I'm not the first one to say this, but this year in film has been quite, (to put it politely) peculiar. From the urban live-action/animated fantasy film noir, Detective Pikachu, based on the Pokémon game of the same name, to the direct-to-video SyFy horror adaption of The Banana Splits, it seems any type of adaption can easily get greenlit regardless of how absurd it can be. In a sense, these ideas are rather interesting solely for their weirdness. I don't expect any of them to age too well, but it's still fascinating to consider how this year for movies will be remembered years from now. However, as far as film adaptions of 2019 go, I think we can all agree that the one that left everyone the most perplexed is the upcoming live-action adaption of the 1981 Andrew-Lloyd Weber musical, Cats. Ever since it was announced in mid-July, the film has received a mostly negative reaction from spectators highlighting how uncanny valley it looks. From its bizarre blend of CGI and live-action, to its overall aesthetic and just the mere presentation of the characters along with the universe they inhabit, the look and feel of this movie leaves an unpleasant imprint on the viewers' visual senses.
You can view the trailer here and see for yourself how uneasy this film looks on the eyes. I can safely tell you, that 'unsettling' is a bit of an understatement. The movie is slated for release on December 20th, but it's already obvious why the aesthetic choices don't do these characters or the story any favors. First off, at the beginning of the trailer, we see two of the characters in the middle of the streets wandering about. At first glance, they look like humans emulating cat-like behaviors, which comes as no surprise as that's what the cast of the Broadway musical did, too, except in the next scene, the viewer gets a glimpse at how the characters are costumed. The shot introduces us to this version of Victoria (Francesca Hayward), but unlike the Broadway show, where the costumes look organically blended with the actors, the costumes look oddly intertwined with the actress's body. It doesn't look like a costume. The CGI effects make it so that the fur is part of a human body, rendering it (no pun intended) to look like a mutation between a person and a cat. The next shots showcased in the trailer don't get any better as it goes on. In the following scene, we see Victoria and Mr. Mistofflelees (Laurie Davidson) running to a gate to meet another cat, revealing what the rest of the cast of characters all look like. They all suffer from the same problem: The costumes look way too much mutations than cats! I think the designs of Macavity (Idris Elba), Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), Bustopher Jones (James Corden) and Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson) to name a few of the more elaborate characters in their appearance add another layer of blurry confusion of where the costume, the CGI and the live actor begin and where they all end. By the way the rest of the cast is outfitted, the costumes appear more skin tight to the point it becomes difficult to discern what is what, which all those factors lead to an uncanny valley foul taste. In addition, the perspective is another aspect of the film that doesn't sit very well with audiences and with good reason. Given the fact that the characters look like a bad combination of both human and cat, the locations and sceneries where they interact are just way too strange and quite unsettling on account of how small everyone appears to be. To match the size of a cat, the actors are set in a way where everything looks relatively as big as it would to the eyes of a cat, but given the character designs, the perspectives come off as incredibly wonky, making it slightly nauseating to lay eyes on.
Admittedly, the soundtrack and vocal sound very promising, but unfortunately with all those factors ruining the overall appearance of the movie, I highly doubt very many music fans, much less die-hard Broadway buffs are going to be too enthused to obtain a copy either physical or digital. The movie in comparison to the Broadway show brings me back some fond memories (so to speak) of when I went to see the musical in 1999 as a pre-teen. I remember being impressed with the choreography, the songs and the layout of the streets the Jellicle cats (as they are referred to) would all gather in. I liked how the costumes naturally suited the performers and how the make-up was done that it presented the characters' personalities and traits so well. You also have to figure that while the premise of Cats is quite simple, there is a certain depth and meaning in the story that adds to its timeless quality like its source material by T. S. Eliot and why the film adaption is just going to end up being a product of its time.
