SZA Proves Herself As A Musical Force On The ‘Ctrl Tour’

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The singer/songwriter Solána Imani Rowe, better known as SZA, is an R&B/Soul artist who can be best described as someone who is recognized for her tremendous talent and unconventional melodies that captivate listeners almost instantly. When I first sampled the album, I was drawn in by the emotional depth and truth sung through her song “Supermodel” and from there, every song on the first studio album (Ctrl) demanded you listen to better understand her life stories through her unique sounds and vocal range. Upon listening, I knew that SZA was the kind of artist you must see live – because her music comes from within, and live music from someone who creates their own work masterfully shines best when witnessed in the moment.

By the time SZA entered Sacramento’s Ace of Spades, the room erupted with cheers and there wasn’t a single person in the sold-out venue who didn’t visibly become excited to see her take the stage. With songs like “Supermodel” and “Normal Girl”  SZA is given the opportunity to belt the soulful tunes that show a more vulnerable side as well as the complications of her relationships. SZA doesn’t simply sing these songs though, she actually prefaces them by relating to each issue or emotion she felt while penning the tracks – bringing in that element of relatability to her artistry in ways that people are quickly realizing resonates with their own lives.

When it comes to her album, SZA performed the entirety with songs such as “Love Galore” giving SZA the chance to really showcase herself as a performer, dancing around the stage to the bass-heavy beat and singing along to the Travis Scott verses as if she herself is able to enjoy the captivating synth additions and arrangements that set her music apart from other mainstream artists. Despite the venue starting later than usual, SZA made a point to acknowledge she was going to utilize every moment – even going as far as adding a few songs and coming out for an encore performance of “twoAM.”

SZA has (and radiates) the epitome of individuality, as she took the time to dance across the stage feeling unrehearsed and providing that carefree cool factor that makes her a force in the industry when mixed with her musicality. The Ctrl singer has no need to follow traditional paths to gain notoriety being someone who wears what she wants, sings what she wants and spreads messages that promote self exploration and the hardships that sometimes force you to reach that point. This is better told through her song “20 something” detailing her feelings of being stuck in between transition with love and maturing – a self analytical anthem for a generation that was one of her most intimate performances that exceeded any potential studio produced version of her talent.

Aside from some of the slower ballads, SZA has other offerings such as “Go Gina” the jazz-themed song that will inspire you to move to the mesmerizing rasp in the artist’s range. Though SZA has her own distinct voice, her songs all manage to feel entirely different than each track with her eclectic song “Anything” to laidback hypnotizing sounds of “Broken Clocks” and “Doves in the Wind” featuring Kendrick Lamar. As SZA performed the album to the changing neon Ctrl sign behind her, it sparked an epiphany that she is going to become a prominent singer/songwriter for years to come, and if there’s any musical justice in the world – we’ll be seeing SZA receiving much more well earned respect and praise ( my money is on a few Grammys as well.)

If you will be seeing SZA live on her Ctrl Tour, the one thing you should feel is genuine excitement because with an inspiring artist like this, you won’t be disappointed.

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Lady Gaga Radiates Absolute Perfection At The Joanne World Tour In San Francisco

 

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Photo By: Aedan Juvet

 

With more than 10 years in the music industry, five solo albums, 207 awards (474 nominations) and a fanbase that supports each and every career choice she makes, Lady Gaga is a true powerhouse performer that doesn’t shy from creative expression. With her recent release of the album Joanne, Gaga took a different (somewhat softer) path to detail some of her most personal experiences through music that deviates from traditional pop – something Gaga concocted with near perfection. From beginning to end, the album Joanne (her fourth album to go number one on the Billboard charts) hits an array of emotion that touches on love, heartbreak, friendship, self discovery and empowerment in one single body of work that commands your attention through every song. After Gaga released Joanne, she performed at the Super Bowl, completed a role on American Horror Story, filmed A Star Is Born and delivered iconic televised performances that had fans begging to see the pop goddess perform on tour which became a reality as the singer announced the Joanne World Tour.

