5 reasons why Norman Fucking Rockwell! should win the Grammy for Album of the year

Lana Del Rey certainly isn’t Recording Academy’s sweetheart. Despite having released six albums and scoring some iconic career moments such as the success of Young and Beautiful from The Great Gatsby, she still hasn’t managed to earn music’s most important trophy.

Del Rey has always been neglected by the Grammys. She was, in fact, nominated for the above-mentioned movie theme, as well as her  2017 album Lust for life, her most optimistic work to date. However, it’s this year that Lana managed to make it to the main categories. Her latest body of work, critically acclaimed Norman Fucking Rockwell!, or Norman Effing Rockwell how Bebe Rexha announced it to the millions of viewers watching the ceremony, received nominations for both the Album and Song of the year. Better late than never.

Having lost three times in the past, I’m sure Lana isn’t expecting miracles. In the best song category, she’s competing against Taylor Swift’s Lover. Even if we forget that Swift already has 10 awards, we need to remember that her song has been praised by almost every single relevant music critic. Getting one of the Grammys won’t be easy, but there are definitely a few valid reasons why NFR! should be the first Lana album to receive one.

1. Jack Antonoff’s production on the album is fantastic

Norman Fucking Rockwell! was produced mostly by Lana and Jack Antonoff. It would seem like everything Antonoff takes part in turns into gold. He was a contributing producer of Taylor Swift’s (yes, I know!) three albums: 1989, Reputation and Lover. He also produced Lorde’s iconic second album Melodrama. The fact that Jack produced for two of Grammy Awards’ favourite artists gives us a reason to believe Lana has a chance to win this year. NFR! is great, because it’s not overly produced, with instrumentals complementing Lana’s beautiful vocals instead of distracting the listener. Let’s hope the members of the Academy loved album’s beautiful pianos and guitars as much as I did.

2. NFR! is Lana’s most mature album to date

Over the years, Del Rey received a lot of criticism for, so called, lyrical cliches. A few years ago Lorde, who shares a lot of mutual fans with Lana, criticised her work saying that “all that “don’t leave me stuff” is unsuitable for young people to listen to.  With Lana’s music often called overly dramatic a lot of music critics refused to give her credit she deserves.

Don’t get me wrong: themes of hopeless romanticism and mysterious relationships are present on Rockwell. The general vibe of the record, however, is much more empowering. Many critics including Anthony Fantano praised the slight change in Del Rey’s lyrical approach. The album opens with a verse: “Goddamn, man child… You fucked me so good that I almost said I love you.” 

3. Lana wasn’t scared to take risks on NFR!

Del Rey’s previous album Lust for life was a little bit more diverse than NFR! It featured two collaborations with A$AP Rocky and a few quite radio-friendly tracks, including the title song featuring The Weeknd. Grammys are mainstream awards, which means a lot of fans hoped Lust for life would win in the Best Pop Vocal category. That didn’t happen.

NFR! is a completely different type of record. The singer described it as a “chill record to drive to”. The main single, Venice Bitch is a 10-minute long psychedelic soft-rock ballad. That didn’t stop it from receiving two major nominations this year.

4. Just months after release, Pitchfork named it 19th best album of the decade

Lana’s relationship with Pitchfork hasn’t always been easy. The publication gave her first album Born to die a 5.5/10 rating, comparing it to “fake orgasm”. They aren’t the easiest publication to get a good rating from, that’s why it’s important industry professionals acknowledge how much Lana has developed as an artist over the years. On top of that, Del Rey’s single The Greatest was called best new music on their website.

5. Elton John is a huge fan

Lana and Elton recently appeared together on the cover of Rolling Stone. The legendary musician said he really enjoyed the record. “I don’t think you’ve ever made a record with such a flow to it. I don’t think I’ve heard a record like this for so long. They’re kind of timeless songs” said Sir Elton.

A few words about Eurovision 2019

We all know what Eurovision is like – sparkly, camp, colourful, over the top competition in which (mostly) European countries compete with each other to win a trophy that gives the winner nothing but fame (by which I understand being remembered in competition’s history).

