Sunday, September 30, 2007


There was a lot happening in the world of pop music back in the late 1990s. In late 1998 seventeen-year-old Britney Spears debuted her first single "...Baby One More Time." The same year another little up and coming was beginning to hit the scene, Britney's former fellow Mickey Mouse Club cast member Christina Aguilera. In 1999 the then eighteen-year-old Aguilera released her first album and her song "Genie in a Bottle" hit the charts. A third blonde teenager, nineteen-year-old Jessica Simpson, released her first single "I Wanna Love You Forever" the same year. But there was another "pop princess" to hit the music scene in 1999, and many considered her to be the least interesting of the bunch. At only fifteen, Mandy Moore was the youngest of the bunch when her debut album released in late 1999. Although her song "Candy" was a widely-listened to success, her music was described as "medicore", "typical" and performed with "suffocating professionalism." Here is her music video for her hit song "Candy", which should be viewed in order to fully appreciate the transformation that you are about to see ...

Mandy followed up her debut album
So Real with a reworked version of it, I Wanna Be With You. In 2001 she released a third album, the self-titled Mandy Moore. A fourth album, Coverage, which featured covers of 1970s and 1980s songs, was released in 2003. None of the later songs obtained much success and her albums received mixed reviews. Mandy was more or less considered the "B version" of Britney and Christina. Due to low album sales she was dropped by Sony's Epic Records. But while Britney was heading down a path of self-destruction and Jessica was ruining her image on MTV's Newlyweds, Mandy was maturing and slowly but surely creating a new image for herself that would set her apart.

Perhaps it first began with her acting career. Many musicians that try the leap to acting fail miserably and also receive lots of eye rolls from skeptical listeners. Britney's foray into acting, the 2002 film Crossroads, was less than successful. Jessica Simpson has received consistently poor reviews for her acting skills and her most recent film has been rumored to be going direct to video. When Mandy debuted her acting skills with a small role in 2001's The Princess Diaries, followed up by a lead role in the 2002 film A Walk to Remember, audiences were probably skeptical as well. But over the years Mandy has created a solid acting career for herself. While her films have not always been successful, her acting skills have consistently been praised. Roger Ebert has called her "quietly convincing" with an "unaffected natural charm" and an "undeniable screen presence [that] inspires instant affection." Perhaps one of her best performances to date was in the 2004 positively-reviewed religious satire Saved! in which she played a zealous evangelical Christian, Hilary Faye.

View a humorous clip of Mandy from

Moore has appeared in several other films over the years, including
American Dreamz, Because I Said So and most recently License to Wed. She has also made guest appearances in the television shows Scrubs and Entourage.

View a trailer for her upcoming indie film

In the summer of 2007 Mandy returned to her first love, music, with the release of he
r fifth album Wild Hope. The 23-year-old has expressed disappointment and embarrassment over some of her early works, saying that her first albums were "just awful" and that if she could she would give a refund to everyone that bought her first two albums. In a photoshoot for Jane magazine, stars from the Sundance Film Festival were asked "What's your crime?" Moore posed for the shoot, proclaiming herself as the singer of "Candy." Needless to say, when the time came to make this new album, she was going for something different. Unlike her previous albums, this one was the product of two years' hard work. Mandy joined up with a new record company because rather than following the mainstream she wanted to have "complete control and freedom" over her work. And complete control and freedom meant lending her own songwriting talents and collaborating with artists such as Chantal Kreviazuk, Rachael Yamagata and Lori McKenna. The result? A sound that is more (in Mandy's words) "organic" and "folky", an album that has been receiving positive reviews and a career that is beginning to show more promise than those of her former "A-list" counterparts. The 23-year-old hopes that her music will appeal to folks her age or older.

The reviewer eloquently states, "
Wild Hope, co-written with the cred-conferring team of Rachael Yamagata, Lori McKenna, and the Weepies, should earn her a spot on adult-alternative radio alongside format regulars Dar Williams, Sarah McLachlan, and Jonatha Brooke … Talent will be Moore's ticket to the transformation she's going for--no wild hoping necessary." The Portland Mercury humorously describes her transformation from average pop-princess to sophisticated, promising singer/songwriter: "Although Mandy never quite seemed to amass the out-of-control success of some contemporaries, it's impossible to deny that she has matured like vintage vino while some (ahem, Britney, Lindsay) have gone as rancid as buckets of Three Buck Chuck." The general consensus seems to be that, although Wild Hope is not an instant-success or full of memorable hits, it shows that Mandy Moore has amazing potential to be what IGN refers to as a "bona fide singer/songwriter." Who would have guessed?

