Ann Marie My Body

'My Body': Ann Marie Is a (Very Horny) R&B Star in the Making

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJZ2Gs0Xjvg

Meet Ann Marie. She's not trying to fall in love, and she makes it nasty when she fucks.

Such is the life of a Southside Chicago-bred, 23-year-old certifiable One To Watch™ - not to be confused with England's Anne-Marie, of "Rockabye" and "2002" fame.

On Tuesday (July 30), Ann Marie dropped the Damien Sandoval-directed, Miami-set visual for her song "My Body," a sultry bedroom banger that glides through the speakers so smoothly, you almost might not even notice that she's cooing lines like "you get it wet as fuck, I know it's wet enough" at first.

Oh, but she is.

Supplying some Big Aaliyah "Rock the Boat" Energy (she counts Aaliyah as her favorite singer), Ann Marie and her girls gyrate on a yacht in sexy neon lewks as she delivers her Troy Taylor-produced ode to unrelenting horniness. It's too short of course, but this is 2019, and our attention spans are shrinking faster than the polar ice sheets. Ah, our impending extinction is a bit of a boner killer, isn't it? Sorry.

The song is featured on Ann Marie's Pretty Psycho, which dropped earlier in July, and is also her first release since inking a deal with Interscope Records. (She's already been releasing music for over three years.)

The whole set is A Vibe™, supplying similarly seductive and nostalgic R&B melodies - fans of acts like Tinashe and Cassie will feel right at home - and straight-to-the-point, expletive-riddled, foul-mouthed lyricism about throwing it back on that dick that I really appreciate. Rolling Stone said she "sings like a rapper and raps like a singer" - that's it, exactly.

She also reminds me of the similarly blunt, gone-too-soon R&B girl group, Electrik Red. Anyone else remember How to Be a Lady: Volume 1? "So Good"? (Still so good.)

So go ahead and fuck around with Ann Marie. She's more than ready to fuck with you.

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Photo credit: Raphael Simien


Taylor Swift The Archer

'The Archer': Taylor Swift Calls Out the Hypocrisy of Taylor Swift

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KpKc3C9V3w

Taylor Swift, indie underground punk singer-songwriter and hotly tipped One To Watch in 2019, has a new song out.

It's called "The Archer," released on Tuesday (July 23), and it's the third song released thus far off of her forthcoming album, Lover - and the must vulnerable from the album to date, by far.

Ironically enough, it seems she's taken her own advice and calmed things down, musically speaking, just one song after the Twitter Gay-dividing, Pride Month-timed rainbow sparkle party bonanza that was "You Need To Calm Down," and two songs after her Kidz Bop-suited, family-friendly sugary-sweet bree-hee-heezy "ME!" with Brendon Urie.

While I'm not a Swiftie (please don't come for me and/or serve me with legal papers, TAS Rights Management), this particular offering feels exponentially more "her" - or, at least, supplies much more meaty stuff to dig into and analyze, which some of her more diehard fans have likely been waiting to do.

Musically, the dreamy track is much more in the vein of reputation's "Delicate" or Red's "All Too Well" - which makes sense, because like those songs, it's Track 5 on Lover. And, being the easter egg #Lover she is, Miss Swift reserves that slot for especially emotional numbers on her albums. (This was previously only a prevailing fan theory, until she herself confirmed it on her Instagram Live earlier today.) It's also reminiscent of 1989's "This Love," which is not Track 5, but anyway.

The atmospheric, '80s-style synths and gentle pulsations from Jack Antonoff are a nice touch, but the star of the song is the lyricism. No disrespect to recent profundities like "hey kids, spelling is fun!" of course, but this feels like a reassurance that she's still got denser material up her sleeves.

She opens the track by calling out, well...herself: "Combat, I'm ready for combat / I say I don't want that, but what if I do?"

Does Taylor live for the drama, after all? Even she's questioning her own motives at this point.

