2009 Music Rundown

I listened to more new music in 2009 than I had the previous year, but it’s still difficult to list much that I enjoyed enough to recommend to others. (Posterity note: The album I listened to more than any other in 2009 – The Bug’s London Zoo – would’ve been up there with Third and Rook as one of my favourites of 2008 if I’d actually managed to listen to it within that year.)

But onwards to 2009. Or backwards, rather, given the tardiness of this post. 


Warm Heart Of Africa (The Very Best): When raving about this album to Benny a few weeks ago the best explanation I could manage was to stammer “It’s like…African pop for people who like dubstep!” But I did this glorious album a disservice, because my description, apart from being clumsy (Pitchfork’s review broke it down somewhat better) is useless to anyone except music nerds. In truth, this is just one of the most effortlessly engaging albums I have heard in years (try Julia) and I honestly believe it’s an album for everyone, except people who don’t like joy. My favourite release of the year, IN A YEAR WITH A SONIC YOUTH RELEASE. If that’s not a recommendation from me, nothing is.

The Eternal (Sonic Youth): I know, I’m just so full of surprises. OK, this isn’t quite as good as any of their other post-NYC Ghosts And Flowers albums  or Thurston’s lovely Trees Outside The Academy from 2007, but it still presses enough buttons for me.  Continues in the somewhat accessible vein of Rather Ripped, sometimes too much so (What We Know, Poison Arrow) but there are still plenty of examples of the band being melodic without losing themselves (Leaky Lifeboat, Antenna).

Moderat (Moderat): I already enjoy each of the acts in this collaboration on their own, but I really hope they keep working together too. Apparat’s moody headphones universes get roughed up by Modeselektor’s dancefloor sensibilities (Slow Match), Modeselektor’s sonic freewheeling benefits from Apparat’s talent for creating and building atmosphere (Rusty Nails, Porc #1, Porc #2),  and I get a new favourite pre-clubbing album. (Well, it would be my favourite pre-clubbing album if I could actually be bothered to get off my ass and go clubbing.)

Farm (Dinosaur Jr): Part of why I love this is definitely the nostalgic hold 80s/90s US indie rock will always have on me. But even when I try to shed that and pretend I’m assessing this album through fresh ears, I’m still struck by its effortless, unaffected ability to just bring on some good tunes and rock out. And like I said earlier, J Mascis’s guitar playing just makes me so damn happy.

Dragonslayer (Sunset Rubdown): Every now and then an album comes along and reminds me that I can still like indie pop. Spencer Krug’s hiccupy David Bowie voice appeals to me much more than the usual reedy-voiced SNAG or alterna-ingenue vocal stylings that abound in this genre, and there’s something wonderfully full-bodied and spacey about the production that brings out the stateliness and drama of the songs really well. When I’ve had a bad day at work I just want to crawl into tracks like Silver Moons and Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh! (yes, I know, execrable name but give it a chance) and let the bubbly reverby guitars bathe me like a jacuzzi.

Us (Brother Ali): As much as I can often be easily contented with crass booty jamz, and equally easily bored with “worthy” hip hop, Ali’s lyrical achievements here are just too impressive to be missed. He’s not the most complex rhymer around but the sincerity and depth with which he’s able to take on subjects like the legacy of slavery (The Travelers), child sex abuse (Babygirl) and the experiences of new immigrants, children of divorce and closeted gay teens (Tight Rope) is incredible.


Surgical Gloves (Raekwon): So much rhapsodizing has been done about Only Made 4 Cuban Linx Pt II that I feel the need to explain why it isn’t in my albums list. Honestly, I’ve been too distracted by reading on my commute to listen properly to the lyrics, so while I have enjoyed the production, I just haven’t engaged with the album as fully as I did with the albums which did make the list. This track, however, stood out to me from the first time I heard it.  Alchemist slices up a Styx sample to make it sound like a malfunctioning CD player, Raekwon spits lines like “We blow you out your peacoats”, and the end result is just slick.

Heartless (Kris Allen, live version from Top 3 night on American Idol): It’s really hard to find this on Youtube because most of the clips there are either the studio version, or the audio-only live version. This canny, game-changing performance formed the basis of my shock epiphany that although it was undoubtedly cooler to support Adam Lambert, the person I really really wanted to win was Kris.

