Friday, May 31, 2013

Women in Pop Music

While female artists rule the pop charts, many still conform to long-held music industry stereotypes. Miranda Sawyer asks if change is on its way.

This is an era where female performers dominate music as never before: I give you Beyoncé, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jessie J, Adele, Florence and her Machine – not to mention poor, sad Britney and the never-ending saga that is Madonna. These are women whose music tops charts across the world, whose dollar sales are well into seven figures and, perhaps most importantly, who understand that a music career can amount to more than just singing songs. Rihanna, for instance, shifts perfume like she’s a department store saleswoman. Jennifer Lopez acts in major films and appears on American Idol. Jessie J is a judge on British TV talent show The Voice. And all of them help sell whichever publication puts them on its cover.
But – and this may seem a silly question – why now? Why are there so many women artists around? After all, in the early days of this millenium, female singers weren’t the thing: music was about the white boy rock band. Coldplay, Maroon 5, Green Day – all were having their moment in the sunshine. Still, consumers are quickly bored, and so the major labels’ A&R departments began to look elsewhere. And when, in 2006, Amy Winehouse (and Lily Allen in the UK) suddenly flooded public consciousness like a drug we never knew we wanted, they thought they’d discovered the answer. An A&R guy, then at Sony, told me that labels were actively looking to sign young female solo singers because, according to him, they were less expensive (only one of them) and easier to manipulate (no support from the rest of the band, plus, you know, they’re just girls). Poor guy. Put him in a room with Beyoncé et al, and he’d be whimpering as they force-fed him those words.
Change the record
Given that for many years the majority of A&R people have been straight males, it’s interesting to consider what kind of woman gets a record deal. Shows like American Idol demonstrate that there are more than enough talented vocalists out there. There are hundreds, thousands, ready to sing their hearts out and shake up the world (or at least the world’s Saturday night TV). But only a few will make it – and when it comes to women, for decades only the good-looking got through the door. Thus many of the most powerful female musicians in the industry are stone cold foxes, gorgeous women whose looks would dazzle you into submission before they even let loose their voices.
Why is this? Despite its reputation as a rebellious outsider, rock and roll has long been dominated by convention and archetypes. Serious-minded indie boys, sexy r’n’b chicks, tougher-than-thou hip-hoppers, all singing-all-dancing boy bands: it can seem as though music is on an endless loop of cliché. Each artist slots into a ready-made box. It can make a music fan rather depressed, being presented with yet another new sensation that is exactly like an old one, but with a more contemporary haircut.
And the music business standard for a solo woman singer is that she has to be pretty. Sure, there are those artists who operate on the outside, alternative females, from Siouxsie Sioux, to Peaches, from PJ Harvey to Deep Vally. They like to play with their looks, use their sexuality to challenge or illustrate a particular idea. But if you’re aiming for conventional chart success then you’d better scrub up well. Think of Celine Dion, an ordinary-looking woman with an extraordinary voice. Discovered young, her husband/manager removed her from the limelight whilst she had her teeth fixed, her hair straightened and worked on her English: all image upgrades deemed necessary before she smashed into the mainstream.

Going Gaga
Of the top ten biggest selling female artists of all time, only Lady Gaga completely confounds this stereotype. Gaga uses her appearance as a statement: her choice of clothing, make-up and shoes are all designed to provoke a reaction other than, ‘ooh, doesn’t she look nice’. By dressing herself up as an artwork, she prevents us from judging her by tedious contemporary conventions of beauty. She is the living embodiment of how alternative, anti-establishment attitudes - treating gay people the same as straights; women using their bodies as they wish – have come into the mainstream. But she is the exception.
Still, considering their obsession with trends, does this mean that when A&R departments get bored once more, that solo female artists might not be so prominent? I wonder. The digital age has made the music business less sure of itself and its know-it-all taste. Consumers have more freedom to discover music than ever before: they don’t wait to hear a track on the radio, they stumble across artists on YouTube, via music sites or blogs. Artists themselves don’t wait to be signed before releasing their work: Tinie Tempah, amongst others, released his own, very successful, mix-tapes before being signed by Sony. This means that major labels have been forced to become more open-minded when it comes to their signing policies. Even a decade ago, an out-there act such as James Blake would not have been signed by a major: but he has his own label, put out via Universal.
Realising that music fans are more open-minded than they assumed has forced the major labels to shake up their pre-conceptions – and perhaps with them, those clichéd rules about solo female artists. Well, hooray to that. It’s rather nice to think of labels having to re-jig their attitudes towards female singers. Quirkier characters such as Lianne LeHavas, Laura Marling, Savages and Haim are slipping into the limelight. They are all lovely but don’t sell themselves on their looks. And Lady Gaga and Lagerfeld-baiting Adele, smash successes both, seem to disprove the old theories. It doesn’t look as though pop’s infatuation with women is over yet.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Syrian women exploited