"I've got a hundred thrown-out speeches I almost said to you." We've seen the statements she's released in her defense over the years. Can you even imagine what she's opted not to post, still sitting in her Notes app?

Elsewhere, she acknowledges self-destructive patterns and insecurities: "I cut off my nose just to spite my face / Then I hate my reflection for years and years."

The insecurities mount: "All of my heroes die all alone / Help me hold on to you," she pleads to her #Lover. A reference to some of her perpetually single music idols and a fear of following suit, perhaps?

The paranoia around her own persona peaks during the bridge: "Can you see right through me? / They see right through me / I see right through me," she sings, seemingly spiraling.

The line that will get the most attention, of course, is this: "All the king's horses, all the king's men / Couldn't put me together again / 'Cause all of my enemies started out friends / Help me hold onto you."

As a pop star who's no stranger to drawing battle lines between former pals in the public eye - most recently, Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta regarding the ownership of her masters, which has spun out into an all-out Stan War - the "Humpty Dumpty"-inspired lyric feels especially relevant to the most recent headlines about her business dealings.

I'm not interested in participating in the endlessly exhausting debate about whether Taylor Swift is Good or Bad in her actions, nor if she's the Villain or the Victim. Like all things in life, it's never just that simple. We don't actually know any of these people beyond their public-facing personas and apparent motives - it's tricky to remember that for some.

I can, however, appreciate hearing Taylor Swift sing about her own mixed emotions and conflicted ego. "Who could ever leave me, darling? Who could stay?" Of course she's a hypocrite sometimes, and she knows it. That comes with being human. If only more of us could be as self-aware.

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Sofi de la Torre Pero No

'Pero No': Sofi de la Torre's Latest Is Moody, But It'll Make You Move

At this point, Sofi De La Torre should probably just carry a pillow around, because the world has stayed sleeping on her for years.

From 2014's "Vermillion" and 2015's Mess EP to "$" and her 2017 debut full-length Another Me. Not Me. I'm Done, the Spanish singer's continued to supply breathy bouts of international-inspired pop goodness - POPDONERIGHT, if you will (her label's name) - time after time.

And, lo and behold, she's done it again.

As of late, Sofi's decided to deliver songs in Spanish, which is not only #authentic to her roots, but a smart marketing choice considering the ongoing Spanish-language musical takeover happening across the globe. Following the release of "Estamos Mal" earlier this year, Sofi returned last Friday (July 19) with "Pero No."

The on-the-brink-of-breaking-up song, composed alongside longtime collaborator Jonas W. Karlsson, falls under a consistently winning category of canciones: deceptively bop-able beats, accompanied by less-than-blissful lyricism. It's one of those endless replayable vibes, with the right amount of over-it attitude, a repetitive shut-down ("pero no") and a consistent pulse.

"Tú piensas que me tienes donde quieres baby, pero no / Y piensas que me sabe' hacer feliz, pero no," she croons.

Basically: "you think you have me where you want me, but no. And you think you know how to make me happy, but no." (And if my eight years of Spanish and/or language lessons from former flames has failed me, please let me know.)

As opposed to getting bent out of shape about her dying relationship's dynamic mismatch however, she's standing strong in her conviction. This is a kiss-off, but no one's crying at the discotheque. (Well, maybe him.) Think you've still got a shot to patch things up? As American poet and Chivas enthusiast Kelly Brianne Clarkson once declared alongside friend and star of screen and stage Tamyra Gray: "you thought wrong."

The track is also a perfect companion to one of my other favorite songs of the year - Paloma Mami's "Fingías" - proving that Fierce, Moody Vibras is truly the sound of 2019 for me.

With acts like fellow Spanish Queen Rosalía rightfully blowing up stateside, it only seems inevitable that Sofi sees more mainstream love coming her way soon, too. Pero si!

