~a music nerd's corner of the internet~

I’m sure that it’s no surprise to anyone that compared to men, women who are musicians must first gain widespread cultural approval for their physical appearance before they are even evaluated based on their artistic merit. This difference in media perspective represents a double standard, with males in the music industry judged first as artists and women primarily on their appearance and sexuality. Fat women, specifically, are routinely disparaged in mediums such as social media and through Internet memes, regardless of their professional achievements. Men are usually spared such ridicule in the media. Media and public criticisms of Adele, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, Susan Boyle, and more serve to exemplify this double standard, as they have been shamed and subjected to pressure to change because of their appearance, despite phenomenal accomplishments as incredibly popular and commercially successful musicians. I’d like to point out that I am a fat woman who is also a musician, so keep in mind my perspective tempers my opinion on this subject.
So here’s a super brief history of western beauty culture, giving some background on why a woman’s appearance might be relevant to her career prospects. From “ancient” times when lighter skin reflected social status, through to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when beauty was understood as to be a manifestation of inner, moral qualities the narrative continues through to the beginning of the 20th Century which saw a huge boom in the business of “man-made beauty”. It became (and continues to be) a very important social marker for women to show their status, health, femininity, and desirability through their physical appearance.
In her book “Fat!So?” Marilyn Wann looks at a similar story throughout time with the history of diet products, discussing how fat and beautiful have come to be mutually exclusive to one another in popular discourse. She chronicles the burgeoning market from the end of the 19th century to now being a 60 billion dollar a year industry, all in the name of beauty, and women literally trying to fit in to an unrealistic standard. It should be noted that among the myriad of roadblocks that women face,(in general and as musicians), racism is an incredibly huge problem that contributes greatly to the same double standard I am speaking about here. Many women have come to define themselves in relation to the way men evaluate their bodies, for fat women and women of colour this is greatly magnified. This evaluation becomes especially relevant when a woman’s body becomes easily accessible for ostensibly male consumption through wide media exposure. This type of exposure is typical of the music industry.

Robin James (check out her blog) argues that Western popular music is grounded in misogyny and racism, having been built in the context of colonialism, and since women are usually in the role of singer that they rarely are able to be the “macho” guitar players or other male associated roles. Women often appear to be relegated to fulfill certain tropes when it comes to being the “singer” or otherwise, as the subject matter of many, many pop songs. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the advent of MTV and music videos pushed women’s appearance further into the spotlight. I think it’s pretty safe to say that everyone agrees that women in music are held to much higher standards than men when it comes to attractiveness and sexuality, and are more likely to be sexually objectified. It is still significantly more challenging for female artists to become “legendary” than their male counterparts pop music culture.
As seen from the feminist perspective, the role of women in the music industry is incredibly restrictive and unwelcoming. For women who do not meet the arbitrary standards of sexual attractiveness, such as disabled women, older women, and the focus of this post, fat women, it is all but impossible to forge a career in this field.

