Pop music

Rank the Videos – Madonna: 1990 – 1998

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Back in 2015, I revisited all of Madonna’s videos to celebrate seeing her in concert for the first time. Unfortunately, time slipped away from me and I didn’t get a chance to finish ranking her videos. Okay, so maybe I just forgot. Either way, it’s time to pick up where we left off. The 90s were a challenging time for Madonna. It’s the period that saw her push the boundaries of sex, which caused a huge backlash. As a result, the era features some of her most controversial and some of her most tame videos. So let’s take a look back at Madonna’s most risque period and rank these clips from best to worst.

“Vogue” (1990)

Madonna has had a number of memorable videos during her career, but this is the definitive one. This beautifully shot back and white clip is dedicated both to old Hollywood and the underground voguing scene. Madonna looks glamorous as she lists the biggest actors of yesteryear, like Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, and Fred Astaire. Meanwhile, backup dancers pull do their best voguing while looking dapper in fresh suits. The entire video does a great job of recreating the look and vibe of 1930s Hollywood. And it’s timeless. It’s always been one of my favorites just for how gorgeous she looks. This has got to be one of her greatest videos both for its look and just because the song is so damn good.

“Justify My Love” (1990)

When this premiered, Madonna was no stranger to controversy as she previously stirred up trouble with “Like a Prayer,” but this video pushed boundaries to a whole different level. This was also the start of her oversexualized, Sex era. It’s all about exploring, being free, and enjoying your sexuality even if goes against the norm. Images of BDSM, orgies, male on male, girl on girl, doms and divas run abound as Madonna seduces and gyrates against her leather clad lover. Featuring many androgynous and ambiguous people, the video was ahead of its time showing everything isn’t as black and white as society wants to believe. The clip ends with an energized Madonna leaving the hotel room laughing and fulfilled. MTV swiftly banned the video, which prompted the singer to release it as a VHS single. It has since gone down in history as one of the most scandalous and steamy videos. But little did the world know that Madonna wasn’t finished exploring her sexual realms.

“Take a Bow” (1994)

This beautifully shot video sees Madonna yearning for her lover, real-life bullfighter Emilio Munoz. The entire video is a parallel between Madonna and Munoz’s abusive affair and his bullfight. We see both of them getting ready, making a grand entrance, and the bloodshed both from the bull and Madonna herself.  Other shots include Madonna in sexy underwear while she gets a little too friendly with her television, which is broadcasting Munoz’s image. Because of the vintage style and the way it was shot, it’s one of her most memorable videos.

“Human Nature” (1995)

Madonna took quite a beating for her over-sexualized image. This video and song was her response to her critics who thought she went too far. The singer gives her haters a big fuck you while she struts around in a catsuit. The video is filled with bondage and S&M images, such as the singer tied to a chair, her wearing what looks like a gimp mask, and her brandishing a whip, which she then uses playfully on a dog. All of this is supposed to represent breaking out of restraints and not having any shame. This has always been one of my favorites because of how fierce she is. She’s a complete badass who’s tired of trying to please her harshest critics. This is the strong, badass diva I originally fell in love with. Her tame videos showed she knew how to be modest and vulnerable, but here she took back her dominating image, which is when she’s at her best.

“Bedtime Story” (1995)

This is Madonna’s weirdest video. It’s even a bit disturbing. It’s filled with many bizarre images that probably have some symbolic meaning, like Madonna giving birth to a flock of doves or the creepy-ass scene where her lips replace her eyes. All these scenarios are supposed to represent various surreal dreams which borrow elements from new age, Sufi, and Egyptian cultures. I always thought the video was unnerving, but it also intrigues me because it’s so different. Many of Madonna’s videos are simple and play up her sexuality, but this one is full of freaky visuals to shock viewers and get them thinking. Even if you don’t get all the imagery, you’ll get hypnotized by the trippy video. Also, is it any surprise that this was directed by Mark Romanek, the director of “Closer?”

“Secret” (1994)

Shot in black and white, this video features Madonna singing in a club, while shots of people in Harlem are mixed in. Throughout are images of drag queens, transvestites, prostitutes and pimps, rebirth, and damnation. Madonna returns to her penchant for playing with religious imagery in a scene where what looks like holy water is dripped onto her forehead. The video ends with her going to her lover’s house where he’s playing with his son, the supposed secret. It’s simple, yet effective. It’s another beautifully shot video with Madonna remaining sexy yet classy. It does a great job spotlighting Harlem and various people who often feel marginalized.

