Pop Cultured Summer 2013 – July

Summer is usually a time reserved for sunshine, beaches, and vacations. For pop culture fans like me, it may mean the end of my regularly scheduled TV programming but the start of a batch of other summertime shows. It also means the air-conditioned movie theaters are filled with the latest blockbusters, and live music abounds at stadiums/arenas/amphitheaters everywhere. So as we continue on with what summer brings us, here’s what I’m looking forward to this month. (Also, Happy Canada Day!)

JULY

I can’t wait for what’s in store in July!! And funny thing is a lot of the things I’m looking forward to all happen within the same week. On July 16th, two of my favourite summer shows are back for their new seasons – Suits and Covert Affairs. Both shows are coming back from their respective game-changing finales that involved revelations and new relationships being made. July 14th marks the return of The Newsroom, the Aaron Sorkin drama that divided critics and audiences alike. Personally, I enjoyed the show last season and though there were some flaws, I found it nice to have some intelligent drama. We also get to enjoy the series premieres of two other shows – The Bridge, starring Diane Kruger and Demian Bachir as two police detectives working together to solve a series of murders plaguing the Texas/Mexico border; and Camp, which stars Rachel Griffiths as the head of a summer camp and the antics that abound (both premiere on July 10th).

Also on July 16th, Sara Bareilles releases her third album, The Blessed Unrest, while Matt Nathanson releases his latest, Last of the Great Pretenders. One of my favourite artists coming out of The Voice is season 2’s Tony Lucca, who having been signed to his coach Adam Levine’s 222 Records is finally releasing an EP (I know ‘finally’ gives off the sense that it’s been a really long time, though in reality it’s only been a year since season 2 aired – not going to lie I’m already starting to feel a little bit of Voice fatigue from this 2 seasons a year thing). On the concert front, I know I’ve mentioned it before but it needs to be said again – the Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, Legends of the Summer tour kicks off in Toronto on July 17th!!! I changed/modified my travel plans for this concert, because simply put, it’s going to be AWESOME!

On the movie side of things, there aren’t a lot of “big movies” that I’m excited about. There’s Despicable Me 2 (I’ll be honest, I can’t say Despicable Me without saying “IT’S SO FLUFFY!!!”); R.I.P.D, which stars Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as two cops protecting the living from the dead, seems interesting; and surprisingly, I’m only a little bit excited for The Wolverine, the latest movie starring Hugh Jackman’s X-Men character. The movies that I’m really interested in this month are the smaller movies. The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age story brought to us by the Oscar-winning screenwriters of The Descendants, Nat Faxon (aka Ben Fox of the late FOX TV series, Ben and Kate) and Jim Rash (aka Dean Pelton of Community). I heard great things about Fruitvale Station, after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival; it’s the true story of Oscar Grant, and follows his last day before he was tragically shot at the Fruitvale subway stop in the Bay Area. The other movie I’m interested in is The To Do List, which is simply due to the cast involved – Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Bilson, Scott Porter, Donald Glover, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Connie Britton, and Clark Gregg.

The pinnacle of July, and what ultimately got affected by JT & Jay-Z announcing their show on July 17th, is my first-time at San Diego Comic-Con! As a pop culture fan, I have spent so many years reading all the news coming out of SDCC, whether it be movie announcements or just some cool stuff having to do with my favourite TV shows, and wishing I was there taking it all in. Well this year, it’s happening! I will be getting my nerd on (no cosplay, I’m not THAT much of a nerd), hopefully getting to see some of my favourite actors/actresses, and experiencing all the craziness that is SDCC. Will I camp out for the infamous Hall H or Ballroom 20? TBD. News has been slowly trickling out as to what shows and movies will be having panels at the Con, prior to the official schedule release on July 4th, but there are some confirmations that have got me excited: new shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (yeah, me and everybody else is excited for this), Sleepy Hollow, and Almost Human; How I Met Your Mother (random, I know, but I still love this show damn it!), Grimm, Arrow and Nikita. The announcement of the Nikita panel is obviously bittersweet – I’m so excited to see pretty much the entire cast (Lyndie Greenwood, who plays Sonya, was the only one not listed in the press release) but it’s a reminder that it’s for the final season. [On another note, how sad is it going to be that I would have to fly out to San Diego to meet the cast, who film the show in Toronto?!] And as part of the SDCC celebrations, I’m so excited for NERDHQ, the nerd gathering run by Zac Levi and The Nerd Machine! Because it is my first time at SDCC, my objective is obviously to have lots of fun and trying to do everything I REALLY want to do/see, but I will try to make note of my experiences and blog about it here.