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Hustlers

Jennifer Lopez's 'Hustlers' Movie Looks Like Fun Pole Dancing Pop Star Escapism

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_dfc0iqmig&feature=youtu.be

Tonight, we gon' be it on the pole.

Just like Keri Hilson's 2009 No. 1 German smash hit, there are already plenty of things about the upcoming Hustlers that "I like." (I'll be honest, that was a roundabout way of mentioning Miss Keri Baby - I try and do so at least once in every single conversation as a loyal passenger on the Keri Ferry.)

I like Jennifer Lopez. I like strippers - especially the ones at Stock Bar in Montreal. I like Cardi B. I like Lizzo. I like female-filled casts that also happen to look like potential girl groups of my fan-fiction dreams.

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

If you haven't been following along with recent developments in J.Lo's world, and/or are not a card-carrying #JLover, Jenny's gone from the block to the pole for an upcoming Lorene Scafaria-directed movie called Hustlers, due out in theaters on September 13, which "follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients."

The movie is based on a 2015 New York Magazine article called “The Hustlers at Scores,” written by Jessica Pressler. And it features a group of talented actresses and entertainers in a very ambitious, Avengers crossover kind of way: Crazy Rich Asians' Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Julia Fucking 10 Things I Hate About You Stiles and Mercedes Ruehl are all in this thing.

The first trailer for Hustlers just debuted on Tuesday night (July 16), and it's approximately everything one would hope for the movie to be: certifiably bad bitches turning the tables on corrupt corporate suits, looking hot (holy fuck, J.Lo) while doing so, providing a kind of Ocean's 8 femme fatale, fierce-and-funny fantasy.

Although we're still some time away from the film's premiere, it's important to note that Jennifer Lopez has never personally let me down on film (or any medium, for that matter) - from Selena and Anaconda to The Boy Next Door - and I suspect she's not going to lead me astray at this point, either. Future Academy Award contender? I mean, let's calm down. At the very least, it's got all the makings of a good ol' end-of-summer stripper spree. Who among us doesn't like that?

Photo credit: STX Films


Lindsay Lohan Dannii Minogue

Lindsay Lohan & Dannii Minogue Will Be Panelists on 'The Masked Singer Australia'

Look: not much is sparking joy in pop culture these days.

Mercifully, there's just been a glitch in the simulation. And in a move that can only be described as the stuff of MuuMuse fan-fiction come to life, Lindsay Lohan and Dannii Minogue will soon be co-workers on the Australian version of The Masked Singer.

To be clear: the I Know Who Killed Me actress-slash-"To Know Your Name" chanteuse and the Queen of Clubs herself, Disco D, will be co-panelists in a reality TV singing competition based on a South Korean format. (The other two are Jackie "O" Henderson and Dave Hughes, but that's not important right now.)

If you haven't seen Masked Singer (#MaskForSame only - just a preference), the concept is this: celebrities of varying degrees of fame perform songs in elaborate costumes, as the celebrity-filled panel attempts to guess who they are, week by week. Once eliminated from the singing competition, the star de-masks and reveals their true identity. In South Korea, it's often past and present members of girl groups and boy bands. In America, it was everyone from T-Pain to Ricki Lake.

Dannii, Lilo, and a six-degrees-of-separation connection to K-pop? The amount of boxes that this ticks for me on a personal level is unquestionably proof that, in spite of everything, there is a higher power at work.

The potential for quality #content to come from this experience is high, to say the least: not only are Down Under versions of popular singing competitions notorious breeding ground for viral moments, like, say, accusations of doppelgangers in our midst, but Lindsay - she of knowing how you throw a party in Mykonos, bitch, of "Move that cone. I'm Lindsay Lohan," of "I never said that, Paris is my friend," of well-intentioned-but-misguided Instagram Live rescue missions - is a walking meme (a walka not a talka, specifically), and all but destined to deliver some on-air gems.

And, with new music promised to be on the way (allegedly), we might even get a single or a performance out of the deal in her post-Beach House bid for renewed pop supremacy. (Let us pray.)

