The Alternative Grammys

It’s still January. The comfort and joviality of Christmas seems so long ago, and yet the holiday paunch and unpaid overdraft are hanging around. While many mere mortals are struggling through a self-imposed dry month and detox from sequinned items, famous people are partying as though December was simply a few dynamic stretches before the main event. (This is another point to add to the long list why ‘Celebs Are Actually Nothing Like Us’, no matter what People magazine tries to tell you.)

In the spirit of the event, I thought I’d cast my eye back over the last 12 months in music, and hand out some awards of my own. Sadly I don’t have any fancy statues to accompany these prestigious titles, but I’ve still got the strawberry creams from a box of old Quality Street that I’d be willing to part with? With no further ado, I present to you……

The 2014 Alternative Grammy Awards

 

Best Irony-Bypass Award
Runner-up: Robin Thicke

2013 was quite the year for Mr Thicke. Before, he was a middle-of-the-road R&B crooner, who had enjoyed relative success with his previous albums. After, he was responsible for the year’s biggest selling hit, and inadvertently became the human dartboard for all number of complaints.

Blurred Lines sold loads but was banned from being played in certain places, was described as “rapey”, and was became a starting point for many sexual politics debates. This negative attention would destroy a lesser artist; fortunately Robin has been able to rise above it all, shrugging off criticisms that his song displays a worrying attitude towards consent and that the accompanying video is just a leeeeettle bit creepy.

R-Thicke believes we’ve all missed the point of Blurred Lines completely and it is, in fact, “a feminist movement within itself.” Well, I for one feel stupid that I completely misinterpreted the repeated insistence of “You know you want it”.

Winner: MTV Video Music Awards

Last year’s MTV Video Music Awards are primarily remembered for our runner-up in this category, one R-Thicke, and 20-year old, latex-clad, destroyer-of-foam-finger-sanctity, Miley Cyrus wiggling around in an unfortunate and uncomfortable manner. After the event, feminism’s new poster-boy subtly distanced himself from all the hoo-ha and gallantly laid the blame at Miley’s door.

Meanwhile, MTV sat back and delighted in it all: “We’re still relevant!!! LOOK at all our column inches!” Yes, MTV can still, nearly thirty years on from Madge performing Like a Virgin and more than a decade since Britney turned up on stage with a real live snake, take up far more than its fair share of post-ceremony analysis and navel-gazing. But this is merely a distraction from the painful truth: MTV is not cool anymore.

MTV doesn’t even bother actually showing music videos anymore – you know, the thing it was originally set up to do. We are living in a world where children are growing up to believe that MTV’s most significant contribution to pop culture is Snooki, rather than Billie Jean. And yet each year, the guys in suits insist on trotting out a show that has largely become a parody of itself, to hand out awards for a musical by-product that they no longer bother to show on a regular basis. Guidos over videos, my friend.

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Most ‘WTF’ Moment
Runner-up: Miley Cyrus

How do you top the performance that shocked the world and had actual news broadcasters actually discussing the event in all seriousness live on air? You employ someone to come up with a computer-generated, lip-synching kitten, that’s how.

Miley had already exhausted most avenues labelled ‘Shock’ and ‘Horror’ by the time the American Music Awards rolled into town. Lighting a spliff on stage and grinding on a father-of-one was sooo two weeks ago. She knew she needed something good; The Internet would surely malfunction if her performance were not worthy of at least ten differently angled Daily Mail stories and three Buzzfeed lists.

So Miley got on stage at the AMAs and sang her number one single Wrecking Ball, and instead of being accompanied by fellow twerk-ers or a Beetlejuice impressionist, we were forced to sit through the entire performance with a weird, possessed-looking cartoon cat, mouthing the words slightly out of time on a giant screen behind her. I mean, seriously, WTF? I think it was a bigger cry for help than the apparent phobia of trousers with crotch still intact.

Winner: Britney Spears

To announce the announcement we all knew she was going to announce, Team Spears flew over 1,300 Britney fans to somewhere in the middle of the desert and made them all dress as Britney circa 1998. It was a reportedly $100,000 marketing ploy to generate publicity for Britney’s upcoming Vegas residency, and I’m sure you’ll agree, money damn well spent.