That's actually not to say a film adaption of Cats can't come into fruition, that is, if done correctly. In fact there was an animated version planned. It has been confirmed that in the early-90's, Steven Spielberg's now-defunct company, Amblimation had an animated version in the works, but was scrapped upon the studio's closure. According to the catsmusical.fandom.com site, Spielberg "decided to set the show during the Blitz in London (1940-1941)" and veteran animators, Hans Bacher and Luc Desmarchelier posted some concept art on their blogs. Hans Bacher was responsible for the look and feel of the film and "spent a lot of time researching some rather 'unusual' London environments". Part of the task involved seeking the "trashiest spots [the team] could find" and scrolling down after a photograph of the creative team are some rough sketches and other related art by Bacher himself. In an additional post, Bacher writes about when he came on aboard with the rest of the team, which at the time they were a few months into the project. At the time, the idea was to blend miniature models with traditional animation. However, Steven Spielberg envisioned the animated world of Cats during the Blitz, so Bacher "started fresh with [his] designs" and thus began the research and reimagining of the film. Hans Bacher adds that in London, "behind all the sightseeing tourist area, there were 'backyards', a hidden world of trash and destruction" and that he "still [had] a map of '[his] real [L]ondon' where [he] marked this reference world". He adds that after 17 years, most likely, there's nothing left of the trash and war torn environment. (Mind you, he posted this on October 19th, 2008).
Luc Desmarchelier adds his various pieces of concept art to his own blog, which not only does he do an outstanding job of highlighting the vision for the film, but the audience gets a sense of how the cats themselves might have been animated. Character designers, Carlos Grangel and Nico Marlet worked various pieces consisting of how the characters would have been reimagined for the film and certainly, their art captured the personalities and traits associated with each of the prominent characters spot on! Old Deuteronomy looks as grand as one would have imagined an animated counter part of him. Grizabella looks just as worn down and shabby as she's portrayed in the musical, that the viewer instantly sees how past her prime she is. Macavity looks just as sinister as his musical depiction.
With the abundance of concept art and potential the film could have had, it's unfortunate it never came to be, but upon simply examining it, it's no surprise that it had more visual appeal to audiences than the 2019 film does. To this day, an animated adaption of Cats can still be a viable choice with the right art direction. The key is not only garnering an understanding of the stage show itself, but making the sceneries and character designs more organic. Put simply, the team behind the live-action film appears to understand the stage show very well, but the combination of CGI animation and live-action, coupled with the wonky perspectives is what throws the audience off. You may know the ropes of the source material and nail it perfectly in that regard as well as having a solid cast, but if the visuals don't mesh well, it fails to resonate with the audience the way it was intended to. Unfortunately, this is what happened with the live-action film. Had the audience gotten the planned animated movie by Steven Spielberg or something similar to it, then the reception would yield more positive results.
The concept created by Spielberg works in every possible way because it doesn't try to emulate the live performance the way the live-action film does. From what can be gathered about the production of the animated Cats movie, the environments the characters inhabit would have been far more appealing to look at for a variety of reasons. For one, the characters would have blended better with the perspectives more. At the time, 2D animation was still commonplace in the animation film industry and the trend in 1990's theatrical releases were mostly animated musicals, so designing the characters and sets best suited of a 2D setting is accessible. Once the environments are designed, deciding how the characters should look is easy to decipher. Knowing how a film looks gives the character designer an idea as to what type of character designs would be fitting for the environments created.
This brings us to the second reason why an animated movie would tip the Cats story in its favor. It's common knowledge that when designing a character, the final product should tell the viewer on a basic level who the character is and what their role might be based on visual cues. Putting it into action is easier said than done. Taking live actors from a stage show and deciding on what their animated counter parts should look like is a daunting task, one that requires multiple drawings as with any other animated project. In the case of Cats, it's a matter of understanding the characters and making sure the animated versions showcase those basic traits in their overall appearance. A major flaw of the live-action film is that it lacks showcasing character personality and/or leaves little room in the designs for audiences to get invested in the characters, which we'll compare and contrast in a moment.
Finally, it's the story itself. Cats the musical is a very simple story with a relatable moral. While we all get so caught up in things of glamour, those are things that fade over time and thus, will never bring true happiness. Grizabella, an aged cat, the best years of her life long passed, reminds the other Jellicle cats that in her iconic musical number, Memory. It was easy for them to reject her just because she's old and lost much of the charm of her youth, but if they welcome her back, they will remember never to take the best years of their own lives for granted and that the moment they are presently living in will someday be a memory just like her glory days. Simple stories with thought provoking themes don't need over complicated designs and sets to convey a narrative. Animation is a visual medium that if well written, drawn and directed, it can speak volumes to its viewers. The character designs and layouts of the animated Cats do what animated movies are often known to do: know the story and let the visuals tell it. Both story and visuals should go hand-in-hand and what Spielberg had in mind conveyed this spot on! This applies to any visual piece, especially if it's an adaption of a pre-existing stage show, so these creative decisions are very important to take into account.
