PENTATONIX UPDATE: SUPERFRUIT-INESS, PENTATODRIX, ON MY WAY HOME DOCUMENTARY, AND “EVOLUTION OF MICHAEL JACKSON”

While Pentatonix was on the Asian leg of its On My Way Home Tour, they still maintained their prominence online, what with consistent weekly antics from the Superfruit duo of Scott and Mitch, but there are other things that are abuzz, too.

Let’s start with Superfruit.  Prior to departing for their Asian tour, Superfruit posted a video featuring the duo in drag, with the help of Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 4 contender Willam Belli.  The results were fabulous with Scott looking like a fabulous, angular model, and Mitch resembling a cross between Lea Michele and Penelope Cruz.  World, meet Deb and Lulu!

Scott and Mitch then got inspired to reinvent 12 hip-hop numbers as Broadway songs, to buzzworthy results.    I like how Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” sounded perky with their twist, ILoveMakkonen’s “Tuesday” sounded sprightly and bright, O.T. Genasis’ “Coco” turned into a dramatic piece, Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” sounding like a good fit for Les Miserables, Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” given a flamenco-esque treatment, Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” sounding like a 1950s ditty, Nicki Minaj’s “Pills & Potions” turned into a wistful ballad, along with Drake’s “Just Hold On We’re Goin’ Home”, and finally giving Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” a lilting melody.  They also covered Jamie Foxx and T-Pain’s “Blame it on the Alcohol”, which got a tweet of approval from T-Pain.

Todrick Hall actually goes a very long way with Pentatonix besides the two collaborations he did with them, going all the way back when the core trio were in Arlington, Texas.  So, when he did a parody tribute of them (with a medley of two medleys, the Swedish House Mafia and Daft Punk medleys), it’s inevitable there are in-jokes thrown in for good measure.  He nailed their tics very well–Kirstie’s side-mouth singing, Scott’s height and proclivity for melisma, Avi’s body rolls, Kevin’s beatboxing tics, and most especially, Mitch’s queen-iness, which got pretty extreme coverage during the Daft Punk portion of the medley.  The only thing that Scott and Mitch noted that they would never do, as they reacted to the video (due to fan clamoring) is Mitch uttering “Toots subscribes-ies”.  There were some watchers who weren’t aware of Todd’s deep connection with the group and thought he was throwing shade at them.  But Pentatonix immediately aired their nod of approval, so all is good, and it can be enjoyed as it is–a very creative and amusing treat.

Immediately after their tour, they then proceed to promote their On My Way Home documentary.  It focused mainly on their North American leg of the tour of the same name, but it touches on where they came from, where they are at this point, and their ambition to have an album of all original music.  Admittedly I have not yet purchased the video on Vimeo, but once I have my budget in order, I’ll purchase it, and I know I’ll enjoy it.

But while we wait for their new all-originals album, the group gave us another staggering video treat–the “Evolution of Michael Jackson”.  Though I might quibble that they didn’t include “Scream”, and his last album “Invincible” (like “Butterflies” and “Your Rock My World”), well it’s still a very comprehensive overview focusing on Michael’s truly best moments.  It’s not strictly chronological as they placed 1983’s “P.Y.T” after 1987’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, and 1995’s “You Are Not Alone” was placed as a counterpoint while they were singing 1992’s “Heal the World” before launching into “Will You Be There” from the same album, but I suppose it’s more of an arrangement sense that is why they didn’t strictly follow chronology.  I also quibble a bit that Scott sounded a bit winded in “Beat It”, but that’s just a minor note I’ll make in an otherwise A+ masterclass performance.  My favorite moments were Kirstie’s lead parts in singing “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “Billie Jean” (though one might quibble it doesn’t quite make sense for a girl to sing that song considering the subject matter–but then again, hearing Candice Glover and Malaya Watson cover Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” in American Idol without changing the gender made me accept hearing Kirstie sing this classic better) and “Black and White”, Avi’s lead parts in “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and “Dirty Diana”, and Kevin’s singing in “The Way You Make Me Feel”.

Well, I suppose the next time we’ll hear from Pentatonix, it will be their all-originals album.  I’m looking forward to hear it.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

PENTATONIX LIVE IN MANILA: AN ECSTATIC PTXPERIENCE

Panoramic view from Pentatonix’s perspective (image courtesy of Pentatonix)

Though I’m reeling from a high after attending the Pentatonix concert, I have to begin this blog on a somber note.  Originally, the Manila concert was slated to be held on Friday, 05 June, but with an additional concert date in Jakarta, Indonesia for 04 June, they moved the schedule of this concert to Saturday, 06 June, and added a date the following day at the Waterfront Cebu.  It so happens that the date of the concert was also the first anniversary of my brother’s death.

