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Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Foreign Language Pop: Reggaeton's Struggle In The UK & Why We Need To Embrace It More

'if we sang in English, we would have global No.1's, and no one would say anything' - Nicky Jam

By Waiching

Back in the 1990s, - two decades before the explosion of the song, 2018's Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee's Despacito - which was remade & released for the mainstream Western market with Justin Bieber's vocals added, Spanish music wasn't taken seriously, with novelty tracks in The Ketchup Song by Las Ketchup and Los Del Rio's smash hit of 1996, Macarena still etched in people's memories. &, lest not forget, one of the biggest one-hit wonders of all-time. With Despacito being the biggest and most successful Spanish-language pop song, it heralded a new wave of Latin music acts in the likes of J. Balvin, Ozuna, Bad Bunny, Rosalia, Maluma and singing & rapping in Spanish & showing that this is a good thing; that Spanish pop didn't have to be corny or cheesy, but that it can be cool and it has its own sound that no one has heard of before.

Originating as an underground genre in Puerto Rico in the 1980s and early 1990s, reggaeton's Afro-Latino roots lie in Jamaican and dancehall music and is a fusion of R&B, hip hop, salsa, merengue & reggae; it is also a genre that is primarily dominated by male artists & is often blighted by overt sexism and stereotypes of women and hyper-masculinity. Musically, it combines rap and singing, whilst the rhythms of reggaeton are strongly categorised by repetitions and the songs themselves are bouncy, upbeat and energetic. With its danceable beats & cultural-feel, reggaeton has become the preferred choice of music in trendy clubs, nightclubs and for party-goers. The most notable and well-known reggaeton songs are Despacito, Gasolina by Daddy Yankee, Subeme La Radio with Enrique Iglesias featuring Descemer Bueno, Zion and Lennox, as well as Bailando (also by Enrique Iglesias). 

Reggaeton has shifted the music paradigm of Latin America & Spain in today's generation to the extent to which it has eclipsed other traditional Spanish-based music genres by evolving through its sound and still remaining current. 

Reggaeton is a big deal in the U.S. and in 2016, the Swedish music service, Spotify declared that it was the most popular type of music for many Spaniards, inasmuch as in the UK market this isn't a type of music that is particularly well known here, seeing it remains an inconspicuous sub-genre that is targeted at and marketed towards pan- Latino, as well as native and local Spanish speaking folks and one that hasn't been consumed by the masses, nor really been exploited. Perhaps this has to do with UK-based Latin and reggaeton artists, who are not getting the exposure and airplay on commercial radio; that they are overlooked by promoters, DJs and record producers in the music industry, of whom don't see reggaeton, & particularly UK reggaeton, as a viable and profitable market to invest money into it.

Perhaps this has to do with the language barrier and people's resistance to move past that aspect that partly explains why reggaeton, and foreign language pop, is not as popular and prominent over here. Back in the 1980s, foreign language pop was a rarity that Brit music lovers shrugged off and during the 1990s, European artists from Germany, Denmark, Sweden such as Ace of Base, The Real McCoy sang songs in English and in the late 1990s, in Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias, these Latin pop artists broke through the U.S and UK mainstream by releasing and performing songs in English, instead of native Spanish.  

Outside of the Latin American and Spanish markets, & like K-Pop, these are genres that have a small niche following outside the Western pop world; this has a lot to do with migrants from South America and Spain choosing to move over to and emigrate in America (America being 'the land of the free'), and America has one of the largest Latino communities and is second only to Mexico in terms of the global Spanish speaking population. By comparison, there are over 46 million people residing in native Spain, who speak Spanish but there aren't many Spanish speaking people living in the UK, in contrast to Los Angeles and parts of Southern U.S such as San Antonio, El Paso and Miami. Which is funny as a) Spanish is fast becoming to be the second most spoken language of choice in Britain behind English and b) Spain is one of the top holiday destinations for sun-loving British travellers and tourists. Hearing Spanish in spoken and conversational form is nothing new to them, yet hearing Spanish being sung and rapped by artists in musical form is a different thing that is cultural, and for many of them, unfamiliar. 