The character designs in the live-action lack what this animation could have been because there seems to be less focus on who the characters are and more on trying to create impressive visuals while trying to look like the stage show. This doesn't work because on one hand, these designs fail to resonate with the viewer. If your interest is geared towards taking advantage of modern technologies and less on letting your characters tell a story visually, that is a fundamental flaw in which will prompt your audience to be less engage and rather more perplexed. As stated before, the character designs in the live-action film blurs the line between CGI and the costumed character. This could easily work if there was a proper balance of CGI, live actor/actress and costume (rotoscoping, maybe?), but in this case, it's clear the emphasis was geared towards visual appearance a little too much. The designs became over saturated with CGI and live action, thus creating an uncanny valley mess with little to no focus on designing a character that says who he or she is at first glance. Surely you can spend so much time on CGI in hopes it will match up to the quality of what you hope to achieve, but if your end result is being discussed less about who the characters are and their story and more about how their design is unsettling, your intent to grab the audiences' attention becomes futile. Viewers complained about the character designs in the live-action Cats for that reason. Pair that with the perspectives of their environment and that just adds to the problem. Making visuals too overcomplicated when they don't need to be doesn't encourage audiences to be invested in a story. Sometimes it can easily drive people away or be less invested in the story because there's something too distracting about the visuals. The animated movie on the other hand makes use of the simplicity of Cats by coming up with a specific idea of what their world would look like and how to properly fashion the characters. All of those factors are important to take into account because at the end of the day, each component will be a major factor in what draws people into the story, relate to the characters and (in the case of Cats being a musical), get into the soundtrack.
The main question I had going into this post was if Cats could ever have a more effective retelling and if so, what would have been better suited for it than the live-action film?. In order to answer that, it just takes a specific understanding why the live-action film fails on so many fronts, understanding what worked for the stage performance and how the scrapped animated movie demonstrated a more ideal alternative. Aside from its musical numbers, the show relies so much on character and setting. While visuals are important, they go hand-in-hand with the characters and their environment. If making a live-action film was of the interest of the directors, it would have made more sense to focus on choosing CGI animation over live actors or rotoscoping than trying too hard to blend the two. The reason the canceled 1997 project would have done the story and characters of Cats justice was because the environments and character designs were carefully taken into consideration in regards to story. With the right combinations and less emphasis on just visuals, the goal shouldn't be trying to be the stage performance of Cats, but let it be its own thing. It's an adaption of an iconic musical, but it should be created to stand on its own. By doing so, this is how the final product resonates with audiences. With each and every puzzle piece put together to create a visual motion picture that best fits the tone and ambiance of the story, you'd be bound to latch onto the audience's attention for the right reasons. This is true with any animation or visual medium for that matter. In an era where CGI has become prevalent in both animation and live-action, it's no surprise Hollywood easily abuses it at times to a saturation point, causing the quality of movies to suffer a great deal. If studios begin to return to their roots where their focus is equally attentive to story and art direction as seen with the potential Steven Spielberg's version of Cats would have been, think of countless possibilities that could come of musical films and other forms of animation and live-action.
At the time of writing this post, I'm studying for an exam as part of a portfolio requirement to get my Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. I have a study guide book, covering everything that's going to be on the test, such as child development theories, math, science, reading and so on. One of the study tips the book offers is to put on background music that contains no lyrics and that music specifically is the great works of Mozart or any type of classical music. This is really great advice, especially for anyone who is preparing for a major test and it works quite well for me. Of course, it's not only Classical music that can be helpful for study time, but anything that is pleasant and without lyrics. (I also listen to modern Jazz as I study). However, I can't actually say that listening to Classical music has made me any smarter. Rather, it makes me a little more relaxed and focused before and as I study. In fact, there have been studies that disprove the 'Mozart effect', demonstrating that it doesn't actually make students smarter. Although there is some truth to the 'Mozart effect' being effective as a bit of a brain booster (as long as you're not just passively listening to a piece by Mozart and instead actually practicing it), the widely popular assumption that it will make you smarter is over simplified.