Pop Cultured Summer 2013 – May/June

Summer is usually a time reserved for sunshine, beaches, and vacations. For pop culture fans like me, it may mean the end of my regularly scheduled TV programming but the start of a batch of other summertime shows. It also means the air-conditioned movie theaters are filled with the latest blockbusters, and live music abounds at stadiums/arenas/amphitheaters everywhere. Summer may be well underway, but that doesn’t mean I can’t go back and talk about what’s interested me the past couple months (also, wanted to get this out before posting next month’s).

MAY

Before going forward, I figured I should go back ever so slightly. The month of May is typically known as the start of the summer movie season, and as has occurred for several years now, it started with a superhero movie. This year, we got the beginning of Marvel’s Phase Two with the release of Iron Man 3. A couple weeks later saw the Star Trek sequel, Into Darkness. I had time to go see both of those, but another movie that got released at the end of the month, that I still have yet to see is Now You See Me – I mean, magic caper thriller, an original story (meaning non-sequel/reboot/etc.) and an awesome cast to boot? What more can you ask for?

Concert-going is a big deal to me and my summer concerts actually started at the end of April, when I got the chance to see Sara Bareilles on her Brave Enough solo tour. The first time I actually saw Sara in concert was when she opened for Maroon 5 on their It Won’t Be Soon Before Long tour, and it was at that show that I got to meet her. It’s been such a long time since I had seen her live that I almost forgot how great she is, and with this tour being just her performing, it was such a great reminder. A week later, I went to check out Tyler Hilton, Teddy Geiger, and Ryan Cabrera on their joint tour and that was kind of a cool show to check out, because they actually came out during each other’s sets to play a song or two together.

On the TV front, May meant only one thing to me: the beginning of a new season of So You Think You Can Dance!! Regardless of how I felt about last season’s vast amount of changes, I love this show so much.

JUNE

Though it can sometimes be difficult to follow the cable shows, being from Canada and all, but it is those shows that make up most of my summer. One of the shows that I was really looking forward to seeing was Jeff Eastin’s (creator of White Collar) new show Graceland, starring Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata, as two of the five undercover agents living under the same roof. Lucky for me though is that Bravo Canada is simulcasting the show on Thursday nights. The sixth season of True Blood recently premiered and I must admit that was only slightly excited about it. The show has had its ups and downs, with last season being not very good, so I was a little bit unsure as to whether I would want to keep watching. Under the Dome, based on the Stephen King novel about a town that mysteriously gets trapped under a dome, is one of the first shows by the major broadcast networks to adopt a cable-style season structure (that is, 13-episodes as opposed to a full 22). The final season of Dexter premieres June 30th, and though the show had a rough couple of seasons, it was back to form last season after Deb found out about Dex, and now we’re waiting to see how it all ends. Following Dexter is the series premiere of Ray Donovon starring Liev Schrieber as an L.A. professional fixer (think Scandal without the politics of DC, and the glitz of Hollywood).

Continuing on with the movie season is the recently released Man of Steel, the latest reboot in the Superman franchise. Coming from director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and producer Christopher Nolan (do I really need to say the Dark Knight trilogy?), the movie sets Superman/Clark Kent firmly rooted in reality. This year’s big Pixar movie for the kids and the kids at heart is Monsters University, a prequel to their hit Monsters Inc. (so sadly, there will be no Boo in this one). Seth Rogen assembles an all-star comedy cast including Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Craig Robinson among others for the end of the world comedy This Is The End, which also features many other celebs playing themselves (albeit a very comedic, some say deranged versions of themselves). A few years ago there was a big story about teens who stole millions from the homes of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, and Orlando Bloom, among others – flashforward to now where director Sofia Coppola brings the story to light in The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson. A slight twist to the typical buddy-cop comedy is The Heat, which brings together Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

One of the things that I was really excited about this month was seeing Shaping Sound when they came through Toronto on their tour. Shaping Sound, for those who don’t know, is a dance company founded by SYTYCD alums Travis Wall and Nick Lazzarini, along with Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson. The company is filled with so many fantastic dancers (including other SYTYCD alums Jaimie Goodwin, Alexa Anderson, Channing Cooke, Noelle Marsh) and the show itself was just phenomenal! Amazing dancing all around and I only wish I could see it again.

The Costs of Attending Concerts – Artists Win, Fans Lose?

To me, there is nothing like hearing a band or artist live, so it goes without saying that I am an avid concert-goer. In fact, I actually wrote a mini-thesis on the subject of going to concerts for one of my Sociology classes in university. My concert-going experiences run the gamut from the small club shows to big stadium shows. I’ve paid anywhere between $15 to $150 for tickets, including those pesky facility/convenience fees, and if it’s a stadium/arena show, I’ve managed to get some pretty good seats. As my brother so lovingly puts it, I’ve got disposable income, which is why I can afford to go to a lot of concerts. Now, in light of my recent ticket purchase for the Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z Legends of the Summer tour, I felt compelled to revisit the topic of concerts and one of the biggest issues associated with it – ticket prices.

