Lady Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion” Video: Not Just Unpleasant For Epileptics

Lately it seems as though there is no better example of someone whose flame burned too brightly at the outset of her career for it to last than one, Lady Gaga. Reliant these days on the success of her “acting” on American Horror Story, Gaga has again dared to come out with a new album after the catastrophic last one that was ARTPOP.

Her upcoming fifth album, Joanne, will be released on October 21, 2016 and has spawned the “Papa Don’t Preach” imitating single (it’s “Born This Way” all over again/really just another day in the Gaga/Madonna rapport), “Perfect Illusion.” The song itself is, well, pretty grating, and finds Gaga attempting to navigate the waters of “hard” rock. She does not make it back to shore successfully.

With the lyrics an overt nod to her recently failed relationship/called off engagement, Gaga shouts, “It wasn’t love, it wasn’t love/It was a perfect illusion.” One might be able to semi-forgive the shrillness of the track if there was at least a worthwhile music video accompaniment–something with the same kind of elaborateness of the pastiche-drenched “Telephone” video.

But no, Gaga is apparently feeling lazier than she should about proving that she’s capable of topping her past endeavors, both sonically and visually. Thus, the video is merely Gaga jumping up and down in cutoff shorts onstage as a crowd of people pretending to enjoy the song looks on and dances. With a cameo by album collaborator Kevin Parker of Tame Impala (Gaga also miraculously managed to land Mark Ronson as a Joanne producer, best known for his work with Amy Winehouse, a powerhouse who propelled Gaga to dye her hair blonde at the outset of her career in response to aesthetic comparisons), Lady G cavorts around in the desert as though she’s still back on the Lower East Side stripping for cash.

Be that as it may, the banality and abrading visual effects make the “Perfect Illusion” video as unenjoyable to endure as the song itself.

Why “Pitt”ing Aniston and Jolie Against Each Other Misses the Point

For those who have long wanted to turn back the clock to that simpler era (in spite of the Bush II presidency), 2005, the time has come, once again to “Pitt” Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie against each other.

Rather than direct attention on the knavish actions of Brad Pitt himself, the media firestorm continues to prefer the calculated cultivation of a “cat fight,” even triangulating Marion Cotillard into the gossip mill by positing that it’s she who is the latest version of Angelina Jolie to Jolie’s newly claimed role as Aniston.

The most recent swirl of rumors alleging Pitt’s drunken verbal and possibly physical abuse still haven’t trumped what is more important to outsiders and salivators of drama: the fact that Jennifer Aniston may or may not feel vindicated and has been waiting for this day to come ever since ’05 when she was made a fool of in the pitying eyes of those who wore Team Aniston tees.

Fans and nebs alike declaring the announcement of the divorce to be “the day love died” (though I’m pretty sure that was the day Madonna and Sean Penn separated) have delighted in the creation of memes focused on Aniston’s smug and/or laughing facial expressions upon hearing the news.

Never before in the twenty-first century has a public reaction so closely mirrored the response to Rudolph Valentino’s death. Because Jolie and Pitt represent the Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher of our time (which puts Aniston in the unfortunate position of playing Debbie Reynolds), the majority is fixated on how, for all intents and purposes, their beliefs in “Hollywood”–this entity where nothing bad is ever supposed to happened–have only further crumbled. And this is perhaps why so many are missing the point regarding the dissolution of the marriage. The masses would prefer to repackage the same scandalous story from ’05 than acknowledge Brad Pitt of any wrongdoing. Because if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about Hollywood, it’s this: the women are 1) always to be blamed and 2) are to be rotated around depending on age and cachet to the male star.

And so, isn’t it comforting to know that we still have some vestiges left from the old studio system?

Destroy Everything You Touch: White Girl

What is a white girl, if not a daft ninny to be mocked and used as nothing more than an orifice? It’s an examination of a stereotype that’s become more prevalent in a post-White Chicks era. And with her directorial and screenwriting debut, Elizabeth Wood paints a lurid elucidation of this archetype through a young party girl gentrifier in NYC, a label that calls into play so many aspects of the white female mystique.

Leah (Morgan Saylor, something of an Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon doppelganger), a 20ish college student on summer break, begins her vacation by moving into a new apartment in Ridgewood–“Where the fuck is that?”, a co-worker asks ridiculing. Along with her best friend and roommate, Katie (India Menuez), Leah becomes increasingly attracted to the use of drugs, made readily available to her by the guys who hang out on the corner across the street from her place, the ringleader being an attractive charmer named Blue (Brian Marc). At first a casual user of your garden variety fare (read: weed), Leah’s predilection toward cocaine a.k.a. “white girl” escalates after striking up a rapport with Blue, in spite of his insistence that he doesn’t “fuck around” with people who are addicted to it.