What says ‘this will undoubtedly be the greatest show on earth’ more than thousands of women dressed up in school uniform, in the wilderness, at 4 o’clock in the morning? That’s right: nothing. Nothing else says it more.

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Best Attempt at Career Self-Sabotage
Runner-up: Justin Bieber

You’d think the Biebs would be a shoo-in for the top prize after the year he’s had. It began with turning up nearly two hours late to his own concert, and ended with a police investigation for causing $20,000 worth of property damage armed with some, one can only imagine, seriously heavy eggs, and an arrest for alleged DUI and drag-racing. It’s not a good time to be the Justin that’s not a Timberlake.

The vom-inducing outpourings on Twitter from Justin’s ‘beliebers’, promising that they’ll stick by him and attacking anyone who dares to suggest that this is nothing more than your average 20-year old acting out, seems to suggest that Brand Bieber might make it out unaffected. But the cold hard facts tell otherwise. A few years ago, floppy-haired phase one Justin sold albums, movie tickets, perfume, and merchandise better than anyone. He could have sold snow to the Inuits at his peak. But his latest musical and film offerings have bombed, and it would appear that it’s just been one too many gobs of saliva over the hotel balcony for some beliebers to handle.

Winner: Lil Wayne

It would have to take something really special to leapfrog Biebs to the top spot for this award. And Lil Wayne did not disappoint.

You may have been able to avoid coming across his contribution to this particular category, but let me be the kind friend who enlightens you. A few months ago, amidst fanfare equivalent to a cake ‘n’ carbs party at the local Weight Watchers meeting, Paris Hilton released another single. And Lil Wayne, apparently under no duress, agreed to be a featured artist.

Just how bad do things have to be before you agree to appear on  a Paris Hilton single? OK, so maybe he needs a bit of quick cash, that’s understandable, we’ve all been a little hard up at least once in our lives. As long as he delivers some decent lyrics and perhaps elevates the quality of the song somewhat, he can emerge with his dignity intact, and we’ll all forgive this little blip.

…Oh god, he’s tried to rhyme “French” and “treatment”. And now he’s given up on the half-arsed rapping and has actually started – is that meant to be singing? He hasn’t even bothered to attempt to rhyme his remaining lyrics! No. No matter how bad you are Biebs, you will never be this bad.

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The “Who Said Nepotism Is Dead?” Award
Runner up: Blue Ivy

Baby Blue has had more hit singles in her two years of life than Gary Oldman has had Oscar nominations. Not only has Blue Ivy made special features on both mum and dad’s songs, but she became a world record breaking artist as the youngest person ever to place in the charts. I guess you don’t want to look like the underachiever in the family when your parents are Bey and Jay.

Blue Ivy has also managed to eclipse Suri Cruise’s presence on Tumblr, owns a wardrobe probably worth more than your house, and got to hang out with Destiny’s Child at her second birthday party. It’s unlikely that she’ll be an accountant when she’s older, isn’t it.

Winner: Simon Cowell’s baby

Simon’s unborn son is to be heir to a glorified karaoke empire, his cot paid for with crushed dreams of young hopefuls; his mini replica Lamborghini bought with a pool of last-chance tears. It is unclear whether Simon will push his child into the entertainment biz, knowing intimately how merciless head honchos can be. But I’m sure he will impart all his hard-won secrets for turning humiliating the unfortunate and spouting empty clichés into a multi-million pound empire to his offspring. And the possibility that we could still be watching contestants make songs such as The Climb  and At Last “their own” in fifty years time is reason enough to start taking your vitamin C pills on a regular basis.

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Best Shade-Thrower
Runner-up: Lorde vs. Beyoncé 

Don’t worry: no lamps were harmed in the creation of this category. The shade being thrown is much more subtle. You may have come across Lorde in the last year, she’s done alright. Her debut track Royals was number 1 in the US, UK, and numerous other places. Wonderful; it’s so nice to see the young ones doing well for themselves. However, Lorde may have forgotten the one crucial rule of the upstart: don’t come straight out the blocks and start challenging the Order Of Things among the big guns.