“You’ll See” (1995)

Not only is this an underrated ballad, the video is pretty cool. Serving as a follow up to “Take a Bow,” Madonna and Emilio Munoz reprise their roles as lovers, but this time things are different. Rather than Madonna chasing after him, it’s Munoz that chases Madonna all across the world. In the end, she frees herself from him. There are some gorgeous shots of Madonna singing about being able to make it by herself after all. Another version of the video was shot for the Spanish version of the song “Veras,” which was released only in Latin America. This version features the same scenes from the original interspersed with scenes of Madonna singing in Spanish.

“Deeper and Deeper” (1992)

This 70s inspired video pays tribute to both Andy Warhol and Italian director Luchino Visconti. Madonna’s character is inspired by model and Warhol protégé Edie Sedgwick. Most of the video takes place in a club where Madonna walks around with balloons mixed with shots of her hanging out with her girlfriends, watching a male stripper, and looking pretty bored. But there’s also a weird subplot where Madonna gets entranced and tries to escape a diabolical man. It’s a decent video with several references to the 1970s and Warhol, including a scene where the girls eat bananas, a possible reference to Warhol’s album cover for the Velvet Underground. You may not get all the references and symbolism at first, but at least it’s a fun video.

“I Want You” (1995)

Madonna plays the rejected, vulnerable lover in this clip. Wandering around her apartment in a nightgown, she sits by the phone waiting for someone to call. She goes from anxious worry to fury as she plots the best way to win back her lover. She spends most of the video lying in bed distressed, waiting for the phone to ring. Finally, the phone rings, but as she goes to pick it up, she has a moment of clarity and hangs up. It’s not an exciting video, but it fits the style of the ballad. It also encourages a woman’s strength and independence. It may have been torture, but in the end, she figured she shouldn’t chase after someone who doesn’t want her.

“Erotica” (1992)

People who thought Madonna went too far with “Justify My Love” clearly weren’t ready for “Erotica.” The video is an onslaught of footage from her Sex photo shoot mixed with the singer miming the track while dressed as a dominatrix. Madonna tries to shock us with images of nudity, S&M, and bondage, but at this point, the media grew tired of her antics. A Madonna backlash began both from critics and fans who felt she went too far. Ultimately, you can view the video as one long advertisement for her baffling Sex book, which featured the singer in various comprising positions. Despite her efforts, the video isn’t as enticing or sexy as her previous ones. It’s just uncomfortable and awkward to watch. She’s trying too hard to be shocking. No surprise that MTV banned this video after airing it only three times after hours.

“Bad Girl” (1993)

This is a classic live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse tale. Madonna plays a woman who lives a life of drinking, smoking, and promiscuous sex. As she walks down this dangerous road her guardian angel, played by Christopher Walken, watches over her. But no matter how hard he tries, he can’t save her. She ends up dying at the hands of a lover. The video tries to have this dark tone with the lesson of being careful what you do, but it’s hard to take seriously. The message is heavy-handed. And I can’t get over the scene of Walken dancing – it ruins the tone of the video. At least the video tries to do something different and stands out from her usual clips. But compared to the classics, it’s pretty forgettable.

“Fever” (1993)

With the Powerpoint graphics, various costumes, and lots of dancing this video seems like it was made solely for nightclubs. It’s four minutes of Madonna in different costumes, including a Balinese Idol, and body paint, intense close ups, and lots of gyrating hips. But the actual star of the video is the gold painted muscle man. His overly chiseled body and his aggressive dancing is almost disturbing. On top of that, some of the visuals are so blinding and annoying they’ll give you a headache. After the first minute, I was bored with the video. It seems like something you would put on during a party just to get people on the dance floor.

“This Used to be My Playground” (1992)

Prior to this, Madonna released one of her most controversial videos to date. So how does she follow it up? With a tame, somewhat dull performance video. Most of it is footage of her singing in different photographs while someone flips the photo album pages. This is mixed with footage of the film A League of Their Own, which Madonna was in. It’s not a terrible video but watching someone turn pages for four minutes isn’t very exciting. Rumor has it that the singer stole the idea from Boy George, who used the concept for his 1987 single “To Be Reborn.” At least the movie scenes don’t make up the entire music video. Considering the backlash that followed Sex, it’s understandable why she’d want to tone things down. But I feel this is when Madonna is at her dullest. It’s nice to see a different side to her, but it leads to some forgettable videos.

