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Taylor Swift in Hong Kong – OMG!

Ukulele's rock! photo courtesy zeibiz.com

This is the blog where I blog about not being allowed to blog about the Taylor Swift concert. I like to call it:

Operation Seriously, Mommy!

You see, as I’m learning, in the tween-girl lexicon, the word “Seriously” carries a multitude of meanings, including but not limited to:

1. Are you serious?
2. You’re not serious!
3. I totally meant what I just said.
4. I am not kidding.
5. You’re a dweeb and a doofus.
6. Don’t you know anything you immature ten-year-old-boy who I can squash like a bug?!?

And this one:
7. Stop what you’re doing immediately, Mommy, you’re embarrassing me.

Which I hear often – when I’m singing aloud, dancing to Justin Timberlake in the comfort and anonymity of my own home and/or excessively hugging Eldest One (EO) in public.

So I was expecting to hear “Seriously!” a lot on our exciting night at the Taylor Swift concert. EO’s first concert! Get me a tissue, I’m all verklempt! I certainly wasn’t anticipating a huge bonding experience – we were with lots of other mums and daughters, so I knew EO would rather hang with her friends (you talk about me being embarrassing in public?) rather than sing along with me to “Speak Now”. What I was looking forward to – in a sociological sort of way – was watching EO’s reaction to the power and beauty of the live show. What I like to call, when I take my music way too seriously: the rapture of the collective experience.

But today when I asked EO what she thought of Taylor Swift, I got a smile and a “Pretty cool”. Pretty cool? Is that all? Oh, my EO plays it close to the vest.

I reckon the opening act – calling himself Johnny from Japan – got it right when he said, “In Japan, I met Taylor Swift. She is perfect.”

Let’s see: beautiful? Check. Talented? Double-check. Charismatic? Triple Check. And most importantly: Believable? Check that to the nth degree. So when she smiled her aw-shucks smile and told the audience, “I love you Hong Kong,” I expect a good ninety percent of the concertgoers – an only-in-Hong Kong mix of tween girls and twentysomething Chinese boys – actually believed her.

And when she sashayed to the edge of the stage and threw a beguiling look left, I thought, heck I haven’t seen this many sideways glances since Susanna Hoffs in the “Walk Like An Egyptian” video. Miss Swift may play the ingénue/outcast in her music videos but on stage and on the 30-foot video screens, she knows how to work it.

Ten thousand tweens can't be wrong. From a photo contest on the official Taylor Swift website.

Okay, so her voice is a bit thin and her lyrics are, well, the lyrics of a young woman dealing with love, love, love and, oh, lost love. I can accept that. I can even accept her singing – way too often if I may say – about finding a guy who’ll transform her, who’ll come along and discover the real Taylor. (Normally you might add ‘warts and all’ to the end of that sentence, but in Miss Swift’s case I don’t think a blemish has ever come within ten yards of her.)

I’ll take the lovelorn longing that Miss Swift sells to my daughter, because well, she is talented and seemingly sincere. But most of all I’m hopeful that her massive success will lead to:

1. The rise of a new modesty in pop culture.
2. A renewed appreciation for the clarinet and the ukulele
3. The return of the perm.

Seriously!

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UPDATED: Can it really be SUMMER without ’80s music?

It started with Haircut 100.

My search, that is, for summer songs to play in the car with the kids – on the way to the pool, beach, movies. I was looking for clean, happy songs. I thought first of The Go-Go’s, of course. Playful songs with a girl power streak – just what my seven and nine year old daughters need! But then I couldn’t believe it when I realized: I do not own a Go-Go’s CD. How can that be?

All I Ever Wanted…

So I pulled out Haircut 100 (Pelican West – see even the album name sounds fun!) along with The English Beat (Special Beat Service) and put them on heavy rotation in the car. Well, when I could get a break from Disney’s Girlz Rock 2 and Abba Gold – damn you Mamma Mia!

The next night, with my husband on a business trip, I went online to rectify that Go-Go’s omission…

See here’s the problem with iTunes and your husband being away.

FORTY-SIX song purchases later, it’s one a.m. and like a mad musicologist, I’m sitting before the glow of the computer screen creating for my children MY DEFINITIVE ’80s PLAYLISTS!

I’m putting that in all caps because when you’ve grown up in the ’80s it really deserves emphasis. And even though you might call it lame nostalgia I’m labeling it an Important Learning Experience, like the time my mom made us watch Easy Rider on Christmas Eve by explaining, “Kids, this is your history.”

So, now that you are intrigued, what is on these precious playlists?