Velvet (The Big Pink): This and the album it came from are great comfort listening for me, for times when I don’t feel like “working” to enjoy my music. There’s nothing gobsmackingly creative about this track, no new layers to discover each time you listen to it, but sometimes you just want a straightforward instantly accessible slab of moody bombastic feedback-drenched drama which gives you what you want and gives it to you now.

Halo (Beyonce): You laugh? Wait till you hear how many other Ryan Tedder penned pop songs I also love madly (Apologize, Bleeding Love, Battlefield), then laugh. I’ve never been that keen on Beyonce – I don’t like watching her perform because there’s something I find a bit frantic about her dancing – but the vocal twists and turns she does here are really well executed. I fully intend to butcher this song in my next karaoke session, especially the “haloOOo” bits.

Fostercare (Burial): This pipped King Midas Sound’s Meltdown very narrowly for status of my favourite track on the “new stuff” disc of 5 Years Of Hyperdub. If you already know Burial, this is more of what he does best. If you don’t, I’ll spare you my yammering about textures and sample manipulation and just urge you to experience this haunting, otherworldly trip for yourself.

Global Enemies (Lynx & Kemo): OK I’m totally cheating because I know this came out in 2007, but ever since their barnstorming gig at Home in 2008 I’ve inexplicably failed to rave about them on this blog, and that can’t go on. This track was included on their 2009 debut album (which, unfortunately, I haven’t heard yet), so Imma sneak it in that way.  Kemo’s lyrics aren’t as intriguingly esoteric here as in Carnivale but his deadpan style suits the bleak prophecy of this track perfectly.  

Keep The Streets Empty For Me (Fever Ray): Sometimes here on the equator rain comes suddenly and heavily in the pre-dawn hours, moving across the ground in sheets with the wind. For night owls like me these are magical times, when the world is cool and peaceful and mostly  mine. This is a song for the minutes just after that rain dies away, when the cascade of droplets from rain gutters and awnings slows but doesn’t stop, each tiny impact rippling the puddle where it lands, each rippling puddle part of a shimmering tableau that hardly anyone will see but me.

Last note:

No personal 2009 music summary of mine could possibly omit what happened on June 25th, 2009. I already wrote a fair bit in this blog about the joy Michael Jackson brought to my life, but reading over it again I’m struck by how much I still had to leave out.

I’m not over his death. I know how this makes me look to people who are too sensible to be this affected by the death of someone who never knew they existed. And I also know how blessed I am that so far, I have not had to suffer the loss of someone truly close to me. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But for now, there are times I still find myself ambushed by emotion that I thought I had exhausted the night of his memorial service, the night I cried all the tears I had not shed in that dry-eyed, numb week after his death. I still think of him randomly, like when one of my first thoughts after seeing Avatar was how much he would have loved it in all its technologically groundbreaking, spectacularly beautiful, treehugging, militaristic, schmaltzy splendour.

But this is a music post, and I did actually intend to end it with something related to Michael Jackson’s music rather than my emoness. One “silver lining” (if you could call it that) of his death was the rehearsal footage his fans got to see in the This Is It movie. I loved this because he usually wouldn’t let the world see anything until it had been meticulously engineered to run to uberperfection every time. I think this clip of The Way You Make Me Feel rehearsals gives a refreshingly raw glimpse of the person and artist I will never forget.

Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 4): Actually, A Total Freaking Dancing Machine

(The title of the post, for anyone who’s just come in via Google, is a reference to the previous instalment of this series.) Michael Jackson was always very open and reverential about who influenced him as a dancer, and I think it’s only fair that any showcase of his dancing begins with one of his major inspirations. Here are two clips of Michael and James Brown sharing the same stage, the first in 1983 and the second twenty years later, the latter notable also for Michael’s brief diversion from his script (very rare for him) into a simple, heartfelt expression of what James Brown meant to him.

Another influence I’m not sure many people know about is Marcel Marceau, and in this video of Michael dancing at home he incorporates a number of classic mime moves into his freestyling:

What else went into Michael Jackson’s dancing? If you thought you noticed elements of tap in the infamous Black or White panther dance, you were right. I always wanted to see him do more tapping, but due to being born too late to watch the Jacksons TV series, I had to wait until someone uploaded this full-on fabulous number to Youtube:

Of course, as James Brown pointed out in the first clip, Michael eventually transcended most of these influences in his own dancing’s blend of rippling smoothness with robotic precision. Like I said in the first post, what initially drew me to Michael Jackson was how he could transfix you even while dancing to very slow music. This compilation of various moves from his live performances of Stranger In Moscow during the HIStory tour is another example of how he could take a ballad and make it into a showstopping dance display:

