Album Review: Britney Spears: Glory
"I don't believe in marriage anymore."
That's one of the confessions Britney Spears made to late-night host James Corden in a recent episode of his feature Carpool Karaoke.
And there was another admission as well: Even though she'd like more children, Britney's apparently not much interested in men or physical intimacy these days. "I might not ever go to men again," she told Corden. "I may French kiss someone, but I'm not going to marry anyone, no." Britney's candid, though admittedly brief, interactions on those subjects suggest she's perhaps weary of looking for meaning in relationships and sex.
Those statements, however, are at odds with the one on her ninth album, Glory. Indeed, the 12 tracks on the standard edition of the album (and five more on the deluxe version) focus almost exclusively on the subject of sex. So much so, in fact, that Salon reviewer Nico Lang wrote, "Spears is chained to her proverbial bed throughout Glory, her most overtly erotic record to date."
"Man on the Moon" could be heard as being romantic without being sexual. Spears sings, "I've been right here dreaming of you/Waiting for my man on the moon." And there's a fleeting suggestion on "Do You Wanna Come Over" that two people could do something other than getting physical: "Or we could be good and do next to nothin'." "Better" implies that actually knowing someone you're physically intimate with makes that experience more meaningful: "So right, so good/When you know somebody." "Liar" sends a serial cheater on his way, while "Just Like Me" suggests deep pain after discovering a man's infidelity. "Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)" features a guy who actually doesn't want to "cross the line" physically…
… even though Britney is determined to make him do otherwise throughout the balance of that track.
And on virtually every other track on this album, too, as it turns out. Album opener "Invitation" coos, "Let the inhibitions come undone/ … Put your love all over me." Bondage shows up as well ("I know it might seem crazy/But I'ma put you in this blindfold/I just need you to trust me"). "Make Me … " tells a would be hook-up partner at a bar to "cut the s---" so that they can get down to business: "No rules/From the bar to the car, let's take it back to my room/Igniting the heat of the moment, let the sparks fuse." Guest rapper G-Eazy adds, "I've always wondered what was off limits."
"Private Show" finds Spears playing the role of a stripper striving to please a man ("Work it, work, boy watch me work it/Slide down my pole, watch me spin it and twerk it"). The song ends with a giggling allusion to oral sex. We get similar winks at that activity in "Clumsy," which also talks about Spears and a partner "bangin' all over this bedroom."
"Just Luv Me" finds Spears almost desperately throwing her body at a man. "Ask for pieces of my body," she tells him. "Until all of it is yours/But I'm not gonna ask you for nothing/Just love me, just love me." The booty-call track "Do You Wanna Come Over" includes similar stuff: "Whatever you want/Whatever you need/I'll do it." Carnality, profanity and music mingle on "Slumber Party": "Neighbors say we're causing a commotion/ … We use our bodies to make our own videos/Put on our music that makes us go f---ing crazy." Alcohol gets added to the mix on "Hard to Forget Ya" ("Eyes locked on your body, sexy features, so iconic/ … Keep it going, let's get wasted"). In "What You Need", Spears purrs, "One time just ain't enough/ … I got that good, good stuff you can't erase/ … Give you what you want, I'm a certified expert."
After a breakup on "Man on the Moon," Spears turns to alcohol to take the edge off: "Drinking alone in my party dress/Would you come back if I looked my best?" "If I'm Dancing" mentions the Hindu concept of chakras (certain parts of the body imbued with specific spiritual powers according to some Indian religious traditions): "My chakra's all green and red/But he wants blue and green instead."
Britney Spears performed this album's first single, "Make Me …," at this year's MTV Video Music Awards. It was vintage Britney, a performance full of writhing and undulating, pouting and primping and posing. She even grabbed guest rapper G-Eazy's crotch a couple of times, as if to prove that she's still naughty enough to keep up with the young 'uns.
