On Critics, Artistry, and The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2

I have a bone to pick. Don’t I always?

Today, I awoke to many status updates and reviews of Justin Timberlake’s newest album, “The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2.” Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, about anything really. When it comes to my own pop culture preferences, I like to stay away from articles and comments on the Interwebs critiquing newly released works. But today, one article that popped up in my Facebook and Twitter feed got me thinking. So much so, that I cranked out most of this post while in traffic heading to the gym. [I got lost on the way, it was that intense.]

Contemporary society increasingly blurs the line between artistry and musicianship. But it seems that common consumers of pop culture aren’t familiar with the gravity of either, the relationship between them, or that they even play a roll in entertainment produced for and consumed by the masses.

According to my Facebook and Twitter, and many of the album reviews I’ve glossed over [such scholarly sources, I know], “2 of 2” isn’t as well-liked at JT’s other work. Note that he is an entertainer in a few different capacities from musician to performer, and actor to comedy sketch-extraordinaire.

For whatever reason you don’t like his album, you’re probably only affected by his place in pop culture, rather than his artistic ventures. While some say they like the first portion of “The 20/20 Experience” better, the albums were meant to be viewed as two halves to a whole body of work. It’s obvious he didn’t do it for the praise or the money, as he spent years away from music until he, as an artist, could bring something to life which he unconditionally loved. It takes courage as an artist, not to mention a pop artist, to do this nowadays. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. And if you still don’t like it, you probably didn’t pay for it anyway and JT will probably not suffer from you not purchasing his work.

Most will agree that Justin Timberlake’s music isn’t popular for its social messages, but measured by its entertainment value. But if that is the limited view in which we see pop culture, is J. Cole’s “Born Sinner” album–ridden with consciousness–merely entertaining and nothing more? How do we measure how good or bad today’s popular music is? Do we have different measures for different genres? Are songs supposed to be catchy, lyrically eloquent, or musically innovative? All or none of the above? What is your good to bad scale based on for music, or any type of art/entertainment you consume for that matter? I have both a visual and performing arts background, some music experience, and an interest in sociology. I am a recent college putting life together in a huge city. Surely your personal experience subconsciously shapes what you like in pop culture, just as mine does. Take a step back and look at why you like or dislike “2 of 2,” or whether you’d even give it a listen in its entirety. Do critics [like the one who sparked my thought process] take their own experiences into account or is their worldview really so limited that they only hear the lyrics and the limits? Who are these experts with pop culture opinions that we value so much?

Knowing the background behind any product or success story always seems to change our perspective. So, too, will the documentary detailing the making of “The 20/20 Experience.” I’m sure of it. As many times as JT’s exhausted his story–20 some odds songs in 20 days, in secret, put on hold for an entire year after production–no one cares to listen. Critics and consumers alike pay no mind to his artistic journey. [Until the documentary comes out, which we will probably buy or download.] Just because most listeners don’t have the same visceral experience that JT and his team had in the studio, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

The aforementioned article hit a sensitive spot for me when JT’s collaboration with Timbaland was questioned. To suggest a different partnership in a negative manner–because the product isn’t good enough–demonstrates that artists still aren’t fully appreciated for their craft, nor is their experience as artist recognized. To consumers, the music is simply good or bad. They like this better than that. Blah blah blah.  JT has a familial relationship with Timbaland that is not only self-proclaimed, but tangible when you see them together during performances, interviews, and appearances. To create music with someone you vibe with and adore must be a phenomenal experience that makes the product worth that much more.

Why is the music on an album not seen as a product of performance art yet? This makes me see why my non-art interested friends were so mind blown with Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” performance art documentary/video. When we talk about Jackson Pollack’s iconic splattered paintings, his angry and forceful brushstrokes are always the center of discussion. Yet when JT talks of 20 songs in 20 days, it’s a moot point. What happened to shows like “Making the Video” to “Unplugged?” Artists use to have the opportunity to share their story, albeit in limited capacity. When can the conversation move to artistry rather than musicians simply producing songs for you to use, abuse, and rip apart? You can tear apart a product meant for everyday use. You can write endless Yelp reviews, peruse Angie’s list, or go through tech blogs for your fancy gadgets. But to expect “more” from a pop culture icon who is already taking the world by storm is a different issue. If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. No one is forcing it down your throat or making you buy it. This is the artist’s struggle of self-expression, even at his status and experience. Or especially at his status and experience.

