Archive

The Guardian

This may be the year the pop landscape is overrun with Scandinavian singers of the female variety, so we present six of the best

M

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

M , AKA Karen Marie rsted, first plonked Pilgrim online last October, causing certain music bloggers to contort into spasms of pure wonder. By channelling elements of the dreaded ‘indie-pop’ sound – there are nods to the likes of Purity Ring in the eerie, cut-up vocals – and bolting on a huge chorus (“holla, holla, holla”), M and producer Ronni Vindahl have managed to utilise elements of something boring and dry and turn it into something uniquely heartfelt and unshakeably catchy. She’s also just released a Denmark-only single called Glass which features the line, “Oh dear one turn the lights off, so our horny souls can have some private time”. You can’t say fairer than that, really.

Cry/dance factor: 56/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 78. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 79. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 65. Average BPM: 50.

Frida Sundemo

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

Perhaps Scandi-pop’s biggest asset of late has been its ability to make people dance like idiots while rivulets of tears and dollops of snot pour over creased cheeks and ugly grimaces. Sad lyrics packaged in happy melodies is nothing new in pop, of course, but it’s an art form the Swedes especially have started to dominate, and Gothenburg resident and former medical school graduate Frida Sundemo has two proper cry-at-the-disco anthems up her sleeve. While the bittersweet Indigo encases an entreaty about not giving up in a souffle of sparky synths and pogoing beats, the gorgeously melancholic Snow finds Sundemo wishing the winter would frankly just piss off: “Goodbye Mr Cold, I’m begging you to go”.

Cry/dance factor: 92/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 75. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 41. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 83. Average BPM: 140.

Elliphant

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

“I’m like a finger up your ass, now why not give it to me?” muses mysterious Swede Elliphant on the clattering Ciant Hear It, a song that seems to have been built around an old rave siren, a dog barking and a disintegrating Commodore 64. Elsewhere on her recently released self-titled EP she channels Arular-era MIA on the frantic TeKKno Scene, the sound of a panic attack on Make It Juicy and Swedish reggae on Down On Life (opening line: “We are waking up in a pile of shit”). While Frida Sundemo can act like a soothing balm to life’s woes, Elliphant’s skull-rattling agit-pop – which has much in common with Icona Pop’s shoutier material – is a pretty good way of kicking bullshit into touch before it all gets out of hand.

Cry/dance factor: 6/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 36. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 83. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 0. Average BPM: 90.

Margaret Berger

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

In 2004 Berger auditioned for the second series of Norwegian Idol (or Idol: Jakten p en superstjerne to be precise) only to be dumped before the live shows. Luckily, one of the judges brought her back as a wildcard (she finished second), and her 2006 album Pretty Scary Silver Fairy explored electropop (think a lighter R yksopp or the Knife). She’s been quiet for a couple of years, but recently won Melodi Grand Prix (the Norwegian version of Your Country Needs You) and will represent Norway at Eurovision. Her song, I Feed You My Love, is spectacular – all big farting synths and dark lyrics like, “You put a knife against my back and you dare me to face the attack”. Jade Ewen this ain’t.

Cry/dance factor: 66/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 68. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 32. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 59. Average BPM: 95.

NONONO

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

When it’s really yes, yes, yes? Formed in Stockholm, NONONO, AKA singer Stina W ppling and production duo Astma & Rocwell, make the kind of percussion-heavy, gloom-tinged pop Niki & The Dove brought to the ‘masses’ last year. While Astma & Rocwell have previous, having worked with Icona Pop and Beatrice Eli (whose 2012 single The Conqueror is a glowering synth-ballad), it’s Stina – who’s just finished a three-year psychology course, education fans – that steals the show. While their debut Like The Wind ticks all the right boxes, production-wise (rattling percussion, spidery guitars similar to the xx, delicate synth flourishes), it’s all anchored by Stina’s vocal, which boosts it all with genuine character. Check out the “wha ah ah ah” bits if you don’t believe us.

Cry/dance factor: 44/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 49. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 63. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 51. Average BPM: 80.

