Last Friday, I joined over 10,000 other New Yorkers and braved the cold for a free concert by a self-proclaimed God amongst men - Kanye West - in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. The landmark concert was the kickoff to this year’s NBA All-Star weekend coordinated by Jay-Z’s entertainment company RocNation. Despite freezing temperatures, thousands packed into the modestly-sized Flatiron Plaza that was dominated by an enormous stage erected days before and beams of light that could be seen from blocks away in every direction to catch a glimpse of ‘Yeezus.’ People of all ages and cultures braved the cold to see the ever-controversial Kanye West and a slew of famous guests including Big Sean and 2 Chainz take the stage at 8 PM to experience the hour-long performance. The songs ranged from some older hits to his newest single, Only. Newcomer Fetty Wap performed his hit Trap Queen, which excited everyone from the first note.
Although West’s public shows of arrogance have earned him the hatred of many, I can truly say that West was an amazing live performer with a stage presence that could be felt from blocks away. Young teens, college students, and even parents seemed thrilled by the opportunity to experience the music. West also proclaimed how grateful he was for the opportunity to entertain the crowd at such an amazing location for absolutely no cost. Perhaps the concert, the same day as his fashion show launching his new clothing collaboration with Adidas, shows his growing interest in appealing to the general public and affecting culture on a wide scale just beyond music. As well as the shift in his persona from the enemy he has become in the eyes of the public. Either way, the concert was well-worth the freezing temperatures and it was amazing to see such an influential star perform live. And equally as amazing to see such a diverse crowd knowing every word to every song and practically ignoring the cold to experience the music that they've enjoyed for years just a few hundred feet from the man who created it. The concert was an amazing experience to both see and hear, and an amazing example of the endless possibilities of things to do for little to no cost when living in New York City. Praise Yeezus.
Fashion photographer and former America’s Next Top Model judge, Nigel Barker, recently released his newest book, Models of Influence: 50 Women Who Reset the Course of Fashion. The book profiles 50 renowned models from Christie Brinkley to Twiggy who profoundly influenced the fashion industry. I had the opportunity to meet Barker and hear him speak about his newest work at the Barnes and Noble on 82nd Street and Broadway.
Barker is an extremely humble and friendly person and spoke about his life and career before discussing the models featured in his book in more detail. Starting in the 1940s and continuing to the present day, the book features his hand picked selection of the most influential models. Barker emphasized that these women “weren’t necessarily the ones who were most successful but...they were the trailblazers.” Much of the presentation was a commentary on the relationship between models and how the photographs were a reflection of the culture and traditions of the time. He went through each era, demonstrating how models represented the changing times and epitomize the ideas and culture, or promoted changes. He included a number of models of different ethnicities that challenged our definition of beauty, and showed how each model left behind a legacy. Each pioneered something new- whether it was a full-figured, androgynous or all-American look, or was the first to appear on magazine covers as a woman of African or Hispanic descent.
"It’s the people. It’s us that’s deciding who’s the star and who’s not. If we want to influence what beauty is, it’s in our hands."
I was surprised that Barker addressed the criticism models face for their body types. He explained that models portray the image that society wants to see. “Yes, for sure the fashion industry is guilty for a lot of things,” said Barker. However, what we see is really a reflection of current society.
My great takeaway from his presentation was that today, the public has a very important and influential role in the fashion and beauty industry: “It’s the people. It’s us that’s deciding who’s the star and who’s not. If we want to influence what beauty is, it’s in our hands.” Barker noted now social media has transformed the way models start their careers and how advertisers determine which campaigns and photographs will be most successful.
Barker is much more than a fashion photographer; he explores cultures, advancements, and viewpoints of society and demonstrates how what we see in magazines is a culmination of these various aspects. The book features 255 pages of stunning color and black and white photography, and serves as a history lesson of both models and their effect on the fashion industry.
Pop Culture Was in Art, Now Art Was in Pop Culture at the 2015 Grammys!
Over half a century ago, Andy Warhol earned his spot as one of the most revered artists of the modern era when he introduced the world to his visual art movement “Pop Art.” Warhol’s now-famous paintings of key elements of American popular culture of his time (i.e. entertainer Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans) reflected his attempt to infuse common elements of American popular culture into fine art, combating tradition.
