The same old mistakes

Superhero television is no stranger to cross-overs and shared universes though this is starting to proliferate and become that heavily embedded to the point where you have to understand one thing to know another in a manner that’s starting to resemble where its comics counterpart was at for decades.

Similar things can be said of movies and I’d like to say that historically the advantage of televised and cinematic adaptations were very self-contained. That isn’t to say that cameos and crossovers were non-existence. They weren’t that common and necessary until recently.

There are advantages to being self-contained such as stronger personal control and focus. When you have a shared universe, it can be really hard to manage any real consistency or even experimentation. I think the use of shared universes and crossovers are what’s killing the superhero genre.

Most people don’t invest themselves in the lore that much and would want a self-contained story with a defined start to finish. Superhero media is increasingly the opposite of what people want. They’re becoming very insular and too complicated for most to get through.

If people want Flash, they’ll want Flash. They don’t want Flash because of Arrow and Supergirl but for what it is. Unfortunately, the nature of crossovers and shared universe can make it hard to enjoy something on its own merits because you really have to know it from somewhere else.

Without allowing superhero programmes to be genuinely self-contained for long, it makes it harder for other people to get into because they don’t want to invest in something for long. For writers, it can be hard to establish a unique tone without sacrificing consistency.

The use of a shared universe is harming the genre and something that future superhero writers should take note of. Out of all the superhero stories to date, Watchmen is among the few superhero stories with a genuinely self-contained universe and a beginning to end.

Ditto the Before Watchmen series but you get the point. Shared universes are really appealing to diehards, necessitating crossovers every now and then. If superheroes are going to mature, they’d need to outgrow the shared universe to feel free to be in their own worlds from now on.

The mythologisation of Japan

Japan is a country that tends to get heavily shrouded in mystery, made worse by the fact that it’s really hard to get accurate reports about it if it weren’t for the use of modified Chinese characters. It’s even harder to find data about Japan that isn’t about anime and the like.

There are still stray dogs in Japan. Not all people in Japan like anime and manga, albeit publicly and permanently. Japan isn’t that cat/dog friendly despite the abundance of such cafes but it’s not all that bed either.

The real problem lies with a misinterpretation. I could be wrong about my own understanding of Japan but Japan isn’t always what it’s cut out to be. It should neither be put on a pedestal nor get demonised. Japan is Japan and there’s more to it than any these misconceptions and misinformation.

Range frequency theory

Range frequency theory is used to describe one’s evaluation based on degree of exposure. Going back to my prior post, Lady Gaga is a good example of that theory in action. If someone is used to bad or mediocre vocals, then her singing is good in comparison. But if someone is used to more powerful, melodic or malleable vocals, then her singing is inadequate but doable (similar things can be said of other pop stars though).

It’s not surprising that others feel similar about whether or not Gaga’s an adequate singer. Someone on Digital Spy described her vocals as trained but curiously nasal. She’s a good singer though her singing sounds like there’s little modulation and control as well as lacking power.

If you want genuinely powerful vocals, you either look to opera and broadway singers or my favourite Martha Wash. Her voice is so strong that some made others lip sync to her singing and then she fought back. If not Martha, then Christian Aguilera.

There isn’t much real manipulation to her singing either. She can change her tone or pitch but not to the malleable degree where Danielle Dax has been doing in the 80s though the latter doesn’t record much these days and has retreated from the spotlight for good.

I suppose I listen to a wider variety of singing vocals to judge her singing but that’s amplified by why I can’t stand her for being put up on a pedestal. She’s not bad but she shouldn’t be put up so high that attracts her to much scrutiny. And then there are always a number of singers who are either worse or better than her.

In fairness, Lady Gaga tends to be only as good as the people she collaborates with. It’s unsurprisingly that her meteroic rise involved people like RedOne and Beyonce. Take one of them away and you’d have a a adequate musician who still falls short of expectations but so do everybody else.

I’ve got the chops

Among various critics and fans, there’s a tendency to put an emphasis on chops. This is not always the case but the obsession with talent or craftsmanship shouldn’t always be equated with competence. This has blinded them to a lot of actual artistry.

It’s one thing to hype that a pop singer can sing and do jazz though that’s not really remarkable. It’s another to find singers who are very good at what they and like doing. This fixation on whether or not the person can sing and write his/her own songs is like saying a book is good because it uses good diction and grammar.

