Feeling the Music (COMM 307 | Blog Post WEEK 6)

Our discussion about participatory culture and improvisation in Jazz music as a reflection of as a democratic form of music and a need to think on your feet in everyday life was very interesting. It brings to light the importance of music in everyday life, in reflecting a culture, community and a political reality.  When Sakakeeny discusses the jazz funeral and the second line parade a clear visual and sense of movement that arises from his description of the practice signals how communities come together through music. It makes me believe that the actions of the group can symbolize something larger than an individual can. The music of the brass band reflecting this brings incredible power to it. Sakakeeny describes how the black brass band parades are “foundational ritual of community recognition and value through participatory music” (19). Today, when people come together to dance or mass movement of music happens I think of viral trends such as the “Soulja Boy” or “Gangnam Style” there is set choreography or when crowds at a concert chime in and sings along to the established lyrics of a song that they are familiar with. But, when Sakakeeny discusses how you will never know what’s coming next and that there is confusion, “good confusion” (24) guiding people, you really see people coming together and feeling the music. When visualizing these parades take place, I also think of the physical space that is marked by those marching in it. This coupled with the constant need spontaneity, keeps everyone in behaving in the present moment, connecting to each other and the music.

Prior to reading about the historical context regarding the birth of jazz, I would have never thought given my background taking jazz dance classes that this was a tool for forming a culture. While improvisation is a large part of the process of devising and choreographing in both physical theatre and my dance classes, it’s usually the first step. We usually improvised to feel the music, then hone in on what we liked and build into the choreographed sequences. What I like about this movement was that, there was never a need to do this. That the goal was to continue being spontaneous and to avoid vocalizing or directly communicating what to do next. The idea that you simply go with the flow in a public spectacle in order to heighten participation. Then to understand the historical context and the need for marginalized communities to use jazz as this tool for coming together and marching adds a layer that creates more meaning than simply coming together (even though the ability to mobilize is a powerful thing in and of itself).

Conform to Be Accepted (COMM 307 | Blog Post WEEK 5)

It’s starting to feel a lot like to be accepted in America you must reduce yourself to stereotypes to please white Americans. Your existence, if you are non-white, has to align with white Americans’ view of your culture and being. This can be seen both in “The Rise of Chinese and Chinese American Vaudevillians, 1900s – 1920s” and my own experience at USC as an international student from Thailand.

This reading struck me because of how unfortunately relevant I still feel it is today. Firstly, the balancing act adopted by Chinese Americans in vaudeville in order to have their own voices heard yet appeal to white audiences. As stated by Moon “they blended aspects of chinese culture with American stereotypes to give white audiences what they wanted and expected, while simultaneously challenging those stereotypes” (145). This idea that in order to get across their identity through performance, they still had to consider what their audience would want. Which sounds like a balancing act a lot of artists and businesses have to do today is appeal to their audiences. But when it comes to performance, that relates to a central part of your identity, having to alter who you are to appease people seems counterproductive. I feel like this approach simply validates the stereotypes that already exist. Clearly, this is still an issue in entertainment today. For example in an episode in the last season of How I Met Your Mother, the white actors dressed up in stereotypical Chinese attire, yellow face, adopted chinese accents to act in scenes featuring martial arts. This highlights the unfortunate reality that Chinese culture and people were reduced to less than human caricatures.

Here are some pictures from the episode:

Yet, when Moon explains that they still managed to challenge some stereotypes and beliefs for instance, surprising their audience with their ability to speak english. Moon explains that, “The belief that all men and women of Chinese descent spoke with an accent was so strong that the lack of one was enough for critics to make note” (155). When I got to this moment in the reading, I felt like it instantly explained why I get so frustrated when my peers at USC (I’ve only really gotten this from American  students) ask me, “wait, if you’re international, why is your english so good?” or “why don’t you have an accent”. As if I shouldn’t be able to speak english because I didn’t grow up here? As if I tested into USC in Thai? This was shocking at first and very disappointing. Initially, I thought it would just be a couple students, now that I’m a senior I realize that this is the one question that I have been asked consistently by domestic students since my arrival at USC. I started to realize that this is a reflection of the impression American students have regarding their fellow students from Asia.  Much Like in Vaudeville, how the reviewers Moon describes were pleasantly surprised by Chinese vaudeville actors “perfect enunciation” (155).

