Why Rick Ross Will Never, Ever, Win His Lawsuit Against LMFAO

For years now, Freeway Rick Ross, the real life drug dealer upon whom rapper Rick Ross bases his stage persona and kingpin image, has been trying to nail Ross (the latter) for making millions by selling his music under an appropriated drug lord persona. Last week, a California judge dismissed Freeway Rick’s most recent appeal, citing the rapper’s creation of original works that only used the name as a jumping-off point. Freeway Rick was not amused.

In a statement issued following the judge’s rejection of his appeal, the real Freeway Rick Ross remarked: “There is a teachable moment about the state of our community when a man who has a respectable job as a correctional officer, has to recreate himself in my former image as a large-scale kingpin to gain what he feels is social acceptance as a successful man.” Though Freeway Rick’s indignation does have a point here, he misunderstands Ross’ motivations. Ross was never thinking about perceived social acceptance as a successful man. He was thinking about actual success. And he actually achieved it by making insane amount of money because he understands the fan inclination to want to believe that artists’ music reflects a truthful depiction of their lives.

Hip-hop culture has always been based on the appropriation and re-interpretation of communal objects from the past. It’s called sampling. And hip-hop artists have been doing it in with their stage personas forever, pretending to be harder and more dangerous than they actually are. So when Ross took on the symbolic identity of a historical drug dealer, he was doing just that: “sampling” someone else’s life and then turning it into something new. And that is exactly why Rick Ross’ recent lawsuit against LMFAO for interpolating the lyric “Every day I’m hustlin” from his 2006 song “Hustlin” is so ironic, because when LMFAO jokingly altered that line, they were doing the exact same thing. Though Ross’ lawsuit states that LMFAO’s similar lyric is “an obvious attempt to capitalize on the fame and success of “Hustlin,” the reality of the situation is a bit more nuanced.

Just compare “Hustlin” to “Party Rock Anthem.” Where “Hustlin” paints a dead serious portrait of drug dealing life, “Party Rock” unambiguously pokes fun at the culture of mainstream hip-hop and pop by making everything about it completely over the top. From the clunky lyrics that spoof rap clichés (“now stop – hatin’ is bad”) to their goofy, stilted delivery – the lines that begin with “One more shot for us (Another round!)” are rhythmically hilariously unhip for a rap verse – to the “shufflin” line, the song is more than just critique of hip-hop and pop culture; it’s critique of the fabricated artists that demand everyone take their personas seriously.

Which is ultimately why Ross’ lawsuit is going to fall through; any clever listener with even a weak sense of irony can tell that the song is so clearly operating as a parody, placing it squarely within the realm of fair use. LMFAO are intentionally, if subtly, poking holes in the fallacious one-to-one relationship between musicians’ stage personas and their real lives that has come to dominate modern music (“Tight jeans, tattoo, cause I’m rock and roll!” is a line said with tongues planted firmly in cheek). Ironically, in an age when social media has given fans more access than ever before to artists’ mundane everyday existence, fans continue to believe that performers’ real lives echo how they act on stage and in their music. It happens, mostly, because fans sincerely want to believe. Ross has made a fortune out of pandering to that desire through an assumed drug dealer identity, and LMFAO have now made a fortune out of skewering his pandering through their own over-exaggerated pop star shtick. That he can be the legally sound object of parodic ridicule is a hard lesson that Ross will have to learn, at least as long as he can stay out of the way of any other crazy lawsuits of his own.

Why Almost Everyone Loves “Bowing Down” To Beyoncé

To be clear, this is not really about Beyoncé’s new album. It’s not about her incorporation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s feminist TED Talk on the track “Flawless.” It’s not about her anti-marketing strategy. And it’s definitely not about judging whether the music is “overrated” or not.

Because beyond any of the numerous aspects of the album’s production that Beyoncé had under her control – the probably insane non-disclosure agreements regarding the album’s release, the video treatments, the feminist lyrics, the genre-spanning production – what is just as fascinating about the new album are Beyoncé’s fans reactions to it, and the repeated hyperbole that they use when they talk about her, especially in contrast to their own lives.

It isn’t news to anybody that Beyoncé’s fans elevate her to the level of royalty, and, most of the time, to the level of a goddess. It’s become just as commonplace for the casual fan to refer to Beyoncé as “Queen Bey” as it has for some of the press’ most respected music critics. But if you comb through enough tweets and status updates about Beyoncé, you’ll see another interesting trend: that, in their veneration, her fans repeatedly tend to openly highlight their own supposed personal insignificance and lack of achievement to the pop queen’s grandiose accomplishments.