“Rain” (1993)

This is one of those highly stylized “futuristic” videos that became popular in the 90s. With odd furniture pieces all painted chrome, this is a video within a video as we see Madonna filming the clip for the song mixed with footage of her writing and practicing her moves. The singer looks almost unrecognizable in a cropped black wig, which may be an homage to Liza Minelli. What is interesting about the video is it was filmed entirely in black and white then hand painted with blue tones. Seems like a lot of work for a mediocre clip, but somehow it won two Moonmen at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.

“I’ll Remember” (1994)

This is another “behind the scenes” video where Madonna records the song in some weird studio while clips from the movie With Honors plays behind her. Meanwhile, she’s directed by producers lurking in the shadows. Eventually, it’s revealed that one of these hidden people is actually Madonna in androgynous gear. Since it was made after her backlash, it’s another tame, boring video. Almost nothing happens. She’s back in the black wig, singing, and holding her headphones, which all musicians seem to do in the studio. A forgettable video for a forgettable movie.

Madonna’s videos don’t end here. Make sure to come back for the fourth part in the Madonna Rank the Videos series. And let me know which one of these videos is your favorite in the comments!

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Music Movie Review: What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)

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The explosive and abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner has been well documented but was brought to the forefront with What’s Love Got To Do With It? Based off Tina’s autobiography, I, Tina, the film follows the diva from her early church beginnings to her successful solo career she fought for. Starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, it’s still one of the best biopics out there. It’s a compelling look at Tina’s career and her violent relationship with Ike Turner.

Oddly enough, I first saw this movie when I was young. I’m not sure why, but I remember really liking it. Years later, I still think it’s a fantastic film. Bassett does an amazing job portraying the diva. She got everything from her facial expressions to her movements and gestures down perfectly. You can tell she studied and researched Tina to accurately portray her. Fishburne did an equally good job of playing Ike, even proving to be terrifying at times. Though Tina’s story is interesting, it’s the cast’s performances that helps make the movie stand out from the other music biopics.

Of course, like with other movies based on true stories, there are a number of inaccuracies. Some instances include the character Jackie, who was invented solely for the film, Tina’s son Craig, who is the son of Raymond Hill, not Ike, and Ike Turner being the frontman for his band. There are also some errors regarding the year certain performances occurred and the number of hit songs the duo made. Later on, Ike Turner denied the scenes where he pulled a gun on Tina. He also said the infamous studio abuse scene did not occur.

Though a number of things were changed, I still think it’s a great movie. I’ll admit I was disappointed that the movie took so many liberties, but it’s standard with most biopics. Something is always going to be changed, condensed, or played up for entertainment purposes. And there’s always two sides of a story, so it makes sense that Ike and Tina don’t agree on certain events. At least the movie manages to get the basics about Turner’s career right. It also helps that Ike and Tina were both involved giving it more weight and credibility.

Despite its inaccuracies, the film is a fascinating look at the rise of Tina Turner, her marriage, why she stayed as long as she did, and how she finally got out. It also makes audiences privy to just how horrible it was. Some of those scenes are downright appalling. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open during most of them. By the end of the film, you’re cheering Tina on, even though you’re aware of the long, successful solo career she maintained for years. It’s a classic biopic and one that still holds up today.

Worst Album of 2018

Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

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When Justin Timberlake announced his new album, Man of the Woods, I was excited. Until I saw the promo. I didn’t know what to think. Is this a new, folksy Justin? Is he trying to be down to Earth? It was something even worse: a dull, disjointed album full of tolerable, but safe songs.

Man of the Woods sounds like what happens when you regret your nights spent clubbing and head into the woods to find yourself. Timberlake wants it both ways: he wants to keep his upbeat, dance vibe intact while exploring a more mellow side. And there’s nothing wrong with this, but he manages to do it in the dullest way possible. The biggest issue with the album is very few of the songs are lasting. Tracks like “Midnight Summer Jam” and “Wave” aren’t bad but are pretty average. It’s telling when the most memorable song on the record is the weird, funk-laden “Filthy.”

Another issue is the album isn’t fun, which is what a good Timberlake album should be. Most of the songs are forgettable and end up sounding too generic. Others get dull after a few seconds, like the well-meaning “Morning Light” or “The Hard Stuff.” There are very few songs that grab your attention and make you want to dance. Most of the songs are just there. When listening to the album they’re fine, but they’re not something you’d be itching to hear outside of it.

I also found a good chunk of the album to be awkward. The line “I like your pink/you like my purple” from “Sauce” still makes me gag and hearing his wife, Jessica Biel, blather on and on during the interludes makes me roll my eyes so hard I think they’ll pop out of my head. And I can never get over “Flannel,” an ode to a shirt. It’s not clever or funny. It’s just bad. Then out of nowhere comes “Supplies” his attempt at a trap song filled with generic hip hop beats and a terrible hook. I can’t help but groan every time it plays.