In Royals Lorde sings, in a tone that can only be described as laced with challenge and usurping-intent, “Let me be your ruler/You can call me Queen B”. The news must have made its way to a certain Ms Knowles, who, furious at the encroachment on her territory, was forced to release a game-changing visual album before the year was out. That ought to put Lorde in her place.

Winner: Lorde vs. Taylor Swift

Lorde has been quite vocal about her fellow popstars. When she’s not challenging Beyoncé’s leadership, she’s accusing Selena Gomez of being anti-feminist, questioning how relatable Bieber is for young teens, and suggesting that Miley might be acting out to prove to everyone that she’s DEFINITELY NOT HANNAH MONTANA ANYMORE,  GUYS.

Who does this girl think she is? And then, THEN, she has the nerve to call Taylor Swift out for being too perfect, saying Taylor is “too flawless and unobtainable”. Well I don’t know about you, but if anyone EVER said that about me I would be FUMING. Clearly Taylor feels the same, as country music’s Queen of Sass responded in the only way she knows how:

By inviting Lorde to her birthday party and texting her advice about interior decoration. I mean. Phewph. Do you want some aloe vera for that burn, Lorde? Step aside, ladies and gents, no one does shade like T-Swizzle.

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Most Admirably Misplaced Sense of Self-Importance
Runner-up: Jay Z

It was difficult to choose the runner-up in this category: for an award that was basically made for all those who have compared themselves to god in the last year. There have been many. It is a path well-trodden, with predecessors including Lil Wayne (“I’m the god, and this is what I bless ’em with”), Nas (album title: ‘God’s Son’), and TI (“swear to god, I’m god”).

2013  saw Eminem proclaim himself the ultimate Rap God, Kendrick Lamar rhymed about how everyone else in hip-hop is rubbish compared to him, and Chris Brown insinuated, via an Instagram post, that the media’s unfair persecution of him is a modern day Jews vs Jesus scenario.

But there were two standout efforts from last year, the first of which was Jay Z modestly titling his thirteenth studio album Magna Carta Holy Grail.

The original Magna Carta represents the move to give power back to the people and was used as a guideline for the American Constitution. We’re talking official rules and stuff here, people! Obviously, the music industry is but a microcosm of these monumental historical events, and I guess this album makes Jay Z hip-hop’s Founding Father.

The Holy Grail part of the titles lets us know that we, the lay people, are almost too lay to truly understand the significance of what Jay Z has presented us with. Makes Moses’ attempt with all that ‘Ten Commandments’ nonsense look kinda lame in comparison.

Winner: Kanye West

The other guys tried hard, but there is barely anything left for them to do that Kanye hasn’t already done. Whether that is announcing rap is the new rock and roll, and “I’m the number one rock star on the planet”, or claiming that he invented leather jogging pants (any Zoolander fans getting flashbacks to Will Ferrell and the piano key necktie?), Kanye has truly been the self-ordained gift that keeps giving.

His latest musical offering went one step further than Jay Z: Kanye didn’t merely insinuate that he was producing an album worthy of the gods, he put himself up there as one of the big guys. Titling his record Yeezus was the most appropriate thing a man “so credible and so influential and so relevant” could have done. We are all followers of Yeezianity now. Don’t try to fight it. There’s a place for you in Rap Heaven, and a leather tracksuit waiting in your size.

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Best Attempt at Denying Nature
Runner-up: Harry Styles

Of the five walking haircuts that make up One Direction, Harry Styles has the most iconic barnet by far. There is more charisma and charm in one of those luscious curls than the whole of The Wanted put together.

However, over the last year something worrying has happened to Harry’s ‘do. For years he delighted us with his swooshy, floppy locks, but being the world’s most famous curl owner appears to be becoming too heavy a burden. Harry knows that record sales would plummet and One Direction dolls resigned to clearance bins if he were to ever cut off his hair, but what other options does the poor boy have?

Well, he’s giving the alternative a valiant go: Harry has been seen in various places this year looking like Keith Richards’ and Mick Jagger’s love child with the help of some artfully wrapped bandannas, and apparently owns an infinite number of hats – resigned to wearing a beanie even in the hottest countries that One Direction are sent to tour, so long as he can go a day – just a day! – without having to run his fingers through his head rug.