Anne Clark is obviously a spoken word artist and her lyrics are very insightful and thought-provoking. Danielle Dax is an overlooked musician who can change the tone and pitch of her singing voice as if there are two separate people or more. Martha Wash is such a powerful singer that people have used her voice to have somebody lip sync to and then she fought back.

Perhaps it’s not a matter of taste or standard but exposure. There’s a thing called Range Frequency Theory stating that our evaluation of things is based on a degree of exposure. If someone is exposed to poor vocals, then a certain someone would be a godsend.

If someone were exposed to far stronger or more malleable vocals, the singer that I mentioned before isn’t good and isn’t bad, just serviceable. So the emphasis on chops is inevitably based on one’s exposure and knowledge.

It’s neither good nor bad but it’s a matter of having to find more talented musicians, even if they’re not popular and surprisingly won’t win any awards.

Nothing new

The idea of superheroes having evil counterparts isn’t anything new. This is also true on television where you have Reverse Flash and the Justice Lords. The idea of superheroes turning to the Dark Side isn’t anything new. Even Superboy and Supergirl both have had their evil counterparts every now and then.

The comics front is pretty irrelevant and prone to shock content that paradoxically doesn’t anger the public as much as it did before. People are getting unphased by the constant deaths and resurrections of Robin all thanks to The Joker killing Jason Todd.

Rather than going back to the way things were before, it’s probably better for superhero comics to progress. Not just in having more ethnic, queer, disabled, poor and female characters but also allowing genuinely radical changes to happen.

Perhaps despite apparent visible popularity, superheroes and Japanese cartoons are heading convergent paths where they went from unapologetically appealing to the masses especially kids to pandering to adults who won’t outgrow them.

I also don’t care if superheroes gaining boosted powers isn’t anything new either. The Legion of Super-Heroes and Jean Grey have been subjected to this and so have their peers over the years. As long as it interests and shocks the already jaded fanbase, it’s bound to kill superheroes for good.

A matter of relativity

I won’t be surprised if the reason why some people don’t like Lady Gaga is how she tends to get put up on a pedestal. They could be jealous but they could also be onto something. There’s a thing called Range Frequency Theory explaining how we perceive a physique.

To any very unfit person, someone with abs is already muscular. But if that person works out fairly often or has seen more muscular physiques, that same person would be seen as not particularly robust. To put it in musical terms, as what others on Digital Spy pointed out, Lady Gaga is better than some of her peers but not as good as others.

There’s a possibility that they’ve heard far better music. It wouldn’t be surprising why one would say that Lady Gaga might not be that good in songwriting as others make her out to be is because they’re exposed to far better songwriting. Lady Gaga herself isn’t a bad singer but might not have the same manipulation and control when compared to Danielle Dax.

She might not be as vocally powerful as Martha Wash but she’s a serviceable singer. She’s a good enough pianist but she’s not Norah Jones. So it’s inevitable that some Digital Spy users don’t put her that high on a pedestal is because they’re exposed to even more advanced stuff.

Gaga’s not bad and can be a gateway drug to other musicians like her peers and influences do. It’s just that some of her fans and colleagues aren’t exposed to other things to know if Gaga is as good (or bad) as others make her out to be.

I’m no stranger to Top 40 and listen to it but having listened to a lot of avant garde stuff as well as far more powerful singers and even folk music, Lady Gaga could be described as the best out of a bad bunch. Better than her peers but nowhere as good as some make her out to be.

I’ve listened to more versatile singers who could change the pitch and tone of their voices while singing. I’ve heard more powerful vocalists that can control their singing well enough. I’ve listened to songs with very thought-provoking, introspective lyrics even when there’s no singing (I’m referring to spoken word and some rap).

It’s a matter of exposing yourself to far better, more experimental and versatile musicians to make a judgment over Lady Gaga. If you’re used to limited vocals, Gaga would be a heavensend. If you’re used to far stronger, more versatile or melodic vocals Gaga has to work on that to be genuinely good and similar things can be said of songwriting and instrumentation.

Strange

I find Lady Gaga strange but not for the reasons you think it is. It’s strange that for a musician who’s often said to write her own songs, her more popular, better-known and/or better received stuff aren’t entirely done on her own. Her upcoming album contains some songs not entirely written by herself as was Cheek to Cheek and her covers of ‘Sound of Music’ and ‘Imagine’ being an indication that Gaga is still far from what people make her out to be.