Sure, I don’t like every song on the album, but I know it is there for a reason and I appreciate JT’s boldness in giving his brainchild to the world. It may not be the most innovative, but it is certainly unexpected and disturbing, which hits the nail on the head.

Don’t you have a government shutdown to be reading up on anyway?

‘Cause if they study close, real close, they might learn something.

The Artists in Our Lives

Recently, I have had a lot of experiences with artists/art of all sorts… from contemporary painters and sculptors to mixed media moguls and performance artists. I have also had some run-ins with artists famed in the popular arts, better known as celebrities. [Comic-Con, anyone? Don’t worry, that post is on its way.]

As I’ve said before, my ideal self is an artist. I like to think I’m striving to become my ideal self. What I have been dwelling upon is the sheer fanaticism that comes along with knowing and identifying so closely with someone’s artwork, be it a painting or a television show. When I meet an artist whose work I admire, I find myself starstruck… unable to express anything but sheer gratitude for one’s creations. Shame on me, I would think to myself, that someone’s celebrity would leave me speechless… after all, they are human beings who just happen to be famous.

But upon further reflection, I realize why these encounters have left me in awe. Consuming these artists’ works and really allowing myself to become a fan awakens something inside me. Call it “inspiration.” I used to think it silly to be obsessed with movie and television stars–when we meet them, they are not the characters they play onscreen. Yet to see them in real life and understand their humanity can be a life-changing experience. We fall in love with these characters because we see a piece of ourselves within them [something we want to be or something we wish we weren’t] and we are made vulnerable by that. So many characters who do not exist define our generation, just as many pieces of art will go unseen by the masses and still be equally definitive of what it means to live in this time period.

No matter what artform is your chosen poison, by all means consume it. Be it food, medicine, music, visual media, anything… go out there and grab it. If is stirs your soul and challenges you to think differently or be more creative, surely it must be meant for you. And when you meet the artist behind the work, fangirl all you want. Just remember that the artwork disturbs you for a reason. Do the artists a solid by finding that reason. If you binge-watch serialized TV shows or museum-hop every weekend, find out what exactly it is that keeps you coming back for more. It is a huge injustice to artists of all forms to tell them their work is “good” without ever knowing what stands out about it and the effort that went into making it great.

Would you tell this man his work is “good” and just leave it at that?

Stan Lee, Marvel Comics
Stan Lee, Marvel Comics

Do you have any random goals?

Is there anything you just HAVE to do before you die?

We grow up, experience different things, and set out on a path to be this or that, make a sum of money, maybe attain a certain level of prestige. Or we might just prioritize living comfortably, being happy, and making it to the weekend.

But do you have anything random you just NEED to do? Something seemingly unrelated to your schooling, career path, and life goals?

My ideal self in an artist. I, of all people, think everything is art… from writing to cooking, and even getting up in the morning. But I want to be an artist in the traditional sense. Put material to medium to create meaning.

Some people who know me would not consider this random. I’ve taken art history classes, I seek art in my everyday life, and I’ve managed an art gallery. But to my ideal self, I’m just standing on the sidelines, witnessing greatness and refusing to be a part of it.

Before I die, I want my artwork to be featured in an exhibition.

What is your random goal?



That’s that real “real life.”

When it rains, it pours. And the blessings are raining down on me right now. It’s wonderful.

I will be starting my career, forreals this time, with the Academy of Art University as the Northern Los Angeles Outreach Representative. Basically I get to talk all day and be a resource for students to get to the biggest art school in the nation. Although the school is in San Francisco, my position is based in LA and requires 75% travel. Public speaking, art, students, travel… how did I get so lucky? All the things I love wrapped up into one AND I get paid for it? YES.