When head gear isn’t appropriate, though, Harry has taken to doing this weird ‘pushy-back’ thing (that’s what I hear all the hairdressers are calling it), which looks like an attempt at having a quiff without looking like you are attempting to have a quiff. What was wrong with the old Bieber sweep? Harry, I know that curly hair can be the biggest pain ever, but just remember how Liam looked with a skinhead. Embrace the waves, Harry. Embrace them.

Winner: Justin Timberlake

Harry’s predecessor right down to the follicles. Justin seems to think that if he breezes along pretending cameras didn’t exist before 2002, we’ll all start to think it, too. I mean, it’s Justin Timberlake, right?! Are you questioning Justin Timberlake?

But the truth is Justin, no matter how hard I try, I can’t un-see those pictures of you with a peroxide brillo-pad on your head. That happened. It’s out there. You were the beacon for kids with unruly and occasionally unflattering hair everywhere, and you have openly and blatantly rejected that responsibility. First you shaved it off. It was a shock, but it’s OK, hair grows back. When it did, you only let it grow back a bit. It was short, but there was a discernible wave. Fast forward to 2013, and you answer many prayers by announcing that you’re focusing on music rather than movies for a while.

BUT WHAT’S THIS? Your hair is now long, really quite long, but you have chemically relaxed the shit out of it! It’s so straight! It looks like even more effort than the tub of gel you used to comb through your curls every morning. You didn’t even do a follicle-throwback for the long-awaited N*Sync reunion at the VMAs. I’m happy for you to do your thing Justin, but just know that it hurts.

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The ‘Almost-but-not-Quite’ Award
Runner-up: Lily Allen

After a few years in the musical wilderness (in real-life raising two kids and getting married, but whatevs), Lily Allen returned with some original music in 2013. Taking aim at managers/general industry/wider society that insist their female artists need to be cellulite-free and twerk-ready on all occasions, she released Hard Out Here with lyrics that include: “Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you/Have you thought about your butt, who’s going to tear it in two?” 

However, while the heart of the idea was in the right place, the accompanying video was like a kidney transplant inserted upside down. To shame those who make music videos with scantily-clad girls and a tendency to treat them as props, Lily made a music video that featured… scantily-clad girls that were being used as props. Maybe getting some scantily-clad men to wash her car would have made the point better? Maybe filming the entire video with everyone wearing polo necks and mom jeans would have been more effective?

Winner: Lady Gaga

She has been hailed by some as a feminist icon (Caitlin Moran dedicated nearly a whole chapter to the matter in How To Be A Woman), while Gaga herself has flat-out stated that she is, in fact, nothing of the sort. So it’s hard to say how much of a feminist reading can be made from her single Do What U Want. If we ignore Gaga’s opinions on her own feminism completely, I guess the song could be seen as fairly empowering. It’s new-age liberalism! It’s perfectly acceptable to give up your bodies, ladies, if that’s what you want! 

So everything’s great and Gaga’s telling us it’s perfectly fine if we want to do stuff without our hearts and minds and other bodily organs getting involved as well. And then she invites R. Kelly to the party. Nothing more disturbing in the past twelve months comes to mind than hearing R. Kelly repeatedly singing, “Do what I want/Do what I want with your body”. I don’t know if I can forgive or forget, Gaga.

23 Signs That You Need More Excitement in Your Life

weather

1. Obsessively checking hour-by-hour weather updates. 

2. Feeling smug when you make it out the house and back in time before the afternoon downpour.

3. Worrying that your dog is looking bored.

4. Explaining out loud to your dog that things could be a lot worse right now.

5. Instead of dreaming about wonderful holidays or fantasy romances, your nighttime thoughts revolve around those really exciting plans you’ve got coming up. In six weeks’ time.

6. Or you sleep restlessly under the impression that someone is trying to force-feed you wilted broccoli stems.

7. Letting out an involuntary squeal in the dairy aisle when you discover there is an offer on the yoghurts.

8. Feeling accomplished that you made it a whole week without being forced by necessity to change your outfit.

Should probably be more worried by the fact that the broccoli has better developed hands than I....

Should probably be more worried by the fact that the broccoli has better developed hands than I….