The last little-known highlight I’d like to feature is the 1997 music video, Ghosts. To be honest the video itself is extremely hokey and best explained as a “because I can” project where Michael indulged various silly escapist fantasies he was evidently fond of. The downside of this is that the plot is embarrassing – suspicious townspeople helmed by mean mayor gang up on weird new guy in town who lives alone in a creepy mansion and likes entertaining their kids, weird new guy challenges mayor to a scare-off at which point a bunch of Renaissance Fayre ghouls materialize and join weird new guy in spectacular dance, weird new guy eventually wins scare-off after “possessing” the mayor’s body and making him boogie down comically against his will, mayor vamooses leaving a mayor-shaped hole in a glass window, and all is well…OR IS IT??!! The upside is that Michael is obviously having the time of his life, playing the mayor as well as himself, and helming dance sequences far more challenging than the one in Thriller.

You can watch the whole video if you want but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the hokeyness. I saved you some cringes by finding this version which just compiles all the dancing bits, including Michael’s rather excellent fatsuit-clad performance as the involuntarily funky old mayor:

(As an interesting aside, around 6.40 in this making-of video, you see Michael talking to the camera while dressed in his mayor costume. I mention it because I have rarely ever seen him speak with as much comfort and ease as he shows here, and I can only guess it’s because of the costume. He always loved being in disguise, perhaps because it made him feel somewhat freer from the confines of being Michael Jackson.)

Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 3): Not Just A Dancing Machine

If there’s one thing eight seasons of American Idol has taught me, it’s that you can have a great voice but if you don’t know how to connect with the song you’re singing, to be there in every note and emotion regardless of whether the song actually has personal resonance for you or not, then you’re no singer. Michael Jackson was certainly an astonishing child singer, which is why his cover of a Smokey Robinson song about a relationship gone sour, made before Michael even left grade school, remains more famous than any other version of that song sung by an adult. But while people justifiably rave about how he sang as a child, I also love what he brought to his songs as an adult. He didn’t necessarily have much more personal experience behind some of these songs than he’d had when he was eleven, I think, but he sang with more stylistic versatility. And as much as I enjoyed the staggering purity of his childhood voice, I also got tingly whenever his adult voice roughed things up. 

But let’s start at the beginning for now, because if I start with some of the adult tingly songs this post will go in a whole other direction. From Michael’s childhood releases the average person probably knows I Want You Back and ABC best, but one of my favourite vocal performances by him at this age just before his voice broke is Got To Be There. I love the tenderness in the verses, and his power and control at “the moment I know she loves me” and “I need her sharing the world beside me”.

Soon after this Michael’s voice started to break, he shot up in height, and he got terrible acne. Adolescence can be a tough time even for people who don’t have to live through it in front of the world, and he’s written about feeling as if people were disappointed when they met him in his teenage years to find that he wasn’t the button-cute little boy with a voice reaching the rafters any more. Everyone already knows Ben, so instead I’ll feature this sensitive, wistful performance of With A Child’s Heart, from a 1973 appearance on Soul Train.

The slightly deeper voice didn’t actually deprive Michael of that much vocal range in the higher registers, as Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough shows, and every MJ impersonation ever done inevitably portrays him with a feminine voice. But he was equally capable of going low if a song called for it. Who Is It is a good example of this, and the a capella version demonstrates this even better than the album version. Until I heard the a capella version I had never noticed that in the first verse, for the lines “I gave her everything inside one heart could find” and “I gave her promises and secrets so untold”, his voice momentarily flits down by a fifth on the last words of those lines. For the musically inclined, I pitch that as somewhere around a low A (as in, the second A below middle C), which is more within baritone range than tenor. He reaches the same low A when he’s doing the bass part of the Who Is It beatboxing.   

Another favourite a capella listen of mine is Dirty Diana, because I’ve always enjoyed the soft and hard edges of his voice in this song. I also really like it when he just goes gospel and lets things “get ugly”, in the words of my favourite American Idol contestant ever, Fantasia. I want to feature Keep The Faith here, because it seems to be a relatively unknown and very underrated song. Listen not just for Michael’s vocals but also for the exuberant a capella throwdown between Michael and the choir (the awesome Andrae Crouch Singers, who also sang at his memorial service). And  if you haven’t recently watched the 1988 Grammy’s performance of Man In The Mirror, skip past the first half of it (which is lipsynced) and watch from 3.30 onwards to watch him absolutely throw himself into getting ugly, beautiful, high, low, everything.

Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 2): Beatboxing and Songwriting

Since Michael beatboxed us out of the previous post, we might as well continue on that note. I didn’t know what beatboxing was until Michael blew me away with it during his interview with Oprah Winfrey. There are more impressive beatboxers around, obviously, but for Michael, beatboxing wasn’t part of his performances, it was part of his composition process. He didn’t read or write music, so beatboxing into a tape recorder was his method of assembling the complex rhythms he heard in his head.

Here’s a handy compilation of clips of Michael beatboxing (how much do I love Youtube?). Some are from interviews, and others are from depositions he gave in various lawsuits where other people had accused him of copyright infringement. As part of the depositions he’d describe exactly how he wrote the songs, playing back the demos from the time or demonstrating the beatboxing then and there. He won all the lawsuits.

For anyone who’s interested in hearing more of the depositions, there are longer audio clips available (the exact videos come and go on Youtube but searching “Michael Jackson mexico deposition” will get you what you need) where he goes step by step through the demo of The Girl Is Mine and explains exactly what’s happening in each stage of the creative process. I find it utterly fascinating – you get to hear him imitating a Moog bass and singing melody lines for each other instrument he wants to use, singing bits that never made it into the album version, and I particularly like how he explains what the “bridge” of a song is:

What a bridge is, is to take you from A to B…is to take you from the verse to another part. It is escapism from hearing the same mundane, trivial, ordinary thing that you’ve been hearing all the time ‘cause the ear gets tired of hearing the same sounds. So what a bridge does, it takes you away from all of that. Then when it finally comes back to what you were doing before, it’s stronger. It’s much stronger.

Remembering Michael Jackson (Part 1): Billie Jean After Motown 25

Heresy warning: the Motown 25 performance of Billie Jean is not my lover. It may have been the stuff of legend, but when I first watched it, I was totally underwhelmed. Because from the perspective of someone who was too young to have seen the Motown 25 performance and who only saw Michael perform it in 1992, by 1992 he’d got even better at it, and he’d added that extraordinary coda of sheer dance virtuosity which was the highlight of every concert.  (Trivia time: here’s the sort of perfectionist Michael Jackson was – despite the universal instantaneous acclaim for the iconic Motown 25 performance, including a congratulatory phone call from Fred freaking Astaire, Michael still wasn’t satisfied with how he’d done because one splitsecond of the performance wasn’t perfectly executed. Can you guess which bit? Answer’s at the bottom of the post.[1. When he went up onto his toes after the moonwalk, he’d intended to freeze there a splitsecond longer than he did. You can see it in the Motown 25 video around 3.43. Now watch any performance of Billie Jean from the years that followed and you’ll see he never messed that part up ever again.] )

It’s hard to pick just one performance of Billie Jean to feature because every performance was a little different and he always changed up the coda a bit, but here’s one from the HIStory tour which I particularly like. (Bear in mind he was 38 at this point and the performance was in the middle of his exhausting 2 hour long live show.) He didn’t max out the moonwalk in the middle as much as he did in other performances but the coda (starts at 8.25) is one of the best I’ve seen, and I love how he beatboxes himself to the song’s last line.

Remember The Time

With apologies to anyone getting tired of Michael Jackson talk, I barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say about him in my previous post, so there’s more to come.

It’s mainly due to the surreal realization that I’ve never heard Michael Jackson spoken about with such respect, admiration and compassion in all the years I’ve been a MJ fan than I have these past few days after his death. I never used to try explaining to non-fans what I liked about him because I felt people were uninterested at best, and actively hostile to him at worst. Now the mass media is awash with tributes and while I understand why most tributes concentrate on the same obvious things like I Want You Back, Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough, the Thriller video and the Motown 25 performance of Billie Jean, these don’t actually match my own list of what I will remember him most fondly for.

So, the next few posts will loosely represent a personal highlight list of sorts. Fans will already know them, but I’m hoping that anyone else who comes across these posts, perhaps newly interested in him since his death, will find something there to enjoy. Based on the title of this post I should end by embedding that funfest of a video, but I’m feeling pensive and this lovely song from 1975 matches my mood better.