Faye

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

As a teenager, Stockholm-born Fanny Hamlin (no sniggering at the back) was in the Swedish girl band Play alongside Rosanna Munter (please, guys, concentrate) and two other singers with less interesting names. Play released the excellent single Waterfall in 2010, and at one point toured with Destiny’s Child, with Beyonc imparting her vast amount of wisdom to Fanny by suggesting she steer clear of the music industry altogether. Thankfully she didn’t listen. The newly christened Faye recently set about making the kind of elegantly poised electropop torch songs that make you clutch at your chest in overdramatic anguish. Her first single, Water Against The Rocks, was one of 2012′s best music moments.

Cry/dance factor: 89/100. Likelihood of ‘doing a Robyn’: 71. Likelihood of song appearing in an episode of Girls: 57. Relevance of adjective ‘glacial’: 85. Average BPM: 50.

Paralympic star accused of trying to massage public perceptions as press release issued over plans for private memorial service

Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic star accused of murder, is due to hold a personal memorial service to honour Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he shot dead at his home in what he claims was an accident.

The service is due to take place on Tuesday night at the home of his uncle Arnold, where the South African has been staying since he was released on bail awaiting trial.

Plans for the service in the capital Pretoria came to light after a “leak” to the media, according to the public-relations agency representing Pistorius.

Vuma Reputation Management said: “Oscar specifically requested the memorial service as he continues to grieve and remains in deep mourning for the loss of his partner, Reeva. Since it is such a sensitive issue, Oscar has asked for a private service with people who share his loss, including his family members who knew and loved Reeva as one of their own.”

The press release added: “The Pistorius family would like to make a personal request to the media to please respect their privacy at their home in Pretoria tonight.”

Pistorius, 26, claims he shot the 29-year-old model by accident, assuming an intruder had entered his home on 14 February. The state accuses him of premeditated murder.

A woman answered the phone at Arnold Pistorius’s home on Tuesday evening but said Arnold was unavailable. There was no immediate comment from Steenkamp’s family, who held her funeral last week and have called for Pistorius to face justice.

Shashi Naidoo, a friend of Steenkamp, said: “If you wanted to keep a memorial service private, you would not put out a press release. I think this is a sad attempt to alter public perception.”

The battle of perceptions is being waged by the Johannesburg-based Vuma, hired to deal with intense international media interest since the fatal shooting. It has revamped Pistorius’s website, acted as a conduit for public statements by the Pistorius family, and become the first point of contact for journalists after the former Sun editor Stuart Higgins returned to Britain last week.

Higgins said recently: “I’ve been here at the family’s request to offer short-term support and, given my own lack of knowledge and experience of the South African media landscape, I’ve recruited a local PR agency to offer local support and I will help out from London.

“There’s a danger I will become the story if I stay here and alienate the local media,” he said.

On Monday a government official was quoted as saying that Pistorius wanted to resume training while on bail. Vuma’s Janine Hills was quick to issue a denial, however: “Absolutely not. He is currently in mourning and his focus is not on his sports.”

Meanwhile, a South African government politician weighed into the tragedy on Tuesday. Lulu Xingwana, the women’s minister, said: “I was disappointed Oscar got bail but I respect the decision of the court.”

Xingwana echoed critics who said the Pistorius case highlighted a deep malaise of violence against women, often involving firearms. “If there was no gun in the Pistorius home, Reeva Steenkamp would still be alive.

“Domestic violence is exacerbated by easy access to guns. We are making a call for stricter gun control. As a country we need to wage a sustained and effective campaign against the availability of guns in our homes and streets.”

Women are three times more likely to die violently if a firearm was kept in the home, she added.

It has also emerged that the magistrate who granted bail to Pistorius is related to a woman suspected of killing her two children and then killing herself last weekend. Desmond Nair confirmed that the woman, whose body was found at her home on Sunday evening along with those of her sons, is a first cousin.

By blending high and low art, Roy Lichtenstein tested the contradictions at the heart of our ideas about art. He was labelled a heretic, but half a century later, we get the joke

In November 2011, Roy Lichtenstein’s 1961 I Can See the Whole Room … and There’s Nobody in It! was sold by Christie’s for $43.2 million. The painting depicts a large back square, out of which a circle has been cut. From behind the circle peers the face of a jutting-jawed comic-strip man, illuminated by a bright background of yellow. He is looking through a peephole, at the viewer; above him a dialogue bubble declares that he can see no one in the room where we, presumably, are standing. The irony shoots in many directions, not least towards that perennial question demanded of modern art: is there any there there?

