Rihanna: The bad gal of Instagram

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I followed Rihanna soon after joining Instagram last year, seeing that she had 4.5 million followers, and was clearly a popular user. Very quickly I began to see that despite how many meals, outfit changes and facial expressions Jessie J chooses to share, she still doesn’t appear on my feed half as much as ‘BADGALRIRI’. Pretty soon it became clear that she never gets bored of sharing herself, and there are thousands of people who never get bored of seeing her. Most of these ardent fans are school age girls. We’re very aware that Rihanna is a beautiful, talented woman. Women want to be her, men want to sleep with her. So I’d be forgiven for implying that she holds a lot of influence over young girls, some of whom are still finding themselves. What they find on Rihanna’s Instagram profile are photos of the star which are overwhelmingly sexually provocative.

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I realise that line makes me sound like an old man. I assure you I’m not. I’m 23 years old, and I consider myself as being quite liberal. But, Rihanna is an undeniable role model. Even my 18 year-old sister, who enjoys the endless outfits Rihanna shares on her page, agreed with me that some of the imagery was too much. For a woman who will happily pose topless on an album cover and wear nothing but a jacket draped on her shoulders for GQ, you can bet the standards only decline on something as free reigned as social media.

I felt particularly compelled to write this piece after seeing a series of photos she posted on January 14th. In a t-shirt that’s been cut in half, she flashes her breasts, and proceeds to photograph her own crotch. Then she’s on her laptop, working away in a position you’d only see if you were to interact with the girls on Live Jasmin. Then there’s a picture with 9 frames in it, which look like someone trapped a crazed nymphomaniac in a photo booth at Boots. Underneath it she simply captions ‘#complex’. Indeed. Because about a third of the photos Rihanna posts are snaps of scripture pages, with certain quotes and phrases highlighted. It took me a while to realise they were coming from her, and not some ‘inspire your day’ account I’d accidentally subscribed to. Aha! She’s a holy bad bitch.

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I recall her appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2012 when she explained that her aversion to clothing and love of all things saucy, in spite of fervent faith, was a part of her ‘culture’ – making her sound a bit like the gyrating little girls in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (who, ironically, she also inspires). But looking at a photo she posted, in which she’s the cover girl for a Barbados tourism ad (in a bikini, bent over on a beach), I’d be inclined to believe she’s probably telling the truth. However I dare say this isn’t fully understood by many of her young female fans around the world, who wouldn’t look quite the same pulling the same pose down on Brighton pier.

I couldn’t possibly comment on every controversial photo she posts, but outside of sexual images of herself, there’s plenty of quotes about doing drugs, not giving a f*ck, and of course – being a bad bitch. There are naked women. There are drugs. There are guns. There are naked women doing drugs, holding guns. The young girls lap this up, and indulging in the tones and language she encourages. They make comments like ‘You are pure perfection’, ‘#one #bad #bitch’ and ‘I’m in love with this pic…pussy boner!’ They will attack others who criticise. One user typically sums up this noble defence,  saying: ‘All you people are straight up dumb as fuck real shit! LMFAO @badgalriri does NOT .. Give a fuck about your opinions .. ;) trust !’ Oh I trust. I trust that she doesn’t care about you either, dear. Interestingly, a quick scroll through comments will show that it’s actually young male users who regularly call Rihanna out on her ‘morals’, with all the typical language of ‘bitch’, ‘slut’ and worse.

Good company for Rihanna in the land of dubious social media profiles is Azealia Banks. We were all shocked yet humoured by the risqué lyrics of  ‘212’. Sorry did I say risqué? I meant filthé. Sexual lyrics are one thing – violent lyrics are a step further. Her online persona is another that I have very little time for. Look at these three profound tweets she blessed us with last weekend within a half hour:

‘Fuck bad press, ima bad bitch.’

‘The only cure for boldness, is more boldness.’

‘You a crackhead son.’

It was the first tweet that really riled me up. What does it mean to be a bad bitch, and why should she, and her 300,000 followers, celebrate it? Perhaps it’s the homophobic rant she aimed at Perez Hilton not long before, calling him a ‘messy faggot’, ‘dick-breath’, and telling him he should kill himself. Two British journalists who suggested she retract her comments were also duly told that they should kill themselves too. Presumably this is an example of boldness curing boldness?

