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Fresh from a 1999 sugar high sparked by the quick downing of a grape-flavored Fruitopia, I turned on TRL and saw my imaginary boyfriend Carson Daly (whom I dumped two years later for Quddus) introduce the video for a song called “Candy” by some artist named Mandy Moore. When I first saw Mandy, I thought, “Who cloned Britney Spears?”

I mean, I know not all white people look alike, but in the “Candy” video, Mandy gave me Britney Spears, if Britney Spears had longer legs that she didn’t know how to use—much less on a sickening pop beat. No shade. Sometimes a good spin and hair toss is all you’ve got in you. But even though Mandy couldn’t dance, “Candy” was a bop. By the end of the video, I was hooked. She wasn’t necessarily an instant favorite, but now I was paying attention.

 “Candy” may sound a little dated now, but the second you turn it on, I bet you instantly remember how good it is. Just try.

Another stellar single from the Mandy Moore catalog is “Walk Me Home.” It’s one of those cute tracks that recalls some romantic scene in a teen drama. Or, if you were a gay boy in a certain era, a very sentimental instant messenger exchange with a boy you hope really did delete those pictures like he said he would…Whatever, you get it. It’s romance.

As a bonus, I adore Mandy’s aggressive lip quiver in the “Walk Me Home” video. We know she’s lip syncing. All artists lip sync in their videos. So for Mandy to give us such forceful mouth movements just confirms her true artistic commitment. Yes, girl. Sell me the song!

 Then there was “Crush,” which I actually forgot about until I was digging up the YouTube links for the first two songs. However, as soon as I heard the opening bars, I remembered all of the important words (i.e. the chorus) and started swaying at my desk. Hashtag Mandy’s impact.

“I Wanna Be With You” is there for when I want to feel sad, but not like Mary J. Blige’s old hits sad, because I don’t feel like crying in public so early in the day.

As you can see, Mandy’s music career yielded some success: There was a platinum debut and two gold-certified followups. Still, she could easily have set sail for the Island of Lost Pop Acts (I assume Willa Ford and the remaining members of LFO reside there on a villa) after the release of 2004’s Coverage, an album of cover songs from the 1970s and 1980s. If white people had an answer to TV One’s Unsung, Mandy Moore might have had an episode for sure.

But Mandy shrewdly segued into acting, though she kept releasing music over the years. And she really can act, unlike many singers turned thespians. My favorite of her roles is in the 2004 film Saved!, which dealt with religion, homophobia, and teen pregnancy, and co-starred Macaulay Culkin. Hell, I still sometimes fight off the urge to shout “I am filled with Christ’s love!” while lobbing a bible at one of my haters.

Read the rest at ELLE.

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Nearly 20 years ago, the late George Michael released “Outside,” an act of self-deprecation and defiance in response to his arrest earlier that year in a public restroom, in Beverly Hills’ Will Rogers Park. Michael, then 34, was arrested by a plainclothes officer who “observed Mr. Michael engaged in a lewd act.” The misdemeanor charge for cruising led the British pop star to formally declare what had long been suspected: He was gay.

Given the stigmas associated with homosexuality at the time, meeker men might have, understandably, slunk away from the spotlight. Instead, Michael did what he did best: made a pop song. One that winked at his controversy and the prejudices fueling it. In the lyrics of the song, Michael references his arrest for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer, singing: “And yes I’ve been bad/Doctor, won’t you do with me what you can/You see I think about it all the time/I’d service the community/But I already have, you see!”

In the video, he dresses up like a cop and dances in a restroom. The message is clear: no one gets to shame George Michael for being George Michael.

That same year, Michael confirmed that he was gay in an April 1998 interview with CNN.

Much has changed since then. We have marriage equality in America (and the UK); there are hate crime laws on the books; there is somewhat wider representation for the gay community in media, in public office, and other areas of everyday life. And yet, Michael is still very much in a league of his own when it comes to how he owned his sexuality. Not just in terms of his identity, but with respect to his urges, his appetite, and his human right to pleasure.

Speaking to the Guardian in 2005, Michael accurately described the state of gay men in media: “You only have to turn on the television to see the whole of British society being comforted by gay men who are clearly gay and so obviously sexually unthreatening. Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable and automatically, my response to that is to say I’m a dirty filthy fucker and you can’t deal with that, you can’t deal with it.”

Michael may as well have been describing American society. This country is still fearful of gay sexuality, afraid of the sexual needs and desires of gay men and women. If that weren’t the case, overt displays of sexuality—specifically between men—would be far more commonplace in mass media. They wouldn’t be causes for alarm.

