Monday, March 30, 2015

In defense of change

Change is good.

Or so the old saying goes. I must have heard that one a thousand times, but the instance that sticks out most in my head is when an old colleague used it on me. I had just announced my plans to leave Teen People to take a job at Us Weekly, and I was feeling nervous about my decision. This particular colleague dropped by my office to wish me well, and I ended up unloading my misgivings on him.

He wasn't a big fan of mine, and I knew he was glad to see me go. For him, any old cliché probably would have done if it ended our conversation as quickly and painlessly as possible. I'm pretty sure he pulled that one out of his ass. He probably had no idea what an impression he made.

He was right...sort of. Change can be good, and in this professional instance it was not only good -- it was essential. But change can also be not-so-good. There's a lot to be said for stability, predictability and the dreaded routine. Change for the sake of change only is often just a waste of time.

When I was younger, one of my relatives came to live with us for a while. One of my most vivid memories about him (among many vivid, unpleasant memories) was that he used to change undershirts several times a day. Every time I think of him, I also think of his white V-neck t-shirts flapping in the wind on the clothesline in the backyard like blank flags at half-mast.

As I can't recall him ever doing anything more strenuous than thumping his Holy Bible, I had no idea why he needed to change his t-shirts so often. Maybe it was because my mother did all of the laundry, so why not? Change for the sake of change may have been good for him, but it was a burden for my mom. Though I've fully embraced change in my recent adulthood, I've remained suspicious and maybe even a little afraid of it too.

But now I'm beginning to see change in an entirely different light. Even when it's not-so-good, or just for its own sake, it can end up having a net positive effect. Hannah Horvath on Girls would probably agree.

The fourth season of Girls won me over after a kind of hum-drum third season, and I think it was all because of change. There was so much of it. The biggest one: Hannah moved to Iowa (albeit briefly) to attend grad school, which set off a chain of unfortunate events for Hannah but fortunate ones for this viewer.

As a result of the stint in Iowa, she lost Adam, and upon her return, even more change was in store. She took a job as a substitute high-school teacher and her friends became a less prominent presence in her life. Hannah spent more time with Adam's new girlfriend Mimi-Rose in episode 7 than she did with Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa the entire season! If that wasn't enough life upheaval, her father also came out as gay. That's a lot of change for a 10-episode season.

(As an aside, I love the juxtaposition of her dad announcing he's gay to her mother getting tenure, which, in academia, is the antithesis of change, as Loreen "I never have to move again" Horvath clearly realizes.)

The move to Iowa was one of the best developments that the series writer and star Lena Dunham has come up with yet. It took Hannah out of the orbit of her annoying New York circle, none of whom, with the exception of Adam and Shoshanna, I could possibly care less about. The Iowa episodes were some of my favorite ones of the season, partly because her New York crowd were barely in them. But most of all, I loved them because the change of scenery and Hannah's ultimate failure in Iowa were the catalysts for the first signs of true emotional growth we've seen in her yet.

I don't think she would have been able to be so supportive of her father and not make his coming out all about her without the Iowa experience. And look at how she remained in the background during the water-childbirth scenes, not grabbing center stage as old Hannah surely would have done. Had she not let go of so many illusions about herself, about her life, about life in general after Iowa, she probably would have taken Adam back in the season finale rather than seeing that they simply didn't work anymore…if they ever actually did.

I'm thrilled that Hannah is starting to evolve, but I'm glad that she hasn't completely changed her irritating ways. Her interaction with her student Cleo offered much-needed assurance that old-school Hannah is alive and well. Some might find her insufferable, but I love her despite her flaws… because of her flaws.

I get Hannah. Maybe it's the writer in us. We're a strange, complicated, contradictory breed. I hope friends and strangers don't feel about me the way people do about Hannah, but I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that some of them do. It's not like I've never picked up and left everyone I cared about behind for far less clear-cut reasons than Hannah's motivation for moving to Iowa.

I'm sure more big changes (some just for the sake of it) are in store for both Hannah and me. Maybe they'll bring about continued evolution and make us more palatable to the people around us. Perhaps, as it did with Hannah, change will finally put me in the orbit of a guy who might actually be good for me and not just provide more fodder for my writing.