Here are some anonymous Beyoncé-related samples from the recent Twitter archives:

“I can barely make my bed in the morning. @beyonce is on a world tour and puts out an album and a shit ton of videos. what am i doing?”

“Beyoncé made more money in the past hour than I have in my whole life.”

“I don’t want to sound like a crazy stan, but listening to Beyonce’s new album is why we were put on this earth”

“Let it sink in that 2-year-old Blue Ivy Carter already has a verse on a Beyonce song, once again proving she is more powerful than us all.”

A recent Buzzfeed review of Beyonce’s new album takes a cursory stab at dissecting this phenomenon: “Even casual fans approach her as a sort of deity, in large part because thinking of her as a superhuman being is part of what makes her music and performances so much fun.”

 

As an explanation, this only covers half of the phenomenon; going out of the way to portray oneself as servile, incompetent, and generally inadequate doesn’t really align with the idea of what most people would consider “fun.” Still, it does address why people gravitate towards Beyoncé in the first place: she is indisputably one of the most powerful performers in the pop world, if not the most powerful; and her album sales, fan following, raw talent, and performance ability dwarf those of almost every other mainstream pop artist. Fans love her music, but they also love her success. They aspire to be like her, but know that they’re nowhere near her level. Beyoncé’s music is empowering, but it’s also intimidating. She is so successful, so rich, so famous, and has her entire show and persona so locked down that it’s almost difficult to completely identify with her.

What a negative comparison does accomplish, then, is to provide a way for fans to associate themselves with Beyoncé’s greatness, even if it is only in an inverse formulation. After all, negatively defining yourself against something still links you to the very thing you’re defining yourself in contrast to, simply by association. And the cultish denigration of their own lives Beyonce’s fans engage in may just constitute a roundabout way for them to connect themselves to Queen Bey’s own monumental success. From this angle, what initially seems like self-castigation might actually read as empowerment, because in the face of Beyonce’s chart-conquering albums and all-around pop music domination – feats that feel daunting to even hope to aspire to – it’s almost all that fans can do to connect with her and derive power from her immense success by showing how mundane their lives are by comparison.

And yes, Scrooge, this self-deprecation is most of the time just an egotistical attention grab from people whose names will, in all likelihood, never, ever be mentioned in the same breath as Beyoncé’s. Sure these negative comparisons are just a way for people to ride the tailcoats of the world’s most successful pop megastar and garner a few more retweets, followers, and page views. And of course, this gets increasingly annoying and insufferable the more you think about it. But honestly, we’ve got more important things to worry about here. Like preparing for Blue Ivy’s imminent, entirely baby-talk solo album. Just picture the tweets about that.

How The Songwriters Behind One Direction Secretly Control Your Mind

About a month ago, after One Direction dropped their latest release, Midnight Memories, most reviewers couldn’t help but point out the album’s shameless knock-offs of some of the biggest pop hits of the ’80s including “Jessie’s Girl,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and pretty much any song by Asia, just to name a few. And, yes, while the songwriters behind the squeaky clean boy band’s smash singles make their musical points of reference pretty obvious to any listener older than 12, they also manage to pull off some patently ingenious lyrical references that slipped by most recaps of the album – mostly because that was precisely what they were designed to do.

Upon a first listen, the first verse of “Better Than Words” sounds like pretty standard fare for a One Direction song: a just-generic-enough description of crazy, undeniable love that sweeps you up in its whirlwind of affection and excitement.

Better than words
But more than a feeling
Crazy in love
Dancing on the ceiling

But, if you haven’t noticed it already, each line is also a song in its own right. The second line. The third line. And, you guessed it. These aren’t just lyrics in a One Direction song, they’re built-in references to seminal pop hits. And they’re placed directly next to the title of the One Direction song, itself the very first line of the song.