As for Dannii? As a seasoned X Factor UK vet, she'll no doubt be capable of holding down the fort with her own commentary. She's delivered some GIF magic of her own, and watching her interact with Lindsay will be a fascinating, ambitious crossover event. The Marvel Cinematic Universe wishes.

And, perhaps if the buzz around this show is as big as it was when it premiered in America (two more U.S. seasons have already been ordered), she'll want to trip the light fantastic with another bout of Neon Nights excellence. Or, perhaps the ladies will come together for a one-off collaboration? Look, a gay can dream...

"Big reveal 🎉🎉🎉🎉 I’m so excited to be joining @lindsaylohan @jackieo_official and @dhughesy on the @themaskedsingerau panel. I ❤️ the US version of this show. Get your guessing shoes on Australia - you’re going to be OBSESSED!!!" Dannii wrote on her Instagram on Sunday (July 14), which was quickly flooded with not one, but two heart emoji-filled comments from Lilo, who, in Lilo style, already revised her own announcement post, which now solely contains the show's handle. For now.

At the very least, this will give me an excuse to recirculate ancient listicles and thinkpieces about the brilliance of their musical output.

Tell me, am I dreaming? (REFERENCE.) Take us out, ladies...


Photo credit: @lindsaylohan / YouTube


Banks Contaminated

'Contaminated': BANKS Is Addicted to the Agony

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwZMHkYTvhY

BANKS is back, and just as brooding as ever.

She's been back for a while, actually: she returned with her jagged, fierce "Gimme" at the end of April (it's great), followed by "Look What You're Doing To Me" with Francis & The Lights. (Life happened - life's been happening - and I failed to write about it then, but here we are.)

"Contaminated," released on Wednesday (July 10), is the third offering from her upcoming album III, out on Friday (July 12). It's about Jaclyn Hill's lipsticks.

Just kidding. Sorry. I'm awful.

III is described in a press release as "coming after a self-imposed period of quiet and reflection," which "explores themes of self-acceptance, letting go, forgiveness, and deep love" - so, you know, she's going through it, too.

The song was recorded in Los Angeles with BJ Burton, known for work with artists like Bon Iver, but interestingly, also credited as a programmer on Miley's "The Most" from She Is Coming.

BANKS' music is the epitome of a late night listen, and "Contaminated" is no exception: a summer bop, this is not. (Or maybe it is for you, fellow emos.)

Instead, it's just the kind of gorgeous, downtempo darkness I'd expect to hear from BANKS, reminiscent of some of her past work. It's all sorts of tortured - as anyone going through the motions of a relationship gone rotten can attest to - drifting along a haunting piano melody, dooming synths, prickly beats and eerie, layered vocals.

“‘Contaminated’ is about being addicted to a toxic relationship. The more you give, the less of yourself you become,” BANKS explains.

"I wish I could change it / And we're always gonna be contaminated," she moans along the moody track.

The third verse especially hits hard:

You said they'd be against us
I say, "You care too much what they say"
You said, "Do me a favor, give me some faith"
'Cause you promised me you'd do it
You said, "Baby, let me prove it, look at me in the face
This is the face of someone who loves you, babe."

Oof.

BANKS does agony well, and "Contaminated" is certainly no exception. Here's to kicking the habit once and for all.

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Photo credit: Harvest / Steph Wilson


Miley Cyrus Mother's Daughter Music Video

'Mother's Daughter' Video: Miley Cyrus Femmes the Future

Miley Cyrus is, in my humble and oft-dragged opinion, the closest to being "the Madonna" of the '00s Disney Girls.

That's not to start an exhausting Stan War in the comments section, or take away from her own unique brand of artistry. It's just that Miley shares some of the same characteristics as the Queen of Pop: she's an in-your-face, provocative, political and, occasionally, problematic entertainer. She's also well-intentioned, even when it occasionally misfires, and determined to lead the crusade for equal rights. (Because, at the end of the day, she just wants to have a Party in the USA...and beyond, presumably.)