You see, the Legends of the Summer tour is kind of a big deal. It’s Justin Timberlake’s first tour in 6 years and he’s coming back touring with one of the biggest names in rap, Hova himself. They’re touring 12 cities, playing at huge stadiums (the Rogers Centre for the Toronto show); it was guaranteed to be big. How big? Well, the ticket prices will tell you – floor seats are running at $300 a piece, level 100 close to the stage are $195 and further back is $115, level 200 runs at $95 each, up another level and you’re looking at $45-65 a ticket. $300 to be on the floor with the possibility of someone taller than you (or way too obnoxious) obstructing your view and thereby hindering your enjoyment of the concert?! Not for me, thank you. This is not to mention the VIP packages available, the most expensive one costing you $1500 for a front row ticket plus some other perks/merchandise, which for the record, doesn’t even include a meet and greet. I’m a big Justin fan but there’s something called sensibility, as well as being reasonable – $1500 is a ridiculous amount of money for a concert. Hell, $300 is already a lot of money for a concert.

Due to the current state of the music industry, selling records just doesn’t cut it anymore. Being able to go on tour and putting on a show is an artist’s or band’s biggest moneymaker. It’s an opportunity for the¬†musicians to interact with fans and at the same time, it’s an opportunity for fans to get to see their favourites up close (or at least be in the midst of their favourite acts), enjoy some good music, and have a good time. But what’s the cost of having the best concert experience possible? One of my favourite small club shows that I’ve been to was Matt Nathanson at The Garrison in Toronto back in 2011. I paid $20 for that show and 2 years later, I still have fond memories of it. Matt interacted with the audience of 50 (approx.), told humourous stories to go along with the songs; it was a lot of fun and the fact that it was a cheap show was pretty much a bonus. That’s not to say I don’t have a good time at arena shows. When Justin did the FutureSex/LoveShow tour back in 2007, paying $120 for my ticket already seemed like a good chunk of money, but the show was so incredible that it was completely worth every single penny I spent and then I chalked up the money to see the exact same show on the 2nd leg of the tour. Even to this day, I still compare a lot of other concerts I see to FutureSex/LoveShow because it surpassed my every expectation of what concerts should be like.

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveShow, 2007

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveShow, 2007

Even for someone like me who goes to a lot of concerts, I have my limits. I remember not wanting to shell out $150 when Britney Spears came to Toronto on The Circus Tour, because as we all know, live singing isn’t exactly involved and there’s little to no interaction with the audience; you’re pretty much paying for the spectacle of it all. But because it was Britney, I ended up going anyways…sitting in the cheap seats. I have always wanted to see Madonna live because she’s always been such a great performer, but for her past two tours, the ticket prices were always ridiculously high, with the cheap seats not even being that cheap. So what’s a girl to do? Well, simple – not go.

Britney Spears, The Circus Tour, 2009

Britney Spears, The Circus Tour, 2009

Remember those pesky facility/convenience fees I mentioned earlier? Yeah…they’re the worst. You may start off with a reasonable $80 ticket for an arena or stadium show, but then you get a facility charge of $2.50, a¬†convenience charge of $14 (sometimes higher), and then to top it all off, you get charged a $5 order processing fee. An extra $20 in fees! That’s not including how you want to receive your tickets (Print them off yourself or regular mail? Free. Anything else? Pay up.)

Like I’ve said before, going to concerts is a regular and normal thing for me, so ticket prices usually isn’t an issue. At the same time, I also understand that for others, attending a concert, particularly one as big as the Legends of the Summer tour, can be a luxury. I have a friend who currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta and there isn’t a tour stop anywhere around there, so I jokingly tried to convince her to come back to Toronto to go see the show, to which she replied “Tempting, but I should be responsible and not spend a mortgage payment on a concert, no matter how good it will be.” Which to be honest is a fair point to make. Living so close to Toronto and having the money to spend on going to concerts (along with purchasing merchandise and other fees that come up in the process like food and parking) has essentially made me spoiled, but I have friends who can’t be as frivolous as I am and just spend money on any concert that I want to go see. They have to be selective on who they want to see and what their budget is for any particular concert. As exciting and fun as it is to see a band or an artist perform live, the counterpoint can be made that you shouldn’t spend money on something that lasts 2-3 hours, when chances are there will probably a DVD released for it and you can save yourself a lot of money that way, thereby using the money you saved for something more practical.