For whatever reason, the size and, ostensibly, health of fat musicians is increasingly an indication of success. If a fat woman becomes successful in popular music, they must be constantly shamed by media and the population at large to change. For example, Adele (who is one of the most highly successful musicians in the world) has countless internet detractors all dedicated to pointing out just how fat she is, as well as the commentary of several public figures remarking negatively on her size, including Joan Rivers and Karl Lagerfeld.
The most scathing internet meme of Adele shows her in a black and white, classy headshot accompanied by a quote of hers remarking on how it is more important for her to be a good musician than to be beautiful. It is compared to an unflattering photo of her bending over, with the commentary; “This is how fat people see themselves; and this is what fat people actually are: FAT!” untitled
Implying that no matter her other accomplishments or attributes, the only quality about her worth remarking on is her size. This is obviously an extreme example that serves to discount Adele’s original quote, in which she attempts to put the importance of her professional accomplishments above being beautiful. The commentary of the anonymous Internet critic takes her daring proclamation and turns it on its head, saying in essence, that for women, it is in fact more important to be beautiful and thin first, and only once that is accomplished can her other attributes (like professional skill, for example) be evaluated. This single, ignorant critic does not represent the minority but rather a large and vocal part of the music industry, and society at large.
Adele is not the only woman making music who has been berated for her size. Other examples of fat women who were subject to unparalleled amounts of criticism include Mamma Cass of the Mammas and the Pappas, Kelly Osbourne, Ann Wilson from Heart, Carnie Wilson from Wilson and Phillips, and more. While the criticism and derision do not detract from their skills as performers, it is problematic for many reasons. It is symptomatic of a larger problem, where women are valued primarily for their appearance and sexual viability, rather than for their tangible contributions to society and culture. The attitude makes it more difficult for any woman that does not fit the beauty standards to pursue a career in music, and make record labels less likely to take a risk on someone who may be genuinely talented but not look like a typical pop star.
An interesting and depressing side effect of the attention paid to a female musician’s size, is that if fat musicians lose weight, they are hailed as inspirational and lauded for their efforts, continuing to highlight the fact that the “accomplishment” of their beauty is more important than their careers. An example of this includes Jennifer Hudson, who lost a significant amount of weight through Weight Watchers after she already won an Academy Award and was considered very successful. Her original commercial included her saying, “Before Weight Watchers, my whole world was no” again reinforcing the notion that women’s accomplishments are worthless if they are not also beautiful, which is what really has value. Two further examples come from the pop singer Kelly Osbourne, who lost weight and triumphantly began calling other singers fat as revenge, and Carnie Wilson, from the band Wilson and Phillips, who had two weight loss surgeries; the first of which was streamed live on the Internet. Similar examples for male musicians cannot be found, even though there are inordinately more men in the industry than there are women. This double standard is incredibly harmful. Although I should add, it would still be harmful if it also applied to men. If anyone knows any male examples please note in the comments (the trend of “bringing men down”, btw, is not a good thing for anyone, and that is not what I- or any feminists, presumably- want)
The fact that Adele, Queen Latifah, Beth Ditto and other fat women have been able to forge successful careers in pop music is a heartening step in the right direction for all women, and indeed everyone that is interested in the integrity of music. The opportunity for self publishing and utilizing the internet is also a great tool that can be used to ensure all women have equal opportunities. While the double standard of valuing women on their appearance above all else persists, it is increasingly affecting public perception more than it is commercial success, which is positive.

** if this seems like a crappy college essay, that is because it is indeed a slightly reworked version of my first ever college essay. sorry :D**

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This is from a facebook post I was tagged in, requesting to Name 12 albums that have stuck with you over the years. This is a tough question, and 12 is not very many, so I have made a list of 15 in no particular order.

the Immaculate Collection by Madonna
A Night at the opera by Queen
untitled

Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Please Please Me by the Beatles
The White Album by the Beatles
The Wall by Pink Floyd
Chronicle by CCR
Clumsy by Our Lady Peace
Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morrisette
Middle of Nowhere by Hanson
Elton John’s Greates Hits
Only What I Feel by Patty Loveless
What’s the Story Morning Glory by Oasis
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

What are some albums, or even songs that have stuck with you since before you can remember?

Back from Obscurity

I will begin posting once again! In the meantime, please enjoy one of my favorite new songs;

I’m assuming everyone who took high-school math class is familiar with Pythagoras and his legendary theorem, a^2 + b^2 = c^2.  What fun…

But I wonder if people outside the scope of music theory know about his beautiful circle of fifths, my favorite circle.  This one circle describes every relationship between the 12 tones in our scale.  This. One. Picture.  It is beyond amazing.

Anyone ever have a music theory class, where your teacher would say, “this is the rule, and don’t ask why, because nobody really knows why”? Well, I beg to differ.  This representation of music tells you why, to almost any question about music theory that I can think of.

By looking at the outer  circles, labelled with letters, it is clear how this illustrious circle got its name.  There are 12 tones, with each one represented as a piece of the pie, and the relationship determining which order they go in, is simply “Add 5”.  So you see, from F to C is five letters or more precisely, a fifth interval (7 semitones).  From C to G, from G to D, on and on, the relationship is the same all the way around the circle.  Inversely, it can be called the circle of fourths, because going counterclockwise, the relationship between each pie piece is a fourth interval, or four letters.   Any inverted intervals always add up to 9 by the way, another unrelated piece of awesomeness in music theory (ie: a third inverted is always a sixth=9, therefore woohoo math!).

