Monday, January 12, 2009
No other artist has had a greater impact on my so called musical life than Michael Jackson. My most immediate reference point to the King of Pop was Jackson’s Thriller record. Lodged between my parents’ endless pile of cassette tapes was an LP of Thriller. The hours spent digging through the broken cassette plastic and then figuring out how to work my family’s record player were worth it just to hear on an endless loop the album’s top most notable songs (for me), “Billie Jean” and “Thriller.” That brings me to the next immediate reference point: the dude could dance. For someone that firmly admits to having no rhythm in his body, the hours spent mimicking every spin move, flip of the hand and at appropriate times crotch grab were endless. Add to that my almost devotion to MTV at the time which had those specific music videos on a constant loop, well…it’s safe to say I was doing my best to keep up with the choreography. My exuberance still exists to this day as I still YouTube Jackson’s legendary performance at the Motown 25th Anniversary, his performance of “Billie Jean” still can illicit this magnetic energy. No other artist I feel has combined song with dance as perfect as Jackson whose choreography often shined more so than the song itself (i.e. Remember the Time) seemingly elevating it to as high of a plateau even if the steps were just for show. It goes without saying however that when both art forms were aligned, things were downright cosmic.
Dance and dance crazes will always forever attached to the mainstream. Lines really have never been crossed. Before the Moonwalk, there was The Twist and unfortunately for every Twist there’s the Macarena, which I’m not ashamed to admit: in 1996 I did the Macarena, me and the rest of the 50,000+ screaming Dodger fans at Dodger Stadium. What made me do it? It may have been a spur of the moment, a “why not” feeling that persuaded me to move said arms and hips in a motion that I’m not even sure I perfected. What may be the bigger question however is what persuaded the millions including my parents to buy the Los Del Rio single? That’s easy…the dance. The simplicity of the dance itself allowed for young and old to do it but the kicker was its communal aspect and as the millions did it from wedding ceremonies to sports arenas it only drove the product.
It shouldn’t be ignored that with each dance craze I’ve mentioned the songs associated with it exploded within our pop lexicon. That’s not to say that MJ needed to moonwalk to make “Billie Jean” so popular and make Thriller the most successful album of all time but for Los Del Rio can we really remember any other hit of theirs and why is that when we do hear about them it’s when they’re mentioned in a Vh1 where are they now/one hit wonder retrospective. Dance has and will always be a brilliant market tool. If you thought that the Macarena was the biggest thing musically in 1996, just imagine how, insanely popular the dance would’ve been had it been established within our tech heavy/web 2.0/social network society.
We can as long as we don’t move our hands and hips but rather do the Superman. It goes without saying that the Crank That (Soulja Boy) dance phenomenon of 2007 was as equivalent to what the Macarena dance was and may have succeeded it as “Crank that” will more than likely spawn several doppelgangers. Even more significant when looked at a fine microscope in the next 10 years, the phenomenon will likely be the origin point on how music meets dance meets technology as the YouTube tutorials and the millions of videos of teenagers to adults alone…16,800 and counting has proven that people LOVE to dance and sure enough will buy the record that is making them dance. And yeah the Houston artist suffered waves of criticism from the rap community in particular Ice T, the legendary rapper signaling him out for killing hip hop but I agree with a fellow hip hop luminary (who so far hasn’t perfected a dance to one of his songs…yet) Kanye West who believed that that Soulja Boy personified what hip hop is. By becoming more extroverted and in essence sharing instead of propagating a big money lifestyle, Soulja Boy raked in the rewards. If anything else the trend will be a major influence for up incoming artists not just in hip hop but all fields of music to showcase some type of dance step to the masses to increase awareness not only for their music but for the image they’re trying to project. Plus it gives mainstream artists an immediate flash bulb that as long as you do a catchy dance, you’ll sell a ton of records no matter the song.
And as 2008 has now since ended and a new year has now begun, we can reminisce about those dance moves that swept us off our feet and into our hearts. Last December saw two mainstream artists use dance as a tool to not only entertain but give an added presence to an already good song. Call it the Moonwalk effect. For Beyonce…ahem…I mean Sasha Fierce, Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) was just another sublime hit for Ms. Knowles that has once again captivated the world, not just for its catchy hook but for its Bob Fosse-esque inspired choreography that is featured in the song’s video but also displayed vibrantly throughout Beyonce’s many TV performances of the song. So far there have been uncanny YouTube demonstrations even a bit of a frolic in the snow and yes…you know when a dance has made its mark when its lampooned case in point, Justin Timberlake sporting a leotard to dance with B in a SNL sketch parodying the music video. Still there’s a huge difference between this now signature Beyonce dance with the other dance phenomenon that has caught up this month and will be huge in 2009 and it’s this: I can’t do the Single Ladies dance but I probably can/will master the Busta Rhymes’ “Arab Money” dance. Controversy or not Busta Rhymes’ “Arab Money” is a straight up club banger courtesy of Ron Brownz’s slick production. And the dance: though it may be more difficult than the Lean Back, it’s definitely more enjoyable and could possibly be more mainstream. All it is a simple point to the left, point to the right and then a standard shimmy but it’s funny when matched with the song it’s too infectious. Call it the strange beauty of dance but for Busta Rhymes call it a big time hit, a song elevated by a dance that will give the much beloved rapper a return to glory. With a CGI extravaganza of a video that has Jim Jones, Rick Ross and Soulja Boy (its synergy yo!!!) doing the dance, the blossoming phenomenon has most definitely increased the awareness of Busta’s new album Blessed which was supposed to be released at this end of this month but now sees a release date of March 2009. You might call it the Crank That (Soulja Boy) effect.