Her first electric interaction with him occurs while having a housewarming party, of sorts, with some fellow students in the mix who scoff at Leah and Katie’s latest residence, declaring they could never live outside the dorms in a neighborhood like this (which is ridiculous because it’s Ridgewood). In a personality-based move that describes her need to prove herself and her bravery to those around her–a sort of white girl constant as a result of never being taken seriously–Leah decides to approach Blue to see if he has weed when she discovers she’s out of the social panacea. With the others presumably watching her from safely above, Blue stares Leah down ominously in response to her question and ultimately cautions, “Hey shorty. Don’t do drugs.”

The warning proves a valid one as Leah goes increasingly off the rails with regard to self-control. After encountering Blue again at the bodega near her apartment, he reveals his softer side when he explains that his friends call him Blue because “I’m always sad–until I met you.” Her ceaseless search for affection and physical validation (shown the moment we see her sucking off her boss, Kelly [Justin Bartha], at the internship she vaguely works at) is appealed to, and she instantly lets Blue into her heart… followed by her apartment and pussy.

But her white girl ways–pluckiness, unfamiliarity with not getting what she wants, etc.–can’t fully extend to Blue’s world; after all, he’s still a Hispanic drug dealer. When she invites him and his friends, Nene (Ralph Rodriguez) and Kilo (Anthony Ramos), to a party Kelly is throwing in Chinatown, he initially refuses. Cajoling him to come with her so he can sell his coke supply, he insists, “I don’t fuck with the city.” Leah’s coquetry, of course, wins out–a fact that harkens back to Sharon Tate as Jennifer in Valley of the Dolls lamenting, “All I know how to do is take off my clothes.” Leah, too, can’t help but use her most powerful weapon–her looks and youth–to get what (and get away with what) she wants while meeting little resistance in the process.

Upon sampling a taste for how willing white people are to shell out for more and more coke throughout the night, Blue suddenly becomes enthusiastic about procuring a larger bulk of the product from known loose cannon and kingpin of the neighborhood drug scene, Lloyd (Adrian Martinez). When he expresses this notion to Kilo, who has now struck up a relationship with Katie after the party, and Nene, they both bail, chastising Blue for his foolishness propelled by greed. Leah sticks around for the drive over to Lloyd’s, having sex with him in the back of the car in one of many casually sensationalist carnal scenes that pepper the film.

When Leah gets out of the car while Blue is inside attempting to present his business strategy, she encounters a shady man (later revealed to be a snitch) wearing a hat that says “Muerte” on it. He demands, “What are you doing here?” She returns snarkily, “What are you doing here?” He laughs, “This ain’t the place for you, ma.” This simple exchange most clearly illustrates the general view on white girls: they hazily and carelessly find themselves in places they shouldn’t be, and then expect someone to bail them out when it all goes south. In the end, their sunshiny brightness turns out not to be worth all the unintentional trouble they cause.

Indeed, Blue essentially ends up getting arrested for possession as a result of letting Leah’s inherent white girl optimism spread through him with regard to his moneymaking future. Had he never gotten the notion to make higher profit margins as a result of the Chinatown party, he most likely would have stayed away from any unnecessary interactions with Lloyd.

Most striking about Wood’s narrative is how tacitly the white girl plays into what is expected of her, particularly sexually, and in terms of frequently fucking up without acknowledging the consequences or how it might affect others around her. For most people, the plight of the white girl is not considered compelling because it’s not classified as “real,” so much as self-imposed based on an unconscious, guilt-driven need to create problems for oneself that aren’t really there. Feeling this vitriol from all walks of life, the white girl feeds into it by unwittingly cultivating a predisposition for self-destruction so as to numb herself to the agonies of enduring the stereotype that insists: you have nothing to offer other than your body and an insatiable sense of and desire for fun–usually meaning drugs, inevitably leading to poor decisions regarding sexual encounters.

The double meaning of the title, both referencing Leah herself and cocaine–her main love–is both a defiant badge of honor and a scarlet A branded upon the exposed tits of the woman who can’t resist taking her top off when she collects $24,000 in one night from selling Blue’s product in order to provide for his legal bill and pay back Lloyd for the mass amount of product he gave to Blue. And yet, she even manages to fuck this up by getting so drunkenly coked out that she leaves Kelly and another of his magazine minions, Alexa (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), the opportunity to con her out of the money by leaving her passed out in the bathroom–or at least that’s the impression one gets from the sheepish grins on their faces when Leah tells them she doesn’t have it anymore.

As Leah goes deeper and deeper into the drug abyss, spurred by her need to get Blue out of prison at any cost, it will become a challenge for most viewers to have any sympathy for her. After all, she’s doing it all to herself–(white) girls just wanna have fun, right?

The jarring final scene is a study in white girl contrasts: one minute they’re dancing naked and the next they’re atoning for their sins after realizing they’ve lost just a little bit more of their soul last night.