She’s not very mediocre but she’s not really that good and exceptional. I’d rather take David Sylvian over her when it comes to arty pop music. And I’ve turned to quotes from Digital Spy to express my feelings on her:

I’ve never really understood the hype behind Lady Gaga. Her music is made out to be so much more than what it actually is by both Lady Gaga herself and her fans. It’s treated like the second coming. The majority of her music – singles and album tracks – are just as generic as anything recorded by the likes of Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, but her fans treat her as though she’s the saviour of pop music. I still regard Poker Face and Bad Romance as two of the most overrated songs of the last ten years. I’ve seen a fair few people comment that Artpop has underperformed because it’s a departure from her earlier music and a risk. How so? It’s a highly commercial pop album that is no different to most of the other songs in the music charts around the world.

One only has to look at her chart performance over the last three years, especially in the UK, to see that interest in her has waned big time. Every single that she has released since Judas has disappointed and underperformed. According to Wikipedia, Born This Way sold over 200,000 copies in the UK in its first week yet Artpop hasn’t sold that many copies in nearly a year. Obviously no-one is going to keep debuting with over 200,000 copies of each album they release, but to drop like Lady Gaga has done is pretty startling. Selling five-six million copies of an album worldwide is pretty good going in today’s music market, but there’s no denying it was a huge drop off after The Fame. I think part of the problem is her theatrics grew old and boring very quickly. How many times can someone wear a peculiar outfit and keep the public interested? A person can only keep that schtick going for so long before it becomes overkill. She also takes herself far too seriously. Then there are the extra long music videos that come off more pretentious than entertaining, especially Born This Way and Marry the Night.

One of the biggest things that I think has ruined her career, at least at this point in time, is the sheer arrogance of many of her fans which has turned a lot of other fans and casual listeners off. It got incredibly annoying seeing her constantly mentioned on YouTube, message boards and forums, especially when it was to accuse every other singer and band in the history of music of supposedly ripping Lady Gaga off. To claim that certain songs and music videos from 20 years ago are ripping her off is utterly ridiculous. Many of her fans got ahead of themselves and cocky far too quickly by calling other artists “flops” and now the tables have turned because she’s no longer the big shot in the music world. Then there are the reports of “Little Monsters” bullying non-fans and other artists (wishing people to die isn’t cool) which has left a sour taste in the mouths of many people, especially when Lady Gaga claims to be anti-bullying. It’s not the first time she has contradicted herself. She’s spoken out about female empowerment but has still worked with the likes of R. Kelly and Terry Richardson.

Arrogance and nastiness are nothing new in the pop world. A lot of Michael Jackson’s fans are downright delusional. Madonna’s fans haven’t got a leg to stand on in terms of criticising Lady Gaga fans for their arrogance and pettiness because a lot of Madonna’s fans are so conceited, egotistical and cocky which has always made me laugh because she’s sourced a lot of her ideas from lesser-known artists and old school Hollywood. There’s nothing genius or innovative about taking things from one art form and putting it into another. This is why I’ve never understood how Madonna fans can criticise someone like Lady Gaga (and many other artists) for doing things that weren’t even new or original when Madonna did them, but explaining this to Madonna fans is like talking to a brick wall.

Cheek to Cheek is definitely something of a departure for Lady Gaga but there’s no denying its chart performance in the UK and many other countries has been a disappointment. Had the album been released four years ago, it would have easily peaked inside the top three. I wouldn’t write her career off just yet because she could very well bounce back, but as it stands at the moment she’s definitely had the biggest rise and fall in pop music since The Spice Girls although Britney Spears probably had a bigger rise than Lady Gaga but she didn’t fall as much or as quickly.

And another one:

When Gaga first became famous, her “eccentric fame-wh**e” act was very ironic and self-aware. It worked well with her great pop songs, which were popular precisely because they were pure, balls-to-the-wall pop records, no emotional/artistic BS. Around the time Bad Romance was released, I noticed that she had bought into her own hype, and was taking herself far too seriously. It didn’t affect her popularity yet though – I think the public didn’t know her well enough to be able to tell whether she was still being ironic or not. Also her shock-tactics where still getting her attention.

When BTW was released, the hype, arrogance and her pretty much announcing herself as a Messiah to LGBT’s became too much. She needed a really bloody good song to carry off her boasts that it was going to change pop music, be a new anthem, blah blah. But BTW was a total embarrassment – trite, ignorant, with clunky lyrics and a total rip off of Express Yourself. Just in case we didn’t work out exactly who “inspired” that song, gaga posed in the music video with Madonna’s front tooth gap.