After my night shift ended that Saturday morning, I went straight home so I can join my family to commemorate my brother’s passing.  We all trooped to Christ the King where my brother’s remains were buried, and we dedicated a full rosary and a whole litany of the prayers of the dead for him.  After that, we went to Buffet 101 in Robinson’s Magnolia for lunch where we were joined by one my brother’s best friends and reminisce about him.  It was a sumptuous feast, and it was nice trading stories about him to keep his memory alive.

On our way home after the lunch, I took a nap in the car, and when we were near our house, an argument erupted–because my dad objected to my sister’s plans to visit a sick friend in Las Piñas (because it’s rather far from where we live and he’s not familiar with the place, and he worried about her safety even if my sister assured him she’ll be taking precautions and she wouldn’t need my dad to drive her there as she’ll be taking a cab) and the fact that I’ll be attending this concert  despite the fact that I barely had sleep.  Sure I was recovering from a cold, but I’ve had encountered these situations before and I managed to get by even with three-hours’ sleep previously and nothing’s going to stop me from seeing my favorite group.  When we were finally at home at 2:30 PM, I went straight to bed to sleep and recuperate as much as I could.

I woke up like clockwork at 5;45 PM, and I quickly freshened up and prepared myself.  Around this hour, I felt that it might be a challenge to get a cab from my place to the Araneta Coliseum, but since the Araneta Coliseum was accessible by LRT (it will take two rides, one the LRT-1 line along Taft, then connect at the Doroteo Jose station to take the LRT-2 from Recto), I took that path.  The LRT-1 ride was a bit of a sardine experience as even on a Saturday, it could be overcrowded, but it was a relief after I disembarked at Doroteo Jose and walked to take the LRT-2 from Recto to Cubao, there was seating room, so that second leg was a breeze.

I made it to the venue at 7:00 PM, and I entered the red gate (where those with Patron and VIP seats enter) and found my seat was pretty ideal–a center seat that is pretty close to the stage (Row 9).  I scoured around and by 7:45 I noticed the Coliseum was at full capacity–I saw all sections all filled up, including the bleachers.  I was mightily pleased at what I saw.  Though the Binibining Pilipinas coronation night does draw a significant crowd, there would be some empty sections, unlike in this concert which was filled to full capacity.

Without advanced announcement (as most would expect in concert events), at 8 PM sharp the Coliseum lights dimmed to indicate the concert was about to begin–and the crowd roared in delight in anticipation.  The screams escalated as the five members entered the stage, and the screams turned into a sing-along as the group launched into their cover of Ariana Grande’s “Problem”.  The energy and enthusiasm of the audience (including myself) never let up even up to the very end.

Now, let me feature some highlights, observations and new covers featured in this concert tour.

They only have one outright new cover, which they sang as they went off the stage to shake hands with the fans–the Rihanna / Kanye West / Paul McCartney (with uncredited backup vocals from the 1990s trio Wilson Phillips) hit “Four Five Seconds”.  It’s a lovely lark, but the highlight was the last verse prior to the final chorus, where we get to hear Kevin sing with Avi in a duet and then blend their voices–I love it when I get to hear these fresh combinations.

The other newer covers either serve as intros for one of their concert staples, or as part of a medley to one of their originals.  The Mark Ronson / Bruno Mars mega-smash “Uptown Funk” served as their intro to their cover to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, and you know there will always be a “chair girl” they serenade to–in this case, Eve Riza Katalbas was the lucky chair girl.

 

For their cover of Imogen Heap’s “Aha!”, Avi, Mitch, Kirstie, and Scott went on what they dub as their opera intro (this was the section after Kevin’s cello sequence and their cover of Stromae’s “Papaoutai” so in this section Keven was away to set his cello aside before joining in for “Aha!”).  It was a nice nod to a cappella’s classical roots and it does make a good segue to “Aha!”.  I wish I know the name of that piece…

Then there’s their cover of Ariana Grande’s “Break Free”, which they fused it as a medley with their original song, “See-Thru”.  It’s a great mash-up, but obviously the Filipino audience sang the Ariana Grande song with lustier gusto (though we also sang along to the “See-Thru” part, too).

Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is also a chief concert staple, as this was the first song they ever performed as a group, but I have to note they put a nice little twist on the “Eh-eh-eh-eh” hook as unlike in previous versions, they slowed it down to a chilled out reggae groove.  See if you can spot it and compare it with the version on their previous tours.

Speaking of the “cello” portion of the concert, I observed Kevin’s cello seemed different as it was trotted in–it looked like an outline of a cello instead of the usual gigantic wooden instrument you would think of–I suppose it’s for easier transport (especially for a lengthy tour) and it probably is electric for better amplification.  I wonder if Kevin has a nickname for this cello?  Is it also “Beyonce”, or another name?

Of course the climax of the concert was “On My Way Home”, when the audience is divided into three sections to sing the differing parts of the chorus.  I was in the center section so I was “Team Mitch”. (“Team Scott” was to my right and “Team Kirstie” was to my left).  We Filipinos followed them and sang with them with aplomb–this is a such a terrific song, you know.

After that number, of course the audience demanded an encore, and after chants of “PTX” and “Encore”, we then sang the chorus of “On My Way Home” before they returned to the stage.  They then treated us with their original song “That’s Christmas to Me” where Scott instructed us to be silent so they can perform the song without microphones.  This was the only moment where the we the audience were not our enthusiastic energetic selves as we obediently complied to Scott’s request.  It was a beautiful moment, and their voices were heard loud enough even across the bleachers, so after they’re done we of course gave our enthusiastic ovation.

As their finale, of course we need to hear their Grammy-winning “Daft Punk” medley.  As expected, this masterpiece is terrific (and yes, the audience sang along to it) and is a perfect way to leave the audience in a high that lasted for days.

It was 90 minutes of my life totally well spent and well worth the VIP admission.  I of course would want more, but we all know how constantly singing for almost 90 minutes non-stop is a gargantuan task and they do need to rest for all their gigs to come.  I lingered in the Coliseum a bit to post my pics on Facebook before I hailed a cab home, and had one of my most peaceful and blissful sleeps in ages.  This was a concert experience that I will forever remember for the ecstatic joy it brought me.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

EUROVISION 2015: MÅN-LY HUNK PREVAILS OVER PLUNGING NECKLINES (CONCLUSION)

Normally, I would be talking about a Top Ten but as I previously mentioned, this year’s voting patterns seemed to have the points mainly concentrated among nine countries, with three distinctive tiers/degrees of concentration.  All told, the Top Nine received 80.34% of all the total points that could be allocated, leaving the remaining 18 finalists with less than 20% of the points to battle for.   To put this into perspective, since the current point system was implemented in 1975, we have to go all the way back in 1976 to see a larger concentration of points for the Top Nine (even more for the Top Ten)–that year, the Top Nine hogged 81% of all available allocated points and the Top Ten hogged 86%).  In most other years, the points concentration of the Top Ten since the 2000s tend to be around 70%.  Another thing I noticed about the Top Nine is that these are the only countries that got points from more than half of the participating countries in this contest (all the rest this year got points from 12 countries or less).

TIER ONE:  This tier features entries that got votes from more than 20 countries but less than 30 countries and their scores range in the 90-110 level.

9TH PLACE: ISRAEL (Nadav Guedj).  No one can deny the energy delivered by this entry, with Nadav and the all-male back-up singers and dancers engaging the crowd with a fusion of hip-hop moves and belly dancing (yes, belly dancing!).  With most other entries going too classy, this is the closest thing to guilty pleasure trashy fun in the finals, and even if Nadav’s pitch went off in places (unlike in his semifinal performance), the entertainment value is such that you can easily overlook that.  It ranked high with the juries and general public alike, ranking 8th with the jury and 7th with the popular vote.  So why did it fall to 9th overall?  For starters, this seemed to exhibit the Edurne Paradox, as even if it got votes from 25 countries, it was outranked by an entry that got votes from 23 countries because its points were not as high–in fact, the highest points it received was one 8-point vote from Italy, and with the rest giving slightly lower points, it was overtaken and outranked by two entries that were only Top Ten in one metric instead of both.

8TH PLACE: NORWAY (Mørland & Debrah Scarlett).  As I predicted, this entry won the Marcel Bezençon Composer’s Award.  I was expecting this to be a Top Five contender, but its popularity was not as strong as I thought.  It ranked 17th based on points from the televotes and 7th from the juries.  It also had those crucial 10-point votes coming from Switzerland and Iceland, which allowed it to outpoint Israel even if it received points from two fewer countries.