9. Saying, out loud, “Ooh, I can’t wait to have a shower this evening,” because you’re so excited to use the new shampoo that was on sale.

10. Considering the earliest acceptable time to get to bed on a Saturday night.

11. Feeling excited just before you fall asleep, because when you wake up it will be breakfast time.

12. Reflecting that breakfast is probably as good as it will get today.

13. Envying your dog’s life of sleeping, eating, and occasional exercise.

14. Bulking up your daily To-Do List with points such as, “Take a shower” and “Remember to have the last egg in the fridge for lunch.”

15. Your alter-ego’s back story is more fleshed out than the characters from Twilight.

16. You find yourself wondering if people would have anything more to say than “She really liked weak tea” in remembrance of your planetary existence.

17. Staring forlornly on more than one occasion at your old school uniform.

18. A ‘big night out’ now means driving to pick up a takeaway and falling asleep on the couch at 10PM.

19. You start saying, “God that makes me feel so OLD!” and telling everyone about it when you realise the kid from the soap you used to watch is now teen-age. “But, I mean, he’s AGED! Actual YEARS!”badge

20. Thinking ‘to hell with it’ and ‘you only live once’ when deciding to order a normal latte rather than a skinny one.

21. Having to use physical restraint on yourself to prevent any reckless behaviour in the local haberdashery shop. SEQUIIIINS.

22. Using household chores as a way to break up the day a bit.

23. Watching internet videos of fading popstars attempting to stage a ‘comeback’ and being unable to conclusively say whether their situation is less desirable than your own.

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*NB – The author would like to point out that all these points are the product of an active imagination, and have no baring whatsoever on events from her own life. 

Now if you’ll excuse her, she has to unstack the dishwasher and research glue guns. 

The Memory Thief

memories“Hello, it’s me, Isabelle, the swimmer.”

This is how I spent a few years as a teenager introducing myself to my Grandma. She was diagnosed with dementia in 2002, and by the time she was in a nursing home, she could only understand who I was by being prompted with a few “code words”. My way-in was to remind her of my association with the old public baths. My Grandma still had some recollection of me as the girl who always smelt of chlorine and wanted to tell her about the most recent competition; while my sister used to say, “I’m the one with the rabbits.” On one occasion, after her diagnosis but before the illness really took hold, my Grandma and Grandad came to stay at our house for a few days to look after the rabbits while we were away. According to my Grandad, she enjoyed sitting and stroking one of them (the nice one) on her lap. These small reminders – the swimming and the rabbits – shone a dim light onto my Grandma’s failing sense of recollection and recognition, and for a brief while she was able to grasp a vague notion of who we were.

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I thought about my Grandma last night as I was sneaking some chocolate out of the kitchen. (Some people my age have emigrated or had children, I’m still stuffing Quality Streets in my pocket to get past my mum.) In my head, I heard her say, “Oh, go on, a few boils won’t ruin her supper.” She always carried sweets in her purse – ‘boils’ as she called them, which sounds like she was offering me a dose of the plague before dinner. I don’t know why it suddenly came to me then, as I haven’t heard that phrase for well over a decade.

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My Grandma had a great sense of humour and a warm face. And she could talk to anyone – it used to be the embarrassment of my dad’s life as a young boy, the fact that his mum couldn’t make her way through the supermarket checkout without first extracting the life story of whoever was serving her. She moved down from Scotland before the War, but still had a strong Scottish lilt when I knew her. She wore bright colours and had wonderful shoes, made the best puddings, and let me turn up her Westlife CD really loud and dance to it in the living room.

She is so vibrant and alive in those memories, which is what makes the more recent ones even more poignant: her confusion as she looks at us all visiting her in the care home, aware that something is not right but unsure what ‘something’ is anymore. Sitting with her and repeating the same lines every ten minutes, because she has already forgotten who I am and what I’ve said. Eventually the blank stare, with no recognition; not even the trusty “code words” able to dredge up hidden clues as to who she was, and who we were in relation to her.