Initially, the tour sold out in a few minutes and if you were one of the lucky thousands to purchase a ticket – you know (or will soon know) that the Joanne tour is one of Gaga’s most impressive career moments thus far. I previously attended the ArtRave in Las Vegas with dazzling colors and pulse-pounding music, but the Joanne tour created an equally impressive production with an entirely different energy than her past tours. This time around Gaga had no opening act, but did include the Gaga staple DJ Whiteshadow before taking the massive San Francisco stadium AT&T Park. She was quick to address this was her first stadium tour performance in the US (which was met with high energy and the cheers of nearly 40,000 people in attendance) and as the bay area clouds began to roll over the arena, the concert commenced with the rock tinged album opener “Diamond Heart” that solidified she was going to put on a show.

As she completed the song, it led straight into “A-Yo” and the entire audience was on their feet as Gaga effortlessly played guitar and let us know she was excited to share with her friends in New York that she, “was smokin ‘em all in her first stadium performance.” The singer went into the song “John Wayne” with a beautiful fringe leather jacket and vocals that triggered me to sing louder than I anticipated because of the infectious hook and production. In between acts, Gaga left the stage for wardrobe changes and video transitions played that reminded us how the fan labeled personality “DarkGa” was present with an oxygen mask that acted as a drug to the singer, or an edgy Joanne who flipped off the camera while emitting a pink smoke from her vehicle. The videos served as visual transitions to different songs, but the creativity behind them had me begging for more visual influenced Gaga eras to come.

Gaga added the song Scheiße (a fan favorite from Born This Way) which was one she stated changed what it meant to her over the span of her career. She brought out some of her biggest hits (Alejandro, Poker Face, Just Dance, Telephone) to the tour but instead of the traditional arrangements Gaga adds differences to her live performances. While there are singers today who change notes or arrangements because they struggle to match studio development, Gaga is a mega-star who sounds even better live so she challenges herself to find new ways to sing riffs or different keys to make things feel truly unique to the tour – not your typical album sing-along which I respect most.

The New York born singer later belted a few more of the Joanne songs including “Come To Mama” which she stated was important especially today for society’s need to embrace one another without aggression or discrimination. The message had people hugging their neighbors as the singer prompted a few times, making the venue a place of love, peace and acceptance where you could enjoy music and feel comfortable. This message again surfaced when Gaga sang her juggernaut hit “Born This Way” (which by the way was possibly the best I have ever heard, so how does she keep raising the bar?!) and rainbow colors flooded the arena to ensure Gaga’s message of equality she has followed through with her entire career.

When almost reaching the end of her first stadium performance in the US, Gaga delivered the heartfelt ballad “Joanne” that she explained by delving into intergenerational grief that is very much an issue for many after the loss of a loved one. The song was a definitive highlight of her concert, bringing tears from many I was surrounded by (ok…myself included) and again when she serenaded us with “Edge of Glory” from her piano to the stadium lit up with phones like a sea of stars. The emotion was felt from Gaga and the 40,000 attendees, becoming a magical concert that went through a spectrum of music. The singer approached the final few songs with “Angel Down” another pivotal impactful song, then arguably one of her biggest hits “Bad Romance.” Gaga finally performed her Coachella release “The Cure” a summer jam that provides a 90’s R&B touch to Pop and is easily considered quintessential original music – best seen live.

Gaga may have delivered flawless vocals, but her rendition of Million Reasons was the moment that truly struck a chord with the audience as she walked her mother on-stage at her side. She detailed her mother’s crucial involvement in the Born This Way Foundation, resilience, and natural beauty, sharing this pivotal moment in her career with the woman who made her the woman she is. After the proper and heartwarming introduction, the singer songwriter finalized the San Francisco leg of the tour with the song that has become one of her most raw contributions to music (the aforementioned “Million Reasons”) making it a captivating way to finish a concert that already embodied creativity at its finest. If anything can be said about Lady Gaga after this Joanne Tour, it is that she is the voice of a generation, a remarkable singer/performer and an inspiration to many for fighting for her beliefs and a better world. If you want to feel a massive beam of love and musical brilliance in your life, the Joanne World Tour is absolutely the place to be – I would go again and again to watch anything Gaga puts her awe-inspiring energy into.

