Be still, my “Rebel Heart” (UPDATED)

 

Madonna is the Queen. No, seriously – she is the undisputed Queen. Let me explain…

For starters, she’s sold over 300 million albums worldwide (more than any female artist) over her 32-year career. She’s the top-touring solo artist in history and those shows are sold out, critically acclaimed extravaganzas. She’s a billionaire…..I could go on and on (a la “Give it 2 Me”). But her royal credentials have been proven yet again by how she worked the recent leaking of her album to her advantage.

In case you didn’t read the news, 13 demos from album number 13 leaked onto the web just days ago. Yeah, the one and only Queen of Pop was not happy about it. ““This is artistic rape!! These are early leaked demos, half of which won’t even make it on my album,” she posted alongside a photo to Instagram (which was later deleted). “The other half have changed and evolved. This is a form of terrorism. Wtf!!!! Why do people want to destroy artistic process??? Why steal? Why not give me the opportunity to finish and give you my very best?”

Well last night (12/19/2014), she literally broke iTunes by releasing her upcoming album as a pre-order – I had trouble downloading it and connecting to the store, a problem I saw happened to many who tried to pre-order. Titled Rebel Heart (Madonna-holics like me have suspected as much since she’s frequently used the hashtag #rebelheart on her Instagram), the 19-track album has six that are instantly available once a pre-order is made. You better believe I pre-ordered faster than she fired someone over the leak.

I say this as a hardcore Madonna fan (I have all her albums, most singles, several vinyls, some books, posters, etc.): It’s her best material since 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor. It’s ahead of the curve (classic Madonna trait) and beautifully showcases the magic that happens when she collaborates with amazing artists and producers like Natalia Kills, Diplo, Avicii and others. I’m not saying 2008’s Hard Candy and 2012’s MDNA weren’t good – I loved them. But they sounded like other music of the time (no complaints, by the way). Rebel boldly breaks the streak. It sounds unique and different from anything currently out right now.

There are seven tracks with names, six of which are instantly downloadable: “Living For Love,” “Devil Pray,” “Ghosttown,” “Unapologetic Bitch,” “Illuminati,” and “Bitch I’m Madonna (feat. Nicki Minaj).” The seventh – “Joan of Arc.” The available six are all single-worthy and could easily stand alone.

They’re all my favorite. The dance and EDM grooves that have come to define Madonna are fine-tuned into some amazing songs. The lyrics are both deep and lighthearted, the beats are incredible, and the cover of the album is a stunning piece of art by Mert & Marcus. Someone leaked several demos so she released a surprise pre-order that included six songs. Touché.

If you need some confirmation, head over to iTunes and pre-order Rebel Heart. Twenty-fifteen is going to be the year of Madonna and I cannot wait.

The official "Rebel Heart" album cover by Mert & Marcus

The official “Rebel Heart” album cover by Mert & Marcus

UPDATED (12/20/2014)

Since the surprise pre-order “release,” Madonna has also released the first track, “Living For Love,” as the album’s first single (via YouTube).

“I was hoping to release my new single ‘Living For Love’ on Valentine’s Day with the rest of the album coming in the Spring. I would prefer my fans to hear completed versions of some of the songs instead of the incomplete tracks that are circulating. Please consider these six songs as an early Christmas gift.” – Madonna

Merry Christmas indeed.

 

 

UPDATED (again) – (12/22/2014)

New news of Rebel Heart keeps pouring in! Since pulling what Popjustice calls a “partial Beyoncé,” the pre-order/partial album has rocketed to the top of the iTunes charts in over 40 countries (the U.S. of A. included). Other than Barbra Streisand, no other female artist has had as many chart-topping albums as her – a whopping eight (of her now 13) albums. As examiner.com’s Samuel Lora pointed out, she’s also the only female artist to reach the top ten lists in the all decades since the ’90s.

Hey Madonna haters, do you know what that means? She is still very relevant and popular and will be long after she’s gone. Whether you like it or not, she’s the Queen of Pop.