Has Paul Thomas Anderson Just Wasted All His Talent on the Video for “Present Tense”?

It’s generally accepted that Paul Thomas Anderson is, well, a genius. That being said, should a genius really be wasting his talents on the directing of a music video that could have just as easily been filmed with an iPhone and an adjustable camera holder?

Apparently, the answer is yes when it comes to directing Radiohead, whose latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool, is coming up with no shortage of singles. PT’s history with the band has been developing quickly in the wake of the “Daydreaming” video. But where “Daydreaming” is an evocative, often uncomfortable glimpse at emotionalism, the “simplicity shtick” of “Present Tense” is this: just Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and a Roland CR-78. What more could a viewer need? The response to this is, of course, an actual narrative worthy of Anderson’s abilities.

The careful unfolding of the plot of “Daydreaming” is centered around Yorke’s despondency upon finding himself in different everyday scenarios–an outsider looking in on such milieus as a dirty kitchen, a laundromat and a grocery store. Conversely, there is nothing evocative about “Present Tense,” with Yorke barely glancing into the camera whilst singing–though he does, at the very least, offer a few occasional impromptu dance moves (nothing on the same level as “Lotus Flower,” however).

But maybe Yorke wanted it precisely this way–for the “Present Tense” video to be, in many ways, frivolous. Perhaps he is merely heeding the advice contained in the lyrics, “I won’t get heavy/Don’t get heavy/Keep it light/And keep it moving.” Be that as it may, did Radiohead really need to enlist the greatness that is PT Anderson for this type of message to be conveyed?

It’s Probably Still Too Soon For a Selena Makeup Collection

While it’s generally expected that MAC creates a line of makeup based on pretty much every iconic celebrity woman in existence, some people ought to be sacred. Alas, Selena (who now has to be called Selena Quintanilla in order for people to differentiate between her and Selena Gomez) has not been given this courtesy.

In fact, the appropriate amount of time to create a makeup line that pays tribute to someone who died tragically is the amount of time MAC waited to make the Marilyn Monroe inspired palettes back in 2012–a.k.a. fifty years. But it’s been a mere twenty-one years since Selena was gunned down by her manager and so-called best friend, Yolanda Saldívar, after meeting her at a Days Inn in Corpus Christi and then falling for some yarn Saldívar gave her about being raped in Mexico so that Selena would be deflected from the matter at hand: Saldívar blatant embezzlement while in charge of her business affairs.

When Selena took her to the hospital to get checked, the doctors found no traces of the claim. Back in the car, the tension between Selena and Saldívar escalated, prompting Saldívar, psycho that she is, to brandish a gun and shoot Selena in the shoulder and wound a critical artery. Selena then fled back to the hospital in a gruesome scene that left behind a 392-foot line of blood.

And so, with a murder as grotesque as this in mind happening relatively recently, one begs the question: is MAC really honoring Selena’s memory by offering up blood-red lipsticks for sale at this point in time? You be the judge. But, most likely, you’re the type who thinks Selena Gomez was the one who made the name “Selena” trend in the first place.

Lioness: Hidden Treasures: Amy Winehouse’s Oft Forgotten Post-Mortem Record

While Amy Winehouse’s musical legacy is by no stretch of the imagination underrated (particularly after the recent release of Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy), her posthumous final album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, tends to be overlooked in her canon of work as an overt attempt by record label executives to profit from her death. But the album is so much more than that–a rich aural study in the culmination of Winehouse finding herself outside of the pain and agony of the lyrics that made her sophomore effort, Back to Black, so immensely relatable to a mass audience. It was, in fact, the closest she got to proving that she was capable of even more than her 2006 titan of a record.

Released on December 2, 2011, almost five full months after Winehouse was found dead from alcohol poisoning in her Camden apartment, Lioness: Hidden Treasures reached number one in Britain on the UK Albums Chart and number five in the U.S. on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart. While this seemingly positive reception based on sales would lead one to believe that the record was given its due reverence, there can be no denying that the public interest in it was largely driven by her premature death.

With the combined efforts of Winehouse’s most beloved producers, Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, Lioness: Hidden Treasures was given a cohesive sound and feel in spite of most of the tracks being culled from different eras of Winehouse’s career. Even though the first single, “Body and Soul,” was created as a duet for Tony Bennett’s Duets II, which came out on September 20, 2011–six days after what would have been Winehouse’s twenty-eighth birthday–and charted at a mere number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was nonetheless an impressive feat not only because it made Bennett one of the oldest artists to appear on this form of the top 100, but also because the soulful style of music that characterizes “Body and Soul” isn’t generally something one associates with being fit for commercial consumption. Even so, the interest in and zeal for Winehouse worked in the song’s favor.

