La India: A Study in Album Cover Styling
Even though India is one of my favorite singers, more recently I’ve been thrown off a little by her album cover fashion choices. I love her voice, and can relate to how she straddles the cultural duality of her Puerto Rican roots and her American (by way of New York) upbringing, which is also evident in her music.
From Freestyle to House to Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Power Ballads in both English and Spanish. In the Freestyle days of the 1980’s her fashion was daring and provocative. The transition to house music in the early 1990’s and gay following elevated her style to fashionista levels (click here). Early 1990’s exaggerated menswear for women. Love.
But something happened along the way when she started singing Latin tropical music. Overly embellished gowns, animal print in all the wrong places, and styling against concept. Not sure if they really thought these looks were a good idea, or that anyone would be paying attention. But I was.
Llego La India: Probably one of my favorite of her album covers, not so much for her dress, which should have been showcased more in the cover art, but by the clever use of the cigar (one of her trademarks) smoke, conjuring up the image of musical collaborator Eddie Palmieri, like a genie summoned. With an ominous landscape as her backdrop, this conceptually announces her arrival to the Latin tropical music world.
Dicen Que Soy: Musically, her best Salsa album. Songs of heartbreak and a woman scorned. Classic black and white, shadows, simple makeup, strategically disheveled hair, in a closed-eye expression of… Relief? Vindication? Satisfaction? Ecstasy? Not sure. But I can do without the graphic arrow pointing to the title. What’s up with that? Despite there being no fashion in this, it’s also a beautiful photograph.
Sobre El Fuego: Some song covers, particularly the title track, which is a Salsa version of Through The Fire in Spanish. Using the same close-up concept for the album cover, it really doesn’t convey much more than a badly cropped glamour-shot. It isn’t until you open the CD booklet and see the secondary shots inside the album where you can see that they were trying to go for a vintage look with straight hair and heavy eyeliner.
One of the shots was repurposed for a greatest hits compilation. In addition to the vintage vibe of Salsa albums from the 1970’s, this photograph also conveys the “heat” concept, and is a more appealing photograph.
Sola: India takes her namesake and goes Indian (Native American) for this cover. Another not to vintage Salsa albums from the 1970’s, when musicians would convey an album concept visually, sometimes having nothing to do with songs on the album. Unfortunately, an ethnic costume not done right can look hokey at best, and offensive at worst. My solution? A camel or black maxi-skirt, a southwestern style poncho, ditch the bow and arrow, pile on some Indian-style jewelry a la late 80’s early 90’s Rifat Ozbek, and a modern inspired Indian head dressing. Something by Phillip Treacy or Stephen Jones, as I’ve rationalized the expense by sacrificing the shoe budget (she’s barefoot for the photoshoot).
Again, secondary photography from inside the CD booklet lent itself for reuse in another greatest hits compilation.
Latin Songbird: Mi Alma Y Corazon: Here she channels the Indian (Eastern) culture with printed fabrics, tunics, gold jewelry, etc. Unfortunately the disconnect of the album title and the visual concept of the album really falls flat. My solution? A modern take on traditional Indian garments. Saris galore and henna, with modern jewelry, hair, and shoes. I’d also suggest a change to the name of the album. I like the naming convention of using the title track.
Another greatest hits compilation. A more literal interpretation of the Indian styling. But this in no way reads Latin Tropical, which could be a problem for record store classifications.
Soy Diferente: At this point they’re not even trying any more with album cover concepts or creativity. A sequined skull & crossbones t-shirt and black peasant skirt. Was it supposed to by a inspired by Pirates of the Carribean? Why couldn’t the clothes at least be in earth tones? And if that were the case, what is up with the pink backdrop?
Unica: The least imaginitive album cover yet. A lackluster photograph which, like the album, feels more like a contractual obligation then an anticipated release. The pink backdrop (the same one, perhaps?) is employed again. The old close up formula. Not enough glitz for a fun covery, yet not simple enough to be classic. This may as well have been a point-&-click snapshot on the street. Being from New York, even that would’ve been more interesting. And I hate to say it, but what is up with that bang? The make-up is good though.
