Author: Wyatt Engl

The top 10 most iconic songs of our generation plus one

This was a very difficult list to compile. I had to wrestle with some internal conflicts in order to narrow it down. As many of you know, I am not, as a rule, a fan of pop music or pop culture in general and thus am somewhat unqualified to be writing this article. But thanks to the pervasively poor taste of my schoolmates, my eardrums are assailed with the Top 40’s latest offerings no matter where I go. I can’t even eat dinner in the Caf without a gaggle of “Jersey Shore” rejects bumping the latest Ke$ha, or what-have-you, and singing along at the top of their lungs. If any of you twits who were perpetrating this impropriety around 7:15 p.m. last Saturday are reading this: You are jerks, real knee-biters. I would like to eat my tofu in peace, thanks.

Anyway, this list is not meant to include the best, or even the most popular, tunes of our time, but rather the watershed moments in our generation’s musical culture. For obvious reasons, I will focus on music from the late 1990s onward.

1. “Bye, Bye, Bye” by N’Sync

The boy band boom of the late 1990s represented the first time we really became aware of current music. Until then, most of the music we listened to was that of our parents, but the interchangeable, soulless sex symbols of N’Sync and their ilk popped our pop music cherries and led us into an auto-tuned coma. Why this specific song? It was one of their biggest hits, and more people care about Justin Timberlake than every other member of N’Sync or the Backstreet Boys combined.

2. “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit

This song is arguably the defining track of the Nü Metal movement and represents the precise moment it became impossible for the mainstream to ever take metal seriously. Whenever I mention that I am a fan of metal, people immediately think of mooks like LB, Korn, Slipknot and Mushroomhead. Metal has sadly been reduced in the public’s eye to wearing a stupid mask, screaming about being a psycho and beating on crap with a 2×4. It also does not help that the stereotype of a metal fan is a fat, neckbearded Internet troll with masculinity issues. The violence perpetrated during Limp Bizkit’s set at Woodstock ’99 the festival sustained property damage, one accidental death and three reported rapes represented the death knell of Nü Metal and the end of the optimism which defined the last decade of the 20th century.

3. “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem

Our generation’s introduction to rap. Yeah, some of us went back and learned about Tupac, Biggie and Public Enemy, but for most of us, the earth was shattered when we first heard this horror-core-influenced weirdo from Detroit. Thankfully, Eminem had a bit more to him than some profane jokes involving aliens and lesbians and is still one of the best rappers out there.

4. “7 Nation Army” by The White Stripes

In middle school, the cool kids whose parents would let them read Rolling Stone introduced us to two bands: The Strokes and The White Stripes. It should go without saying that The White Stripes, despite functionally breaking up in 2007, have had a far greater impact on the aesthetic of rock in the coming decade. I would argue that they were directly responsible for paving the way for The Black Keys to become superstars and normalizing the heavy rock duo concept prominently exhibited by Japandroids and Death From Above 1979. Furthermore, their simple color scheme of red, black and white remains striking and unique.

5. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers

The early 2000s indie scene was defined by two templates: the garage rock re-re-revival led by The Hives, The Strokes and The White Stripes and the Cure-aping 80s schmaltz of The Bravery, Interpol and The Killers. This song, however, transcends its moment and stands as one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written and my personal favorite of the last decade.

6. “I’m not okay I promise” by My Chemical Romance

This was the start of the new emo movement that really had nothing to do with the actual genre as it was developed in the 1990s by Weezer, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World and Sunny Day Real Estate. Perhaps a suitable replacement label would be “Hot-Topic Core.” My Chemical Romance can largely take the credit for introducing guyliner and vampires to our generation. Sadly, the last two brilliant albums of their career were overpowered by the stench of temporary spray-on hair dye, and the culture at large dismissed both emo music and My Chemical Romance as a giant joke. Their loss.

7. “American Idiot” by Green Day

I really should not have to spell this one out. “American Idiot” is arguably the song, and album, of our generation. It is my choice for best record of the century so far, and as far as mainstream albums go, only Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy even comes close as a work of cohesive art.

8. “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga

The predominant formula among female pop stars today is bigger, louder, weirder and dumber with a nice dollop of warmed-over squelchy Europop. The mistress of the monsters is quite talented as a musician, but I really cannot stand her shtick. She sets herself up as this voice for the outcasts, but does not seem to catch onto the irony that she is part of the accepted status quo. Self-congratulatory subversion and “activism” doesn’t get you much respect in my book. I call that a cheap gimmick.

9. “Single Ladies” by Beyonce

Yes, Kanye, the video was kind of cool the first time I saw it. After that . . . meh. Having a bunch of dudes writing a female empowerment anthem is, well . . . just re-read the above. Same logic applies.

10. “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver

Justin Vernon, commonly known as Bon Iver, is brilliant. It is hard to believe that it has been six years since this record came out. In that time, the smart, but tastefully rugged, sensitive soul has been the controlling paradigm in alternative music. Unfortunately, flannel shirts only come in so many colors, and all the “quirky” twee bands he inspired start to blend into one chilled-out blur. Also, St. Olaf, congrats on bottling this guy off the stage when he played the spring concert many years ago. Pitchfork had not given you permission to think he was cool yet.