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Eventually my dad stopped taking me to visit her in the care home. She was not the wonderful woman we knew anymore. Dementia had slowly, over an excruciatingly long period, stolen first her memories, and subsequently her personality, and ultimately her sense of self. Her appearance also changed – when I last saw her, she was very small and frail. Early on in the illness she used to go walking for miles. I’ve heard this from other’s accounts of their affected family members – it is referred to as ‘wandering’. A few times she got up in the middle of the night and walked into completely different towns and counties. My Grandad put all her details and contact numbers in her handbag, which she never used to go anywhere without, but soon she started leaving it behind. I think that was the point when it was decided that she would be safer in a care home, and would ease some of the strain these wanderings were causing my Grandad.

She kept that infamous sweet tooth for a while; my Grandad regularly used to provide her with multi-pack KitKats in the home. But otherwise she ended up eating barely anything at all. This was the woman who once flew to Moscow with a giant ham in her luggage, and to Switzerland with portions of homemade spaghetti bolognese, presumably not convinced that the people in these countries did, in fact, exist on what is commonly accepted as “food”.  Her physical appearance started to mirror what was happening to her mind: she was shrinking away from us, into herself, and there was nothing we or science could do to reverse it.

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Although my Grandma died a year ago, she had been gone much longer. Dementia doesn’t really allow the sufferer to die with any dignity, if you believe that dignity is maintaining a knowledge of and belief in who you are. My Grandma no longer knew who she was when she died; she had no recollection of having two sons; and she didn’t recognise my Grandad, who visited her nearly everyday she was in the home. It is a cruel and drawn-out process. I am glad that I still have my memories of her, in ways that I’m sure she would like to be remembered, and that, like the “boils” quote last night, they can crop up without me even consciously recalling them.

The mind can be great like that. But equally, as I saw in my Grandma, it can really suck, too.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

One time I forgot to make tea for my boss and didn’t want to admit it. I thought I’d have time to sneak out and get him one, but when my back was turned he picked up the tea I had made for myself.

luke warm

“Ah thanks, Izzi, you’re a legend,” he said.

Um… ah…

My boss likes his tea really strong and with significant amount of sugar. My own preference is for a brew that is half milk, half hot water, with a tea bag vaguely wafted near the cup. At work we use those take-away coffee cups with lids, so you can’t see what’s inside.

And thus my boss picked up and walked away with a cup of what was essentially hot milk. I was too embarrassed to point out this had happened and make light of the situation like any normal person might, so I just let him take it. I was not asked to do the tea-run again for quite some time.

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There was the occasion when I decided to withdraw/rescue all my money from a failing savings account. There wasn’t a huge amount in there, but I was getting an interest rate of peanuts – unsalted ones at that – so thought I would move to pastures new.

However, when I went in to draw everything out and close the account, the nice lady behind the richesdesk asked me what I was planning to do with it. Even though she didn’t own the bank or anything, and wasn’t responsible for their rates and charges, I felt mean admitting that I was taking my custom elsewhere.

In a sweaty-palmed panic, I blurted out that I was withdrawing it all to put down a deposit on a house. I was eighteen at the time. And there was barely enough in that account to buy a fancy fridge. Having said that, the bank recently went under, so maybe my savings were worth more than I thought.

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During my first week at university, I’d been encouraged to go out the night before a long day of lectures and seminars. As the whole uni thing was still a bit weird and new, and I was slow to come out of my shell, I overdid it a bit with the social lubricant.

The next day during my first seminar I was feeling pretty peaky. I resolved to keep my head down and just get through the lesson, and then I would go and buy as much paracetamol as is legally allowed in one transaction.

All was going to plan, until literally the last 5 minutes of the tutorial. I’d not done anything for the preceding 55 minutes – bar nodding my head and trying to look like I was ‘silently engaging’ – when the tutor asked us all a question.renaissance

No one was answering so he decided to give us a clue. “It begins with ‘R’,” he told us. In my fuddled state I shouted out, “Renaissance!” as if it was some game to shout out all the words you know beginning with a certain letter. To this day I cannot remember the question (I don’t think I even knew then), but I do know “Renaissance!” had nothing to do with whatever it was.

I then fell over a chair as I subtly attempted leave the room after one of the longest hours of my life.

