Thursday, March 23, 2006

TRL Episode Review - 03.20.06

I live in St. Louis, and we've had one of those mild winters brought to you by the fine folks at Global Warming & Sons, Inc. Our only real snow fell on Monday night, the first day of spring, when TRL broadcast this special Spring Break keeper of an episode with guests Mary J. Blige and Sean Paul.

Two nights later, I'm sitting at home with a vodka cranberry in hand, the snow is still on the ground outside, and the MTV Hits channel is repeating Monday's episode of "Total Request Live" at 2 a.m. Which, in its ninth or so year on the air, with Carson Daly long having since flown the coop, is every bit the rehearsed-hip, screaming teenybopper, braindead commercial plugfest it ever was. The MTV people have this phony-ass, self-serving shit down to a science.

I like to keep up on the teen pop video side of things, but for reasons of time, space and sanity, I can't write full-length reviews of every new piece of chart-shimmying fluff. So tonight I'm going to review the contents of this random rerun of TRL, brought to you from New York City by hosts Susie and Vanessa. Neither is identified by last name, though I'm not sure whether that's intended to make them look cool or they're just genuinely embarrassed that they studied acting at New School University and ended up introducing Ashlee Simpson videos on "Total Request Live."

Mary J. Blige and Sean Paul are hanging out in the green room, sitting side by side on a red sofa a good foot away from each other. A bunch of ninth graders are sitting in the studio. And the countdown begins, with what Susie (or is it Vanessa?) calls "the official Spring Break anthem," from - gasp - Sean Paul. Who happens to be sitting next to Mary J. Blige on that red green room sofa and will be joining us in just a few minutes.

10. Sean Paul - Temperature
**1/2 (of four)

I don't know why Leon gave this one four stars - I guess he didn't get the memo about eMpTyV scaling back from a nine-star rating system to just four. Myself, I've never been able to take Sean Paul seriously. He reminds me of the scat singer in the reggae band that plays the pool deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship and has all the eight-year-old white kids barking along to "Who Let the Dogs Out" every afternoon. I'll admit, though, the "Temperature" beat is pretty contagious and mesmerizing, and I like the winter set, with its shades-of-blue horizontal kaleidoscope and dancing ladies in fur-hooded parkas. The concept of the video is to show Sean Paul capturing the attention of these rented models during every season of the year, but TRL is only seeing fit to show the winter and like a second of spring and fall in this airing. Sorry, Sean Paul - maybe when you climb to #4 on the TRL countdown they'll give you two whole seasons.

SEGMENT: Between videos, Susie wants to remind us that Sean Paul will be joining us in just a few minutes, while Vanessa wants to remind us that it's Spring Break '06. Dissolve to correspondant Damien, with his report from the party bus. Which is more like a party Call-a-Ride van, with a Colombian driver and some Mexican blankets hanging from the windows. He picks up a few frat boys, makes them over in beach gear and takes them to an indoor pool, which positively teems with rented models. They go back to the Call-a-Ride van and bang maracas and recruit an entire calypso band. Holy fuck! Damien's party bus just pulled up, and everyone's coming into the TRL studios! Stay tuned.


9. Madonna - Sorry
** (of four)

As startling to me as the fact that the mid-forties Madonna can still crack the TRL countdown (albeit the lower reaches) is the fact that TRL is playing less than eight seconds of it. And Vanessa (or was it Susie?) talks over all eight seconds. They don't even capitalize on the fact that Damien's driving around his party van while Madonna in the "Sorry" video is driving around her own party van. With padded walls and a bunch of guys pulled inside off the street. Maybe it's the lack of Mexican blankets in Madonna's party bus that keeps them from pointing any of this out.

SEGMENT: Susie and Sean Paul are headed downstairs to greet the guests who are exiting the party van. The tension mounts.