First, let's start with where the concept originated from. In 1993, a study by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky was conducted on 36 college students and published in the Nature journal. According to Kimberly Sena Moore in her 2010 Psychology Today article, The Mozart Effect Doesn't Work...but here are some things that do, the students were tasked to "take one of three tests of spatial-temporal reasoning". This involved the following:
"These tests, subsets of the standard Stanford-Binet IQ test, asked the students to visualize spatial patterns and, over time, to manipulate them.
Additionally, there were three pre-test listening conditions: a Mozart piano sonata, repetitive relaxation music, and silence. When the students listened to the Mozart, they performed better on the spatial reasoning test. But it was a temporary improvement--the effect wore off after 15 minutes".
Aside from the effects wearing off after 15 minutes, the researchers themselves never insinuated that listening to Mozart automatically makes students smarter. All that the study demonstrated was that listening to Mozart can easily calm the mind as one prepares to take a test. Even so, studies conducted in the years afterwards made no solid conclusions that it's a 100% given that listening to Mozart intensifies cognition.
So, if the 'Mozart Effect' is not effective as popularly assumed, then what is beneficial? Just because there is no easy answer to boosting intellect via the 'Mozart Effect' doesn't mean students can't benefit from learning classical music or any type of music for that matter. There has been evidence that students develop their math and reading skills as well as their abilities for self-expression through music that simple words alone could not express. Among the recommendations Moore recommends instead of relying on the 'Mozart Effect' are "[p]urchas[ing] child friendly musical instruments", "[e]nrolling in an early childhood music class" and "[e]ncourag[ing] participation in band, orchestra, or choir". Children learn about themselves and the world around them through play. By picking up a tangible object, they let unleash their imaginations and desire for exploration as they play with toys, in this case, instruments. Early childhood music classes are also a great way for young children to learn about music as well as taking on the opportunity to learn how to play an instrument. Through social interaction with others in the classroom and collaboration, children will be more engaged with the art form. As a result, they are actively learning the basic craft of music, which requires a deliberate practice.
What might not be a wise idea to encourage students to get involved in music is to solely focus on Classical music and using the 'force-feed' approach. Often when teachers choose to focus solely on classical music, it's usually out of bias for the genre and thus, children are more likely to have a hard time garnering an appreciation for it. Therefore, it does a major disservice to both the student's musical and cognitive development as pin pointed by Rachael Dwyer in her article, Force-feeding kids classical music isn't the answer. "Forcing classical music, indeed forcing any music on unwilling students", Dwyer writes, "is unlikely to achieve the sorts of positive benefits - musical or cognitive - that an engaging and varied curriculum will". The less music teachers encourage variety in music exploration in the classroom, the less likely their students are going to make a sincere effort to be adventurous in learning about music, the craftsmanship behind it or practice it themselves.
Another thing to bear in mind is that because music is an expressive art form, it takes genuine passion and love for the art form to practice the craft and hone the skills. This occurs when students go beyond passive listening and garner a natural desire for wanting to learn how to play an instrument. By doing so, students have not only gained an appreciation for music, but are boosting their brain function and cognition. In her article, 4 Interesting Myths and Facts about the Mozart Effect, Sheena White lists a few example of how music enhances the brain, including '[i]mproving memory', 'superior multi sensory processing skills', '[o]rchestrates neuroplasticity in the brain', etc. In addition to the listed benefits, "it can help kids learn emotional control". When children actively commit to learning an instrument, not only are they honing reading and writing skills, but they learn to take control over their anxieties and cope with stress. Even so, because music is art and art is self-expression, students can express their ideas and feelings through music more powerfully than what simple words can express.
All and all, the 'Mozart Effect' can easily be debunked as it does not necessarily make students smarter. However, exposing students to Classical music and other types of music through enjoyable and engaging means and activities will inspire them to improve their musical and cognitive abilities, leading to more effective results. Without the 'like it or not' approach and instead, exposing children at an early age to music through toy instruments, then building up to an enrollment in music classes and meeting other students as they get older, children will more likely find music pleasing. Their desire to practice more increases and thus, they start to develop their musical skills, cognitive abilities and self-expression. All the while, it's very true that listening to Mozart or any type of classical music of the Old Masters is a great way to relax the mind before studying for or taking a major test, but it's important to put into context how these effects actually work. After all, as an innovator of his time, Mozart was a master at his craft through deliberate practice and therefore, innovative musicians of tomorrow will truly be following in his footsteps by genuine desire and putting in the work.
We often underestimate how therapeutic art really is. Whenever some of the most awful things happen, that words alone aren't enough to ease the pain and trauma one is feeling, the ability to create and express such emotions is always there for us to retreat to. When creating a piece in response to tragic experiences and how they change the person's life, it's a reflection of the hardship that was endured and how one copes, leading to recovery and a stronger appreciation of life. Art inspires us to never take things for granted and show us that despite dark times, there is a light that always helps us carry on and makes us stronger than we were before. An example of such a creative piece that was born from the ashes of a tragedy and is a true inspiration is the independently released album, Inner Landscape, by pianist Antimo Magnotta.
Antimo Magnotta was a resident pianist on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia. After a long-time personal struggle, he composed an album reflecting on his experiences from the night of the sinking and dedicated it to the memory of the 32 passengers who were killed. Through the album, Magnotta retells his perspective of that night through by letting his music narrate. The title, Inner Landscapes, as stated by the musician himself, "is a music cycle inspired by my thoughts after the accident. It refers to this brand new landscape I was experiencing ̶ like a window in reverse. It is part of a slow and ongoing healing process". In an article by Lizzie Davis on Classic FM, Magnotta describes what happened the instant the Concordia hit the rock:
"People started asking 'what's going on?'. I tried to keep the passengers calm and said 'we will be getting some instructions from the bridge'. But the loud speakers were just delivering a ghostly silence...People were holding broken teeth in their hands, it looked like a horror movie, a nightmare. This big floating entertaining funfair turned into a death trap."
It started as any regular night, where Magnotta would perform at the café, when at about 9:45 PM, the impact shook the entire room, sending people off balance. Magnotta felt the bolts on his piano come lose, that the piano rolled out of its place. In the midst of the chaos, no one from the bridge communicated with the passengers and crew members about what was really happening or how much danger they were actually in. After helping some of the passengers and fellow crew members the best he could, Magnotta made his escape through a shattered window and caught the attention of a nearby lifeboat. He made it safely to land roughly by 3:00 AM.
The track listing sequence narrates Magnotta's experiences from that night, starting with a piece, dedicated to his daughter Sofia. The track Sofia reflects that he had last seen her 10 days before he left on board the Concordia and that she was on his mind when the incident was taking place. The next track, Where is Everybody recalls the sense of chaos and disorder that filled the room as a result of the long stress-inducing wait for rescue. Open Waters, Seven Short Blasts and One Long One and Abandon Ship depict what was taking place inside and the feeling of escaping the doomed vessel. The Crossing, I'm Alive and The Island paint a bittersweet image of survival. The piece, Thirty-two is composed of 32 notes, each note dedicated to each of the victims who lost their lives. In the final track, Losing Myself, Magnotta illustrates the effects the disaster had on his life and state of mind one year later upon his arrival to London. When delving into his situation as a result of the aftermath, Magnotta states:
"I lost my sleep, I lost my peace of mind and I lost my little savings. I was on the edge of poverty...I was suffering with post-traumatic stress and didn't want to play the piano...All I wanted to do was become anonymous and forget about my past...I had to learn how to play the piano again."
Picking up the shattered pieces in his life and relearning to play the piano again, Inner Landscapes served as therapy and rejuvenation for mind and soul for Magnotta. It was through this album project he could express the fears, hopes and tension he felt when the accident occurred. On his Bandcamp page, in the description for Inner Landscape, Magnotta highlights what he hopes listeners will be reminded of when they hear his music. "I found solace in my music and I hope it will serve as a reminder of the restorative power of art and the resilience of the human spirit". At a time when all seems lost in darkness, Magnotta reminds listeners of what comes after. When hardship and tragedy happen, it can be easy to ruminate in it to the point there appears to be no end in sight. In the end, because of that 'resilience of the human spirit', we as human beings are capable to grow stronger from even the most tragic events. We are not given a spirit of fear, but are blessed with a spirit of hope. The 'restorative power of art' is the reason why we create. Without our abilities to express ourselves through our God-given talents and creativity, ̶ just imagine for a moment how much sadder the world would be without art ̶ when tragedies strike, how would we inspire others during hard times? We try to find the right words to say when horrible things happen, but art can illustrate empowering sentiments that words alone can't do effectively. It is through works like Inner Landscapes that we are reminded that in the wake of tragedy, there is healing even in the most horrendous moments.
