The VMAs Are Coming to Brooklyn in August, I’m Taking a Vacation in August

Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is THE place to see a concert these days, even though I haven’t managed to get tickets to anything despite being a ten minute block away. I know lots of people who complained about the bohemoth arena ruining the neighborhood, although I’ve managed to shrug off all of those complaints because it really hasn’t affected my life very much. (Well, there was once some white party, I think, because one night I saw hundreds of people wearing white wandering aimlessly around the Atlantic Center’s shopping compound trying to find the Long Island Rail Road. Since I’m a New Yorker, I ignored them and let them find their own damn way home.) But that might be changing now that the MTV Video Music Awards will take place at the Barclays Center on August 25.

MTV announced the date and location today, and now that there will be a whole slew of famous people of varying degrees roaming around my ‘hood in addition to their fans, I’m a little more weary of Jay-Z’s gigantic stadium so close to home. Of course, I suppose this is a fun treat for the borough, as the VMAs haven’t taken place in New York City for four years. Four years! Who can even remember what life was like back in ’09?!

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, however, is very excited:

"From hip-hop to hipsters, Jay-Z to MGMT, Brooklyn musicians have a long history of dominating the ‘spotlight’ on MTV. Brooklyn is a cultural Mecca — the hippest, coolest place for young people across the country, and has played a crucial role in the careers of some of 2013’s biggest bands, like Fun. and the Lumineers," said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz in a statement.

"Now, it is only fitting that the first time Brooklyn will ever host a major awards show, we are welcoming the most exciting and talked about spectacle in the music industry … I’m so thrilled that I’ll probably get ‘no sleep till Brooklyn’ hosts the VMAs!"

"No sleep till Brooklyn!" I get it! But I have to say, I’m offended that Markowitz does not identify the Coatesies—my weekly awards show that takes place in my bedroom—as an event worth mentioning in his statement. I mean, Beyoncé has been sweeping!

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

A Non-Comprehensive List of Predictions for the 2012 Video Music Awards

The MTV Video Music Awards are on tonight, which means tomorrow, despite the fact that there’s an election coming up, a national political convention and some parts of America are still reeling from storms and severe droughts, all you will hear about tomorrow is whatever totally scandalous thing happened. Maybe someone will climb the stage scaffolding and attempt to dive into the audience, a la Rage Against the Machine bassist Tom Commerford in 2000. Or two notable pop stars will lock lips like Britney Spears and Madonna. Or sweet, gentle Taylor Swift will get interrupted by Kanye West again. 

This year’s ceremony features Kevin Hart as host, musical performances from Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Ke$ha, Green Day, P!nk, Alicia Keys and One Direction and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team "Fab Five" as presenters (what are the odds on how impressed McKayla Maroney will be with what goes down?). With the lineup in mind, we’ve come up with a mostly-complete checklist/scavenger hunt of things that will probably happen during the show. You could make this into a drinking game if you wanted to, but that’s on you and how hungover you want to be tomorrow. Anyway, here goes. 

  • Kevin Hart makes a tired "I’mma let you finish" joke. 
  • Bieber and One Direction stans begin brutal Twitter war over "Most Share-Worthy Video" category. There are no survivors.
  • Harry and Louis (those are two of the guys in One Direction, right?) share a victorious kiss on stage a la Britney and Madonna. 
  • The elephant from Coldplay’s "Paradise" video goes up to accept the band’s award. 
  • Green Day and P!nk cover Patti Smith’s "Because The Night" together for some reason and it’s surprisingly palatable. 
  • Andy Samberg attempts a McKayla Maroney face.
  • Andy Samberg joins a musical performance. It falls flat. Unless Michael Bolton comes to save the day. 
  • Taylor Swift makes her faux-surprised "Who, me?" face to the camera at least two dozen times.
  • 2 Chainz yells "2 Chainz!" at some point. 
  • Someone makes a big deal out of reminding Drake that he was on Degrassi: The Next Generation
  • Gotye gives a surprise performance of "Somebody That I Used to Know" in full body paint. 
  • Gotye does the aforementioned without having been asked by MTV.
  • Everyone finally stops paying attention to Chris Brown for like five minutes. 
  • Beavis and Butt-Head cameo. 
  • Bieber and One Direction come away with all the awards, but Frank Ocean steals the show with his performance.
  • Buzzfeed does a "25 Tweens Who Don’t Know Who Romain Gavras Is" roundup the next day. 