Marriage equality gradually became acceptable to the majority of Americans because it was homosexuality viewed through the lens of heteronormativity; marriage equality was safe, grounded in a proper long-standing tradition. Michael was never proper. He was never safe. He was sex in public places; he was open relationships; he was whatever he wanted to be.

It’s much harder to sell non-heterosexual people to the pearl-clutching masses in that light. Even in the wake of the horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, both allies and many members of the LGBTQ community themselves championed the adage “love is love.”

As I wrote earlier this year about the tragedy: “We need to be able to consider same-sex identities outside of just romance. Sometimes it’s not about love; sometimes people just want to fuck. Straight people should understand this. We are no different than you all in that regard.”

When it comes to equality, there is acceptance and tolerance. All too often people falsely conflate the two. Equality isn’t just my right to marry, it’s the freedom to live however I choose without stigmatization.

Like many thinking about Michael’s legacy, I first turned to his music. I reflected on the subtly and soulfulness of songs like “Everything She Wants.” I remember hearing his Aretha Franklin duet “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” on the “grown folks” radio station. I recall hearing songs like “Faith” and “I Want Your Sex” as a kid, but not truly getting them until I became an adult.

Read the rest at Complex.

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For so many reasons, Mariah Carey is a gift to the world. We love her for her high octaves (dolphins could never go as high). We appreciate her for her lyrics, which she constantly reminds us typicallymajorly come from her pen (you do what you want when you’re poppin’). We adore her for her eccentricities, like the lovably crazy, only slightly older sister that she is (“auntie” would be an abusive*—see below—term in this instance).

Yet, if there’s one other thing to cherish about the best-selling female artist of all time (Madonna may argue otherwise, but Mariah has long proven that she doesn’t care what Madonna thinks or says), it is her dedication to the advancement of quality lighting and flattering angles. Her battles against oppressive lighting are an inspiration to all of us dedicated to looking like our best selves.

You should never trust anyone else’s lighting. If not for Mariah fighting the good fight on that front, I may have never learned that important life lesson. Ever the advocate, Mariah has used her platform to speak against the ills of bad lighting for years.

In February 2014, during an appearance on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, Mariah had her people come in before the interview began in order to set up lighting that better suited her. I’ve been told personally by a Def Jam insider that once upon a time, when she was signed to the label, Mariah would do this for any meeting she had in the building, and would only take meetings in rooms where the lighting had been improved to her standard.

Moreover, Mariah would never allow anyone to ride in an elevator with her. You know, besides her lighting person, obvi. Why? As she once explained: “I have an extreme aversion to overhead lighting. In my opinion, elevator lighting is toxic!”

Who dares to disagree with the master? Some people might find such practices excessive, but I find them admirable. If self-love is the best love, anyone with the means to protect themselves from toxic lighting is the most beloved of all.

For those looking to further refine their understanding of this important issue, earlier this year, in an interview for The Sunday Times, Mariah explained what constitutes bad lighting. “I have to point out this is a rented house—I would never have overhead lighting,” the goddess noted. “High hats, they call them. In my apartment in New York, it’s all recessed lighting, chandeliers, candles. This lighting is abusive.”

And as we’ve learned on her new docu-series, Mariah’s World, it’s not just where the lighting is that matters. “I have a rule which states that I will not be seen in fluorescent lighting without sunglasses,” Mariah said, adding, “I know it’s very ’90s.” But who doesn’t love the ’90s?

The only time we’ve ever seen Mariah appear in toxic, abusive lighting was in the film Precious, an experience in which, she told Rolling Stone, “overhead lighting was not my friend.”

Read the rest at ELLE.

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Despite previous reports to the contrary, the NFL has not confirmed that Lady Gaga will headline Super Bowl LI in February. To Gaga’s credit, if she were booked for the gig, she’d likely pull out all the stops. I can easily see her flying into the NRG Stadium in Houston on the backs of flying monkeys that worked for Evilene in The Wiz. I’m sure she’d try to up the ante and upstage previous performers who’ve given us iconic Super Bowl moments. She’ll probably nag Jesus – the Black one and maybe the one as depicted in Jesus Christ Superstar – for a duet with Prince’s ghost and Elton John. That would be super, but I think we can wait another year or three to see all that?

I think next year’s Super Bowl halftime show headline performer ought to be Jennifer Lopez. More than all the names we’ve heard associated with the event, Gaga and Adele, Lopez deserves this moment. She is known for multiple things – acting, dancing and fashion, but what I love most about Jennifer Lopez is her work as a performer. I have often referred to her as “Paula Abdul’s Revenge” and “Paula Abdul, If She Could Have Kept Herself Together.” Trust me, there are not many compliments from a gay man born in the 1980s higher than that.

