6

Masterpiece YouTube: Hozier, “Take Me To Church”

September’s come and just about gone, and I realized I haven’t introduced you readers to a video clip in a while, so here’s one that’s been mesmerizing me recently.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 21: “Take Me To Church,” Hozier, 2015.

I have to admit, I first heard this song when Sharon Irving sang it on America’s Got Talent, but that doesn’t make this experience any less special. She sounded amazing, in a different type of amazing than the original, but this is a pretty darn perfect song, and the music video has been seared into my brain, along with the lyrics.

I’m going to forgo the usual recap, because this is something that you have to see to believe. Suffice it to say, this black-and-white picture of power contains anger, love, despair, confusion, destruction, and heartbreak. It was filmed in Ireland, which is pretty obvious from the scenery.

Hearing this song and watching this video makes me think that life is precious, and true love is not yet dead.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by having 1100 subscribers, my 1100th being Thursday’s Child. Visit her site, it’s fun and quirky. And greetings to all the continents, save for South America: Canada, USA, Mexico, UK, Norway, Sweden, Hungary, Netherlands, Russia, Sudan, South Africa, Hong Kong, UAE, and Australia.

11

Masterpiece YouTube: “Mime Through Time,” SketchSHE, 2015

I’m tired (so what else is new) but just wanted to get a post in today. I haven’t done one of these since March, so I think it’s time for another. You’ve probably seen this clip before, but it’s so creative and hilarious and just my style, so here’s an in-depth analysis.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 20: “Mime Through Time,” SketchSHE, 2015.

SketchSHE consists of three funny ladies from Australia: Lana, Madison, and Shae-Lee. I have no idea which is which, so I just refer to them as Driver, Passenger, and Backseat.

We start with the three just hanging out in their car. Passenger turns on the radio, and they’re in 1940s gear and singing along with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” They look like nurses going to a party off base. A salute, and a seamless transition into Elvis, complete with jumpsuits and new makeup/hairstyles. With a headbang, they’re the Beatles. Even though Driver and Passenger are tied up, they can still un-duct tape themselves. A bit illusion-shattering, but no time to think as they morph into Queen. They have a nice transition here into Michael Jackson, and this might be my favorite bit because they each have a different King of Pop look going on; Backseat has the “Thriller” jacket, and Driver is “Bad.” The choreography is inspired too. Then, it’s time for my favorite transition…just wait for it…1:17. That Passenger seat face is scary but hilarious as they all become Whitney. A hair flip leads them into Nirvana, and for some reason I’m getting Hanson flashbacks. I don’t like this song, but they do it well. Then it’s time for a rap interlude, with some mist in the background. Check out the Driver rapping and the Backseat fly girl. This next transition into Britney seems a bit out of place, as the light and positions change drastically, but the head-shaving bit cracks me up every time. The Eminem bit is not my favorite, but then they go all “Single Ladies,” with the one-shoulder jumpsuits and hand-motions, aided in interpretation by some fierce eye makeup and expressions. A great transition into Gotye. That bit seems out of place too because there’s not really a dance style associated with it, but then we get them in full-on “Thrift Shop” pimp mode, which is #$%^ing awesome…and then there’s “Wrecking Ball.” One by one, they realize that they’re topless, and then someone off screen gets Driver to roll down her window because she’s illegally parked, ignoring the fact that there are three topless (presumably naked) women in a car singing along to Miley Cyrus.

I think they did a great job of including a variety of music styles from pop to punk to rap, and the costumes and makeup designs were, for the most part, dead-on. I was surprised at some of their omissions, like Madonna (“Vogue”), Spice Girls(“Wannabe”), Bee Gees (“Night Fever”), country line dance (“Achy Breaky Heart” or “Cotton Eye Joe”), 90s boy band, Motown girl group…but then again, maybe they’re saving them for Part II. I sure hope there is a Part II.

What I learned from this video: Road trips are always fun with friends, make sure you don’t forget your shirt, and don’t park illegally.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube was brought to you by A & P: Anxiety and Procrastination.

Also, according to my Live Statistics, my 25,000th flag showed up a few days ago, and it was from a visitor from Singapore. Thanks, Singapore!

10

Masterpiece YouTube: “Pot Belly,” Freshlyground

Today was a completely lazy day, so I thought I’d do some justice to this video.

That’s So Jacob Presents

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 19: “Pot Belly,” Freshlyground.

We start with Freshlyground’s frontman (frontwoman?) Zolani Mahola in a completely green house, brushing her teeth and going through her morning routine alongside some random white guy. They seem to be complete opposites; he drinks coffee, she eats cereal. He plays chess, she reads and eats green jelly beans that must’ve taken hours to pick out of the bag. She finds an odd red one, and flicks it off like nobody’s business. Outside, he gardens and she launders, and they play some flirty hide-and-seek. She holds a mysterious green box, which he excitedly opens to find a bright green shirt. Zolani opens her door to find some red roses. They’re both overjoyed, until they realize that their items just don’t fit in; the guy wears the green shirt but gets so uncomfortable in it that he has to cover it with a red jacket and scarf, and she almost has a panic attack until she puts the roses behind a curtain. At sunset, they sadly take back their gifts, and for some reason, Zolani is wearing a khaki-looking trenchcoat, unless it’s actually a pale green and either my monitor or my eyes are deceiving me, and they go off their separate ways and go to sleep in their respective homes.