While Madame C is already on a roll, achieving her goals and generally dominating the summer (at least, among many Twitter Gays) with her bewigged Black Mirror alter-ego Ashley O, she's got some stuff of her own out, in the form of She Is Coming - including her latest single, "Mother's Daughter," which is like a feisty, fuck-filled continuation of Can't Be Tamed's empowerment anthem, "Liberty Walk."

To bring the don't-fuck-with-me messaging of the song to life for the accompanying visual, which premiered on Tuesday (July 2), Miley enlisted a few public figures - over a dozen of them, in fact, ranging from entertainers to activists to athletes to, of course, the very namesake of the song itself: Mama Tish Cyrus. (Side note: Tish looks incredibly fierce in this video, dripping in a rich Chanel ensemble. As she should.)

Miley Cyrus Mother's Daughter Music Video

Zipped up in an "Oops!...I Did It Again"-meets-Jennifer's Body red latex outfit, Miley powerfully poses and struts her stuff in front of a simple pink backdrop amid feather-ruffling symbolism (nipples! C-section incisions!), politically charged slogans ("Every woman is a riot") and friends both new - like trans disabled model Aaron Philip and skateboarder Lacey Baker and model Vendela - and old (Amazon Ashley's been by Miley's side since the Bangerz days).

And, bringing it back around to Madge, she supplies shades of "Human Nature"; a similar middle finger to society.

The diverse cast represents a progressive future, sending a powerful, pro-feminist message about women's freedom to make decisions about their own bodies, including their own gender expression and sexual identity.

In these harrowing, is-The Handmaid's Tale-even-fiction times, when human rights are continuously challenged under the current administration, it's not a surprise that Miley's decided to use her pop star platform to speak out in defense of herself - and so many different types of women, too.

Her mother taught her well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T2RonyJ_Ts

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Zara Larsson All The Time

Zara Larsson's 'All The Time' Deserves to Be a Song of Summer 2019

From the breaking of the day to the middle of the night...

The Song Of The Summer™, objectively, comes down to charts, sales and streams (so, the most demanded song of the season). But the song(s) that hold the most memories and replay counts for you are every bit as valid (so, subjectively, Las Ketchup's "The Ketchup Song (Asereje)" might be your Song Of The Summer for the past 17 years and counting as it is mine).

Either way you choose to define it, Zara Larsson's "All The Time" deserves to be one of those songs in 2019 - objectively and subjectively, hopefully.

"All The Time" was released on June 21 which, as we know, already makes it ancient history for the ceaselessly parched Stan Culture - but that's not how the general public operates. Some songs take months to build - Ava Max's "Sweet But Psycho" being the most recent example. And, in fact, Zara's latest release seems to be picking up some steam at radio, and is now climbing on the Pop Radio Charts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMKtzB7zNrg

The songwriter wattage behind the song is solid enough as is: "All The Time" was co-penned by the 21-year-old Swedish singer-songwriter herself, the already prolific Noonie Bao (Carly Rae Jepsen's "Run Away With Me," among other glittery pop feats) and the unstoppable Ilsey, responsible for co-writing a bulk of Lykke Li's so sad, so sexy and Mark Ronson's (excellent) Late Night Feelings, among others.

Lyrically and sonically speaking, the track falls into one of the most tried-and-true categories: sad at the disco. Granted, it's not a disco song - it's more like a surge of summery pop energy - but the lyrics are nonetheless lonesome, as Zara lusts for a former flame - recalling a Teenage Dream from long ago, if you will.

"I try to forget about you, baby / And I die when I think of you with someone else and / I don't know why, I don't know why you're dancing in my mind...from the breaking of the day to the middle of the night."

