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Your song stinks: This is how we judge music for reasons that have nothing to do with its quality | Culture

Nothing good has been said about P!nk’s new song, Never Gonna Not Dance Again, penned by today’s most successful producer and songwriter, Swedish Max Martin (author of 25 number-one hits in the US). “Lifeless,” “generic,” “tragic” and “horrible” are some of the adjectives that can be found in PopJustice, the most respected specialized pop website. And yes, it is weak and bland, but it is also catchy. One could argue that it is what most people look for in pop music. Hence the question: why are songs that fulfill their purpose, that satisfy the audience they are addressed to, considered bad? Some usual opinions come with this label: the lyrics are way too corny (or obvious, or cryptic) and the music, when it is too catchy or sappy, reveals its flaws.

Pink, who will release a new album on February, is an example of a mass phenomenon that leaves the critics unimpressed. Marta España, musicologist, music critic and leader of Marta Movidas, her own musical project, stresses the influence of the “relatability factor” on the way we assess music: “Oftentimes, people define themselves by the music they consume, but also by what they publicly decide not to consume,” she explains. “In this way, they reveal the ideals, values and behaviors that are linked to a genre they share. We often categorize a song (and an artist) by what it means to a society, even if it is unconsciously, and that makes you like it or not.”

Sebas E. Alonso, director of the independent music website Jenesaispop and author of the book 200 discos clave del siglo XXI (200 key records of the 21st century), is very clear that the popularity of a song does not determine its quality. “The complexity of the lyrics, the originality of the subject matter, its point of view or its social relevance […] can contribute. That a song is catchy or commercial does not make it good or bad. In the end, for me, at least in pop, almost everything is melody and hooks.” Alonso points out that some songs are actually created to annoy, like Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do, which he considered bad until he realized that “the melody used in the chorus consists of a single note, which for the artist is an identity trait. It is done on purpose.” The song is “about hate,” and its repetitive, tiresome sound is intentional.

Despite the passion with which we defend a good song or attack a bad one, despite the conviction with which we defend our ideas, the only certainty is that we act subjectively. “I don’t think there are good or bad songs,” adds España. “There is a canon and a historical construct around which Western popular music has been governed. Reggaeton, for example, doesn’t follow the Western canonical principles […] and for this reason it is considered a bad product by many people.”

Thus, there is no consensus on what is good or bad, not even within music criticism: “Something that a heavy metal magazine deems a masterpiece won’t even be mentioned in a publication about electronic music,” says Alonso. “There isn’t even a consensus on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Some consider it a sublime piece and others see it as tacky.” However, he points out, music criticism also operates within a series of aesthetic conventions that are accepted at a given time or space, and the specialized media recommend music that either adheres to those conventions or threatens them. However, the fact that subjectivity prevails, the journalist believes, “doesn’t mean that it is not interesting to listen to argued and justified opinions, which is what music criticism tries to do.” In the same vein, “the fact that everything is subjective does not mean that all opinions are interesting or contribute something.”

Popularity killed pop

History has produced many examples that confirm that a song is usually considered “bad” after it reaches a massive level of popularity, even if the composition of the song itself (melody, harmony, rhythm, voice and lyrics) comply with some established rules that make it “good.” In 2016, TIME magazine chose Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling as the worst song of the year. This nice and harmless disco-pop composition was also the most commercially successful song of that year. Why does a prestigious media outlet like TIME declare that the most successful song of 2016 was, at the same time, the worst? Alonso believes that TIME would not have given that distinction to “a song that nobody knows, because nobody would read the article.” He believes that it was a victim of its own popularity. At the same time, he partially agrees with TIME, because “the song is really basic” and “it may cross the line of the obvious, since the word ‘dance’ appears about 40 times.”

The evaluation that is made of certain songs in the media is influenced, again, by factors that go beyond the strictly musical, like the sexist or racist biases which, in some cases, help shape the musical canon itself. “Rihanna, Beyoncé, all the pop divas… they’ve never been considered cult artists. On the other hand, Kanye West is a genius,” argues España. “Of course, sexism influences when establishing a canon, but so does class, race… In the ‘best of the year’ lists, almost all the artists are European or American. It is today more than ever that globalization is allowing this canon to expand to other territories.”