The extravagant contest is responsible for introducing some really good recording artists to the general public (us!), whether it’s the A class ABBA in the 1970s or artists-phenomenons such as Conchita Wurst, Salvador Sobral or Netta.

I’m not here to tell the history of the contest or any funny anecdotes(15 things you didn’t know about Eurovision Song Contest!) but to mention few things that caught my attention while watching this year’s circuses (with bread).

Netta from Israel won the contest last year. Her success, surrounded by an aura of controversy, resulted in dozens of news publications around the world. She was accused of cultural appropriation, banal composition and lyrics and (that’s actually ridiculous in this day and age) criticised for her weight. The artist herself stated her song “Toy” was inspired by the #MeToo movement. I personally enjoyed it to the fullest and felt incredibly happy when she won. Toy is definitely one of the best songs in Eurovision history, in my opinion.

Israel’s conflict with Palestine is one of the reasons why a lot of (important) people decided to boycott this year’s Eurovision.

Hatari, who represented Iceland this year, held a Palestinian flag in front of the cameras. They got booed by the people in the arena.

Surprise, surprise! It didn’t stop Israel from creating an amazing show, filled with self-promotion, guest performances and… scandals, of course!

This year’s contestants couldn’t get close to last year’s artists in terms of performance and compositions, but the competition was still very interesting and some songs are, without a doubt, worth listening to on streaming platforms.

Young gentleman Mahmood was definitely my favourite performance of the night. Introduced by Graham Norton as an internet sensation, with over 83 million views of his video, the young artist didn’t disappoint. He delivered a magnetic performance of a great, modern, smartly produced song called “Soldi”. He brought sexy back just like Justin Timberlake did in 2006. Australian entry sounded like Kate Bush impersonation and looked like college student’s experiments with green screen, but still managed to sound weirdly interesting.

UK’s Michael Rice came last, which is harsh, but I think anyone who wins a singing competition (Rice won a show called All Together Now) and spends the money on opening a waffle and crepe place in their home town deserves the worst in the music industry after that. And, of course, there is Brexit.

The Spanish Guy was really cute and staging was amazing. He came last, together with Michael Rice, but definitely deserved better.

And of course – there’s Iceland. Holding a Palestinian flag wasn’t the only thing they did that caused controversy that night. There was also their Rammstein inspired, BDSM performance. Thank God no one ended up being penetrated by a dildo. On a serious note, I do think it takes massive balls to do what they did…. (Palestinian flag in Israel, not the performance).

Oh, and there was Madonna. Pop music’s legendary superstar appeared as a special guest to promote her new album Madame X. Wearing her signature (for this era) eyepatch and accompanied by Quavo she performed, in my opinion, the worst single in her career so far, with ridiculous staging and disappointing vocals during “Like a prayer”.

Perhaps, we should just stick to Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands who won this year. I’ve listened to his song at least five times while writing this and I still don’t remember any of it. It sounds a bit like Heal by Tom Odell.

For now – good morning Europe and good night Australia!

How I failed as a young author

Incredible was the satisfaction I felt after I finished my first novel in polish. I was about, I don’t even know, 18? 19? I’ve always been overly dramatic, at the same time keen on social issues. Maybe these two characteristics don’t seem to be too connected at first sight, but they are. After my first boyfriend broke up with me over Skype after, well, two and a half years together, I knew it’s the time to let my emotions out like I’m Kelly Clarkson in Since U Been Gone. That was about the time I dropped out of school and started taking British tourists to bars and clubs for a living. All of these things together made me write this unusual… piece, that many wouldn’t even call a novel. I called it, in translation, The Hookup Culture. It was about being young and gay in Poland, dealing with a break-up by drinking five vodka sodas at once, and also making fun of Krakow’s tiny and little-townish gay scene.

The pride in me was indescribable. 19 year old me was sure he’s going to win some People’s Choice Award for that book, everyone will find it funny, exciting and groundbreaking. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t a case.