I am flying to SF on Sunday to complete a one-month training program… how sick is it that I get to spend a month in the Bay? With per diem for all my meals? In a fancy hotel? Pretty sick, if I may say so myself. And those are just the perks. I get to represent an amazing university in which creative minds get to explore their craft and realize their potential. I also have the opportunity to attend different events such as fashion shows, gallery auctions and film festivals.

Getting this job is a dream come true and it’s only the beginning. I’m SO glad I didn’t settle for the lucrative, yet unsuitable, opportunity where I found myself about a month ago. In this day and age of huge student loan debt, a focus on practicality, and a struggle to maintain our individuality while finding out place in society, we cannot forget our dreams. Even though it took me a little longer than I had hoped–I finished school in March–I earned a position that suits me and will undoubtedly challenge me to take initiative, exercise leadership, and continue to expand my communication skills. Snaps for personal development!

Who said getting married at this age is constricting? Surely, they didn’t see me coming. Rather than dwelling on the thought that “there could be something better out there” or wondering how I could explore other continents and careers because I’m “tied down,” we’ve chosen to find those better things and take on those new experiences together. Ezrael and I have a bunch more things we want to accomplish before our time here is done. We challenge and motivate each other, instead of thinking of our relationship as a mere extraneous commitment to be factored into bigger life decisions. But I do suppose finding that person and making sure you two can stick together is another feat in itself.

If only everyone could open their minds and perspectives to find that driving force–it doesn’t have to be a lover, friend, or even a person–to help them realize their dreams and experience contentment. Amidst the journey toward those goals, it’s also nice to consider the other things that make the ride worthwhile… like bridesmaids and groomsmen! That’s right, we’ve got all the people in place for our bridal party! We are on the smaller end of the big side :P And we are super excited to include more friends and family in different roles in our celebration because Lord knows it’s gonna be a little large.

“Real life” is shaping up pretty well! New career, bridesmaids&groomsmen at the ready, and I get to marry the man of my dreams? Not too bad.

Our Weekend in Raleigh: Day 3

Start with Our Weekend in Raleigh: Day 1.

And check out Our Weekend in Raleigh: Day 2!

Our packed Saturday was cause for sleeping in so we rolled to lunch around 11:30 on Sunday. We hit up Lily’s Pizza, at the recommendation of the Raleigh Visitor’s Guide as a “cheap eat.” We ordered stuffed mushrooms and the Corporate Greed specialty pizza. Oh, yes. The wait for the food was definitely worth it. The place had some interesting bathrooms, too.

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After lunch, we made our way to the final stop on our tourist adventures: North Carolina Museum of Art. It was two buildings, surrounded by Museum Park, which had acres of trails and outdoor art along the way. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore the park due to rain. Weather is so weird in NC. We started in the exhibitions building which had temporary contemporary exhibitions, as well as the ticketed El Anatsui exhibition. El Anatsui lives and works in Nigeria and his art spans across multiple genres–definitely a mixed medium type of guy. A lot of his more recent work utilizes found objects, such as liquor bottle tops, of which he creates huge sheets. Displaying these sheets is another art it itself–quite amazing really. I’m glad I had the chance to see such an exhibition.

The West Building housed the permanent collections, spanning all types of time periods from Ancient to Classical, American and Contemporary and everything in between. This museum was quite different than other fine arts museums I’ve been to in LA and NYC per se. Curating so many pieces in a small space creates such different conversations between pieces… even placing American Art from different times periods next to each other seems a little off. But it’s certainly refreshing to come into an institution expecting to adhere to a particular demeanor and then be pushed to see things a little differently.

El Anatsui (permanent collection)–made from liquor bottle tops and wire 




All in all, I LOVED Raleigh. It’s a huge city, with a small town feel. And a beautiful place with an endless amount of things to do, see, and eat. Definitely tourist-friendly too. It’s always delightful to explore a new place with your significant other–somewhere you’ve both never been. As difficult as it is for Ez to live so far away, it’s pretty cool that we constantly get to explore this big world. I guess wanderlust is a little more manageable in a long-distance relationship. I’m happy to have checked Raleigh, North Carolina off my long list of places to see.