Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The 2013 Grammy Sampler

I remember the first time I ever saw a Grammy Awards telecast as a wee boy -- 1971. Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" took Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Dionne Warwick and Ray Stevens reigned in the Best Contemporary Vocal Performance categories (which would be renamed Best Pop Vocal Performance the very next year), and The Carpenters beat Elton John and The Partridge Family for Best New Artist.

Before I post some of this year's winners, please take a moment to consider this partial list of artists who've never won a Grammy: Led Zeppelin, Dusty Springfield, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Electric Light Orchestra, The Who, Bob Marley, Diana Ross (nor the Supremes), Talking Heads, ABBA and Queen. Yes, freakin' Queen. If that's not a palm-to-face-WTF? generator, I don't know what is.

Here's  a sampling of the winners from various categories at this year's 55th Annual Grammy Awards...

Best New Artist: fun. Yes, that's the name of the group. It's fun., with a lower case f and a period. It's so obnoxiously hipster that it makes me not want to like them. But, I do like them. Their album, Some Nights, is energetic, bombastic, ambitious and... fun. It's all pretty uplifting, which can rub music snobs the wrong way, but I say the world needs music like that sometimes.

Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess -- they're fun.

The older I get, the more ridiculous I find the Best New Artist category. It just doesn't make much sense. I mean, if the Grammy voters are so enthusiastic about these people, won't they just garner nominations in other categories and get some recognition anyway? (As a matter of fact, fun. took home a Grammy for Song of the Year, too -- "We Are Young.") But of the five nominees this year -- fun., The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes, Hunter Hayes and Frank Ocean -- the only one whose music I'm seriously avoiding is Hunter Hayes, a country heartthrob who seems destined for Celebrity Apprentice or some equally grotesque reality show in about five years.

In case you're unfamiliar with fun., here's the video for the title track of their Some Nights album.


Best Americana Album: Slipstream -- Bonnie Raitt. It was her first album in seven years; lovely, tasteful and soulful. Her voice has aged well and she remains a singer who knows how to pick a song. The album is mostly a collection of covers, including the familiar "Right Down the Line" from 1970s singer/songwriter Gerry Rafferty. The simple video is about love -- all kinds of love. Sweet and very inclusive.

Best Dance Recording: "Bangarang" -- Skrillex. What can I say about the artist known as Skrillex? Well, ironically, a lot of his music sounds like his name. It's called dubstep. I've never actually met anyone who likes Skrillex, but the Grammy voters have given him six Grammys over the past two years. Six.


You can certainly dance to Skrillex; some of his music actually sounds like music. I don't dislike the guy, I just don't like this particular song. It feels like something that would appeal to meth addicts around 3:00 a.m. on a dance floor in hell. You'll either like Skrillex or you'll long for the good old days... like 2000, when Grammy voters decided Cher's "Believe" was the year's best dance recording.

Anyway, here's the video for "Bangarang."


Best R&B Song: "Adorn" -- Miguel. If you're hearing this one for the first time, you may feel like there's something familiar about it, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Let me help you: Miguel is either channeling the late, great Marvin Gaye, or he's deliberately adopting the singer's style. "Adorn" has the same vibe as Gaye's classic "Sexual Healing." Miguel, who wrote this himself, may have a classic in him, but this just makes me want to listen to Marvin Gaye.


Best Short Form Music Video: "We Found Love" -- Rihanna. All things considered, this was a pretty good choice. The song is a stunning slice of dance pop that was given a completely unexpected video treatment. Rihanna slips into the role of drug addict, albeit the most gorgeous one in the history of the world, and everything spirals out of control for her and her exotic junkie boyfriend. Controversial when released? Sure was. Rihanna tweaked her image here, and probably no one was expecting such a riveting visual juxtaposition to the song's lyrics.

For a complete list of winners in all 81 categories, go here.

Peace out,

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Porn Star, A Perfume Genius & Depeche Mode

This is Hungarian-born gay porn superstar Arpad Miklos, real name Peter Kozma. He's dead; committed suicide by overdose at the age of 45. The body was found by friends on February 3.

Peter Kozma, a.k.a. Arpad Miklos

When I read Miklos was dead, I knew the name but realized I've never seen a single one of his films -- and there are nearly 60 of them. That surprised me since I do watch my fair share of porn. I recognized photos of him immediately though, but not because of his porn work. I'd seen him in this short, but memorable music video from Perfume Genius, the Seattle-based indie-chamber pop singer/songwriter whose real name is Mike Hadreas. Hadreas was looking for a bodybuilder to appear in his video and when none would step up, he reached out to Arpad Miklos. This is the result of their collaboration.

