What’s Going On?

Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” has been stuck in my head lately. Not just because yesterday was the eighteen year anniversary of 9/11, but also because I recently watched Showtime’s newest music documentary, “Hitsville: The Making of Motown,” and weirdly enough, it made me emotional.

As a music lover, I would definitely say Motown is my favorite era of music–Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson have written and produced some of the greatest songs in music history, and this documentary only gave me deeper insight into the industry I am so passionate about. Not to mention, they (and the entire Motown team) are responsible for the discovery of music’s most gifted artists: The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross & the Supremes, just to name a few…and of course, this guy…Marvin Gaye.

Written and recorded in 1970/71, “What’s Going On” was originally inspired by a police brutality incident. Although Gordy was hesitant in releasing the song because he didn’t want it to seem “too political,” ultimately, it became one of Marvin Gaye’s biggest hits and a true testament as to who he was as a producer, songwriter, and overall artist. This song speaks exceptional volumes to themes of suffering, injustice, and hatred, and to this day, relates to every aspect of current world news.

We can all really use his lyrics right now: “You see, war is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate / …Talk to me, so you can see / what’s going on” — the main message here is that we all need to learn how to talk to each other, and find compassion! Quit being so brash on people’s opinions and attempt to see the world through others’ eyes and experiences. There is already too much hatred coming from he who won’t be named,  and we don’t need more division than there already is: see ourselves as underdogs and stand up for each other.

Introspective lyrics that are honest, raw, and convey emotion is what lacks in today’s music. To be completely honest, I can’t think of many mainstream songs written in the past five years that will stand the test of time primarily because of the underlying message. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore…

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Tori Kelly Hits Home With “Inspired by True Events”

Week of 8/18/2019 – Music recommendation: Tori Kelly’s “Inspired by True Events

Surprise! I’m back with yet another Tori Kelly plug / promo-post / album review. Hopefully by now, you know how big of a Tori Kelly supporter I am, and if not, you must be a new follower, so hi! Back from almost a three-year hiatus before releasing any new music (Kelly released her Grammy-award winning Gospel album ‘Hiding Place’ in 2018), Tori Kelly came back full-force with “Inspired by True Events.”

Music is a universal language that has the power to inspire young minds to express themselves in a healthy, positive way. Tori Kelly is one of the few artists using her gifts to inspire and uplift, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate her vulnerability and honesty with this album. She approached it with love and care, and you can hear it in each note, harmony, and lyric. Apart from being incredibly well-written and featuring unreal vocal capabilities, “Inspired by True Events” just sounds like a more mature sound from Tori—if you listen to her debut album, “Unbreakable Smile,” one can say it was sort of a mix of genres; as if Tori was experimenting with a plethora of sounds to really find her niche. When it comes to “Inspired by True Events,” what we hear is a much more cohesive-sounding album, with Tori going back to her acoustic and even “Urban-inspired” roots. Although Tori is a rare gem that can pretty much sing whatever genre she wants, it is nice to hear a much more developed sound from her.

I gave myself a full week (and a half) to really process just how amazing Tori’s third full-length album is, but even now, I still find trouble conjuring up the right words to describe the emotional roller coaster that comes with listening to it in its entirety. My opinion may be biased because I am a Tori fan, but if I were to take myself away from that group for a second, my opinion would still stand because I am first and foremost a music lover: “Inspired by True Events” is one of my favorite albums this year.

With four interludes consisting of audio from family home videos, “Inspired by True Events” essentially works as Tori’s “autobiography”: we are given an inside look in to Tori’s joy from her past, experiences and pain from her present, all while remaining hopeful for her future. The interludes perfectly transition in to each track and lightly tease what’s to come. Covering topics such as a recent marriage and shifts in a family dynamic, love and loss, self-love and society’s definition of beauty, and mental health and hope, Tori really strikes every emotional chord throughout the album.