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Everyone I know calls me Izzi (except my mum when I’m in trouble), but I haven’t gone for the most obvious spelling. I often get ‘Izzy’ or ‘Izzie’, though there has also been the occasional ‘Issy’ and ‘Issie’, once even an ‘Isy’ (the p.e. teacher that hated me at school always insisted on spelling it that way).

name tag

I am not in the market for correcting people. In fact, so that others don’t feel bad that they spell it wrong (no one feels bad, Izzi! Get over yourself!), I write my name in all its variations depending on who I’m talking to. So at my old job I signed off all my tasks as ‘Izzie’. At my current place I’m ‘Izzy’. And probably 50% of my Christmas cards went out this year with ‘incorrect’ signage at the bottom.

At work once, a man misheard me and thought I’d said my name was ‘Easy’. Again, too awkward to correct him, but also kind of amused by the fact that he thought my parents named their first child ‘Easy’ (yes, sir, and my middle name is ‘Doesit’), I let it go and was evermore referred to as such. My friends enjoyed that one.

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I guess what I’m trying to say is, when life give you lemons, sometimes you just end up squirting the juice in your eye.

Now That’s What I Call Misogyny

Happy 2014, ladies! You’ve probably overindulged a bit this Christmas, I know I have. I had to go to bed early last night after eating so many Quality Streets that I missed out on the exciting sugar rush and just had bad stomach ache instead. So I’m feeling a little bit below my best and wondering if there will ever be a time in the near future when I can sit up again without going “oooooh” accompanied by a pained expression. Thank god that Now magazine has just the tonic:

via @gillesoffthenet on Twitter

via @gillesoffthenet on Twitter

I mean, if this cover doesn’t cheer you up I don’t know what will.

Here we have, in 2014, a mainstream weekly that has taken no less than 21 pictures of women in the public eye, in their bathing suits, and deemed them unfit for purpose. Purpose, of course, being to look runway-ready at all times.

(Sorry, I seem to have referred to the images above as women, when they are in actual fact, as Now magazine screams from its front cover, just “bodies”.)

One of the “bodies” is a new mum, one is a supermodel just turned 40, one is an actress deemed too fat, another too thin. And the accompanying tagline is that looking at these images will make you feel “normal”. The whole thing is too horrific to know where to begin. It’s like something out of a sick satire; but this is actually being displayed in the magazine aisles of shops up and down the country. This ‘feature’ was brainstormed, written about, OK’ed, and published by real people in the media industry.

I have history with these sorts of magazines, and know that they can be damaging. I bought into their philosophy of what’s “normal”. When I was in primary school I was quite skinny, I never ate lunch but only because I was one of the world’s fussiest eaters and never liked what was being served in the dinner hall. When I started secondary school I was allowed to take in packed lunches – the dream! But I started developing quicker than many of my friends, and I was eating more and I suddenly became conscious that I was getting bigger.

The thing is, I was never fat. I was very aware of my body, though, as by this point I was swimming training nearly everyday with dreams of being the next Ian Thorpe. I tell you, there have been so many occasions over the last ten years when I wished I had stuck with a sport where you get to keep your clothes on. I was too young to appreciate that I was training my body to do things and continue for distances that not many others my age were able to do. I was too focused on the fact that my hips looked bigger than they should and my thighs met at the top.

I started buying these magazines, like Now and Heat, and cutting out pictures that I then kept in a scrap book. It was around the time that Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie were everywhere; when the media pretended to be horrified by the tiny sizes these girls had shrunk themselves down to, all the while glamorizing and even encouraging them. Kate Moss was heralded as ‘the perfect size 8’. It was the era of the society girls, who had time and money to eat nothing all day and party all night. These were the sort of pictures I was cutting out of magazines.

These publications are obsessed to the point of distraction by women’s body weight. What message are young girls supposed to take away from these articles? That women have nothing to offer, nothing else worth mentioning, than their number on the scale? Why was I made to think, at age 13, that a picture of a nearly emaciated woman, with her tracksuit trousers hanging off her body, was what I should aspire for?

The women on the cover above all appear to have been photographed without their knowledge, and whatever their own feelings with regards to their own bodies, they look happy in the moment. The photos are unstaged, un-airbrushed, and actually, Now magazine, what I think they show is 21 versions of normal. How dare Now think they have the right to make anyone feel less than they are, by slapping irresponsible taglines over intrusive pictures and zooming in at the merest hint of un-taut skin.