Until that cold Autumn evening at my boyfriend’s flat in Tottenham of Krakow. He cooked dinner, I was being lazy as always. Then, the email notification popped up on my iPhone. This guy from Ha!Art, huge left-wing/gay/feminist/queer/millennial publishing company emailed me, praising my book. I didn’t manage to keep it cool and told literally everyone in the gay scene, and even some people from my family, that I’m going to become a professionally published author, have my work on the shelves of high street bookshops and god knows what else. And that almost happened. They published a chapter of my book on their website(HERE, polish) and invited me for a meeting to talk about the release.

And then they stopped sending me updates. Complete silence. People kept asking about the release date, which wasn’t even a thing anymore. That was such a disappointment. Year or two later, already in England, I knew that I want to keep on writing. (In English of course, since I decided to stay.) At least that experience, however embarrassing, taught me to write for myself, and if someone else likes it one day – great!

London was such a surreal time for me. It almost felt like a girl who used to milk cows all her life was invited to Elton John’s Oscar Party. Even crossing the street felt amazing. I saw normal people on the street wearing things which in Poland only celebrities could afford. And that Hot Dog in Harrods… 20 pounds for a Hot Dog!

One time on Oxford Street, my best friend and I noticed a guy being chased by Selfridges’ security. He clearly stole something from the ground floor, like jewelry or perfume. My friend said then: “Look at his Eastern European outfit”. I started thinking about us from that perspective. How others see us, think of us. With our Frappuccinos from Starbucks, Tom Ford sunglasses, McQueen shoes, trying to be someone we were clearly not. Or at least I was not.

That’s why I started this thing, this “novel”, with all the observations and experiences from London. Parties, sex, drugs, fashion, fake people… After I finished it, I sent it to agents and publishers. I got, like, two emails back from publishers, exchanged like ten emails with one of them, but then thought it’s all not worth the effort. It’s just some short collection of thoughts and events that happened to me at 21. That’s why I decided to put it up on Amazon, firstly as an ebook, now also as a paperback. It’s called Cheap Eastern European Boys and you can buy it by clicking HERE:ebook or HERE: paperback.

 

A closer look at the style of Amy Winehouse

“I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous. I don’t think I could handle it. I’d probably go mad, d’you know I mean? I would go mad.”  Said Amy Winehouse in one of her early interviews. Yesterday would have been her 35th birthday.

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Music stars of numerous genres often appear in fashion magazines. Their outfits are analyzed from head to toe, with almost every single public appearance being a collaboration with a particular designer. The case of Amy Winehouse was different for several reasons. It’s obvious that the number of scandals, tabloid headlines, and digital trash that was thrown all over her was too big for anyone to care about anything else. The tragic day-by-day drama of a girl that loved too much overshadowed not only music but other aspects of that unique career as well.

Brought up in a simple household in North London, Amy remained humble til the end, despite the fortune that happened to credit her bank accounts later on. It didn’t really change her behaviour or style. Charmingly outspoken Jewish jazz princess always loved her dreamy vintage dresses, pencil skirts, big belts, polo shirts and… “fuck me pumps”, obviously.

“I just love beautiful girls” she once said, asked about her choices when it comes to personal style. Known for hair bigger than my future, often accompanied by a colorful hairband, and amount of black eyeliner and mascara that would last you a year without a problem. Her clothing style – most times described as “pin-up” or just “vintage”, without any deeper interpretation. It’s obvious Amy loved this whole Americana, pin-up girl game, but we need to remember – she was a British girl, oh yeah, she was! Winehouse loved her tacky animal prints from time to time, extra large golden earrings, cropped jackets. I can picture her outside some pub in Stoke Newington in a leopard jacket and red denim skirt. Smoking a Marlboro Red of course.