Tori kicks off the album with a fan-favorite from her recent Acoustic Sessions Tour, “Coffee.” The track opens with what sounds like an insane ten-part harmony (all vocals by Tori by the way) and the lyrics, “I envy the cup of coffee that kisses you in the morning.” This song is the perfect opener to introduce listeners to her new sound and speaks of the trials that come with a long-distance relationship; something that can relate to almost anyone. It is a song that merely scratches the surface as to how personal Tori is going to get in the album. The interlude, “12/16/1992” directly follows the track and features her parents talking to a baby Tori two days after she was born. The tracks to follow, “Change Your Mind,” “Language,” and “2 Places” are all songs that speak of the mental hardships she experienced before, during, and after marriage.

The second part of the album with songs following “8/28/1997,” (an adorable interlude with 5-year-old Tori talking about wanting to sing in her bathing suit), compare and contrast the innocence of childhood with the harsh realities of adulthood. While “Kid I Used to Know” takes on a more nostalgic look into the past, “Pretty Fades” is a song that reminds us that while outer beauty may eventually fade, inner beauty is everlasting.

Following “3/2/1991,” (an instrumental interlude dedicated to her parent’s wedding anniversary I assume) are songs dedicated to recent life experiences. The heart-wrenching ballad, “Sorry Would Go A Long Way” kicks off the third part of this album and will probably leave you in a puddle of tears. In a recent interview with Zach Sang, Tori spoke briefly about how her parents split up, and how this song was therapeutically penned as a result. Her vocals in this track express such pain and heartache, and one can hear just how difficult this song must have been to write—it’s genuine and raw; anything you can ask for in a ballad. As if to take us away from the sadness, Tori immediately transitions in to more upbeat songs about firsthand experiences in the entertainment industry with “Actress” and “The Lie.” Because balance is always a part of life, Tori then brings the waterworks again with “Until I Think of You,” an ode calling out God as she goes through emotional distress and symptoms of depression.

To keep the waterworks flowing, “3/26/1994” (an interlude featuring her grandfather doing her baby dedication) is followed with another heartbreaking ballad, “Your Words.” Dedicated to her grandfather, Tori pleads to hear his voice in times of life’s chaos. If you’ve experienced the soul-aching moment(s) of losing a loved one, this song will automatically bring you back to them and make you reminiscent of every conversation, every story, and every moment you’ve shared with them. Not only do Tori’s vocals make this an extremely powerful ballad, but the choir at the bridge of the song, will make you feel all the emotions at once. Listen with caution if you don’t want to cry.

Tori closes the album with a final ballad, “Break of Dawn.” Featuring a beautiful harp / strings instrumental, it blends perfectly well with the message of hope she is relaying. She repeats the lyrics, “What’s a rose without a thorn” and “Keep your head up, my love,” as a way of reaching out to listeners who may need the extra encouragement to keep going. Life can have its fair share of joy and despair, and at one time or another, when it feels like there is no way out of the darkness, it is a beautiful thing to know that there is a song out there that will inspire you to keep a glimmer of hope alive.

“Inspired by True Events” is an album that will spark every emotion. The relatability of each message Tori aims to relay to listeners is undeniable. Whether you’re feeling nostalgic or just need songs that speak words of hope and truth, allow Tori’s gorgeous vocals and superb songwriting take you to a place of solitude. This is the album you won’t know you needed until you listen to it.

Tori Kelly’s “Inspired by True Events” is out everywhere now.

Laura’s Weekly Song Challenge: Round 17

This week, Laura’s Weekly Song Challenge calls for songs that speak of being unapologetically yourself. Whether it’s a song that brings out that inner child in you, or a song that lifts you up when you’re dealing with the lows of life, music really has a way of making you feel less alone:

The Spice Girls’ “Do It” was my ultimate pick-me-up anthem. As an early 90’s baby, I grew up in the era where boy and girl bands were thriving. At the time, Pop music was becoming more and more male-dominated, but the Spice Girls cemented themselves in music history as one of the highest selling girl groups of all-time. Even when I listen to them now, I am more appreciative of what they did in terms of women empowerment / “Girl Power.” Their success in the 90’s was not a gimmick–they were definitely more than just pretty faces and bubbly personalities. If you really listen to their lyrics (most of which they wrote) and the quality of music they’ve released, you’d understand why they were such great role models to young girls like me.