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I suppose what really irks me is this constant need to be outrageous in an offensive sense: ‘Look at me, I’m rude! Look at me I’m bad!’ For Michael Jackson to be Bad in 1987 required nothing more than wearing a leather jacket and performing some killer ballet moves from West Side Story. Now you need to be threatening to ruin someone – reputation wise, and in the genitalia. I’m always drawn in to artists who have a bit of an edge about them, but when someone has the distinct aura of being fake, it’s obvious. I believe in Lady Gaga’s lust for popular culture stunts, but I don’t believe that wearing meat is something she would do on an ordinary day of the week. Likewise, Lana del Rey may well be a little retro, but to imply she is both vacant and profound at all times is a little far fetched. That said, I’d much rather see the kind of exaggerated personality presented by Lady Gaga and Lana del Rey than the violent and overtly sexual tones given off by Rihanna and Azealia Banks. I can see through them, but many of their young impressionable fans cannot.

This article originally appeared on SoSoGay online.

My LGBT Hero: Oscar Wilde

WILDE1Watching Rupert Everett’s impassioned West End performance in The Judas Kiss a few weeks ago reminded me of just how important the story of Oscar Wilde is to gay history. I feel the need to champion his story again and again because many young people in the gay community are often only vaguely aware of some relevance he once had, or oblivious to his legacy altogether. We must all fully understand and appreciate the stand he made.

Oscar spoke up for same sex love at a time when it was barely even understood, let along accepted, or tolerated – and for it, he paid a great price. Victorian England was not particularly welcoming to the prospect of homosexuality. It was still illegal and carried a prison sentence. Old Queen Vic herself famously refused to believe lesbianism existed. Wilde was a one of a kind, flamboyant genius from Irish aristocracy who arrived in London armed with staggering intelligence, a killer wardrobe and astonishing wit. Soon, he was documented in newspapers and his name spread to America, where he then travelled to deliver lectures. He was a celebrity in a time before celebrities existed.

His appeal was extraordinary, and when he took to playwriting, he became the star of the London stage. But his private life earned him many enemies, who resented his relationships with young men, which he unashamedly played out in public, despite having a wife and children. The irony was that it was largely young men who had led him into the gay lifestyle and not the other way around. It was his one ill-fated love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), which put him in the bad books of the boy’s father Lord Queensbury, and ultimately led to his arrest for ‘gross indecency’. The scores of men who had followed Oscar so faithfully around London society, and basked in his fame and fortune, were suddenly nowhere to be seen – including Bosie himself. The links made in The Judas Kiss to the story of Jesus are slightly exaggerated but not without relevance. Oscar suffered the same arc of fame, adoration, envy, betrayal and ultimate destruction – all the while holding his head high in defiance of contemporary society.

WILDE2Oscar could have fled abroad and never had to face the charges that most publications dared not even describe – but he chose to stay. His trial in 1895 was quite literally the trial of the century, on account of his celebrity, and the shocking charges placed against him for living life so openly as a homosexual. The judge called it ‘the worst case I have ever tried’. Taking the stand in London’s Old Bailey, Oscar gave one of the most spellbinding testimonies in history, defending what he referred to as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. When asked to explain what that was, he declared:

‘”The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.’

Wilde served the maximum sentence of two years hard labour, which the court ruled ‘totally inadequate’, but his real punishment was much worse. Upon leaving prison, Wilde was forced into exile in Europe – far too infamous to stay in England, with a reputation too toxic to be allowed anywhere near his wife and children. He was penniless, in terrible physical and mental health, and suffering from writer’s block when he died in Paris at age 46. There is nothing more tragic than considering how – on his death bed – he surely thought his crime had resigned him to the dustbin of history.

But a genius like Oscar’s – much like many of our LGBT heroes before and after – is one which could never be erased. As the tide turned on sexual politics in the 20th century, and his legacy began to be reassessed, Wilde was soon catapulted back to the fore of the literary canon and his legacy is now remembered with wonder, not blocked out in shame as it was in his lifetime. Plays like The Importance Of Being Earnest and A Woman Of No Importance are some of the most performed works in theatre, and many would cite him as the greatest playwright since Shakespeare. His letters – including De Profundis, written to Bosie from jail – are some of the greatest to be written in the English language.