Yet I couldn't help but notice that her lip syncing was obviously off (something many others said via social media). She had all the "right" moves, but the whole thing just felt a bit off, as if maybe her heart wasn't quite in it anymore—even if she was obviously working very hard to prove otherwise.
I feel the same way about this sex-filled album after watching her Carpool Karaoke segment with James Corden. I'm just not convinced that Britney Spears is as interested in sex in real life as she insists she is throughout this album.
That said, many fans will likely take Britney Spears' latest effort at face value, accepting the message that's delivered from start to finish: that the greatest glory we can experience in life begins and ends with sex. Never mind that Britney may not even believe that hedonistic worldview she's still peddling after all these years.
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Album Review: Nick Jonas: Last Year Was Complicated
Nick Jonas, the youngest member of the now-defunct fraternal pop-rock trio bearing his now-famous surname, seems to be making a play for sympathy of sorts on his third solo album, Last Year Was Complicated. The complication he unpacks (in detail) revolves around a woman (or women) he's broken up with.
Procuring as much sex as he wants doesn't seem to be much of a problem for the 23-year-old former Disney star. But finding lasting, satisfying love? That's a much thornier proposition for the junior Jonas Brother … in part because he's still not sure he even wants to trade all those casual carnal conquests for lasting love with just one woman.
"Good Girls" ponders why some nice girls think they need to behave nastily to garner attention ("When did all these good girls decide to be bad?"), suggesting that it's partially because they're rebelling against their fathers ("Dancin' up on the table, getting' back at your dad") and partially because they've been conditioned to please lusty, leering men ("Don't wanna blame you for it, 'cause that's what we ask of you"). The song ultimately says a woman's appeal should be based on more than just her looks ("You know I love your skin, but is it deeper than that?/ … You know sexy isn't just what you see").
"Champagne Problems" laments, "We were the opposite of breaking up/Can't believe I'm losing you." Meanwhile, "Don't Make Me Choose" promises, "Whenever I can, I'll be there/You got a man who knows exactly what you need/ … If you wanna talk, I'll listen." "Unhinged" confesses, "You're not the first to try and diagnose what's wrong with me/I'll be the first to admit that I'm hard to please." "Voodoo" finds Jonas admitting he needs to get away from a woman he knows is a bad influence, but…
… that knowledge isn't enough to help him say no to her sensual charms. It's a weakness that shows up over and over again on Complicated. "Close," for instance, looks forward to minimizing the physical space between Jonas and a woman, even though he probably already knows this is a bad idea ("Oh d--n, oh d--n, oh d--n/I'm so perplexed").
Likewise, on "Champagne Problems" Jonas and a paramour break up, then promptly pop the cork on some bubbly and shed their clothes ("We got champagne problems/Only one way to solve 'em/ … Keep on, keep on drinking/ … How did our clothes end up on the floor?/Didn't we just break each other's hearts?") "Chainsaw" finds him violently responding to his cohabiting partner's decision to move out: "And maybe I'll just take a chain saw to the sofa/Where I held your body close for so long, so long/I'm gonna break the f---ing china/'Cause it's just one more reminder you're gone, you're gone." Later he turns to other unhealthy painkilling strategies, including alcohol ("Drink in my glass, better make it strong") and promiscuity ("Some nights wanna fill this space/A tight dress and a pretty face").
More suggestive physical fantasies fill "Touch," where we hear (among other things), "Go crazy/In the bedroom, babe/ … I wanna get inside your brain/Every part of you." Similarly sensual stuff saturates "The Difference" and "Under You."
"Bacon" finds Jonas pondering which he wants more, an always-willing partner ("Sizzling, white hot/Give me that sugar with the sweet talk") or a no-strings-attached existence in which he doesn't have to answer to anyone ("One thing I love more than being with you/And that's no ties, no drama in my life"). The same kind of self-centered ambivalence turns up on "Unhinged," where Jonas tells a woman that he's just not ready for a lifetime commitment: "I'm afraid to find out that I might be right for you/'Cause it's one step closer to life with you/And that's not me."
