Best and Worst of 2009: Part I (Music)

This is the start of a multi-part series focusing on what I loved and loathed about 2009. Warning: Many of my answers will be cliche, but I’ll try my best to keep them entertaining.

Best Combination of Artist and Performer: Lady Gaga

It’s a cliche answer for a reason: Lady Gaga was the star of 2009.

Some pop artists have all the talent and none of the showmanship – Jason Mraz, who had a huge hit with “I’m Yours” this year and whom I’ve adored for years, is a talented musician who will never be stalked by the paparazzi because he’s not interesting enough to anyone but his biggest fans. Other pop artists have all the showmanship and none of the talent – like Britney Spears (no matter how much you love her music, you cannot realistically argue that she is a talented singer) and all of her teen queen disciples (Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, the Pussycat Dolls… the list goes on and on).

It is rare to find someone who is both a talent and an icon. Even Madonna, Gaga’s inspiration and predecessor, is not a particularly talented musician. She’s a chameleon, a dancer, an actress (ish), and a star, but her singing voice is only mediocre, and her musical talents end there. In contrast, Gaga has a powerful voice that, unlike nearly every singer of her generation, sounds just as beautiful live as it does on her albums. And she’s no one-trick pony – she’s also a talented pianist and songwriter. Despite her “disco stick” references, we can’t write off her music as dance-floor fluff. “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance” are serious and fascinating songs, and even her lighthearted tunes are damn fun to listen to, even more fun to dance to, and never hit that obnoxious level that the Katy Perrys and Miley Cyruses of the world so often hit this year.

But of course, Gaga is also a one-woman show. She has crafted a mysterious, slightly insane persona, mainly due to the over-the-top, usually haute couture costumes she wears on a daily basis. I’d like to see any other modern performer get away with wearing head-to-toe Alexander McQueen, including those crazy-ass shoes that left nearly all women wondering, Um, what are those, and how the fuck do I walk in them? Her live performances involved pianos on fire, blood dripping from her torso, and a shockingly spiritual and meaningful address a group of LGBT rights advocates, including a song about the murder of Matthew Shepard. Her videos are epic works of freakish performance art. And most importantly, she brought Kermit the Frog back into the spotlight.

Worst Band that Keeps Getting Worse and Keeps Getting More Popular: Black Eyed Peas

Once upon a time, a teenager named Samantha thought the Black Eyed Peas were a pretty decent band. They had a unique sound and a weird-looking chick singer with great abs. But it seemed as though their music got worse and worse with every single they released. “Where is the Love” was a pretty beautiful and fairly inspirational song, and it featured Justin Timberlake, so you had to like it. “Hey Mama” made you absolutely need to shake your ass on the dance floor when you heard it in a club. “Let’s Get Retarded” was beyond overplayed, but still a pretty fun tune if you were drunk, stoned, dancing, or trying to bother people. “Don’t Phunk with My Heart” had some interesting melodies in it, but was more difficult to listen to, and ushered in Black Eyed Peas’ Era of Obnoxious Music that Barely Qualifies as Music. “My Humps” was just Fergie speaking in rhythm about her tits and ass, using some of the worst lyrics of the decade (“Mix your milk with my cocoa puff,” anyone?). And the only good thing about “Pump It” was its sample from an older song – it had no merits of its own.

The real straw that broke this camel’s back was “Boom Boom Pow,” the song least deserving of its immense popularity out of all the Peas’ music, and perhaps even out of all of 2009’s music. This song is basically about nothing, exchanges lyrics for catchphrases, lyrics for onomatopoeia and melodies for noise, and yet somehow topped Billboard’s Hot 100 for this year. It’s not a fun song to sing to, dance to, or drive to, and it usually gives me a migraine.

And as for “I’ve Gotta Feeling?” While it’s not nearly as offensive to the ears as “Boom Boom Pow,” it’s obvious that this song was produced with the intention of causing drunk college kids to scream “MAZEL TOV!” while pre-gaming and talking about the latest episode of Jersey Shore. I know I’m guilty of singing this on the bar at McFaddens, but I judge myself for that, because I know that that was exactly what producers envisioned when they created that song. Maybe I’m too old for this kind of music, or maybe I’m just so two thousand and late, but here’s hoping that 2010 is a Peas-free year.

I Occasionally Care about the Palin Family

In my defense, I mostly try to ignore shameless media whores like Jon & Kate, Tila Tequila, and the entire Palin family, but this story is just too delicious to ignore.

According to the Associated Press, Bristol Palin (daughter of Sarah Palin, infamous for her teen pregnancy, now motherhood) is suing her baby daddy Levi Johnston (infamous for impregnating Sarah Palin’s daughter and not showing his penis in Playgirl) for full custody of their one-year-old child Tripp.

