Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Music Review: Fancy

  • Artist: Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX 
  • Album: The New Classic 
  • Release: 17 February 2014 
  • Label: Island (Universal) 
  • Genre: Hip-hop 
  • Writers: Amethyst Kelly, Charlotte Aitchison, George Astasio, Jason Pebworth, Jon Shave, Kurtis McKenzie 
  • Producers: The Invisible Men, The Arcade
Enter Amethyst Amelia Kelly. This young star was born in Australia, of all places, and has lived about the American South since the age of 16. It is there that she started a career as the rapper Iggy Azalea, bubbling under the radar until her breakout earlier this year, with not one but two singles sitting back-to-back atop the Billboard Hot 100. These are her own "Fancy", and Ariana Grande's "Problem". I've chosen "Fancy" to review today, because while it may suffer some serious problems, I don't think it bad enough to grace my worst-of list this year. Then again, I reviewed Katy Perry's "Roar" for the same reason, and it made that same list last year, so, we'll see what happens, I guess.

Not yet having been exposed to anything from Iggy Azalea's oeuvre from before her two aforementioned hits, I can say that she reminds me a lot of Nicki Minaj: a talented rapper who too often is saddled with sub-par material. They both have their shining exceptions, true, but in the case of the former, "Fancy" is not one of them. I'll start my review of this song by discussing the beat. It sucks. All it's got to it are a short loop of bass notes, synthetic hand-claps, and a bunch of guys shouting "hey!" on the off-beats. If you read that description and immediately thought of "Rack City" by Tyga, then your're giving that song more acknowledgement than it deserves, but you'd be right. However, you may be surprised to know that "Fancy" does not, in fact, share the producer of "Rack City". Said producer is a mister DJ Mustard, and given both the mediocrity and quantity of his output, I'm saving my bile for when the year-end top-tens roll in. In the meantime, let's poke around the lyrics.
First things first, I'm the realest
So, assuming this is the first you've heard of Iggy Azalea, the words with which she makes her first impression are, "I'm the realest". Lady, I do appreciate your enthusiasm, but so many rappers have made such claims only to portray the same tired images, thus negating their point. I guess the only thing I can do for know is kindly request of you to show me what ya got.
Drop this and let the whole world feel it
And I'm still in the murder business
Let me remind you readers: Iggy Azalea is a white girl born in Australia. I don't think that would have been enough time for her to establish herself within the murder business, as she puts it.
I could hold you down, like I'm givin' lessons in physics
Physics, eh...? Your guess is as good as mine.
You should want a bad [noun] like this
Drop it low and pick it up just like this
We should be, as a collective society, a bit over-acquainted with the concept of a "bad b!tch" by now. But now we are dealt the ethical dillema of a woman willingly applying the phrase to herself, when she is not, strictly speaking, a literal prostitute. You see what you've done to us, popular culture!?
Cup of Ace, cup of Goose, cup of Cris
High heels, somethin' worth a half a ticket on my wrist
Takin' all the liquor straight, never chase that
Blah-blah-blah, expensive liquor, blah-blah-blah luxury accessories.
Rooftop like we bringin' '88 back
My good lady, I do appreciate your interest in taking this poorly-defined party back to a simpler time, but this beat does nothing to evoke the late eighties. Maybe you and Charli XCX are attempting to evoke the girl-power rap groups of the time like Salt-n-Pepa or... actually, that's the only one I can think of at the moment, but it's a stretch to make that connection. Speaking of the other person...
I'm so fancy, you already know
I'm in the fast lane from L.A. to Tokyo
I'm so fancy, can't you taste this gold
Remember my name, 'bout to blow
The chorus is sung by British singer Charli XCX. If you'll recall, she happened to have left a bad impression with her debut appearance on last year's "I Love It". But even though Charli brings back much of her over-enthusiastic delivery for "Fancy", for some reason, I'm not bothered by it now the same way I was back then. I don't know, I guess now that the music's not trying to compete with her vocals in the volume department, I'm not suffering the same sensory overload. So I guess that's one good thing I can say about this song's production. Plus, the lyrics aren't as psychotic as in "I Love It", but I'll address that later.