In the end, Nick Jonas' supposedly Complicated life isn't really anything of the sort. He's a young man who occasionally flirts with the idea of commitment. But he's much more committed to flirting—and a lot more than that—than he is making vows that would require him to subdue his self-absorption. He wants everything on his terms, but he's loath to be shackled to the self-sacrificing terms that a real relationship would demand of him.
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Fifth Harmony 7/27 Album Review
What is the measure of a woman's worth? Is it love? Sex? Money? Fame? On any given track on the sophomore effort from the all-female group Fifth Harmony, it could be any of those things. The result is an album that veers wildly between healthy, empowering messages and sexualizing, self-objectifying ones.
"That's My Girl" is an empowerment anthem emphasizing the importance of women working hard, taking charge of their lives and not letting manipulative men define them. "You've been down before/You've been hurt before/You got up before/You'll be good to go, go to go/ … You know your worth." Hard work is again encouraged on "The Life": "Ever since I'm young, I'm tryna get it right/Every year I'm working toward a goal." "I Lied" longs for "real love," which the band describes as a guy who gets in touch during the day ("You got that real love/That text in the morning, that real love").
Though quite sensual elsewhere, "Squeeze" nevertheless longs for a safe, accepting relationship ("Face to face/ … This is the safest place I've ever known"). Deluxe Edition bonus track "No Way" also emphasizes unconditional love: "Everyone comes with scars, but you can love them anyway/I told you that I wasn't perfect, you told me the same/I think that's why we belong together and unashamed." "Gonna Get Better" tries to convince a guy that love, not money or material things, is what matters most in a relationship ("I won't leave you for a money man/No matter what we go through/ … But you know all that I want is you"). "Scared of Happy" finds a young woman confronting the fact that she's terrified of a healthy relationship that's actually working. "Not That Kind of Girl" demonstrates self-respect as we hear a woman tell a man in a club that she's not going to jump into bed with him "on the first date."
"Work From Home" finds a woman trying to tease her guy home from work by telling him she's wandering around "wearing na nada" and by sending him sexts. Double entendres fill the song, and guest contributor Ty Dolla $ign compares his lady to a stripper. Similarly, "All in My Head (Flex)" references stripper motifs ("Throwing bills at you") in its song-length exaltation of acrobatic sex ("Flex, time to impress/Come and climb in my bed/Don't be shy, do your thing"). "Squeeze" talks of emotional intimacy … and the physical variety, too. "Write on Me" sensually asks a lover to tattoo a woman ("Everything is blank until you draw me/Touching on my body like you know me"). "Not That Kind of Girl" implies that while sex isn't happening on the first date, a man who treats a woman right can earn that privilege fairly quickly.
"The Life" longs for luxury and inebriating indulgence ("Eating good, getting lit/Living life, feeling rich/ … Poolside, sipping on a Mai Tai/ … This is the life." "I Lied" compares love to getting high.
Profanity on several tracks includes s- and f-words (including one partially bleeped pairing of the latter with "mother"), as well as "d--n" and "a--."
Just as the five young women in Fifth Harmony skillfully blend the popular sounds of the day—pop, R&B, rap and EDM stylings swirling among them—so they also serve up a soufflé of secular society's often paradoxically mixed messages about where a woman should seek to ground her identity.
One minute that means taking charge and working hard. The next it means trying to please a man who compares her to a stripper. If only the genuinely positive messages here could be easily, completely sifted from the damaging ones. Alas, separating the uplifting themes from the demeaning ones on 7/27 is as impossible as trying to separate the five beautiful voices that comprise Fifth Harmony itself.
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Album Review: Drake Views
For a musician as massively successful as Drake is, he's sure mopey. He's got trust issues. He pines for women from his past. And all that bling? Well, it doesn't seem to be making him happy. If anything, it just amplifies his isolation and creates conflict with friends who are trying to con him out of all his money.
