Monday, 25 August 2014

Pop Confessional: A Brief History of My Music Taste

I like pop music. There I’ve said it. Call the hipster-army-brigade and get them to arrest me. I admit to surfing the mainstream.

And this is something that has taken me a while to come to terms with. The reason it took me so long to come to terms with it, is because I was acting far more pretentiously than I had any right to be.

There’s nothing wrong with liking or disliking anything. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions. Something I’ve ranted about previously is when people start to enforce their opinions onto someone else to make them feel lesser. In the video it’s about preferring YA to classic fiction, in this it’s about preferring mainstream pop to whatever’s “cooler”.

I’m not saying pop music has more artistic merit, or is cleverer, or is better than any other type of music. I’m saying I get a personal pleasure from it, which shouldn’t be taken away from me by someone saying what I feel is “stupid”.

I say this as a person who previously scorned pop, choosing to plug in my headphones instead of giving it a chance.

My story starts in the 90’s and early 00’s, the decade of my birth, and the years of Backstreet Boys, S Club 7, and Britney Spears. At a child who’s age was yet to enter double-digits, I had no problem with my jam being “Reach For the Stars”. I grew up on cotton-candy pop and loved it.

The dark ages appeared in the form of my teenage years. I thought I was getting more angsty and grungier in music taste, but only in my head. For my thirteenth birthday I got a mini stereo-system and my love with music was sealed. As I went through my teen years, my music taste rapidly changed from bubblegum pop, to more pop-rock, to just rock. A good indicator is the first albums I got with my stereo system: Avril Lavigne, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Razorlight, and Green Day. (I know, it's a strange selection).

I went hardcore with my music taste. I wanted to like “good” music. Except I had no idea what good music was. Since everyone I knew was listening to rock, I assumed that was it. I bought Linkin Park, Blink 182, and Sum 41. I felt proud of myself. This was what is good, right?

In 2009 I heard a musician who was initially was a guilty pleasure, and then became a proud love of mine. Taylor Swift released “Love Story”. There was something sincere in what she sang, something catchy, and a country-twang that brought me to my childhood when my parents blasted out Shania Twain (if anyone taught me not to care about my music taste, it was them).

I was ashamed. But I couldn’t work out why. Taylor Swift wrote all her songs, like the rest of the artists I listened too. Her songs had a story and meaningful lyrics, which I could relate too. I found her music fun to listen to. And then I realised that I had no reason to be ashamed, I was allowed to like whatever I wanted to, other people’s opinions be damned.

And then I had a country music phase, but we won’t go into that.

My music taste currently is a combination of a lot of things from my musical past. You can find everything from Mumford and Sons, to Katy Perry, to 30 Second to Mars on my iPod. And if anyone tells you that you shouldn’t like something, to quote T-Swift, “haters gonna hate, hate, hate… Shake it off”.

P.S. If anyone wants to try something new, here’s The Pierces, an amazing folk-rock band.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die, #1)
Age Group: YA
Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date: April 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins

Let’s start with a really shallow observation: I loved this cover. It really hit the spot with what the book was truly about; a cultural icon gone bad. I normally complain about books having a great premise and then never living up to its full potential. I’m pleased to report this is not the case with Dorothy Must Die.

Amy Gumm is a girl from Kansas (of course). Unwanted and feeling like she doesn’t belong, Amy is waiting for the day she can escape. Which she does. Through a tornado. Amy ends up in Oz with, her version of Toto, a rat called Star. But Oz is not what the Julie Garland film portrayed it to be. Gone are the chirpy munchkins and the Technicolor dreamland, replaced with darkness and despair, under the malevolent rule of Dorothy. Amy gets recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked for one task. That’s right, you guessed it, Dorothy Must Die.

Paige has altered the original world into is a fascinating one. The twists on all the well-known characters are clever, especially how the Wizards gifts have altered the Tinman, Scarecrow, and Lion. For some reason, Paige decided to overtly-sexualise Dorothy, probably a cheap shot to damage your childhood a bit more, but I’ll let that slide. It was all brilliantly twisted and morphed, from the freakish Perm-a-Smile (giving you a plastic grin) to the Tinman’s brutal army. 