Aside from his political importance, Oscar’s famous wit was equally revelatory and more than just satirical banter for his contemporaries. It was the foundation of camp, which remained the unofficial language of the gay community for the century to come. Oscar concealed knowing references to same sex love in his jokes and plays, and played out a certain fabulousness through characters like Lady Bracknell, to the delight of Victorian high society, who never knew what he was really talking about. As a result, the gay community grew to communicate with one another in ways that didn’t reveal its true nature to outsiders. As gay equality becomes more of a reality, there is less of a need for this unspoken sensibility, but we should never forget where it comes from and how it was used for decades as a means of both friendly dialogue and social survival.

As with any great movement, there are many people who chip away at the issue before it sees its full glory. Certainly the 20th century gave us more gay icons than we can shake a stick at, but in my opinion, Wilde is our founding father. He opened the door through which everyone else would pass, and in doing so, sacrificed his reputation, his art and ultimately his life. A special place should always be reserved for him in LGBT history.

WILDE3This article originally appeared on SoSoGay online.

BRIT Awards 2013: Predictions

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British Breakthrough Act

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Ben Howard
Jake Bugg
Jessie Ware
Rita Ora

As has been the case over the past decade, the girls sweep up at the BRITS, and we predict this one will be a close call between the two London ladies here. Although Jessie Ware’s momentum has grown hugely from an underground buzz in 2012 to that of a household name, Rita Ora should secure this one.

British Female

Amy Winehouse
Bat for Lashes
Emeli Sandé
Jessie Ware
Paloma Faith

Considering Amy Winehouse bagged this prize (her only BRIT) in 2007, they won’t feel compelled to give her this posthumous prize. Jessie Ware isn’t big enough yet to win this, and it would be a considerable triumph for Paloma Faith to earn it too. It’s almost a given that Emeli Sandé will take this prize, considering how she has taken up the British female baton after Adele’s 21 success.

British Group

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Mumford and Sons
Muse
One Direction
The xx

In 2012, One Direction have been the most successful group commercially – provoking a Beatlemania style response in the US –  but The xx would be the popular alternative choice. Given their own international success this year, and their musical credibility, we predict that Mumford and Sons could be the happy medium winner here.

British Live Act

Rolling Stones
Coldplay
Mumford and Sons
Muse
Vaccines

This could go to the Rolling Stones – for old time’s sake – but based on the strength of their Mylo Xyloto tour in 2012, proving their unrivalled skill for stadium shows, Coldplay should get this one.

British Male

Ben Howard
Calvin Harris
Olly Murs
Richard Hawley
Plan B

Much credit has to go to Olly Murs for his success touring with One Direction, hosting the Xtra Factor, beating Girls Aloud to number one, and being a generally all-round nice bloke. Plan B has had a great year too, with the acclaimed Ill Manors. But as with Mark Ronson in 2008, we predict this prize will go to a man who has had a successful year as a producer – Calvin Harris.

Global Success

Mumford and Sons
Adele
One Direction

Adele doesn’t really need any more awards – with the Academy Award practically already on its way – and it looks as though One Direction may lose out elsewhere in the show, so this special award is probably something of a consolation prize to congratulate the boys, and appease their die-hard fan base.

British Producer

Damon Albarn
Jake Gosling
Paul Epworth

Although Paul Epworth made the incredible ‘Skyfall‘ for Adele this year, this is more likely to go to Jake Gosling, a seasoned producer who, last year, was the man behind the music for Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Paloma Faith.

British Single

Adele, Skyfall
Alex Clare, Too Close
Coldplay + Rihanna, Princess of China
Rita Ora/DJ Fresh, Hot Right Now
Emeli Sandé, Next To Me
Florence+ the Machine, Spectrum
James Arthur, Impossible
Jessie J, Domino
Labrinth ft. Emeli Sandé, Beneath Your Beautiful
Olly Murs, Troublemaker
Rita Ora, RIP
Rizzle Kicks, Mama Do The Hump
Robbie Williams, Candy
Rudimental, Feel the Love
Stooshe, Black Heart

This long list will probably come down to ‘Skyfall’, ‘Next To Me’, ‘Domino’, ‘R.I.P.’ and ‘Mama Do The Hump’. Although ‘Skyfall’ could be a close competitor, this one looks set for Jessie J, considering she missed out on her nominations last year, and that Domino was the biggest selling on the list – also boasting over 100 million views on YouTube.