Drake sometimes finds genuine satisfaction in caring for others ("Keeping people fed is my only peace of mind now," he says on "9"). He's also aware of how not squandering his success is important for those who work for him ("Understand I got responsibilities to people that I need"). Likewise, "Pop Style" mentions providing for his family. "One Dance" prays for a girlfriend's safe return, asks for "strength and guidance" for friends" and looks to avoid conflict ("I don't wanna spend time fighting"). On "Keep the Family Close," Drake says family members are the only people he can depend upon, contrasting them with friends' betrayals ("Guess that's what they say you need family for/'Cause I can't depend on you anymore").
"Hype" admits, "Chasing women is a distraction" and honestly ponders what comes after reaching the top of the heap ("I don't know what else is left for me"). "Feel No Ways" tells a paramour he's feuding with, "There's more to life than sleeping in/And getting high with you."
"Faithful" finds Drake promising to live up to that lofty word ("I won't have affairs, I'm yours, girl/Faithful, faithful, faithful, faithful"). "Fire & Desire" looks forward to marriage with someone Drake respects ("I just wanna wife/Keep you in front, never in the back/And never on the side, yeah"). "Redemption" wonders, "Why do I settle for women that force me to pick up the pieces?" Elsewhere on that song, Drake vulnerably admits that the affirmation of those close to him is important ("Certain people need to tell me they're proud of me/That mean a lot to me") and realizes that his workaholic tendencies tend to have a negative impact on his relationships. That song also asks, "Who's gonna save me when I need savin'?"
"Weston Road Flows" shows that poverty can't stand in the way of brotherhood. Then the song emphasizes the connection between success and hard work, advising, "Don't let your newfound fame fool you or cloud up your judgment" and even admitting, "Money can't buy happiness."
Harsh profanities (f-words, s-words, n-words, "b--ch," "a--," etc.) earn iTunes' "Explicit" warnings for 18 of these 20 tracks. Add to that drugs and graphic sexual encounters.
"U With Me?" states, "My house is the definition/Of alcohol and weed addiction." "Weston Road Flows" tells us, "I'm happiest when I can buy what I want/Get high when I want." Guest rapper Future's contribution on "Grammys" mentions the prescription drugs Xanax and Percocet, as well as cocaine.
"With You" talks of deliberately plying women with alcohol ("Mixing vodka and emotions, tapping into your emotions") before moving on to casual sex ("Choose your lover for the moment"). "Faithful" includes an explicit reference to a woman's sexual anatomy, then instructs, "On my way from the studio, so get undressed/Let's do the things that we say on the text/I want to get straight to the climax," then concludes with another reference to a woman's orgasm.
"Controlla" repeatedly references "aggressive" intercourse and includes a winking allusion to the size of a man's anatomy. Coitus gets even more acrobatic on "Child's Play," which includes references to a woman having sex with athletes on a basketball team and trading sex for new clothes. There are, again, explicit references to sexual body parts, and the song suggests that a man would be crazy to trade endless casual sex for marriage ("Married in our twenties? Now where's the fun in that?")
Still more sexual content turns up on other tracks (a couple of which talk about "grinding"), as do other references to drugs and alcohol. "Redemption" threatens, "I'll kill somebody if they give you problems," then rhymes, "Master bedroom's where we get it poppin'."
On "Still Here," Drake brags that it's his wealth and celebrity that put him on not just fans' maps but also God's. He chants, "I gotta talk to God even though He isn't near me/Based on what I got it's hard to think that He don't hear me/Hittin' like that 30 on my jersey, man I'm gifted/Whole lot of sixes, but I'm still like/Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah/Six-point star, lion of the Judah" And then the song ends with this spiritually self-focused worship refrain: "Wow, all praise to the most high up."
The view from Drake's lofty perch near the top of the rap pedestal is a lonely one. Amid the melancholy fog where he generally spends his time, Drake occasionally has some perceptive—if fleeting—moments of introspective insight.