Painted in the same year as his breakthrough Look Mickey, the work in which Lichtenstein first discovered the possibilities of using cartoons and comic strips, I Can See the Whole Room … and There’s Nobody in It! encapsulates Lichtenstein’s wittiness and insight. The painting quotes abstract expressionism – the image suggests such seminal works as Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Black Square – while entirely subverting its tone. The avant garde confronts kitsch, the old world confronts the new, the individual confronts the mass-produced, and the confrontational confronts the jocular, even as the visible is declaring its viewers invisible. But Lichtenstein is just as willing to efface the image, and its maker, as his audience: in his 1978 Self-Portrait, he puts a blank mirror where the artist’s head should be.

At the same moment that Lichtenstein was discovering that he could use popular culture to ask searching questions about concept, form and technique, Andy Warhol was, quite independently, also using cartoon in his experimental work: neither artist knew it yet, but Pop Art was about to spring fully formed from America’s forehead. The nation did not initially enjoy looking in the mirror that Lichtenstein and Warhol were thrusting toward it: in 1964, Life magazine asked of Lichtenstein, “Is he the worst artist in America?”

Half a century later, the first major exhibition since Lichtenstein’s death in 1997 has arrived at Tate Modern, having travelled from the Art Institute of Chicago, where it opened last year. Although it took a while for museums to warm to Lichtenstein’s then heretical blending of high and low art, the original and the copy, the serious and the trivial, satire and homage, mechanical and handmade, produced and reproduced, far-seeing connoisseurs recognised something new and exciting, and immediately began collecting him.

His work explores ideas of clich s and icons, the ersatz and the manufactured. In the beginning, cartoons and comic strips provided his source material, although he soon moved away from them. But he never abandoned his signature method, the Ben-Day dot (named after inventor Benjamin Day’s 1879 technique for reproducing printed images by using dots to recreate gradations of shading), ensuring that his work would remain as recognisable as it was quotable.

Lichtenstein’s paintings are far more technically demanding than it seems at first glance. His work was described by the critic Hal Foster as the “handmade readymade”: not industrially mechanised, but blending careful techniques of handwork (drawing, tracing, painting, emphasising brushstroke, line, and Ben-Day dot) with the reproduction and screening of found images. It is not art trouv but art retrouv : refashioned, recovered, reframed. And in the process, our simplistic distinctions between making and manufacturing begin to dissolve.

Like Marcel Duchamp before him, Lichtenstein was criticised for not producing original art but plagiarising the originals. Unlike Duchamp, however, Lichtenstein couldn’t even offer the avant-garde defence of aggressive “obscenity”: his work is resolutely unconfrontational, tonally serene, even when the subject matter (such as Drowning Girl or WHAAM!) is pain or violence. This led to persistent accusations of detachment, distance, a frigidity that some say makes his work hard to love. Conversely, others charge that Lichtenstein’s art is too lovable: too accessible, commercial, art “lite” for the merely acquisitive.

His work tests the contradictions at the heart of our ideas about art and taste: reproduction enables accessibility and democratisation (good), but prompts anxieties about vulgarisation and popularisation (bad). But vulgarisation, Lichtenstein said, was what he was exploring: “The colour range I use is perfect for the idea, which has always been about vulgarisation.” The Ben-Day dots, too, were meant to suggest the manufactured and simulated: “The dots I use to make the image ersatz. And I think the dots also may mean data transmission.” The work is “supposed to look like a fake, and it achieves that, I think,” he explained.

It is no coincidence that Lichtenstein’s painstaking, hand-made works about reproduction do not themselves reproduce well: when they are reproduced, they lose their individuality, specificity, scope and delicacy. But the ideas remain, and they are wiser and more prescient than is sometimes acknowledged. Along with the other pop artists, Lichtenstein helped to suggest that any representation is mediated, emphasising new ways of seeing in the age of the industrialised image.