Another victim of his own success (and of pop) is the British singer Rick Astley. His hit Never Gonna Give You Up is one of the most iconic pop songs of the 1980s, but it also became something akin to the internet’s first meme. According to Stereogum columnist Tom Breihan, the song is simply “bad,” which clashes with the huge success it enjoyed in its day (it was #1 in 25 countries in 1987) as well as its current durability. For Breihan, Never Gonna Give You Up is the “shallowest Motown pastiche you’re ever going to hear.” The video completes the joke, because as much as it seems like a parody of the videos of the 1980s, it is not. Which brings us to another tricky variable in music criticism: judging the songs of the past today.

“I don’t think it’s a bad song at all,” says Alonso. “Entire essays and books have been written about its authors, Stock Aitken & Waterman. Today they are well regarded and recognized by media outlets like The Guardian.” España reflects: “Songs that reach number one or go viral should not be underestimated. Of course, when you enter that industry, the infrastructure you have around you leads to more favorable numbers that the underground seldom can reach. However,” she points out, “you can tell that there are people who know a lot about music behind all that.”

The journalist believes that “labeling something as bad just because it is very massive is very dangerous.” She does not rule out that this attitude could stem from an elitist perspective, because “not everyone has the same access to culture, and labeling something as bad just because it is part of mass culture is classist,” she says. “There are many types of music, and each of them responds to a specific social function.”

Love, love, love

One of the reasons why Never Gonna Give You Up is mocked are its sappy lyrics. In it, Astley promises his lover: “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you; never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye, never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.” Practically medieval courtly love, applied to pop. The critics don’t like that sappiness, and tend to ignore excessively sentimental releases.

In the book Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, Carl Wilson focuses on Céline Dion – a singer that has been historically reviled by the specialized music media – to explore how sentimentality has always been considered in poor taste. España calls this into question: “All songs are sentimental, aren’t they? Most of them talk about feelings. I believe that everything lies, again, in the concept of authenticity. That is to say, the current music critic comes and says that they don’t go for the sentimentality of one group, but another group’s is OK; but usually, more than the song itself, that opinion derives from an artist’s career, whether they compose their own songs, and also from the aesthetics of the moment. The concept of ‘tasteless’ was completely different 10 years ago.”

Alonso shares a similar opinion and recommends Let’s Talk About Love: “The book says that everything we consider pretty or ugly is but a social convention that belongs to a specific time and place. A song that says ‘I love you,’ just like that, will have no further value, obviously. But in the end, the artist’s performance, the melody… they can make even the dumbest thing work. The singer from The 1975 says we’ve become overly cynical with the world of underground music, and he’s absolutely right.”

In fact, underground and commercial music are closely related out of necessity. “It’s very important that music criticism remains within the underground, because otherwise popular music would absorb all alternative spaces,” argues España. “However, the popular and the underground are constantly feeding off each other: the underground dictates the trends of the future, and then the industry appropriates and capitalizes on them. For the music critics, in most cases, trends are only authentic when they have not caught on, that is, before they become popular.”

It is too soon to tell whether P!nk has released a candidate for the worst song of 2022 or not, but probably nobody cares less than her – and her millions of fans.

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‘Mrs. Doubtfire’: The highlights Of Robin Williams’ Role That defined His Artistic Greatness

The highlights Of Robin Williams’ Role That defined His Artistic Greatness

The Voice Of EU | One of the most versatile comedian and actor Robin Williams left an indelible mark on an entire generation throughout the 1990s, evoking both laughter and tears. His portrayal of a strict yet endearing housekeeper in the hit film “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) resonated deeply with audiences worldwide, propelling it to resounding success across global boundaries.

Señora Doubtfire Robin Williams
Robin Williams in a scene from ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (1993). Archive Photos (20th Century-Fox / Getty Images)

Williams played the role, despite the adversities and addictions that plagued his life at the time, by putting aside the devised script and becoming a master of improvisation during the filming of the movie, which brought in more than €400 million.

In the year of its release it was only outdone by Jurassic Park (€1 billion). This is what its director, also an avowed admirer of the American actor, explained on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Mrs. Doubtfire’s debut on the big screen: “It took me three months to rewrite the script. I sent it to Robin and he said he loved it.” After Williams’ suicide in 2014, in an interview for Business Insider magazine, Chris Columbus unveils details that were buried 30 years ago.

“Four and a half hours, maybe five,” is the time in which, according to the director, Robin Williams was able to play Mrs. Doubtfire, a characterization for which the film earned the Oscar for Best Makeup. The actor was not comfortable in portraying his role: a father who disguises himself as a housekeeper in order to spend more time with his children after a bitter divorce. For him, it presented a challenge. “We never could shoot two consecutive days of Robin as Mrs. Doubtfire. It was a punishing day for him, so always the next day, we would shoot him as Daniel (the father),” the director of the film reveals three decades after its release.