Another issue is how the Chinese Americans actors, were seen as foreigners and not Americans. This too is something still present at USC. Asian American students can often be trapped in the “forever foreigner” trope. A perfect example is when a white male student from one of my classes this semester delivered a presentation on how international students can better “assimilate” themselves at USC. During his problematic presentation, he cited USC statistics regarding the demographic breakdown at USC, he exclaimed that he did not understand why “Asian and International were separate categories”. This reflected complete disregard for Asian Americans at USC and suggested that all Asians must be international. These experiences are supplemented by events hosted by USC’s Office of International Student Services entitled “Improve Your Public Speaking Skills! Speak in Public LIKE AN AMERICAN” (Facebook Page Linked Here), which implies that is the standard or acceptable way to speak. It is a reflection as a whole that not only it’s students, but USC entities have a lack of regard for understanding who their International Students really are beyond the stereotypes. Which is why although I understand the need to conform in order to be accepted, I don’t feel it is the best approach to truly shattering stereotypes.



Importance of Understanding History (COMM 307 | Blog Post WEEK 4)

The idea that minstrelsy forms the foundation for American entertainment as we know it today, provides us with a historical context for understanding how demeaning it is when cultural appropriation takes place in music today. Particularly when popular white artists appropriate black art and music. When reading “Minstrelsy, or Get Out De Way”, among other things I recalled this video I had seen on collegehumor:

This video takes a humorous approach to shedding light on how when a white person claims to “discover” something that has already existed. In the video they bring up Miley Cyrus popularizing twerking, Macklemore remixing Mary Lambert’s music as examples of things that have been “colombused”.This ties into how there are “white versions” of black culture as reflected in minstrelsy. Minstrelsy was more than a form of entertainment it was a method by which white superiority was reinforced.

The line that struck me while reading was when Wondrich describes the minstrel show as “an institution through which white America stole, plundered, colonized; raped, prostituted and pimped; contaminated and diluted; misinterpreted and misunderstood; ridiculed, patronized, bucked, scorned and in some strange way – passionately loved the music and culture of black America” (24). The verbs used to describe actions that stripped black americans of their ownership of their own bodies and culture in stark contrast with the idea that you could do someone or something you appreciate. This confuses me. How can you do something so dehumanizing to show your appreciation for something? The act of getting up on stage and putting on blackface, as Wondrich continues to describe, is an act of othering. Actors were “making blackness appear foreign when in fact blacks were as American as anyone” (25).

I recall sitting in Resident Advisor training last year we had a training session in October to discuss Halloween costumes and a campaign entitled “My Culture is Not Your Costume”, the campaign featured examples of costumes that were mocking people of color and simply not okay to wear, one these was blackface. As an international student, I had never been exposed to the idea the idea of blackface or that people had done this at all. While I instinctively knew it would never be okay to wear paint my face black and pretend to be a black person, it baffled me that others did not, but I did not know how I could explain it as offensive.  Wondrich helped provide me with the background and vocabulary to explain to people why this would be wrong and why when artists such as Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, Katy Perry among many many others appropriate black culture in their music it is offensive and deep rooted in history as a tool to “other” and alienate black people. I think what makes it worse is that musicians use “blackness” to help further their careers or make their music “trendy” without even considering the consequences of their actions or the messages they are sending.

Singing Along to the Radio (COMM 307 | Blog Post WEEK 3)

While on the road with friends this weekend, we were in the car blasting “throwback” music on the stereo and shamelessly singing along. Every time a song came on we would each say “Oh! I remember listening to this all the time in middle school when this happened..” or “This was THE song for my senior trip!”. We each related every song to a moment in time that tied us back to a memory or something personal. We’d each had, what we would have thought our own personal experience and interaction with the song, regardless of the fact that it was undeniably a pop song that everyone listened to. Having read Adorno, I now realize this was in fact a reflection of “pseudo-individualization”. The idea that we all believed we were having our own personal experiences with the music, it was yet another example of how music has been produced and crafted for the purpose of appealing to the masses.