Yesterday (12/21/2014) she revealed to Billboard that she may sing at the Grammy Awards next year (!!) and how she and her team have been in “overdrive” since the 13 demos leaked onto the Internet. She also sat down with Rolling Stone‘s Caryn Ganz for an exclusive Q&A. A few highlights:

– on song-writing with producers and artists like Avicii, Diplo, etc.:

“And sometimes in the writing phase of the music, there are some people who I really felt a connection to, just as human beings, and felt they understood me as a songwriter and a person, so those people were easier for me to write with. Writing songs, you have to be vulnerable, you have to not be afraid to express yourself and to say things or share. It’s almost like writing your diary in front of somebody and reading it out loud.”

– on the spirituality behind the incredible “Devil Pray” (which does not endorse drug use, by the way)

“[Unity is] another subtle message of the song, and you really do have to pay attention to the lyrics, and I hope people do over time. The way we’re going to change the world, or the way we’re going to ultimately feel joy, is through unity. I’m certainly not encouraging religious behavior; when I say people are thinking in a religious way, I think they’re thinking about rules and dogma and laws that separate. When I say spirituality, I mean a consciousness that has an understanding that we are all in this together, that we are all one. We have to find a way to feel joy and to bring joy to the world together. That ultimately is with consciousness, not drugs.”

– on the meaning behind the ironic track “Illuminati”:

“People often accuse me of being a member of the Illuminati and I think in today’s pop culture the Illuminati is perceived as a group of powerful, successful people who are working behind the scenes to control the universe…The real Illuminati were a group of scientists, artists, philosophers, writers, who came about in what is referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, after the Dark Ages, when there was no writing and no art and no creativity and no spirituality, and life was really at a standstill…when people refer to me as a member of the Illuminati, I always want to say thank you. Thank you for putting me in that category. But before I can say thank you, I feel like I had to write a song about what I believe the Illuminati to be, and what it isn’t.”

She has also taken to her Instagram to thank and praise her fans. We love you, too! We eagerly await February 9th for more music and March 10th for the full work of art. We’re living for the love she’s giving us.

For a great review of each of the six released tracks, head over to MuuMuse. And if you haven’t pre-ordered Rebel Heart, you should…now. 😉

One of the incredible shots from the Mert & Marcus photo shoot for the December 2014 edition of "Interview Magazine"

One of the incredible shots from the Mert & Marcus photo shoot for the December 2014 edition of “Interview Magazine”

 

 

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The #Shirtstorm Sh*tstorm

If you weren’t too distracted with Kim Kardashian’s naked-ass publicity stunt last week, you’ll remember that the European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet. Like Kardashian’s backside, that’s huge! For the first time in human history, we landed a spacecraft on a comet. The Rosetta mission is another giant leap for mankind (even if the battery on the craft is dead).

But something else scandalous happened at the same time that practically overshadowed the monumental event. British physicist Matt Taylor gave a press interview at the ESA’s satellite control center while wearing an ugly Hawaiian shirt with scantily clad, gun-toting cartoon women. It was definitely in poor taste and the last thing someone should ever wear on the job.

The fact that one of the program scientists wore a tacky, unprofessional shirt was only part of what has become known as #shirtstorm. Some feminists took serious issue with Dr. Taylor’s shirt on the grounds that it was sexist. “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing,” was one of the headlines on The Verge. Rose Eveleth of The Atlantic tweeted, ““Thanks for ruining the cool comet landing for me asshole.”

Whoever cleared Dr. Taylor for an interview should be reprimanded if only for the fact that the shirt is just downright inappropriate for a press interview. But heterosexual men wearing shirts with half-naked women are sexist oppressors now? Celebrating the female body is considered sexist? I have no problem with men or women sharing what they find sexually appealing because human beings are sexual creatures.

Feminist scholar Camille Paglia has written about what she describes as “the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism.” Her argument is still as valid now as it was in 1990: Why are women simultaneously told to celebrate and love themselves but not express their sexuality? Women should be free to live the lives they choose to and express themselves how they see fit. The last time I checked, that’s sort of what feminism is all about.