Talented & oh so stylish

Talented & Oh So Stylish

I’ve created five playlists, each with 20 to 22 songs, each playlist with a different theme (okay wiseguys, go ahead and joke). If you listen to all five lists, you’re introduced to a glorious 100+ of pure ’80s pop and you basically become a diehard OMD, Yaz (aka Yazoo) and/or Talk Talk fan forever.

I consider these tunes quality ’80s music – some were big hits, some more obscure. I like to think of my taste as a bit left of field, so instead of Huey Lewis and The News, you get Colourfield. No Wang Chung or Cyndi Lauper but plenty of The Smithereens and Scritti Politti. And when I do pick the mega stars I like the lesser known tunes like Spandau Ballet’s “Only When You Leave” or “Hazy Shade of Winter,” which is an absolute underrated gem from The Bangles (on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, written by Paul Simon btw).

Theme One – Favs

These are my top picks. Here I’ve got a cross-section of favorite tunes from around the globe, heavy on the British contingent however: Bananarama, ABC, Haircut 100, Human League, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Wham, Spandau Ballet, Talk Talk, The Smiths and rounding out with the classic “Blue Monday” from New Order. To represent the Yanks, I’ve included Madonna and Michael Jackson (“P.Y.T.” not “Beat It!”) as well as Prince and The Revolution and Nenah Cherry (remember her? She’s half-American, I think). And last but not least a couple of Australian bands (no, no, not Men At Work, get serious), namely INXS and The Divinyls. Listen to it again and again – “Pleasure and Pain” is divine.

Theme Two – Brits & a Kiwi

Let’s go deeper in to Brit pop, which had such a strong influence on me. Heck, I was a Texas kid in the suburbs – crazy hair bands from the UK were the exotic and sexy lead characters in my Eurorail-pass escapist dreams.

Here we have more contributions from the bands I listed above as well as Echo and the Bunnymen x 2 (“Rescue” and “The Cutter” kill me), Love and Rockets, Elvis Costello, A Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Yaz, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (“Women III” – check it out!), The Psychedelic Furs, The Style Council and The Colourfield. I sneak in a quirky contribution from Kiwi band Split Enz – “Dirty Creatures” and top off the list with two definitive New Wave tracks: The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” Now we can all do that head-down, asymmetrical hair, mope-y dance.

Unfortunately I couldn’t include the sitar-bop of Blancmange’s “Living on the Ceiling” because it’s unavailable on iTunes! Any thoughts/suggestions on that would be most appreciated.

*UPDATE: since I wrote this, Blancmange has appeared on Spotify – yeah! So we can all now enjoy their exotic cool.

And can I just make a career suggestion here – one of you Mileys-Britneys-Demi’s-Selena’s-Ashley’s could kick so much pop ass if you did a Pharrell Williams-produced remake of “Situation” or “Don’t Go”. Think about it. (Katy P and Ke$ha, please don’t bother because we’re just counting the days til you go away.)

So at the risk of this turning in to my senior thesis (we don’t need that much nostalgia), I’ll wrap things up and run through the rest of the lists.

Theme Three – Dance

Think more Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, Sheila E, George Michael, Rob Base and Eazy E and again with the techno-booty-shaking Yaz.

*UPDATE: I would have preferred to include Scritti Politti’s “Lover to Fall” but alas not on Spotify so we’ll have to enjoy “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin”. Hope you’re all okay with that.

Theme Four – Rock & Pop

This list is reserved for all those pop-rock artists who weren’t necessarily groundbreaking but made some great music in the ’80s: The Police, The Pretenders, The Cars, Midnight Oil, Talking Heads, U2, Lone Justice, The Reivers (Texas band alert!), Paul Kelly (covering Crowded House), etc. plus my beloved R.E.M. and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

*UPDATE: Very limited selection of Lone Justice, Paul Kelly and The Reivers on Spotify, so I’ve had to improvise. But I added some Marshall Crenshaw for good measure.

Theme Five – A Little Edge

These songs close out the education with a slightly edgier look at ’80s rock plus a peek at rap beginnings: early Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, The Plimsouls, The Sugarcubes (Bjork’s original band), Run DMC and LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali” makes me think I’m cool), more R.E.M., a little Bowie and one of the GREAT college bands of all time: Guadalcanal Diary.

Oh, and a little Concrete Blonde.

Whew.

Once when I was with my mom, “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and the Papas came on the radio and I sang along. My mom was surprised I knew the words and said, “You must have heard that in the womb!”

Now do I expect my girls to jump up and say, “Mommy this ’80s music is just so awesome, what IS it?”

No.

But the hours I spent buying and organizing, rearranging and previewing were immensely enjoyable. Yes, I am the musical equivalent of a policy wonk. Yes, I indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Who doesn’t?

And maybe one day, I’ll catch my daughter singing, “We are young despite the years, we are concerned, we are hope despite the times.”

Long live the ’80s.