Armed with finger snaps, bright synths, an earworm vocoder melody that strongly recalls Daft Punk (listen to "Doin' It Right"), and a whopper of a hook led by a hot guitar riff, the song's got all the makings of a summer hit.

The video only helps matters as well, as Zara plays dress-up to provide her own back-up dancers at a colorful carnival. Why shell out the cash when you can handle the duties yourself, right?

As for her dancers? I'm seeing Erika Jayne and Violet Chachki, personally. Even more of a delight: the JaQuel Knight-choreographed dancing is satisfyingly pop star level. Not everybody's capable of doing that these days, after all.

Whether staying in your house or going out - and/or just going crazy like Zara, for that matter - "All The Time" ought to be included in your soundtrack for the summer season.

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Photo credit: Epic Records


Celine Dion Flying On My Own

'Flying On My Own': Celine Dion's Heart Goes Onto the Dance Floor

Celine Dion, coming to an EDM festival near you.

Of all the directions Céline Marie Claudette Dion could have opted to go musically in 2019, dance-pop probably wouldn't have been the most obvious choice.

"Flying On My Own" is the first taste of the iconic Canadian chanteuse's upcoming album Courage due out in November.

The album marks her first release since the finale of her near-eternal (16 year) residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and her first English-language studio album since her 2013 effort, Loved Me Back to Life. (The Sia-penned title track and lead single off of that album remains major.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts0d_me8JQs

The song was penned by Liz Rodrigues, Anton Mårtensson, and prolific Swede-pop purveyor Jörgen Elofsson, responsible for everything from Britney's "(You Drive Me) Crazy" and "Sometimes" to A*Teens legend Marie Serneholt's debut solo album, Enjoy The Ride. (Legends only, truly.)

Mercifully erring away from schmaltz, but never far from camp, Celine takes flight on the winds of change - namely, pulverizing beat drops - as she delivers yelp after almighty yelp of self-empowered, reinvigorated energy.

It's a convincing cut - not only because Celine is one of the few who can deliver an epic howl like that, but because her own personal circumstances (the loss of her husband René Angélil three years ago, specifically) add substantial weight to the words "I'm flying on my own."

As the voice behind some of the greatest love songs and ballads of our time - "The Power of Love," "Because You Loved Me" - and, yes, "My Heart Will Go On" from the little known 1998 indie film Titanic, among others - Celine could have easily sung something much sweeter and sentimental to usher in this new era.

Instead, she's opted to go forward into the unknown with a surging solo statement - and with a song that matches the energy of her endearingly insane on-stage (and off-stage) mannerisms.

A new era of Celine is upon us. Vous êtes prêts? Allons-y!

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Photo credit: Denise Truscello for CDA Productions Inc


Agnes Limelight I Trance

'I Trance': Swedish Dance-Pop Diva Agnes Returns to the Discotheque

Agnes Carlsson, singularly known as the Agnes, is back.

The "Release Me" Swedish dance-pop legend and Idol 2005 winner last left us with her incredible collection Veritas, originally released in 2012 in Sweden (one of the best pop albums released that year), which was later released in other territories in the following years.

And, apart from a recent appearance on Avicii's posthumous "Tough Love" released earlier in June, she's been essentially off the music industry grid ever since - until now.

"Can't believe it's happening. I've been on a journey that took me 4 years, 2 months and 29 days, living life, making music, traveling, seeing new places and faces, consciously pushing myself to do new things and the idea of who I am. Such a crazy journey. It's been scary as hell and wonderful at the same time, so, tomorrow is a big day for me. I am release [sic] new music (I've been emotional for a week now). See you on the other side, A" Agnes announced earlier in the week on her Instagram. And indeed, she did.

"Today is the day🤘🏼⁣⁣The first two songs to come I dedicate to the dance. It’s all about being in the moment, how sexy and pleasurable it is when you’re able to completely let go. ⁣⁣I am so humble and happy for all the support. My heart grows triple it’s size in my chest," she later announced. ⁣⁣

"Limelight" and "I Trance" mark Agnes' grand return to music, and - just in case the song titles didn't give it away - they're both dance floor forays.