What is the relationship between imagination and the images that have shaped it? As I Can See the Whole Room … and There’s Nobody in It! suggests, Lichtenstein asks questions about perception and environment: apertures and camera shutters, peepholes and voyeurism, frame and screens define the way we view our surroundings. “My work isn’t about form,” he once said. “It’s about seeing. I’m excited about seeing things, and I’m interested in the way I think other people saw things.”

What he saw, and saw others seeing, was mid-century America in all its tawdry grandeur: a brash, jazzy, garish world of bright colours and arrested motion, industrialised and mechanised, through which real human experience keeps pushing its way. Lichtenstein brings noise and narrative into painting, introducing time and motion into a still life. The sensibility of much of his work is not far from the mid-century Hollywood musical: an unnatural, stylised world of primary colours, formulae and clich s, featuring carefully designed outbursts of spontaneous emotion, painstakingly recreated. Lichtenstein’s meticulously hand-painted dots may be no more reminiscent of French pointillism than of Fred Astaire re-recording each tap in a tap dance for the film’s soundtrack. And like the Hollywood musical, his work has been accused of nostalgia, conservatism, appeasement, even as it is celebrated for its energy, technical skill and charm.

Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born on 27 October 1923, and raised in New York City, the son of affluent middle-class parents. It was the jazz age; Scott Fitzgerald was in the midst of the parties that would inspire The Great Gatsby. The young Lichtenstein grew up surrounded by that world of exploding mass culture and commercial advertisement, jazz and prohibition (the peephole in I Can See the Whole Room has suggested the speakeasy to some viewers). Surrounded by the art moderne of the 1930s, influenced by the geometrical, modernist world of art deco and futurism, Lichtenstein also loved the superheroes of radio and film serials, and the popular music of his day, especially jazz. One of his finest paintings, The Melody Haunts My Reverie, features one of his perfect blondes (recently, and accurately, likened to Betty Draper in Mad Men) crooning a line from “Stardust” by the great Hoagy Carmichael.

He studied art at Ohio State University until the second world war interrupted his studies. Sent to Europe, he worked as a draughtsman, among other duties, and encountered European art, including exhibitions of C zanne and Toulouse Lautrec in London. After the war, he returned to Ohio, where he completed his degree and taught art for the next 10 years, while he pursued his painting, searching for an original style. He returned to New York in 1957, and four years later had his breakthrough with Look Mickey.

When the dealer Leo Castelli took him on in 1961, Lichtenstein joined a group of artists that included Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, and whom Warhol would soon join and eclipse, at least in the celebrity stakes. For the next 45 years Lichtenstein remained at the forefront of the American art world. The conspicuous in America interested him, he said in 1965: “I think there’s the apparent lack of subtlety and sort of make-believe anti-sensibility connected with American art. I think this is a style and it does relate to our culture and I think it would be anachronistic maybe to pretend to be involved with subtle changes and modulations and things like that because it’s really not part of America.”

But such a statement was not necessarily a criticism. “The things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire,” Lichtenstein said, and humour is as central to his work as is a very American buoyancy. Even the 1963 Drowning Girl is defiant: “I don’t care! I’d rather sink – than call Brad for help!” the girl’s thought bubble declares. Lichtenstein added later that, as far as he was concerned, the drowning girl didn’t drown. This relentlessly sanguine perspective, his cheerful willingness to celebrate rather than to excoriate, continues to mean that some will always view him as a lightweight, an artist manqu who sold out to the juggernaut of American popular culture. But context is crucial to parody and pastiche: pastiche reframes the work of art both literally and metaphorically, making us look at it anew. As with most modern art, parody and pastiche mean that the artist must also be a critic, engaging with a tradition that has been inherited without being overwhelmed or suffocated by it.

And clich , Lichtenstein maintained from the start, was central to his work. He was fascinated by the possibilities of reanimating a dead metaphor, playing with the bromidic visual formulae of mass culture, asking questions about inarticulacy, probing the tension between surface and depth. For an artist so interested in reproduction, he also understood the dangers of repeating himself, and worked hard to keep reinventing his work by turning to new themes and source material.