Now touring the US for the first time in 8 years, Mandy has been playing in many small venues, sharing her new sound with the world. Despite her distaste for her older music, she frequently plays a remixed version of the song "Candy", perhaps to show her audience how much she has in fact changed. Watch the following video to see Mandy's transformation.

But it is not just Mandy's talent that is making people talk about her and that is causing many people to find themselves surprised to declare themselves fans (myself included). Mandy is a young woman that promotes a type of quiet and sophisticated grace in a culture that is often times filled with over the top eccentrics. Mandy declares, "When people in the late 1990s started looking at these crazy poptarts and wondering which one would kind of fade and be crawling back to where she came from, I don't think people were looking at Britney. But I think I've made good choices and been very, very lucky." Some of these good choices include avoiding the party scene and keeping herself out of the public eye. She admits that she doesn't really enjoy partying, has no skeletons in her closet and feels "dreadful" when she stays up late. As she states, "Maybe for some people drink and drugs work for them, but I’m not a tortured artist. I wouldn’t turn to some sort of substance to make me feel better, I’d turn to writing." She also explains that it is "a choice to put yourself out there in such a public way ... I really don't thrive on that kind of attention ... I'm glad that people mostly leave me alone."

Here is an interview of Mandy discussing her life choices as well as her career on CBS News in June 2007:

It is refreshing to have someone like Mandy Moore out there to prove that young teen pop stars are not all doomed to follow the path of Britney or Lindsay. It is unfortunate that all promising young talent is met with skepticism and words such as "just give her a couple of years" or "how long before she's following Britney's footsteps?" Mandy should serve as an example that nothing is a given. I for one am personally looking forward to both seeing and hearing more of Mandy in the future. If this most recent album is any indication of things to come, Mandy Moore is setting herself up to become a very talented musician with a career of true substance. And
that is truly a surprise.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


As I was saying in my post about the South of Nowhere girls, there is little representation of queer women on network television. In fact, as it turns out, there is pretty much none. At all.

Just recently, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) came out with a report "Where We Are on TV." This report tallies the number of LGBT Characters on both network television and cable television for 2007-2008 broadcasting year. Figures were taken at the season launch, and for Broadcast Networks include ABC, CBS, NBC, the CW, and FOX. The counts are broken down into LGBT characters playing lead roles, supporting roles and recurring roles. Out of the 20 total LGBT characters on Broadcast Networks, there are two lead characters -- one a gay, white male and the other a bisexual, white woman. There are five supporting characters (3 gay, one male bisexual and one straight MTF -- that's a male to female transexual who sleeps with men). There are 13 recurring characters -- two white lesbians, eight gay white males, one black gay male, one latino gay male, and one white MTF.

Clearly the representation of LGBT characters in general is dismally poor, but to top it off, the community that is represented is overwhelmingly that of gay, white males. There is little room for lesbians and clearly even less room for queer people of color. Some might say, oh one small step at a time. I might even be tempted to agree with that. After all, society's feelings towards LGBT people are still lukewarm at best. But, wait! What's that you say, GLAAD? These numbers have gone down over the past three years?

In 1996-1997, there were 33 LGBT characters on network television. Jump ahead a few years and in 2005-2006, there were 24 LGBT characters on network television (with 4 lesbians, 19 gays and one bisexual). In 2006-2007 there were 21 (16 gays, 4 lesbians and one transgender). That brings us to 2007-2008 where we see 20 total. What's with the drop? No big deal, one might think. But when there are so few to begin with, a drop of 4 over a two year period is a big deal. That's a 17% decrease. There were 13 MORE characters TEN YEARS AGO! When you stop to think about all the characters on television -- including leads , supportings and recurring roles, 20 is a miniscule amount. And maybe -- just maybe -- if there were more LGBT characters on television, there would be a slow increase in acceptance. Wouldn't it be nice if all the young girls out there questioning their sexuality were actually able to see themselves represented? If the only two lesbians on network TV weren't the recurring role of a middle-aged mayor and an animated character on The Simpsons??

