Tracks of 2016: #5 Sharon Needles

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Here’s the T.

Ru Paul’s Drag Race had pickied up cult status long before 2012’s Season 4 came around. Self-aware and knowing, as all reality TV shows must be, the additional element of brand savvy drag queens just added the ingredient needed to push ‘potential’ into ‘phenomenon’.

For Season 4 the reality TV trope ‘series-length rivalry’ was edited to within an inch of its life between Sharon Needles (whose début runway look involved a bald cap and fake blood) and Phi Phi O’Hara (the more traditional ballgown and pageants queen). Of course the drama was ramped up to eleventistupid, it involved reality television, gay men and narrative convenience. What transpired generated enough social media content and Twitter friendly memes to guarantee Drag Race success from the first episode onwards for ever more.

Here’s another grand tradition of drag queens: their inevitable pop careers are usually disasters. Cheap songs, cheaper videos, in-joke lyrics. If Sharon Needles represents anything, it’s the results of knowing your gay history and working on songs with depth and content. It may not be a coincidence that the hit count for this video is much lower than would be expected from anything released by a series winner. #Choices.

Tracks of 2016: #2 Frank Ocean

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Rule 1 of the Internet: never read comment sections.

You’ll recognise what I mean. A story reporting that expert analysis showing how rappers/hip hop artists use broader, deeper vocabulary than rock stars, or how hip hop is more influential than rock, and all hell breaks loose. I made the mistake not long after David Bowie’s death of clicking “read comments” underneath a story reporting Kanye West was considering releasing a tribute album. Whoopsie on my part there. Just reduce the comments to a pastiche of long-lost 1970s comedies, that’s what I found myself doing. “A black man?! Covering white person’s music?! Somebody open a window!”

I’m something of a magpie for these things. When Frank Ocean may or may not have implied/admitted same-sex relationships, it took a few mouse clicks on Twitter to unleash a splurge of comments connecting the words “Frank Ocean” and a certain derogatory term for homosexual. Long, deep sigh.

I’m no Frank Ocean expert, man alive am I not. To my ears this is the sound of the new form hip hop and pop music are developing, somewhere around the edges of experimentation and free-form narrative. Hear it in Rhianna’s “Work” or Beyoncé’s “Hold Up”.  While so much playlisted stuff continues along its conservative and predictable path, it’s the urban and hip hop worlds where the interesting experimentation and bravery flourish. Sorry comment section dwellers.