International Female

Rihanna
Alicia Keys
Cat Power
Lana del Rey
Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has made huge gains in the British mainstream in 2012, and Lana del Rey has continued to secure her music and style on the airwaves and magazine covers. But having beaten off Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to win in 2011 and 2012, we see no reason why this won’t complete a hat trick for Rihanna.

International Group

Alabama Shakes
Black Keys
Fun
Killers
The Script

The Script have had a bit of a revival following Danny’s appearance on The Voice, but this one is set to belong to Fun.

International Male

Bruce Springsteen
Frank Ocean
Gotye
Jack White
Michael Bublé

Although he’s the least likely to win, Michael Bublé outsells the others in this category massively, and is a commercial favourite. Frank Ocean is the big name to drop at the moment, following the critical success of Channel Orange, he looks set to clean up at the Grammys. But considering the success of his comeback album, Wrecking Ball,and his UK tour last summer, this one should go to the legendary Bruce Springsteen.

British Album

Alt J
Emeli Sandé
Mumford and Sons
Paloma Faith
Plan B

This is the big one. The cream of the crop. The one that everyone cares about. There’s a sliver of possibility that this might go to Mumford and Sons, but considering it’s the best selling album of the year, and has been promoted like a global religion, this one is most likely going to be the finale of wins for Emeli Sandé.

The BRIT Awards will be held on 20th February at the O2 Arena, London. This article originally appeared on SoSoGay.co.uk

Do musicals work as films?

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The movie musical holds a special place in the history of cinema. It has created some of popular culture’s most iconic images. Whether it’s Julie Andrews’ triumphant spin at the opening of The Sound Of Music, a young Mark Lester asking for some more food as Oliver!, or Liza Minnelli straddling her stool as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. In my humble opinion, Anne Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ will soon join that list. But as Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables marches towards Oscar glory next month, it’s important to remember that although musicals have always been hits at the box office, their success at the Academy Awards has become less certain.

Consider the musicals which have won the coveted top prize of Best Picture, and in which years: The Broadway Melody (1930), Going My Way (1945), An American In Paris (1952), Gigi (1959), West Side Story (1962), My Fair Lady (1965), The Sound of Music, (1966) Oliver! (1969), and Chicago (2003). Spot the gap? From the inception of the Academy Awards in 1929, multiple musicals would regularly garner several nominations each year, with at least one musical nominated for Best Picture at every ceremony. This reflected the vogue for big productions with music, following the first inclusion of sound in film in 1927.

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As time went on, popular stage shows would be adapted into movies, with their rich and exotic settings capable of being portrayed in all their glory on the big screen. In the 50s and 60s particularly, so rich did the quality of musicals become, we can now look back and see that many of the musicals in competition with one another would all go on to become classics. 1954 saw Seven Brides for Seven Brothers triumph over five other musicals, including A Star Is Born and There’s No Business Like Show Business. In 1955,Oklahoma! went head to head with Guys and DollsGigi took Best Picture in 1958, leaving South Pacific out in the cold. And in 1964, the 12 time nominated My Fair Lady took 8 awards, including Best Picture, leaving 5 for Mary Poppins. Yes, once upon a time, the musical regularly reigned supreme, and reflected public popularity. Then, something happened. A turning point can be highlighted with Cabaret in 1972. Nominated for 10 awards and winning 8, the musical was rich with historical commentary as well as a great score and dance numbers. But it was to be the last big win for a musical for a remarkable 30 years. So what happened?

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The 70s and 80s produced many popular dance musicals. Among those overlooked by the Academy in these years were Grease, All That Jazz, Fame, Annie, Footloose, A Chorus Line and Dirty Dancing. These are all movies that either came from stage shows, or have since been transformed into them, and have enjoyed commercial success in both forms. To us, they are classics, firmly embedded in the musical canon. We hold these musical movies to be as culturally significant as previous generations did for the MGM musicals and the golden age of Rogers & Hammerstein. Perhaps it was a lack of stand out individual performances, or music that verged too close to being standard pop, but certainly a degree of snobbery in the Academy deemed them unworthy winners.