Dr. Taylor didn’t have a shirt with depictions of men controlling women on leashes. His shirt didn’t say, “Women aren’t smart enough for science.” No, the unforgivable sin here was wearing a sexually themed shirt as male heterosexual.

Cathy Young of Reason magazine,  a publication I normally disagree with for its libertarian views, summed up the whole situation perfectly:

Dr. Taylor’s shirt may not have been in great taste. But the outcry against it is the latest, most blatant example of feminism turning into its own caricature: a Sisterhood of the Perpetually Aggrieved, far more interested in shaming and bashing men for petty offenses than in celebrating female achievement.

I didn’t plan on blogging about this until I was called a sexist, privileged gay male in a series of Facebook comments. A Facebook friend posted a piece from an author who argued that Dr. Taylor’s shirt was offensive and sexist. After commenting that I respectfully disagreed and that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with depictions of pin-up girls, the Facebook user accused me of being clouded by my privilege as a gay male and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. “You have made it very clear that women’s feelings on inappropriate behavior matter less than yours and that anyone who gets upset about women being disrespected is overreacting.”

Right, because disagreement with an argument is the same thing as telling feminists who are offended to f*** off. You got me!

The exchange only reinforced a cultural observation I’ve made over the last couple of months: For every conservative, bigoted nut job in America, there’s a self-righteous, more-enlightened-than-thou liberal who reduces disagreements into mini culture wars (in much the same way social conservatives do). #Shirtstorm should have fizzled out before it even started. That doesn’t mean I think that those who disagree with me are “less than” or stupid. It means we disagree…and I shouldn’t have to clarify that.

classic pin up girl

 

I spy with my little eye…outrage!

Sarah Silverman is in hot water over a video she did to comically highlight the alarmingly high wage gap between men and women in this country. Some transgender activists found it insensitive and took it literally.

 

 

The video is almost four minutes long, but it can be summed up in the following few sentences:

“Every year the average woman loses around $11,000 to the wage gap. Over the course of the working years of her life, that’s almost $500,000. That’s a $500,000 vagina tax! That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands…I’m becoming a dude.”

To nearly everyone (gay, straight, bisexual, transgender) who watched, the message was pretty self-explanatory: Hey, I’m a woman and I earn less than a man because of it…so I’ll just be a man instead! It was hilarious and to-the-point: Working women deserve the same pay as their male counterparts.

Trans issues have nothing to do with the video. They just don’t. She’s not literally saying that women who undergo gender reassignment surgery will then go on to get equal pay. But transgender activist Janet Mock – whom I love and find incredibly inspiring – took to her Twitter account to claim Silverman was making that exact point. “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace,” she tweeted. “Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”

So much for irony and humor.

Silverman also took to Twitter to clarify what her intentions were in making the video (something she should not have had to do):

If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant – never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit- people are talking about it & so begins awareness. Please don’t punish this cause because of my video. I certainly don’t only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community.

The whole “backlash” highlights a little problem on the left (and I’m saying this as a progressive Millennial who cares deeply about LGBT rights): It’s become trendy and even expected to feign outrage for the purpose of being seen as socially aware. Let me be clear: Social justice is vitally important and fighting for the rights of all people is a liberal value that should be nurtured and encouraged. Injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia…these ugly things exist and we must continually fight against and expose them where ever they are.

But there are too many progressives and liberals who take it to the next level. I can’t speak for everyone, but when one takes something that is not offensive to begin with (ie: the Silverman video), sprinkles it with accusations of bigotry or ignorance, and then condemns it publicly, it comes across as self-serving and self-righteous. It’s almost a way to say, “Look at how enlightened and socially conscious I am!” It serves no constructive purpose and only works to split hairs and as self-promotion.

Am I saying that Janet Mock is self-righteous? Not at all – she’s an incredible human being who has helped change the national conversation on what it means to be transgender. I love her work and I hope to meet her some day. But within activist and social justice circles, there’s a tendency to find problems and bigotry where none exists. Whether it’s accusing LGBT ally and liberal comedienne Sarah Silverman of being insensitive to trans issues in a comedic PSA or calling someone who critiques a religious doctrine “racist,” the theme is the same: Ego stroking disguised as awareness.

