“Artists of color in general are, evidently, disappearing from the upper echelons of the Hot 100”

Eeek:

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The product of this research is the first (top) chart. Blue indicates songs by artists of color, even if those artists were only featured on the song; red indicates the same thing except that it excludes features by artists of color. Note the sharp peak in the early 90’s (new jack swing! hip-hop! r&b power ballads!) as well as the notable dip around 2000 (white bubblegum pop!). As for the aughts, artists of color in general are, evidently, disappearing from the upper echelons of the Hot 100; furthermore, even when there is a slight uptick in their presence, it’s when they’re musical sidepieces.

But I think critics who have pointed out the Billboard Hot 100’s recent lack of diversity are getting at something that’s certainly racial but that is a deeper, hairier issue than a simple assessment of skin color. The issue seems part of a larger problem of R&B and, to a lesser extent, Hip-Hop’s relevancy in the Top 40 landscape. That is, traditionally black music by black artists does not have nearly the same kind of traction it did in the early-to-mid 2000’s, let alone the early 90’s. To assess this, I looked at the proportion of top 20 songs from the year-end Hot 100 chart that also peaked within the top 50 of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

The whys we can’t answer; that black R&B and solo rap hits are experiencing hard times on the Hot 100 is undeniable.

Singles 1/31

Twenty seconds before “Black Me Out” ended I knew it would get my first nine of 2014 – my first nine in months actually (review of Transgender Dysphoria Blues here). What surprised me this week were blahs like Kylie and Danity Kane, both of whose songs could have used better beats, harmonies, something. Maybe they can hire Mark Foster as producer; “Coming of Age” shows he has an addled sense of what pop songs need.

Click on links for full reviews.

Against Me! – Black Me Out (9)
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Stranger to My Happiness (6)
Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynne – Rather Be (6)
Breach ft. Andreya Triana – Everything You Never Had (We Had It All) (6)
Danity Kane – Bye Baby (5)
Kylie Minogue – Into the Blue (5)
Broods – Never Gonna Change (5)
Tink – Treat Me Like Somebody (5)
Foster the People – Coming of Age (5)
Farid Bang – Bitte Spitte Toi Lab (5)
Katherine Alexander – Put It In a Kiss (5)
Rick Ross ft. Jay Z – The Devil is a Lie (5)
Aloe Blacc – The Man (4)
Jerrod Niemann – Drink to That All Night (3)
Vance Joy – Riptide (3)
Dvbbs & Borgeous – Tsunami (2)

“I believe in the value of personal affection, and that people should try to understand one another.”

As credo I can’t match the late Robin Wood’s, taken from “Confessions of an Unreconstructed Humanist”:

Like [Jean] Renoir, I believe in certain absolute human qualities — “generosity, for instance”; while not uncritical of Renoir’s films I would like to associate myself with the spirit of tolerance they embody, with their sense that the only enemy is anything that smacks of totalitarianism. I believe in the value of personal affection, and that people should try to understand one another. I set a high value on creativity, which for me means simply being as fully as possible alive; it is consequently the most fundamental of all moral qualities, or the quality from which all morality grows and to which all moral questions must be referred. This aliveness finds concrete embodiment in art, and its expression is art’s ultimate purpose and justification, underlying all the many uses to which art over the centuries has been put, all the functions it has fulfilled, from the cave paintings to Tout Va Bien; but it is by no means restricted to art. It can be manifested in the most humdrum daily activities when we feel imaginatively, emotionally or spontaneously caught up in them, so that performing them (however laborious, and whatever degree of conscious care and attention the execution entails) becomes a source of satisfaction.

Florida pot laws: “If they refuse, it is because of a willful disregard for the weakest of their constituents.”

Gripping:

Florida’s pro-marijuana push has been gaining ground as stories emerge of what it can do for the sick.

Some Republican state legislators back the legalization of a medicinal strain of marijuana, known as Charlotte’s Web, that is believed to reduce seizures in children with an extreme form of epilepsy.

Katherine Hsiao’s seven-year-old son, Kael, suffers from Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes dozens of seizures daily, and must currently take a cocktail of drugs with harmful side-effects.

Hsiao and her husband, who are Republicans, are considering moving to Colorado where Charlotte’s Web is legal, and might also switch their vote if the law is not changed.

“If they refuse, it is because of a willful disregard for the weakest of their constituents. And I would not want someone like that in public office,” said Hsiao.

So is this:

In 2010, Florida ranked third in the nation for marijuana arrests, with 57,951, behind New York and Texas, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The number accounted for more than 40 percent of the state’s total arrests that year at a cost of $125.6 million.

While I’m delighted at the prospect of tossing He-Man’s greatest foe and Medicare fraudster out of the governor’s chair, I’m more relieved at someone in the press noticing the devastating consequences of our drug laws.