evitaIn the 1990s the only musicals that registered on the radar were those of the Disney revival: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, etc. The Oscars only rewarded them for their music – which was good if you were Alan Menken, who picked up 8 Oscars for writing songs like ‘A Whole New World’. Although this was a decade with a lack of conventional movie musicals – 1996 produced the long-awaited movie adaptation of Evita. Written by Oliver Stone and directed by Alan Parker, it was the stuff that Oscar wins were made of. Although the casting of Madonna in the lead role raised a few eyebrows (it was a role sought after by Meryl Streep, Cher, Barbara Streisand and Glenn Close), her performance was widely praised, and classed as the highlight of a dubious acting career. It’s a landmark movie musical, glorious to watch, with outstanding music. She won the Golden Globe, but in one of the Academy’s famous snubs, wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar. A dislike for the adaptations of Lloyd Webber musicals, and an obvious distaste for the acting of Madonna, are factors accredited to this loss. There was something of a false start with Baz Luhrman’s edgy, yet hugely popular Moulin Rouge! in 2001, which was nominated for 8 awards including Best Picture, but only won 2 minor awards. Then, along came Chicago.

Nominated for 13 awards and winning 6, including the coveted Best Picture, Chicago put zetamusicals back on the map in 2003. It shouldn’t be ignored that Cabaret and Chicago – whose successes bookend these 30 years of musicals in the wilderness – were both written by Kander & Ebb, and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Perhaps a touch of nostalgia was all it took to reunite the praise of the public and the critics. However, similar musical adaptations in the 00s like The Phantom Of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, Hairspray and Nine, had modest commercial success and nothing from the Academy. Meanwhile, the record breaking success of Mamma Mia! – now the best selling DVD in UK history – didn’t even register at the Oscars, despite its huge popular appeal and cast of leading actors. But another trend did emerge. The musical biopic experienced a revival in the 2000s. Although never treading into Best Picture territory, they did win some of the big acting prizes. In 2005, Jamie Foxx won Best Actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles; in 2006, Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress for playing June Carter Cash in Walk The Line; and in 2008, Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for her depiction of Edith Piaf in La Vie en rose. Here, the combination of an interesting artist, a great back catalogue, and a stellar impersonation made for a whole new type of musical movie.

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So we have always loved movie musicals. They’re usually shows we’ve seen on stage, with songs we’ve experienced elsewhere in popular culture, with big name stars placed on top of a great production to polish it off. Before 1972, this was all more than enough to manage Oscar success too, but as we’ve seen, that’s been harder to predict in recent years. Les Miserables looks set to be another turning point in the story. Like Chicago, it’s a popular favourite that ticks all the award winning boxes too. It will certainly win a few of its 8 nominations, but whether it can once again secure the top acting prizes and the coveted Best Picture, will be interesting to see.

And what next for the movie musical? There’s plenty more room for it to flourish. Cameron Mackintosh has promised a movie of Miss Saigon, based on the success of Les Misérables, and Sondheim’s Into The Woods is being developed by Disney with some big names lined up for it including Meryl Streep and James Corden. The rights toWicked have been purchased, and the Jersey Boys jukebox musical is hotly tipped to make it to the big screen too. Andrew Lloyd Webber has long claimed to want Madonna for a new movie version of Sunset Boulevard, but if history has taught us anything, you can rest assure that’s one movie musical that won’t be destined for Oscar glory…

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This article originally appeared in SoSoGay Magazine.

Top 10 Pop Culture Moments of 2012

1. London Olympics Opening Ceremony

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As the London 2012 Olympics approached, it was generally accepted that Britain could never deliver an Opening Ceremony that would come close to the spectacle produced by Beijing in 2008. Then it began, and much to the surprise of everyone – least not the Brits themselves – it was great. Artistic director Danny Boyle took the Isles Of Wonder show through a historical commentary featuring everything from the Industrial Revolution to the creation of the NHS, as well as sections dedicated to children’s literature, Saturday night TV culture, and the victims of 7/7. Some of Britain’s greatest exports took centre stage, with the Queen ‘parachuting’ into the stadium with James Bond, Mr Bean getting mixed up with ‘Chariots of Fire’, and Paul McCartney bringing celebrations to a close with an epic sing-a-long of ‘Hey Jude’. The lighting of the caludron was a breathtaking moment when British Olympic champions passed the flame to young children, perfectly embodying the mantra of the games, ‘inspire a generation’. The Closing Ceremony was criticized as a sloppy tribute concert with too many appearances from Emeli Sande and Jessie J, but it was here at the beginning of the games that the finest cultural moment of 2012 took place. Rio, it’s over to you…