7TH PLACE: ESTONIA (Elina Born & Stig Rästa).  In my opinion, I would’ve preferred Slovenia, Georgia, Spain, Azerbaijan or even Serbia to take this entry’s place in the elite circle, as in my opinion they ought to be penalized for constantly veering off pitch.  But the song is undeniably “cool” and the visual staging with the two singers forming long shadows were too striking that it added to the cool appeal to the general public.  The juries may have taken their pitch problems into account hence ranking them 11th place, but the general public was too enamored with the cool vibe and visuals that it ranked 5th in the televote.

TIER TWO:  This trio took 25.81% of all possible points that could be allocated, the highest ratio since 1991 (that set of 4th to 6th placers took 26.67%) that year).  Their scores range from 170 to 220 and they got votes from between 33 to 36 countries–almost a clean sweep.

6TH PLACE: LATVIA (Aminata).  Ranking 8th in the televote is not bad at all, but its ranking soared to this tier because of the juries, which ranked this entry 2nd overall.  It is fully justified as Aminata looked dreamy in her pink low-cut dress with black sheer overlay, and her singing was absolutely pitch perfect, added to the fact that her song has a coolness factor with its electronic instrumentation.

5TH PLACE: AUSTRALIA (Guy Sebastian).  Guy delivered a Bruno Mars-like presentation that obviously won over the juries (4th) and the public (not too shabby 6th), securing a Top Five finish.  A strong finish by the entry is always a foregone conclusion as Guy had his chops honed by being the first ever Australian Idol about a decade ago.  Despite receiving votes from 33 countries compared to Lativa’s 35, and Latvia receiving three douze (12) points over this entry’s two, Australia got to outrank Latvia thanks to receiving a whopping nine 2nd and 3rd place points (10 and 8 points respectivelY) compared to Latvia’s two.  If the EBU allows it, I would gladly like to see Australia back in this contest.

4TH PLACE:  BELGIUM (Loic Nottet).  I’m pleasantly surprised how well the public and the juries connected to the abstract, avant-garde staging and choreography of this entry.  The memorably striking presentation and Loic singing very well (well, diction, that’s another story, but you know that he’s not a native English speaker so you expect him to sing English with an accent) were key factors that led all but three (Montenegro, Malta and Azerbaijan) participating countries to grant this entry points, and three countries (France, Hungary and Netherlands) granting this the coveted 12 points.

TIER THREE:  This top tier decisively dominated the entire pack, eating up a record 41% of the available total allocated points.  The points amassed by this trio–290 and above–would’ve been enough for any one of them to become the winner of this contest in other years.  Obviously, these three entries got the lion’s share of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place votes–and early in the disclosure of the points, it was a neck-and-neck battle among these three, that they kept of swapping the lead until about the 30th country’s results were read out when one entry started to pull away for the win.  Two of these entries actually got points from all the participating countries, and the third only missed two countries–in a typical year, a winner will probably have at least three countries not voting for it, so this sort of near-consensus among all participating countries for three entries is very rare.

3RD PLACE: ITALY (Il Volo).  This entry actually won the televote, but was pulled down by the juries, which ranked them 6th.  Even if the juries pulled them down, this trio scored high enough that it earned points from all the participating countries (of course with the exception of the home country, since they are not allowed to vote for themselves).  This hunky trio delivered the operatic vocal fireworks and they looked elegant in their Armani suits, so this high placement is well-deserved.

2ND PLACE: RUSSIA (Polina Gagarina).  Before I discuss the merits and performance of this entry, I have to discuss a trend among female soloists in this year’s contest–it seems to appeal to male viewers, several of them wore clothes with plunging necklines.  This entry is of course a prime example of that trend, which you can also see on Latvia (Aminata), Albania (Elhaida Dani), Greece (Maria Elena Kyriakou), and Germany (Ann-Sophie–in her case, in a black jumpsuit).  There were female soloists who bucked the trend and went demure, though, like Poland (Monika Kuszynska), France (Lisa Angell), and Georgia (Nina Sublatti–though take note she’s in a miniskirt).  Serbia (Bojana Stamenov)’s neckline is actually a “V”-line but it can still pass in the modesty department.  Spain (Edurne) is a special case as even though her neckline didn’t go as low as the aforementioned five ladies, she was a dazzling sexy vision as her dress looked sheer when bathed in extremely bright klieg lights.