The next morning, Zolani sees a red flower petal on her bed and she snaps to attention, repainting her entire house red and replacing every single thing in it with something red, including her jellybeans, her outfit, and even her makeup, even though, ironically, she puts on red lipstick though she never had green lipstick on.

She opens the door, and lo and behold, her neighbor is standing there in a green suit, just for her. So then, they compromise, and the camera fast-forwards to them in her bed, only with a red and green striped blanket, as well as red and green pajamas on him and the room now decked out in bicolor decor. Oh, and take notice of the bottom left corner; he brought his chessboard over to her place and must’ve dug up some green pieces. Nothing could be cuter.

Oh wait, it could. We close on their toothbrushes in the same cup. All is well.

I like this video because it teaches us that people should look past each other’s color and love one another. Also, the song is pretty dope and it has nothing to do with the video and vice versa which is kinda cool.

 This episode of Masterpiece YouTube was brought to you by tolerance, tiredness, and Jelly Belly.

13

Masterpiece YouTube: “Tell Him,” The Exciters

Time for a cleanse, and what better way to get my thoughts back on track than with a Masterpiece YouTube. Only this one is a little bit different; it’s actually so bad that it’s a masterpiece. It’s like a masterpiece of banality.

That’s So Jacob Presents

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 18: “Tell Him,” The Exciters, 1963.

Ever since I finished reading the book Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound by Alan Betrock, I’ve been playing “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Be My Baby” in my head. But one of the most forgotten gems of the 1960s girl group scene is none other than “Tell Him,” by The Exciters, featuring lead singer Brenda Reid.

On the surface, this is probably one of the most banal, boring, and unfortunate music videos of all time, set to the tune of one of the best songs of all time. Seriously, there is so much more they could have done. As in, literally, anything. This entire video can be summed up in one sentence: some people went to the zoo and sang to the animals. But since this is Masterpiece YouTube, let’s break it down. Keep in mind that this “music video” was made way before the advent of Final Cut Pro or iMovie or even the Internet.

We open on a bear. Aww, yay, a nature video! Wait…not so fast. The camera then zooms out to show the Exciters singing to said bear, wearing fancy red dresses and suits, looking terribly out of place for a day trip to the zoo. Then we go back to the bear, who listens for about a half second before walking away, because he is a bear and cannot understand the concepts of love or music or the English language. The camera goes back to the singers, and then to the bear, who appears to clap along, but then at 0:36 is all, “…Did you not get the memo yet? I’m a bear. A BEAR. I still do not understand what you are doing with your hands and your mouths. Forget it, crazy humans. Bye.”

Bear walks away.

Brenda and her crew head over to the lions’ den, and you can actually see the lion in the background running out of the shot, as if to say, “no way I’m going to be in this dumb video, bye.” Then the camera zooms in on him. (LION: “What did I just tell you people?”) Then he has a change of heart and goes back into the frame, following Brenda, as we cut to some swans, who are more interested in some food in the water than the talented lady singing near them.

Then comes the weird part. I’m talking, super weird, like Three Men and a Baby weird. The camera zooms in on Brenda, but there is someone in a white dress, who may or may not be a ghostly spectre just standing there. Stock still, quiet, and probably unaware that he/she is being filmed. Seriously, you couldn’t have chosen another angle or edited the person out? What was the budget, $7.50 and some Fruit Roll-Ups?

Swans? Still eating.

And now, the really weird part, and the kind of dizzying one. The Exciters have now gotten on one of those turntable thingies you find on playgrounds, and finish the song while in a slow revolve, with Brenda’s eyes following the camera when she comes back around to it.

So, there you have it. Weirdest one-hit wonder music video ever. Kind of a shame, too, because the Exciters were really good, especially Brenda. Speaking of Brenda, when I first saw this video on YouTube awhile back, someone commented saying something like “wow, this is really good, whatever happened to the lead singer?” and someone named “breid1976” or something responded “thanks for the compliment…that was me, my name is Brenda Reid, I’m a mother and grandmother now, and I’m still singing…glad you enjoyed it…” That version of the video has been taken down, and the comment along with it (I looked, and could not find it). No word on whether that YouTube user actually was Brenda Reid or not, but it’s quite possible; as far as I know, she is still alive and well at age 70. It also seems like something she’d do; I imagine her as being this sweet old lady who has a garden and goes to church every Sunday and also happens to have been one of the best forgotten voices of the 1960s. She is on Facebook, and I friended her; seeing that her wall posts are a lot of praise from random fans, I’m hoping that she’ll accept my request and we can become pals, like I’ve done with Julie Brown and Mink Stole, both of whom I’ve written to and gotten responses from.

And now, to bed, for some light-ish reading.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube was brought to you by Thin Mints. Thin Mints: it doesn’t matter how many calories there are per serving; go ahead and eat the entire box yourself, because you deserve it. Find yourself a Girl Scout and buy some Thin Mints today!