We need to move beyond this. There is too much injustice, bigotry and hate in the world that needs to be addressed and defeated.

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

 

Don’t Cry for Me, California. The Truth is I Never Left You

This has been the shortest four months in my life. If it weren’t for the gross DC humidity, I’d think that I arrived yesterday in the dead of a brutal winter. And now, in just matter of weeks, I’ll be going back to California to pursue a career in public service…and I cannot wait.

Don’t get me wrong – my time in the political heart of the country has been great. I’ve seen the monuments, museums, galleries and founding documents of the United States in person. It’s something every American needs to do in their lifetime. The feeling I had after seeing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in person, through a specialized, secure case with its own atmosphere, is difficult to describe. It’s similar to the feeling I had when I saw the Apollo 11 Command Module and the full-scale replica of the Voyager probe, mankind’s first ambassador to interstellar space, at the Air and Space Museum. It was definitely there when I saw the remains of many of humanity’s distant ancestors and genetic cousins at the National Museum of Natural History. The feeling was there when I sat on the grounds of both the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial to read e-books. And it was there when I took walks throughout the city, passing the house where Lincoln died, strolling through the MLK Jr. and FDR memorials, casually walking past the White House, and walking the streets some of the greatest men and women in human history have walked. It was spiritual, but not in a superstitious way. I felt connected to my history as an American and a human being on this precious planet. My story is my own, for sure. But it’s also a part of the larger narrative of what it means to be human.

via my Instagram (micah_escobedo)

via my Instagram (micah_escobedo)

I could go on, but for your reading pleasure and convenience, I’ll continue… 😉

My editorial internship with The American Prospect has been an amazing experience. My writing and research skills have improved and now I can say that I know how to fact-check (not as easy as people think) and, to a certain degree, copy-edit. The feeling one gets from seeing stories they helped fact-check appear in print and receive national attention is one of prideful satisfaction. Knowing that I had a hand in getting very important, incredible stories out to The Prospect’s readers (and even a number of policy makers) has been extremely gratifying and fulfilling. However, like all internships should be able to do, this job has helped me better realize what I want to do for a career. Spoiler: It’s not journalism. And it’s in the Golden State.

The Spring 2014 interns with few of the editors (via Gabriel Arana's Instagram - gabrielarana)

The Spring 2014 interns with few of the editors (via Gabriel Arana’s Instagram – gabrielarana)

Years ago (I can’t believe it’s already been that long) I was a congressional intern. I loved the experience, even though the responsibilities were limited compared to the rest of the staff. I was working for a lawmaker, a representative of my home district – what a great job! But that was during my first year of college. By the time I graduated, with a BA in Communication from Fresno State, I knew I wanted to have some kind of job in the communication field. I wasn’t sure of the exact job I wanted, so I applied to be an intern with a great magazine that you should all subscribe to…and got one of the spots!  Half way through the internship, I started applying to other internships, fellowships and jobs in Washington. As time went on and that irritating sense of urgency intensified, I began to reconsider my plans. Did I want to be a journalist, constantly writing for relatively low wages? Was I going to write for a think-tank or a watch-dog organization? Was I going to end up living on the East Coast, away from my beloved home state?

I remembered how I felt as a congressional intern and once again started to gravitate back toward public service (this time with a clearer sense of what my political philosophy is). Plus, I really, really missed my home state. I can’t help that I’m drawn to California. It’s my home – it always has been and, as far as I can tell, always will be. Most of my friends and family are there, not to mention countless amazing memories. The climate, though negatively effected by climate change, is great. Cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento have special places in my Californian heart. Since 2011, the state’s been on a political and economic uptick (thank you, Governor Brown and current legislature) and we’ve led the nation in renewable energy generation.  I cannot wait to lend my talents and abilities to the state that has provided me with so much.