We all know art is restorative, but we sometimes underestimate its power and necessity. With Antimo Magnotta's story being told in the form of music, listeners can learn from his experiences that when a devastating event changes one's life, there is hope and alleviation. By using our artistic gifts as a means of therapy and self-reflection, we are reminded that after even in our darkest hours, we are capable of bring light into the world.
With a resurgence of 1980’s and early 1990’s nostalgia, there has been an abundance of art and music that draws inspiration from the decade of excess. From the creative visual and musical artists showcased on New Retro Wave to Indie pop to video games as well as revivals of classic characters and intellectual properties in mainstream popular culture, there’s no doubt that the retro styles of the recent past have their appeal.
Today I will be focusing on one very prominent visual artist of the 1980’s, who’s illustrative works have famously defined the entire decade and has become a major inspiration for some of our contemporary artists. Patrick Nagel (1945-1984) was an America illustrator known for his flat, 2-D art, which were simplistic, yet complex renditions of women. Although his birthplace was in Dayton, Ohio, he lived most of his life in Los Angeles, California. Nagel attended the Chouinard Art Institute after serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He received his bachelor's degree at the California State University, Fullerton in 1969 and began his art career, teaching at the Art Center College of Design while building his value up as a professional illustrator and graphic designer.
In 1971, he worked as a graphic designer for ABC Television and as a freelance artist for other companies and magazines such as IBM, Rolling Stone, MGM and Universal Studios. in 1972. 1976 was the year that would hint at the direction Nagel’s later efforts would take. During that year, he worked on contributions for Playboy magazine, where his work received a wider audience and his signature “Nagel Woman” name.
Aside from Playboy, Patrick Nagel also designed album covers of popular musicians of the time, most notably Duran Daran’s 1982 album, Rio. Other recording artists’ albums included Think It Over (1978) by Cissy Houston, In Touch (1976) by Tommy James, and I’ve Got the Music in Me (1975) by Thelma Houston & Pressure Cooker.
According to the official website of Patrick Nagel regarding his poster art, during the 100 years prior to his time, “poster art has been one of the most humble, influential and pervasive of all the arts.” Unfortunately, it was a dying artform in the United States in the 1970’s as it was losing much of its effectiveness to capture audiences’ attention. Nagel reinvented the art form by displaying something of value to the market that he could offer with his skills:
“[I]n partnership with Mirage Editions and fine art printer Jeff Wasserman, [Nagel] sought to recapture the beauty and power that posters once held in popular culture by returning to a model created at the turn of the century with artists such as Toulouse Lautrec and A.M. Cassandre. They sought to produce the highest quality hand screened art prints that would also serve as collectable advertising art for businesses. Over Nagel’s career, 60 limited edition silk-screened prints were completed and were sold out upon release and Nagel’s iconic women found their way to worldwide recognition.”
Because Nagel showcased rare works that the market could reward, his career proved to be a major success, not only in quality, but also in subject matter. The women depicted in his prints were always known to be “complicated”, creating a rather fascinating ambiguity into her mind. What the Nagel women wants from the viewer is lure their attention towards her. There is a bit of self-importance, yet she’s very reserved. There is also a sense of indifference, yet astuteness and elegance that adds to that ambiguity in her character. There was a reason Nagel retained this vagueness as his official bio adds:
“Nagel often said that he didn’t really want to know these women too well. He imagined them as creatures of the night who drank and smoked too much. Perhaps, but they remain always in control. In the pin-up tradition of women as object, Nagel’s portrayal of them was a break from the past, reflecting the rapidly changing role of women in America. His style evolved subtly along with the times. His women of the seventies are shown as softer, more vulnerable and innocent than his stronger, more self assured women of the eighties.”
Because of the way Nagel portrayed his subject matter, it made his work and their traits memorable. As the Nagel Women continued to take shape throughout his career, he kept increasing their worth in the the art world and market. Even in the fashion and music scene, his works became iconic.