For the most part pop and hip hop were well represented in 08 but what about rock? Maybe the defunct Washington D.C. band The Dismemberment Plan were right with their song “Do the Standing Still.”I’m not trying to say that independent rock music should be broken apart for the sole purpose of manufacturing some easy steps to mix well with some sort of guitar riff. All I’m saying is just live a little! It’s interesting though as nowadays rock now is defined by several dance/rock hybrids such as Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem etc. It’s with all of that, that a flash bulb blinked; what if some of the best indie rock songs of 2008 had an extra pep in a few choice steps. Who knows we may still be hearing some of these tunes this year. Remember “I don’t do no dancing still...”
Fleet Foxes “White Winter Hymnal”: The men of Fleet Foxes wear vests or plaid and sport rather large beards. In addition lead singer Robin Pecknold is known to sit in a chair while performing. NEXT!
Bon Iver: “Skinny Love”: NEXT!
Vampire Weekend “A-Punk”: The success of the debut record from the New York Ivy Leaguers was marked by their successful merging of “Graceland” accented rhythms with timeless punk pop. Though they flooded the MTV airwaves and broke somewhat through mainstream rock radio, just imagine the wave of attention they would’ve gotten if they introduced the Ivy Leaguer? It’s simple enough that even your grandmother can do it. All you have to do is grab your cardigan sweater or that ridiculously huge scarf that wrapped around your neck. Once those opening guitar licks strike it’s your cue to grab it and swing it around like a helicopter all the while you freestyle shimmy. Call it a “Jump On it” for the hipster loving crowd.
Cut Copy “Lights and Music”: When I saw Cut Copy play in Los Angeles in 2008 I noticed something interesting that singer Dan Whitford liked to do throughout the show. It became evident when I caught a TV performance on Last Call with Carson Daly that I realized that it was a standard routine. Whitford often lifted his arm upward an almost praise you like gesture from high up above, the movements coinciding whenever a song was building up to an almost blissful release. So again, it got me thinking: imagine instead of just one arm it was both and instead of just one arm raised it was a continuous left and right motion that would build until the crowd almost grew tired. As the hooky chorus blared it would be a flood gate of jumps in the air and a raining down of arms at an almost breakneck pace as clearly one has been captivated by the synth flares. It’s simple yet effective, just what a dance should be.
No Age “Eraser”: The opening guitar licks from No Age’s Eraser were some of the brightest heard from all of 2008. You also can’t help but feel something as the pristine acoustic lines mixed with the heavy percussion. I recently saw No Age at a local art space in Los Angeles and couldn’t help but feel captivated by those early guitar notes that almost encouraged me to shimmy and spazz. While I didn’t I did picture an interpretative dance routine of rising above the ground, almost akin to the “Shout” breakdown portion that was in the film Animal House. As the guitar continues to build and the drums merge your body is knee deep on the ground just shaking feeling the varying rhythms. Finally as the barrage of drum and guitar become this supreme landscape of noise it’s your signal to jump up and push as you mosh ever so forcefully. Call it a spastic version of “Drop it like it’s hot” until you can’t help but cool down and just punch air.
TV On the Radio: Golden Age: If guitarist Kyp Malone didn’t have to play guitar while he sung the lush “Golden Age,” I can only imagine that he’d do his best Prince Imitation as the song evokes the pure heat that emanated from those records. Malone often appears so stoic on stage and if it were up to me (pure imagination on my part mind you) I’d suggest for every future “Golden Age” performance a performance of this signature move: The Williamsburg Waltz. The song contains a lyric that states “Clap your hands.” Sure enough the Williamsburg Waltz would contain multiple hand claps over 8 easy to follow steps. While clapping your hands move two steps to the left, two steps up, two step steps to the right and finally two steps back. Rinse and repeat. Mix it up by shaking your hips to and fro. It’s a signature waltz for the wayfarer wearing set.
Whether or not these suggestions prove to be fertile remains to be seen but if I see on the Internet a so called Williamsburg Waltz sweeping the Interweb in 2009 I know I’ve done my job. And for those who feel that it’s best to leave rock alone and just stick to the notion of just playing your instruments, I say this: that’s fine, “Single Ladies” looks to have mileage for a few more months. And if not that then you can always just go back doing the Macarena. Yeah it’s back!
Happy New Year everyone! Keep on dancin!