We also need to factor in reggaeton artists teaming up with American, Canadian and or British mainstream acts and finding crossover and chart success: as well as Justin Bieber and Luis Fonsi, there is boyband CNCO and UK girl group, Little Mix on Reggaeton Lento; Katy Perry with Daddy Yankee for Con Calma and just recently, Dua Lipa with J.Balvin, Bad Bunny and Tainy on Un Dia (One Day). Sure it makes it a tad more accessible for general audiences; it is that they feel there is a need to have an Anglophone/English speaking artist to make it more accessible and less complicated as they are singing or rapping in English & in us fully understanding and knowing what they are saying and for us to get behind the song and to like/love it. 

Herbie Hancock once said that music is an art form that transcends language, but many British audiences still take some convincing before they connect with a non-English language song.

Yet this may change with Spotify, Youtube and online radio and streaming, whereby 21 people from all over the world and outside the Americas can access and listen to radio stations that play Reggaeton songs and music. I think what is great about music is even if you don't speak the language that well, or understand what they are singing or rapping out, the universality of the beats, the sounds and music itself has an emotional and powerful impact and can make us sing or dance or bring joy to us. 

''I think Spotify and Youtube have a lot to do with what's going on. Before music was curated by the record industry gatekeepers, who were generally middle class, middle-aged White men. And now, it's curated by the masses'' - Sebastian Krys, music producer

Reggaeton has its share of detractors, as well as fans; and whilst a lot of reggaeton is sung in Spanish, it is technically not a Spanish music genre derived from Spain aka Espana, as it hails from Puerto Rico, which is central American. 

I didn't fully get into reggaeton and Spanish & Latin pop until say March of this year, and I paid attention to it via online internet radio and now it has become one of my favourite genres alongside pop, R&B, dance, but the songs are a key factor, and there are a considerable number of reggaeton songs that I enjoy listening to a lot. 

A lot of pop music is sung in English, but there is always a place in the music world for artists of all nationalities and of all languages if people not only give reggaeton, K-pop, J-pop etc a chance, but who can connect to it and enjoy its beats, irrespective of where you come from. Language is of diversity, multicultural, it represents how extremely diverse and universal our world is and through the medium of music is part of the bigger and wider picture of how the industry perceives and markets the artists and our consumption habits, and that how audiences and listeners focus on the lyrical, vocal, cultural and to a lesser extent, racial aspects in order to know and to understand.

However, one doesn't have to completely understand the lyrics and translate them to English to appreciate a great song and one that is sung in a foreign language. It may help a little, but If I enjoy and love the song, then that means more to me than anything else. If only the UK and the UK music industry would see that reggaeton has a place in the music scene, just as by embracing and investing in its talent. 

Spotify- My Reggaeton Playlist

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Mini Retro Review: The Shepherd (2008) #badmovies

The Shepherd

The Shepherd isn't a terrible film - it's a bland DTV/straight-to-DVD actioner that is just unbelievably boring and forgettable with a lazy approach going for it. Jean -Claude ditches the flashy moves in favour of a more wham, bam style in terms of fighting. A New Orleans cop relocates to New Mexico & help border patrol stem the flow of drug smugglers and illegal immigrants. The story is mundane and in all honesty, one watches a Van Damme film just to see him beat up the bad guys, although fights here are nothing you haven't seen before - and he had better fight scenes and action sequences in several films back in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of his films aren't great, but some of them do have an entertainment factor going for them: sadly though this offering just isn't it. Van Damme is okay, but the older Van Damme ditched the showboating antics, the script is questionable and weak and still, nobody who tunes in will care and the action is cliched. The use of sped-up footage can be offputting, whilst the main villain should have been Scott Adkins, as opposed to the other actor. The fight between Adkins and Van Damme wasn't bad though. As far as JCVD offerings go, I've seen several of them, and yet The Shepherd is the blandest I have come across so far. I just couldn't believe how tiresome this was. 

Is It Worth Watching?