OK, so what? What does this prove besides the fact that the One Direction songwriting team has a pretty decent knowledge of the Billboard charts of the last 35 years? Well, to feature the title of their own song as the first lyric, and then to follow that with several recognizable song titles (that most likely light up the subconscious pop music recesses of your brain) is to suggest a subtle connection between these tunes that immediately draws you in as a listener. “You remember these great songs, right?” the lyric whispers. “Then you might like this one too…”

This might seem far-fetched, but it’s how the brain works. And making reference to well-known past pop hits does more than just prime you as a listener to be more receptive to One Direction’s song, it also establishes the band as fans of pop music themselves, blurring the boundary between them as performers and their listeners as fans. This is the same logic behind other, less subtle, One Direction lines such as this one. When One Direction sing about other pop artists in this way (“Katy Perry’s on replay…”), they place themselves on the same level as their fans, depicting their lives as fundamentally similar to the people who would see them as unattainable idols otherwise. The message is incredibly clear and incredibly clever: One Direction listen to Katy Perry – just like you. Though you might know deep down that they are ultra-famous pop stars in their own right, simply hearing them make reference to another hugely famous artists makes the One Direction boys a bit more relatable to the teenage girls who are their core demographic, which of course helps move records off the shelves and perpetuate the rabid fandom surrounding the group. Of course, this isn’t new. It’s just another trick in the utility belt that the slickest songwriters in the world use to manipulate your perception of their music. OK, I admit that a description like that might seem a bit over the top. What I really mean is this: as long as these guys keep pumping out songs that are this catchy, the aural manipulation is fine by me.

Why Miley Cyrus’ ‘Bangerz’ Tour Might Be The Most Important Tour Of The New Year

When will the public finally take Miley Cyrus seriously? And no, I am not asking that facetiously. I will admit that she certainly doesn’t make it easy, especially considering her slew of press-baiting stunts over the last few months that sent every media outlet into a seemingly permanent salivary frenzy. Still, whether or not she is in control of her public image – the ultimate point of contention anchoring a furious celebrity blog-off several months ago – her (or her management’s) decision to bring Sky Ferreira and Icona Pop on her upcoming Bangerz tour is a totally brilliant move: one that crystallizes and enlarges the cultural impact of what each artist has, up until this point, been doing separately in order to make pop music a safer place for women to rightfully do whatever the hell they want.

The album cover for Ferreira’s new record Night Time, My Time features the melancholy singer staring somewhat crazily and vulnerably out at the audience, nude and framed by dripping shower tiles in Van-Gogh green. It’s more disturbing than it is sexy. But of course, that hasn’t stopped scores of critics from accusing her of employing nudity simply to boost album sales. The story, as she’s told it, is that Capitol, her record label, didn’t want her to be nude in the first place, and even suggested using other photos from past years for the album cover. But Ferreira was adamant. “It’s hard enough to be a woman making music at all,” she told Pitchfork. “But I’m not going to start covering myself up just to seem more credible—I’m going to embrace my sexuality because I have every right to.”

If there’s any statement that makes Cyrus’ recent salacious stunts more understandable in the light of the challenges that female artists face in the pop game, it’s this. While the double standard of female sexuality is (hopefully) not news to anybody, it’s even more pronounced in pop music, where any display of female sexuality is commonly demonized as a PR stunt or a money grab: essentially anything that constitutes the opposite of “authentic” music, which is supposedly focused on pure form and creation. This is, of course, total bullshit. To solely attribute financial motives to a female artist’s decision to pose nude is to subscribe to the same type of thinking that circumscribes female nudity to the porn set or the bedroom. It is to place rules around where and when it is correct for women in pop to make certain choices about their bodies, and strips them (pun intended) of the ability to even have that choice in the first place.

Ferreira is well-versed in the type of double standard that marginalizes female pop stars and their artistic opinions. “If a girl has a breakdown or if the black guy has a blog post, it’s a rant,” she said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Someone like Billy Corgan can write a whole entire thing and people are like ‘Oh it’s just a blog post’ and Kanye does it and it’s a rant.” And judging by her album cover and her response to the media’s firestorm surrounding it, Ferreira should be taken seriously, because whether she understands it as such or not, she is trying to transform the female body into a site of self-expression as opposed to an object of capitalistic or sexual voyeurism. As if this weren’t hard enough within a generally patriarchal, money-obsessed culture, Ferreira is attempting to do so where all of those factors are amplified: in mainstream pop music.