The songs were both co-written by Vargas & Lagola, responsible for work on tracks for Galantis and Avicii - and Madonna's Rebel Heart, including the title track.

"Rhythm is my remedy," she croons on "Limelight," a more soulful ode to disco sound. "Baby, nobody knows me better."

She does even better with the appropriately entrancing "I Trance," which dives deeper into the discotheque as Agnes supplies sensual, barely-there vocals above the shimmering beat. At one point, the song bursts into a breakdown that screams Timbaland and Keri Hilson's "The Way I Are" - and then it's back to late-night trance euphoria.

Both songs offer a tantalizing tease of what's to come from Agnes. Let's just hope the next tracks don't take quite as long.

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Photo credit: Universal Music


Madonna God Control Music Video

'God Control' Video: Madonna's Triggering Statement About American Life

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

Madonna's tackled countless points of social contention throughout her over thirty year-long career as the Queen of Pop™ - religion, racial injustice, gender inequality, sexuality, war, power, greed, corruption. You name it, Madonna's probably sung and danced around on stage about it at some point.

"God Control," which I consider to be the true centerpiece of her worldly, political Madame X, tackles the super breezy subject of gun control. Nothing divisive about that issue at all here in America! Nope, not at all...

And in the accompanying Jonas Akerlund-directed music video released on Wednesday (June 26), she - as with anything - doesn't shy away from illustrating the issue in vibrant and gory detail, complete with a much-needed trigger warning. Literally.

Admittedly, I - and many people in and around the entertainment industry, I'm sure - had a general idea of what was coming with this music video in advance because, well: squeeze a bunch of Drag Race girls, YouTubers and creatives into a room, and the tea is bound to spill. The descriptions I was given varied in intensity - from "it's like a classic, old-school Madonna video" (?) to "it's basically the Pulse shooting - you're not ready."

I was mostly terrified of how this already extremely sensitive subject could be approached with respect and decency, but after watching, I think Madonna's managed to do it in an artistic, effective and, most of all, jarring way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv-sdTOw5cs

Without making specific references to any one event (because, frankly, who can even keep track at this horrifying rate?), Madame X tackles the most prevalent atrocities happening around the country in one clip: armed robbery, school shootings, club massacres. The underlying cause is always the same: gun violence.

As I pointed out in the Madame X review, there some hypocrisy at play, admittedly: she's the same artist who performed the wildly bloody "Gang Bang" on the MDNA Tour just a few years ago, after all. But I'm not interested in holding her to a performance concept or a position on an idea forever. Everyone, pop artist or otherwise, should be allowed to evolve on issues.

To get her point across, Madge scatters scenes of the horrific events of the late night dance floor massacre - which are brief, but startling - in between shots of real-life gun control protests, as well as of Madame X frustratingly puffing away on a cigarette at a typewriter, writing out the lyrics of her twisted disco epic: "Everybody knows the damn truth." "We lost gun control." "When they talk reform, it makes me laugh."

There are some particularly striking visual moments throughout, including the children's choir singing through their tears, and the long line of caskets stretched down the church aisle. But perhaps one of the most effective scenes - for me, anyway - was seeing her getting dressed to go out for the night while watching the breaking news coverage of a school shooting on TV - with a "straight white men rule everything around me" poster hanging in the room, no less.

That is an absurdly accurate depiction of the experience of American Life - in these past few years, especially. Watching it back, it's all the more absurd that it even is a part of life. I've lived that experience, too. I'm sure most people have. But it shouldn't be normal.

As with most things Madonna, the video is a lot to process. The messaging is a lot to process. And yes, it absolutely does trigger the trauma that the queer community at large experienced three years ago this month. But the video (mercifully) steers away from glamorization or exploitation: instead, it's an important, disturbing reminder that change needs to happen, still.