Comedy is acting out optimism.” — Robin Williams

In between the laughs and moments that are etched in the minds of many, Columbus describes the challenge of keeping actors such as Pierce Brosnan and Sally Field, who played leading roles in the film, from breaking away from the script of their characters while Williams was at his most unrestrainedly creative.

Indeed, according to the director, his boundless energy even created situations where the script supervisor could not keep up, resulting in unrepeatable and spontaneous takes. “None of us knew what he was going to say when he got going and so I wanted a camera on the other actors to get their reactions.” Most of the sequences in the film, and specifically all of those featuring Williams, were the result of an incredible amount of improvisation from the American comedian. “If it were today, we would never end. But back then, we were shooting film so once we were out of film in the camera, we would say to Robin, ‘We’re out of film.’ That happened on several occasions,” recalls Columbus.

“Hey boss, the way I like to work, if you’re up for it, is I’ll give you three or four scripted takes, and then let’s play.” This was the actor’s first warning to the director of Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams was a significant figure in Chris Columbus’ life, and he still is to this day. Not only because he was responsible for his move to San Francisco, the actor didn’t want to shoot anywhere else, but due to his ability to make people laugh and cry at the same time. “Williams wanted the film to be shot there because he was living in San Francisco with his wife, Marsha, and their children. Thanks to him I fell in love with the city that has become my home,” he explains.

“You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” — Robin Williams

The director also reminisced about some memorable scenes that contributed to the film’s status as a cinematic masterpiece, as perceived by many. However, what stood out the most was his innate ability to improvise: “The entire restaurant sequence was remarkable. When Robin, portraying Mrs. Doubtfire, accidentally loses his teeth in his drink, you can see the joy on Robin’s face; he’s almost smirking to himself for coming up with that.” Following the success of the Mrs. Doubtfire premiere, the production team is currently exploring ways to honor Williams and his portrayal in the film, although no definitive plans have been made yet. “There are approximately 972 boxes of footage stored in a warehouse somewhere in California. There’s something truly special and enchanting about his performances, and I believe it would be exciting to delve deeper into it.”

Despite initial reservations about creating a sequel, the notion of a new spin-off gained traction shortly before the actor’s tragic passing on August 11, 2014, at his residence in Paradise Bay, California. “Robin’s only concern was: ‘Boss, do I have to spend as much time in the suit this time around?’ The physical toll of portraying Doubtfire was immense for Robin; it felt like running a marathon every day,” the director recounts. Following a brief meeting at the actor’s home, and a simple handshake, Chris Columbus began outlining the script mere days before the unfortunate event. “During the rewrite, we contemplated reducing the role of Doubtfire. However, Robin’s untimely demise extinguished any hopes of a sequel,” he laments. Although not spearheaded by its creator, Mrs. Doubtfire has found new life as a stage musical. “What set him apart as a performer is that there was no one like Robin Williams before him, and there will never be anyone like him again. He was truly one-of-a-kind,” reflects the actor’s superior.

Mrs. DoubtfireRobin Williams and Matthew Lawrence in a scene from ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (1993).

In addition to the director, another Mrs. Doubtfire star who later spoke of Robin Williams’ brilliance was Matthew Lawrence, who played Daniel’s son. Lawrence was just a teenager in the film, which also gave a debut to his co-star Mara Wilson, the unforgettable Matilda. One day Lawrence went to Robin’s dressing room and did not expect what he was told: “‘Stay away from drugs, particularly cocaine.’ He was being serious and told me: ‘You know when you come to my trailer and you see me like that?’ He’s like, ‘That’s the reason why. And now I’m fighting for the rest of my life because I spent 10 years doing something very stupid every day. Do not do it.’ I stayed away from it because of him”, Lawrence recalled in an interview with People magazine in March 2022.

The lesser-known chapter of Williams’ life, while unrelated to his demise, shed light on the inner struggles of a comedian committed to bringing joy to others yet grappling with profound personal sorrow. “As charismatic as he appeared on screen, I’d often visit him in his trailer for chats, he was tormented. It was truly agonizing for him. He didn’t conceal it. He confided in me about his battles with addiction,” the actor concluded.

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‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.

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Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.

As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.

A Forgotten Legacy

While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.

The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.

Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.

The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.

Tracing the Fallout

According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.

Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.

A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer

As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.

Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.

The “Oppenheimer” Movie

Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.

The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond

Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.

A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.

As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.

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