It is the reason why her Las Vegas residency is doing so well. In August, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Lopez set a milestone when she made more than $1 million in box office sales for her residency at Planet Hollywood. The previous record holder? The Legendary Ms. Britney Spears. As Robin Leach noted in that report, “I think it now places J.Lo neck-and-neck with Celine Dion at Caesars Palace.”

It’s because Jennifer Lopez is one of the premiere performers of her generation, and well, even the generation that follows. At 47, Lopez dances better than many of her contemporaries. This would include Lady Gaga, though I would advise her Little Monsters from threatening my life for being factual. We saw this when she hosted the 2015 American Music Awards. You still see it if you look at any clip of her performing during her Vegas residency.

Now, considering she is 47 and the reality that life can be a hateful heifer, I would like to see Lopez do the Super Bowl when she can still dance full out. As much as I enjoyed Madonna’s Super Bowl performance, I do remember her slipping for a second. She played it off, but had she taken one wrong step and we would’ve watched LMFAO rushing to pick her back up. I need Lopez dancing down with her good knees!

And Lopez has an impressive and expansive catalog to choose from, so that’s another check mark. I want to see her include her hits like “I’m Real,” “If You Had My Love,” “Ain’t It Funny,” “Waiting For Tonight,” and “Get Right.” Of course, she has to do “On The Floor” and bring out Pitbull, a man that has somehow managed to be the favorite of suburban moms (the hood remembers the old stuff, though). And to her credit, Lopez’s voice has gotten much, much stronger over time (thank you, Marc Anthony) so we can even get treated to some live vocals, too.

Read the rest at VH1.

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Although the nucleus of Love & Hip Hop is supposed to be the dramas involved with the music industry and those who date within in it, each franchise largely shifts its focus toward the latter. Still, in the midst of all the madness that’s happening, there is music made that eventually floats into space. When most acknowledge this, they typically defer to K. Michelle, the only singer who has truly used the platform bestowed upon her to launch a legitimate and successful music career. That’s understandable, though there have been other cast members who have released a pretty good song or two.

As a lover of songs best categorized as “thot bops,” I’ve monetarily supported or at least given a Spotify spin to the following: Atlanta’s Thi Thi and Karlie Redd; New York’s Mariahlynn and Cardi B (the closet one in reaching K. Michelle’s feat); and Hollywood’s Masika. No one, however, has given me greater joy with her musical pursuits than former nurse and pimp-turned-singer and now rapper Momma Dee. The same goes for her music, which is comical to the point of parody but nonetheless enjoyable.

In 2014 Momma Dee released her first single, “I Deserve.” When it comes to Momma Dee’s singing voice, I would describe it as Anita Baker with a severe case of laryngitis and one hell of a head cold. The video for the single managed to amass more than half a million hits—impressive for a woman who will likely never be asked to perform at the Soul Train Awards.

That hasn’t stopped Momma Dee from performing, though. For “I Deserve,” Momma Dee launched a full-scale single-release party that offered audiences a genuine concert. As in, one with a full band and set list that included covers of songs like Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Before I Let Go” and Anita Baker’s “I Apologize.” It was not horrible. That said, most folks only remember the concert happening because while Momma Dee was performing, her tooth fell out.

That is the gift of Momma Dee: She’s being completely serious about her singing dreams but cannot help making you laugh your ass off at her. Another example of this would be the holiday concert that followed her single-release party. Momma Dee sort of sings like someone who makes noises that sound like singing more than she actually sings. In her defense, if you turn on the radio or your Discover Weekly playlist, you’ll hear the same thing from many contemporary acts.

Whatever one makes of her talent doesn’t negate its entertainment value. For that reason alone, I want this woman to continue trying to make “fetch” happen with her pursuit of music stardom for as long as humanly possible. So much so that I’ve actually purchased her new single, “In That Order.”

Read the rest at The Root.

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When Boyz n the Hood premiered 25 years ago in July 1991, it was met with a string of violence. At least 25 incidents were reported in more than 800 theaters nationwide. But even in the face of that violence, and the media’s implications that Boyz was entirely to blame for it, director John Singleton never wavered from his movie’s message. In what was called a “hastily called news conference,” Singleton said the acts of violence were “indicative of the degeneration of American society, not a reflection of my film, which is about family, love and friendship.” Singleton went on to fault a society “breeds illiteracy and economic deprivation… There’s a whole generation of people who are disenfranchised.”

As far as those who committed the violent acts, Singleton said, “There’s a certain segment of the population that wants you to do what you’re doing to each other. But we don’t have time for that.”

