Music Monday: Rediscovering Songs

It’s not really news that I grew up listening and watching Vietnamese music, that’s just how it was in our house. Vietnamese music has been the one thing that still makes me feel connected to my roots, culture, heritage, despite being born in Canada. My love of pop music stemmed  from my love of Vietnamese pop, which is not to say that I don’t like some of the more adult contemporary stuff, it’s just that I didn’t have much of an appreciation for it until later in life. One of the things that I did always love growing up were the French songs that got translated into Vietnamese. There were songs in other languages that got translated into Vietnamese, but French songs, especially the older ones, just have a really special quality to them.

So listening to these Vietnamese/French songs growing up and pretty much knowing those songs just as that, embedded in my brain since I was a kid, has amusingly led to a kind of music rediscovery nowadays. Much like watching an old movie or TV show and recognizing a now-famous actor, I’ve stumbled upon a few songs in English that I once only knew in Vietnamese or French (or both).

Megan Hilty recently released a new album called Live at the Cafe Carlyle. On it, Hilty performs a collection of standards, Broadway tunes, songs from Smash, and such. One particular song caught me by surprise when I heard it, and that was “Autumn Leaves.” As soon as Megan sang the first couple of words, I instantly recognized it as a Vietnamese song called “La Thu Vang” Honestly, I knew that song was a translated French song, but all my life, I have only ever heard it in Vietnamese and famously sung by Khanh Ha. It felt so different and weird hearing it in English, but I also became instanly obsessed with it, mainly due to the fact that it’s Megan, though it really is just such a beautiful song.

A couple of years ago, there was a movie that came out called Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Oscar Isaac. The movie itself was just okay for me, but I instantly fell in love with the soundtrack. The movie and soundtrack featured a song performed by Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands called “Five Hundred Miles.” I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking “This sounds really familiar…” and me being me, it annoyed the hell out of me trying to figure out where I had heard it. I knew I had heard Vietnamese singer Thanh Lan sing it before, but it was me digging through my music library until I found it (it gets hard when all the French medleys are labelled as that, just different artists lol). But I found it, and it was just funny because again, all my life I only knew it in French, even though “Five Hundred Miles” is the original song that spurred multiple translations, including the French version entitled “Et j’entends siffler le train”

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Favourites of 2013

It’s that time of year, where everybody is getting ready for Christmas and the start of a new year. Meanwhile, entertainment outlets everywhere are doing their “best-of” lists to cap off the year. So to keep up with my own modified version of those traditions, I give you my favourites in music/movies/television of the past year.

MUSIC – ALBUMS

  • Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience [The Complete Experience] – My year in music was made all the better with JT releasing 2 new albums this year. Some people didn’t like them for various reasons (songs were too long, not dance-y enough, a little self-indulgent?), but this was hands down my absolute favourite album of the year. I may be biased as a JT fan, but as a music fan, I appreciate that he can take musical risks while still keeping his signature sound. It was perfection to my ears.
  • Megan Hilty, It Happens All the Time – Megan had been known as a Broadway actress before starring in the TV series Smash, and though the show ended up being not so great in its two-season run, it was very much agreed upon that Megan was the best part of it. So it came as no surprise that she managed to get an album recorded and released, filled with original songs and covers. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the album is, particularly with the music selection, as it wasn’t just showtunes. For the covers, I loved her version of Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move” and then one of the originals “Walk Away” was actually a song that was co-written by Carrie Underwood and Ne-Yo! There is just an easy feeling when you hear the album and I just fell in love with it.
  • PJ Morton, New Orleans – I only came to know about PJ when he started playing with Maroon 5 during the Hands All Over days as an additional keyboardist/vocal to fill out their sound live. Since then, he’s continued working on his own music, while playing with the band in a bigger capacity (taking over for Jesse Carmichael on keyboard while he takes a break from music). PJ had signed to Young Money Records (Lil Wayne’s label) and this album is his first release with the label. For me, this was just a solid R&B album from beginning to end, that really had a throwback sound to it (almost a Stevie Wonder quality to it) but decidedly modern as well.
  • Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest – I feel as though Sara is just one of those artists who are just so damn dependable to make good music. This is her third album and you can hear the progression in her songwriting from her first album to this one. “Brave” is just a fantastic first single that follows in the footsteps of “Love Song” and “King of Anything” being sort of a pop anthem. The rest of the album is filled with wonderful piano pop that often stretches the musicality of it (I’m not sure I made sense there). Point is: she stretches herself as an artist/musician but in a way that fits into her style and personality, so it doesn’t ever feel like she’s trying too hard to do something different.
  • Matt Nathanson, Last of the Great Pretenders – What I said about Sara being so damn dependable as an artist, certainly applies to Matt as well. That the two of them released their albums on the same day this summer was a perfectly awesome coincidence. With this album, his eighth, Matt draws up a 40-minute ode to San Francisco, with all of its eclectic influences.
  • Beyonce, BEYONCE – She surprised the entire world when she secretly released this album on iTunes. I have always respected Beyonce as an artist and have really enjoyed her songs, but can’t say that I’ve been a huge fan. So I have to give her props for everything she did with regards to this album. As a whole, I think it’s her best one yet. I liked that she took different risks with the songs and that it’s a unique sound, but still completely Beyonce. There might not be a typical radio single, but who cares? When the music’s good, that’s all that matters.

