Tag Archives: Teen People

In defense of change

Change is good.

Or so the old saying goes. I must have heard that one a thousand times, but the instance that sticks out most in my head is when an old colleague used it on me. I had just announced my plans to leave Teen People to take a job at Us Weekly, and I was feeling nervous about my decision. This particular colleague dropped by my office to wish me well, and I ended up unloading my misgivings on him.

He wasn’t a big fan of mine, and I knew he was glad to see me go. For him, any old cliché probably would have done if it ended our conversation as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’m pretty sure he pulled that one out of his ass. He probably had no idea what an impression he made.

He was right…sort of. Change can be good, and in this professional instance it was not only good — it was essential. But change can also be not-so-good. There’s a lot to be said for stability, predictability and the dreaded routine. Change for the sake of change only is often just a waste of time.

When I was younger, one of my relatives came to live with us for a while. One of my most vivid memories about him (among many vivid, unpleasant memories) was that he used to change undershirts several times a day. Every time I think of him, I also think of his white V-neck t-shirts flapping in the wind on the clothesline in the backyard like blank flags at half-mast.

As I can’t recall him ever doing anything more strenuous than thumping his Holy Bible, I had no idea why he needed to change his t-shirts so often. Maybe it was because my mother did all of the laundry, so why not? Change for the sake of change may have been good for him, but it was a burden for my mom. Though I’ve fully embraced change in my recent adulthood, I’ve remained suspicious and maybe even a little afraid of it too.

But now I’m beginning to see change in an entirely different light. Even when it’s not-so-good, or just for its own sake, it can end up having a net positive effect. Hannah Horvath on Girls would probably agree.

The fourth season of Girls won me over after a kind of hum-drum third season, and I think it was all because of change. There was so much of it. The biggest one: Hannah moved to Iowa (albeit briefly) to attend grad school, which set off a chain of unfortunate events for Hannah but fortunate ones for this viewer.

As a result of the stint in Iowa, she lost Adam, and upon her return, even more change was in store. She took a job as a substitute high-school teacher and her friends became a less prominent presence in her life. Hannah spent more time with Adam’s new girlfriend Mimi-Rose in episode 7 than she did with Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa the entire season! If that wasn’t enough life upheaval, her father also came out as gay. That’s a lot of change for a 10-episode season.

(As an aside, I love the juxtaposition of her dad announcing he’s gay to her mother getting tenure, which, in academia, is the antithesis of change, as Loreen “I never have to move again” Horvath clearly realizes.)

The move to Iowa was one of the best developments that the series writer and star Lena Dunham has come up with yet. It took Hannah out of the orbit of her annoying New York circle, none of whom, with the exception of Adam and Shoshanna, I could possibly care less about. The Iowa episodes were some of my favorite ones of the season, partly because her New York crowd were barely in them. But most of all, I loved them because the change of scenery and Hannah’s ultimate failure in Iowa were the catalysts for the first signs of true emotional growth we’ve seen in her yet.

I don’t think she would have been able to be so supportive of her father and not make his coming out all about her without the Iowa experience. And look at how she remained in the background during the water-childbirth scenes, not grabbing center stage as old Hannah surely would have done. Had she not let go of so many illusions about herself, about her life, about life in general after Iowa, she probably would have taken Adam back in the season finale rather than seeing that they simply didn’t work anymore…if they ever actually did.

I’m thrilled that Hannah is starting to evolve, but I’m glad that she hasn’t completely changed her irritating ways. Her interaction with her student Cleo offered much-needed assurance that old-school Hannah is alive and well. Some might find her insufferable, but I love her despite her flaws…because of her flaws.

I get Hannah. Maybe it’s the writer in us. We’re a strange, complicated, contradictory breed. I hope friends and strangers don’t feel about me the way people do about Hannah, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out that some of them do. It’s not like I’ve never picked up and left everyone I cared about behind for far less clear-cut reasons than Hannah’s motivation for moving to Iowa.

I’m sure more big changes (some just for the sake of it) are in store for both Hannah and me. Maybe they’ll bring about continued evolution and make us more palatable to the people around us. Perhaps, as it did with Hannah, change will finally put me in the orbit of a guy who might actually be good for me and not just provide more fodder for my writing.

I like Mr. Parker. He’s cute and he totally nailed Hannah in just a couple of episodes. I’m curious to see where they go in season five. I love that he called her on her thirst for drama, but I hope she doesn’t bend like Carrie Bradshaw did with Aiden when she tried to give up smoking for him on Sex and the City. Hannah’s dramatic tendencies are a large part of what makes her and Girls interesting.

The last thing she (or I, a once-again thoroughly entertained viewer) needs is change in the form of a sexy new guy swooping in and altering Hannah or her maddening ways. I love them just the way they are.