The second and last single off of, Lioness, “Our Day Will Come,” was originally recorded during the Frank era of Winehouse’s career. The remake, which was first released in 1963 by Ruby & the Romantics, emphasizes the old soul aura that Winehouse conveys in all of her remakes of seminal 60s tracks. Another such example of this on Lioness: Hidden Treasures is Winehouse’s rendering of The Shirelles’ 1960 classic, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Lending the song her own distinct take, Winehouse offers a new level of earnestness to it, paired with her own brand of sultriness.

Her other classic cover on Lioness, “The Girl From Ipanema,” a bossa nova staple that came out in 1964, showcases Winehouse’s aptitude for scatting, just as she did for the intro to the first track on Frank, “Stronger Than Me.” Again she transforms a 60s standard into something all her own, recreating it in a manner that sounds both totally different while remaining faithful to the original’s aural integrity.

As for Winehouse’s previously unreleased compositions, the obvious favorites are “Best Friends, Right?” and “Like Smoke” featuring Nas (of “Me & Mr Jones” fame). The former was a previous outtake from Frank, while the latter was recorded by Winehouse and Salaam Remi in 2008. Nas’ lyrics were added in later, and included an homage to Winehouse’s death with the sentiment, “I be out in London, Camden/Hunting for the answers/Why did god take away the homie?/I can’t stand it.”

Although demo versions of Back to Black staples like “Tears Dry” and “Wake Up Alone” offer up Winehouse at her most personal, it is arguable that the most intimate song on Lioness is “Between the Cheats,” yet another track lyrically inspired by Blake Fielder-Civil. Favoring a doo-wop influence, the sadness of the story unfolding in the song is mitigated by the upbeat musical and vocal backing. Winehouse gushes, “My husband is the finest handsome hustler and he still makes this housewife blush,” all while being fully aware that they both love one another between the cheats a.k.a. adultery. Recorded in 2008, when Fielder-Civil was still in jail for assault and obstruction of justice, it’s likely that Winehouse was not only perfectly cognizant of Fielder-Civil’s known lothario ways, but was also feeling the temptation of other non-imprisoned types herself (in 2009, she would have a fling with actor Josh Bowman while taking a reprieve from London life in Saint Lucia).

Ironically, one of the lyrics of “Between the Cheats” is “I would die before I divorce ya/I’d take a thousand thumps for my love.” But, of course, Winehouse had taken one too many thumps for said love and had to end it–though it was ultimately Fielder-Civil who filed for their divorce in 2009.

“Half Time,” a decidedly Frank-sounding track, was, indeed, an outtake from the album that blends Winehouse’s budding confidence with her unbridled passion for music, evidenced by the declaration, “Rhythm floods my heart/The melody it feeds my soul/The tune tears me apart, and I swallow it whole.” Indicative of the manner in which Winehouse had to allow her music to consume her, and to give herself fully to it via the pouring of her personal experience into every song, “Half Time” is possibly the most telling in terms of presaging the singer’s destructive path.

Elsewhere, a different incarnation of “Valerie,” one of the most beloved Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse collaborations regardless of it being yet another cover (this time of Liverpudlian band The Zutons’ second single from their sophomore album, Tired of Hanging Around), provides us with the more buoyant side of Winehouse. For, if nothing else, the torrid chanteuse was a woman of extremes. She had her jubilant half and her melancholic-to-the-point-of-self-decimation one. And that’s what comes across most on Lioness: Hidden Treasures: her emotional complexity.

Though some critics wrote the album off simply as Winehouse’s family members and record label scrambling to make the most (money) out of a bad situation, Lioness truly is an indication of how multi-faceted Winehouse was in her vocal and stylistic ability. This can best be summed up by the words and theme of the final song on the record, “A Song For You” (yes, a cover by none other than one of Winehouse’s favorite idols, Donny Hathaway): “I’ve acted out my life on stages/With ten thousand people watching/But we’re alone now and I’m singing this song for you.” That was the relationship Winehouse had–and has–with her listeners; it always felt like she was singing her songs just for you, about the heartache you’ve experienced.

Give Me Time To Realize Alexis Arquette’s Crime

The plight of being trans is difficult enough as a civilian, but add to it a touch of celebrity and the challenges augment tenfold. For Alexis Arquette, born Robert in 1969, the responsibility to positively portray trans women in a non-stereotypical, caricature-like manner was one she took seriously, beginning with her first role in Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

It was with 1989’s Last Exit to Brooklyn that Arquette landed her first major acting appearance as a transvestite named Georgette. The “fluke” circumstances of getting the part (it was because of her sister, Rosanna Arquette, who was already auditioning for the film, that Alexis was asked to try out as well) leads one to believe the part-time cabaret performer was destined to make an impression on the silver screen.

While few people (those cisgender types) can name anything Arquette has been in other than The Wedding Singer, the actress has appeared in over forty films, perhaps most importantly Killer Drag Queens on Dope. Always delivering pitch-perfect comedic timing, one would never have guessed at the personal struggle Arquette suffered, particularly with regard to the end of her life as she endured what has so far only been described as a “lengthy illness” (it was AIDS).