Only Human (Michael Jackson, 1958-2009)

Believe it or not, I made it to 1991 without knowing much about Michael Jackson. My brother loved the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode and my sister loved musicals, so those were what I learned to love, along with the classical violin and piano that I’d been playing from a young age. I knew who Michael Jackson was and could probably recognize Thriller, Beat It and Bad if they were playing over the shopping mall sound system, but compared to knowing most of the Pet Shop Boys discography by heart and having transcribed (together with my sister) most of the lyrics to Les Miserables by hand, that really wasn’t much.

When I started listening to pop music a bit more on my own, I also started looking out for the music award shows Channel 5 would usually screen on public holidays. This was pretty much all I could get in those days before Singapore had cable TV, so I’d tape the award shows and watch them over and over until the next public holiday. This is how I saw the MTV 10th Anniversary show, which, incidentally, didn’t just introduce me to Michael Jackson, but also to a particular band fronted by a skinny guy wearing a beanie and singing plaintively about being in the spot, light, losing his religion.

Michael opened the show with Black or White, which I knew but didn’t like (still hate it), and Will You Be There, which was new to me. As I went through my rewatching ritual over the next few weeks, the Will You Be There performance became the part of the show I watched the most repeatedly. At first I just liked it for its spectacular staging, with the backing choir on raised platforms all over the stage. Then I also started enjoying the song – I hated the soppy bit at the end, but really liked the verses and that gently propulsive beat.

And finally, the man performing the song started to fascinate me. He’d been electric in the Black or White part of the performance, sure, but there was something special about him in the slower song. Until then I’d thought pop stars only danced to fast beats and I’d never seen someone move so rivetingly to what was essentially a ballad. It wasn’t even the big moves that hooked me, it was all the tiny ways in which he inhabited the music – the subtle pops of his shoulders even as the rest of him was ostensibly standing still [1. Around 4.40 in the video] and the way he could make just taking three steps across the stage into something sinuous and hypnotic. [2. Around 5.00 in the video] And while I know most people will not be able to understand this, I also found him very physically attractive. I don’t think I was at all aware that I was supposed to find him strange looking, because to me Michael Jackson had always looked like this. I thought his long hair was cool. I liked his piercing eyes and the way his smile lit up his whole face. I didn’t know he was black, but I didn’t know it was supposed to matter that he no longer looked that way. To this day, although I do find Thriller era Michael very handsome, I still love looking at Bad and Dangerous era Michael most of all.

Fast-forward a year, and you have 12-year-old me in the nosebleed seats for the first of two dates he does in Singapore for the Dangerous tour. He postpones the second date because of a migraine, to the anguish of many fans who’ve flown in from all over South-east Asia to see him and can’t change their return tickets. I raid my angpow money, persuade my mother to drive me to where people are lining up to get refunds, and I walk up and down the line pleading until I score a 10th row ticket.

Fast-forward 2 years from that, and in 1994 my family is among the early adopters who get Internet access at home. One of the first things I do online is to join a Michael Jackson mailing list. There aren’t any Singaporeans on the list when I join, but one year later I see an email from a Singaporean called Kelly, asking about the making of the Thriller video, and I promptly get in contact. I later also grow close to two other Singaporean fans, and the four of us spend many happy hours together, united first by Michael Jackson fanhood but soon also by firm friendship. There are eventually quite a lot of Singaporean members of the mailing list, and we even have a local MJ fan club and magazine, which I contribute some articles to.

Fast-forward 2 more years to 1996, and please don’t tell my mum the horrifyingly lewd things 16-year-old me screams to Michael from my place in the front row of his HIStory tour gig in Singapore. (I get this golden ticket because of one of the dear friends I’ve made from the mailing list.) Earlier that year I’ve already seen Sonic Youth live, the band that changes the way I listen to music forever, but seriously? Nothing ever really compares to front row at a Michael Jackson concert.

And now, fast-forward 13 years to 2009, when I wake on the morning of Friday 26th June to two text messages on my phone from the friends I first met over a decade ago, both with awful news. I spend the day in a numb daze, comforted only by contact with those few people who understand how I feel, and an amazing outpouring of text messages, emails and calls from other friends who, whether or not they understand how I feel, understand enough to guess that their friend is really fucking miserable.

There is so much more I haven’t written here, and it’s quite possible that the stuff I’ve left out of this post will lead someone to conclude I’m one of those blind fans who’d support Michael Jackson even if he were a child molester. (I wouldn’t, but based on everything I know about the allegations made against him, I don’t believe he ever was. And trust me, the number of other things I wanted to slap him silly for is probably longer than any list a non-fan could ever come up with.)