11. “Yeah” by Usher feat. Lil Jon

I cannot even hate here. Put this on the stereo now, and the party still starts jumpin’ like a seventh grader at his first school dance.

Well, I am out of snark and out of songs, so I think we are done here. Onto the next decade …

Graphic Credit: Isaac Burton/Manitou Messenger

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

‘4.48 Psychosis’ explores mental illness

“My mind wants to die.”

If you were to cut Sarah Kane’s “4.48 Psychosis” down to a single line, that would be it.

Last weekend, Maxwell Collyard ’13 directed a production of Kane’s work in the vacant Steensland Library, starring Emelia Carroll ’13, Taylor Heitman ’16 and Jesse Landa ’16.

Taking on a work like “4.48 Psychosis” would be quite the challenge for even the most experienced of directors. Part of this difficulty stems from the extremely unconventional composition of the piece. Kane’s script is devoid of any stage directions or character divisions. Even the size of the cast is completely open to the director’s interpretation. In this case, Collyard mirrored the original production and cast three actors, dividing them as the mind, the body and the doctor.

Some background on Kane is in order here. She rose to prominence in the 1990s as a leader of the in-your-face movement in British theater, and is particularly well known for play “Blasted,” which was flatteringly compared by one reviewer to a “feast of filth.” Tragically, Kane suffered through clinical depression for much of her life and committed suicide shortly after completing “4.48 Psychosis.”

That said, and to lift a quote from Michael Billington, theater critic for London’s The Guardian, I find it impossible to “award aesthetic points to a 75-minute suicide note.” I feel that it would be in poor taste for me to offer a critique of Kane’s script. Even 12 years removed, watching “4.48 Psychosis” felt like seeing someone slowly mutilate themselves until they finally succumbed to their injuries.

Last weekend’s production was a great triumph in many ways, but ultimately, less-than-stellar performances and some confusing direction kept the play from making a profound emotional connection with its audience.

Collyard deserves quite a bit of praise for his scenic design. Steensland Hall, now a vacant storage area, was a perfect venue for the show. The bare and decrepit interior of the building provided a foreboding atmosphere that coated the space with a malaise that filled the audience with a sense of impending doom. On one end of the room, the wall was covered with pieces of a shattered mirror and shredded page of the script and the writings of Nietzsche. The playing space itself consisted of a throne on which the doctor perched and a rickety bed on which the mind and body would interact, sometimes in an almost romantic way. The lighting, designed by Marcus Newton ’16, also highlighted the actors’ relationships to their environment and established effective transitions from one moment to the next.

Unfortunately, the actors’ performances largely failed to measure up to the potential suggested by the design elements of the production. I mentioned earlier that two actors were divided into a mind and a body. However, aside from near-identical costumes I would have had no idea that Collyard chose to enact such a concept if I hadn’t taken a peek at the stage manager’s binder. Without speaking with Collyard, one could be forgiven for assuming that Carroll and Heitman were portraying two different people rather than two halves of the same person.

While none of the actors seemed terribly unprepared or out of place, they all had flaws that impeded my understanding and enjoyment of the play. First, Landa’s portrayal of the doctor was very confusing because, especially in the beginning of the piece, her physicality did not match her vocalizations. She struck an intimidating presence strutting around the space in her heels and fitted suit, but her voice and words were soft and soothing. I wasn’t sure if she was sympathetic to her patient or antagonistic. However, at the climax of the play Landa brought an amount of humanity to her character as she watched her patient’s mind suffocate its body and observed that she had been met with her “final defeat.”

I had a hard time deciphering the motivations of the mind as portrayed by Carroll. Throughout the production, she seemed to move simply because her director told her to and spoke because he demanded it. I understand that considering the subject matter an emotionless delivery may be realistic, but for the sake of a compelling dramatic narrative, there has to be something at stake for the characters. Unfortunately, the mind resigned itself to death from the moment the play started, leaving the character no room to develop. I was quite impressed by Heitman’s portrayal of the body, but her performance was tainted slightly by shaky memorization in certain places.

Finally, I had the luxury of sitting down with Collyard and asking him for his interpretation of the play and his concept for presenting. He told me that he believed a central theme of Kane’s play is the “idea of truth.” In this case, Kane wondered if taking medication to treat depression was an act of lying, of concealing one’s true self. Such an interpretation would give new meaning to a scene where Carroll’s character grudgingly agrees to undergo a chemical lobotomy. Another question that stems from this predicament is when does it become no longer worthwhile to remain entirely truthful?

Sadly, I did not pick up on any of these themes when watching the show, and I doubt that many others could have done so either. While I do not doubt for a moment Collyard’s personal investment and dedication to this work, the listless and one-dimensional performance delivered by his cast suffocated any of the passion and emotion that may have informed its creation.

engl@stolaf.edu

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote