Ariana Grande is my new hero

I wouldn’t say I’m an Ariana Grande fan as a singer, though after shazamming her as many times as I have at Dunkin’ Donuts, I can get her right maybe two out of three times now—and I do think she’s very good.

But I dare say that after Sunday’s extraordinary One Love Manchester concert, it’s going to be at least three times out of four from here on out. I even know who Niall Horan is now, and that I really like his song “Slow Hands”—or is it “This Town”?—though I don’t know whether I like him as much as Harry Styles, though I don’t know that I even like Harry Styles. And I almost have new respect for Justin Bieber.

No, I do in fact have new respect for Justin Bieber. Not so much his songs, or his godliness, but just the fact that he showed up and came out with just an acoustic guitar. Actually, in this regard, I almost give him more props than Katy Perry, whom I actually do know and love, who I think should have done without the glam white attire and toned it down like Biebs and the rest.

But upon further consideration, I can now say for sure that Ariana Grande is great, if for no other reason than that she’s responsible for what was a historic concert, right up there with Live Aid and The Concert for Bangladesh and ahead of both of them in terms of speed of presentation, even ahead of The Concert for New York City, which took over a month to stage following 9/11.

Than again, I was sold on Ariana the night of the Manchester bombing—May 22—when she tweeted, simply, “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

Really, there was nothing more to say, and saying anything more, especially the standard “Our prayers and thoughts are with the victims and their families,” would only have diluted it.

But I got in big trouble when I tweeted that her message was “very good.” One Facebook friend raked me over the coals for not pouring on the praise, one other for giving her too much credit for saying too little. I eventually felt compelled to respond, after the unanticipated and unusually loud and long uproar, lauding Ariana for her “clearly heartfelt” expression.

So now I took One Love Manchester personally and watched the entire thing, even if Katy and Miley Cyrus and Imogen Heap—and now Ariana–were the only artists I wanted to see. And it paid off, on Twitter at least: I had my biggest day ever, with 137,693 “organic impressions” on 39 tweets, when I average 2,000 or so per day. I also got 55 retweets and a whopping 202 “likes.”

But enough about me. Besides staging this concert, Ariana donated $1 million to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund in coordination with the British Red Cross, re-released her single “One Last Time” with proceeds going to the fund, created a donation page, added a prayer message in front of all her YouTube videos while disabling comments to take the focus off her, offered a video call to victims, visited victims in the hospital, and offered to pay for funerals.

She truly is remarkable, indeed heroic. Very, very good.

I was reduced to tweeting, “The kids are alright,” properly crediting Pete Townshend. It got 4,943 organic impressions and 17 “engagements.”

Alicia Keys a lonely voice of reason in a typically vapid VMA show

Look. I’m 64. I shouldn’t even be watching the MTV Video Music Awards (it being way past my bedtime), let alone writing about it. No they don’t need me and they sure as hell don’t feed me.

In fact, the last VMAs show that meant anything to me, where I knew the music and the artists, was probably the first one, 32 years ago at Radio City, when I was there and writing extensively about music videos and MTV. In all honesty, I write about them now just to hang on and kid myself into thinking I’m still relevant.

That said, even the commercials last night were lame. I mean, the Taco Bell Foundation? Who knew? And the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children spot got me going until diluting itself with “featuring a new song by Florence + the Machine.”

The show itself can be summed up by the Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj workout on “Side to Side,” as it hardly got anyone worked up. Or speed-swimmer Michael Phelps, who introduced Future after crediting his “Stick Talk” for inspiring him at the Olympics, with Future responding by slowing the proceedings down to a standstill with his single “Commas.” Or Kanye—of course—whose excruciating ramble was matched only by his video premiere for the at least appropriately named “Fade.”

I must qualify my criticism for tweeters Key & Peele and their seeming rip of In Living Color’s “Men on Films,” since while I’ve heard of them, I’ve never seen them and didn’t get the gag until googling them midway. But I’ll stick with my own tweets, i.e.:

Separated at birth: #KanyeWest and Sata

Did I miss it or was there a melody in the #NickJonas song?

#KimKardashian speaks like a Shakespearean scholar

[After Britney’s bit] Gee, that was worth the wait

#Beyonce get to the hook already!

#Beyonce: The performance that never ended

They could have fit in at least five more performers in the time wasted by #Beyonce and #KanyeWest

Wait! #Beyonce sampled Andy Williams “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” on her song! If only he were still alive!

That last one reminds me of the time when I ran into Andy Williams at the Grammys, but I digress. Admittedly, I was happy DNCE won for “Cake by the Ocean” since it’s such a great tune. But then The Chainsmokers could only remind me how much I liked Parliament, The Winstons and even Sopwith Camel. Like I also tweeted: I must be the oldest living person watching this shite. And, after the first five minutes, My God this is awful.

So why do I love Rihanna so much? I thank Naomi Campbell for nailing it: the islands, meaning, she never gave up her Caribbean roots, which makes perfect sense in that I’ve always felt her voice has so much character, flavor, and adaptability to whatever a song needs from it. She was great, her speech was fine, and she even made Drake good.