On the screen, though, Alexis was always larger than life, infusing the cinema with what it’s been sorely lacking since the 70s and 80s: camp. While Arquette hadn’t graced the camera since 2014’s Blended (which is something of an unfortunate last film to have on one’s resume), she will, if nothing else, always live on in glorious Boy George impersonating glory. We’ll never know what crime Alexis committed to deserve departing this earth at the age of forty-seven, but maybe there is another world, a better world.

M.I.A. Takes Her Usual Human Rights AIM on “Final” Album

The storied history behind the release of what M.I.A. is now deeming her “final” album (but we all know how that tends to go, especially when made in a statement so definitive) has offered more than enough insight into why the beloved rapper wishes to make AIM–her fifth album–the coda of her musical career.

A similar fate befell Matangi back in 2013, also met with the same amount of mixed acceptance. Thus, the ongoing issue M.I.A. has had with using a major label–Interscope–to translate her iconoclastic message on a palatable mass scale has served as the last straw for the expression of her creativity musically. To combat the backlog of bureaucratic foilings at every turn with Interscope, M.I.A. first began doling out tracks from the album like bread crumbs back in June of 2015, with “The New International Sound, Pt. 2” (a collusion with one of producer Surkin’s side projects, GENER8ION), and the singles “Swords” and “Borders” unleashed on the internet soon after.

The latter’s accompanying video is the first instance of the record–then still titled Matahdatah–drawing attention for its politically charged stance on the treatment of refugees as less than human. Sarcastically imitating the faux interest and care of the First World, M.I.A., chants, “Poverty, what’s up with that?/Broke people, what’s up with that?” So impassioned regarding the matter is M.I.A. that she even directed the video herself and bore the aftermath of being sued by yet another sporting organization (this after her middle finger stirred controversy with the NFL at the 2012 Super Bowl), Paris St. Germain, for altering their sponsor’s logo, Fly Emirates, to Fly Pirates.

The effervescent exuberance of “Go Off” will make you want to do just that, as M.I.A. reverts to the viscerally-tinged beats so prevalent on her debut, Arular. Making assertions that will have illuminati conspiracy theorists atwitter, M.I.A. raps, “Yeah I don’t lose focus like a German called Sven/My third eye’s open and my focus ain’t joking/Yeah you got it wrong, ’cause my focus is so strong.” Bringing her most irreverent sense of humor to the lyrics, she also adds in similes that include, “Like aliens in villages/We’re here for all ages.”

Quite literally chirpy, “Bird Song (Blaqstarr Remix)” opens with sounds that emulate a bird to a sampled tune from an Indian movie called Oru Kili Uruguthu. Continuing to prove that–as she later declares–she’s a writer, M.I.A. plays on words with regard to varying breeds of avian species, opening with, “I’m a parrot/I’m robin this joint/Not a lyre bird/Sure ain’t a vulture/Don’t swallow that cause I make the culture/I’m not a lyre bird/Staying rich like an ostrich.” Indeed, the menagerie of symbolism makes one re-think the meaning of the word “bird brain” with regard to just how poignant they can be–or at least when M.I.A. infuses them with a certain intelligence in her work. Then again, M.I.A.’s use of birds in her songs first began in 2007 with “Bird Flu,” in which the frenzied sounds of chicken-like birds punctuate the auditory backdrop of the track. The video for the song also addresses M.I.A.’s longstanding empathy for refugees, with the footage shot in India, as M.I.A. later explained, “close to the refugee camp where all the Sri Lankans get off the boat in India in the south, just outside Chennai. I went to this press office from 1986 or something, and found all these pictures of the refugees… I didn’t find pictures of us but I found pictures of my dad.” The connections between “Bird Flu” and “Bird Song” persist when taking into account that the former also samples music from a Tamal language Indian movie, called Jayam.

“Jump In” is possibly the most “throwaway” song on AIM, featuring a mumbly introduction that segues into M.I.A. repeating, “Jump in, ju/Jump in, ju/Jump in, ju/Jump in, ju/Jump in, jump in.” However, it finds a moment of profundity when alluding once again to the motif that “invades” the album, with M.I.A. insisting, “When I see that border/I gon’ cross the line.”