I like Mr. Parker. He's cute and he totally nailed Hannah in just a couple of episodes. I'm curious to see where they go in season five. I love that he called her on her thirst for drama, but I hope she doesn't bend like Carrie Bradshaw did with Aiden when she tried to give up smoking for him on Sex and the City. Hannah's dramatic tendencies are a large part of what makes her and Girls interesting.

The last thing she (or I, a once-again thoroughly entertained viewer) needs is change in the form of a sexy new guy swooping in and altering Hannah or her maddening ways. I love them just the way they are.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

5 great NSA anthems (or 5 reasons why Christina Aguilera deserves to be a major pop star again)

Although she never gets credit for it, Christina Aguilera deserves major props for perfecting the squeaky clean-to-untamed and sexy pop makeover. It seemed a lot more natural and effortless than Miley Cyrus's, and unlike the twerking queen, whose hits are as cheap as her image, Christina offered a quality soundtrack for her sexual coming of age.

She deserves to be on top...again.

1. "Dirrty" So raunchy it gets two R's.

2. "Get Mine, Get Yours" "I want your body, not your heart." Along with "Dirrty," the line that earned Xtina her "skank" rep in the early '00s.

3. "Candyman" The narrative takes place over the course of an actual date, but this full-course meal is really all about dessert, and in a world with so many flavors, variety is the spice of sex life. Morning-after leftovers probably aren't on the menu.

4. "Woo Hoo" That Christina and Nicki Minaj make it sound even remotely appealing rather than simply appalling is a major pop miracle. Alas, my anaconda still don't want none.

5. "Your Body" If you can't beat 'em, just screw 'em.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

20 Randon Tweet-Sized Thoughts I Had While Listening to Madonna's "Rebel Heart"

1. Rebel Heart's all over the map stylistically and not nearly as much of a dance album as 1st single Living for Love would lead one to expect.

2. It's strange (and maybe unwise) that the pre-release promotion revolves around a '90s-style single that's so unrepresentative of the album.

3. I never imagined that my favorite thing about a Madonna single would ever be an Alicia Keys contribution: yep, the piano on Living for Love.

4. Introspective, navel-gazing, middle-aged Madonna is a bit of a snooze. She's best when she's being an "Unapologetic Bitch" and/or "Iconic."

5. Quieter songs like Devil Pray, HeartBreakCity and Messiah aren't repeat-worthy, but they have something largely absent from MDNA: melody.

6. Joan of Arc is the best of the slower songs, though OMD did far better by the title. It doesn't make me want to press skip...or repeat.

7. Madonna's rebel heart's in the right place, but there isn't much rebellion here. In fact, this may be her most mainstream music since Music.

8. No Madonna album would be complete without a little religion. Who else could make "genuflect" work in a pop song? Bitch, get off my pole!

9. Meta Madonna! This thing's loaded with references to her past work. I get the feeling she was also rooting for Birdman to win Best Picture.

10. If Veni Vidi Vici had appeared on Beyonce's next album, everyone would be calling it the best thing since sliced bread...or "XO." #NasIsGod

11. Speaking of Bey, did producer Kanye West make Madonna reference her in "Illuminati"? It's better than Beat Goes On, which isn't saying much.

12. Nas's blistering rap (and the irony of his closing rhyme "Madonna on track, Nas in the back") might be the best thing here. #BurnKelisBurn

13. Speaking of triple V, Madonna wasted two of her best new songs (that and Addicted) on the "deluxe" editions. She needs a stronger editor.

14. Nicki Minaj's cameo is the worst. Thanks to her, the final of Bitch I'm Madonna, like most of the others, isn't as good as the leaked one.

15. With contributions from Nicki, Nas, Mike Tyson, Alicia Keys and Kanye West, Rebel Heart is a lot blacker than the 2015 Oscars were. #Respect

16. Oh my God, I love the booming system on S.E.X., but what's with those callow lyrics? They sound like the heated rantings of, like, a virgin.

17. Addiction works for Madonna like religion. I'm Addicted was my MDNA favorite, and Addicted is a standout here. Sadly, it's a buried extra.

18. Madonna has never sounded better, which means her 56-year-old voice, like her body, is entering its prime. She's the Benjamin Button of pop.