It’s ‘porno’ not ‘pronto’: Don Jon

Actors who direct get more praise than they deserve because they know what a camera is and how to look good in front of it, a no-brainer decision that often means delegating those duties to an expert cinematographer (Charles Laughton is an exception). Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes and directs a movie about a New Joisey mook with an Adam Levine haircut who meets Barbara (Scarlet Johansson) but can’t stop watching internet porn. When she learns about Jon’s habit, she has a problem with it; comparing her affection for Channing Tatum sudsers with his for cyber threesomes infuriates her.

As leadfooted about irony as Jon himself, Don Jon doesn’t know how to develop its premise. The commercials spoiled the fun. Once we know Barbara will uncover his secret there’s no place for the movie to go. Moreover, while plenty of women would respond like Johannson does, I know more than a few who don’t mind porn so long as it makes the bedroom more interesting. I understand Barbara’s outrage: despite their good sex, she thinks Jon watches blow jobs because he’s unsatisfied with her. The movie misses this crucial point: instead of showing the benefits of porn, Don Jon devolves into a familiar Hollywood yarn about A Man Who Can’t Love. The earnest questions accumulate: “Why watch porn when you can have the real thing? what can you get from porn that you don’t get from sex?” The interlocutor is Julianne Moore, a screenwriter’s convenience who plays a classmate of Jon’s (that Jon would even look at her twice is one of the film’s minor triumphs; it isn’t ageist). Like many actor-directors Gordon-Levitt sticks to kinetics that create a sense of movement but not of space, like the quick editing when Jon logs onto his computer or masturbates; or the medium shots of his face that fill the screen to signal important moments. During their first tongue dance after a romcom, Gordon-Levitt cues absurd movie music; it’s snark that will pay off later during the hopeless denouement.

Gordon-Levitt, years after playing, often superlatively, a range of sprites, misfits, boy-men, and straight arrows, has fun playing this “Saturday Night Live” version of a lout, never letting people forget It’s Not Him when he says things like “fackin’ retarded” and “My cack was hahd” and “Why can’t real pussy be like DIS?” Don Jon is the kind of movie in which the lead whispers the Lord’s Prayer on the parallel bar after a period of painful self-abnegation. Cracking gum so hard it makes her hoop earrings tremble, Johansson is even better. Glenn Headley and Tony Danza are badabing-badabing cliches (Danza wears a wifebeater at the kitchen table and drinks Bud) who, upon learning Barbara’s last name, shout at the dinner table, “Is she a Jew? Is she a black?” In his performances Gordon-Levitt has shown he’s a quick actor, alert to stimuli. Don Jon is a half-assed first try which made a small profit. Make another movie.

Why Wall Street so sad: “That kind of scare is not easy to forget.”

Reminding audiences that its excellent reporting can’t quite mitigate the sordidness of its editorial page, The Wall Street Journal ran a string of syllables by a sad venture capitalist named Tom Perkins who despite not knowing what words mean got column inches. This saddened Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, inspiring to speculate on the reasons for Wall Street’s engorged self-pity:

Quite simply, these were and are folks who just weren’t used to public criticism. The whole “masters of the universe” mythology was basically, sure we’re massively wealthy. But we’re also the ones keeping the globe we all live on from spinning off its axis. So let us enjoy our Hamptons estates and our private jets in peace and we’ll do our jobs and you do yours. The crossfire hurricane that ripped apart that social contract stung a lot.

And then there’s the other really important variable in the equation. We know now that Wall Street came out of the financial crisis pretty nicely. But that was far from clear in the fall of 2008. The titans, under-titans and sub-titans saw the entire financial system spin on the edge of un-self-regulating collapse, something the reining ideology of recent decades said shouldn’t have been possible along with the real prospect of whole personal fortunes evaporating in an instant. That kind of scare is not easy to forget. Mix it with the need to run to the political class hat in hand and that ocean of animus from the public at large and you get the makings of a political and psychological toxicity that breeds Perkinsonian nonsense at the extreme end and more pervasively the sense of embattlement and threat verging on persecution complex that I described above

On the whole he’s right, but if he claims Bill Clinton was “genuinely a progressive in many ways” I’ll need more than his assurances. Reagan and Bush had so altered politics that by 1993 a modest tax increase and signing a maternity leave bill were the equivalent of the National Recovery Act.

A week ago I finished No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s gripping but facile biography of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt between 1939 and 1945. Summing up the president’s achievements she wrote a paragraph which in 1993 reads like an epitaph for the New Deal era. The collaboration between the federal government and business led to record profits for the latter and, yes, a redistribution of wealth downwards, with the former as arbiter. After Clinton consolidated the gains of the Reagan-Bush years, the mind gets wistful. Now I live in a state whose funding for higher education depends on how many students we can graduate in six years and which jobs they get. Return on investment, we call it.