“Freedun” featuring ZAYN rivals “Go Off” and “Ali R U OK?” for most danceable (and therefore best) song on AIM. Refusing to let up on the topic of refugees, the crux of “Freedun” highlights, “Refugees learn about patience/Sometimes, I have many visions/I don’t even need a religion/I’m a new frontier on horizons.” Persisting in an iteration that borders are a contrivance, M.I.A. also sets the second “alien” bait for those conspiracy theorists reading into her abovementioned “third eye,” singing, “Yeah, I sail this ship to the thousands/Even aliens see the presentation.” And then, of course, there’s the typically romantic of ZAYN chorus: “All the stars are still shining/But you’re the only one I see/I can feel when your heart beats…”

The duets don’t stop after “Freedun,” as “Foreign Friend” also includes vocals from Dexta Daps on a song that connotes earnestness and urgency–not just about the need for friendship, but the way those from foreign countries are viewed by those, for all intents and purposes, “fetishizing” other races. The motives for many ridden with guilt about not having enough “ethnic” friends see acclimated foreigners as an easy way to fill the racial void. As M.I.A. notes, “I said as a refugee, you know/Where we come from, we get out our tent/Then we climb over the fence/We don’t wanna cause an offense/Then we get a Benz, flatscreen TV, and we pay rent/Then we think we made it/Then we be your foreign friend.” In other words, “foreign friends” are not taken as they are at the outset of arriving to a country.

The self-assured confidence of “Finally” exhibits M.I.A. at her most Ray of Light state of zenness–tranquil and at peace with herself and others. Affirming, “You gonna see/I’m not gonna waste energy/’Cause I’m free and I’m a freak,” M.I.A. does come across as slightly less enraged on this track. But signs of the cynic shine through when she pays homage to The Verve’s only aphorism by remarking, “Life’s just a bittersweet symphony.” And while, yes, AIM may be showing us a kindler, gentler Maya, make no mistake: there is no one who better exemplifies the notion that to be alive is to be infuriated.

On this note, the transition to the frenetic “A.M.P. (All My People)” channels Lady Sovereign and harkens back to the razor sharpness of her Kala era, with M.I.A. insisting, “I can’t keep myself in check like a Mormon” when it comes to despising men for their callous actions but also relying on them for pleasure. The depth of her cocksureness beams brightly as she balks, “They wanna stop me/Galliano sack me/I’ll keep on coming back/Like your freaking acne/I am proactive/Brand new perspective/Back on a MAC tip with matching red lipstick.”

Sounding like something that should have been on the soundtrack for The Darjeeling Limited, M.I.A. draws once again from an Indian-tinged influence for “Ali R U OK?” Produced by Richard X, who also worked with her on Arular, the innocence of the song is cinched by the fact that it’s inspired by an Uber driver.

Taking a cue from other artists with a large enough breadth of work, M.I.A. often gets self-referential on her music and lyrics, as with “Visa” (originally released as “MIA OLA”), in which she uses the beat of “Galang” while name checking past tracks like “Bamboo Banga,” “Y.A.L.A.,” and “Teqkilla.” The song’s name change to “Visa” is undoubtedly a dig at the singer’s own issues with being unable to obtain one in order to promote her work in the United States.

Seeing as how M.I.A. already got sued for wearing a Fly Pirates shirt, she presumably had no fear about including “Fly Pirate” on AIM. An allusion to the manner in which refugees essentially travel–illegally and therefore not on a plane–M.I.A. encourages the notion that it’s better to take a voyage with some risk involved in order to reap the reward, shouting, “See the sea/do the boat.”

Not to be confused with the Destiny’s Child song of the same name, “Survivor” is something of a companion to the ethereality of “Finally,” showcasing M.I.A. in another state of calm. Revealing a reflective mood, M.I.A. laments with enough sagacity, “Trying not to remember/My time in the fire/’Cause ain’t gonna tell ya/This war is never over.” The war in question is more than just the ongoing one between any given country, but the internal battle one must fight on a daily basis.” Again making sure to insinuate refugee existence into the lyrics, she adds, “I ride through the sea like a pirate/Just to flow with the water/Can’t carry feelings/Like basket can’t carry water.”

Re-teaming, somewhat surprisingly, with ex-flame Diplo, “Bird Song (Diplo Remix)” emphasizes why the two worked so well together in the past, with their similar wavelength for beats and tempos harmonizing to perfection on this song.

The GENER8ION collaboration, “The New International Sound, Pt. 2” (which will make certain The Mighty Boosh enthusiasts think of “The New Sound”), is a mid-tempo track that suggests that M.I.A.’s insistence on retirement could be real as she pronounces, “Keep your fame and I’ll keep my faith.” This accent on the point that the trappings of being a musician–i.e. notoriety–are more trouble than they’re worth implies she could very well be done with communicating her thoughts through this medium.

“Swords,” which was featured in the video Matahdatah Scroll 01 “Broader Than A Border,” pertains to the constant fear not just refugees, but women, must live in, with a chorus that cautions, “Hands up if you hear a knock on the door.” At her most feministic, M.I.A. seeks to evoke a reaction with the description, “Loads of men can’t handle this ride/When will they know we’re best by their side?/They keep us down and we take it in stride/Throw up your head if you’ve still got light/World will know ’cause we just can’t hide.”