‘Your Name’ Is An Anime Classic In The Making

 

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Anime Film: Your Name

Released By: Funimation

Release Date: April 7, 2017

Japan has contributed several compelling anime films over the years that have become an overwhelming commercial success, but nothing quite lives up to the widespread achievements of the 2016 drama/fantasy film titled Your Name. The animated film (by Makoto Shinkai) initially was released in Japan last July, having earned more than any other animated film in Japan’s box office history. With such prominent bragging rights from box office alone, the film eventually found it’s way to the US – set to provide a theatrical run starting on April 7. In Japan alone, the film has raked in over $300 million (USD) that surely deserves to grow for essential storytelling, but more on that soon enough.

To provide you with some back story to the film, Your Name follows two high schoolers by the name of Mitsuha and Taki who lead very different lives. Taki is a young man who lives in the flourishing city of Tokyo and he stars opposite Mitsuha, a girl living in the rural small town of Itomori. While it sounds like a simple enough premise, their lives are unexpectedly forever intertwined. Out of the blue, with absolutely no connection to each other, Taki and Mitsuha exchange bodies and wake up to find themselves living in a new identity. Sure, it goes back to regular shortly – but the swap continues to take place and forces the two to work cohesively to operate two lives as one. To do so, they leave notes and messages through paper, phone and more importantly on themselves to keep each other in the loop about developments that bonds the pair unlike other films, anime and television. As one would expect, the two decide they want to meet in person for the first time sparked by a shimmering meteor that completely alters their lives.

Because of the fact that the film focuses on two key roles, the time to solidify both personalities is perfected by Shinkai. Your Name beautifully introduces us to their world (and individual lives) by throwing us into it just like the initial body swap that kicks off the film. It’s a masterful approach to hook viewers that carries over for nearly two hours, feeling like a lifetime in the best way possible. What carries such a strong message is the bond between both of them that shows an unprecedented love. Being forced into the other’s life makes it feel sturdier than most for the fact that they are forced to discover as much as they can. It creates an opportunity for typical humor on traditional gender roles, but more importantly shows one of anime’s greatest and most respected narratives honing in on the timeless story of love.

Towards the midway point of the film (no spoilers coming from me, I promise) the conflict of the film becomes one that feels as if true tragedy is looming. The transition encompasses the perfect way to raise the bar and push the film into a movie that adds intensity to the already important emotional makeup. Your Name later goes on to make the final act bring the last pieces together by using all of it’s genre strengths. Giving viewers the balance of love, drama and occasional comedy together brilliantly cements Your Name as a theatrical masterpiece that will make anime film directors work harder and aspiring creators push themselves for the shot at gifting the world with a unique depiction of love and how impactful it can be on your life – and that’s something that is honest storytelling at its finest.

The animation provided in Your Name is that of excellence. From the design of characters, settings, and fantasy driven scenes, there isn’t a single moment that will disappoint. This truth is best seen when Taki takes a trip through something otherworldly as if viewers are being guided on a artistic quest that helps the plot blossom into its final act. Every animated scene makes a perfect picture, essentially molding Your Name into a film with uniquely stunning cinematography. Though the original Japanese voice cast still stands with excellence, the English dub by Funimation creates a powerful production that is sure to be considered timeless.

In its entirety, Your Name is an anime cinematic experience that strays from traditions to forge its own path. The story is one that can be appreciated by people from various walks of life to different ages because family, love and dreams of your own destiny are relatable to us all in one way or another. The anime film rightfully stakes its title has the highest grossing animated feature in Japan because the storytelling goes above and beyond while supplying stunning visuals to guide us through the tale. If you get the chance to see Your Name in theatres you won’t want to miss an opportunity such as this – it is another piece of evidence that anime is still offering solid productions with individuality.

Overall Grade: 9/10

Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

– The differences between our two protagonists gave them depth and likability that was imperative to the growing investment in Taki and Mitsuha

– The framing that took focus on landscape and the paranormal aspects gave viewers exemplary art to gaze at for the entire film.

– The ending was somewhat bittersweet, offering hope while leaving me wanting to know more about the primary characters