Man of the Woods is just weird. I can appreciate Timberlake for trying a new direction, but it doesn’t work on this album. It’s forgettable, it’s not fun, and it’s dull. This is an album I listened to a few times and never sought again. There just isn’t anything here to make you come back and listen to the entire thing.

Playlist: Michael Jackson Goes Heavy Metal

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Though the world lost Michael Jackson nearly a decade ago, his music is still widely celebrated all over the world. Jackson’s music had a wide impact all across music, including the most unlikely genre, metal. For a pop star, Jackson has a lot of heavy metal fans to his name, which makes sense considering how often he incorporated rock into his music. But most metal covers do nothing more than add in some loud guitars and screaming vocals. Fortunately, there are a good amount of covers that make the song into something else entirely. To celebrate what would’ve been Jackson’s 60th birthday, let’s take a look at these kick ass Michael Jackson metal covers that’ll get your fists pumping in the air.

“Beat It” – John 5

John 5 is a madman on the guitar, whose laid down intricate riffs for Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. Considering his riffs are ferocious, you know his Michael Jackson cover is going to be good. The guitarist included his version of “Beat It” on his 2012 album God Told Me To as a tribute to the late pop star. The instrumental track features John 5 playing everything from the main riff to the core melody on guitar. He even replicates some of Jackson’s vocal flourishes on the guitar. He keeps the badass nature of the song intact while showing off his impressive guitar skills.

“Give In to Me” – Soto

Soto released their version of Jackson’s 1991 hit in 2016. The song was already rock infused with Slash on guitar, but Soto takes the song in a darker direction. The intro sounds more somber than the original; you get an overwhelming sense of sadness hearing it. Jeff Soto’s vocal delivery is powerful and haunting, whereas Jackson’s is more anguished and angry. Even the music more intense; the crunching guitars and pounding drums give the song a heavier, morose vibe. It’s a great metal interpretation of the track, especially since it’s not a one to cover.

“Dirty Diana” – Evanescence

Featuring Steve Stevens on guitar, this song already had roots in rock, which is why it’s a popular choice for rock and metal acts. Yet, none of the covers are as chilling or beautiful as this version. The song begins with gentle keys that gives off this haunting tone. You don’t realize what they’re performing until Amy Lee starts singing. She builds up momentum with thing steadily getting gritty until the explosive chorus when the dirty guitars and pummeling drums kick in. But the highlight of the cover is Lee’s performance. She sings with so much power and ferocity it’s like she’s stabbing every line with a knife. Listening to her sing, it’s enough to give you chills.

“Smooth Criminal” – Leo Moracchioli

Alien Ant Farm blew people’s minds when they showed how well Michael Jackson translated to rock music. Their version is still considered one of the best Jackson covers, but this rendition by Youtuber Leo Moracchioli blows it out of the water. This one-man band cranks everything up and gives us a brutal version of this Bad single. The guttural vocals, crunching guitars, pounding drums turns this pop song into a gritty metal anthem. He even puts his own stamp on it with his own searing guitar solo making it stand out from other covers. Whereas the Alien Ant Farm cover makes you jump around, this version makes you want to mosh. Moracchioli is an absolute powerhouse, who regularly puts a metal spin on pop songs. If you want to hear more, check out his version of “Bad.”

“Speed Demon” – Xerath

This song kicks ass, plain and simple. It’s another Jackson single most people don’t cover. Most Jackson covers are already rock based, so it’s easy to down tune the guitars, throw in a solo, and add some screaming vocals. But Xerath turns this song into an aggressive, in your face anthem. They transform the main melody into a searing riff, yet it still has this undeniable groove to it. As soon as that opening riff kicks in, you can’t help but headbang. The screaming vocals are extreme; it sounds like Richard Thomson is ripping his throat to shreds. You never thought a Michael Jackson song could be this intense. A cover like this makes you realize how versatile Jackson’s music was.

“Thriller” – Koritni

No matter what you think about Michael Jackson it’s hard to dislike “Thriller.” It’s a favorite among metal bands to cover, but most renditions are boring doing nothing more than adding beefed-up guitars and screaming vocals. While Australian rock band Koritni’s version isn’t the greatest; their version “Thriller” is at least exciting. There’s something exhilarating about hearing the iconic opening on an electric guitar. The vocals are a bit exaggerated and hammy, but they give the song a rousing makeover. It’s sure to please metal and Jackson fans alike.