Die-hard Jean- Claude fanatics only


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella
Genre: Action Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $100 million

Plot: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the cold war to investigate the murder of a fellow agent & recover a missing list of agents 

''All Style, Some Action & Little Substance But Held Together By Blonde Theron''

Atomic Blonde is a stylish - yet uneven action thriller that is made watchable by the set pieces and is punctuated by a strong performance by Charlize Theron - yet it is hamstrung by an uninspired script and not very enticing story that leaves something to be desired. It operates on a standard level for an actioner, but the film doesn't attempt to offer anything new and is basically a female version of John Wick, starring Keanu Reeves. Which isn't that much of a surprise as the director of this film, David Leitch, was the co-director of Wick.

Taking place during a time of the collapse of the Soviet empire, a female C.I.A agent finds herself double-crossed, as she tries to escape from Berlin, Germany with a dossier that the bad guys want to get their hands on. 

The story is told in flashback, but the flipping and flopping of storylines and some uninspired scenes also makes it dull in places to endure. 

Atomic Blonde is also undone by lacking any emotional investment in the characters and the complicated and messy plot that is difficult to untangle, and thus making it difficult to fully engage myself in. With a more streamlined approach that feels less anaemic, it would have suited the film better, as well as make it more accessible, entertaining, as well as compelling. 

Yet its strong merits lie in the form of Theron herself and the action sequences: much like in Mad Max and Aeon Flux, she has proven her worth in capably carrying an action film on her shoulders, more than competently and thus, she is a worthy addition to the genre. & if ever anyone, or be it Nintendo fan needed further convincing as to why Charlize Theron would be the ideal/my choice of actress to play the lone intergalactic bounty hunter heroine, Samus Aran in a proposed live-action Metroid film, based on the sci-fi video game series, it is exemplified here, in Atomic Blonde, as well as similar outings in Prometheus, Aeon Flux and Mad Max, as she shoots, fights and battles her way on screen. Lorraine is tough, strong and Theron is thoroughly believable in her role that she manages to do most of her own stunts & that she isn't afraid to give it her all. The best moments of the film revolve around her character managing to take down the bad guys and gaining the upper hand over them (probably the scenes that best illustrates this are the ones that take place on a staircase and in the kitchen). Of all the supports, James McAvoy fares better - if not as much, as Percival and playing against type and he charismatically revels in his role. It may not be his best performance, but McAvoy is head and shoulders above the rest of the supporting cast; however, it also felt as though the writer and director didn't do enough with his character and to give him more screentime. 

The film bounces around and struggles to find any consistency and balance and it felt as though it lacked a good chunk to make it land with real impact and to blow me away. The film kicks into gear, during several action setpieces - ranging from unrelenting to brutal, but Atomic Blonde never ignites or explodes, due to the pacing, which for me, was what really affected my overall enjoyment of the movie and to maintain its momentum all the way through. 

The main fault is Leitch opts for style over substance; coupled with a tedium and predictable story that acquires little depth and range, he cannot manage to establish and flesh out a plot and a set of characters fully. Luckily, the film's saving graces are the action and Theron herself, whose efforts were impressive to see, and she just about salvaged it... but even she deserved a better and more potent and explosive story to the one that we got here. 

Final Verdict:

A spy thriller that doubles up as an actioner, with its 1980s influences, there isn't a sense that there is anything significant at stake for Lorraine, and with that, it lacks tension when the film needed it. It could have been and should have been incredible... but instead, it was and is all right.

Regardless, Atomic Blonde outweighs its negatives in the story and in through Charlize Theron's portrayal offering and presenting a female lead, who is not only beautiful but also smart, driven and utterly fearless in a way that is both refreshing and welcoming to see. 


Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Movie Review: Southpaw (2015)

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Curtis 50 Cent Jackson, Rita Ora
Genre: Sports Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $91 million

Plot: A champion boxer fights to get his daughter back from child protective services, as well as revive his professional career after a fatal accident sends him on a rampant path of destruction 

(*this review may be a day late, but hey, better late than never - Waiching)

'Nearly Packs An Almighty Punch'

Southpaw was originally going to star rapper, Eminem, but after Cowboys and Indians bombed, it got shelved by Dreamworks - only to be picked up by Antoine Fuqua, who wanted to make a boxing movie. It's no different to many of the other boxing movies that came before it & although it tries to go down a darker, grittier route - and then become melodramatic, the film hinges entirely on Jake Gyllenhal and the manner of his performance and physical presence (and highlighted during 4 months in training & gaining 15 lbs of muscle to transform himself into a lean, mean boxing machine), but it is drowned out by Jake's characters' dialogue, which at times is inaudible and the rest of the story feels underwhelming with its potential and Billy's eventual redemption not being exploited to its fullest. It is an exploration of masculinity, brutality and a riches- to- rags- to riches again story, but outside of that, its melodramatic approach is so lukewarm it almost kills whatever momentum the film had going for it at the beginning.

It also features an appearance by pop star, Rita Ora, before she became really famous, as a dishevelled junkie mother. Forrest Whitaker, one of the best actors of his generation, makes do with the underdeveloped script, rapper 50 Cent, who can show he can act, is sadly underused, whilst the female roles, as much as Oona Lawrence, Rachel McAdams and yet another underutilized Naomie Harris do their best, could have used more weight. As such, if they, but more so the latter two, weren't treated as throwaway characters, Southpaw would have been a showcase for female representation & femininity, as much as male representation and male masculinity.

Billy is at the height of his career, but his wife, Maureen is gravely concerned about his health and wants him to slow down and for him to spend more time with his family. After a tragic death, Billy becomes a widower to his daughter, Leila and thus, he is left to raise her. Possessed by grief and anger, he loses control, loses everything and things get worse for Billy. That is until he turns to a new trainer to help him bounce back by teaching him the skills and tricks of the trade & reclaim not only the championship against his adversary, as payback, but also the happiness that he once had. 

Sons of Anarchy screenwriter, Kurt Sutter underplays everything and with that, I sensed that therein lurks a much daring, explosive and riskier film, one that deserves to be told onscreen- and minus the boring filler that takes up the majority of act two -, and one that goes all out and in providing a highly entertaining, far more powerful-driven revenge act piece. But as the story went on, just when I was about to give up, the better and more engaging the film became as it finally turns the corner, and the third and final act redeems the film, after an okay first act and middling and somewhat barren second act.

The boxing scenes look brilliant and are well-shot by HBO fight-night veterans, who manage to convey and capture that in-ring experience authentically by giving extra weight & propping up the film than to some of the so-called obligatory scenes when people are not punching each other.

Gyllenhaal could be easily mistaken as Amy's (Oona Lawrence) older brother and he immerses himself into the role of Billy Hope. Even if two-thirds of the movie, I couldn't make out what he was saying. & along with it his journey from success and failure, and his retribution in the end.

Final Verdict

Southpaw leans more towards Rocky territory than so Raging Bull, due to its melodramatic stance and human interest aspect. And yet the movie doesn't quite match the intensity and visceral of Gyllenhaal's committed performance that it so copiously deserves. Its run-of-the-mill formula wouldn't be oh so as predictable, had Kurt Sutter been more inventive and audacious when it comes to the writing.

Regardless, this is still worth a watch for the fights and Gyllenhaal alone. 


Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Movie Review: Walking Out (2017), #badmovies

Walking Out (Film 4)
Adventure Drama 

This film lacked any kind of suspense and urgency and the sense of danger the plot and story was alluding to amounts to nothing. The boy wasn't someone I could root for, whilst Matt Bomer tries in the role of the dad and the film lacked any sort of character development, depth and sympathy. This is a low budget The Reverent, only long, slow and tepid with none of its charm and not enough bear/survival scenes, along with its jarring score. As it went on, it became more depressing and the pay-off wasn't rewarding. A wild woods adventure that is neither wild nor adventurous enough. Oh and Bill Pullman is in this one, go figure. Style but no substance, with better different leads and had it been given the big-budget treatment, Walking Out would have stood a chance. But alas, it fails to make any impact it is set out to do. Sitting through the 115 minute run-time throughout one would feel the urge to walk out on this one. As survival movies go, Walking Out was anaemic. It looks nice though. 

Is It Worth Watching?

Sadly not


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