The Long and Winding Road That Leads to Fiona Apple

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” So goes the oft-quoted line from William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun. Time is circular, and our relationship with our own personal histories is ever changing. This is a concept with which the enigmatic Fiona Apple is deeply familiar. The 34-year-old singer-songwriter is about to release her fourth album—the first in seven years—aptly titled The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. The spinning wheel of time cranks back and forth for Apple, who continues to re-examine her past while trying to keep up with the present. Like most artists, however, Apple finds that her fans cherish the past more than she does.

In 2000, a 16-year-old fan named Bill Magee approached Apple after a show in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania with a request: he told her he was a member of his high school’s gay-straight alliance and hoped that Apple could write a few words of support. “[I] was much more interested in interacting with a celebrity than building an alliance between gays and straights,” he admitted on his blog 12 years later where he posted a scanned image of the letter he received less than a week after requesting her response. Apple wrote: “All I know is I want my friends to be good people, and when my friends fall in love, I want them to fall in love with other good people. How can you go wrong with two people in love? If a good boy loves a good girl, good. If a good boy loves another good boy, good. And if a good girl loves the goodness in good boys and good girls, then all you have is more goodness, and goodness has nothing to do with sexual orientation.”

“My brother was the one who told me about it,” Apple tells me just weeks after Magee posted the letter on his Tumblr, which was then picked up by various sites like Jezebel and Pitchfork. “I was like, ‘A letter I wrote to someone when I was 22 has made its way online?’ That’s the scariest thing I could possibly hear in my life. And the subject matter was so important—I know how I’ve always felt so I knew it wasn’t going to be a bad letter, but I was like, ‘What did I say?!’”

The letter’s sudden popularity online is indicative of how much has changed since Apple released her debut album, Tidal, in 1996. For starters, she was then a 19-year-old singer-songwriter signed to a major record label and churning out emotional and dark odes at a time when her contemporaries were singing bubblegum-pop love songs. She made headlines after appearing in the video for “Criminal.” Shot in a seedy apartment, the video featured a scantily clad and emaciated Apple, sparking criticisms of the exploitive quality of the images (and suggesting that she had an eating disorder). In 1997, when accepting her award for Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards, Apple infamously shouted into the microphone, “This world is bullshit, and you shouldn’t model your life on what we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying.” While the speech was replayed and parodied on TV for years following, Apple was lucky enough to have said those words before the days of blogging and YouTube; had she given the speech 15 years later, it may have turned into a career-damaging viral video and sparked a few thousand snarky tweets.

She also has the luxury of being a successful artist who doesn’t need to promote herself online. “They want me to tweet now, but I don’t,” Apple tells me ofher label reps. “It doesn’t feel natural to me. But I do find it actually more interesting to see people posting ridiculously mundane shit. I like to hear about what people had for breakfast or what they did all day. It’s interesting because I don’t know how other people live.”

While Apple is hardly a recluse, she’s made few public appearances in the seven years since the release of her third album, Extraordinary Machine. The excitement following the announcement by Epic Records of the late-June release of The Idler Wheel speaks to the loyalty of her fan base. (And as for that long-winded title, it’s a callback to the much-maligned 90-word title of her acclaimed sophomore effort, universally shortened to When the Pawn…) The Idler Wheel does not deviate from the familiar sounds of Apple’s earlier records; the songs are still layered with complex instrumentation, and her reverberant voice still takes center stage in each tune. The album was produced nearly in secret over the last few years—a surprising move from an established artist with the resources of a major label at her disposal. But Apple explains that her experience with the label system is what allowed her to feel free to work on her own. “It was very casual, and I wasn’t fully admitting that I was making an album,” she says. “I got to use the time in the studio to inspire me to finish other things rather than feel like I was finishing homework to hand in. It wasn’t a lot of pressure. And the record company didn’t know I was doing it, so nobody was looking over my shoulder.”