The conflict in Syria is brutal within its borders but once outside, those that flee often find they have no way of earning a living.
Syrian women, often without a male guardian or breadwinner, struggle to make ends meet and some are forced to take desperate measures such as forced marriage or prostitution.
The Jordanian government said it would help anybody affected by exploitation and urged people with knowledge of abuse to report it to the authorities.

War Child - the charity I support
raises money to help women like these Syrian refugees and their children.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Vampire Diaries - Amazon to allow e-book fan fiction

Amazon to allow e-book fan fiction sales in US

Fifty Shades of GreyBest-selling series Fifty Shades of Grey was originally written as fan fiction

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Amazon has announced that fan fiction authors will be able to sell some of their work on the firm's Kindle e-book platform.
Fan fiction is literature inspired by popular books, films and TV shows, written by enthusiasts.
Publication outside of blogs and online fanzines is often difficult because of copyright issues.
A deal with a TV division of Warner Brothers enables fan fiction based on three TV series to be self-published.
The three series are Gossip Girls, The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, under the arrangement between Amazon and Alloy Entertainment, owned by Warner Brothers Television Group.
Authors will be able to upload their writing for sale via a new platform called Kindle Worlds, which will initially only be available in America.
There is no launch date yet for the platform.
Authors will receive 35% of the overall price of their work in royalty payments if they have written 10,000 words or more, and 20% for works of 5,000-10,000 words under a new pilot scheme for shorter stories.
In return Amazon Publishing will own the global publication rights to the works, says the announcement.
Fan fiction containing sexually explicit scenes will not be accepted, the firm said.
Writing on the Forbes website, technology journalist Jeff Bercovici described Kindle Worlds as "a sort of open API [Application Programming Interface] for IP [intellectual property]".
Harry Potter, Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are among the most common inspirations for fan fiction, he added.
"While some authors disapprove of the practice, many of the top-selling genre writers, including JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Joss Whedon, encourage use of their characters by fans," wrote Mr Bercovici.
The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide, was originally written by author EL James as fan fiction based on the novels and film franchise Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Emmelie de Forest - Only Teardrops - Denmark - Eurovision Song Contest Winner

Eurovision Song Contest won by Denmark

The moment Denmark's Emmelie de Forest realised she had won
Denmark has triumphed at this year's Eurovision Song Contest, held in the Swedish city of Malmo.
Emmelie de Forest, 20, had been the overwhelming favourite among the 26 entries, with her song Only Teardrops. Azerbaijan finished second.
The UK's Bonnie Tyler came 19th, an improvement on last year when Engelbert Humperdinck came second from last.
There was disappointment for Ireland's Ryan Dolan as he finished in last place with just five points.
De Forest won with 281 points and Azerbaijan's Farid Mammadov finished 47 points behind, followed by Ukraine in third and Norway in fourth.
Denmark, which will now have the job of hosting the 59th contest next year, had previously won in 1963 and 2000.
'It's amazing'
De Forest sang her up-tempo tune barefoot, saying before she performed: "It makes me feel closer to the ground, the earth and makes me feel more relaxed."
Emmelie de Forest of Denmark at a press conference following her win in the Eurovision Song Contest at the Malmo Arena in Malmo, Sweden, on 18 MayDe Forest described the experience as "overwhelming" at a news conference following the contest
At the post-event news conference, she told reporters: "It has been quite stressful but it's also a wonderful thing that has happened to me. It's amazing.
"It was crazy when they put the butterfly [of the winning country's flag] on the dress. I didn't understand we had won at that point."
She added: "Of course I believed in the song, but that's the exciting thing about Eurovision you don't know what's going to happen. So I was surprised and shocked when it happened."
Zlata Ognevich of the Ukraine is carried on stage by Igor Vovkovinskiy to perform at the final of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest at the Malmo Opera Hall, Malmo, Sweden, on 18 MayUkraine act Zlata Ognevich was carried on stage by Ukrainian-born Igor Vovkovinskiy, who, standing at 7ft 8in, is the tallest man in the US
TV viewers across Europe were treated to the mix of high-energy pop and power ballads that have become synonymous with the contest, as well as some outlandish stage performances.
One of the more eccentric acts was Romania's Cezar, who mixed his operatic voice with a disco beat. He managed a respectable 13th position.
'Ready to party'