Reimagining Monet’s iconic series of Cathedrals and Haystacks, for example, Lichtenstein explained that they were “meant to be manufactured Monets”, at the same time as they were “a play on cubist composition”, borrowing imagery from the 1930s. “The theme is hackneyed, which is part of the idea”: the Monets “deal with the impressionist clich of not being able to read the image close up – it becomes clearer as you move away from it.”

When he turned to Van Gogh’s famous room at Arles, Lichtenstein’s sense of humour itself became a way of exploring that painter’s romanticised “madness”. Lichtenstein painted Bedroom at Arles, not after The Artist’s Room at Arles, but after a postcard of it, offering a tongue-in-cheek explication of how his painting “improved” Van Gogh’s: “I’ve cleaned his room up a little bit for him; and he’ll be very happy when he gets home from the hospital to see that I’ve straightened his shirts and bought some new furniture. Mine is a rather large painting and his is rather small … His is much better, but mine is much bigger.” This might seem merely facetious, but it subverts our supposedly straightforward evaluative criteria, while affectionately poking fun at American values, reminding us that bigger is not always better.

Lichtenstein added in a more serious vein: “Where the Van Gogh is so emotional, and feverish, and spontaneous, my work is planned and premeditated, and painfully worked out.” Lichtenstein is a conceptual artist who uses conventional representations to explore his abstract concepts. He liked using cartoon symbols, such as seeing stars, or the curving lines that indicate an arm in motion, because, he said, they “related to the way the futurists would have portrayed motion. There are certain marks, like these, that I am fond of using because they have no basis in reality, only in ideas.” And yet they convey ideas about how to depict the most physical of our realities: motion, time, collision. When Lichtenstein is faulted for being emotionally reserved, this is to deny that humour has an emotional impact. It can be defensive, but it can also be a profound point of connection, connectedness, even of sorrow and regret, and certainly of self-deprecation in an art world often accused of overweening narcissism.

Look Mickey, in which Donald Duck exclaims that he’s hooked a big one, features Donald raptly leaning toward his own image in the water, a Narcissus confronted not by his face, but by the artist’s signature, a small, sardonic, “rfl.” Or take the famous Masterpiece, which features another Hitchcock blonde admiringly telling the square-jawed artist: “WHY, BRAD DARLING, THIS PAINTING IS A MASTERPIECE! MY, SOON YOU’LL HAVE ALL OF NEW YORK CLAMORING FOR YOUR WORK!” He wasn’t wrong, but he kept laughing at himself, and that in itself is a virtue worth preserving.

When Lichtenstein died of pneumonia at the age of 73, his last words were: “Well, here I go,” a sentiment that could have appeared in one of his dialogue bubbles – humorous and forward-looking to the end.

17-year-old shot twice in the head after telling man not to urinate against her front door

Police in Delhi are hunting a man who shot dead a teenage girl after she told him not to urinate against her front door. The murder is the latest in a series of violent incidents in the Indian capital.

The 17-year-old victim, identified only as Binno, was shot twice in the head and died before reaching hospital. Her 40-year-old mother was also injured. The gunman, a former tenant, had been drinking, police said.

Neighbours in the poor and densely populated district of Nizamuddin, in south Delhi, blamed “criminal elements”.

Shamshed Hussein, a shopkeeper, told the Guardian: “Every community has its bad elements. It’s true that this isn’t the safest neighbourhood but most of the time people get along. But then it doesn’t take much to set things off.”

Raees Amir, a chemist, said the community was shocked. “The police are investigating but what are they going to do? It’s worrying. That’s how things are these days,” he said.

Public urination, as well as spitting, is a common sight in Indian cities where there are few public toilets. Repeated public health campaigns have had little impact. In 2009 a 22-year-old man was shot dead by a guard at a petrol station in Delhi after urinating nearby.

Delhi was once known as quiet and relatively safe. Over recent years it has acquired a reputation for trivial incidents that trigger violence. Newspapers frequently report road rage attacks on police and other drivers. This month a driver died of stab wounds. In March a rickshaw driver was beaten to death.

Experts have variously blamed overcrowding, a general lack of civility, the failure of people brought up in rural areas to adjust to city living, and widespread corporal punishment in schools.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 120 other followers