It seems unfair to critique the wardrobe choices, since there may have been constraints on budget, time, and other resources. But for me, restrictions or constraints fuel my creativity even more. She’s the first celebrity client in my head. With my help, and the right management, she is a talent that can pick up where Celia Cruz left off in the world of Latin Tropical, House, Latin Jazz, and beyond. Now if only she’ll actually hire me.
I almost wasn’t going to write an entry, but then I figured I should, so that I can remember the little things about a fun concert.
The last time I was at Royale it was the Roxy, and it was one of those times where, against my strong opinions about the crowd that would be there and the music that would be played, I sucked it up for the good of the group. Once I got over the flashbacks I got there and ended being the 3rd person in line. But this isn’t a boast. The door was delayed by an hour.
The two opening acts, Bonnie Montgomery and Magic Mouth were fun, diverse, and succinct musical acts. I did enjoy them, but I also paid attention so that they didn’t feel like they were being ignored. Except for a couple quick hits on the iphone.
Beth Ditto wore a simple knee-length olive green dress with a stretch belt and flats. No costume changes, but I was OK with that. She makes up for the costuming in many of the band’s photo shoots. Like many of my faves, she owns and commits to her looks.
I enjoyed Beth’s interactions with us in between songs. She did retell of a story trying to meet Tori Amos which would make Tori fans uncomfortable, to say the least (Why can’t Tori read?). But it was still funny.
They sang almost all the songs from the new album, some from the previous two albums, and one song I didn’t recognize. But the three-song encore included a wonderful rendition of What’s Love Got To Do With It, unexpected by me, but seemingly expected by at least one fan that asked Beth “what’s love got to do with it?” at one point during the concert.
At the end of the concert I stuck around for a set list/guitar pick/drumstick spoil, and/or my CD booklets signed. A woman started pulling up the set list, and as she happened to look up, I caught her eye and mouthed “set list?” with my puppiest puppy dog eyes and accompanying shoulder shrug. She carefully detached it from the floor and gave it to me. Not wasting any time, I asked if they were available for autographs. She said they might be, and that she would check. So I wasn’t going anywhere, and I wasn’t losing her from my sight. True to her word, she came back and let me know that the band would sign my CD booklets. A rookie fan had his CD booklets in the case, and while he struggled to take them out I had mine ready and pulled them out of my back pocket, Sharpie and all.
It only occurred to me after the fact that I should’ve asked if they were available for a quick hello. Maybe next time.
Only If For A Night
(photo courtesy and property of Mackenzie Britt)
Logistically, getting to the concert went without a hitch. The town of Mansfield has the process down: cones up, flashing and permanent signage, police directing traffic, and venue staff directing parking. I was starting to be impressed, then I remembered that the last time I was there was over 10 years ago. If the town didn’t have it together, that would be cause for concern.
The crowd: Mostly youngsters, female. The wannabees (I’ll call them Florentines) were flitting around in their billowy floral dresses and corresponding crowns of plastic flowers. If you didn’t know they were headed to a F+TM concert, you’d think they were headed to a fairy party for the season finale of True Blood or as non-speaking extras for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Early on a Florentine in front of the stage threw glitter into the crowd. All I could think about was the glitter getting in someone’s eyes. This helped me stop sulking about having a seat instead of getting a floor ticket. There were the requisite straight couples where the girlfriend obviously dragged their non-fan boyfriends to the concert, and I spotted a 20-something skinny hipster gay couple. Made me think that when I would do something like that it was me trying to be defiant, and provocative. They just seemed to be on a date.
I can see why people get into her, including myself. She provides everything that gay boys and their quirky hags look for: Stevie Nicks-like dancing, unique vocals, electric fans for dramatic effect, and a good dress. Her dancing evokes spell casting with arms flailing, reaching out to fans, almost touching, then pulling back in a psych-out leaving them seduced and thirsting for more. Bursts of energy resulted in running from one side of the stage to another, and at one point she ran a lap around the venue mid-perimeter, wispy in her banshee-like stride, dodging wayward fans walking to and from their seats. I pitied the poor security guard who had the worst time trying to keep up with her. Barely.
Certain moments of the concert got a little Satan-worshippy with the talk of sacrifices and the raising of hands. But at a later point in the concert, she asked everyone to shake hands and greet the people around us. Of course I didn’t initiate. I just stared straight ahead until the moment would pass. But Florence insisted, so the girl in front of me turned around to do it. I was a little intimidated by the cute tall guy with his corresponding girlfriend, but he did the deed. It felt like I was at church again. Church of Satan??
She was very interactive with the crowd, accepting fan-made signs, bouquets, and floral crowns. Toward the end, they served a 3-song encore; the longest I’ve heard so far. Unfortunately there were no costume changes, which was a bit of an upset for me. She knows how to work her outfits, so I was looking forward to see what else she packed. The only other thing that bothered me was the paranoid feeling of bugs biting me, brought on by a recent possible tick or spider bite. Waiting for an autograph would be out of the question, as droves of Florentines ran towards where I imagine her tour bus or car service would be, along with other possible ticks, spiders, mosquitos, and night crawlers that I would rather not associate with. Only if for a night.
(All photos courtesy and property of Stephen Atkinson, unless otherwise indicated)
Some friends are shocked and appalled that I still buy CDs.
My collection started in high school. CDs were expensive, so I had to be very thoughtful of buying CDs I REALLY liked. I would even try to convince myself to like all the songs on a CD to get the most “value” out of it. But as CDs became less expensive, and I discovered the good deals at Newbury Comics, my CD buying increased. At my peak, I was averaging one CD a week. At first it was to replace all the cassettes, and then as my musical interests expanded, so did my collection.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad for the invention of mp3s. I can finally create that perfect summer mix, boyfriend mix, break-up mix, rainy day mix, etc that have been swirling around in my head, but was too lazy to do with cassettes. And I don’t miss carrying around CDs. At the time when mp3 players were still too expensive for me (which meant I needed to buy a new computer), I would keep my CD player in my messenger bag, and stealthily change CDs in the bag so that people wouldn’t see my played out way of listening to music. I mastered the art of hiding my discman until I was able to buy my first ipod.
I don’t know if I’ll ever stop buying CDs. I like buying CDs because of the booklets (liner notes, lyrics, and CD art, credits). There’s also something about the tangibility of a CD that makes me feel like I really “own” the music (despite intellectual property laws). Some tidbits of my CD collecting experience:
- Current count of CDs (not including singles & maxi-singles)? over 700
- Singles & Maxi-singles? over 100
- My first CD? A McDonald’s promotion CD of Tina Turner’s hits, for $6.99.
- My most expensive CD? Depeche Mode Remixes 81-11 CD ($29.99)
- My most valuable CD? Sheila E.’s third album, “Sheila E.” (currently selling for over $150 on half.com)
- Favorite CDs? Cyndi Lauper’s “She So Unusual” and “True Colors”
- CD I judged by its cover (never heard a single song before) and liked? Sneaker Pimps, “Becoming X”
- Blind purchase CD which became biggest upset? “It’s Not Me, It’s You” by Lilly Allen
- Old CDs re-discovered as new favorites? Human League, Berlin, CC Catch (thanks to PL)
- Under-appreciated CD? “Hard Machine” by Stacey Q. (thanks again, PL)
- Most regrettable CD purchase? “Elephunk” by Black Eye Peas
- Most CDs of one artist? Madonna (surprised?)
- Most CD singles & maxi-singles? Bjork
- Best CD by artist I don’t care much for? “Full Moon” by Brandy
- Most random CD? Puerto Rican music in Hawaii
- Proudest CD moment of achievement? Getting all 4 original members of En Vogue to sign my CD booklet of their greatest hits
- Most obsessive search to catch up on CDs I should have been buying all along? Kylie Minogue
- Last CD purchased (as of this post)? Gossip, “A Joyful Noise”
(Yellow headphones, ipod speaker, and green T-shirt by Marc Jacobs)