Thanks to valuable help from some great people here in DC, I’m on track to getting into California politics. I don’t want to run for office (at least not at this point in my life). I want to be a part of the team that keeps an elected official operating like clockwork, whether it’s a state legislator or congressperson. Even the thought of me returning to California to work for a politician makes me incredibly happy. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and two communication-oriented internships under my belt. I’m ready and eager to go. You can take the boy out of the Golden State but you can’t take the Golden State (of mind) out of the boy.

California flag

No, Kate Mulgrew does *not* endorse geocentrism

There’s been quite a stir on the Interwebs over the last 24 hours over actress-extraordinaire Kate Mulgrew’s alleged participation in a ridiculous documentary called The Principle. The premise: Galileo was wrong and the Earth really is the center of the solar system and universe. Take that, science and reason!

Wait, what?!! Kate Mulgrew?!

The second I read this, I knew something was wrong with this picture. To start with, Mulgrew never actually said anything about geocentrism in the trailer. Hell, she’s only in the trailer – there’s no indication she would even be in the film. Her signature, velvety voice simply piques the viewer’s interest with “Everything we think we know about our universe is wrong.” (a statement which is a little true, given there’s practically a new breakthrough in the scientific understanding of the cosmos every other day). She is also a hero to the scientific community and Trekkies (myself proudly included) for her excellent portrayal of Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. Plus, leading experts on everything-to-do-with-cosmology Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku also appeared in the trailer. They also never said anything about endorsing geocentrism. And if their lives’ works are any indication, they would rather die than endorse geocentrism.

Yesterday I told a friend that Mulgrew had most likely been hired to narrate the trailer without knowing what the film was about. An actress getting paid to simply say, “Everything we think we know about the universe is wrong,” does not prove anything. Kaku and Krauss, I argued, were somehow tricked into appearing in the movie, which is much easier to do nowadays thanks to the proliferation of the Internet.

I’m happy to say I “called it.” Krauss wrote an awesome post on Slate slamming the movie today, saying he literally has no idea how he ended up in the documentary. I expect Kaku’s comment soon. Kate Mulgrew posted the following message to her Facebook page this afternoon (4/8/2014):

“I understand there has been some controversy about my participation in a documentary called THE PRINCIPLE. Let me assure everyone that I completely agree with the eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was himself misrepresented in the film, and who has written a succinct rebuttal in SLATE. I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism. More importantly, I do not subscribe to anything [producer] Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that. I apologize for any confusion that my voice on this trailer may have caused. Kate Mulgrew”

I can rest assured that Captain Janeway has not – and never will- failed us. Now I think I’ll go watch a marathon of Voyager and drink some coffee – black.

Kate Mulgrew as the legendary Captain Janeway

Kate Mulgrew as the legendary Captain Janeway

I can’t get enough of this amazing Madonna video mix…

As many of you already know, I love Madonna. She’s my favorite artist. Her impressive, pioneering, record-breaking, kick-ass career has not only inspired countless male and female artists, activists, and designers, it’s also continuously evolved and changed with the times. Since her entrance onto the pop culture scene – as a pop-disco queen with fishnet gloves and crucifix necklaces and earrings – she’s made one thing very clear: It’s her career and she is dictating the terms. “Don’t go for second best, baby…”

A friend of mine recently posted a video mix onto his Facebook of Madonna’s many hits and videos. I clicked the “play” icon and the rest is history – I absolutely adore it. I didn’t think it was possible to capture the in-charge, always-creative spirit of the Queen of Pop’s career. I was wrong and I’m glad I was.

Mixed and compiled by YouTube user “Jack Roeby Mixes,” the video is over 20 minutes long, a fact one easily forgets. Aside from music video clips, there are also sound bites and clips from the many television interviews she’s given and some of the films she’s starred in over the years. Watch and be amazed. If you aren’t at least impressed…..well, then that’s your problem 😉

 

 

photo credit: Mert and Marcus 2010

Twenty Thirteen

Let this sink in: We’re nearly 14 years into the 21st century. 2004 will soon be TEN years in the past. Hell, 2024 is *only* ten years away. Seriously, where has the time gone?