Boyz n the Hood brought a certain awareness to gang life that had been missing from film and media. So often is mainstream culture and society talking at black people; Boyz n the Hood was black folks speaking for themselves. The film examined race and gender—notably black masculinity—with complexity, which decades later, proves to be a difficult task for far too many.

Even before he became a celebrated and iconic film director, John Singleton had the confidence to call out bullshit when he saw it. While he was a film student at the University of Southern California, Singleton attended an advance screening for the movie Colors. During a post-screening Q&A, Singleton told one of the film’s producers, “You advertise this movie like it’s about my community, and it’s really about two white cops. It’s not about what’s really going on there.”

When Boyz n the Hood was released in theaters, I was barely six years old. I saw the film by way of my sister, who was often my access point into what was pivotal in culture at the time but not especially kid-friendly. So, much like The Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” released around the same time as John Singleton’s iconic film, I was consuming imagery and narratives that required a sort of thoughtfulness and maturation only time could provide.

That said, young or not, there were some things I could pick up on in those moments.

Despite him proving to be more of a chaotic figure in my life, I knew that like Tre Styles, I was still considered very fortunate to be a black boy child with my black male father in my life to others around me. I knew of people like Doughboy, who, after serving time in time in prison, quickly returned to old habits. In the coming years, I came across figures like Ricky, whose athletic prowess was their only real means of escaping an area that offered little much in the way of options of attaining real social mobility. And while my hood was not as chaotic as what was happening in South Central Los Angeles, I knew of drugs, gangs, and young black men losing their lives to gun violence (in some cases, only a few streets over from me) just like those characters.

Read the rest at Complex.

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Older black women are, by and large, my happy place. They often prove themselves to be incredibly honest, wonderfully hilarious and the very best of blackness. I have had an affinity for the group I describe as “black aunties” since I was a child who obsessed over his literal black aunties. However, it is often hard to find a black auntie in the space of social media outside of hilarious memes or videos in which their children or other younger relatives opt to share them unto the world.

Thankfully, more black aunties are joining social media. Of course, Jackée Harry is the belle of the ball on Twitter, followed by the legendary Anita Baker. I’m sure there are a bunch of mature women on Facebook, but their sons, daughters, nieces and nephews typically ruin that platform for me five minutes into a home page scan, so never mind that. Now, when it comes to Instagram, without a shadow of a doubt, Tina Knowles Lawson is the best f–king thing to ever happen to Instagram.

She is literally your 60-plus black mom on IG, and I mean that in the best of ways. Like, your mom before she became your mom, and your mom after she got her life back once your ass moved the hell up out of her house. I’ve always known Ms. Tina to be a national treasure, if for no other reason than what is the gift of her talented daughters, but her social media presence has taken me to more places than I Am … Sasha Fierce.

Read the rest at The Root.

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It happened when Michael Jackson died. It happened shortly after Whitney Houston’s death. It happened to Prince after he died suddenly. It has since happened to Muhammad Ali. I fear it will be a fate met one day by the likes of Beyoncé, Steph Curry, Rihanna, and LeBron James.

“It” is when white media exalts fallen Black public figures for “transcending race” in an attempt to honor them.

“It” will never not be disingenuous. It will always be another superficial attempt to address racism. It will always be a glib statement earning the rightful eyeroll of Black people everywhere.

One problem with the notion of “transcending race” is that it immediately connotes that being Black is some sort of barrier. Why does one need to transcend who they are? This turn of phrase is meant as a compliment, but it is anything but. It is a well-meaning—but no less dishonest—way of describing Black men and women who have accomplished so much in the face of adversity.

Why does one need to “transcend” their Blackness for mainstream a.k.a. white consumption? When I hear well-meaning white folks write or utter this phrase, I can’t help but chuckle at how self-absorbed they’re being. Instead, they should say ,“I got over my own biases” and embraced X Black celebrity.

Be real, beloved, and spare us the bullshit.

All of the aforementioned Black celebrities were unapologetically Black. Moreover, none of them ever escaped the systemically unfair battle against any living, breathing, and especially thriving Black person.

Read the rest at Complex.

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would sooner have a threesome with David Duke and the ghost of Barry Goldwater than vote for Donald Trump, but there is something about his political ascension that I find somewhat inspiring.

Not the racism. Not the misogyny. And no, not the xenophobia. Trump’s frontrunner status reminds me – an ambitious but not exactly patient person – that dreams can come true, just not necessarily when I say they should.