2. Whitney Houston 1963-2012

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In February the world woke one morning to the sad, yet ever expected news that Whitney Houston had died. Born into a connected musical family, the gift of a powerful gospel voice and the direction of Clive Davis meant Whitney sailed straight through to global superstardom in the 1980s. But the young girl who was once the voice of America soon fell prey to alcohol and drug addiction, after a tempestuous marriage to Bobby Brown. Her untimely death at age 48 sent shockwaves around the world, and registered as a loss on the same scale as that of Elvis, John Lennon or Michael Jackson. She left behind a rich catalogue of popular music, which soundtracked the lives of millions. Her version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ is more than just her own musical legacy – it will survive as one of the most important works in the history of art and culture. Bette Midler summed up the tragedy of Whitney, and all the other artists we lost too young, when she tweeted, “What a shame her talent didn’t bring her the joy and happiness it brought to all of us.”

3. Call Me Maybe

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After coming runner up on Canadian Idol in 2007, Carly Rae Jepsen was releasing music on small labels. In January 2012 her single ‘Call Me Maybe’ was heard by Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez on Canadian radio, and after tweeting about it, Jepsen and her song were rocketed into the international mainstream. With the help of celebrity parody videos, the originally music video went viral, and the song started to top the charts around the world. It’s been named the best song of the year by many respected publications, for staying true to traditional pop without conceding to the raunchier elements of peers like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Whether you think it’s a cheesy piece of bubblegum pop, or a carefully crafted classic, it’s been inescapable, and undeniably catchy. Unfortunately for Jepsen, this is the kind of track one hit wonders are made of.

4. Gangnam Style

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Dance crazes have been slim on the ground since the turn of the century. Apart from Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, there hasn’t been much to rival Thriller, Vogue, or even the beloved Macarena. But this year along came Psy – a South Korean musician who has immortalised his home district in Seoul and its specific style of lavish living with a bizarre dance record and a move that mimics a lassoing horse rider. Referencing a lifestyle of opulent living in his home city, ‘Oppan Gangnam Style’ quickly became the most popular catchphrase of the year, and everyone was having a go at it, from David Cameron to Barack Obama. In December, ‘Gangnam Style’ broke a major world record in becoming the first video on YouTube to reach 1 billion views, just five months after its release. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was said to be disappointed at being replaced as the most famous South Korean in the world, but nevertheless called the song ‘a force for world peace’. North Korea responded by firing some warning rockets.

5. Skyfall

Skyfall

Bond 23 got off to a shaky start, with MGM financial difficulties stalling its production by over a year. But once given the green light, director Sam Mendes set about creating a Bond movie like no other. In the year of the 50th anniversary of Bond, Mendes made a movie that went back to basics, and triumphed the British origins of 007. From the vintage cars to the traditional London locations, with a symbolic British bulldog thrown in too, it’s a Bond movie paying homage to the traditional. Even the stunning theme song by Adele is much closer to the classics of Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones than the more experimental offerings of recent years. By focusing on the back story of Judi Dench’s M, her relationship with the agents, and Bond’s formative childhood experiences, Mendes succeeded in making a ‘psychological Bond’ which goes beyond the action whilst still delivering all the usual goods. In less than two months it’s become the highest grossing film in the UK of all time, with many already calling it the best Bond movie ever made. And – for the first time in history – 007 could be headed for Oscar success in the new year.

6. Space Jump

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Stunts that were once impressive faded into insignificance after watching the triumphs of the Olympics this summer. Maybe that’s why Felix Baumgartner felt like he needed to perform the highest sky dive ever, from the edge of the earth’s atmosphere – effectively, space. On 14th October, the world watched with baited breath as he slowly ascended 128,100ft above ground (24 miles), before jumping from the capsule he had travelled in. He was in free fall for 4 minutes and 19 seconds, and achieved his goal of breaking the sound barrier. Upon landing in the New Mexico desert, he immediately got to his feet and punched the air – celebrating his victory, and proving that after minutes of somersaulting out of control at 834mph, he was in fact, still alive. No wonder it was sponsored by Red Bull.