0

Masterpiece YouTube: Annie Lennox, “Walking on Broken Glass”

Ever since I posted about broken glass yesterday, this song has been playing in my head, for two obvious reasons. One, because it’s a good song, and two, because it was the first music video that I watched over and over and over again and sometimes they pull it off YouTube which can be sad. So, I present to you one of my favorite music videos of all time.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 14: Annie Lennox, “Walking on Broken Glass,”

The video starts innocently enough, with a few twinkly piano notes over some tableaux appearing to be from the Mozart/Marie Antoinette era…but then the violins pick up, and the stillness is broken by the waving of a fan.

A FAN, PEOPLE.

Clearly, Ms. Lennox means business.

As she sings, the video shows a foppish gent dancing with several ladies at a proper, pastel-colored ball, with periodic cuts to Annie Lennox looking cross between Maleficent and a sexy nun. The fop in the middle is clearly the one she’s got the hots for, but that bitch in white keeps lady-cockblocking her. Finally, she gets him aside, only to lose him again and stomp her dress in frustration and in time to the music.

Then all hell breaks loose.

In she strides, hands on her widely-farthingaled hips. With confidence, conviction, and just a bit of condescension, she pushes the others aside to get to her man. The light makes her all crazy-eyed as she attempts to drag the man in white away, and it’s all an embarrassing but terribly exciting fuss as she gets cruelly ripped away from her young lover. But this is Annie Lennox we’re talking about, who takes nothing sitting down, and she proves it by crawling on all fours to get what she wants, before ultimately failing again and leaving with contempt. She trots down some awesome spiral stairs and ends up…in the arms of her young lover. So it was not in vain after all.

This video is a masterpiece really empowers me to be as bad-ass as I can be, and to do it with conviction. If it worked for Annie Lennox, it can work for you too. Plus, it’s delightfully innocuous to look at, with a fun storyline that gets more fun as with each successive viewing you can pick a different side and watch the events unfold from the perspective of a different character. CHOICES. It just gives me all the feels, but mostly the feel to use long words and adverbs.

Plus, period costume!

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by actual broken glass.

5

How To Spend Your Birthday Laughing Instead of Crying

So, I turned 27 years old today. Happy birthday to me.

It started off with a fire alarm at 8 AM, but other than that it was mostly a good day. My parents sent me cookies, Twizzlers, and coupons, and even my sister gave me a call. I even got a surprise bag of donuts.

As most people who know me know, my birthday always brings me anxiety. It only comes once a year and then it’s gone. 364 days until I am special again. It’s also a symbol that yes, that number’s only going up, but I have to just remind myself that it’s a good day, a happy day, just for me. It also helps that tomorrow is my lunar birthday, so that kind of softens the blow going from balloons and singing to…nothing. Here’s another thing about me: I love it when people sing me the birthday song on my birthday.

It also helps to know that although I’ve probably had more memorable birthdays than this one, I’ve undoubtedly had much, much worse ones.

What I do know:

Today, I am having a happy birthday. I am so glad that I am alive, healthy, and independent. I am safe, and I am free. Those are the best gifts I could ever receive.

But enough sappy stuff.

I spent much of my morning watching videos that make me laugh and smile, so in addition to ones I’ve already shared, here are the top five videos that will fill your birthday with laughter and happiness.

Top Five Videos that Make Me Happy

5. Clueless as performed by the Golden Girls.

4. Wanda Sykes goes skiing.

3. Rosie O’Donnell and Bea Arthur singing the Maude theme song.

2. Ellen DeGeneres and her cubicle.

1. Aliens singing the birthday song.

Oh, and a bonus video, of course.

I just imagine Celine is singing right to me.

 

 

 

16

Masterpiece YouTube: Linda Ronstadt/Amy Winehouse “You’re No Good/You Know I’m No Good” Remix

In honor of the brand new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, I thought it only appropriate to celebrate with a music video.

That’s So Jacob presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 12: Linda Ronstadt/Amy Winehouse “You’re No Good/You Know I’m No Good” Remix

Pop music has changed.

Not just the songs, but the images of the artists as well. What was once risque is now tame; I watched an early Britney Spears music video the other day and was like “so what’s the problem here?” Now you look at people like Miley Cyrus and wonder where the hell music went to. The only “pop” in pop music these days seems to come from Macklemore’s song where he “pops some tags” (and at first, I thought it was “popping some tabs,” like from soda cans or maybe a reference to MDA or some other sort of drug tablets). None of these songs have much of a shelf life. I mean, are we still going to be singing “Shots shots shots shots shots shots” or “You a stupid hoe (repeat)” twenty years from now? Ten? Five?

From the 1940s forward, pop music emerged out of a burgeoning youth culture in America and around the world. These were songs teens could dance along to and sing along with. Pop music has evolved over the years, spawning new genres (like bubblegum pop, country pop, dance pop, adult contemporary) and influenced other styles of music like rock, rap and R&B. Pure pop, however, came from the likes of folks like Linda Ronstadt. I believe that Linda Ronstadt is one of the most versatile performers of our time; her decades-long career has spawned albums in classic pop, contemporary pop, country/western, folk, rock and roll, and Latin, including setting the record for the best-selling non-English-language album in the USA. It shouldn’t have taken until 2014 to induct her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but now she’s in a place which deserves her name. She just came out with a book, Simple Dreams, that I am dying to read.