That "later" is not during the second verse, which I can summarise as such: "Blah-blah-blah spending money, blah-blah-blah haters." Except at one point, Iggy calls her flow "retarded". I know she's using with the positive connotation oddly bestowed upon such words as "bad" and "ill", but honey, don't sell yourself short. Oh, and she spells her name at one point. You know, just like every other rapper from back in the day. As I have explained before, slavishly adhering to such cliches only serves to diminish one's individuality, and the degree to which I can take her seriously. So let's skip ahead to the middle eight:
Trash the hotel
Let's get drunk on the mini bar
Make the phone call
Feels so good gettin' what I want
Yeah, keep on turnin' it up
Chandelier swingin', we don't give a [verb]
Film star, yeah I'm deluxe
Classic, expensive, you don't get to touch
And now for the "later" I teased you with. Charli XCX sticks around for the middle eight, and this is where I see a glimmer of potential. This part of the song involves the raucous off-stage life of a rock star, and is such the closest these lyrics ever get to embodying the idea of "Fancy". Wouldn't this have been a better idea to base a song around? It certainly would have been more different than the rest of the song, which reminds me: Blah-blah-blah I'm aweome, blah-blah-blah I imply the murder of haters.

So that was "Fancy"... I mean the song was called "Fancy", but it most certainly was not, itself, fancy. The majority of the lyrical content is your typical, over-done rap fare, and the beat sucks. Although I guess I know why DJ Mustard feels the need to slap his audio watermark onto the top of his tracks, now that other people are copying his technique. We're all screwed. But there are occasional bright moments in the lyrics, specifically Charli XCX's parts, that could have made for a better song if they had been expanded upon. And even with what we got, Iggy's forceful flow and Charli's powerful singing stylings deserve to be witnessed. But all the same, they deserve better material to be used upon.

Music: 1 fake Southern accent out of 5
Lyrics: 2 fake Southern accents out of 5
Performance: 5 fake Southern accents out of 5
The Call: 3 fake Southern accents out of 5 (C)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dance Dance Retrospective: X3 vs. 2ndMIX

Previously on the SDP, there was the 2010 DanceDanceRevolution. And it sucked. Well, inasmuch as a DDR game can suck. But earlier from that same year, there was a new arcade edition, DanceDanceRevolution X2. And it was good. But it would turn out that X2 was the last arcade DDR game, to date, to have been sold outside of Asia. But it wasn't the end of the series, for a year and a half later, Konami released DanceDanceRevolution X3 vs. 2ndMIX (JP: 16 November 2011, AS: 16 December 2011). I also have yet to play this edition in person, even during my latest trip to Japan back in March. But even though Konami did not sell X3 in North America or Europe, they did release a new home game suspiciously similar to it: DanceDanceRevolution II for the Wii (NA: 11 October 2011, EU: 16 November 2011).

X3 features a blue-and-white colour scheme, and many of the features from X2. Two new features are exclusive to eAmusement/PASELI users: they can view both machine and eAmusement high scores on the music menu, and, similar to X2's Marathon Mode option, pay per song in Quick Play Mode. As hinted at in its full title, X3 also includes a HD remake of Dance Dance Revolution 2ndMIX. It is entered through a button prompt on X3's title screen, just like the 2ndMIX mode from 3rdMIX. The songs from 2ndMIX Mode were eventually added to the main game in a later update. As to why they chose this entry to remake, I'm curious. Perhaps the first game had too little content, and the more popular 3rdMIX had too much content. And yes, you still have to enter a hidden panel code for the Maniac level.
2ndMIX Mode's menu screen in DDR X3.
DDR II, meanwhile, shares with X3 some songs, UI elements, and of course the core gameplay, but in other ways differs from it as well as the Wii DDR games before it. There are no alternate modes that use the Wii Remote, Nunchuck, or Balance Board, but they did bring back the Double mode from the core series. Also, the majority of songs come in two flavours: the traditional 1-to-2-minute edits, and the full-length versions. And this isn't like in 5thMIX or DDR X where only a scant handful of songs were long versions; this is done for all the licenced songs, and most of the Konami originals which weren't already from previous games. The unlock system also seems to have borrowed a page from the PS2 days. Unstead of a separate single-player campaign, you unlock new content by playing in the free-play mode and earning points. The "Replicant-D-Action" system also makes an appearance, but it's been simplified greatly from its appearance in X2. All you have to do is clear any three songs, and the Replicant-D-Action folder will become available. When you play any song therein, the folder disappears until you play another three songs, and so on.
Double mode in DDR II. A mainstay for most of the series finally makes its Wii debut.
DDR X3 features 515 songs, plus 30 songs in 2ndMIX Mode, and DDR II features 83 songs. In X3, you've got your usual stable of J-pop licences and Konami originals, including ones from DDR 2010, seeing as how that game was never released in Japan (lucky buggers). However I will admit that, apart from the boss songs, the "notable songs" section will be shorter this time around than the ones for previous games. Not including the revivals for 2ndMIX mode, there are only six new licenced songs, all of them Japanese, and they culled most of the licences left over from X and X2, just to add insult to injury (or is it the other way around?). And I've long since stopped keeping up-to-date with the other Bemani games -- which, I remind you, aren't made available outside of Asia -- so there's nothing in the selection of crossover songs that catch my eye. But maybe it's just me; if you absolutely must have material from jubeat Copious or Reflec Beat Collette, then go nuts, I guess.