7. Naked Royals

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It seems Prince Harry needed to let his hair down a bit after the demands of the Jubilee and the Olympics, not to mention his day job in Afghanistan, but when photographic evidence of his naked antics in a Las Vegas hotel room was revealed in August, we saw just how hard the prince could party. The Royal Family weren’t best pleased, but admirers of the cheeky ginger rejoiced. Then, in September, photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless appeared in a French magazine, signalling a massive violation of privacy, which upset the couple greatly. The public at large were appalled by the photographs, and boycotted those who published them – but secretly had a good look at them online.

8. Grace Jones at the Jubilee

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You can’t accuse Gary Barlow of not catering for every audience when he arranged the Diamond Jubilee Concert for The Queen in June. The most bizarre moment came when the iconic Grace Jones took to the stage to perform her 1985 classic hit ‘Slave To The Rythym’. Unusual as ever, the 64 year old wore a red plastic corset with nothing on her legs but oil, looking like a cross between Lady Gaga and Usain Bolt. She then curiously proceeded to hula hoop the entire way through the song, without a single slip up. The Royal Family watched open mouthed and bemused, as did most of the global television audience. To round off the madness, she yelled ‘Happy Birthday!’ at the end, giving further evidence that she may not have had a clue where she was, or what she was doing. As ever, it was the stuff of legend.

9. Fifty Shades of Grey

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Former British TV executive E. L. James began her writing through Twilight fan fiction, before developing it into something more ‘adult’ in nature. Initially released as an e-book in 2011, the resulting novel Fifty Shades of Grey told the erotic tale of a sadomasochistic relationship between a female college student and a wealthy young businessman. Its beginnings as a digital book meant that it became a naughty pleasure which women could read at ease on the tube or in public, and no one need know what they were engrossed in – like Lady Chatterley’s Lover but without the over the counter shame. Critically slated, and generally accepted to be poorly written (even by the author herself), the original book has nevertheless become a best-seller, shifting 65 million copies, overtaking the Harry Potter books as the fastest selling ever. The book’s popularity peaked during the publication of its two sequels in 2012, and a film adaptation is highly anticipated – but who will play the irresistibly handsome Christian Grey whom women have lusted over on the page, and imagined for the past year? The search continues.

10. Madonna at the Superbowl

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Devising a career highlight performance in just under 15 minutes, in front of a TV audience of over 150 million is a daunting task for the greatest of performers – but not Madonna. In February her Madgesty was carried into the Superbowl stadium by the Cirque de Soleil troop, in an imitation of Cleopatra’s historic arrival in Rome. As she sailed through performances of ‘Vogue’, ‘Music’, and ‘Like A Prayer’, she found room to include Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, M.I.A. and Cee Lo Green, without letting anyone else anywhere near centre stage. Whilst other half-time acts usually give a traditional band performance, Madonna used the entire football field, with a full cast of dancers, acrobats and a gospel choir, all choreographed under the direction of her long-term collaborator Jamie King. Often slated for a lack of real talent, Madonna’s unrivalled skills at producing a live spectacle was on display at its finest, and quickly became a hot topic of conversation the world over, and one of her most memorable performances. Not least because she remained fully dressed for the whole thing.

James Bond: The Spy Who Loved Men?

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However macho something is by nature, it is never safe from the inklings of homoeroticism. In fact, sometimes the more macho something is, the more camp it appears. The James Bond movies have always had hints of gay – occasionally through outcast, misunderstood villains, or lesbians that appear as sexual challenges to 007. Now, in Skyfall, director Sam Mendes has painted the pinkest portrait yet, in the form of Javier Bardem’s wonderful cyber-psycho Silva. But what does it reveal about Bond himself?

Silva makes his entrance with a long walk across a warehouse floor, in a wonderfully shot scene where we watch him advance over chair-bound Bond’s shoulder. He delivers a curious monologue, which implies the two men are like rats who have eaten everyone else, and now must ‘eat each other’ – the innuendo of which is appreciated by the actors and the audience alike. Sitting down in front of Bond, he begins to unbutton 007′s shirt and caress his chest. As he implies his own homosexual experiences, he suggests Bond tries it himself, to which Bond teasingly replies, ‘What makes you think this is my first time?’. In the next scene, as Silva dares Bond to shoot a shot glass off a girl’s head, he says he will try too, and that whoever wins ‘gets to go on top’. These are the lines that have sparked mumbled giggles in cinemas, and brought delight to queer theorists everywhere.