Most might take that mentality as a reaction to the restrictions of her record label, especially after the drama surrounding the release of Extraordinary Machine. After collaborating with Jon Brion (who produced When the Pawn) to create an early version of the third album in 2002, Apple then decided to rework all but two of the songs with producer Mike Elizondo. The original version of the album leaked online, and Brion suggested in interviews that Apple’s label had rejected the demo and forced her to rerecord the songs (a claim that Apple later denied). Still, it incited an uproar among her fans. An online-based movement called Free Fiona organized demonstrations outside of the Sony headquarters in New York, and protestors sent apples to the label’s executives. The final version of the album was released in 2005 and received positive reviews and earned Apple a Grammy nomination. “I ran into the guy who started Free Fiona after a show in Chicago,” she tells me. “He apologized to me! They didn’t get the story quite right, but they did help me get my album out. I felt so bad that he had spent all this time thinking I was pissed at him—I had a physical urge to get down on the floor and kiss his shoes!”

It’s an intense reaction (she admits she didn’t bow to her fan because “it would be weird if I did that”), but Apple is still a very intense person. Dressed in a flowing skirt paired with several layers of spaghetti-strapped tank tops that reveal her slender frame (which seems healthier than in her early days, giving the impression that she must spend most of her downtime on a yoga mat), Apple fidgets in her seat during our conversation, often giving off an infectious giggle. But she is surprisingly comfortable to talk to, not much like the somber young woman who sang of heartbreak and disappointment. “I don’t think I’ll ever have an idea of what I look like to the rest of the world,” she replies when I ask if she ever worries that her lyrics, which are sometimes in stark contrast to the up-tempo, progressive sounds of her songs’ instrumentations, give off the wrong impression of her personality. “It’s all your own perception. I could easily be concerned with how I’m taken and then have all the good stuff filtered through to me and choose to believe that. For the rest of my life it’d be the truth for me, but not the whole truth.”

Born Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart in New York City to Brandon Maggart and Diane McAfee, Apple’s musical destiny was settled at birth. The McAfee-Maggarts are, while not reaching Barrymore-level name recognition, an entertainment family; Apple’s father was nominated for a Tony for his performance in the Broadway musical Applause, both her mother and sister are singers, and her half-brothers work in the film industry—one an actor and the other a director. She’s a third-generation performer, as her grandmother was a dancer in musical revues and her grandfather a Big Band-era musician. While Apple’s auspicious introduction to the pop world had critics calling her a prodigy, she crafted her early songs as a cathartic necessity. (“Sullen Girl” from Tidal, in particular, is about her rape at the age of 12.) “Over the years it’s transferred more into a craft,” she says. “I use myself as material because that’s what I’ve got. But these days I write less than half of my songs to get myself through things. I have to find other things to be meaningful— otherwise I’d just be miserable all the time.”

Her songs are still extremely autobiographical, which is perhaps their charm. Following in the footsteps of other singer-songwriters, especially women who emerged in the early ’90s and expressed their emotions in particularly vulnerable ways, Apple’s openness has always had an empowering appeal. Her songs seem to suggest that feeling a variety of emotions—sadness, glee, despair, insanity—is not only normal, but, like those self-reflective musicians before her, she also gives permission to her listeners to feel the same way.

Even for Apple, her older songs are relics of another time, and she now makes them applicable to her life in the present. “They all kind of become poems after a while,” she says. “You can take your own meaning out of them. It’s been a very long time [since my first albums], and I can apply those songs to other situations that are more current in my life.” She admits she has changed greatly since she started writing songs in her late teenage years, especially when it comes to how she portrays herself. “I don’t feel comfortable singing the songs that I wrote. I used to blame other people and not take responsibility. I thought I was a total victim trying to look strong.”

And she is much harder on herself in the songs on The Idler Wheel than she ever was before. Sure, she admitted to being “careless with a delicate man” in “Criminal,” arguably her most famous song, and in When the Pawn’s “Mistake” she sang, “Do I wanna do right, of course but / Do I really wanna feel I’m forced to / Answer you, hell no.” On The Idler Wheel, Apple examines her own solitude and neuroses as well as their effect on her relationships with others. “I can love the same man, in the same bed, in the same city,” she sings on “Left Alone,” “But not in the same room, it’s a pity.” On “Jonathan,” a somber love song layered with robotic, mechanical sounds that’s presumably about her ex-boyfriend, author and Bored to Death creator Jonathan Ames, she urges, “Don’t make me explain / Just tolerate my little fist / Tugging at your forest-chest / I don’t want to talk about anything.”

But performing, as a central requirement of her career, still takes precedence. “Some nights I’m very, very nervous, and some nights I’m not at all,” she tells me. “I think, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m not a person who does a show, I’m a person who should be on a couch watching TV.’ But then it’s like I get knocked into another state of consciousness, and then I’m left behind, and the person that’s doing the show is there and there’s nothing else in the world existing other than the note she’s singing. It’s such a joy to do, but I forget about it until I’m on the stage.”