SO it here it goes.  The Key of C (and A minor)  has no sharps or flats.  The next is G, which has one sharp.  Then D with 2 sharps, and so on and so forth.  Using this, you can see the relationship between keys.  Because of this, composers can make quick observations about related keys, modulations, building harmony and chords, and essentially anything that you need to have a piece of music except your own creativity.

What I think is really neat, is that it also solidifies why everything in tonal music is built on 4ths and 5ths.  A progression in any tonal song needs to go from I to IV to V and back to I for the listener to feel satisfied, or sometimes a different combination of those 3 chords.  Other stuff is only added in for variety, basically. Why? Because math..look at that circle!

Why are the 4th and 5th scale of any called the sub-dominant and dominant (a.k.a. the most important other than the tonic)? Because Pythagoras knows everything!

Why are 4th and 5th intervals called “perfect” when no other interval other than unison gets that high distinction? Because they are perfect.

The relationship of all tones is essentially defined by this circle (which is perfect, like all circles) that is built on 4ths and 5ths.  These 2 numbers seem to be magic when it comes to music, but not magic, just math.

God I just love it when everything makes sense!

on Atonal music

I will admit that in the past, I viewed atonal music as pretentious crap.  My reasons being;

-if a child just falls asleep on the piano, they could easily make “music” of similar quality completely by accident, or if a dog runs around with a flute in it’s butt or something…

-if it sounds bad…what’s the point? isn’t the whole idea of music to be pleasing to the ear?

-musicians are just trying to be all hipster and “different” for no actual reason..

-the rules for aurally pleasing music have been around for a long time..FOR A REASON

Truly I felt the same way many people feel in a Modern Art Museum when standing in front of the “hilarious” R.Mutt toilet..

But I was really, Reeeeaaalllly wrong.  For a number of reasons.  I don’t know if the people complaining about modern art are wrong, but I know I was,and so are most people who want all music to sound good.  That’s not to say that there is a lot of crap that’s produced and sold as being experimental or something, but that should go without saying.

Traditional tonal music is essentially a very simple formula with a lot of room for fun.  You choose a key, you start on the tonic, or the first note (Do), you build tension (by going to the 5th note, or the dominant) and then you return to the tonic.  Then rinse, lather and repeat.  And voila!  You can add chords, related keys, different rhythms and blah blah blah etc., but at it’s essence, that is it. One, Five, One.  So for a long time there was seemingly enough space to navigate within and experiment plenty.  But of course, rules are made to be broken.

First Mahler and Schubert and what have you started playing around with progressive tonality in the 19th century, which is when a piece ends in a different key and tonic than it began.

Stravinsky and Bartok (among others) started really experimenting with poly-tonality, that is 2 keys being played simultaneously in the early 20th century.

Coincidentally (or not), these experimentations began at the same time as the Romantic period of music.  You see back in the day of Baroque and Classical music, in general music was “absolute” meaning, just music, representing emotion possibly, or nothing in particular.  Program music (music that tells a story) had existed a long time sure, but it really was in vogue in the Romantic period.  People began telling stories with their music, and so needed a much wider variety of options in order to do that.  Another feature of this period is that composers were all about searching for true emotion and the depth of humanity, and so it would seem, felt that there were too many restrictions placed on music to really be ablt to tackle the truth.  And in art, like life, the truth is often ugly and definitely not pleasing.

So around the same time we got atonal music.  It doesn’t really have a tonal centre, or a key, and the aim is to avoid traditional harmony.  Thanks to our buddies Schoenberg and his contemporaries we were introduced to serialism as well, atonal music with a strict set of rules.  Atonality was used by a lot of famous composers, including Debussy and the aforementioned Bartok and Stravinksy.

What you really get from this music, is absolutely and extended experience of human emotion.  Not everything fits into happy, sad, dramatic, and not every experience even has a conclusion.  Without atonal music, we wouldn’t have expressionist opera that hugely makes use of this technique to depict terror, loneliness, depression, mental illness and confusion, murder and on and on.  Here’s some great music from the opera Wozzeck, by Berg. (the murder scene)

Wozzeck is about a man who is undergoing experimentation to get extra money, and his relationship with his girlfriend and their illegitimate child.   It explores mental illness, jealousy, murder and lots of other things that would be difficult to set music to. Have a listen, and just imagine the different effect the music would have on the text were it written by Andrew Lloyd Webber or something.   It is haunting and unresolved in a way that seems very operatic and still true to life.