19. Unconvinced? Listen to Ghosttown. It's hard to imagine Madonna singing the hell out of that song in her 20s the way she does now. #perfect

20. The frustrating thing is that the great album is somewhere in the mix between the official 14-track album and nine "deluxe" version songs.

If I were to create a four-star 12-track Rebel Heart, it would include these songs:

  1. Living for Love
  2. Unapologetic Bitch
  3. Bitch I'm Madonna
  4. Hold Tight
  5. Iconic
  6. Body Shop
  7. Holy Water
  8. Inside Out
  9. Veni Vidi Vici
  10. S.E.X.
  11. Beautiful Scars
  12. Addicted

Grindr During Sydney Mardi Gras Week Might Be the Funniest/Saddest Thing Ever!

Here's a question nobody in Sydney has bothered to ask me (and considering the rah-rah-up-with-Sydney attitude that prevails around here, nobody probably ever will): What's your least favorite thing about Sydney? least favorite thing about Sydney...Oh, that one's easy. I've been thinking for weeks now that it would have to be gay men on Grindr. No 2 on my most-hated-in-Sydney list: Gay men off Grindr. It's a jungle out here!

It would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to have a normal conversation on Grindr in Sydney. I know. I've been trying for four months now with minimal success. (I recently had an enlightening chat with several straight female colleagues who revealed that the situation is similarly dire on hetero meet-market apps.)

Yeah yeah, I get it. Grindr is about hooking up. It sucks everywhere. True, but it's so much worse here than it is in any city I've been in since I first used it three years ago. There's something about Sydney that seems to bring out the horny unexpurgated beast in nearly everyone who logs on.

Though I've never used Grindr in New York City (or anywhere else in the U.S.), I've logged on in plenty of other major urban spreads -- Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Dubai, Berlin, Warsaw, Milan, Rome, Florence, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Aman, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nairobi, and, of course, Melbourne -- so I can't blame it on the big city. Size matters...but then again, it doesn't.

The majority of guys I've encountered on Grindr outside of Sydney may have been after the very same thing as the ones here. Still, some of them were smart enough to avoid those Grindr cliches -- "Hung?", "Looking (for)?", "Horny?", "Into?", "Top?", "NSA", "Pics?" and "Fun?", the latter of which, curiously, doesn't seem to be so in here -- at least before asking my name, and they'd occasionally pretend to see me as a human being first and an appendage second...even after 3 am.

I don't think it has anything to do with the Aussie temperament. On Grindr in Sydney (and frequently off), visitors and expats are fairly interchangeable with guys who've lived here all their lives. There's something about this city that seems to turn perfectly lovely guys into douches, regardless of where they're from.

In Berlin I met an expat from Sydney on Grindr, and he took six hours to make a move. It was my favorite day of my entire month there, and I wonder if it ever would have happened had he found me on Grindr in his hometown. Another Grindr guy in Rome (a Roman) made his move after making me dinner. I couldn't imagine that ever happening in Sydney, a city where gay guys on and off Grindr seem to regard traditional dates as Hannah on Girls does:

"Who even goes on dates? It's like I'm fucking 45."

Well, I am, and I'd probably be more likely to make a human connection, or score a weekend date, in a sex club, or in a public park after midnight anywhere in the world, than I would on Grindr in Sydney. It's almost like there's an unspoken rule among gay Sydney-siders and Sydney visitors: Don't take names, and leave your decorum at the closet door.

I didn't think it could get any worse on Grindr until Mardi Gras week when horny tourists from all over the world descended upon Sydney and just let themselves go. A few of them offered me $$$ for the pleasure of my company (no response = no) and at least one requested a drug score, but I've built up enough of a tolerance for tackiness over the course of four months to LOL about it.

Even without those moneybag trolls, just scrolling a quarter of the way down my Grindr screen and reading the words beside some of the photos would have provided me with enough amusement to last all weekend. There were several times more profiles than usual with display text that included "bottom," "top," "hung," "XLG," "NSA," "wired", "fun," "sub," and some other words that I can't imagine anyone typing with a straight face.

I began to wonder if Grindr had morphed into Comedy Central. Surely these guys had to be kidding. It was like a parody of a tacky pick-up scene. Then something different caught my eye: One romantic fool looking "for LTR."

Poor guy. Guess who won't be getting lucky this weekend in Sydney.