Plunging necklines, from top to bottom: Russia (Polina Gagarina), Latvia (Aminata), Albania (Elhaida Dani), Greece (Maria Elena Kyriakou), and Germany (Ann-Sophie)
Plunging necklines, from top to bottom: Russia (Polina Gagarina), Latvia (Aminata), Albania (Elhaida Dani), Greece (Maria Elena Kyriakou), and Germany (Ann-Sophie)
Not quite plunging, but sexy:  Spain (Edurne) with hunky dancer
Not quite plunging, but sexy: Spain (Edurne) with hunky dancer

The hosts likewise joined in the plunging neckline trend–during the first half of the show, Arabella Kiesbauer sported a lacy black number with that trend, and to a lesser extent Mirjam Weichselbraun’s black gown could also be classified as low-cut.  Then in the second half of the show, it was Alice Tumler’s turn to show a bit more of her chest.  Some of the female spokespersons announcing their country’s votes also joined in the fray–two most notable examples were Finland’s Krista Siegfrieds (who competed two years ago with the Katy Perry-ish “Marry Me”) and Netherlands’ Edsilia Rombley (who competed twice in this contest back in 1999 and 2006).

Taking turns: The hosts (Arabella Kiesbauer, Mirjam Weichselbraun and Alice Tumler) during the first half (top) and second half (bottom) of the finals.
Taking turns: The hosts (Arabella Kiesbauer, Mirjam Weichselbraun and Alice Tumler) during the first half (top) and second half (bottom) of the finals.
Krista Siegfrieds announcing the Finnish results.
Edsilia Rombley relaying the Dutch results.

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Now, let’s discuss Polina’s song and performance.  I have always maintained that this song is good, but not really something that I love with a passion.  Yes, its world peace sentiments are noble, but since this is coming from a country lately notorious for war-mongering, it feels hypocritical.  Also, the presentation reminds me of how Michael Slezak bash Season 10 finalist Thia Megia for being too “pageant-y”, as this is the sort of song that you would expect to hear sung in a Miss America pageant, or lately, Miss World (it will be interesting if there will be a contestant this year or in the next few years who will cover this song for her Talent performance).  Yes, Polina’s singing is unimpeachable, and the presentation undeniably polished, but she already has a built-in advantage going into this contest that her entry will rank very high, and even if San Marino and Lithuania didn’t give her any points, that advantage allowed her to outrank Italy even if the latter garnered points from all countries and got nine douze point votes compared to this entry’s five douze point votes (from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, and Germany).

CHAMPION: SWEDEN (Måns Zelmerlöw).  I’m so stoked that my favorite to win indeed won this contest.  I’m pleased he overcame all those little controversies and merits won out.  Though he was trumped a bit by Italy and Russia in the popular vote, he ranked first with the jury, and by all metrics, his overall points and ranking averages all point to him becoming Sweden’s 6th win in this contest.   Though 365 points is a staggering total, it’s only the third highest total amassed by any Eurovision  entry in this era, behind countrywoman Loreen’s “Euphoria” back in 2012 (372 points) and Norway’s Alexander Rybak’s “Fairytale” in 2009 (387 points).  I don’t need to talk about his performance anymore as I’ve already raved about it in my song preview and in my results reaction on the second semifinal and all I’ll say about his finals performance is he remained consistently at peak form from his semifinals stint (while most others who competed in the semifinals we tend to see a bit wear-and-tear).

In some ways, the see-saw battle between Sweden and Russia became like a “good-vs-evil” battle to the eyes of many fans (especially those in the Wiener Stadthalle), with war-mongering homophobic Russia threatening to take over and the more politically liberal Sweden becoming the “hero” that prevailed in the end after a suspenseful fight to the finish.  This, despite Russia being represented by a pretty blonde with a pretty song about world peace.

Considering his controversy last year, it’s so wonderful to hear his reaction message, “We are all heroes, no matter who we love, who we are, or what we believe in.”  It’s a beautiful message, almost at the same level as Conchita’s message when she won last year.  Now, will Mans make serious inroads in the European charts the way Loreen’s “Euphoria” did?  Early indications seem to point to that direction.  Congratulations to a very deserving winner, and hope that like ABBA, this can be a springboard to a serious international career.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

The thrill of victory: Mans Zelmerlow right after winning the Eurovision Song Contest

P.S. Also looking forward to Sweden hosting next year’s contest–most likely Sweden’s answer to Kathy Griffin, Petra Mede, will return to host, but I wonder how will she top her previous spectacular hosting stint?