Another cool one that I love is from Schoenberg himself, the song cycle, “Pierrot Lunaire”.

The thing about atonal music is that everything is actually used for a reason.  Unlike popular opinion, it is not just ugly for the sake of being different (well except for the stuff that is).  It is ugly in a  very specific way, to move the listener to understand the darker side of human emotion that can’t be expressed by something sweet sounding, or even something that resolves.  It’s meant to disturb.  And it absolutely can’t be accomplished easily.

Certainly, you probably won’t listen to atonal music in the bathtub or at the gym, but it has it’s place in the music world.  Imagine scary movies without it, psychological thrillers and the like.  Expressionist opera and song cycles, protest performance art.  Not to mention being the basis for other new and exciting experimentation.

I have a very serious and unhealthy obsession with Xena: Warrior Princess and  Hercules: the Legendary Journeys.  I’m going to assume that everyone in the universe knows and loves Xena, and at least knows Hercules.Image

I recently watched the 2 series in tandem, as though it were continuously Sunday mornings in the late 90’s.  It was great.  Unfortunately now I have finished them both and must move on with my life.   or something..

Of course while watching them I noticed how stupid and campy and problematic they were, but somehow that makes me love these shows all the more.  And something I didn’t count on and could never have remembered from my childhood, was all the awesome music.  Plenty of musical episodes, fantastic and fun incidental music, and as Lucy Lawless fancies herself a singer, there was as much opportunity to inject music into Xena as could be.  And of course Herc had some great gems as well.  So I have collected some of my most favorite-est Herc and Xena tunes for the enjoyment of all.

I love the title themes, both from Xena and Hercules written by Jo Loduca.

There’s “A cure for loneliness”, also by Jo Loduca from the second season of Hercules.  Quite pretty.

AIR HERC   is probably the most epic thing ever seen on the Legendary Journeys. (also Jo Loduca)  Herc gets ahold of some lyre-like instrument and becomes a rock-god.  Pretty awesome

We’ve got Loduca’s Destiny theme, another pretty one with a great voice as well as “A New Dawn” with a similar and lovely sound.

One Dinar a Dance” is very cute, but I don’t really get the Widow Twanky thing.  The Widow Twanky shows up in the Legendary Journeys occasionaly with no explanation, and is always credited as being played by Edith Sidebottom.  Even though we can all see it is Michael Hurst (Iolaus) in drag.  It must be some sort of “in joke” with the cast and crew or something.  It’s not even him singing in this, so I don’t get it.  Here’s the first “Widow Twanky” song, which is way more fun.  (Jo Loduca again for both)

Now onto the Xena tunes, which there seem to be quite a lot more of.  I don’t know if the songs tend to have a more female vibe to them or something, what with the large presence of female voices and higher register instruments, but Xena’s music tends to have a bigger place in my heart that Hercules’.

The most beautiful IMO is Xena’s actual theme called, “the Warrior Princess” which is based on the Bulgarian song “Kaval Sviri”  arranged by none other than Jo Loduca.  It’s quite amazing.

“Burial” was actually written by Lucy Lawless, which is very neat.  It’s a lovely song, and though I don’t think Lucy is really a very good singer, I love her singing this.  It is used every single time that someone significant dies (that Xena likes), even in dreams and stuff.

“Glede Ma Glede” is a traditional Bulgarian song,usually used in reference to Xena’s hometown Amphipolis.

“Soulmates“,”Funeral Dance“,  and “Burying the past“, all Loduca and from the first season are also really nice.

“River Wild” by Loduca I really like as well, from the second season.

And who doesn’t love the “Ballad of Joxer the Mighty” reprised many times throughout the show.  I love Ted Raimi.

Ted Raimi as one of Joxer’s brothers also does a cool cover of “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest in a musical episode.