In the years after Patrick Nagel’s death in 1984, his works remain highly regarded worldwide. Zach Kelly’s piece on New Retro Wave covers Nagel’s impact on today’s artists as well as his contemporaries. Examples of such include Comedy Central’s short-lived 2015 adult animated series, Moonbeam City, created by Scott Gairdner (Parental Advisory Warning for language and adult humor). Kelly highlights that “Gairdner encapsulates many facets of the [retro] movement, through a nostalgic Miami-Vice theme, however the distinctive character illustrations and some of the execution of colour is a direct throw to the art of Nagel”. He then describes the album covers of the artists whom are often featured on NRW. ALEX’s 2017 EP, entitled Youth features art by Jacqueline Ruther, Mizucat, which adopts a similar approach to how Nagel portrayed women, while incorporating color and more detail to the woman in the image. The woman featured on Trevor Something’s 2014 release, Trevor Something Does Not Exist, displays a similar art style, by Ariel Zucker (Parental Advisory Warning for gruesome imagery), with the figure’s own elegance and ambiguity blended with more detail. Synthwave musician, SelloRek/LA Dreams pays homage to Nagel with a track, titled Nagel Girl, which Kelly praises how it “matches Nagel’s art well.”
As for Nagel’s contemporaries whom Kelly mentions, such as Carlos Sanchez, Dennis Mukai and Luis Preciado, they each have created works of art, depicting the Nagel-esque woman, while “[adding] their own flavour to the artsphere”. Kelly includes one piece from each artist to illustrate the similarities and contrasts to Nagel’s work. Thrill Me by Carlos Sanchez shows a woman smoking, expressing a similar aloofness to that of the Nagel Women. In contrast to Nagel’s works, however, Sanchez illustrated more detail on the woman’s face and features much like that of the styles of Ruther and Zucker. Dennis Mukai’s Special Friend compares to Nagel’s style by adopting a slightly different, yet similar minimalistic technique in the design, while retaining that sense of elegance seen in Nagel’s posters. Genevieve by Luis Preciado is similar in composition, concept and style. It is distinguishable in its spotty backdrop, making the piece a bit more playful than Nagel’s design.
Without a doubt, Patrick Nagel's short lived career has left major impact for the culture of his time as well as today's creative artists. By reinventing the art of the poster and expressing a unique perspective for his subject matters, Nagel not only created memorable works of art that art lovers would remember him by, but he displayed a tremendous amount of value through his skills that both the market and the art world could reward. When looking back on the traits that made Nagel's art distinctive, it's not just the sense of nostalgia one feels from viewing his work, but the vision and craftsmanship behind them that extends one's appreciation for them.
Finding new good music on the mainstream radio has become increasingly rare these days. Flip through stations playing the latest Top 40 hits and you’ll mostly hear songs about clubs and sex with repetitive patterns and bland rhythms. On occasion, you’ll come across a good recent song containing meaningful and relatable lyrics or a feel-good song with a memorable melody and variation in its rhythm, but in today’s mainstream, listeners are usually bombarded with some rather lifeless beats and dull melodies. The question is not only how do you find good music these days, but also where do you find good music these days?
Before exploring the answer to this question, remember when in previous decades, whenever something was new to the mainstream, it was met with critics who also romanticized older music? When people discuss music they like from the 1980’s or 1990’s for instance, most of their selection is based on some of the most memorable hits, not the ones they would have deemed the worst. As with any opinion, listeners’ definition of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music always has been and always will be subjective. The way to distinguish a ‘good’ song from a ‘bad’ song is not based on the decade it came out or what instruments were used (i.e. synthesizers or acoustics). Sometimes our mentality favors the ‘what I like’ bias thought process rather than examining what goes into the making of a good song. With that mindset in place, listeners can make informed choices and discussions about what’s working in modern music and what isn’t.