Apple has lived in los Angeles since Tidal’s release in 1996, although she admits that she’s “not an L.A. girl.” “I was supposed to stay in New York,” she tells me. “I remember being 17 and asking if I could record in New York. How did I end up here? It’s 15 years later… How did that happen?” Apple doesn’t seem to process time like other people. When I ask when she began recording The Idler Wheel and when she knew it was ready, she has a complicated answer. “It must have started in 2008. Or 2009. I don’t know! I have no idea. It’s weird to think that there was 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.” Her big blue eyes suddenly look to her right as she furrows her brow. “Where’ve I been? What was I doing? What was that year about?”

Maybe the solitary nature of living in L.A. contributes to her aloof tendencies. “I’m not a social creature,” she says, “I don’t go to parties all the time because I’d probably just wonder why I’m there in the first place.” Her preference for being alone may also stem from the kind of personal criticisms that people tend to throw at female musicians. “I’ve gotten so used to being misunderstood. Nobody’s ever really said anything bad about my music, but when I’ve had albums come out there are always people making fun of me. ‘Oh, she’s back?’” She didn’t even expect the comments (mostly online) when the full title of The Idler Wheel was announced. “I didn’t stop to think that anyone would call it ridiculous, but people did. I thought, ‘Ahhh. My old friends.’ I’m not sure what’s ridiculous about it, but that’s what they’ve got to say.”

I cautiously mention the infamous acceptance speech from the VMAs, a moment early in her career that defined the public persona of Fiona Apple as an angry, ungracious woman. “I’ve never been ashamed of that,” she replies immediately. It was the first moment, she says, in which she felt like she could speak up—to break free from the shyness that defined her childhood and early teenage years. “I genuinely, naïvely thought that I was going to put out a record and that was going to make me have friends. I expected to give it to people and they would understand me; no one would say to me, ‘We don’t want to be your friend because you’re too intense or too sad all the time.’” It wasn’t necessarily the case.

“Do you still think the world is bullshit?” I ask when we talk about the VMAs. She laughs. “It’s not the world!” she exclaims. “Of course people think that ‘the world’ is the whole world. I felt that I had finally gotten into the popular crowd, and I thought, ‘Is this what I’ve been doing this for?’ I felt like I was back in the cafeteria in high school and still couldn’t speak up for myself.”

These days, Apple spends more time focusing on her own art rather than the reactions to it. With age has come calm and decreasing desire to pay attention to her detractors. “I’ve decided it takes too much energy to try to avoid it,” she tells me, brushing aside her freshly dyed crimson hair. “I’m not going to hide from the world.”

Photography by Dan Monick
Styling by Djuna Bel

Kanye West Disappoints at VMAs for Whole New Reason

Last night’s VMA’s were filled with easy bait for blog fodder—Gaga’s meat dress, Taylor vs. Kanye, Chelsea in the tub with Snookie, ad nauseam—but the one thing that’s been lost amidst the chatter is just how embarrassingly self-parodic Kanye’s performance was. Yes, he wore a red suit. Yes, he was surrounded by ballerinas for no apparent reason. Yes, he deviously celebrated his own juvenile assholia (chorus: “Let’s have a toast for the assholes!”). Yes, he had a cool and commanding stage presence. But the music itself? Was it even music?

The audience thought so—they chanted his name. The New York Times gushed over it. I don’t want to be one of those guys who waxes nostalgic about a dusty time when songs had melodies and instruments and “rhythm”—Jared Leto’s 30 Seconds to Mars had all three last night, and was none the better for it—but it’s like Kanye’s got everyone under some spell that turns even the weakest, wankiest effort into a crowd-pleaser. I am baffled.

The VMA Party Report: Los Angeles Edition

Los Angeles’ party scene received a healthy injection of fun over the weekend, thanks to a number of VMA events tied to MTV’s annual circus celebrating the year’s best music videos. Saturday night, several parties got music fans in the mood before the main event on Sunday, with private parties in the Hollywood Hills competing with big name stars performing at venues from West Hollywood to Koreatown. I started Saturday at the Mondrian’s new SPiN lounge (the smaller side lounge within the hotel) to hear Dan Black spin at the Spin magazine party (confusing, I know). The Englishman did not disappoint at the casual affair, playing everything from Mr. Oizo to a Tribe Called Quest as the early-evening crowd downed Svedka like it was water, and prepared for a busy night ahead.