Rick Scott: “The governor firmly believes that we need to disincentivize people not to go to work”

A $63 million website designed to ease the burden of applying for unemployment benefits in Florida is a farrago. By merging three depleted departments into one Department of Economic Oppportunity in the name of efficiency, Governor Rick Scott performed a classic Reagan-era legerdemain: staffing and paying for an agency he doesn’t believe in and which has no business operating:

Even though Scott vowed the DEO would represent efficient and streamlined government, it has seen plenty of turmoil, allegations of waste and turnover, and has burned through five executive directors since 2011.

His initial choice to lead the agency was a retired Marine Corps officer who talked a tough game on luring companies to Florida.

“I would maintain that we are at war,” Doug Darling told a Senate committee in 2011. “We’re at war with other states. We’re at war with other countries.”

As far as the unemployed, Darling said, Scott wanted to rethink their compensation in ways that would make them more self-reliant.

“The governor firmly believes that we need to disincentivize people not to go to work,” Darling said. “So we’re going to propose (in 2012) to rebrand unemployment compensation to ‘re-employment’ assistance.”

Before readers wonder if Darling ever learned to speak in English, a reminder that he wasn’t in the position long:

In January 2012, Darling abruptly quit after a disagreement with Steve MacNamara, who was then Scott’s chief of staff. His replacement, Hunting Deutsch, quit the $140,000 job after it was revealed by the Florida Current that he collected unemployment benefits for 91 weeks over a two-year period from 2009 to 2011 — when he was traveling in Europe with his wife.

“I think it was bad form for him to seek unemployment while he was off on a trip to Europe,” Senate President Don Gaetz said.

I think so too.

On the Communards’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way”

A synth pop act covering a Giorgio Moroder-helmed electronic piece was one thing; keeping the spirit of Thelma Houston’s biggest hit with falsetto was another. It’s to Richard Cole and Jimmy Somerville’s credit that they wanted “Don’t Leave Me This Way” to sound as huge and campy as possible. In the era of Parting Glances and My Beautiful Laundrette —films whose virtues centered on unlisping gay men situated in working class homes and businesses, shot in unwavering democratizing medium shot—Somerville dared to sing as if he were waving a mauve feather boa.

The video teases out some of the ironies: an ideal of twentysomething community trudging in trenchcoats and geometric haircuts under grey English skies to a factory party, the star a bloke who could have stepped out of that Stephen Frears film (Somerville’s buzz cut is formidable enough to cut steel). The positing of a counter-canon—the musicians are women—compensates for the thorough whitewashing administered to this Gamble-Huff chestnut. Interwoven into the revels are scenes in which the blond hunk Jimmy’s been winking at is chased and confronted by unsmiling apparatchiks. When it cuts back to the pneumatic dancing the track stops cold, although it had already come close: belting the killer “Set me free!” bit Somerville sounds like the straitjacket squeezed a bit tighter. But every star needs a scene-stealing supporting player, here played by Sarah Jane Morris, harmonizing with the gusto that Cole’s synth horn blasts can’t manage. An odd, abashed moment; like Culture Club and Helen Terry, Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet, the singer lets a woman run away with his song. This was “uncomplicated, manipulative party music,” in Tom Ewing’s words: 1986’s biggest selling single, a number one dance record and Top Forty hit in America. I hope this didn’t lead to Pseudo Echo’s galumphing American top ten cover of “Funkytown.”

“The reptile, known as T. Top, who says creating and breaking codes is really ‘kewl'”

Uh, I’m sure this isn’t going to work:

“As a signals analyst, you will work with cutting edge technology to recover, understand and derive intelligence from a variety of foreign signals found around the world,” children are told in the future employment section. “You will also attempt to identify the purpose, content, and user of these signals to provide critical intelligence to our nation’s leaders.”

Civil libertarians, not surprisingly, said the website was propaganda. Experts on early childhood education and marketing to children said the tactics used by the N.S.A. were similar to the way McDonald’s puts toys in its Happy Meals.

Singles 1/24

A couple of tracks on Alright, Still excepted, Lily Allen strikes me as an annoyance, unable to find musical correlatives for her smarts so that those smarts sound like attitudes. But “Air Balloon” is strong enough to make “Hard Out Here” even worse.

Click on links for full reviews.

Eric Church – Give Me Back My Hometown (7)
Lily Allen – Air Balloon (7)
Klingande – Jubel (6)
Sophia Black – Kissing (6)
St. Vincent – Digital Witness (6)
Matrix & Futurebound ft. Max Marshall – Control (5)
Lucy Hale – You Sound Good to Me (4)
Lea Michele – Cannonball (4)
Valesca Popozuda – Beijinho No Ombro (4)
Shakira ft. Rihanna – Can’t Remember to Forget You (4)
Sam Smith – Money on My Mind (3)
Katy Perry ft. Juicy J – Dark Horse (2)
Plan B – Candy (2)
Daughtry – Waiting for Superman (2)