The obvious comparison would be with Wicked (which I have not read, but I’ve seen the musical). While Wicked is more of a clever backstory to the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Must Die is a whole new ballgame. The plot borders on a horror, with graphic scenes of violence, and this is a way Oz has never been imagined before. For a novel that was heavily borrowing on someone else’s world, it was really original.

Unfortunately the exceptional detail is also the books biggest downfall. It’s too long. 450 pages are way too many for this sort of novel. It felt like she was stretching it out for an unknown reason. Parts which made the novel so good, started to become wearisome.

Take Amy, I liked Amy. She was cool, and had an interesting voice. She had her flaws and she had her charms. She was well-rounded, compared to a lot of female characters I sometimes see. However after 300 pages, she started to grate on me. The sarcastic-I’m-a-fighter voice soon became I’m-trying-too-hard-by-being-sarcastic. The other issue with the writing was that there was so many colloquialisms in Oz from American culture, that made no sense for it being there. “Oz History 101” for example. Unless Oz is taking part is following the American educational system, which I doubt.

Overall I liked Dorothy Must Die. If you’re a fan of the Wizard of Oz or Wicked or just really cool retellings, and don’t mind some waffle, this book is for you. 

Rating: 8/10

I received this copy from Harper 360 in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

DirectedJames Gunn
Produced: Kevin Feige
ScreenplayJames Gunn, Nicole Perlman
StarringChris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace

When I saw the trailer of Guardians I wasn’t too excited. When Marvel resurrected its big players by the form of massive Hollywood franchises, I had at least heard of them; The Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men. DC chose to go with big-players Batman and Superman. However, pre-trailer, Guardians of the Galaxy was unknown to me. On top of this, it looked a bit, well, daft. Is that a talking racoon? Is that a talking tree?

Boy, I was wrong, and you are too, if you are considering giving it a miss. Marvel has made its funniest summer blockbuster yet. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't take itself seriously, and the result being it’s hilarious. It’s funnier than many self-professed “comedies”, and by switching between gags and out-of-this-world action, every moment is thoroughly entertaining.

So what’s it all about? Meet our misfits of the galaxy, the most unlikely band of heroes you will ever meet. Ex-criminals thrown together by mishaps and coincidence to become a thoroughly unwilling group, trying to protect the galaxy from a mysterious orb getting into the hands of Ronan the Accuser.

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, also known as Star Lord (but no-one calls him that). Quill was abducted from Earth as a child in the 80’s, meaning he is perpetually stuck in the 80’s (leading to one of the best soundtracks to have ever featured in a superhero movie). Quill’s moral code is a bit dodgy, but his heart is in the right place, a refreshing change from all recent self-sacrificing superheroes who are concerned with the greater good. Pratt is purely funny, all quips and dancing around the screen (most of the time literally), moving through physical and verbal comedy with ease.

Quill is joined by Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the aforementioned genetically-engineered racoon, who is obsessed by weapons and money; Groot, who is Rocket’s muscle and has three words during the whole film, which I’m sure was a challenging role for someone as notable as Vin Diesel; Drax, a blue alien caught up with righting the wrongs against him, and more importantly, does not get metaphors; and Zoe Saldana’s kick-ass Gamora, who provides the necessary voice of sanity.

Marvel may have not invested as much into Guardian’s as it has done with its bigger brothers, but that doesn’t detract from the usual Marvel antics, with explosion and colour. This film took you on a trip around the Galaxy that Marvel brags about it in its other films, but we have yet to witness, and it’s just as wonderful and inventive as the hints we’ve previously had.

Just as the film doesn’t take itself seriously, it’s important that you don’t either. Yes it’s a bit crazy, it’s totally silly, highly irrelevant, but mostly incredibly fun.

Rating: 10/10