In November 2013, pop icon Lady Gaga released her fourth studio album ARTPOP. Despite the album’s comparatively low sales and mixed critical reactions, the message of the album introduced a concept that was communicated coherently and in a big way to the general public at last night’s Grammys; for those willing and able to recognize it. The album reflected Gaga’s plan to contribute to a “reverse Warholian experience,” in which respectable art was transfused into a popular culture presently characterized by auto-tuned music and mindless reality television. Gaga herself recognized that she was merely contributing a name to a movement that was already in motion. A movement that has only gained momentum since the album’s release and dominated last night’s Grammy Awards.
The focus on superfluous details of the life of an artist rather than the art they produce is not a new phenomenon. At the start of the millennium, people preferred to talk about Whitney Houston’s and Kurt Cobain’s drug use than their breathtaking talent, and discussions of allegations child molestation against Michael Jackson’s overshadowed the music that made him the King of Pop. This culture obsessed with scandal has made human beings into venerated stars as quickly as it has shredded them down, literally taking their lives as victims with the cause of death arguably being fame.
After years of an EDM-dominated landscape in popular music, alternative artist Lorde was the big winner at the 2014 Grammys, while the soulful Sam Smith snagged a large share of the attention at last night’s 2015 show. But this trend of the rise of a more authentic and artistic sound can be seen in music throughout the past year. Hozier’s Take Me to Church and Mark Ronson’s smash collaboration with Bruno Mars Uptown Funk! are the latest examples of more experimental and classical forms of music finding their way into Top 40 radio. Last year, former Fordham College at Rose Hill student Lana del Rey showed impressive sales with her third album Ultraviolence with minimal promotion. The rise of this unique “indie pop queen” into mainstream music is just another example of the general public’s enthusiasm for a more natural sound.
In addition to newcomers garnering popularity from their pure sounds, music stars who have already established a name for themselves are embracing the trend. Last year, Nicki Minaj, known for bringing together pop and rap in past years to create radio hits like Super Bass, debuted the lead single Pills N Potions from her new album The Pinkprint. The song, a heartfelt ballad, was a departure from her previous work that simultaneously shocked and delighted critics and fans.
The rise of a more stripped-down sound on popular radio indicates the public’s readiness for a more authentic culture and focus on true talent; a readiness for ART to enter the world of POP. It seems as though Rihanna and Gaga, known for their experimental artistry and lack of sensitivity to being panned by critics, have recognized the transition that their industry is undergoing and are experimenting with testing public reaction to see just how ready the world is for a cultural shift.
Gaga’s 2014 single Do What U Want (With My Body) featured artwork donning her rear end, a controversial verse by R&B veteran R. Kelly, and suggestive lyrics.However, analysis of the lyrics shows Gaga’s frustration with the fact that no matter how much work, blood, sweat, and tears she puts into her artistry, people will focus on what she wears, how much she weighs, and who she’s dating. “You can’t have my heart/You won’t use my mind/So do what you want with my body” Gaga proclaims. She is expressing her chagrin with culture and declaring that if all the public wants is her body and not her art, that’s what she’ll give them.
Rihanna has had a similar tone in the past weeks as she promotes the lead single of her currently untitled eighth studio album. Despite churning out hit after hit across an impressive seven albums since she was 16 years old, the public seems to focus mostly on Rihanna’s personal life such as her tumultuous relationship with Chris Brown, her suggestive photo-shoots, and comical posts on social media. Rihanna’s new single “FourFiveSeconds” indicates her frustration.
Although the public may take the song at face value to be a playful tune about a relationship (like Gaga’s “Do What U Want”), a deeper analysis shows that Rihanna is upset with her career and how the public treats her. “I’m four, five seconds from wildin’/And we got three more days ‘til Friday/I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’” Rihanna belts. “I know that you’re up tonight/Thinking how could [she] be so selfish” she continues. Rihanna is close to going crazy, just wanting the work week to end and make it home to be alone and relax out of the spotlight. To the public, she knows it may seem selfish to sound like a blue-collar worker frustrated with their schedule and eager for weekend relaxation when in reality she has the fame and fortune that most people can only dream of. Although she is sorry that some cannot understand why she is feeling this way, she can’t help feeling frustrated with the public’s image of her and inability to focus on what she wants them to - her music.