8. Aly & AJ - Rush
*1/2 (of four)

This is what the whole Radio Disney thing was created for. Aly and AJ are child actresses who are sisters and who, between them, have been on about a half-dozen soap operas, sitcoms and kids shows. And are now moonlighting with generic guitar-driven pop singles that are less music than instant cellular ringtones. (How many times will young Caitlin Smith's family dinner be interrupted when the chorus to "Rush" comes ejaculating out of her LG flip phone because Britney wants to talk about that totally cute boy Joey, I wonder?) The video sucks, true, but both Aly and AJ are gorgeous to watch in all their jailbaitocity. Underage, yes they are, so at least try to resist the dirty thoughts until the middle of the second verse, will ya guys? The girls are also apparently into watching boys surf and swinging on ropes from trees and putting sand in tins and labeling it "Hawaii." All stuff jailbait girls routinely do.

SEGMENT: Now the party bus passengers are being paraded into the TRL studio. I'm guessing they were coming up in one elevator while Susie and Sean Paul were headed down on another elevator to greet them. This is a classic sitcom mixup, and I can't wait to see how it plays out. For now, we're headed to commercial.


7. Jonas Brothers - Mandy (Episode One)
*1/2 (of four)

These guys look to be even younger than Aly and AJ, and from what I can tell from the 20-second TRL sample just now, they rock way harder than those Hanson kids. An extra ten beats per minute and everything. There's a guy, right, and he's kind of a geek, right, and he's sitting in class, right, and he's looking across the aisle at an incredibly hot blonde girl, right, and meanwhile, she's got a message on her phone to meet Rick in the parking lot ("and HURRY!"). Fuck, I'll never know how this resolves, but take heart - Episode Two of "Mandy" debuts later this week.

INTERVIEW: Susie is sitting in a lawn chair in one inflated kiddie pool, while Sean Paul sits next to her in another lawn chair in another kiddie pool. Apparently, if you're Sean Paul, you're not that familiar with how Spring Break works in New York, but you know that in Jamaica, where you're from, it's a time of year when the guys are interested in the girls. Hard-hitting journalism, there, Susie. You should take a cue from Chris Matthews, who is merciless on his guests when he interviews them from the confines of an inflated kiddie pool.


6. Fall Out Boy - A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More "Touch Me"
*1/2 (of four)

Fall Out Boy wants the world to know they were only having fun when they put out their video for the mega teen pop hit "Dance Dance." Now they're back to being serious with "Sixteen Candles," a song about a guy who regrets missing his chance with a girl. Cliched, tender-hearted subject matter, but here comes director Alan Ferguson to dress it up with an epic vampire video. It's kind of a cross between "Thriller" and the moody Jack the Ripper thriller From Hell, and while some of the black-light makeup effects are intriguing, this whole affair seems like an ego-driven waste of time.

CLIP: Sean Paul performed at the Spring Break beachhouse last week, and I fucking missed it. The clip they show - with Sean Paul damn near standing still as he swallows the microphone while being flanked by a trio of female dancers - only whets my appetite for more. I'm being sarcastic.


5. Ashley Parker Angel - Let U Go
* (of four)

He's a serious musician alright, that Ashley Parker Angel. So serious that he started his career in the boy band O-Town. Oh, but they didn't allow his artistic talents to flourish, so he waited a few years and wrote a few songs with a few chords, and now Angel is back to show everyone how fucking cool he actually is. The singing on this driving rock song is damn near monotone, with distorted effects on both the vocal and guitar tracks. The video is the same murky green- and brown-tinted garage basement indoor shit we've seen a dozen times before in faceless modern rock, and the camera is always earthquake-shaking. And indeed "Let U Go" does fly straight off the charts of the Richter Scale of Crap.

INTERVIEW: Damien has taken over microphone duties to introduce Mary J, who is hiding her contempt behind some giant black sunglasses. She ducks a question about how she likes to spend Spring Break by mentioning that she works all the time. I had no idea, though, that Mary J. performs in rap videos as her trash-talking alter ego Brook Lynn. Schizophrenia has always had a place in hip-hop, after all. For now, we're headed to commercial.