But after spending the day looking at life from all the angles in Drake's Views, I was just tired. Twenty downbeat tracks exhibit a worldview that's still as empty—filled, as it is, with self-love, sex, drugs, alcohol and crates of cash—as it was when last we heard from Toronto's native son.
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Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman
Ariana Grande certainly didn't hang out in role-model land very long. And on Dangerous Woman she's gleefully lit the match on any lingering hopes that the nice girl from Nickelodeon's Sam & Cat might still be loitering about somewhere in the back of her personality.
"I used to feel so obligated to be so much more," she sings on the bluntly titled "I Don't Care." "I used to let some people tell me how to live and what to be/But if I can't be me, then what's the point? No/I don't care about it anymore/ … I love me." Families to Miss Grande: Message received, loud and clear.
"Be Alright" is one of the album's few attempts to be sweet and tender without veering into sexual territory. Amid struggle and uncertainty, Ariana tells a beau, "But the hard times are golden/'Cause they all lead to better days/We're gonna be alright." "Leave Me Lonely" demonstrates self-respect and restraint as Ariana wisely tells a bad boy not to come back ("So when you walk out that door/Don't you come back no more/ … You're a dangerous love/Baby, you're no good for me, darling"). "Sometimes" promises commitment ("I ain't even think of leaving sometimes/I ain't even think of letting go"). Deluxe Edition bonus track "Knew Better/Forever Boy" treads similar territory as Ariana repeatedly vows, "You're my forever boy."
How much does Dangerous Woman focus on sex? Let me count the ways: Seven of 11 tracks on the base album and all four of the Deluxe Edition bonus tracks revolve around that subject. Here's a representative sampling:
"Moonlight" finds Ariana singing breathily, "Puts his lips on my neck/Makes me want to give him my body."
"Dangerous Woman" gushes, "All that you got, skin to skin, oh my god/Don't ya stop, boy." The track also suggests, "All girls wanna be like that/Bad girls underneath, like that."
"Into You" brags that Ariana's up for any game her man wants to play ("So name a game to play, and I'll roll the dice, hey") and eventually trades coy flirtiness for more direct instructions ("So, baby, come light me up and maybe I'll let you on it") as she says she's on the verge of losing control ("I can't wait no more/I'm on the edge with no control").
The reggae-themed "Side to Side" finds Ariana telling a guy with a "bad reputation" that she wants to "rock with your body." She brags, "Tonight I'm making deals with the devil." Guest Nicki Minaj's contribution is too graphic to print in its description of the male anatomy. Her raps also include the put-down "b--ches" and a use of the f-word.
On the sex-themed "Let Me Move You," Ariana profanely tells a lover, "And I don't normally say this, but, g--d--n, you're the best, best, best." Guest Lil Wayne crudely imagines intercourse with his singing co-partner on the song, again with lyrics too explicit to print.
"Everyday" uses that word to describe how frequently Ariana and her lover do some "good s---" together.
"Greedy" uses a suggestive double entendre ("You know that I'm coming tonight") as Ariana confesses, "I'm just physically obsessed/And I'm greedy."
Bonus track "Thinking Bout You" hints at indulging a masturbation fantasy during a lover's absence. Additional bonus tracks "Touch It" and "Bad Decisions" are likewise completely focused on sex.
"I Don't Care" tells fans and critics alike, "Now I laugh about the things that used to be important to me/Used to have a hold on me, used to have a hold on me/Like what do you think." But these days? "I don't care about it anymore."
In some contexts, not getting worked up over others' opinions and criticism can be a mark of healthy self-confidence. In this case it's more like Ariana Grande is simply weary of anyone suggesting that the myriad reckless choices she's provocatively indulging might not be as awesome as she insists they are.
Ariana is absolutely infatuated with the idea of embracing—and I do mean embracing—dangerous men who make her feel daring. And she's urging her fans to become similarly obsessed.
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