So, what does today’s music offer that previous decades didn’t? The Internet, of course! It’s an obvious answer, but there’s no denying it. Because of websites like SoundCloud, Bandcamp and perhaps the most obvious, YouTube, independent musicians can start a fan following online. If you search artist after artist, you will find there is an abundance of music you might not have thought was being made today. In her article, 10 Reasons Today’s Music Industry Doesn’t Suck on GuitarWorld.com, Laura B Whitmore delves into the many ways today’s musicians collaborate, communicate and distribute their music. Options that didn’t exist twenty or thirty years ago are now at artists’ and their listeners’ fingertips. One of the examples Whitmore pinpoints is that “[t]here are more options than ever to get your music heard”, in which she writes “[w]ith loads of media outlets, blogs, distribution sites and more, there’s no doubt you can take matters in your own hands when it comes to music distribution”. The wealth of outlets enables today’s musicians to showcase their talents where listeners have easy access to. They are not limited to just the radio.
A little personal story, this was how I discovered most of my new favorite music and artists. I simply Googled 2016 love ballads in hopes of finding modern music that gave me the same positive, pleasant feeling as popular hits of the 80’s and 90’s. Sure enough, I found plenty, if not more than I expected. I came across a New York based pop duo known as Paperwhite and their song entitled Pieces, which I found on a YouTube channel called NewViceCity by Fernando Martinez. The channel features a wide variety of songs and artists from recent years whose music is influenced by the classics with a modern spin. There’s Haim, Pure Bathing Culture, St. Lucia, Susanne Sunfør, Fire Tiger, Allie X, Great Good OK Fine, Savior Adore, Gavin Turek and Phoenix to name a few who might peak the curious music fan’s interest. Even Carly Rae Jespen’s latest tunes are featured on the channel, (which are a huge contrast from her Call Me Maybe days).
Another YouTube channel I also listen frequently is New Retro Wave, where I’ve discovered some interesting 1980’s and early 90’s influenced musicians such as Wolf and Raven, Dance with the Dead, N I N A, KRISTINE, Dana Jean Phoenix, Le Brock, FM 84, Timecop 1983, Michael Oakley, The Midnight and Robert Parker. While I consider New Retro Wave a favorite of mine, to step out of my own bias, I'll address the channel’s shortcomings. There are some songs (mostly the non-vocal tracks), that sound rather similar. Because the channel is catered to fans of retro music and 80’s/early-90’s pop culture, this is where personal taste can easily overshadow other perceptions of what constitutes as ‘good’ music. What listeners critique about today’s mainstream music, regarding it to sounding all the same can also be said about some of the music showcased on NRW. That’s not to say NRW is not recommendable, but it has its intended audience who would be looking for the familiar synthwave tropes, which brings us to another pointer in finding new music: niches.
When it comes to defining good music, the target audience a radio station or a YouTube channel is dedicated to can also play a major role in the listener’s selections. Whether the music is ‘indie’ or ‘mainstream’, the listener can also tune into any station playing their favorite genre. Take Sirius XM for instance. When scrolling for a specific station and you’re looking for adult contemporary ballads or light pop, stations like The Blend or Velvet might appeal to you. Some good examples of today’s best artists listeners can find on Sirius XM include Tori Kelly, Gavin James, Josh Kaufman, The Revivalists, Mary Lambert, Matt McAndrew, Colbie Caillat, Rachel Platten, Michael Buble, Jordan Sparks, Josh Groban, Leona Lewis, Adele, Susan Boyle, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, Kelly Clarkson, Idina Menzel, John Legend and (I kid you not) One Direction.
To further illustrate this point about the relevance of niches, author and Wall Street Journal writer, Jim Fusilli examines older listeners’ bias towards the music they listen to and why they refuse to engage with modern music in his book, Catching Up: Connecting with Great 21st Century Music. According to Fusilli, the target audience for music has always been geared towards youth and that the music business always knows how to effectively market towards them. Music catered to older listeners don’t receive the same amount of airplay or promotion. Because of this approach to marketing music, older listeners tend to feel alienated from most of the current music scene and therefore, often don’t know where to begin their search. He also has a website called www.renewmusic.net, which as its tagline, “Music for Grownups” implies, is devoted to helping adults find new music that appeals to them.
Finding good music today can be a bit of a challenge if you only restrict your selections to the radio only, but if you expand your searches online and on various stations, outlets, streaming services and YouTube channels you might be surprised by what you find. Because music is at its most expansive in its reach than it’s ever been, discovering your new favorite songs and artists can be sought out with a simple click of the mouse.
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