Aretha Franklin’s classic song, “Think,” carries on this theme of female empowerment. It’s no secret that a lot of ladies’ issues these days stem from men acting like they know about the struggles of a woman. This song reiterates the idea of freedom, not just for women, but for every person who has dealt with their fair share of BS. The Queen of Soul sings about offering a second chance, as long as the wrong-doer thinks about what they did wrong and are willing to learn from their mistakes.

Ariana Grande’s “fake smile” has been on repeat for me the past few months. The lyrics are pretty self-explanatory. She sings about no longer wanting to put on a fake smile and pretending to act like she’s okay when she isn’t. She has been very vocal about her struggles with mental health, anxiety, and PTSD the past couple of years, and this song stresses the importance of being open and honest with how you’re feeling.

  • Post a video of a song that makes you think of your youth: Do It – Spice Girls

  • Post a video of a song about having had your fill of BS: Think – Aretha Franklin 

  • Post a video of a song about being unapologetic for standing your ground: fake smile – Ariana Grande

Colors & Music

Happy Monday! You guys already know how much I love music, so I’m joining in on the fun for Laura’s Weekly Song Challenge. This week’s focus is on colors in song titles and/or band / artist names. I won’t be tagging anyone, but I do invite any of my followers to participate!

With summer vacation officially in full effect, I chose songs that are perfect to jam along to with the windows rolled down:

Yasmeen’s 2002 single, “Blue Jeans,” perfectly sums up early 2000s R&B: a head-bopping beat, a catchy chorus, and a cheesy music video with hilarious choreography to go along with it all. Listening to this song just takes me back to my old living room at 8 years old, watching an episode of “All That” on Nickelodeon, and dancing along to the musical guests they had on that show.  I love how certain songs can make you feel nostalgic.

Paramore’s “Rose-Colored Boy” sounds like such a happy, energetic song, but the lyrics may say otherwise. In fact, I see it as encouraging people to open up about their mental health. The band took to Twitter explaining the lyrics behind the song writing, “Adding shame to sadness is a pretty toxic cocktail. It’s hard enough to deal with sadness, depression, or any type of anxiety without the added societal expectations. It’s important AND more healing to meet people where they’re at – EMPATHY – than to try and paint everything rosy.” This song has been on repeat for me lately, and it’s such a well-written, honest, relatable and perfect pick-me-up.

Speaking of how certain songs can make you feel nostalgic, Green Day’s “Basket Case” does just that. I remember being such a huge fan of Green Day growing up…partly because they were from the Bay Area, but mostly because of their album, Dookie. This was the album that really triggered my love for that underground, punk-rock genre of music…and if I haven’t already shown my age with the other songs I’ve previously talked about on my blog, this song choice should do it for ya.

  • Post a video of a song that either in the title or lyrics mention the color blue: Blue Jeans – Yasmeen

  • Post a video of a song that has the word “color” in either the title or the lyrics: Rose-Colored Boy – Paramore

  • Post a video of a song by an artist or band with a color as part of their name: Basket Case – Green Day

Ariana Grande Gives Fans A Sweet Experience On Her Sweetener World Tour

Wow, what a year-and-a-half it has been for Ariana Grande. Upon releasing her fourth and fifth studio albums, Sweetener and thank u, next, just a mere six months apart, headlining Coachella, and breaking record after record on the Billboard charts, Ariana continues to shine her light as she reaches month three of her “Sweetener World Tour.”

I had the amazing opportunity to meet and see her live for the first time last Friday when she performed in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center (shout out to my brother for this wonderful Christmas gift), and I’ve gotta say…I’m not sure why this was my first time seeing her live. I’ve been a fan since her lovable portrayal of Cat Valentine in Nickelodeon’s Sam & Cat, but that love only continued to grow after her debut album, Yours Truly. I try not to put Disney or Nickelodeon stars in a box, but I was surprised to hear the 90’s influences in her music. Not to mention, the voice she had at just 19, was enough for anyone to become an instant fan. The best part about it, is her stage presence and vocal ability continue to improve, and she showcases it all on this tour.