But, luckily, she isn’t doing it alone. Icona Pop are just as determined to give women an opportunity to behave “badly” without fear of denunciation, to engage in all of the irresponsible things that they have internalized they must not do. See here: Lena Dunham dancing in ecstatic, coked-out joy to Icona Pop’s “I Love It” during the second season of HBO’s GIRLS last January. It’s not just the pulsing EDM synth bass that makes that cinematic moment feel so true to the song – it’s Dunham’s sensation of freedom from socially acceptable standards, and the veritable laundry list of supposedly forbidden feminine actions that the lyrics of “I Love It” detail:

“I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone / I crashed my car into the bridge. I watched, I let it burn / I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs / I crashed my car into the bridge / I don’t care”

Icona Pop

Realizing a sense of joy without a partner, destroying stuff for no reason, asserting ownership over your personal space, and generally not giving a shit. In a society that tells women, “Don’t be a victim,” instead of telling men not to victimize, it’s rare to hear these things promoted as feminine virtues, which makes it that much more imperative that Icona Pop do so, especially within the format of a mainstream pop song that is catchy as hell and could provoke a shout-along from even the most ardent anti-feminist. Which is why Cyrus might have made the best decision of her career so far to bring Sky Ferreira and Icona Pop on the road with her in 2014. There could be no better rebuttal of the flak that she’s received in recent months regarding her newly overt sexuality than to take the stage with fellow female performers who similarly reject the social tendency to restrict women’s desires, bodies, and emotions to a convenient space and time. I know it might not seem like Cyrus is twerking her way to a feminist revolution just yet. But she is definitely assembling the troops.

Why Kanye’s ‘Bound 2’ Video Could Have Been Great (And How Franco And Rogan Get It Right)

In the avalanche of criticism aimed at Kanye West’s ridiculous, obviously green-screened, naked Kim Kardashian-featuring, fake motorcycle-riding new video for “Bound 2,” is one common complaint that just keeps recurring: the video is too damn cheesy.

And, yes, it is. Yes, it’s the visual equivalent of a romance novel you’d find in the supermarket checkout line, or a drunkenly ill-conceived artistic partnership between Lisa Frank and Thomas Kinkade. But, of course, when a video is so incredibly kitschy in the way that “Bound 2” is, it’s usually a signal that the people who created it must have done so intentionally. Other than a basic lack of self-consciousness on the part of the director and star, how else could you explain why an idea this cheesy is executed so gleefully and without restraint?

 

And if you look at it intentionally that way, then maybe it’s possible to see the the video as a deliberately corny ode to the feeling of falling in love, to the understanding that the cheesy and stupid emotions that you never thought would ever possess you can be both surprisingly real and frighteningly in the driver’s seat when it comes to your decisions; that the cheesiness of those emotions actually isn’t fabricated, but real, and might in fact be the only thing really worth championing in a world where so much else is fake and manufactured, which might be why cheap green-screening takes the center stage in the video: as the visual equivalent of the inherent corniness that real, uncool, stupid-looking human love entails.

But, of course, according to Kanye, that’s not what he means. In an interview yesterday with The Breakfast Clubon New York’s Power 105 FM, Kanye stated straightforwardly that his intention with the video was “to show you that this is The Hunger Games. I want to show you that this is the type of imagery that’s being presented to all of us, and the only difference is a black dude in the middle of it.” Admittedly, this is a pretty vague statement, but his remarks later on in the interview clarify his position a bit, as he goes on to say: “We’re enslaved by brands…We’re controlled by peer pressure. We’re controlled by the desire for a particular car.”

So Kanye’s true motivation, if we’re to take him at his word, is to reveal the inherent manipulation behind the images that we consume every day, and the way in which they subjugate us into a cycle of unthinking, slave-like consumption. OK, this sounds familiar. But really, and more specifically, if Kanye really does stand behind his Hunger Games comparison (in that most images we see are part of marketing plan hatched from the minds of the business oligarchs that shut out from positions of power the very people to whom they are marketing), the “Bound 2” video can be seen as pointing out the hypocrisy of music videos in general, but of hip-hop videos in particular. After all, the urban music video tropes of hot, half-naked women and expensive cars have been played to death, but still remain entrenched in visual representations of the genre, as they have been for years. “Bound 2” pulls back the curtain to reveal the behind-the-scenes creation of that imagery in order to expose its true stupidity. You know when rappers look cool? When they’re riding motorcycles down a hood street from canted camera angles and multiple perspectives. You know when they don’t? When they’re doing it in a single-angle shot in front of a green screen.

What complicates the execution of this vision is, ultimately, Kardashian’s back story and reputation. When you’re trying to ridicule oppressive and unrealistic imagery, choosing to feature somebody whose sex tape catapulted her to fame (among other dubious achievements) seems detrimental to the cause. Which is partially what makes the über-viral James Franco and Seth Rogan parody of the music video so effective. Because, let’s be real. It’s barely even a parody. The guys just remake the original video, practically shot for shot, with almost no observable changes. So why is it so hilarious simply to replace Kardashian with Rogan?