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Amy Winehouse performing at the Brit Awards, picture from Vogue.co.uk

She didn’t seem to care about the label, but the overall presentation and final effect. She was a perfect curator of her personal style. In 2010 Winehouse collaborated with Fred Perry and created her very own fashion line. Sometimes seen on stage in a gorgeous black Dolce and Gabbana retro dress, sometimes in just a cigarette fit jeans and a Fred Perry polo shirt – Amy created a style that later became an inspiration for other artists like Duffy or Lana Del Rey.

A few years after her death, The Jewish Museum of London organized an exhibition of Amy’s belongings – from books to clothes. The polka-dot chiffon dress from Back to Black album cover wasn’t there, as it got sold for over 40 grand on an auction… But other Amy-looking polka dot dresses were. Together with some gorgeous Fendi pumps and leopard print denim shorts.

Happy birthday Amy!

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Amy Winehouse wearing Dolce And Gabbana during her Grammy Awards 2008 performance in London. Picture from Vogue.co.uk

Remembering Lee: few words about Alexander McQueen then and now.

“You dumb bitch”, I thought while talking to this white, privileged middle class born girl. I met her at one of the London Fashion Week afterparties. After going totally crazy and trying something she’s never done before (drinking beer, like, ugh, working class) she left her 6’5 tall boyfriend inside the pub alone with some Swiss models and went outside with me for a cigarette and a chat. “You know what, Thomas” she started, “I totally love TK Maxx. Once I found a blazer that looked totally like Balmain… I love Balmain…”. I had a quick look at her perfectly clean Gucci Ace Sneakers, brighter than my future, then at the Zara uniform trainers I was wearing. “Yeah, I know what you mean…” I answered and slowly exhaled the smoke in the direction of her face.

I really wanted to buy my first designer pair of shoes, but I simply couldn’t afford it. I’m also not good at saving money – sorry, but I’m a boy who goes to Asda after work to buy a £40 champagne just because the work was tiring… With a price tag of good few hundred British pounds I knew I had to come up with some idea. I decided to quit my job then, as I wanted to get extra money for all the earned and unused holidays, in order to be able to purchase… £400 trainers.

Well. That job was shit anyway.

Alexander McQueen is a brand founded by Lee McQueen, Stratford boy with Scottish roots, accepted into Central St. Martins thanks to his unbelievable skills in cutting clothes. Son of a taxi driver, boy who dropped out of school to work as a tailor in Mayfair, later got accepted into one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world, became the artistic director of Givenchy and after leaving above mentioned house, created one of the most relevant modern fashion brands, owned by “The Gucci Group”, Kering.

One of the tutors at St. Martins, for the interview used in the documentary “McQueen and I”, admitted not treating McQueen seriously at the time. No wonder, guy was the same age as students of the school. He got offered a place and started his new journey (hate that word) as a MA student of fashion design shortly after.

His first fashion shows were brilliant in their own rebellious and chaotic way. Often organised in old Warehouses or once, even in the actual church, left everyone shocked or even disgusted. Models with their boobs hanging out, sanitary towels, blood – a bit of hardcore porn, a bit of high culture…

Alexander McQueen was never a brand created just to make money. Lee’s collections, with time becoming more and more spectacular and theatrical, were always an honest representation of designer’s feelings, personal demons or views on certain things. With brand getting more recognition (and financial freedom), as much as fashion shows becoming more expensive, McQueen’s label got associated with its own permanent aesthetic – dark British romanticism.

After the designer’s tragic death in February 2010, just a few days before his own mother’s funeral, Sarah Burton who had worked with McQueen over the years, became brand’s new creative director. Keeping the influences more or less where they were and should stay. Post-McQueen McQueen includes a lot of royal embroidery, sharp tailoring, death symbolism and melancholic references. All of that served with a decent dose of punk energy.

Plato’s Atlantis, which is the name of the last collection Lee McQueen designed, is often described as his absolute best. Armadillo shoes that Lady Gaga wore in her Bad Romance video, together with bell dress are two of many pieces that will stay with us forever.

McQueen once said that he’d like to be remembered as the one who started the 21st century in fashion. In my opinion though, with his disappearance, the artistic, wild and rebellious part of the game also faded away.

God save the Queen

God save McQueen