But really, the true star last night was Alicia Keys, out of place as she was in physical appearance–but naturally stunning nevertheless with her committed no-makeup look (which I didn’t know anything about until reading up on it after the show)–not to mention political stance in noting the 53rd anniversary that day of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. And suddenly I didn’t feel so old as arguably the most talented singer-songwriter of her MTV generation recited an antiwar poem harking back to my g-g-generation’s “Make love, not war” slogan.

The poem became a brief a cappella song, also about breaking walls, instead of building them–as the one presidential candidate so desperately wants. With such a pivotal election just weeks away now, Keys provided the one glimpse of reality through the typically overblown VMA glitz, in time-honored topical music fashion.

Waiting for Miley Cyrus

The day before the annual MTV Video Music Awards crapola and I oddly find myself more looking forward to it than maybe even the first one 31 years ago, when all of us in the biz back then had drunk the Kool-Aid and were swept away by the asshole moonman.

Now, a 63-year-old man with music tastes reflecting my age, I’m also thinking back on my flimsy indirect Miley Cyrus connection via her dad.

I can’t remember if it was Key Largo or Orlando where Mercury/Nashville held a weekend junket for media in 1992 to showcase three of its baby acts including Billy Ray, and I can’t remember the other two, though one might have been Shania. And while I never got to know him that well, I was great friends with his (and Buck Owens’) manager Jack McFadden. I still remember Jack’s cutting riposte to my buddy Travis Tritt’s disparaging remarks during Fan Fair that year regarding Billy Ray’s out-of-nowhere career explosion by way of “Achy Breaky Heart”–which were shared but unuttered by many others in the country music community: “He’s [Tritt] just feeling the heat from our afterburner!”

Then a few years later, after Billy Ray’s career had seemingly flamed out almost as fast as it burst, I was asked to appear on one of those dumb celeb news shows, I think it was Access Hollywood, to comment on his chances of making a comeback with his then just-released new album. It was not at all impossible, I stated, with authoritative certainty, only to be told I’d never be asked on the show again for refusing to do stupid B-roll walking-through-the-hall or sitting-at-the-computer bullshit.

“I’m not an actor!” I huffed. “I’m a writer.”

Sure enough, I never did the show again.

As for Miley, well, I never watched Hannah Montana. So I never paid much attention to her until the infamous performance at the VMAs with Robin Thicke two years ago, when I found the twerking and tongue lolling vulgar and annoying, then was put off further by every succeeding outrageous stunt culminating with the video for “Wrecking Ball,” which I hated: By now it all seemed so calculating, like Madonna, and the song itself became tedious after a couple listens, with its bouncy verse and big, overwrought chorus. No denying, though, she sang it all very well.

Maybe it was her heartfelt induction of Joan Jett into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that turned me around, or her staunch refusal to apologize for what she does and who she is–along with her outspokenness in support of scores of progressive charities and causes. Here the one that really got me was her own nonprofit Happy Hippie Foundation, with its mission “to rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations.” To launch the foundation, she created a Backyard Sessions series of videos, many with guests like Jett and Ariana Grande, in which she respectfully covered classic rock songs including The Turtles “Happy Together,” garnering praise from none other than that group’s lead singer Howard Kaylan.

Miley told The New York Times (“in between freshly rolled joints”) that MTV told her, “This is your party,” and promises to give them a “psychedelic” and “raw” show unlike any previous ones—precisely why the network hired her, no doubt. But she also revealed that she’s working on “avant-garde” new music with the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, which, in conjunction with a new visual Instagram style influenced by underground Net artists, indicates that she’s continuing to experiment and grow as an artist as she is as a person.

“When you look at it now, it looks like I’m playing hopscotch,” she said of her 2013 VMA appearance. “Compared to what I do now, it looks like nothing. I can’t believe that was a big deal. It wasn’t shocking at all.” She added: “I still love it. But I now watch it, and I see someone that isn’t me now.”

Who she is now, it seems to me, is an uncommonly centered, concerned and caring person for 22, completely opposite from the narcissistic pop superstarlets of her stature—Taylor Swift in particular. To be fair, Swift also gives plenty to charity, and has commendably established a close relationship with her massive fan base.

But Swift seems focused on surface, i.e., her physical appearance, celebrity friends and post-adolescent romance, whereas Cyrus, though younger, is so much broader and deeper in interest and reach. Here’s hoping to see more of this come into play tonight, whatever the shock value.

CF38

What the fuck?

So there’s this Stand Up to Cancer show tonight hosted by Katie Couric and simulcast on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and 26 cable networks, to raise money for cancer research with–says The Washington Post–“a star-packed hour of musical performances and celebrity appearances,” including performances from The Who, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco, Common, Ariana Grande and Dave Matthews and appearances from Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Jon Hamm and Eric Stonestreet.

We’ve come a long way in these star-packed multi-channel simulcast charity shows since the one after 9/11. A long way down. I mean, stand up to cancer? Eric Stonestreet?

I want to know which channels aren’t showing Stand Up to Cancer, because I take my cancer sitting down.