 

If we’re judging Franco and Rogan’s version by Kanye’s stated intention for the original video, then the parody actually operates in an almost identical way: by revealing the stupidity of the images that the media forces on unwitting consumers on a daily basis. But the big difference in the parody is that Franco and Rogan actually do nail something that Kanye doesn’t: the open objectification of women’s bodies for profit and publicity that hip-hop accepts so readily as an unquestioned fact of life in the music business. And maybe Kanye wasn’t even attempting to touch that in the first place. In all probability, he was too focused on the overall creation of false imagery around artists in general, and not on hip-hop tropes in particular. Likely, he was too close to the subject matter, and too infatuated with his leading lady, to see beyond his own attempt to reveal truths, however narrow, about the nature of consumerism, branding, and the music business. Still, Franco and Rogan get the neglected, but critically important gender piece right that Kanye misses.  To adopt Ye’s phrase: they show us the type of imagery that’s being presented to all of us. And the only difference is a fat, shirtless, hairy, white dude in the middle of it.

Why No One Needs Lady Gaga To Reinvent Pop Music (And Why She Isn’t Doing It Anyway)

In the 1950s and 60s, the Pop Art movement upended the staid world of fine art by incorporating elements from advertising, television, and consumer products packaging. It fundamentally shifted the public perception of visual art, redefined the acceptable subjects for the medium, and subtly exposed the supercilious pretension and meaningless market forces that governed the art world with shadowy power.

In 2013, Lady Gaga released ARTPOP, which features a track called “Sexxx Dreams,” and lyrics like “Cuz that bitch, she’s so thin (oh la la la) / She’s so rich, and so blonde / She’s so fab, it’s beyond.”

artpop

This is not to discount her new album totally out of hand, (because, actually, her R. Kelly collaboration is pretty damn catchy) – just to say that Gaga’s self-proclaimed revolutionary pairing of high-brow art culture and pop music is actually very far from progressive, especially if you take her at her word about the motivation behind the project.

Gaga has stated that “the intention of the album was to put art culture into pop music, a reverse of Warhol.” So immediately it’s pretty obvious that she still considers art and pop music to exist in completely separate and non-overlapping spheres, which may be true, at least for the majority of serious artists who take on some projects partially for the sake of pure creativity, because they can’t not make art, and because even in a modern society that has devalued the role of the creators by overvaluing the distributors (ahem – the Spotify model), they still see value in the process of making stuff for its own sake.

But Lady Gaga’s understanding of art culture seems a bit different. Her obsessions and collaborations with huge art world names like Marina Abramović and Jeff Koons feels a lot like her own admitted obsession with fame, a major and ongoing theme in her music and life. Coincidentally (or not), the artists that Gaga admires most are those that have been prominently in the public eye for years. They are the giants on the world stage. Koons, who designed the ARTPOP album cover, recently sold one of his statues for $58.4 million. It was a gigantic orange balloon dog.

gaga1

So if Gaga’s definition of art culture centers primarily around phenomenally successful artists who drag in gigantic profits by creating tacky pieces that seem to tacitly mock thequestionable taste of the buyers who fork up incredible sums of cash for them, well, then it’s not that far off from her understanding of the culture of pop music. A culture that is equally obsessed with profits, fame, and having stupid and vacuous fun. And a culture that, in recent interviews, she has painted as totally divorced from the world of pop music.

In interviews and in her own music, Lady Gaga has always been upfront about pop music as a commercial medium, and about herself as an object of commerce. But if her understanding of art works similarly – as a medium for expression, sure; but more importantly, as a medium for fame and profit – then art and pop are far from incompatible, as she would have her fans believe. In fact, they are almost one and the same. Case in point: the “artRave” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the night of the album’s release that featured Koons’ statues and Abramović’s videos, and which was the culmination of Interscope Records’ $25 million promotional push.

Look, there is nothing wrong with being a successful artist, or in appreciating the work of artists that are successful. But if Lady Gaga wants us to believe that she’s really innovating in the pop world and bringing together supposedly irreconcilable cultures, she should try to look a little deeper, or at least not dissemble so much. Because, come on. Abramović? Jay-Z got to her first anyway.