The feverishness of “Talk” again genuflects to M.I.A.’s earlier sound on Arular, with echoes of “Galang” once again present. Expressing pride for her enfant terrible ways, M.I.A. brags, “I talk and talk until I piss ’em off.” Her writerly tendencies are emblazoned when she threatens, “Gonna fight pen with my pen,” which, of course, means, no matter what critics say about her, she can always come back at them with more vitriolic rhymes.

“Platforms,” the final song on the deluxe version of the record, is the perfect way to slow things down on AIM, allowing listeners to germinate over what they’ve just heard. Rather than concluding with another refugee-infused offering, M.I.A. instead appeals to the problem with platforms a.k.a. social media, taunting, “Data mine my mind like a diamond in the rough.” She also makes note of the obscene wealth of those who spend their days making life even less tangible for others, singing, “The tech dudes are the only ones having a good day.” The theme of displacement, however, remains present, as M.I.A. clearly doesn’t feel like a true part of any of these “platforms” designed to keep people interconnected. And yet, as she says, “Maybe there’s glory in all the things I’m not.”

AIM is very much the refugee album, shedding light on the injustices of being displaced while also resonating with those who experience a more metaphorical exile. Layered with double meanings and symbolism, AIM is a comfort to anyone at odds with established borders, whether literal or, shall we say, more emblematic of the mind.

Britney & Ellen’s Mall Tour Isn’t Just Retro, It’s Caustic

On the heels of a Washington Post article entitled, “Britney Spears Is A Pop Star Permanently Stuck In Another Era,” it seems the 34-year-old honorary Vegas showgirl continues to prove how little she cares about molding her publicity for Glory to the expectations of the media with regard to how she should be “modernizing” herself. Rather than take the invective about her being “old-fashioned,” trapped in the bygone era of her peak, somewhere around 2005 at the maximum, Britney has continued to be fiercely traditional in her promotion–if not all-out retro.

The latest case in point is a near eight-minute video segment she did for Ellen, in which the two “terrorize” the Westfield Fashion Square shopping mall in Sherman Oaks (the very epitome of Valley Girl retro) based on the fact that “we’re celebrities.” Mostly silent–playing, one supposes, Ellen’s straight man (no allusion to sexual orientation intended)–Britney nods along when Ellen says things like, “You’re right about the falling oil prices” and “You’re a big celebrity.”

Ellen, perhaps giving a fitting nod to the Showgirls/”It’s a Versayce” ignorance of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), by pointing out the “Channel” counter–to which Britney corrects, “It’s Chanel,” commences a rampage of entitlement from the outset of arriving through the sliding automatic doors.

As the two kick a random punching bag while “Gimme More” (a somewhat eerie song choice when taking into account how tied it is to Britney’s ’07 breakdown) plays in the background, Ellen parodies the ridiculousness of famous people–who have more money than anyone–getting high-priced items for free by asking the suit salesman, “So this would be 100% discount because she’s a celebrity?” With that, Britney, wearing the oversized suit jacket, walks off with Ellen to their next destination, the Family Play Space, where they encounter a teenage boy of typical awkwardness. Ellen asks, “How old are you?” He replies, “Fourteen.” She further demands, “What do you want to do when you get older?” He nobly admits, “I want to become a doctor.” Ellen balks, “No, no. You know what you should be?” Entertaining her, he asks, “What?” She declares, “A celebrity.” He muses, “Ah that’s gonna be fun.” Ellen goes on to tout what American youth has already been conditioned to believe by insisting, “Yeah it’s much better than a doctor. You know how much doctors make? Eh, I don’t know. But celebrities make a lot. You would have to go to college to be a doctor, right? Waste of time. Neither of us went to college and look at us.”

Though Britney’s tendency toward mum-ness (just as she was for most of Carpool Karaoke) is overt, she has occasional moments of clarity, as when she instructs Ellen on how to strut seductively through the mall by offering, “Use your hips ’cause hips don’t lie.” The mall cardio leads them to Ben & Jerry’s, where they’re given more “free samples” that they take to Pottery Barn where they can sit at a pre-designed dining room area and eat. While Ellen is doing most of the satirical commentary, it can’t be denied that Britney is the ultimate authority on just how absurd the nature of fame can be, even recently commenting of her two sons, “I think the magnitude of [this job] and the fame thing, I don’t think they’ve really comprehended what that would even be like… Hopefully they never will, because it’s kind of much.”

War Dogs a.k.a. Todd Phillips Keeps Trying To Remake The Hangover

Todd Phillips has a problem. The kind that might be akin to something like having Michael Bay Syndrome. Perhaps appropriately born in Dix Hills, New York, Phillips–né Bunzl–has been coasting on the “frat boy” demographic for most of his film career. From his first major commercial endeavor, Road Trip, back in 2000, Phillips has always catered to the hyper testosterone-filled white male.