Unfortunately, she has lost the ability to sing due to symptoms from Parkinson’s disease; other than that, she’s alive and healthy, and apparently, according to her Wikipedia page, single and never married. (Linda – if you’re reading this, call me! 😉 )

She has some of the star qualities that are rarer and rarer to find in pop musicians these days. Every song of hers is distinct and has a different sound to it; you know it’s her because her name is on the CD cover, but even if you didn’t know who she was, you’d appreciate the song and the voice. Her songs were catchy, punchy, and had fun lyrics that were easy to remember, actually made some sense, and had a message in them. Her image wasn’t necessarily squeaky-clean, but that didn’t matter as much in those days; keeping your body covered was in, and songs with provocative lyrics didn’t receive much airtime. Frankly, the concept of “squeaky clean” image that we have today didn’t really exist back then; singers just performed, and the innuendo was what the listener made of it.

21st century music, while it has plenty of exceptions, has seen the proliferation of the “adult” factor, especially in teenagers and young twenty-somethings. Drugs, alcohol, and sex, once a subculture, have now hit the mainstream now more than ever. And they’re all so young. Consider Amy Winehouse. Her life was like a side show of addiction that resulted in an unfortunate death at the age of 27, just a year older than I am right now. And ironic, considering one of her breakout hits, “Rehab,” where she sings about not wanting to go there, and very adamantly at that. Fans seem to consider her some sort of musical martyr, but I don’t see it that way. People make choices in their lives, and she made some pretty bad ones and paid the ultimate price. This is by no means to speak ill of the dead, because she could have had a long, fruitful career ahead of her; just look at how Ozzy Osbourne turned out. Okay, maybe not the best example, but you get the picture.

But back to the video. We start off with the Amy Winehouse part, where she sings about drinking while lying in a bathtub and smoking at the bar, telling all the world “You Know I’m No Good.” Basically, a typical Amy Winehouse day. Her outfits are pretty darn revealing, and I don’t even think she’s trying to be all that sexy. After an awesome transition, we tune into a 1970s episode of Midnight Special, with Linda Ronstadt, two backup singers (who have incredible hairstyles, by the way), and a live band belting out “You’re No Good,” with long-haired Linda rocking the mic in her floral patterned Oxford and bellbottoms, and shaking a tambourine and her long brown hair like she just don’t care. The backups have interesting leisure-suit type outfits on, very 70s, especially the one who appears to be in gold lame. We transition back to Amy doing things with her tongue and half-naked boyfriend (not at the same time), with an awesome tambourine clap from Linda in the middle, before transitioning back again to Linda and co., who bring us out on a high note.

Now, what’s the take away here? I’ll start with the imagery. I love both ladies’ looks in this video, but it really shows just how much music has changed. In the 1970s, Linda’s outfit would be considered trendy, fashionable, and maybe even sexy with the tight fitting waist and legs, but today, you’d find that outfit (or a similar variation) at Ann Taylor or H&M. Amy’s outfit isn’t entirely inappropriate, more like club wear, but shows more cleavage than most 1970s pop divas would dare to bare. Their makeup and body language communicate their characters. Linda’s natural look and slight swish of the hips does more to implicate anything sexual than actually do anything sexual, whereas Amy’s heavy makeup, body tattoos, and (implied) nudity in the bubble bath make more of a show out of her, detracting from the voice and the song. The songs themselves go together nicely in one video, but are very different in style and tone: “You’re No Good” is less specific and contains relatively harmless lyrics about a relationship, where “You Know I’m No Good” refers to alcohol, having affairs, and sleeping around. Unfortunately, the original six-minute video has been taken down by YouTube, but this three-minute version packs the same punch.

This video is a masterpiece because not only does it feature two amazing singers, but it shows some of the stark contrasts between pop music from this century and the last.

Congratulations to Linda as well as Nirvana, Cat Stevens, KISS, Peter Gabriel, and Hall & Oates for their incredibly well-deserved achievement. And also to the nation of Taiwan and the Northwest Territories of Canada for showing up at That’s So Jacob for the first time. Give yourselves a round of applause.

But seriously, Ms. Ronstadt, if you’re ever in the Madison, Wisconsin area, let’s have dinner and drinks. Please?

0

There’s Nothing from the Twenty-First Century

Yes, this is the line that Anna Kendrick says in Pitch Perfect after she looks at the Barden Bellas’ set list. I never thought I’d agree with that assessment, but I’m coming around to the idea.

 Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect Movie  Image #5

The twentieth century brought us Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Supremes, and basically most of what we consider pop music today. As a child of the twentieth century who is growing increasingly scared of some of the strange music of the past 13 years, I’m tempted to just shake my cane at the whole industry. As I’ve started going to this ballroom dance class, I can’t help but imagine some contemporary pop songs as background music. “Somebody I Used to Know” would be a lovely contemporary accompaniment for the quickstep, and you could do a fantastic jive to “Cowboy Casanova.”