“They Don’t Care About Us” – Saliva

Rock band Saliva covered Jackson’s 1995 single for their tenth album, Loves, Lies, & Therapy. The music is the best part here. The song was already intense, but the added guitars and the fiery solo adds a new heaviness to the track. As for the vocals, they aren’t as powerful as Jackson’s. When Jackson sang it he was tired, angry, and fed up with the way people and the media treated him due to the allegations lobbied against him. Bobby Amaru sounds fine, but there’s no fire in his voice. This version doesn’t have the same feeling coming from Saliva, but in terms of music and performance, they at least do a good job.

“Scream” – Annisokay

In 2016, post-hardcore band Annisokay released an EP of Michael Jackson covers titled Annie Are You Okay? And it’s actually pretty good. Their versions of “Beat It” and “Thriller” are intense, but it’s their cover of “Scream” that stands out. Not only is it a song that’s rarely covered, they take the song’s main riff and turns it on its head. The grinding guitars and pummeling drums give it an abrasive sound while the growling vocals add a new ferocity. With how in your face it is, it pulls you into the song. The vocals are kind of weak, but Christoph Wieczorek and Kiarely Castillo don’t sound terrible. Their vocals just don’t demand the same prowess and command as Michael and Janet. They did leave in Michael’s scream from the original, which is a nice touch.

“Beat It” – Raintime

Imagine if Dream Theater covered Michael Jackson. That’s what this cover is like. Raintime released this cover on their second album, Flies & Lies in 2007. This version sets itself apart from the countless others with its prog-metal influence. While the iconic guitar riff and the spiraling solo are still there, they make sure to incorporate dancing keys throughout. They even put in a keyboard solo before the main solo. Whereas the John 5 version translates the entire song, melody and all, on guitar, this version turns it into a full-blown metal affair. It’s loud, filled with dirty crunchy riffs, and snarling vocals to give it a new flavor.

There are lots of metal Micheal Jackson covers out there, so which ones did I miss? What are you favorite Jackson covers? Let me know in the comments!

Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

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Release Year: 2018

Rating: 6/10

When I first saw Justin Timberlake’s rugged, I’m-an-outdoors-man promo for Man of the Woods, I was not happy. I didn’t want down to Earth Justin. I wanted Sexyback Justin. Luckily, the album isn’t stepped in folksy roots as the promos made it out to be. Unfortunately, the album isn’t that good. The main problem is there are no songs that stand out, grab your attention, and make you want to crank it up whenever you hear it. The closest we get is lead single “Filthy,” which is just weird and takes a while to grow on you before you start singing it.

Songs like “Man of the Woods,” “Midnight Summer Jam,” “Wave,” and “Higher Higher” are fine but pretty generic. Once the album ends you don’t remember them until you play the LP again. They have decent music and some pretty good hooks, but there’s nothing exciting about them. “Say Something” featuring Chris Stapleton is an unexpected highlight. It’s got just the right amount of a country vibe to please country fans and non-fans alike. Plus, Stapleton and Timberlake sound great together.

Most of the songs are inoffensive and not bad to listen to, but they’re just there. “Montana” may have a 70s inspired groove, but it sounds too similar to the rest of the songs on the record. “Morning Light” featuring Alicia Keys is nice but gets boring pretty quickly. The rest of the tracks like “Breeze Off the Pound,” “The Hard Stuff,” and “Livin’ Off the Land” are hard to discern from one another since they sound so similar. And seeing as they’re the closest thing to Timberlake’s newfound persona, they don’t really do much for the record.

Other songs are just cringy. “Sauce” features the unfortunate line of “I like your pink/you like my purple,” which is wrong on so many levels. It also features him doing a shoddy Prince imitation, which is hard to sit through. “Supplies” is even worse. Timberlake attempts a trap song filled with generic hip-hop music and an annoying hook. It’s so out of left field, it doesn’t fit on the album. And it’s hard to take “Flannel,” an ode to a fucking shirt, seriously. He actually sings the line “But if I’m bein’ selfish, that gave me a reason to be there/With my flannel on.” The preceding interlude featuring his wife Jessica Biel is even worse. She talks about wearing his shirt and how makes her feel like a woman. It will make you roll your eyes.

Man of the Woods is a definite miss for Timberlake. While there are a handful of decent songs, the album severely lacks the fun, must-listen-to dance hits he’s become known for. Most of the songs are generic or just plain dull. After hearing the album a few times, I couldn’t care about it anymore. It’s not the weird, earthly vibe we thought it would be. Even worse, it’s a boring, generic safe record for Timberlake.