I might write about all that stuff another day, but none of it was the reason for this post. This post is to capture where I find myself now, several days after his death, where the picture emerging is one of a deeply unhappy person too flawed and troubled to save himself from himself, surrounded by an entourage of handlers who could not or would not help either, a person whose artistry spoke to millions but left him, in the end, so totally alone. And I find myself back at the beginning, with the words I first heard him sing eighteen years ago. And I’ve never found a soppy song so bloody heartbreaking before.

But they told me
A man should be faithful
And walk when not able
And fight ’til the end
But I’m only human

AI8: Michael Jackson Week

(I was going to post this right after the Michael Jackson week performances on American Idol, but then I got unexpectedly hijacked by a Simon Cowell obsession. Yes, I know. But look! He likes puppies! Anyway, since it was halfway written already, I thought I might as well just finish it up and slap it on here even though it’s unbelievably late. Country week tonight, yee-hah!)

Speaking as a total Michael Jackson lunatic familiar with pretty much every lyric, note and dance move the man has ever committed to public record, this was an interesting week for me on American Idol. Before the show, I tried making a list of what I’d have picked for each contestant and why, and found it fairly challenging. So many fantastic MJ songs are about delivering a complete performance rather than hanging everything on the sort of glory notes that get you praise on American Idol, and of course if you pick a song which is forever linked with an iconic performance, it has to be for the sort of contestant who can pull off a very different take. David Cook did a good job with Billie Jean last season, but I still credit Chris Cornell more for the success of that performance than David himself.

But then I watched the show and definitely got a couple of surprises. (Note: I didn’t do Youtube links to the performances because new American Idol vids on Youtube appear and disappear all the time, but just do a search and you should be able to find at least a few uploads that haven’t been deleted yet.)

Lil Rounds
I’d pick: Keep The Faith. Nothing has set her apart so far from the many shouty divas who initially impress but aren’t ultimately unique enough to stay. This song suits said shouty divaness, but also has plenty of room for showcasing subtlety, growly gospel riffs and all-round flava.
She picked: The Way You Make Me Feel. I didn’t like it at all, and don’t feel she brought anything new to it. I think the slower tempo lost her the exuberance of Michael’s version and didn’t gain her any sexiness or soulfulness in return.

Scott McIntyre
I’d pick: Stranger In Moscow. Scott’s not my kind of artist, but I think he would do an earnest, clear-voiced performance of this song which would appeal to his core fanbase. Variety no, sticking to your strengths yes.
He picked: Keep The Faith. Strangely, despite Scott’s utter lack of above-mentioned gospel flava I think the performance worked out well for him. Most people don’t know the song so they won’t be making the same comparisons as I am to Michael’s version, and at least it was something a little different from his adult contemporary balladeer zone.

Danny Gokey
I’d pick: Man, I don’t know. I definitely don’t want any more Heroesque “lies in YOUUUUU” pointy gestures but I’m not sure he’s capable of dialling down the schmaltz. I wish Matt Giraud hadn’t already sung Who’s Loving You in the wild card round, because I think Danny could have done it better. (Not that any version will ever top baby Michael’s.)
He picked: P.Y.T. Not bad! A brave non-obvious choice and he threw himself into it with some abandon, which I liked, spazzy dancing included. Above all, kudos for not exploiting his (yes, admittedly sad) backstory by picking Gone Too Soon, because that would really really turn me off.

Michael Sarver
I’d pick: I don’t think this guy’s good at upbeat stuff, and am pretty amazed he got through the first week with that awful I Don’t Wanna Be karaoke. I think Human Nature is the sort of oh-he’s-such-a-SNAG-despite-being-a-roughneck ballad that would work for him.
He picked: You Are Not Alone. He did well to pick an arrangement that made the song less deathly dull than it is, but then he spiralled into off-pitch belting. Again, enthusiastic karaoke by a nice guy, but that’s just not good enough.

Jasmine Murray
I’d pick: Black Or White. She needs to not do another treacly ballad, and this would be suitably upbeat. I still wouldn’t like it much, I reckon, but I’ll never like her much anyway.
She picked: I’ll Be There. Boring and flat, not just in pitch but in the tone of her voice and her rendition of the song. I don’t agree that she combined bits of the Michael and Mariah versions, I think she tried the straightforwardness of the Michael version without possessing the purity of his voice that made it special.