CLIP: L.L. Cool J's advice to guys on how to have anonymous sex with a stranger during Spring Break: "Pop a mint. Or something. That usually seems to work."

4. Bo Bice - The Real Thing
*1/2 (of four)

Bo Bice is taking the "American Idol" concept way too seriously. All you see in this video is the same shit you saw when he was slogging his way through the reality competition as "the rocker." Which is, Bo hiding behind his microphone stand, staring into the camera, tossing his head back and forth and letting his long, lustrous hair blow in the breeze. Only here, we get to see him do it from the top of the roof as the sun sets. And out in the street with the afternoon sun behind him. And while walking through a crowd of people who all, yes, idolize him. Talk about a graven image.

PERFORMANCE: Mary J. Blige, still hiding behind the giant black sunglasses, sings her new adult-contemporary R+B single over a karaoke backing track while the white ninth graders that comprise the audience feign interest.


3. Ye-Yo - So Sick
** (of four)

Another eight-second clip from R+B singer Ye-Yo (the new toy that spins on a string and spits out slow jams), who looks forlorn in a white wool hat while reminiscing about the good times he had with his lady in the snowy mountains. They made sweet love under an avalanche and everything. This Hype Williams video has the same double-letterbox gimmick as his last twenty videos, and there's lots of winter nature footage. I could count more than two hundred pine trees in the TRL eight-second clip alone.

INTERVIEW: Damien interviews Mary J. Blige, whose new album comes from the heart. And she's completely humble about the fact that she's so goddamned independent that she doesn't listen to anyone else, including the dozens of white ninth-graders who "spontaneously" applaud her manifesto of humility.


2. Shakira - Hips Don't Lie
*** (of four)

Shakira has just turned into this machine of convulsing body parts. She's some kind of sexual epileptic - instead of having a traditional seizure, hers occur in her hips and ass and, starting with this video, her shoulders. Seriously, I've seen Jane Fonda exert her shoulders less in her '80s workout tapes. Shakira should be sweating and shoveling Power Bars down her throat by the end of this. "Hips Don't Lie," by the way, is produced by Wyclef but sounds nothing like his stuff. Rather, it sounds like every fast Shakira song you've already heard with a few computer blips and the trumpet intro from Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz's "Deja Vu" thrown in for good measure. The video is fairly elaborate, though, with Shakira writhing solo on a chair from what looks like a Mexican prison and later leading a dozen rented hotties in a dance of veils and working it at a street carnival while Wyclef humps her leg. Which is the producer's privilege in music - Snoop Dogg should have a dime for every time Dre rubbed bone on his leg in a video.

MTV NEWS CLIP: Gideon Yago introduces a report on students who volunteer to help out the impoverished children and elderly of Costa Rica for three or four days before heading back to their air-conditioned suburbian homes with one mega-screen television and SUV per family member.

INTERVIEW: Sean Paul's new tour includes dancing and strobe lights. Oh, and he thinks Mary J. Blige brings "something to the slate" with her interpretation of "what de ladies feel."


1. Kelly Clarkson - Walk Away
** (of four)

Oddly appropriate it is that the winner of the first season of "American Idol" is currently perched atop the TRL charts. The former show seeks to fabricate and package a ready-made pop star, while the latter is the perfect showcase for ready-made pop stars to whore themselves out. Clarkson is a personality-free star, and her songs are all either horrible or have that vague ring of something we've heard before. Lots of times. "Walk Away" has an overfamiliar uptempo-empowerment feel to it, and Kelly herself - an acre of midriff exposed - sports a mullet pompadour borrowed from Cyndi Lauper. Clarkson lip synchs from a big wood-paneled room while dozens of extras from the beauty technician to the diner waitress to the cop on parking ticket duty sing and dance along to "Walk Away." The cop twirls his baton, the waitress sings into her ketchup bottle, and somehow it's not as painful to watch as it sounds. Maybe I've been numbed by an entire hour of "Total Request Live."