From there, we headed across the street to The House of Blues on Sunset for MTV/Harmonix’s Lifebeat fundraiser, where Kesha and B.O.B played a benefit. Arriving just in time to hear the end of the opening band, who were actually the “Free Credit Report commercial” band (no, they didn’t play their “hit,” as far as I know), the young—and by young we mean average age 17—crowd was more than ready for Kesha to set it off, Peaches-style.

Dr. Luke’s protégé kicked things off with “Blah Blah Blah,” and throngs of young girls, predictably, swooned. “Rock out with your cock out, but do it with these,” Kesha said, as she tossed out condoms. The rest of her short set was mildly entertaining, but some of us saw Peaches do it a decade ago, and do it with less props and more style. Still, by the time she closed with “Tik Tok,” there was little denying that Kesha is one of Los Angeles’ biggest pop stars, fairly or unfairly. She owns her hits, and sure, why not a confetti cannon or simulated fellatio?

Next up was Perez Hilton’s “One Night in Los Angeles” concert in Koreatown at the Wiltern Theater sponsored by SWAGG. By the time I arrived, much of the talent I personally wanted to see had already played—Taio Cruz, for one. But the packed concert hall was jumping around 11pm when Pitbull took the stage. Miami’s finest exuded star-power Saturday, and there’s no telling just how big Pitbull will get in 2011 after his new record drops.

Backstage, Perez, who sneaked away to Soho House later that evening with Lady Gaga, held court as Gaga producer RedOne’s posse made the biggest splash of the night: Red’s next project, Porcelain Black, wowed nearly everyone in attendance with her outfit and female Marilyn Manson-esque poise. Porcelain Black should represent L.A. well in 2011, and I, for one, expect big things from the beauty’s full length next year. Trey Songz also hosted a Kodak-sponsored Def Jam Rapstar pre-VMA Summer Soiree event Saturday, where several name basketball players turned up, including Ron Artest.

The real action Saturday night, however, was not in any club or concert hall. Blackberry BBM held their invite-only BBM Lounge 2010 VMA Preparty in the Hollywood Hills (Ne Yo was tipped as the talent), but I opted to hit a private event high atop Sunset Plaza Drive, where Deadmau5 was DJing a make-shift nightclub inside a stunning mansion, known for the years of wild parties its various owners have thrown.

image Deadmau5 photographed by Natalie Fiteni

The event, sponsored by v-moda headphones, was likely the best party in town Saturday, with several open bars, a man making crepes for guests in the kitchen, nearly naked dancers, and a stellar private set from producer/artist Deadmau5, a DJ who now regularly sells out venues and was fresh off playing festivals in Europe in front of tens of thousands this summer.

Everyone from Jason Bentley to Snooki was there, and lots of tragically beautiful ex-Playboy models as well, just for good measure. Of course, everybody was talking about (sadly) Snooki, Paul “DJ Pauly D” Del Vecchio, and Vinny Guadagnino from Jersey Shore, all of whom were there (the Jersey Shore guys also turned up atop London Hotel over the weekend to hang with Lil’ Jon and LMFAO during the day at the Music Box/Usstream bash).

Sunday, parties really kicked into high gear after the awards show wrapped. Schmoozing with Usher—who also partied last weekend at Voyeur—went down at WP24 at the Ritz Carlton hotel near the Nokia theater, while other celebs opted to get out of downtown and head towards Hollywood and West Hollywood.

In Touch held a well-attended event at the Chateau Marmont (hello Andy Dick!), where Pete Wentz DJ’d and Aubrey O’Day partied, while down the Sunset Strip Akon held court at the Sky Bar in the VIP section above the pool. Interscope held a private soiree inside the Thom Thom club far away from WeHo in Santa Monica, where RedOne’s blowing-up-in-Europe-right-now pal Mohombi performed and Lady Gaga made an appearance in 12-inch Alexander McQueens. Too Short got nasty in a set at Playhouse in Hollywood while down the street in Hollywood, Jared Leto, Dane Cook, Aziz Ansari, and others hung out with Chelsea Handler at her post VMA bash inside Teddy’s at the Roosevelt Hotel.