Kris Allen
I’d pick: Remember The Time, because he needs to do something less Mickey Mouse Club than his previous Man In The Mirror, which I hated. Remember The Time is groovy and playful without requiring too much smoulder for his boy band face to handle.
He picked: Remember The Time. I’m really surprised at how much I liked this! The guitar may not have added much musically, but it did give the song a slightly different flavour from the original, and brought out an ebullient, charming performance from Kris which really should seal his popularity with the tweens. Hell, I felt the “adorable-sexy” too!

Allison Iraheta
I’d pick: Give In To Me. I see her giving the verses the soulful, slightly melancholic feel she did with Alone (my favourite performance of the opening rounds), and then kicking into rock chick overdrive with the chorus.
She picked: Give In To Me. Didn’t like it! It felt like the whole song was in rock chick overdrive right from the start with no build-up, and with that awful outfit (she’s not fat but I’d still go easy on the leather shorts) it felt overdone, like she was in a bad soap opera’s depiction of a rock concert. Also, while I forgave her tendency to sing slightly flat on the high notes with Alone because the rest of that performance was so kick-ass, I’m going to stop forgiving her from now on.

Anoop Desai
I’d pick: The Way You Make Me Feel. Suits his stage presence and energy, and I’m guessing it’s within his vocal range.
He picked: Beat It. So awful that even Paula couldn’t manage to say anything good. If you do this song you have to change it up, but he sang it straight and sang it badly. I’m rather depressed about this, because I liked him a lot before the live rounds.

Jorge Nunez
I’d pick: He could do the Spanish version of I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, maybe, but I’d pick Whatever Happens. It’s not very well known, but I think it suits his singing style.
He picked: Never Can Say Goodbye. I really don’t think this was anywhere as bad as the judges did. The arrangement and performance was corny, but that’s kinda what Jorge is, and I thought his vocals were far better than Michael Sarver’s.

Adam Lambert
I’d pick: Dirty Diana. He could either camp it up or strip it down, and either way I think he’d bring the drama.
He picked: Black Or White. I’ve never wanted to like Adam. I hate his hair, his fashion sense, and despised his Believe cover in Hollywood week. But somehow he managed to embrace the shitness of Black Or White and totally, electrifyingly transcend it! Like him or not, I think people will have to start admitting that they’re curious every week to see what he’ll come up with next.

Megan Corkrey
I’d pick: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’? Some of the quirky vocal tics in the verses might suit her, but the minus is we’d get more of her hideous dancing.
She picked: Rockin’ Robin. Not as disastrous as I expected – there was one line where she did a pretty nice yodelly sort of inflection – but ROCKIN’ FUCKIN’ ROBIN, ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?! I want the awesome Megan that auditioned sounding like Billie Holiday back please, not this nightmarish shittypop equivalent of Kimya Dawson.

Matt Giraud
I’d pick: She’s Out Of My Life. I know he should probably do something more upbeat than another ballad, but it would help me figure out if overdoing the riffing is just something he did with Who’s Loving You, or something he does all the time.
He picked: Human Nature. It wasn’t perfectly sung but somehow I really loved the relaxed, carefree way he did this. He’s no Elliott but because I adore the song, am a total sucker for piano guys, and love the tenderness and delicacy of how he sang the “does he do me that way” lyric, this was my favourite performance of the night and I may be starting to find him a little dreamy.

Alexis Grace
I’d pick: Come Together. (Not a MJ song per se but still fair game since he recorded and released a cover version.) I’m personally not sold on her new pocket sexpot persona but the aggression and attitude of this song suit what she’s been trying to project.
She picked: Dirty Diana. The first verse was very promising, but it got a little repetitive after that. The song can handle a lot of oversinging, but Adam did a better job of oversinging while keeping things interesting than she did.

“Not Guilty” x 14


Acquittal on all counts was the only fair outcome from a fucking shambles of a prosecution case cobbled together by one man with a vendetta and a family of liars and defrauders. Whether you personally like Michael Jackson or not, no one deserves to be convicted on a case that bad.

The DA couldn’t even get a criminal case started in 1993 (if you’ve never read this article, you might find it illuminating as to why), so he lobbied to change the law, brought this case, and still lost. Great legacy, Tom.

I hope Michael Jackson sleeps the sleep of the just tonight. He deserves it.