Now, that is a story I would happily ignore. But it becomes a bit more interesting when we learn that Team Palin begged the judge to do a closed proceeding (which would mean conducting the case in secret, away from the public eye), and Team Baby Daddy requested a public proceeding, claiming that he did not “feel protected against Sarah Palin in a closed proceeding.”

It makes sense that Johnston desires a public trial. After all, the only reason any of us know his name is because of his shameless self-promotion at the expense of his dignity and the Palin family’s sanity. It’s been working for him for a year and a half; why not continue the charade? But what interests me is why Team Palin wants a secret trial. An open trial would absolutely ensure even more book sales for Sarah Palin just by keeping her name in print, and since her book release, it’s been clear that Palin’s top priority is sell, sell, sell. So is she taking an interest in the privacy of her daughter’s personal life at the expense of her own bank account and notoriety, or is there something much more scandalous going on?

I think a possible explanation is that Sarah Palin still has some skeletons in the closet that will certainly be released as this custody battle proceeds. (I personally have always felt that there could be a bit of truth to the absurd conspiracy theory that Sarah Palin’s youngest child is actually Bristol Palin’s child, and the family lied about it to protect themselves from the scandal.) What is she so afraid of the public finding out, that she would sacrifice her name in print and her books flying off the shelves to keep secret? And more importantly, why did the judge choose to side with Levi and publicize the custody battle instead of siding with the much more powerful Palin family?

At the very least, Levi will claim some stupid, semi-believable shit about the Palin family that doesn’t really surprise anyone. At the most awesome, they’ll do a DNA test and discover that Levi isn’t even the real father. That’s the outcome I’m praying for.

LGBT Rights in 2009: The Battle in DC

Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.

God’s war has just started. Shame on them. We’re going to get to the ballot box through either the courts or the Congress. So tell everyone: Don’t let the marriage licenses start flowing.” – Bob King, community activist against same-sex marriage in DC, as quoted in the Washington Post.

After a year of debate in the DC City Council, Mayor Fenty signed DC’s same-sex marriage bill on December 18, 2009. The bill needs to pass a 30-day Congressional review period before becoming law, but despite strong opposition from the religious community, the bill is expected to survive the review period and legalize same-sex marriage in DC in the coming months.

The biggest threat to this bill originally came from the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Washington announced on November 11 that they would refuse to continue their social service programs in the District if this bill passed. Although DC’s marriage bill does not require religious organizations to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, it would require religious groups to follow DC’s anti-discrimination laws. In a highly controversial move, the Archdiocese argued that they would rather pull Catholic Charities from DC than pay employee benefits to same-sex spouses.

A month later, the Church seemed less willing to take such an extreme position. Recently, the Archdiocese’s officials have announced that they will be continuing their social service contracts in the nation’s capital. It is unclear in what capacity Catholic Charities will remain in the District, and whether they intend to abide by anti-discrimination laws. Some claim this announcement is merely a political maneuver, and that the Church will keep charities in DC in order to ignore anti-discrimination laws and be challenged by the DC City Council. This way, removal of Catholic Charities will be blamed on the government instead of on the church.

The other major concern is whether this bill could survive a ballot initiative. Opponents of the bill have sued the city in order to get a ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot, but city lawyers and officials are urging judges to throw out this case. According to the Washington Post, lawyers in the District believe a ballot initiative would be illegal, violating DC’s Human Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Proponents of same-sex marriage are fearful of this bill reaching the ballot, since attempts to pass marriage via ballot initiative have failed 31 out of 31 times. Whether or not this debate ends up on the ballot, religious groups in Washington will certainly continue their standoff against the government in order to prevent same-sex marriage.

LGBT Rights 2009: Maine

Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.

Earlier this year, Maine’s legislature passed same-sex marriage, and the law was signed by Governor Baldacci. Six months later, Maine’s ballot initiative (Prop 1) banning same-sex marriage was approved by 53% of voters.

Attempting to legalize same-sex marriage through public vote is essentially fighting a losing battle. 31 out of 31 states that have put this issue the ballot have succeeded in banning same-sex marriage. But, to put it simply, Maine was supposed to be different. Maine is a libertarian state, geographically close to states that have legalized same-sex marriage through their legislatures. More importantly, proponents of same-sex marriage fought an excellent fight. They learned from the mistakes they made last year, when California passed Prop 8, and invested an incredible amount of money, time, and effort into the Maine campaign.

Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage,the leading conservative Christian group against same-sex marriage, released the following comments about Maine:

Maine is one of the most secular states in the nation. It’s socially liberal. They had a three-year head start to build their organization, and they outspent us two to one. If they can’t win there, it really does tell you the majority of Americans are not on board with this gay marriage thing.

Gallagher has a point. If the LGBT community lost the battle in a place like Maine, how can they hope to win anywhere?

But the failure in Maine may not be as telling as it seems. First of all, voter turnout in Maine for this election was nearly 50%. This was extraordinarily high for a non-presidential election, but it still means that the views less than half of Maine’s electorate were accounted for. More importantly, only the views of certain groups were accounted for.

As young, politically minded individuals, we are unhappily aware of the fact that our fellow young people are highly unlikely to vote. A Gallup poll from May 2009 shows that the 18-29 age group is by far the most likely to support same-sex marriage. 59% of America’s youth believe in recognizing same-sex marriage. This is the only age group that has majority support for same-sex marriage, and it is the least represented in the government. Perhaps if youth voter turnout was higher, same-sex marriage would have a shot at passing. But until we can convince our peers to participate in politics, same-sex marriage doesn’t have much of a chance of winning over the public vote.

Why Perez Hilton Disgusts Me

I stopped reading Perez on any sort of regular basis around two years ago, when my own personal failures were publicized on the cover of the GW Hatchet under the headline, “Nude scene causes student theatre strife.” I continued to check it occasionally, especially during the Summer of Celebrity Deaths, but after being burned, I generally shied away from reading about the private scandals of others. When I wanted gossip, I wanted to know who was starring in what and who was wearing what, not who was getting divorced and losing custody of their children and getting caught with drugs. I ignored Perez, and turned to more intelligent blogs, like those of New York Magazine.

But this week saw the death of Brittany Murphy, and Perez Hilton’s reaction to her untimely passing truly offended me. The headline was vile enough: “Brittany Murphy DIES! Did drugs lead to her demise????” For God’s sake, Perez, the girl died a few hours ago. Is now really the time to accuse her of drug abuse or foul play? I understand that it is your “job” to report about these things. But a mere “Brittany Murphy Dies at 32” would have been more than sufficient and much less disgusting. Not to mention the fact that this post was filed under “Drugs,” as if Perez could have already known that drugs were involved when the autopsy results won’t be out for weeks.

But the following thoughts from Perez bothered me the most: “Absolutely devastating. Especially because this comes as no surprise! We, and those who knew Brittany personally, saw this coming. That does not make this any less horrible.” At first this seemed, although slightly inappropriate, like it was at least coming from a positive place. Until I decided to go back and see what Perez had to say about his dear friend Brittany before she passed away. The blog posts about her are as follows:

Brittany’s Looking Loopy! (Accusing her of being “hopped up” on pills)

She’s Probably Lying! Brittany Murphy Denies Being Fired (With the word “crazy” scrawled across her photo)

Quote of the Day (Perez refers to Brittany’s desire to be a mom as “an awful idea”)

They’re Gonna Procreate! (“We love pills” scrawled across Brittany and her husband’s photo)

Thank You, Santa (Predicts that Brittany’s husband got her “Provigil, Vicodin, Valium, Methodone, and more!”

The rest are just as unflattering, referring to the pair as “Kook and Crook,” calling Brittany “pussy-lipped,” emphasizing Brittany’s alleged craziness and the couple’s alleged pill addictions, and highlighting Brittany’s career failures. Those character assassinations (lunatic, has-been, and addict) are in literally every single post tagged to Brittany.

So, congratulations, Perez. I’m so glad this is how you treat girls for whom you believe death is imminent. You mocked her for her alleged addiction for years, and then patted yourself on the back for predicting her demise. You never once provided proof that Brittany had a drug problem, but used her career failures as proof that she was nothing more than a drug-addled lunatic. I’m sure your way of saving her was to ridicule her for wanting to have a family. How kind of you to see her death coming, and still continue to exaggerate all of her flaws and personal problems for all the world to see. Thank you, Perez Hilton. You are a fucking American hero.

LGBT Rights: Hate Crimes and Transgender Law

(Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.)

Ever since Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because of his homosexuality, LGBT rights groups have worked towards passing a federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act. 2009 saw the passage of this groundbreaking piece of legislation, named for Shepard and James Byrd, an African-American man who was murdered in 2005 because of his race. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act allows the federal government to provide money and resources to states that are not equipped to adequately prosecute hate crimes. It also allows the Department of Justice and the FBI to take over hate crimes investigations if states refuse to prosecute these crimes. Sexual orientation and gender identity (in addition to many other classes, such as race and gender) are both protected by this act.

This was a long-awaited achievement for the LGBT community, but there are problems that this law does not solve. First of all, states still need to be influenced to strengthen their own hate crimes legislation. Regardless of federal law, police officers in states with weak enforcement of state hate crime laws may refuse to report incidents as hate crimes due to their own prejudices, thereby minimizing the punishment that the attacker could receive.

Furthermore, even though gender identity is included in the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the transgender community still does not have adequate protection, particularly in prisons. When trans-women (persons born male who have transitioned, via hormones, surgery, or both, to female) are placed into male prison facilities, they are obviously at high risk for sexual assault and other types of attacks because of their female appearance. Modern prison systems struggle with how to deal with the trans issue. The government is uncomfortable with recognizing transgendered persons as their “new” gender, as it complicates their normative view of gender as dichotomous and unchanging. But today, trans-women with female genitalia are still legally allowed to be placed in cells with male convicted rapists, and other felons with a history of sexual assault. Some prisons “solve” this problem by isolating trans prisoners, but this is just a different kind of discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Until the prison systems accept transgender persons as the gender they choose to present as, the transgender community will continue to suffer.

But the question still remains: Where should prisons place people who are still in the process of transitioning from one gender to another? If a person has breast implants, female hormones, and male genitalia, should they be placed in a male or female facility, or isolated from their peers? How can we better protect them, and the rest of the transgender community, from vicious hate crimes?

LGBT Rights Round-up, 2009: Iowa

(Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog,

I’d like to take an in-depth look at what the LGBT community has seen this year, what promises have been fulfilled, what’s gone wrong, and what’s to come in the future. Today I’ll begin with Iowa, but keep your eyes on our blog and look out for more posts on what we’ve seen regarding LGBT rights in 2009. Future posts to come on New York and New Jersey, and other LGBT issues such as hate crimes and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

It’s not completely shocking when socially liberal strongholds like Massachusetts and Vermont legalize same-sex marriage. But in April of 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court surprised America by allowing gays and lesbians in the American Heartland the right to marry.

The question is, how did the LGBT community win the unanimous support of a court with several self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans, especially on this issue? Lambda Legal argued on behalf of same-sex marriage in Varnum v. Brien (the case which granted marriage in Iowa). Their legal team spent nine years prepping for this case, and chose their plaintiffs carefully. They defended six same-sex couples, three of whom had children, and all of whom were in lengthy, committed relationships. Couples with children can make all the difference in cases like this. It’s much easier to show that same-sex marriage does not destroy families and children, but actually supports them, when the plaintiffs have families. They also mollified conservative fears by including a religious accommodations clause, which stated that religious institutions are not legally required to perform or recognize Iowa’s same-sex marriages.

And although we think of Iowa as a typical midwestern state, it historically has never behaved quite like the rest of the heartland. Iowa was one of the first states to allow women’s suffrage and interracial marriage. Interracial marriage cases are often referenced in same-sex marriage cases, so perhaps it is not so surprising that this year’s biggest same-sex marriage victory took place in Iowa. It has a unique history of civil rights liberalism that should not be ignored.

Will this decision last? Some states, like California and Hawaii, passed same-sex marriage in the courts, but then rescinded it through ballot initiatives or the legislature. Luckily for the gay and lesbian community, this is unlikely to happen in Iowa. Citizens cannot initiate a change in the Iowa constitution. In order to remove same-sex marriage, the Iowa legislature would have to vote for it in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then it would be voted upon by the public. It looks as if Varnum v. Brien is here to stay.

What can we learn from Iowa? First of all, don’t underestimate the importance of the image couples you are representing. Bringing forward families instead of couples speaks volumes to the courts. Second, we need to take another look at social liberalism in this country and figure out where LGBT support really lies. Most of us would never have believed that Iowa would have same-sex marriage while California does not. (We’ll delve further into this issue when we take a look at Maine, NY, and NJ). Finally, although this case is under the Iowa Supreme Court, and therefore other state Supreme Courts are not required to follow this precedent, the Varnum court determined that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage failed at the intermediate scrutiny level. They found that the law was not substantially related to an important government interest, and therefore it violated the Iowa Constitution. Again, other courts are not forced to uphold this, but it will be interesting to see how this precedent affects other courts and challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Back to Blogging

Hello, loved ones.

Decided it’s time to start blogging again. I’ll be writing about theatre, politics, and my personal life. I’m going to be horrifically anxious while I wait to learn what law schools I’ve been admitted to, and I’ll be going through the audition process for several shows. I’ll be blogging my triumphs and failures throughout this time. I’ll try to refrain from too much woe-is-me, nostalgic, final semester as an undergrad BS, but no promises.

If you have a blog related to music/theatre/dance/art/literature/fashion and/or politics/law, drop me a line and I can add you to my blogroll.

You’ll be hearing from me soon enough,


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