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What Did Madonna Have that Miley Cyrus Doesn’t (5 Things)

Every year, it gets worse. Music award shows fall lower on my radar, slip sliding away, down — and, in some cases, off — my list of must-see-TV. I used to take them all in, semi-religiously (though not nearly as much so as I’ve dwelled and doted on the Oscars since the mid ’70s): the Grammys, the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards. In my days as an editor at Teen People and Us Weekly, I used to attend several of them each year — and I can’t say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it.

Maybe I’m too old or too removed (literally) from the action, but I can barely keep track of when they’re on anymore. I had no idea that the MTV Video Music Awards were being handed out last Sunday until the morning after (afternoon, Roman time) when I started reading the comments about them in my Facebook News Feed. Most of the commentary was about Miley Cyrus and her “controversial” performance with Robin Thicke, whose black-and-white candy-cane outfit one Facebook friend compared to Beetlejuice, providing an indisputable visual aid.

The reviews, I figured, must have been better than the show itself, which I still haven’t felt compelled to watch in its entirety. Yesterday while channel surfing in Florence, I landed on MTV and caught the last 30 minutes or so of the ceremony. It reinforced what I already knew: I didn’t really miss a thing — not even Miley’s latest bid for adult pop stardom (remember how flat “Can’t Be Tamed” fell three years ago?), which I finally got around to witnessing on YouTube yesterday morning.

Verdict: I’d rather spend all day watching Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show on repeat than ever again having to be subjected to Miley Cyrus shaking her ass at Robin Thicke — and mangling not only her own latest hit in her off-key way but also a verse from his sublime chart-topper “Blurred Lines,” which has thankfully kept “We Can’t Stop” from becoming Miley’s first No. 1 Hot 100 single.

Watching her cavort around the stage like a puppy in heat with neither bark nor bite, I was less appalled by the sexual content of her performance than I was by how unsexy it was. Desperation is never an enticing come-hither look. Perhaps if Miley had a modicum of musical talent (or even a fraction of, say, Kelly Clarkson’s), she wouldn’t have to try so hard to command our attention. Kelly can perform in a sackcloth — which she pretty much did during American Idol‘s “Idol Gives Back” in 2007 — and still wow a crowd.

If her goal is to be the next Madonna, she’s failing spectacularly. Anyone old enough to remember Madonna’s VMAs debut (and the show’s itself) — in 1984, when she premiered “Like a Virgin” by rolling around on the floor in a wedding dress — already knows that Miley is no Madonna. Sure they both have a limited vocal range, but what Madonna lacked in musical technique, she more than made up for in performance art. The “Like a Virgin” VMAs routine may have been campy, but that was intentional, and in the nearly three decades of shock antics that followed (the “Justify My Love” video, the Sex book, making out with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs), Madonna may have been a lot of things, but cheap and cheesy were never two of them.

Who knows if Miley even aspires to be the next Madonna — or the next anyone? But if she wants to create half the ripple effect of Madonna at the peak of her attention-grabbing prowess, she’ll need at least five things currently not in her arsenal of pop ammunition….

1. Timeless songs Five years into Madonna’s recording career — back when she was at the half-decade mark that Miley is currently straddling (along with the hottest male pop star she can get her crotch on) —  Madonna had already offered such enduring pop classics as “Holiday,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” “Into the Groove” and “Papa Don’t Preach.” I was never a huge fan of any of those hits (having not been particularly sold on Madonna’s brand of pure pop until she began to pursue critical acclaim with the Like a Prayer album in 1989), but I can sing pretty much every lyric to all of them, whether I like it (or them) or not.

Right now I can’t even hear the choruses of either of Miley’s two pre-“We Can’t Stop” biggest hits — “Party in the U.S.A.” and “The Climb” — in my head. “We Can’t Stop” is fresher in my mind, but only because it provided the soundtrack to the first half of Miley’s VMAs bump-and-grind fest. In the 2030s, will anyone be dying to hear any of Miley’s songs, or remember what she was singing when she had her VMAs moment 20 years ago? Did any of the post-show hoopla even mention her singing?

2. A woman’s body Memo to all those female stars who think too thin is beautiful: Having the body of a teenage boy is not sexy. Miley, who will turn 21 on November 23, may no longer be a girl, but she’s definitely not yet a woman, too paraphrase Britney Spears, who though also on the cusp of turning 21 when she sang that song, looked far more the part of a woman. Sure Madonna had more than 10 years on Miley when she started shoving the envelope with her early ’90s sex phase (and she easily filled out that bullet bra), but that’s precisely the reason why it worked. Miley looks like a little girl who just had her first orgasm and is trying to prove that she’s all grown up now. Madonna didn’t have anything left to prove in music circa 1992. She came across as a grown woman who just enjoyed sex.