PERFORMANCE: But hold on, before we go, one more karaoke performance from Mary J., who dedicates the new song "to all the ladies who are played out in their relationship." You fucking go, girl.

House of Pain - Jump Around (1992)

*** (of four)

"Jump Around" is possibly the catchiest hip-hop single ever to be built around a one-note sample (shit, even the "O.P.P." piano hook was two notes), that siren-sounding bagpipe wail bound to get stuck in your cranium for hours after you hear it. It's also one of the more enduring white-boy rap songs of the early '90s, closer to Cypress Hill than Vanilla Ice.

And, mere days after I celebrated St. Patrick's Day by downing my first green beer at 8:30 and being booted from an outdoor venue in mid-afternoon for continuing to urinate wildly after I'd already backed out of the Johnny on the Spot, it's comforting to watch Everlast and the boys celebrate their Irish heritage by bouncing up and down among a massive pub crowd while the St. Pat's parade goes by in black and white outside. (Who says my sentences don't run on like they used to?)

Director David Perez keeps the entire affair manic but easy to follow - Irish-related stock footage flies by while jerky closeups of the rappers are cut in. And, a good decade-plus later, "Jump Around" is one of the few videos you'll see on the MTV cable channels that have the word "ho" intact. He's even allowed to threaten to smack an out-of-line ho. This is a cherished relic of a bygone era.

T-Pain - I'm in Love With a Stripper (2006)

*1/2 (of four)

I found my dream stripper a few years back at P.T.'s in Sauget, Illinois. She was about 5'5", probably like 105 pounds, soft-featured and blonde with perky natural tits, and I fell for her immediately. She also, within twenty seconds of climbing onstage, fell on her ass. The friend I came with, who was sitting a few seats down, tossed out a sympathy dollar and beat a hasty retreat, while I settled into my chair with fanned-out bills at the ready. The dream stripper, upon regaining her balance, headed over my way. "That guy's an asshole," she whispered in my ear, smashing her right nipple into my cheek. "He laughed at me!" I told her not to mind my friend, he was half-drunk and was only trying to console her. "I fucking hate coming on after a black girl," she added, her thighs wrapped around my lower back at this point. "The stage is always slippery from that shit they put in their hair."

Well, the P.T.'s dream stripper would definitely want to steer clear of T-Pain's dream stripper. Who has a fair amount of product in her hair and is moving into the house next door with cardboard boxes full of fake-looking money. You also have to wonder if the agent from Konvict Realty who sold her the house stripped out all the copper pipes before she moved in. The Konvict Realty folks aren't quite as reliable as, say, Century 21 staff.

The stripper neighbor drops her keys, and T-Pain waits until cover of darkness to let himself into the house. Where her extremely pink bedroom is full of tiny little teddy bears and a stripper pole. Let's see, T-Pain also follows her to work, where we get some unsexy offstage laying around by the dancers and rappers, who seem way more interested in counting their money than doing the nasty. Director Scott Franklin also includes more loving slo-mo shots of rims, neck jewelry and T-Pain's multi-hued dreadlocks than titties and pert ass cheeks, which makes me want to turn this shit off and get back to P.T.'s with my asshole friend.

Oh, by the way, I can't stand this goddamned song either.

Cody Chesnutt - Look Good in Leather (2002)

** (of four)

You may remember Cody Chesnutt from the Roots single "The Seed" ("I push my seed in her bush for life"). Or, like me, maybe you saw him open for Erykah Badu a few years back and were struck by how similar his look was to Mos Def and '70s "Hustle" singer Van McCoy. And how similar his voice was to Terence Trent D'Arby. And how similar some of his rambling between-song sermon speeches were to the slow moments at a Prince concert.