So, here’s a quick countdown of 10 songs from the 21st century that capture the essence of “contemporary,” “pop,” and “music,” and what makes them so great.

2003: Eminem, “Lose Yourself”

I wasn’t really aware of this song when it came out, but what I also wasn’t aware of was that this was the dawning of 2000s Eminem, vs. 1990s Eminem. 1990s Eminem was an angry, sadistic man, but in the 2000s, he started manning up, coming into his own as an artist and as a person. “Lose Yourself” was the first step, written and released for the movie 8 Mile in late 2002 but skyrocketed to popularity in 2003, coasting all the way to the 2004 Oscars and winning, the first rap song to achieve this feat. Before “Lose Yourself,” I was one of those “anything but country and rap” people but this song exemplifies R-A-P (rhythm and poetry) in its cascading verses and positive message.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – club jam or jazz. For a couple – not many, maybe a Viennese waltz or a reaaaaally energetic foxtrot? If I were to ever go into boxing, martial arts, bungee jumping, or gain superpowers, this would be my theme.

2004: Dido, “White Flag”

Dido’s been around for awhile, but “White Flag,” I feel, gained her a lot of mainstream fans up against the likes of Christina Aguilera (whom she lost out on the Grammy Awards to for “Beautiful,” another heartfelt slow song but a bit hackneyed and obvious) and Avril Lavigne (whose “I’m With You” was also nominated that year, but sounds better when anyone but Avril Lavigne sings it…there’s a Josh Groban version out there which is spellbinding). It has echoes of Sinead O’Connor’s classic angst anthem “Nothing Compares 2 U” but with less of a fatalistic outlook; its message is one of strength and resilience. The haunting cello makes an excellent counterpoint to the higher notes, and Dido’s voice is just angelic.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – ballet, modern. For a couple – perfect for a rumba or a waltz, but a tango would be intriguing. When I hear this song, for some reason, I think of a commercial for a jewelry line or a perfume or something with a lot of white and possibly fur.

2005: Shakira, “La Tortura”

At this point in her career, Shakira’s had some major English-language hits like “Whenever, Wherever” (which would make for a hot samba number) and “Underneath Your Clothes” (…yeah, I’ve got nothing) but “La Tortura,” a collab. with Alejandro Sanz, is the epitome of sexy and provocative Latino music but not quite Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights provocative. I’ve heard both the English and Spanish versions, and though the English version received more buzz, I’m more partial to Shakira singing in her native language. (Speaking of Spanish, bienvenidos to my first visitors from Peru, Chile, and El Salvador!) With “La Tortura,” Shakira provided a stepping stone for other Latino/a artists to break into mainstream American music, adding some much needed flavor, as most bubble-gum brands lose over time. Good job building bridges Shakira!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – jazz, belly dancing, flamenco. For a couple – what couldn’t it accompany? Salsa, cha-cha, samba, quickstep, an energetic waltz even. Definitely one of the sexier songs of the decade.

2006: Natasha Bedingfield, “Unwritten”

Ah, “Unwritten.” The song that I loved so much I made it part of my screen name. Both the American and UK music videos are amazing, and this song is just the most uplifting, stereo-over-the-head, positive songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not too difficiult to sing and makes a rather banal karaoke choice, but it just fills me with sunshine. I used to have a rule that if the song comes on the radio while I’m driving, I couldn’t change the station, and if it comes on my iPod, I couldn’t skip it. Those days are gone now, but it’s a replica of a simpler time, a better time. Wait – that was freshman year of college for me, so maybe I’m better in the present.

What dance it could accompany: This is the only song on the list that isn’t really a song to dance to, other than maybe the gospel side-to-side clap.

2007: Justin Timberlake, “LoveStoned”

“The One That Got Away” is a Katy Perry song, but it could probably be about Justin Timberlake. He is indeed the one that got away…from the 1990s boy band scene. Pretty much every mainstream 1990s group was yesterday’s news when the 21st century hit; N*SYNC, 98 Degrees, O-Town, Backstreet Boys, Hanson, and the Spice Girls just missed the boat, among many other smaller, forgotten groups, but other than Posh Spice (who only retained her fame by marrying David Beckham and just being generally gorgeous 24/7), only Justin Timberlake seems to have emerged unscathed. In fact, his career is getting better and better. No longer is he Britney’s ex with the awful hair; he’s a sex symbol, viral video star, and is a better actor/comedian than half the current SNL cast. Seriously, Lorne Michaels, just put him on the payroll. “LoveStoned” is not his biggest hit, and maybe not even his best hit, but it took him off the Bar Mitzvah circuit and onto the 21-and-over nightclub floor. The instrumentals plus Justin’s massive octave range blurs the line between teen heartthrob and dashing gentleman, two qualities that have made Justin Timberlake the star he is today.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, hip hop, breaking, something a la Fosse jazz. For a couple – salsa and cha-cha, most def., but could work for a quickstep, a foxtrot, or a tango.