3. Classy collaborators Madonna had Nile Rodgers (producer of “Like a Virgin”), Prince (her duet partner on Like a Prayer‘s “Love Song”), Warren Beatty (her costar in the 1990 film Dick Tracy and her boyfriend at the time), Herb Ritts (director of the “Cherish” video) and Naomi Campbell and Isabella Rossellini (two of her costars in the 1992 Sex book), among many other A-list cohorts. Okay, so Britney and Christina Aguilera were not the classiest pop stars on the planet when she made out with them onstage at the VMAs in 2003, but at least they were two of the biggest. Of the seven people it took to write “We Can’t Stop,” Miley is the one with the most impressive pedigree, which is a clue to how low she’s aiming creatively.

4. An audience that hasn’t already seen everything If the public hadn’t watched Miley grow up as Hannah Montana, I doubt that anyone would have blinked at her VMAs performance. As it is, I suspect that people are more embarrassed for her than shocked by her daring. After all, from Madonna to Lady Gaga to the topless girls in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video, we’ve already seen everything, including Janet Jackson’s nipple. Miley is a like a stripper who slides down the pole already fully naked, which, if the censors would allow it, she probably would have done, in a desperate bid to remain relevant in an age where, if you’re a female pop star with limited talent, you’re only as talked about as your last strip tease.

5. Better moves Is sticking out your tongue the new thing — the “strike a pose” of 2013? It looks even more ridiculous when it’s accompanied by “twerking,” which, in one of her few opinions to which I’d proudly cosign, The View cohost Sherri Shepherd likened to a “ho move.” It makes me long for the ’90s days of “voguing.” I never thought Madonna was much of a dancer, but compared to “twerking,” “voguing” looks like high art, and when Madonna performed “Vogue” at the 1990 VMAs, she did so decked out in full 18th-century French royalty regalia. That, boys, girls and Miley Cyrus, is how pop legends are made.

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One Direction Makes Me Feel Older Than Usual!

As a former Teen People editor, I probably should know better — or at least a little bit more. But somehow, despite an initial passing interest (read what I wrote about it nearly one year ago here), lately the One Direction phenomenon has been passing me by.

I can’t even say for sure if, like Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync before them, the guys can dance. But dancing boy bands have always been more of an American thing, right? At least one or two of the boyz to men in The Wanted (the other hot new triple B — British boy band) are hot in the other sense of the word that has nothing to do with actual temperature.

I do know that there are five guys in One Direction, and they are the biggest thing in boy pop since Justin Bieber. Girls flock to their concerts, follow them around the world, and faint in their presence. I haven’t seen any actual video proof of the latter, but I assume it’s the case. And thanks to my continued though somewhat wavering devotion to Billboard, I’m aware that One Direction was the only act to have two No. 1 albums in the calendar year 2012.

I even know what one of the boy band’s songs — “What Makes You Beautiful” — sounds like. Enough to be certain that when Conan O’Brien’s audience member was playing some name-that-song game on a recent episode of the late-night talk show, she mangled the title.

Just don’t expect me to be able to sing more than the title of what I presume must be the group’s best-known hit, name the titles of any other One Direction hits, or pick the members out of a line-up of barely post-pubescent boys with great hair. I’m not even interested enough to hate them because everyone and her mother (at least those under the age of 16) think they’re beautiful.

Getting one of them to date Taylor Swift might have been the best career move yet. At least now I can tell one of them apart from the others. Though unluckily for him, he’s currently best known as the one who let Taylor Swift get away (aka the subject of her next ex-boyfriend-bashing song).

Recently, I saw an interview with him in which he talked about Swift’s performance at the 2013 Grammys — during which she supposedly made some mid-song reference to their brief fling — and he offered such insightful commentary along the lines of “She’s really talented” without betraying even a hint of charisma. Clearly, like those marginally attractive guys who look better in packs of three or more, he comes across best in a group setting. In other words, he’s no Justin Timberlake.

Which brings us to One Direction’s forefathers — New Kids on the Block, ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys — all of whom seemed to dominate the pop-culture landscape more pervasively in their time. Or maybe I was just young enough to be paying attention. If I were the age I am now during New Kids on the Block’s heyday, would I still think that “Please Don’t Go Girl” and “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” were two of the best things to happen in pop circa 1988?

If I hadn’t been an editor at Teen People during the golden age of ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys, would I be able to pick them out of a line up? Would I care that Nick Lachey’s old boy band is reuniting for a summer tour with Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block as well as a new album (due on May 7, the day I turn one year older)? Well, actually, I still sort of don’t. Is my indifference to the return of 98 Degrees, to One Direction in general, another sign impending old age? I used to be interested enough to at least drum up a healthy amount of hate for most of ‘N Sync’s singles.

Oh, to be 20 again. Or 30. Scratch that. If it would mean making me an expert on all things One Direction, I’ll pass. My ignorance is bliss, which sounds just like something grandpa would say. I may not know for sure what makes you beautiful, but here’s what makes you old: When you no longer care enough about teen-idol pop to love it or loathe it.

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