Rihanna’s new song and impressive performance with two indisputably colossal talents - Kanye West and Paul McCartney - featured not much background music and a simple black and white treatment. However, a simple Google News search of Rihanna this morning spawns countless articles about her dress and few about her song. Rihanna’s controversial gown gained attention across social media because it could be spotted from the nosebleeds and took up three seats. She shoved this dress in the public’s face along with an amazing performance, and the public chose to focus on the gown rather than her performance with two fellow music giants and a display of raw talent.
In general, the show saw almost every artist abandon their signature style and show a more stripped-down side. Katy Perry ditched her usual colorful antics to deliver a ballad in support of raising awareness for victims of domestic violence. Rising pop star Jessie J belted out a duet with Tom Jones. Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani, Usher and Stevie Wonder, Hozier and Annie Lennox - it seemed as though the entire show was influenced by Gaga and Bennett’s collaboration and introduced the public to unlikely duos in a big way.
This ongoing cultural revolution extends beyond music and into fashion. Jeff Koons, a prominent modern artist who collaborated with Gaga to design the ARTPOP album cover, had a promotional campaign with H&M last year. The sold-out leather Jeff Koons handbag dons Koons’ iconic balloon animal sculpture (which sold for $58.4 million in 2013, becoming the most expensive piece to ever be sold by a living sculptor). Similarly, retail store Uni Qlo has a whole line of t-shirts and dresses inspired by the art of Andy Warhol displayed prominently in their location off of 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Just this month, Converse announced a Warhol-inspired collection featuring a high-top sneaker donning Warhol’s famed Campbell’s soup can paintings.
Pharrell Williams donned an Adidas short-suit on the Grammy red carpet, reflecting the growing popularity of street-wear and a more casual/formal look in comparison to the more over-the-top looks that were common in past years.
There definitely is nothing wrong with enjoying the catchy, digitally edited work of today’s pop princesses, or indulging in mindless reality shows all day on Netflix, but the infusion of ART into POP is something refreshing. Sure, maybe Rihanna and Lady Gaga are not that smart at all, and are simply making catchy songs about their relationships and this is a completely over analytical look at the state of the music industry. And maybe the obsession with art in fashion and rise of soulful artists on mainstream radio is just a fad. But maybe the biggest artists of our time are trying to tell us that there is something seriously wrong with the respect, or lack thereof, that we show for them. It is hard to say if a more effortless look in high fashion and a more stripped-down sound on popular radio is the work of cultural geniuses like Lady Gaga, or merely the evidence of cultural cycles that naturally occur - similar to the climate cycles that critics of global warming claim naturally happen as decades pass.
Regardless, it is refreshing to see a heightened emphasis on talent, simplicity, and pure art. Hopefully last night’s Grammy awards was just the beginning, and the public for artists to bare their soul rather than their skin in the second half of this decade.
Expressions performances are probably my favorite student productions at Fordham. In anticipation of their Fall 2014 showcase, "Expressions Presents: Dreamers," I talked to Christie DiPietrantonio, current President of EDA and a senior psychology major and biology minor at FCRH. She let MODE in on some secrets about the Expressions girls and what we can expect from their upcoming show.
What was the inspiration for "Dreamers"?
We choose the title "Dreamers" for our show because we thought of our show as a dream. A dream is a vision and each choreographer starts the semester off with a vision for her dance, and as the semester continues towards the end, we begin to see our vision become reality and our dreams for our dances come true. We are dreamers in our dances, hoping and dreaming that our passion and love for dance comes across to you, our audience.
Check out these dreamy photos of the Expressions girls shot by Kellyn Simpkins and Samantha Mandich.
What number are you most excited to perform?
That's a really tough one! Each number is so different and taps into a different emotion. I think I'm most excited for "Work Song," choreographed by Lianna Scott. It's a beautiful contemporary number and I think the audience will really love it.
What's your favorite Expressions memory from this semester of rehearsals?
Every rehearsal brings a new surprise, I find myself laughing harder each week as we become closer as friends. My favorite memory during rehearsal was when we all played the game "Lovers Leap." It was so nice to see everyone let go for a bit, we were all out of breath because we were laughing so hard.
Ok so we clearly know "Dreamers" is going to be amazing! Give us the deets!
"Dreamers" is a great show! I'm so excited for everyone to see it. We have some really exciting numbers this year. For one of the dances the Satin Dolls are singing instead of us using music and in another dance we have some Ramblers that come out and dance with us. It's great to have some involvement with other groups.