It may not be coincidence that this new scene mirrors the Casino Royale moment where Craig’s Bond was tied to a chair and, with somewhat obvious homoerotic undertones, had his testicles whipped. Perhaps Craig as an actor is more open to it than any Bond before; perhaps it’s been there all along, lurking in the shadows; or perhaps the old undercurrents of homosexuality and blackmail in espionage are finally coming out of the closet and becoming more acceptable in this environment. Nothing is exactly confirmed or denied, but either way, this element of dubious sexuality makes for one of Skyfall‘s most popular talking points.

This piece originally appeared on SoSoGay magazine.

Mariah Carey – MTV Unplugged (A Retrospective)

The music world has no shortage of great live rock albums, but great live pop albums are few and far between. Reliant on dancing and backing tracks, pop shows usually don’t carry well outside the performance space. It took a carefully constructed live session on MTV Unplugged – a series actually set up for acoustic rock shows – to produce what I think is a perfect live pop album.

Since the release of her self titled début album in 1990, and her sophomore release Emotions in 1991, Mariah Carey was under fire for her lack of live performances. She’d done TV shows, but never toured. Critics began to suggest that ‘the voice’ was a studio creation – reliant on mixing and auto tune to create the gravity defying notes. So, to quash the rumours, her management booked her an MTV Unplugged session. With just 7 songs and clocking in at a mere 28 minutes in length, it’s officially an EP and it’s largely been forgotten about, but it’s quite possibly her finest work.

Aside from the fact that the dress code was clearly ‘anything black’ (leather and sequins both feature heavily), the musical outfit is wonderful. Backed by ten gospel singers and a tight pop-blues band (including legendary Randy Jackson on bass), she kicks off in style with one of her best tracks, ‘Emotions’. It starts like a vocal warm up, but it’s not long before the famous whistle register is out in full force. This is a rare vocal ability, often unheard of outside of opera. It’s a hugely impressive gift, and Mariah handles it with great technical care. It has since become her trademark, but here she only uses it a handful of times, and to rapturous applause. A strong saxophone section makes for a special performance of ‘If It’s Over’, written by Carey and one of her heroes, Carole King. ‘Someday’ and ‘Make It Happen’ are both up-tempo soulful numbers with some great solos from the band. The use of the backing singers in an intimate environment give everything a gospel edge, like it’s some sort of pop Baptist church. You’ll have to resist the temptation to point your finger and shout ‘testify!’during ‘Make It Happen’. Her début single, ‘Vision Of Love’, is a well-received highlight, largely because this was a song specially crafted to show off her voice and all its tricks. It’s a pop masterpiece, with clever chord movements, a simple but catchy chorus, and a great call and response section, which Carey sang with herself in the original (you’ll have to settle for backing singer Trey Lorenz here). Her rendition of the Jackson 5′s ‘I’ll Be There’ is the album’s shining moment. A last minute addition to the set, it has become one of her signature songs, even performed by her at Michael Jackson’s memorial service.

Mariah once said that as a perfectionist, ‘I tend to nitpick everything I do’ and that MTV Unplugged taught her ‘the raw stuff is usually better.’ This format may be raw, but you’ll be hard pushed to find a single vocal imperfection. More than just a master class in female pop vocals, this record is a blueprint for the careers of women like Christina Aguilera and Jessie J. Yes, warbling may be frowned upon now as over done, but here Mariah is bringing it to the table for the first time in her own unique way, and gets it just right.

In 1996, Mariah divorced her restrictive husband and Sony boss, Tommy Mottola, (the emancipation of Mimi, if you will). At that point, Mariah the Diva was born. But before that, she was a girl who seemed young for her age, unsure of herself and her talents, modest, and wholly concerned with giving a great musical performance. The display of this long lost personality is one of the things that makes this record even more striking. She’s slightly embarrassed and giggly when accepting applause and agreeing to an encore – and when thanking the audience for coming she sounds genuinely grateful and humble. It’s a different Mariah, and for many people it’s one they’d much prefer: incredible vocals, with none of the outlandish behaviour. This is a pure Mariah Carey, not just unplugged in the musical sense, but stripped down to the basics that made her a star, and secured her voice as one of the greatest of all time. Sadly, time has taken its toll on her iconic voice, but here, in a charming show filmed in a small New York theatre in 1992, her unique talent was captured perfectly in all its glory. Take a half hour and give it the listen it deserves.

This piece originally appeared in So So Gay magazine.