The Studio 54 euphoria of the song, mixed with the horrifying imagery of bloodied bodies hitting the floor, is exactly the kind of stomach-churning discomfort needed to convey the situation at hand: we feel helpless about the State of Things, we go out and dance to forget, and even the spaces we consider safest can be violated, violently so.

It's deeply upsetting to watch - but then, it's also not more than a mirror being held up to society. Madonna, as always, is one of the few pop stars willing to make such a bold message in her ongoing quest to fight for what she believes is right.

It's time to wake up.

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Utada Hikaru Laughter in the Dark Tour

Hikaru Utada's 'Laughter In The Dark' Tour Hits Netflix

And she wrote the English subtitles herself.

It's such a surreal feeling to even write this, but it's real: Hikaru Utada's Laughter In The Dark 2018 Tour special is now available on Netflix, globally, as of Wednesday (June 26). This marks her first-ever Japanese concert special to be made available to stream stateside.

It's not just available to watch, either: you can read along with it, too.

Hikki herself opted to supply the English translation of her dialogue and song lyrics throughout the show, much like when she provided the English-to-Japanese translations herself for Exodus in 2004.

If you've not been following along closely, Hikaru - who, for the record, recently started releasing her music as Hikaru Utada, and not Utada Hikaru, last year - went on a tour throughout Japan between November and December of last year. (She also recorded "Hikari" and "Chikai" with 6K 180-degree cameras for a Playstation VR experience, which was also made available worldwide.)

Utada Hikaru Laughter in the Dark Tour

The tour is, well - simple and clean, as one might say, featuring the now 36-year-old Japanese pop icon performing classics like "First Love," "Traveling," "Automatic" and "Colors," as well as an assortment of Fantome and Hatsukoi selections.

She's not one to provide a particularly over-the-top live spectacle full of dancers and narratives and costume changes - that iconic voice and emotional delivery tend to take center stage at a Hikaru Utada show - but it is nonetheless a sleek, chic staging with warm washes of lights and abstract projections.

"I'm not really into being celebrated," she tells the crowd early into the show after announcing that the concert marks the 20th anniversary of her debut.

"I feel very awkward to be like the star of the party...but here I'll just take it as it is and be happy."

She looks and sounds absolutely beautiful throughout. The transitions are seamless. The band sounds beautiful. She even hops on for a synth session at one point. "Forevermore" choreographer Fukiko Takase joins her onstage to provide an interpretive dance to "Tomodachi" and "Too Proud" - and Hikaru even turns out a few sultry moves herself.

And her speech about the strangeness of marking her 20th anniversary, and going on a hiatus and not being sure if she'd even return again, only to find herself onstage for the very day - and then launching into "First Love," the very song that kicked off her career? Overwhelmed. Verklempt.

Utada Hikaru Laughter in the Dark Tour

During one interview segment during the show's interlude, she revealed that the title of the show was partially inspired by comedian Tig Notaro, and how she continued to do stand-up amid a breast cancer diagnosis and the death of her mother.

"If you have humor, you can shift your emotional gear no matter how much you are in despair," Hikki reasoned during the very serious discussion. She then demonstrates that in the most unexpected of ways. Repeatedly. It's...absolutely absurd. And incredible.

As a J-nerd who regularly imported Hikki CDs from Japan via YesAsia and eBay and bought a bootleg version of the Utada United 2006 Tour from Anime Zakka at The Garage in Harvard Square over a decade ago, it's still so jarring to see her albums and concerts just, like...readily available. Here. The kids don't even understand. Back in my day...

And, as an English-speaking fan (with failed aspirations of mastering Japanese back in college), the ability to read along with the songs, and the ample overwhelmingly-polite-yet-amusing audience banter, as is incredibly moving, to say the very least.

Life is wild.

Click here to watch the Laughter In The Dark tour special on Netflix.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-ql8i1VHsw