2008: Leona Lewis, “Better in Time”

While we were suffering through country boys on American Idol, Simon Cowell was churning out stars across the pond, and Leona Lewis was one of them. Most people thought she’d be a flash in the pan, and in truth…she kinda was, and sounding very similar to Jordin Sparks didn’t help her case, but she had several hits, most of them severely overplayed (yes, I’m talking to you, “Bleeding Love”). “Better in Time” was an after-thought and underrated, a subtle response to “Bleeding Love,” in fact, I wasn’t even aware of it until much later. But it’s living proof that the torch song still reigns, and every time I hear it, I think the same thing: it does get better in time.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – nothing really, maybe some Martha Graham-esque modern. For a couple – anything slow, like waltz, rumba, or even quickstep. Apropos, Ms. Lewis has amazing hair.

2009: Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

This unlikely but fantastic pairing set 2009 (and 2010) on fire with “Empire State of Mind (Part 1)” which some said was a response to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” – or maybe the other way around. If this song had been around seven years earlier, I think it might’ve replaced the national anthem. This late-night tune celebrates the Big Apple, Jay-Z’s sometimes nonsensical rapping notwithstanding, but Alicia Keys provides killer vocals and the music video is stunning. Let’s hear it for New York!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – modern, or a slow club jam. For a couple – much like the previous entry, anything slow (waltz, rumba, quickstep). This song will always remind me of getting off the Chinatown bus on a solo trip to Manhattan (it was randomly playing on the bus’ radio at the time), and even more of the end of that trip, where my aunt got stuck in Midtown traffic and in order to make my bus back, I had to jump out of her car with my backpack and rolling suitcase, and run several blocks, including through Times Square, at sunset, and seeing the lights of Broadway brighten as I ran. I was out of breath, but managed to watch the remainder of the sunset from the bus window.

2010: Lena Meyer-Landrut, “Satellite”

2010’s hit is another trip over the Atlantic, but this time to Germany. Well, actually Oslo, Norway, aka the location of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010. Long-described as a “musical trainwreck,” not many have made it out of Eurovision and enjoyed a lively career, with the obvious exceptions of ABBA, Katrina and the Waves, and Celine Dion. But 2010’s winner, German teenager Lena Meyer-Landrut (now known as just Lena) provided a refreshing pop treat with her rendition of “Satellite.” At first, I was disappointed, due to her winning over some of my personal favorites, Albania (Juliana Pasha, “It’s All About You”), Armenia (Eva Rivas, “Apricot Stone”), and of course Israel (Harel Skaat, “Milim”), but once I actually listened to the song, I was like…this is just precious. It straddles the line between adorable and obsessive, and is one of my favorites to do karaoke. It’s fun and bouncy and just so lovable. Surprisingly, even with her follow-up hit “Taken By A Stranger” (which got her close to winning Eurovision again the next year) and her cover of En Vogue’s “What A Man,” Lena hasn’t taken off here in America, and not even that much outside of Germany and its neighbors. Guess it takes a lot to overcome the Eurovision Curse.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, dance-around-in-your-underwear. For a couple – an energetic cha-cha, or a fun jive. I love you Lena, but you really need better PR people. If Ylvis, PSY, and One Direction could cross over, surely you can?

2011: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Another song that kind of annoyed me when it first came out but then grew on me to the point where I will sing it in the shower at the gym (the acoustics of the tiles make it fill the space very nicely) and will not give you the pleasure of judging me. I’m too old for that, screw you, I do what I want when I want and it’s not hurting nobody. The previous year, Adele had begun her world takeover with “Chasing Pavements,” another song that kind of annoyed me, but like “Rolling in the Deep,” it grew on me. Even though she hasn’t released much new material other than “Rumor Has It,” “Someone Like You,” and “Skyfall,” what makes her fresh in my mind is her versatility. Her young voice has so much old-school soul, yet “Rolling in the Deep,”  “Skyfall,” and “Rumor Has It” are so different that it could very well be three different but equally talented singers. (sidenote – when I heard “Rumor Has It” for the first time, I did not know who sang it, but said “Adele would make an awesome cover of that one”…and then I found out that it was Adele. Whoops.) Adele is, as Christina Bianco correctly puts it, “the reigning British queen,” and many, like me, are anxiously awaiting her forthcoming album. Take that, Kate Middleton!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – not sure, I’ll go with modern. For a couple – something standard, like a quickstep or a Viennese waltz. Yeah, not much of a dance track, but there is never not a good time for this song.

2012: Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

The waitress from small-town Texas turned American Idol has arguably had the most successful career among her fellow alumni, along with Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. She suffered some career hiccups with the epic disaster of From Justin to Kelly and the poorly-chosen (but still popular) lineup for My December but came back to her sometimes lovable, sometimes frightening self with hits like “All I Ever Wanted” and “My Life Would Suck Without You.” “Stronger” has a rough,tough rock-n-roll appeal but also could be the soundtrack to an exercise class for moms. It defines “power anthem” without being too “girl power!” and that’s what makes it all the stronger. Good on you, Kelly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – um, club jam, hip hop. For a couple – a fun salsa or cha-cha. Plus, the music video’s pretty neat and it’s just such an empowering song.