The M&G VIP Package included entry to her soundcheck dance party / Q&A session, entry to the pre-show lounge with a free drink ticket, a general admission pit ticket, merchandise items, and of course, a photo with Ariana. During the soundcheck dance party / Q&A session, our phones were locked away in a Yondr bag, which allowed fans to be present in the moment and really connect with Ariana. Without giving away too many details, fans also get a chance to win merchandise during the Q&A session. Ariana was so sweet; unapologetically herself, relatable, and you can tell she genuinely cares about her supporters. She doesn’t shy away from expressing her gratitude and treats fans like they’re friends.

Visually, the show had a very space-esque feel to it..maybe as an homage to her “God is a Woman” music video (she opens the show with this song), or her widely loved song, “NASA”, but there were many images of Earth or the moon throughout the show. The vibrancy of colors were also stunning; lots of pinks that mimicked her thank u, next album cover decorated the main screen at times, as well as some occasional blues, greens, and purples to match her outfit changes.

In terms of stage presence, vocally, Ariana went above and beyond. She sounded almost exactly like she does on her records–at times, even better. With how many shows this tour calls for, you can tell she really takes care of her voice and is committed to giving her fans a memorable show. For a few songs that called for it, such as “Needy” or “goodnight n go,” Ariana kept it very intimate, sitting on the edge of the stage to fully connect with the audience. Not only did she sing a whopping 30-song setlist live, but she did so with choreography and full-blown energy. Very few artists these days can sing in tune and dance simultaneously, but Ariana made it clear that she was meant to be a performer. She used the entire stage incredibly well.

It should be noted that the bag policy calls for only clear bags allowed through the concert doors. Although some may not be a fan of this policy, it is an understandable request, following the 2017 Manchester attacks. Security is very strict on this policy, but Ariana has made it clear that it is for her fans’ safety, and I respect her for not taking the situation lightly. There were also voter registration booths outside the venue per her initiative, #ThankUNextGen, which encourages concertgoers to register to vote / allow voices to be heard. I loved this partnership with HeadCount, and it shows that she aims to make a change with more than just her music.

Overall, this was one of my favorite concerts I’ve been to, just based on the energy alone. The setlist was perfect for a stadium setting and there were literally no empty seats in sight. With five albums already under her belt and an incredibly loyal fanbase, Ariana Grande has already made a historic mark in the music industry at just twenty-five years old. The best part about it? She’s still capable of so much more. Thank you, Ariana, for such a wonderful concert experience.

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An Artist Misunderstood

I’ve been on an Amy Winehouse appreciation binge the past few weeks. After watching the Grammy-award winning 2015 documentary, AMY, on Netflix, I realized how much of a role an artist’s reputation plays in terms of music appreciation. I guess I’ve always known, especially since musicians are constantly under the media’s magnifying glass, but after watching this documentary, it really was an eye-opener. For some, it is easy to just listen to the music and separate an artist’s personal life from professional. For others, however, personal life and professional go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, Amy Winehouse and the media did not have the greatest relationship. Like everyone, she had her fair share of life struggles. The difference is that she had to attend to them under the public eye, where cameras and judgment were constantly being thrown her way. Instead of focusing on her contributions to the music industry, her personal life was torn to shreds.