In the ever-contradictory world of the weekly glossy, the latest edition comes with the headline “Screw the Diet!” and three more women, in their swimsuits, talking about how they’re happy to be carrying a bit of extra weight.

Is it wishful thinking to hope that, at some point in the 21st century perhaps, women will be judged on something other than their waistline?

What’s in a Writing Credit?

If I was to write this post and retain some credibility, it would involve airbrushing over what actually inspired the idea in the first place. After several attempts at beginning with vague allusions and substitutions, I figured it best to just bite the bullet and get on with it. Basically, I have been listening to my Christmas albums (not actual festive music – surely a bit sad after the event – but the CDs I received as presents) while walking the dog each day. Yesterday, I got round to the Little Mix album. There, that was my stumbling block. I own – nay, bought with a voucher, so truly chose to own – the latest offering by the X Factor girl band winners.

I will not justify the choice here, and merely move quickly onto my point. As I was playing this album, with its exciting 90s-influenced upbeat numbers and less exciting ballad-y type offerings, I was listening out for the songs I knew certain people had written; other writers or singers that I like, who had contributed to the Mix-tape (ha, ha). And then I started to think about how no-one really seems to mind that Little Mix don’t write their own music, as long as it’s got a good chorus and an interesting dance routine. In fact, rather than criticised, they get kudos if they’ve managed to work with some well-respected industry names, responsible for other big hits.

This then led me on to thinking about that other rather successful X Factor group, One Direction. Have you heard of them? They sell quite a lot of albums. They also have to put up with being told they’re not a ‘real band’ for not playing instruments or writing their own material. Why is it that females get a (mostly) free pass in the music industry as long as they can create a spectacle, while men – particularly the young ones – get a hard time over ‘authenticity’?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Consider the likes of Rihanna and Britney: this is the first year since 2007 that Rihanna has not released a new album. She churns them out. How is it possible in between the world tours, the clothing line, and the excessive Instagram posts? Quite easily, really, when your record company is paying other people millions to do it for you. Npr ran an interesting story a few years ago that broke down the cost of creating one of Rihanna’s multi-million selling hit singles. It is no secret that, on the whole, Rihanna just lends her voice and image to the outcome of one of these writing bootcamps rather than getting involved. But that doesn’t stop the likes of Eminem and Jay Z from wanting to work with her, and hasn’t affected the mammoth sales she enjoys.

As for good old Britney, she’s been plugging away for nearly a decade and a half now, but has contributed to barely a fraction of her musical output. According to those who have worked with her, she’s very involved in making the albums; though not, it would seem, when it comes to putting pen to paper. I suppose Britney, since she appeared as an all-dancing, midriff-baring school girl, has always been about image as much as, if not more than, the music itself. Reviews from her new Vegas show have been favourable, despite the fact that Britney rarely sings live. In fact, USA Today excused her miming by describing her routines as comparable to an American football player having to run and sing at the same time. These girls/women/not-girls-not-yet-women are let off for not really participating in their own music as long as they project the right (also likely manufactured) image, put on a good show, and competently sing, or mime along to, the songs they have been given.

Meanwhile, any article about One Direction that appears anywhere on the internet with a comment section, I would bet my life onedsavings (pitiful as they may be) that there is at least one comment that says, “Yeah, but they don’t play their own instruments, do they?” ‘Beatlemania’ is the media’s obvious comparison for One Direction’s global appeal. Yet – unfortunately for the boys – apart from being British, the comparisons end there. The Beatles will forever be acceptable, even to those who aren’t fans, for writing and playing their own stuff. One Direction have to put up with the manufactured label, particularly given that they come from Simon Cowell’s conveyor belt of ready-made popstars. I am not a crazy One Direction fan in disguise trying to make people see the light with regards to these five dashing, walking haircuts, but they should be given some slack. They’re no different to the likes of Rihanna, Britney, and countless others who are just as micro-managed. And it doesn’t make any of them less of an ‘artist’ – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of manufactured pop. What would the music purists have to moan about otherwise?