In “Music and Identity” Frith describes, “the experience of pop music is an experience of identity: in responding to a song we drawn, haphazardly, into emotional alliances with the performers and with the performers’ fans.”.  This experience and Frith’s reading reminded me of a comment a judge made after Ella Henderson’s X-Factor audition. At 3:39, one of the judge’s says: “whoever or whatever you wrote that song about those words I’m sure, hit a chord with everyone, your songwriting is so clever, it made me go into my own little world and oh my god I felt like that at one point”. The clip shows how emotional the whole audience was and how everyone was just simply absorbing everything Ella was sing. So, while everyone was having their own personal experience with the song, Adorno would likely observe that the entire audience was in tears therefore the emotion had been mass produced.

The song itself that Ella sang was lyrically abstract, and she used this technique when she began releasing her own music. For example her song “Hard Work” could be about either her relationship to her craft/job, a lover or a struggle that someone is going through. As Frith says, “Because of the qualities of abstractness, music is, by nature, an individualizing form”. If you listen to this particular song, from my perspective, it felt like it was about a relationship, then you watch the music video and it appears she’s singing about musics. By looking at the youtube comments I noted that other people had the same confusion – “is it about music or love”. It gives this song the ability for people to relate on their own level; the “looseness of reference that makes [popular songs] immediately accessible” (Frith).

On this car ride another thing one of my friends asked was, “is it weird that I remember all the lyrics to these songs that I haven’t listened to in years?!” I felt like this might be attributed to the way music has been standardized and our behavior as the “rhythmically obedient”, which he even calls “the radio generation”. The realization that my friends and I singing along and belting out this music align with what Frith and Adorno arguing is how sadly effective this mass produced music is in influencing our behavior.

Global Exchange In Music (COMM 307 | Blog Post WEEK 2)

Exploring ideas of music transcending boundaries of race, culture, class etc..and inspiration, originality  through this week’s readings resonated strongly with me. Being here in Los Angeles, California, having grown up and lived my most of my  life prior to attending USC in Bangkok, Thailand; American students  often ask me “why don’t you have an accent” (Which, is silly because I do have an accent it’s just sounds more like an American one), my reply is usually because I grew up consuming american media and listening to american music. Despite, being a Thai-Indian girl, I had managed to find a way to relate  to music created by individuals that grew up half way across the world from me, different time-periods, genres  and in my third language. So when Ventura states “It’s music that transcends  not only prejudices but intentions, bringing us together whether we like it or not […] We make music that, no matter how individually we feel it, could only have been created together” (56). I can see this reflected in my everyday life; having been exposed to and grown up listening to popular music by American artists  it made it easier to connect with people when I moved here using music as a vehicle.

Building on this, through the Dylan reading, exploring how no music is created entirely originally as it all songs are built upon styles or genres that have come before it – such as how Odetta had influenced Dylan. Thai singer, Two Popetorn released a song a year ago that I had the fortune to help promote when I interned at BEC-Tero Music (Previously Sony Music Thailand). In this preview of the song he explains  his influences were 50s American Doo-Wop sounds among others:

This is an example of how he built the sounds in this song with influences from his own background and culture in Thailand (seen through language and colloquial phrases) and musical influence such as Doo-Wop from other parts of the world. So, while this is a unique song for him and on the Thai music scene, it is by no means original as it is built on genres that came before it.

I wonder how much of this influence would have been possible had music not be commodified and distributed  all over the world. Bringing us to the Frith reading – who discusses how music created in manner that it can be mainstreamed and sold in order to maximize profit. He states that “Something human is taken from us and returned in the form of a commodity” and describes that this calls into question the value and truth behind music. If technological changes had not allowed global distribution of music (even if just for sale and to make money off licensing). Two Popetorn and other artists may not have been exposed to or influenced by American Doo-Wop sounds of the 50s. In my opinion, the process of music moving across countries or languages to reach more people adds value to growing or creating new styles of music. In the case of Two Popetorn who released his song “Tha Thue Pai” (Translation: If You Go) is an emotional song about asking the person he loves not to leave. Represents this idea of taking a feeling or a human emotion and crafting in to a song that was very successful when released in Thailand. Despite being commercialized, the song was still valuable as an artistic exploration of developing new musical avenues.