2013: Ariana Grande, “The Way”

Ariana Grande has been on my radar screen since 2010, when I was working on 13 The Musical in Israel, and had the soundtrack imprinted into my brain, a soundtrack that included vocals from a young and practically unknown Ariana Grande. After spending her teens with the gang at Hollywood Arts on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, Ariana spread her wings to fly solo. Not every baby bird can fly right off the bat, and she fell flat with the jokingly lame “Put Your Hearts Up,” which even she herself admitted should have never happened. But she got right back up with “The Way,” and with comparisons to Mariah Carey, took to the sky as more than a pop star wannabe but a vocalist with style and gymnastic ability not heard since the days of…well, Mariah Carey. The video ruffled some feathers for its not-so-squeaky-clean content, including a kiss, but in the grand scheme of music these days, it was relatively tame. I predict a long and successful career for Ariana Grande even if she is kind of annoying on Sam & Cat, her new Nick series which lacks the fun of Victorious and the maturity of iCarly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – hip hop club jam, any day of the week. As a couple – seriously, just about anything fun and fast: salsa, cha-cha, rumba, samba, even a lively waltz.

I just spent about two and a half hours writing this. I clearly have my priorities in the right place.

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Masterpiece Youtube: Secret Jewish Guilty Pleasure Christmas Video Song Countdown

Well, I guess the secret’s out now.

I am beginning this entry at 4:37 PM EST, Christmas Eve, from the road in someplace called Newton Falls, Ohio, where families are putting the final touches on their Christmas decorations, wrapping last-minute gifts, and setting out cookies and milk for a man who breaks and enters their houses every year to leave a mess on their living room floors. And that’s not including the reindeer poop that undeniably on the bottom of Kris Kringle’s boots.

But this story does not take place in Newton Falls, Ohio. In fact, I barely even knew there was a town called Newton Falls, Ohio, until I checked my location on my phone a few minutes ago. In fact, this story doesn’t have a specific location at all.

Growing up near Pikesville, Maryland (okay, I lied, there just so happens to be a location), we didn’t have Christmas. As in Christmas didn’t exist. Everyone I knew was Jewish. Nobody put up Christmas lights on their home or business. No one went a-wassailing door-to-door; the only Christmas music came from the car radio. In general, it was just another day. Back then, I didn’t even really know what Christmas was, why people celebrated it, or what day of the year it was; since it was a religious holiday, I thought that it changed every year, like Hanukkah or Rosh Hashanah or Passover.

Christmas was especially verboten in my household. My dad hated Christmas and anything to do with it, and still does to this day, refusing to acknowledge its existence except to complain that things are not open. This meant no Christmas books, no Christmas songs, and no Christmas movies. Exceptions were made for movies where Christmas appeared but was not a central theme, like Home Alone, or Christmas episodes of cartoons and sitcoms . I don’t really know the reason, other than the fact that we are Jewish and proud of it. My mother always said that it was because my dad’s father didn’t like Christmas or allow him to participate in any Christmas events at his public school when he was a kid. But thanks to my dad’s abhorrence of the holiday, I always associated it with Hitler or the Holocaust, which were the other things that he could not tolerate. That and the New York Yankees.

As I left the fold and entered college, I became acutely more aware of Christmas (except for the year I spent Christmas in Israel, where, ironically, it all started) and found myself enjoying some Christmas classics, like Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

So, in today’s Masterpiece Youtube, we look at the great Christmas moments in television, film, and music, as determined by me.

10. The Hanukkah episode of Rugrats

Even though the Passover episode came first and is far superior, in the mid 1990s Klasky-Csupo Productions gifted all the Jewish children of the world with a holiday special of their very own, with as few Christmas references as possible, exceptions being, of course, the unmissable Cynthia Saves Christmas special and Stu referring to the synagogue as a church. Highlights of the episode include the presence of Grandpa Boris and Grandma Minka, Didi’s hilarious old-country parents who are probably both dead now; Stu’s epic menorah invention fail; and the scene where Angelica thinks she’s getting pancakes for dinner, only to discover that they are latkes, “Tapato pancakes? Who would make pancakes out of topatos?” Your Jewish cousin’s mom, that’s who. The cherry on top is that unlike all the rest of the cartoons of the world, Rugrats came out with episodes for both Passover and Hanukkah years before it aired a Christmas special, probably due to appearances/popularity/external pressures. To this day, I believe that except for a few mentions in Family Guy and the bizarre As Told By Ginger “Even Steven Holiday Special,” no other cartoons have expressed their love for the Festival of Lights. Even though Spongebob has outlived its usefulness (a topic for another time), they’ve had at least two Christmas episodes and the world continues to wait for Bikini Bottom’s Hanukkah festivities – which should occur, obviously, at their local Jewfish Community Center.

9. “Last Christmas,” Wham!