What is there is to say about Arpad Miklos now? He made porn. He won awards for his performances in porn. He was also an escort. In 2007, Miklos won an International Escort Award from Rentboy.com and was named Best Top Escort by HX Magazine. Reliable sources report he was educated and a chemist in Budapest, Hungary before entering the porn industry in 1995. He taught himself English and came to the U.S. in 2003. Fast forward to early February of 2013 and he commits suicide. According to a friend, Miklos left behind a note in which he assumes there will be judgment about his actions and acknowledges haters are gonna hate and speculate. Having attempted suicide myself as a young man, I would be the last person to judge Arpad Miklos/Peter Kozma. Nor am I inclined to judge his pursuit of careers in porn or escorting. If I looked like Arpad Miklos, maybe I'd be fucking and escorting for money, too. I do have feelings and questions about all this though. I think it's wonderful that so many activists are aggressively tackling the problem of school bullying and LGBT teen suicides. But I'd love it if we could also talk calmly and thoughtfully about porn and escorting and why a 45-year-old guy like this kills himself.

Moving on...

New York based actor, comedian, blogger and Internet celebrity Randy Rainbow is back with another cheerfully irreverent video. Last year he successfully skewered the Chic-fil-A controversy and had a series of zingy mock phone conversations with celebrities and politicians. This time around he pokes fun at those increasingly tedious American Idol auditions.

Want more Randy Rainbow? Check out  GwistTV, the new LGBT online network. He's there.

Graham Gremore describes himself like this: I am a reclusive misanthrope born and raised in St. Paul, MN. I now identify as an artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's posted a couple of charming animated videos to his YouTube channel and this is his latest, "The Straight Girl's Guide to Gay Sex." After watching it, I'd say it might as well be mandatory viewing for everyone at age 15.

H&M, the Swedish multi-national retail-clothing company, has a line of David Beckham underwear. And here's the 90-second Internet ad for it, directed by Guy Ritchie... for some reason. Let's face it, this exists solely to show us David Beckham running and jumping in underwear. But there are far worse ways to waste 90 seconds of your day.

And finally... the enormously popular English electronic band Depeche Mode is back with a video for their new single, "Heaven." The band is playing in a big, gloomy cathedral and then some weirdly cool visual stuff happens, but no one ever cracks a smile because, well, this is Depeche Mode, people. But the song, a kind of slow-burning ballad, may just grow on you. A full album drops in March.

Peace out,

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Planetary Video Mixtape #1

As 2012 drew to a close, I mentioned that I was flirting with the idea of changing up the format of this blog a bit. Every once in a while I just feel like posting music videos rather than mixing them in with the latest movie trailers, queer comedy, and the never-ending public displays of political and religious insanity/hypocrisy happening on a weekly basis. So, this is my first stab at the concept of a mixtape blog, in which I present some artists/bands I've happily discovered, but that haven't garnered much attention in the U.S., yet. The catch: I pick five, but only one of them can originate from within the United States. This week, diverse sounds from Israel to Duluth, Minnesota. Enjoy!

Asaf Avidan. He's an Israeli singer/songwriter and musician that recorded a couple of albums with a band called Mojos.

Israeli folk-rocker Asaf Avidan
No one really paid much attention outside Israel until a German DJ named Wankelmut remixed Avidan's "Reckoning Song" from a 2008 album and this cheap, but effective video hit YouTube in the summer of 2012... where it now has over 74 million views. The splendid remix obviously struck a chord.

The Young Professionals. Also known as TYP, this Israeli electro pop band consists of producer Johnny Goldstein and singer/songwriter/producer Ivri Lider.

TYP. That's Johnny Goldstein, left, and Ivri Lider, right.

In 2011 these guys remade a Eurodisco track from 1979 -- "D.I.S.C.O.," originally a hit for French duo Ottawan -- and took it all to the next level with a brilliantly goofball video.

Trampled By Turtles. It's a damn shame that there will be people who dismiss this Duluth, Minnesota, band as soon as they find out their sound is a mashup of indie folk, alternative country and bluegrass.

Trampled By Turtles; lead singer Dave Simonett is front and center. 

Slip outside your musical comfort zone and give 2010's "Wait So Long" a fair listen. It's fierce and sweet and wise all at once. Lead singer Dave Simonett has a helluva voice, but I'm guessing that face has prompted some swooning, too.

The Wilderness of Manitoba. According to their Facebook page, the five Canadians behind this band have agreed to call their sound "chamber folk/alternative." A music critic for Time Out
Chicago characterized it as "totally modern yet captivatingly anachronistic at the same time." Yup, I agree.

The Wilderness of Manitoba

Their latest single is "Morning Sun," a shimmering beauty that's eerily reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash. They've married it to a perfectly winsome little video, too.

Professor Penguin. Despite the scale of their seven-piece line-up, this UK band's sound is masterfully intimate, placing lead singer Jonny Abraham's lilting, folksy voice front and center in their delicate (but dynamic) compositions.

Professor Penguin. That's ginger lead singer Jonny Abraham with his arms folded.

Here's the video for "Pirate," one of the singles from their 2012 debut album. It's a beauty of a song, elevated by Abraham's disarming style and some dreamy countryside visuals.