For all the talk of how liberal Hollywood is and how many gays and lesbians are behind the [Photo]scenes in show business, it amazes me that they can't find a little courage and actually provide a fair representation of the American population. They seem to have no problem whatsoever showing two girls kiss when they want a boost in ratings -- so why is it so unbelievably hard for those two girls to just keep on kissing?

But at least there is Cable to take over where network TV fails miserably. Of course, cable television could do better itself, but it certainly exceeds the standards set by network. In 2007-2008 there are 57 LGBT characters on "Mainstream Cable" TV. That breaks down to 16 in leading roles, 24 in supporting roles and 17 in recurring roles. Those numbers break down to 25 gays, 19 lesbians, 11 bisexuals and 2 transgender individuals. In terms of race, cable fares somewhat better than network -- with 39 whites, 8 blacks, 3 latinas, 5 asians, and 1 biracial character.

Unlike network TV, cable's numbers have actually risen from 35 last year (17 gays, 14 lesbians, 4 bisexuals and 1 transgender) to this year's 57.

Thank you to GLAAD for making this report, and here's hoping that next year's a better one. Until then, I'll be happy to keep paying for my cable subscription...

Sunday, September 9, 2007


I like to write about music in here. I especially like writing about music that I think is good! I first heard the group Rilo Kiley a couple of years ago, but I just recently began to fully appreciate them, especially lead singer and former-child star Jenny Lewis (she was in two of my favorite movies from when I was a kid -- The Wizard and Troop Beverly Hills). The band was formed in 1998 by Lewis and friends Pierre De Reeder, Blake Sennett and Dave Rock (the latter was later replaced by Jason Boesel). Their first full-length album was Take-Offs and Landings, released in 2001 under an independent label. That album was followed a year later by The Execution of All Things. In 2004 they released More Adventurous, which was distributed by Warner Bros. It was following this album that the band began to see more recognition. Asides from the album receiving favorable reviews, the band toured with both Bright Eyes and Coldplay and had songs played in a number of movies as well as several popular television series including Dawson's Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey's Anatomy and Weeds.

So what's so great about them? Well, the music of course! They bring a sound and a quality of music that is both interestingly unique but also accessible. One reviewer describes their third album this way: "Part new-wave keyboards, part folky acoustic guitars, the music on More Adventurous is unexpectedly beautiful." Another states, "Basic but gorgeously textured pop-rock with a country tinge, Rilo Kiley's music is led by vocals that'll stop you in your tracks." Their newest album, Under the Blacklight was released only weeks ago and is earning the same amount of praise. The Onion, gives it an A, saying, "The L.A. quartet has returned with an album that's teeming with creatively executed ideas, to the point where it almost feels like the band was just using its first three albums to warm up." Blender: "Creamy and precise, every coo and arpeggio blows through your ear buds like the ruffle of crisp bills" and Spin: "Lewis' wordplay smartly unspools over the course of a song--with 'Breakin' Up,' she creates a 'Since U Been Gone' for grown-ups, and on '15,' narrates an Internet jailbait vignette without melodrama or moralizing." When you listen and watch them, you can't help but feel that you're experiencing something new.

As I said, Jenny Lewis is in my opinion the best thing about Rilo Kiley. Rather than fading like most child stars, she has completely redefined herself. A far cry from her acting days, 31-year-old Lewis is making her mark on the music scene. In early 2006 she released a solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, which was highly acclaimed and mixed music styles such as country, folk and gospel. She credits influences such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Laura Nyro and reviewers have compared her to Emmylou Harris, Dusty Springfield and others. One review puts it best, "Jenny's hauntingly soulful voice, sometimes bursting with buoyant spirit and at other times plaintive and world wearied, is deep, sensual and beguiling. Intricate storytelling and evocative lyrics infuse these songs with a captivating vibrancy but may be knocked sideways by the musical alchemy at play as a result of folk, country, and Southern gospel influences."

Here is the quirky video for her song "Rise Up With Fists!!!" followed by a stellar live performance of the song "You Are What You Love."

Whether Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley continue on in the mainstream music world, one thing is for sure: this is a musician with pure talent. Go! Listen!