There is an old saying: “It’s not the appointed time, but the anointed time.” It’s rooted in the Biblical passage, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” I have not been to church since the last Destiny’s Child album, but that sentiment speaks to me, and Trump’s trajectory this campaign season has served as a demonstration of that wise advice: wait for your time, however long that may be. Then seize it.

Trump, who won five more primaries on Tuesday, has been teasing a presidential run on and off since 1987. As in, Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions on record are a year older than the man I hope one day helps me play out my Beyoncé happily-ever-after scenario (although if he does me dirty, he’ll get the Lemonade treatment, too). I was impressed by Trump after reading Politico’s February profile of the reality star and real estate mogul’s plot-by-plot campaign to become a credible presidential contender.

Sure, Republican voters ought to know better than to be so enamored with a clownish political novice, but that’s not his fault. The point is, timing is everything, and Trump was shrewd enough to finally run when he had an actual chance at winning.

There are other examples of people achieving success later in life. I’ve loved watching Wendy Williams, whom I used to listen to on the radio, go off to daytime, succeed immensely and broaden her brand farther than past naysayers – who wondered whether her unfiltered radio style would translate well in the daytime TV format – ever expected. Similarly, I like that Viola Davis is finally being treated as the exceptional talent that she is, leading a primetime network show as a black actor in her 40s after years of actively working in Hollywood, too often relegated to supporting roles.

But there is something about Donald Trump’s political takeover that I find particularly motivating. He’s been thinking about this for nearly three decades now, but minus the false start in 2000, when he considered running as part of the Reform party, he stuck more with his businesses and television career. And somehow, this novice with no experience gauged his moment, and he has managed to yap his way into a credible chance at becoming president. It’s frightening, yes, but I still find it motivating for pursuing my own goals.

Read the rest at The Guardian.

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I was only two months old when Prince reached the commercial peak of his career with Purple Rain. So, my earliest memories of the iconic musician may make those fortunate enough to experience him sooner wince. This would include watching Jack Nicholson dance to “Partyman” in the movie Batman, and a few years later, seeing Prince expose his bare butt at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.

I found the former fun, and the latter, strangely alluring. Nevertheless in either instance, I didn’t really understand what was before me. I knew Prince was someone to revere because I saw vinyls of albums like Purple Rain, Sign O’ The Times, and Parade spread across various parts of my home. Prince was something special, but I was too young to see why. He was not the kind of act a young child necessarily gets.

Michael Jackson was easier to digest for a child, especially one named after him. Michael Jackson was incredibly kid-friendly. He made things like Moonwalker and Captain EO. Prince, on the other hand, was anything but PG. Prince required a certain maturation — one that compelled you to know what norms he was challenging, what buttons he was pushing, and what experiences he sang about that are only accessible with age and with living.

Prince sang about sex fluidly. It was love and sex, it was spirituality in unison with sex versus in conflict. It was also sex in its absolute rawest form. Sex was cool. Sex was fun. Sex was a connection. Sex was whatever you wanted to be at the time. I had to reach the point in my life where I could understand that. Once I did, like so many others before me, I fell in love with his art.

As a gay black man, I appreciate that Prince did not cower under the rigidness of the hypermasculinity all too often thrust upon us. He confidently wore a G-string on an album cover, exposed his butt on national television, wore heels, and embraced androgyny. Prince was not a person who fixated on appearing “hard” or “tough”; he opted instead to show the greatest strength that is being comfortable in your own skin.

Many have long joked that Prince was as pretty, if not prettier, than the beautiful women he dated. That was often the case, but behind any chuckles about that lies the fact that the artist never bowed to anyone else’s idea of how his manhood should be presented. He was not making overt political statements with gender-bending aesthetic. Prince was just being.

That can often be a revolutionary act on its own, but this is especially true for Prince, a black man. For anyone who argues that this is standard fare today, I invite you to pull out a magnifying glass and give our culture a closer look. There aren’t many modern-day black male entertainers like Prince. They may sound like him because his works are highly influential and innovative, but name a heterosexual entertainer walking around in high heels, eyeliner, and pants that could easily be rocked by your sister or auntie. At least, there isn’t one that enjoys the kind of stature and commercial success that Prince enjoyed at his peak.

Now, name a gay black guy doing that.

I hear your silence. The sad reality is most black male entertainers can’t even get away with wearing one of Luther Vandross’s old glittery jackets without having their sexuality questioned. Odell Beckham Jr. — a professional football player — can’t dance in peace without his manhood and sexuality being called into question.

But this is what separates Prince from everyone else: he didn’t give a damn. His sexuality was not defined by the gender norms of others. He was an individual in every sense of the word. Prince lived by his own standard.

Read the rest at Teen Vogue.

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