The top 10

  • Denmark - 281
  • Azerbaijan - 234
  • Ukraine - 214
  • Norway - 191
  • Russia - 174
  • Greece - 152
  • Italy - 126
  • Malta - 120
  • Netherlands - 114
  • Hungary - 84
UK entrant Tyler, 61, who is best known for her 1983 hit Total Eclipse of the Heart, had high hopes for her chances.
But the Welsh singer scored just 23 points for her performance of Believe In Me.
Speaking afterwards, Tyler said that despite her final score the experience had been "a night to remember".
She said: "I got the feeling tonight that I got at the Grammy awards.
"I'm sure a lot of people will be disappointed on my behalf but I have really enjoyed my Eurovision experience.
"I did the best that I could do with a great song. I don't feel down and I'm ready to party."
Bonnie Tyler performs during the final of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, on 18 May 2013Bonnie Tyler said some people would be disappointed on her behalf after the votes were awarded
Johnny Logan, the three-time Eurovision winner who represented Ireland, said the UK's entries had not been strong enough in recent years.
"I think over the years it's been slated so much in England and Ireland that the best writers don't take part in it any more. That's the reality," he said.

Alfonse Mucha - Summer and Day - fabulous art exhibition in Tokyo

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Clue to why women live longer than men

** Clue to why women live longer **
Women live longer than men partly because their immune systems age more slowly, a study suggests.
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New book HALO from Steve Skelton - raising money for UK Charity WAR CHILD

Hi everyone
My new book HALO has been published.
100% of all profits are being donated to the charity WAR CHILD helping children whose lives are torn apart by war.
My book is about "stopping the war" and bringing peace to our world.
I will send you an AMAZON FREE GIFT if you email me at 
Please download the book for FREE to support WAR CHILD
Enjoy a great read and support a worthy cause for FREE!
You are also most welcome to buy it if you wish!
Please forward this email to your friends!
My wife, Sumire, sent the following message to her friends in Japan.
Best wishes



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Africa Beats - Malawi's Peter Mawanga

Africa Beats: Malawi's Peter Mawanga

Peter Mawanga feels that it is high time the world was exposed to the riches of Malawian music.
While many of his countrymen play reggae or other musical styles borrowed from elsewhere, he and his band, the Amaravi Movement, make music inspired by traditional Malawian rhythms and instruments.
Known in his country as "the voice of the voiceless", Mawanga has a strong social conscience and is not afraid to speak out on behalf of the poor.
He ruffled feathers with his first hit Amakhala ku Blantyre which suggested that city dwellers who visit villages may not be as rich as they seem - they may have borrowed their fancy clothes.

Friday, May 10, 2013

3D Gun - US Government orders removal of 3D gun designs

US government orders removal of Defcad 3D-gun designs

The BBC's Rebecca Morelle saw the 3D-printed gun's first test in Austin, Texas

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The US government has demanded designs for a 3D-printed gun be taken offline.
The order to remove the blueprints for the plastic gun comes after they were downloaded more than 100,000 times.
The US State Department wrote to the gun's designer, Defense Distributed, suggesting publishing them online may breach arms-control regulations.
Although the files have been removed from the company's Defcad site, it is not clear whether this will stop people accessing the blueprints.
They were being hosted by the Mega online service and may still reside on its servers.
Also, many links to copies of the blueprints have been uploaded to file-sharing site the Pirate Bay, making them widely available. The Pirate Bay has also publicised its links to the files via social news site Reddit suggesting many more people will get hold of the blueprints.