 

In the third season, there is a cheese-tastic musical episode which features some neat songs.  Music is by Jo Loduca and Lyrics by him, Pamela Phillips Oland and Dennis Spiegel.  “the song of Illusia” sung by Hudson Lieck (who plays Calisto) is a very musical-ish, even “Nightmare before Christmas” kind of song.  The ever-awesome Kevin Smith (Ares) has a great sultry voice in “Melt into me”, and finally Xena and Gabrielle (sung by Susan Wood)  sing “Hearts are Hurting“, which is cool, but would have been much cooler had Lawless sung it with less of a country twang.

So they kill Hope (for real this time? I don’t remember), Gabrielle’s daughter and “Hello Beautiful” is kind of the theme for that episode.  Very cool. (Loduca, of course).

India’s different” by Loduca is of course, from when they travel to India and at some point Xena gains a few extra arms.

From a later musical episode, a kind of “jukebox” musical, there are few covers that stand apart from the terrible ones.  For example the Beatles cover “We can work it out” sung by Lucy and possibly Renee O’Connor (Gabrielle) or Susan Wood.  The previously mentioned “Dancing in the moonlight” is also good, and thats pretty much it….

The “Rhein Maidens” tune is very nice, by Loduca as usual, and his Japanese (?) inspired “Into the rising sun”, when they travel to Japan to close the series.

Anything missed?

 

So here is a great list of songs to help recognize intervals.  Please add if you can think of anything!

minor second down

a descending major scale,

Joy to the World

Fur Elise

O Little Town of Bethlehem

minor second up

Chromatic scale
Jaws theme

Pink Panther theme

A Hard Day’s Night

White christmas

major second down

Mary had a Little Lamb

Yesterday

Deck the Halls

Joey

The First Noel

8 Days a Week

Three blind mice

Whistle while you work

major second up

Major scale ascending

Do Re Mi..

Happy Birthday

Silent night

Bye Bye Blackbird

Rudolph

My Funny Valentine

Strangers in the night

Frere Jacques

minor third down

Hey Jude

Frosty the Snowman

This Old man

Jesus loves me

When Irish eyes are smiling

minor third up

Smoke on the water

Joe Louis/Judgement Day

O Canada

Greensleeves

Happiness is a warm gun

the Impossible dream

Brahms Lullaby

major third down

Summertime

Good night ladies (merrily we roll along)

Shoo Fly

Swing low sweet chariot

Beethoven’s fifth

major third up

Obladi, Oblada

Kumbaya

Oh When the Saints Go marching In

Spring

perfect fourth down

Born Free

Shave and a haircut

I’ve been working on the railroad

Oh come all ye faithful

Eine kleine Nachtmuzik

Super mario

perfect fourth up

Amazing Grace

Wedding March

Love me tender

Aura Lee

O christmas tree

Someday my prince will come

Auld Lang Syne

Hark the herald angels sing

Harry Potter theme

augmented fourth/diminished fifth/tritone down

YYZ

Black Sabbath

Blue Seven

augmented fourth/diminished fifth/tritone up

Maria

the Simpsons

perfect fifth down

Flinstones

Feelings

What do you do with a drunken sailor

The way you look tonight

perfect fifth up

Star Wars Theme

Scarborough Fair

Twinkle Twinkle

Also Sprach Zarathustra

Blackbird

ABCD..

Guards theme from Wizard of Oz

My favorite things

X Files theme

Lavender’s Blue

minor sixth down

Love story theme

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

minor sixth up

Love story theme (3rd and 4th notes)

In my life

Close every door

When Israel was in Egypt’s land

the Entertainer

 major sixth down

the Music of the night

Man in the Mirror

major sixth up

My Bonnie lies over the ocean

Hush little baby

It came upon a midnight clear

Angels

minor seventh down

Watermelon man

an American in Paris theme

minor seventh up

There’s a place for us

Nothing compares 2 U

major seventh down

I love you

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

major seventh up

Take On Me

Somewhere over the Rainbow (1st and 3rd pitches)

Bali-Hai (1st and 3rd pitches)

octave down

There’s no business like show business

Willow weep for me

Somewhere over the rainbow (from Bow to Blue)

octave up

Somewhere over the Rainbow

Singing In the Rain

Judas

Bali Hai

Chestnuts roasting … ( A Christmas Song)

Let it Snow

Tada! and there you have it.  Any other suggestions?