

Cold Hearted Snake

After funding her own demo, she went on to enjoy success at the top of the charts.
Her six #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 tie her for 5th among the female solo artists who grabbed the number one spot. Abdul's debut album Forever Your Girl took 62 weeks to reach number one. Though it holds that record for the longest ascent to the top, it spent ten weeks there once it reached #1.

Opposites Attract

It's only fitting that Jennifer Lopez has seemingly taken Abdul's place on American Idol. Abdul is one of her predecessors. Abdul's early work spawned the careers of J-Lo and Britney Spears. The jazz inspired choreography of Abdul is what Britney grew up studying as a trained dancer. And the vocal styles of Britney and J-Lo also draw influence from the era that Abdul hailed from. (Of course everyone from Pebbles to Janet sounded similar then). Personal setbacks and public meltdowns have overshadowed her legacy. However, Abdul was the woman behind the whispery voiced dancing diva movement.
[You can see the Britney roots in the Cold Hearted Snake video]

Chris Brown for Italian GQ

Singer Chris Brown
Magazine: Italian GQ
Photography: Kai Z. Feng
GQ Fashion Director: Andrea Tenerani

Looks like Breezy is officially back. After releasing Graffiti prematurely, the smoke seems to have cleared at the public is fully embracing the rebirth of Brown's career. His latest album F.A.M.E. is getting great reviews and is due in stores in less than a week. After snatching up a Grammy nomination for Deuces (the track appears on F.A.M.E. but was originally released from a mixtape) and a high profile SNL gig, Chris seems to be back on top. He has yet to master the art of image rebuilding given his recent twitter feuds and nude photo "leak". However, that seems to be what has solidified his place in pop music/culture. He is human. And his music speaks for itself.

Rihanna for American Vogue

Singer Rihanna
Magazine: VOGUE
Photography: Annie Liebovitz

This cover is stunning! Give me Jessica Rabbit, Miss Fenty. The photos leaked a while ago but I wanted to wait until high quality images surfaced. you go. I think Liebovitz knocked it out of the park with this shoot. However, I must wonder why the girls of cover get put on the shape issue. I may be overthinking it, but it's as if they have to justify putting a woman with curves on the cover. Beyoncé's Vogue cover was for the same issue. And what's funny is the fact that in real life, Beyoncé and Rihanna aren't exactly considered thick girls in the black community. But fashion is art, not real life. Rihanna looks soft and ethereal. This shoot is a stark contrast to the Vogue Italia shoot that was far more edgy.

Behind the Scenes:

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Music: Introducing "King"

When my friend turned me on to King, I was a bit apprehensive. There are plenty of acts out there doing "urban hang suite" music as I like to call it. However, the creativity and beautiful sound of these women blew me away.

The Story

The music video above was made by hand by the girls. The group hails from Los Angeles and is made up of twin sisters Paris and Amber Strother and singer Anita Bias. Popular acts like ?uestlove and Erykah Badu have even given them shoutouts. They reportedly write and produce all of their music. I know one thing. I want more! Their EP is divine.

[Check out their Website HERE]

Fresh Face: Rob Evans of Major Models

The Rob Evans train has left the station is at full speed ahead. Managed by Major Models, Evans is the anti-waif and broods masculinity and bulk. His perfectly chiseled physique and strong features have caused the work to come pouring in lately. From the looks of things, he is gunning for top model status. The UK native walked exclusively for Givenchy and is taking the fashion world by the horns.

Model Rob Evans
Magazine: Hunter
Editorial: Evil Boy
Photography: Julian Hargreaves
Styling: Fabrizio Ferrini


Covers: Kat Graham takes on Janet

Katerina Graham
Escapade/Love Will Never Do Without You
Director: Bille Woodruff

Vampire Diaries star Katerina “Kat” Graham released a music video to pay tribute to the Janet Jackson. The 21 year-old sings and dances to her cover of Janet’s early 90′s hits “Escapade” and “Love Will Never Do Without You”. The mashup was produced by Mark Grilliot and Kazual. The video was choreographed by Lady Gaga's choreographer Laurieann Gibson with production by Jaala Ruffman.