"Dreamers" is happening this weekend! Here's what you need to know:
What?: "Expressions Presents: Dreamers"
Who?: Expressions Dance Alliance, Satin Dolls, Ramblers & emcee Willy Aponte
When?: Friday and Saturday, November 21 & 22 at 8 p.m.
Where?: Collins Auditorium
How much?: $3 with Fordham ID, $8 without
Watch the amazing "Dreamers" promotional video shot in the Botanical Garden by Samantha Mandich and Kellyn Simpkins. Also be sure to check out EDA on Facebook (Expressions Dance Alliance) and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (@exp_dance) for more fun and info about the show!
This past Saturday my friends and I, along with some 60,000 other people, gathered on the Great Lawn of Central Park for the third annual Global Citizen Festival. Each year the festival draws in popular musical headliners, celebrities, world leaders, activists, and thousands of fans with the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.
After leaving campus at noon to travel 40 minutes on the subway and wait over two hours in line, we were excited to claim our patch of grass and prepare ourselves for the headliners we had come to see, namely No Doubt and Jay Z, when we finally arrived at the Great Lawn around 4:00.
First up on the star-studded line up was Tiësto, who opened the festival and got the crowd going with hits including “Wasted”. There was definitely something weird about experiencing the EDM set at a charity-based and relatively family-friendly event that was a far stretch from festivals like EDC. Regardless of how out of place Tiësto might have been, we danced along anyway and tried to pretend we weren’t feet from infants and some clearly confused moms.
Photo courtesy of Karen Brenseke
Up next were The Roots, who performed a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” that I really enjoyed. The following act was fun, whose performance was just fine, but paled in comparison to the rest of the show’s big stars.
The pregnant Carrie Underwood gave an impressive performance that included some of her classics like “Cowboy Cassanova,” “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and, my personal favorite, “Before He Cheats.”
Finally, it was time for the headliners that we came for. First came No Doubt who delivered a lively set that made me nostalgic for the early 2000’s. The gorgeous and talented Gwen Stefani sounded awesome live, as did the rest of her band mates. There was even a special appearance from Sting who joined the band for their cover of “Message in a Bottle.”
From being mentioned in Lady Gaga lyrics (“One second I’m a Koons Then suddenly the Koons is me”) to being touted as “the most original, controversial, and expensive artist of the past 3 and a half decades”, Jeff Koons is somewhat of an enigma. A celebrity not only in the art world, but also in the world of pop culture, the Koons retrospective at the Whitney museum calls out to many types of people. Entering the museum I didn’t really know what to expect. One of the most exciting parts of the exhibit for me ended up being directly related to this unknowing. I was drawn to Koons first by my interest in him as an artist (after seeing his large, metallic balloon art on display at Versailles), and second from mentions I had heard of him in pop culture and the media.
I am happy to say that what I saw at the Whitney thoroughly impressed me. Not only was each piece thoroughly interesting on its own, but the more I learned about each piece or phase of Koons life made me more and more amazed and excited. This man is not only a brilliant artist, but he is just plain brilliant. Every piece of art (like the basketballs placed in just the right amount of salt water to fresh water ratio, as consulted by a prize winning scientist, for the balls to float in the middle of a tank) not only had meaning, but also involved a thought process. Not that I don’t appreciate the artists who have created masterpieces “accidentally”, but the fact that Koons put so much thought into his trade made me appreciate, and relate to, it all that much more. One of the most relevant parts of this thought process, at least as it relates to the public, is the repeated theme of Koons wanting to actually involve his viewers in his art. One author writes, “Koons’ desire to introduce things that people like into art, give[s] them confidence in their own taste and in art itself.” Koons not only wants people to see his vision in his art, but he also wants them to see a little bit of themselves.
This is done in many ways. One of the rooms at the exhibit was filled almost exclusively with vintage vacuum cleaners, another with plastic inflatable toys, and another with shaped and colored mirrors. All of these are objects that we can connect to, whether we have them in our homes or can literally see ourselves in them. No matter how big his celebrity star gets, and it only seems to be growing, Jeff Koons is able to reach out to the masses that are observing his pieces. One of the most poignant examples of this is the placement of one of his sculptures at the new World Trade Center site. This placement, like Koons’ pieces themselves, cannot be accidental. At such a heavy, emotion-inducing site, Koon’s artwork simply makes people feel happy.
When it comes to art everyone has an opinion. But if there is one thing that cannot be critiqued it is this goal of connection and, consequentially, happiness.