Yet for all the similarities, Cody Chesnutt has an original appeal - an amalgam of retro-rock, classic soul, '80s pop and newer hip-hop sensibilities. "Look Good in Leather" is a rhythm guitar driven pop track that is completely obnoxious on first listen and then lodges in your head and grows. After awhile, you realize how damn stupid the song is and how much you suddenly can't stop singing along to it.

Chesnutt's album, The Headphone Masterpiece, was recorded in his basement on damn near no budget. The album title practically gives away the fact that Cody was too poor to afford speakers to play his shit on. Likewise, I think the Donray Von video for "Leather" was taped on a camcorder and edited on a top-loading VCR. Chesnutt plays this song for a racially diverse crowd in a suburban parking lot somewhere. The sign for the 7-Eleven looms in the background. And no doubt Cody bummed a buck thirty-nine from the audience to get himself a Bacon Cheeseburger Big Bite when the shoot was over.

The entire affair is half-assed beyond belief, and Lord knows why Donray Von decided to cut in footage of a motorcycle gang rolling through the alley behind the Burger King. But just like the song itself, you can tell the anonymous people in this video are just here to have a good time. Budget and talent are entirely incidental.

Mya - Fallen (2004)

** (of four)

How seriously does this Mya song want to be taken? Well, part of the chorus invokes the Medic Alert bracelet catchphrase, "I've fallen and I can't get up." Indeed, not only are hip-hop and R+B producers sampling old song hooks, drumbeats and synth riffs, they've also decided to sample afternoon soap opera ad campaigns from the early 1990s. Whatever works.

"Fallen," a tepid pop song that basically never gets up, also lifts its backing track practically wholesale from the Pharcyde classic "Runnin'." Which drew heavily from the track "Saudade Ven Correndo," as recorded by the Stan Getz Jazz Samba Encore. How's that for pedigree?

I wouldn't give "Fallin'" the time of day if not for the presence of Mya, R+B music's sexiest octaroon in history. I loved her in 1998, when she was a TRL idol, and I love her now, when she can't seem to get the attention of the mainstream audience no matter how many baths she takes on camera. Don't worry, Mya. You still have my support. I'd hate to see you fall on hard times and, say, turn to hardcore pornography to pay the bills. That would just devastate me. And my fully stocked supply of Astroglide.

The plot of this Darren Grant video? Mya is stalking a brotha who doesn't appear to know she's alive. She follows him out of work, stares him down while he's getting the latest issue of the Wall Street Journal from the newstand and races down to the subway when he gets in his car. All the while Mya is singing sensually into the streetposts and subway railings, looking unbelievably hot and comically pathetic at the same time.

Cut to the brotha arriving at home and Mya arriving at home. Whu-whu-what?! They're next-door neighbors! Soon enough she's turning his doorknob, uninvited, and she sneaks upstairs to take that bath I was talking about earlier. That's when the underwater mermaid dance interlude comes into play. I'm not joking.

Mya disappears just as the stalkee arrives upstairs and notices the song's title written in the bathroom mirror fog. Then he gets himself a three-foot long silly straw and sucks down every drop of her bathwater. This bit was also stolen from the Medic Alert bracelet ads of the early '90s. Pity no one can be original anymore.


"Movin' On" (1998)
A distraught Mya receives a note ("If Malik's your boyfriend, he wasn’t last night.") and has to excuse herself from class so she can sing mournfully in the hallway.

"My First Night With You" (1999)
Man, could I take this light-skinned beauty home to Mama. I bet even David Duke could convince his mother that Mya just fell asleep on the tanning bed.

"Free (Cocktease Pt. II)" (2000)
Mya even looks sexy as a 1980s roller rink queen, tearing it up on the hardwood and flirting with sexy ol’ Jerome at the snack bar.

"Best of Me" (2000)
I’m sorry; I just masturbated through this entire video. Was I supposed to review it?