As for DDR II, I feel a little conflicted. First, the bad news. There are two -- count 'em, two -- Justin Bieber songs in DDR II. And one by Miley Cyrus. And one by Selena Gomez. And one by Willow Smith -- you know, that "Whip My Hair" fellow. And two songs with Bruno Mars, who isn't nearly as embarrassing. Yeah, you can tell Konami of America courted the teen-pop crowd this time around. But it's not like those are bad songs to dance to; not like those boring slow songs from the last game. So now, the good news. Since (the 2010) X2 was never given a proper home port, the Konami originals (mainly Bemani crossovers) that weren't already included for the (the 2009) X2 and Hottest Party 3 have been revived for DDR II, including such assumed classics as "smooooch", "Gold Rush", and "Mei". Other notable songs include:
  • "Connect", as made famous by Claris. (X3 only) The theme song from the anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica. For some reason, X3 uses a cover version of this song, as well as with...
  • "Heavy Rotation", as made famous by AKB48. (X3 only) Why Konami would need someone to cover one of the biggest names in J-Pop, I couldn't tell ya.
  • "Say a Prayer" by Des-Row & Maxi Priest, and "Still Unbreakable" by Des-Row and Vanilla Ice. (II only) Unremarkable songs, but it's neat that they're collaborations between Bemani and non-Bemani artists.
Certain songs were made available later on for machines connected to the Internet, a form of DLC if you will, as tie-ins with certain events.
  • Daily Special: Added five songs from other Bemani games. During the event, different ones were unlocked on each day of the week.
  • Append Travel: Added four songs from jubeat Copius Append, another Bemani music game. Also let players earn Append Points to spend on items, however this feature expired in September 2012.
  • Konami Arcade Championship 2012: Added seven songs. Five of them are remixes of Konami originals from 2ndMIX.
  • Tsugidoka!: Added four songs from other Bemani games.
  • Extra Tour: Gradually introduced the Evolved songs as selectable Extra Stages.
The new round of boss songs are:
  • "Amalgamation" by Mystic Moon. (X3 only) A fairly high-speed (170 BPM) trance/techno song. Originally the Extra Stage on X3; replaced by "Unbelievable (Sparky Remix)" in an update.
  • "Unbelievable (Sparky Remix)" by jun feat. Sarah Jane. (X3 and II) A happy-hardcore song in the vein of "Silver☆Dream" and "Kimono Princess". Originally the Encore Extra Stage in X3; later replaced by "Nephilim Delta" and demoted to Extra Stage in an update.
  • "Nephilim Delta" by L.E.D-G. (X3 only) A darker-sounding gabba-techno song, its high-speed (220 BPM) eight-note runs play like an even more turned-up "Afronova" or "Arabiatta".
  • "Silver☆Dream" by jun. (X3 only) A revival from Hottest Party 2.
Other boss songs include:
  • X3 revived the "Tokyo Evolved", "Osaka Evolved", and "New York Evolved" series from Hottest Party, Hottest Party 2, and New Moves/Hottest Party 4 respectively, as part of the "Extra Tour" update. 
  • DDR II revived "deltaMAX" and "888" from Universe 3, and the other boss songs from X2
  • "PARANOiA Revolution" by Climax of Maxx 360, and "Trip Machine Evolution" by DE-JAVU. (X3 only) The latest remixes of these fan-favourite songs from the first game. These are playable in 2ndMIX Mode, as Extra Stages, and certain nonstop courses. 
  • "Love Is the Power (Re:Born)" by NM. A remix of the end-credits songs from 2ndMIX. It's not a particularly hard song (only level 10 on Expert), but when played as an Encore Extra Stage, you have to get all Perfect marks or better; so much as one Great kicks you out of the song. 
  • "London Evolved" by TAG Underground. (X3 and II) The new set of Evolved songs, bearing three variations, this one is more trance-like, specifically reminiscent of "Roppongi Evolved" from X2
  • "Tohoku Evolved" by 2.1MB Underground. (X3 only) Yet another Evolved song, specifically a remix of "London Evolved". Technically there is only one version of "Tohoku Evolved", except that the last note is a randomised corner-jump. This song breaks the DDR speed record, with a certain passage reaching a whopping 1,020 BPM. A tribute to the victims of the natural disasters which hit north-eastern Japan earlier in 2011, this version incorporates voice samples such as "Our thoughts and prayers are with you". 
Come to think of it, "Tohoku Evolved" would have been a poignant send-off to the Dance Dance Revolution series. Scratch that... it should have been the series' send-off. We've got only two more entries to go on Dance Dance Retrospective, and I have a bad feeling about them.