Twenty-thirteen flew by. It seems like yesterday House Republicans were throwing a bitch-fit about the Affordable Care Act and shutting down the government. It’s hard to believe that Congress’ most unproductive year – complete with sequestration and record-breaking obstructionism – is about to end. And how could anyone forget Miley’s twerking and her gang of merry, drugged-out teddy bears (no, really, how can we forget? I’m willing to pay)?

This year was a roller coaster and all of us were forced to ride it. However, it wasn’t all stupid political games and tawdry pop culture moments. This year also saw the continued, exponential rise of clean energy and transportation across the globe, a sign that governments and their citizens are beginning to take the threat of climate change seriously. Pope Francis, leader of the almost-always-conservative Roman Catholic Church, spoke out against runaway capitalism and inequality in the world, inspiring billions of Catholics and n0n-Catholics alike (myself included) and enraging perpetually-enraged wingnuts like Rush Limbaugh.

Gay rights surged…and by “surged” I mean “there’s no stopping it now.” The number of countries where same-sex couples are treated as equal citizens increased to 15. I expect that number to increase to at least 18 by this time next year; Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States have what can be thought of as checker-board equality – legal in some jurisdictions but not in others. After seeing how fast equality and acceptance of sexual diversity have increased in the Western world, it is inevitable that they will become non-issues. In the U.S., the number of states with marriage equality doubled, from nine in January to 18 as of December 31st.

The discriminatory and culturally irrelevant Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) essentially died in June after the Supreme Court struck down its key provision – that the federal government could not and would not recognize same-sex marriages as legally equal to heterosexual marriages. Proposition 8, originally struck down in 2010 and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, was finally pulled off life support and allowed to die. Equality and justice for all are alive and well in its place.

My personal life also saw some incredible changes. Not only did I graduate with a B.A. in Communication from California State University, Fresno, but I also got an internship in Washington, D.C. with The American Prospect. In one week, I will move across the country and begin the next chapter of my life, initially as an editorial intern for an excellent publication. I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming, that I am really about to take a big step toward my dream life.

I met some pretty incredible people (you know who you are) and strengthened relationships with others (you also know who you are). One of my main motivations in life is to create and cultivate intimacy. It drives me, both to sanity and insanity. Aside from my wellbeing and career aspirations, I live for the incredible people in my life and the one-of-a-kind connections we have. As funny as it may sound coming from a 24-year-old, the older I get, the more I realize how vitally important these relationships are and how petty and stupid all the “drama” is. When I’m old and grey (and still looking fabulous), I want to look back and have little regret. I want to be able cry tears of happiness and joy after thinking about the good life I led.

In all seriousness, I expect to live to see and experience January 1, 2100. As a sci-fi-loving geek and someone living in an age of incredible medical/genetic breakthroughs, living to be 111 and even beyond really isn’t that far-fetched. However, even such a long human life doesn’t register on the timeline of the universe (more of a mindf*** – there may be multiple universes).

As a member of an advanced primate species, living on a planet that orbits the habitable zone of an average star in an average galaxy, my existence is pretty insignificant. However, I have the privilege of being self-aware and social. I’m just “star stuff,” as Carl Sagan famously said. The elements that make up my body were made in the hearts of ancient stars. This star stuff is able to reflect and ponder his own existence and place in the universe. That is absolutely incredible. I fully recognize that the meaning I draw from my minor existence comes, in large part, from the deep-rooted, interpersonal connections I have been fortunate enough to forge.

I’ve got one chance – ONE chance – to shine bright and enjoy my time in the sun. Life is full of meaning and I love interacting with it on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter what I achieve or how successful I become – I can’t make it without other people. So, bring on 2014. I’m ready to keep loving and caring, living (to the best of my ability) and experiencing every part of this life that I can.

“Live! That’s the message. Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

– Rosalind Russell as “Mame Dennis” in the 1958 film Auntie Mame

Micah's Two Cents