With his most “iconic” work, The Hangover (and its follow-ups that would go on to form a trilogy), Phillips solidified his reputation as the go-to auteur for catering to bros posing as “semi-intelligent.” Based on the true story of David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), the two youngest men to make an arms deal of one of the most massive calibers in history with the U.S. Department of Defense back in 2007, War Dogs is often misogynistic, rarely entertaining and always just a little bit lacking.

Though there was a third person involved in Efraim and David’s initial lineup at AEY Inc., a fellow stoner named Alex Podrizki, it doesn’t make for quite as good Caesar and Brutus level betrayal when there’s a trio involved. And indeed, the Brutus representative in this scenario (if we want to lend War Dogs that much literary cachet) is Efraim, who appears out of the woodwork at a funeral for a mutual friend of his and David’s. Though the duo was inseparable in their preadolescence, Efraim’s move to another city–paired with David’s mother’s disapproval of him–kept them apart up until their twenties.

Saddled with a thankless job as a masseur for rich old men in Miami Beach, David is gradually reaching his wit’s end–especially after his investment in selling sheets to nursing homes (obviously quite prevalent in Florida) turns out to be a bust in that no owner is willing to pay for premium quality bedding when they look at senior citizens as the walking dead anyway. With all of his money poured into this endeavor, David’s worry increases when his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas), tells him she’s pregnant. Thus, Efraim’s return to his life seems particularly fortuitous as he offers David a partnership at the embryonic AEY, explaining that the opportunity to sell weapons to the U.S. government is more lucrative than ever considering the Bush administration’s desperation to outfit soldiers with enough defense and ammo to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This fact, paired with Efraim’s philosophy of “All the money is made between the lines” and “Everybody is ignoring the crumbs. But I live on crumbs. I’m a rat,” means plenty of room for loose morality on the moneymaking front. David, knowing this level of shadiness would upset Iz, decides to tell her that he’s using Efraim’s government contacts to sell the sheets that he couldn’t to various rest homes.

With the lie set in motion, David begins his alternate life as a gunrunner, choosing to ignore what certain mutual acquaintances have said about Efraim’s propensity for betrayal (the rumor is that he ripped off his uncle of $70,000 in Los Angeles while getting his start for him in the weapon-selling business). The corrupt ways of Efraim quickly come to haunt them after AEY agrees to sell a few thousand Berettas to U.S. troops stationed in Baghdad. Unfortunately, an Italian embargo on shipping guns to Iraq leaves the shipment stranded in Jordan, forcing Efraim and David to personally deliver the cargo by car to Baghdad through what is known as the “triangle of death.” Sealing their reputation as trustworthy, Efraim and David are able to take AEY to the next level with this deal–even though it means Iz finds out about what David is really involved in as a result.

And so begins the gradual disintegration of Iz and David’s relationship thanks to the latter’s constant need shield her from the truth. As AEY starts getting enough big ticket contracts to have a proper office and hire a robust amount of employees, Efraim and David head to the Las Vegas convention (what David calls “like ComicCon” for the arms business) to make their presence as a force to be reckoned with known. It’s there that David encounters infamous major player Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper, a Phillips staple) at the roulette table. The illustrious arms dealer is not only on a terrorist watch list, but he’s also almost impossible to reach unless he’s the one who reaches you. That being said, he offers David and Efraim the opportunity to sign one of the most sought after contracts, supplying millions of bullets to the U.S. army in Afghanistan. With Girard willing to give them his Albanian source, a factory filled with boxes upon boxes of ammo that Albania wants to unload, Efraim and David agree to take a chance–in spite of Girard’s known shyster tendencies.

At first feeling like they’ve won the arms dealing lottery, it quickly becomes clear that the two have been sold a bum deal when they realize the bullets are Chinese–a fact in direct conflict with the U.S.’ embargo on Chinese arms (it’s like the Beretta deal but a literal million times worse).

Tellingly, Ralph Slutzky (Kevin Pollack), a dry cleaner and one of their first investors, was one of the major duped stepping stones to AEY greatness, with Efraim feigning a certain kind of Jewishness to appeal to Ralph’s kindness. David remarks in voiceover, “That was Efraim’s genius: he would figure out who someone wanted him to be and he would become that person.” He even found out how to play David for so long by acting the role of loyal childhood friend with such seeming sincerity. And this is one of the sole redeeming elements of War Dogs: the depth and complexity of Efraim’s evil almost riveting to watch–though we’re never given a clear-cut reason behind why Efraim is driven to such lengths of debauchery. His greatest punishment is perhaps being played by Jonah Hill, as the real Efraim is far more attractive (the mark of any master con man).

While War Dogs is theoretically “different” from anything Phillips has ever done, the same formula for The Hangover remains, boiled down to something chauvinistic Girard says: “That’s why I like the arms business: no women.” And that’s also why men love Phillips’ movies so much: it’s all bro friendships, strippers and zero consequences.

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