But who’s to say what is practical? If you think about it, the same logic can be applied to going to the movies, buying your coffee every morning, eating out a restaurant – things we spend money on that we don’t necessarily NEED to but WANT to. So for some (like me) the want to go to many concerts (which for the record, stems from the fact that I have varied tastes in music) a year is just the norm. For others, it’s all about saving up to go to that one concert every year that is an absolutely MUST. That ends up being our choice as fans, based on our circumstances and what we want. However, the idea that we have to save up for a concert (not for a car or a vacation) goes back to the fact that ticket prices these days are getting out of hand. The more expensive the ticket, the more of a luxury it seems. And it certainly leaves me wondering what kind of normal person (or sane for that matter) would have the $1500 to spend on a VIP concert package. Yet there are/will be people willing to pay that money for it, which does nothing but benefit the artists/labels/promoters and leave you with probably a fantastic concert experience but a huge hole in your wallet. I understand that the bigger the tour, the bigger the spectacle, the more people are employed as part of the tour roster, thereby somewhat justifying the hefty ticket prices. But in consideration of those fans who might not have such disposable income but would still very much like to experience a concert to its fullest potential, would it be too much to ask for more reasonable ticket prices?

Something to think about the next time you want to go to a concert.

Kelly Clarkson in Concert!

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From day one, I have always been a Kelly Clarkson fan. I absolutely love her music. But for some reason or another, I have never had the chance to see her live in concert. Which is incredibly weird and totally awful of me as a fan, seeing as how she is one of my favourite artists. That all changed this past Tuesday when I finally got to see her perform in London, Ontario at the John Labatt Centre, on one of the stops of her Stronger Tour.

Kelly is just absolutely amazing live. It certainly helps that for my first time seeing her, I was sitting in the 2nd row (the beat seats I’ve EVER gotten for ANY concert). We all know that she’s a great singer – she did win Idol after all. You watch any performance of hers on TV, on YouTube, etc. and you can tell how great of a vocalist she is. But to see her sing live in person is something else. I’ve always considered a lot of her music to be like the soundtrack of my life; they’re just so relatable. Standing there watching her sing ‘Dark Side’, the first song in her set, I’ll admit I got a little emotional. It was a mix of “I love this song!” and “I can’t believe I’m actually HERE seeing her!!” Don’t even get me started about when she sang ‘Because of You’ because that song gets me teary-eyed everytime.

I probably could go on and on about how much Kelly Clarkson rocks, but I won’t. It is worth mentioning though that Matt Nathanson was the opening act for Kelly. I’ve said it before, but Matt is totally hilarious and such a great musician. I definitely do prefer it more when he’s playing at smaller venues or at least shows with age restrictions because he’s so much funnier when he’s not censored. But that’s besides the point. As far as concert lineups go, I’d certainly say that Kelly Clarkson and Matt Nathanson is a pretty awesome pairing. Actually, come to think of it, Kelly and Matt should totally do a song together!

Matt Nathanson Setlist:
Mercy
Gone
Modern Love
Bottom of the Sea
Run
Room @ the End of the World
Faster
Come On Get Higher

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Kelly Clarkson Setlist:
Dark Side
Behind These Hazel Eyes
Since U Been Gone
You Love Me
Heavy In Your Arms (Florence + The Machine)
Perfect (Pink)
Einstein [Acoustic]
I Forgive You [Acoustic]
I Know You Won’t (Carrie Underwood)
Don’t You Wanna Stay
Already Gone
Breakaway
You Still Won’t Know What It’s Like
Stronger
My Life Would Suck Without You
Never Again
Because of You
Mr. Know It All
Miss Independent

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Christina Perri on Tour!

It was just a little over a year ago that Christina Perri was just an aspiring singer-songwriter, working as a waitress in a cafe in Beverly Hills. Then her song “Jar of Hearts” was featured on So You Think You Can Dance in a contemporary routine choreographed by Stacey Tookey. This song that very few people had heard of before picked up interest and started charting on Billboard and selling on iTunes. Soon enough, Christina got asked to perform the song on SYTYCD, and found herself with a record deal. It’s a music industry Cinderella story that seems to rarely happen in this day and age.

Now one year later, Christina’s released her first album, lovestrong, and has just embarked on her first headlining tour after previously opening up for singer James Blunt.

Seeing success stories like Christina’s has increased my belief in the music industry. Upon reading about Christina’s Street Team and how they were looking for volunteers at all her tour stops, I decided to jump at the opportunity to help promote Christina and her music. Personally, I think there’s nothing like discovering new music and introducing new music to others, so helping out was a no brainer. In particular, I’m helping to promote the show in Toronto (Aug. 4, Opera House – Tickets still available on Ticketmaster!) but be sure to also check out her website: www.christinaperri.com for a complete list of tour dates.