So then she released Judas, which she hoped would be “controversial”. It wasn’t, no one cared, so she rushed released the excellent The Edge Of Glory, which got over-shadowed by Judas and wasn’t as big as it should have been.

She spent The Fame era being ironic and self-aware, and people liked her. She spent the Fame Monster insisting to the world that the whole Gaga shtick and costumes as her genuine personality. the world raised it’s eyebrows, but let her get on with it. She spent Born This Way trying to be the Second Coming to all freaks and gays, preaching compassion while her own actions were anything but (plagiarism, subtle goading her fans into harassing people, arrogance, wearing fur when she said she hated it etc.). It just showed her up to be totally insincere and that this whole breed compassion BS was a mere marketing ploy.

Now, for the ARTPOP era she’s trying to convince people she’s a member of the elitist world of high-art, when in reality she’s just another popstar. Her delusions and narcissism are so off-putting.

She’s hyped up Applause nearly as much as BTW, but once again it’s turned out to be an underwhelming release. Applause isn’t the worst song I’ve ever heard, it’s just mediocre. I find the lyrics clumsy and boastful, and the chorus forgettable (for some reason everyone likes the chorus but for me it’s the worst part of the song). She also copies David Bowie’s vocal style during the embarrassingly clunky verses.

Applause didn’t “flop” per se, it just wasn’t as successful as you’d expect for someone who was on top of the pop world only 3 years ago. It was very egotistical of her to rush it out to compete with Katy Perry, and, as they say, she got her ass handed to her.

It had seemed like she was going to rush release the hugely disjointed Aura (Burqa) next. Yet another second single – parts of which sound similar to Judas – that she expects to be controversial, which will just irritate the public and be a damp squib. However, it now looks like “Swine” will be rush-released instead, which we’ll have to judge when she debuts it on the 1st of September.

When Katy Perry or Rihanna release sub-par singles, their popularity is usually enough to ensure that they have respectable chart success. So Gaga’s narcissistic, ingenuine personality is surely a reason for her fall from the top.

However, I think the biggest reason is the discrepancy between her boasts and the actual quality of her music, which has dropped since her debut.

The Fame + Monster were good because she had RedOne firmly on board – his talent was instrumental to her initial success. For all her fibs about being responsible for “every note” of her music, RedOne has the primary or second writing credit on some of her best songs, such as Bad Romance. Back in 2009, many girls were criticised for copying “Gaga’s” sound when in fact the record had been produced by RedOne. It was HIS sound. RedOne + Gaga was the magic formula. Basically, I don’t think Gaga’s as talented a pop-writer as she first seemed, and now it’s starting to show. She’s running out of ideas.

As someone learning to play the piano, I’m pretty shocked that people just believe Gaga’s baseless claims that she’s a good pianist. “Basic” would be a complimentary description of her skills. Anyone can slowly play a few chords, it doesn’t require talent. I don’t think she can even read music, based on the fact that she claimed to have taught herself to play (it shows!) and the fact that she would have probably bragged about herself if she could.

It’s also surprising that everyone agrees with Gaga that she has the greatest voice of her generation. People just have low standards for vocals these days, due to her peers, including Rihanna, Katy Perry and Kesha, who are all known to be vocally limited. Gaga’s voice is so thin and nasally to these ears. She sounds like her tongue is pressed against the back of her mouth.

I get the impression that they’ve heard better musicians and I also agree with that.

The anti-Gagas

In order to come up with an anti-Gaga, it’s not a matter of being less shocking or talented. It’s more of a matter of not drawing much attention to yourself and striving really hard to be good at what you do, even if that doesn’t get you awards and publicity. David Sylvian probably got awards but who knows.

He’s a good example of what Lady Gaga could’ve done and should’ve been. He listened to the critics and went his own way, even if that meant a less mainstream following and presence. In the long run, he benefits from not giving a damn about what people think of him now that he does very avant-garde stuff.

It’s not easy to like but it’s something that grows on you. One can also get the impression that he’s actually very good at what he does but it’s not something that’s easy to like. If Lady Gaga is a delicious sandwich, then David Sylvian’s a fruit and vegetable salad with no preservatives, mayonnaise or jelly added to it.