Amy Winehouse’s story really is a heartbreaking one because after listening to albums like Frank or Back To Black, one can distinguish her undeniable passion for music; specifically Jazz. Her live performances showcased impeccable timing, filled with emotion. She loved creating and paying homage to legendary Jazz musicians that came before her. Through past interviews, she had never been one to shy away from expressing her appreciation for artists like Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Minnie Riperton, and Thelonious Monk. Questlove, who is known for holding a Doctorate’s degree in Jazz and as the drummer for The Roots, has praised Amy for teaching him more about the genre: “She would assign homework, what records to study…there is so much more I could’ve learned–she taught me a lot” (Associated Press). Clearly, Amy knew the kind of music she wanted to make. Her unique vocal ability, heartfelt songwriting, and thoughtful use of real instruments to create her sound even earned her eight Grammy awards, including Record of the Year in 2008. Thanks to hits such as “Valerie,” “Stronger Than Me” or “Rehab,” she made Jazz mainstream again.

She truly was an old soul, unprepared for the spotlight. It is difficult to know what one would do when catapulted in to popularity, but Amy handled it as best she could. Upon watching AMY, viewers will get an inside look at her artistry, as well as her battles with addiction and mental health. Underneath the struggles and tabloids, was a humble, misunderstood young woman who just needed to use music and songwriting as an outlet. Like many artists gone too soon, Amy’s legacy should live on through her music.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Day twenty-eight of my February Music Challenge: A song that makes you want to dance

So when the night falls,
My lonely heart calls…
-Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”

Today is the last day of my Daily Music Challenge! Wow, this month flew by. It has been fun sharing some of my favorite songs with you all, and although I was hoping for more people to join me, posting a song a day really helped me get out of the writer’s block funk I’ve been in. This challenge also made me realize how much I love talking about music. It is a universal language that everyone enjoys and can bond over. All this said, I wanted to send a farewell to February with a fun prompt, and welcome March with a positive outlook.

Opening  with claps, a groovy bass line, and the iconic interjection of “Wooo!”, Whitney Houston introduces the ultimate dance song, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” After that first note, listeners know they are in for a treat. Released at Whitney’s prime in 1987, she showcases incredible vocal abilities with ease; especially upon hearing her sing this song live. Her breathing technique, vibrato, and seemingly infinite vocal range go unmatched, making her (in my opinion) one of the greatest vocalists in history. When I’m in need of a pick-me-up or just find myself in a great mood, I turn to this song, knowing it will make me want to move. Not only that, but the catchy and well-known chorus will make anyone want to sing along. Three decades later, we continue to blast this classic song at weddings or proms, and it just shows the legacy that Whitney Houston has left behind.

February Music Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight

2/28/2019

Today’s Daily Music Challenge is: a song that makes you want to dance. Feel free to share a little back story, a link to the song, or anything else you’d like to add. Most of all, have fun with it! If you’d like to participate, create a pingback to this post.

Sincerity Is Scary

Day twenty-seven of my February Music Challenge: A song to drive along to

You try and mask your pain in the most postmodern way…
-The 1975, “Sincerity Is Scary”

Similar to yesterday’s daily music prompt, the music I like to drive along to will vary depending on my mood. Lately, I feel like I’ve been posting a lot of R&B / Soul music, but that doesn’t mean I don’t listen to other genres. Like I’ve mentioned before, I am very open-minded when it comes to music, and I will listen to pretty much anything I am introduced to. I’ve just been gravitating more toward R&B lately, so forgive me if it seems like I’ve only been one-sided. This being said, I am in the mood for more Pop / Rock / Indie music today. On long drives, I always favor listening to something more up-tempo / something I can sing along to, to avoid falling asleep at the wheel.

The 1975 is currently one of my favorite Pop bands. I know there has been a love/hate relationship when it comes to The 1975, but what can I say? Their self-titled debut album, full of synth-rock sounds and rather nostalgic beats, swayed me in to loving them. They remind me of a more Pop-based Phoenix (another favorite band of mine). Over the years, The 1975 has evolved their sound while still remaining true to the music that placed them on the map. You can hear it in their 2016 sophomore album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (long titles to songs are one of their signatures) and most notably in their most recent album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Specifically, the song “Sincerity Is Scary” carries a more Jazzy / playful tone to the band than I’m used to, but I’m not complaining. I love the use of horns and keys throughout the song. Not to mention, frontman Matthew Healy’s laid back vocals always contribute so well to the band’s sound.