Analysis: 3D printing's Wild West

Earlier this week, I saw Cody Wilson fire his gun for the first time.
Small, white and made from plastic, the firearm looked like a toy. But as the shot rang, you could feel the force of this weapon.
Hours later, and the blueprints had been placed online.
Mr Wilson describes himself as a crypto-anarchist, and his belief is that everyone has a right to a gun.
Through this project he aimed to export this idea to the rest of the world - whether the rest of the world wanted it or not.
However a week is a long time in the Wild West of 3D printing, and now Mr Wilson has been ordered to remove the plans.
But with more than 100,000 downloads already, the designs have already been widely circulated, and there is now little that can be done to halt their spread.
The Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance wrote to Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson demanding the designs be "removed from public access" until he could prove he had not broken laws governing shipping weapons overseas by putting the files online and letting people outside the US download them.
Explosive force
"We have to comply," Mr Wilson told news magazine Forbes in an interview.
But he added the State Department's fears were ungrounded, as Defense Distributed had been set up specifically to meet requirements that exempted it from the arms-control regulations.
He welcomed the US government's intervention, saying it would highlight the issue of whether it was possible to stop the spread of 3D-printed weapons.
Unlike conventional weapons, the printed gun - called the Liberator by its creators - is made out of plastic on a printer. Many engineering firms and manufacturers use these machines to test prototypes before starting large-scale production.
While desktop 3D printers are becoming more popular, Defense Distributed used an industrial 3D printer that cost more than £5,000 to produce its gun. This was able to use high-density plastic that could withstand and channel the explosive force involved in firing a bullet.
Before making the Liberator, Mr Wilson got a licence to manufacture and sell the weapon from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Bureau told the BBC that any American could make a gun for their own use, even on a 3D printer, but selling it required a licence.
Mr Wilson, who describes himself as a crypto-anarchist, said the project to create a printed gun and make it widely available was all "about liberty".

Downloads for 3D-printed Liberator gun reach 100,000

3D-printed gun being firedGroups looking to tighten US gun laws have expressed concern

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The blueprint used to produce a 3D-printed plastic gun has been downloaded about 100,000 times since going online earlier this week, according to Forbes.
Defense Distributed told the news site it was surprised by the amount of interest its Liberator gun had generated.
Earlier in the week, the company demonstrated the firearm being fired
But even before any more guns come off the DIY printing presses, there are moves afoot to ban it.
Metal detectors
Californian senator Leland Yee said he wanted a law passed to stop the manufacture of 3D-printed guns.
"I plan to introduce legislation that will ensure public safety and stop the manufacturing of guns that are invisible to metal detectors and that can be easily made without a background check," he said in a statement.
According to Defense Distributed, most of the 100,000 downloads have been in the US, followed by Spain, Brazil, Germany and the UK.
The blueprint has also been uploaded to file-sharing site the Pirate Bay, where it has become the most popular file in the site's 3D-printing category.
Firing pin
It took Defense Distributed eight months to produce the firearm, which was assembled from separate components produced on an $8,000 (£5,000) 3D printer bought from auction site eBay.
While downloading the blueprints may not be illegal, any UK citizen who made and owned such a handgun could face arrest, according to the UK's Metropolitan Police.
"To actually manufacture any type of firearm in the UK, you have to be a registered firearms dealer (RFD)," it said in a statement.
"Therefore, unless you are an RFD, it would most definitely be an offence to make a gun using the blueprints. It may be legal for an RFD to manufacture a gun this way, as long as they had the necessary authorities."
One of the biggest headaches for law enforcers is the fact the gun is made from plastic - with only the firing pin made from metal.
New York congressmen Steve Israel and Chuck Schumer have sponsored legislation aimed at adding a 3D-printing provision to the US Undetectable Firearms Act, which requires all guns to be detectable.

World's first 3D-printed gun fired in US

The world's first gun made with 3D printer technology has been successfully fired in the US.
The controversial group who created the firearm plan to make the blueprints available online.
Anti-gun advocates have criticised the project and Europol, Europe's law enforcement agency, said it was closely monitoring the development.
Rebecca Morelle reports.