Channeling The Essence of Patti Smith (COMM 307 | Critical Playlist Assignment )

Punk rock pioneer Patti Smith’s influences can still be seen through the songs of notable womyn in the music industry today. In “Just Kids” we see Patti Smith’s individuality and feminist personality reveal itself through anecdotes in within the text. Early on in the memoir she narrates observing her “mother performing her female tasks”, conforming with society’s standards for female beauty and established that this “seemed against [her] nature” (10), setting herself apart from the norm. This trend continues as she grew older and through establishing herself as a female in rock music. As explored by Frith and McRobbie rock is a primarily male dominated genre. In this exploration it is established that there are a set of norms for females and a set of norms for males. Notably, when it comes to expression of sexual desire and actions associated with male behavior. Rock is characterized as “cock-rock” and describes that it takes on “conventional concepts of sexuality as rampant, animalistic, superficial and just for the moment” (375). In contrast “teeny bop” music characterizes female sexuality as serious, diffuse and implying total emotional commitment” (375). When Smith emerged she challenged this norms through her choice of attire and covering songs such as Gloria, without changing the pronouns. Patti Smith set the tone for a new era of female artists who don’t conform to current pop standards and create music that express their feelings in an unrestrained poetic manner.

This playlist will explore examples of womyn who have taken on a similar persona to Patti Smith either musically, lyrically, or in challenging standards established standards in society.

Patti Smith – Gloria

To begin with we take a look at Patti Smith’s iconic performance of Gloria. To open the performance, she exclaims, “Jesus died for somebody’s sin but not mine!” This is also something cited in Just Kids, where she explains, that this is a way of taking ownership for her actions (247). These powerful words before performing a cover song where she adopts gender pronouns usually sung by males to address females, in my eyes, also signal her taking ownership of this song. The lyrics of the song such as, “humpin’ on the parking meter” would fall under the category “cock-rock”. Patti Smith sang them with no reservation, reflecting her power and aggression. Frith and McRobbie noted female performers needed to channel this type of aggression to be taken seriously (377). The combination of these lyrics, her androgynous attire and her powerful stage presence during this performance, highlight a turning point for females in music. As Smith paves a new path for womyn who no longer want to conform to standard gender practices. Additionally, her sound and delivery of vocals is distinct in itself giving rise to the new genre of punk rock.

Lana Del Rey – Video Games

Which brings me to Lana Del Rey’s song, “Video Games”. Lana Del Rey as an artist channels a darker yet playful personality, not adopted by a majority of female pop stars. For instance in her song “Kinda Outta Luck”, she talks about hitting a guy on the back of his head with a gun and talks about killing people; something that you wouldn’t associate with female behavior. In “Video Games”, in particular, Lana Del Rey’s lyrics, sound, pace, and vocal range remind me of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night”. Both songs share a similar theme of interacting with a lover. Del Rey expresses how she enjoys playing video games, shattering the notion that this is just a male activity. The lyrics also describe being intimate with her partner i.e. kissing, getting undressed just as Smith’s “Because the Night” repeatedly says, “take me now” and “the night belongs to lovers”. While in both these songs reflect the submissive female stereotypical role, such as in Smith’s describing herself being “under your command” and Lana Del Rey’s “it’s all for you, everything I do”. Both these performers had previously established themselves as powerful female who are in control of themselves, so these actions can be seen as a manner of expressing their sexual desires; which is a form expression commonly adopted by men in music as opposed to womyn.

Florence and the Machine – Shake It Out

Florence and the Machine bring back poetic lyrics along references to sins, demons and defying the devil. In “Shake It Out” the song calls us “shake [the devil] off” our backs, as well as referencing drinking and drowning your sorrows. Much like Patti Smith, Florence paints a picture for a listener through her lyrics and uses religious imagery, referencing concepts from Christianity. This song reflects Florence’s character defying the devil, a male figure in the song, and regaining her independence; which reminds me of Patti Smith’s declaration at the beginning of Gloria, discussed above, to take ownership of her actions. It also reminds me Smith saying, “Christ was a man worthy to rebel against, for he was rebellion itself” (247). The sound of the song as a whole also carries a similar vocal sound and depth to that of Patti Smith’s music, as the music sounds as if it carries more spiritual and musical weight than other popular songs. “Shake it Out” was a refreshing change from popular music songs that were on the radio at the time of it’s release. In Just Kids when Smith describes her fear that “the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation. We feared it losing its sense of purpose” as an impetus for the need to create, it reminded me of how I felt when I heard “Shake It Out” playing mainstream for the first time; that this song carried meaning that others didn’t.

Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High)

Popular song Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” is an example of challenging gender norms within music. According to Frith and McRobbie, “the collective notion of fooling around refers explicitly to male experience; falling in love refers to the expectation of girls.” (376). Instead of fitting Frith and McRobbie’s description of a typical female character in music who is serious and seeking emotional commitment, Tove Lo’s character exhibits behavior that is more akin to “rampant, animalistic, superficial and just for the moment” (375), in order to get over her ex-boyfriend. Her lyrics reference her going to sex clubs and having “been around” and “seen it all”. In the music video she “fools around” with several different men and womyn, shows a frivolous cyclical daily routine and submitting to her needs to use substances. This behavior somewhat matches that of Patti Smith’s as they both worked to avoid letting their gender identity limit their behavior.

Sia – Chandelier

Similar to Tove Lo’s Habits, Sia’s Chandelier references the story of a Party Girl, in this case struggling with addiction, again breaking away from the “teeny bop” associations of females with being domestic. This pop music tale describes a womyn who is struggling with substance abuse and heading down a destructive life path. The music video is perhaps what separates this song from the current chart topping songs. Reminding me of how Patti Smith as a pioneer separated herself from the norm. It is also different from seeing current female pop stars in revealing outfits flaunting their sexuality in their videos. Which may come from rock music as Frith and McRobbie describe, dancing as “a socially sanctioned sexual activity” (388). The video instead portrays through a contemporary dance by a preteen girl, in nude colored leotard and ballet shoes, which allows focus to be on the lyrics being explored thematically through movement. To my dismay, upon reading the YouTube comments, I noticed some people (particularly male commenters) still were trying to sexualize the girl in the video (it’s actually pretty disturbing); this could indicate how people so accustomed to womyn in music videos appearing in sexual manner. In live performances of this song Sia does not face the audience, further adding to the effect of focusing on the movement, musicality and lyrics; she creates a performance spectacle and her presence is still felt heavily through her voice even though she doesn’t face the audience. This triggers a powerful control over her audience, just as Patti Smith has a mesmerizing effect on her audience doing something unexpected in “Gloria”

Overall, Lana Del Rey, Florence and the Machine, Trove Lo and Sia’s songs in this playlist all channel the essence of Patti Smith through their sound, lyrical themes and nonconformist nature. As a byproduct they also challenge the gender roles established in the cultural of rock music that Frith and McRobbie clearly outline.

Works Cited

Frith, Simon, and Angela McRobbie, eds. “Rock and Sexuality.” On Record (1978): 371-389. PDF file.

Smith, Patti. “Just Kids.” HarperCollins Publishers (2010): 3-13, 238-258. PDF file.




Firewall – Tech meets Art [CHECK IT]

It constantly feels like everyone is stuck in cyberspace, so when art and technology converge in a physical world I get pretty excited. As Technology enthusiast and performer (also having directed and produced live productions) I enjoy when the two intersect. So, if you like this too, check this out:

“Firewall” it’s essentially an musical instrument triggered when you touch it. August 2013’s Wired UK explains that “Fire-like visuals, […] are projected on a stretch sheet of Lycra in front of a Kinect (pg 79). It is responsive to touch and has various modes – the deeper you push the surface the faster the music goes. The technology is currently being used in a production at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center called Mizalu

If happen to see or know of anymore interesting “art & tech” collisions please let me know! 

Need Motivation? (Feel the Power in these Songs)

NewYear2013CoverPHotoMost of us have heard Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, iconic songs that get you pumped. Now that we’ve started a new year, here are some songs to keep you motivated – released within the last 4-5 years – that I feel possess an air of optimism, confidence, power, and thought-out musicality.

For when you get up and need to remind yourself that you’re a Champion” (Chipmunk ft Chris Brown). Then to get through the day be The Fighter”  (Gym Class Hereos ft. Ryan Tedder)When you’re stuck making a tough decision remind yourself “Who Am I Living For?” (Katy Perry)The hard work and dedication you put in could lead you to sitting on the walls in the Hall of Fame” (The Script ft. Will.I.Am)Lastly, when you’re unwinding and want celebrate your accomplishments – “I Was Here” (Beyonce)

And, lastly, if you’re stuck starting over – “Dare You to Move” (Switchfoot) might help.

Happy New Year! Stick to those Resolutions!