Unlike Band Aid’s lame attempt to bring Christmas cheer to the world in the wildly inappropriate “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, this masterpiece by Wham! truly launched the spirit of Christmas across the world, even in places where Christianity is not the dominant religion or even a state-approved tradition. I’m pretty sure I heard it in the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, when I flew there on New Year’s Day, and friends of mine who have been to China say that they play it all year long, which is surprising considering China’s historical relationship with Western religions. Even one of my non-English-speaking friends posted it on his Facebook on Christmas Day last year despite not having a clue as to what the lyrics referred. The first truly international Christmas song. Take that, “Jingle Bells.”

8. Elmo Saves Christmas

This Muppet-ized take on It’s A Wonderful Life put the furry red monster in the position of control of Christmas, which is a very scary thing indeed. By making it Christmas every day, Elmo thought it would bring eternal joy to the denizens of the Street. It did not, doing the exact opposite: making everyone depressed that it was Christmas every day because it meant no work could get done and everyone had to shop for presents all the time (couldn’t they have just been like, screw you, Christmas, Sesame Street is open today?) making Elmo realize he made a horrible mistake. The best part of the movie is when my mom starts to cry, which occurs towards the end, every single time it comes on TV.

7. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love

It’s weird but there is something about this song that just works for me. Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t include any religious references except for the chorus singing the word “Christmas” every now and then. There was a remake of it done recently by either Beyonce or Mariah Carey, and even though it’s far superior, there’s just something about Darlene Love’s voice that makes it so classic. Maybe it’s because when Darlene Love recorded it, we didn’t have Skype or Facebook to connect us like we do today.

6. Phoebe’s Christmas songs from Friends

Even though Friends, unlike Monica’s Mocklate, made Thanksgiving its holiday, with classics ranging from “More turkey Mister Chandler?” to Joey sticking his whole head inside a turkey to scare Chandler to Monica and Ross’s epic football rivalry, it didn’t skip Christmas. In one episode, Phoebe tries to create a Christmas song for all the friends with their names in it, and it goes through many transformations before becoming the definitive version that plays over the ending credits. How can you not love a Christmas song with the word “crap” in its first line? Honorable mention for Friends Christmas song is “My Mother’s Ashes,” from another episode, although I’m not entirely sure that it was a Christmas-specific episode or just a winter one.

5. “Santa, Teach Me To Dance,” Debbie and the Darnells

I discovered this obscure Christmas novelty song through a BuzzFeed article last year, and it’s stuck with me ever since, for the sheer oddity and hilarity of it. This song, which makes absolutely no sense, was written and performed in the 1960s, I believe, around the time dance movies were popular. Dancing lessons for Christmas seems like a strange request coming from the teenage girls who were singing this song. The only thing stranger than this song’s existence are the group that performed it. When I imagine Debbie and the Darnells, I imagine a group of four white girls with embarrassing 1960s Motown hairdos, possibly with reindeer hairbands or Christmas tree barrettes, and most definitely wearing smart sweater sets and staring off into the distance, much like pictures of the Shirelles or the Supremes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever know who Debbie and her Darnells were, much less looked like, because when I searched for a Wikipedia entry or any other songs performed by these girls, this song came up and nothing else.

4. White Christmas and its dance sequences

Okay, so they really don’t have that much to do with the holiday itself, but they are in a Christmas-themed movie. My personal favorite is the “Abraham” number performed by a young and good-looking Vera-Ellen and John Brascia. Vera-Ellen, known for her tiny waist, incredible talent, and sad life story, is particularly on point here. I’ll elaborate more on her in a future post. John Brascia, on the other hand, didn’t become a star, or least not a major one by any means; I looked him up a few years ago and he was ancient, but still alive in California, having only made a few films. A recent Wikipedia search shows that he died between then and now. It’s such a shame; he could dance like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and in my opinion, is way better looking…wait a minute…where was I? Oh yeah, Christmas…

3. “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayla Peavey

This delightful song is not only adorable; it has an equally adorable story behind it. Though it sounds similar to Shirley Temple and is often mistaken to be her, it was sung by a young girl named Gayla Peavey in Oklahoma, who was known for absolutely nothing else, it’s pretty easy to understand: a girl wants a hippopotamus for Christmas. The lyrics are silly, fun, and bouncy. I wonder who came up with it – “hey, can you give me the name of an animal with five syllables, stress on the fourth, for a Christmas song?” All kidding aside, apparently there was a real hippopotamus like the one described in the song – it had been in an Oklahoma zoo, and then removed for some reason. Eventually, it was returned to Oklahoma, but after hearing this entreaty, I’d just give the girl her damn hippopotamus for Christmas.

2. “Up On the Housetop,” Gene Autry

Ho, ho, ho…w inappropriate is this song? Before I heard this song, I had no idea how much innuendo was in Christmas; I thought it ended with “Santa Baby.” I mean, Santa comes down the chimney, bringing a “doll” for little Nell, and a “whip” for little Bill. Seriously, “fill it well?” This song is just so hilarious in its hidden message. If anyone was going “click click click” on my housetop, I’d go “bow chicka wow wow,” and then call the police. Except if it was on the rooftop of my apartment building, in which case they’d freeze to death before they got caught.

But the number one Masterpiece YouTube? Well, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for that one.

God bless us every one.