It’s not easy to like eating vegetables even though they’re very nutritious but you get the point. There might be many other musicians that are capable of writing and producing their own music but never get the recognition Lady Gaga gets is simply because she’s more delicious. They’re more nutritious and aren’t exactly inedible but it takes time to eat them up.

It wouldn’t be surprising. It’s not just a matter of low standards but a case where being easy to enjoy is more important than actual competence. There’s nothing wrong with liking something that’s easy to enjoy but competence shouldn’t be undervalued.

There’s a reason why David Sylvian exists and it’s because he’s good at what he does, even if he’s not very popular. Same thing can be said of Jamie Woon.

The last of Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga’s songs can still be heard from the radio but these tend to be from her peak years (the early 2010s) and a career trajectory made more embarassing by the fact that she had been predated by the very person she worked with. Gaga herself could’ve been wise enough to not follow Spears’s shortcomings, including compromising her voice to gain a shortcut in the music industry.

Both of them are and could be better than that but the only Spears fan turned musician that I know of to not fall for that would be Meghan Trainor. Maybe Charlie XCX to some extent. At least with Trainor, one could get the impression that she learnt from her idol’s mistakes while Gaga didn’t. I’m not that up to date with Trainor but it’s probably a good thing to learn from your predecessor’s shortcomings.

It’s also embarassing that for a pop star whose often claimed to make her own music, her better known and better received songs tend to be not at all entirely done on her own. The album that she took complete control over didn’t do well with both charts and critics. Oddly enough, Cheek to Cheek, which is full of covers (i.e. songs not at all written by herself) was better received.

Even her covers of ‘The Hills are Alive’ and ‘Imagine’ seem to be better received than any of her singles at ARTPOP, which is saying something. And for all the talk about Gaga going normal, she wasn’t like at the very start of her career either. It’s pretty easy for the public to forget that Stefani Germanotta ever existed.

She also seems to fare better in acting, which makes you wonder where her actual talents lie. As a musician, she’s competent but has yet to shake off her influences which is why people accuse her of plagiarism. She has yet to escape Madge’s shadow or even Britney’s. She hasn’t grown up enough to make a name for herself.

Some people at the Digital Spy forums even admitted that she’s not really that skilled as a musician, at least nowhere near the level of far better but less appreciated musicians. That’s like asking why David Sylvian doesn’t get awarded much, despite being very good at what he does. He’s not very popular at least these days despite having left behind his past for good.

One could see him as the Anti-Lady Gaga in the sense of being willing to take criticism and not give a damn about fame and validation. He doesn’t crow about it because it’s obviously very good. Or for a fairer one, Danielle Dax who remains too weird for the public and far weirder than Gaga could ever be.

That’s the problem with Lady Gaga. She wants to be validated, which is understandable. But her fear of getting criticism is what caused her career to decline real badly. She’s not a bad musician but she’s not really good. A sort of lukewarm talent if you will. Somebody even described her as the best out of a bad bunch, which is very telling.

She’s somewhat better at certain things but not good at others. If Gaga’s career is any indication, it’s probably better to be grounded but actually competent at what you do (the Sylvians of the world) than it is to overcompensate and seek validation, which is what Gaga ended up doing.

The future is anime

As I said before, I compared the Flash’s fate (and that of The CW) to where anime has been heading as well as that of superhero comics. Both anime and superhero media started pandering a lot to diehards as they increased get produced by like-minded people from the 70s and 80s onwards.

Superheroes have the direct market; anime has senin, doujinshi and OVA. Lately for anime, this has given way to viral memes, light night anime, visual novels and light novels which are all aimed at fanatics and fanatics only.

Superheroes on television and cinema are following a similar trend. The next step for them is to entirely abandon the normal viewers. Arrow’s already doing this by pandering to Olicity shippers. Its ratings declined because of that. Perhaps the most drastic one is to become an infomercial for something.

The Flash could become a Clash infomercial with neverending references to the only band that mattered and being sponsored, even co-owned by the latter. The former could end up playing second fiddle to incoming Flash games, webcomics and Clash rereleases.

Add to that The Flash bears a very startling resemblance to harem anime at least in the way the protagonist’s love interests are presented. It even resembles Oreimo if it weren’t for the oddly specific plot points (incestuous relationship, police cop dad and weirdo Goth chick).

In a few years time, The CW will reserve its late night slots for programmes like The Flash and Arrow if it weren’t for controversies like a masturbating Felicity Smoak and punk detective Barry. Sort like where a lot of anime are these days.