MUSIC – SONGS

  • Lorde, Royals – I admittedly was late to the party in terms of hearing this song. I had heard about it but didn’t hear the song itself until sometime in the summer. I was hooked from the first listen. There’s a dynamic about the song that was just so different from anything else.
  • Megan Hilty, Bittersweet Symphony – Season 2 of Smash was a mess but for the most part, the music was still good. For some reason though, Megan’s cover of this Verve song stuck out. I already raved about Megan and her album up top, but I just fell in love with her version of this song. It’s just SO GOOD, I can’t even explain why I love it so much. I’ve always loved this song, but how they did re-did this song with Megan singing, it almost sounds like a different song
  • Ben Hazlewood, Knock On My Window – This is a case of I’m not entirely sure why it’s one of my favourites this year; I just couldn’t stop listening to it. Ben was a contestant on the first season of The Voice Australia and this track came off of his EP that he released. The song itself is pop with a very cool groove to it…and now that I think about it, it reminds me of Maroon 5’s “One More Night.” THAT’S probably why I’m addicted to it.
  • Jay-Z ft. Justin Timberlake, Holy Grail – Jay-Z & JT were just on a roll with their collaborations this year. With all the dynamics of the song, it probably shouldn’t have worked but it did. Justin sounds very melancholy starting off the song, then the hip-hop beat kicks in, with a little Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sample put in, all serving as a backdrop to lyrics about the fickleness of fame. It is all kinds of awesome.
  • Glee, Make You Feel My Love + If I Die Young – I stuck it out until the end of season 4 of the show and I promised myself I wasn’t going to watch the show again (except the early episodes when it was good). Then tragedy struck with Cory Monteith’s untimely death. I was like everybody else, I wanted to see how the show would deal with such tragedy in their family, so I watched their tribute episode to him and his character. The episode itself was so emotional and it’s a wonder how any of them coped with such a loss. The two songs, sung in the episode by Lea Michele and Naya Rivera respectively, were particularly poignant and wrought with emotion that the tears were out of control just hearing them sing these songs.
  • Kelly Clarkson, My Favorite Things – I usually don’t listen to a lot of Christmas music, especially early on in the season; I usually limit it to a week or two leading up to Christmas. This year, all that changed and it’s completely Kelly Clarkson’s fault because she released a holiday album and one of my favourite songs on that album was this one. I’ve also never been a huge The Sound of Music fan, but good lord I love how Kelly jazzed up this song.

MOVIES

*This list is obviously based only on movies that I’ve been able to see this year. There’s many more movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing or are too new (i.e. those darn Oscar-bait/contenders that just got released but are on several critics’ Best Of lists for the year).

  • Now You See Me – Fantastic word-of-mouth over the summer made my expectations high for when I did actually get around to watching it. It was a fun caper thriller featuring magic. The tone of the movie reminded me a lot of Ocean’s Eleven (with a slightly smaller cast of course) and though it wasn’t a perfect movie, it was highly enjoyable. Plus, bonus points for an original screenplay that’s not a remake/sequel/adaptation.
  • Thor: The Dark World – Getting Alan Taylor, best known these days for being a frequent director on Game of Thrones, to go behind the camera for this movie was a wise decision. Not to knock Kenneth Branagh for his work on the first film, but with this movie, you could really feel the scope of Asgard and the other realms. Add to the fact that there seemed to be a lot more going on in this movie than the first, everything just felt better and fuller, as if pressure had been lifted from having to make everything work. Bonus for me was getting to see Zachary Levi taking over for Josh Dallas as Fandral. Again, nothing against Josh, I just love Zac and seeing him on the big screen put a huge smile on my face.
  • Prisoners – First of all, look at the poster and check out the actors billed: almost all Academy Award nominees and/or winners. Not gonna lie, that alone made me go “Whoa” when I first heard about the movie. Then the trailer looked incredibly intense. Then when I finally got a chance to watch the movie, I saw for myself what all the talk was about after it premiered at TIFF this year. It’s a crime thriller that definitely borrowed influences from a bunch of different movies and the end result was just as what the trailer suggested – intense. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal put in incredible performances in this movie. I myself am so looking forward to attending the In Conversation With Jake Gyllenhaal and Denis Villeneuve (the director of this movie, as well as Enemy, another movie starring Gyllenhaal) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in early January, and hopefully they’ll talk about this movie
  • Gravity – Whether or not it is technically accurate doesn’t matter. Sandra Bullock gave the performance of her career here, essentially carrying the movie on her own, except for brief moments with George Clooney. The movie was exceptional in 3D, as director Alfonso Cuaron made you feel as if you were in space with Bullock. Everything was just visually stunning.
  • Philomena – I talked about this movie in my TIFF wrap-up post already, but I have to say it again, I’m really glad I was given the chance to see it. It’s not the typical movie I’d be interested in, yet after I watched it I was just so impressed by it. The fact that Steve Coogan, known mostly as a comedic actor, co-wrote the heartwarming script based on a true story, was a very welcome surprise and you also get to see a side of Dame Judi Dench you don’t normally see.
  • The Spectacular Now – I had listed this as one of the movies I was looking forward to watching in August, and boy did it ever live up to the praise. On the surface it is a love story, when Sutter (Miles Teller) the popular kid in school falls for Aimee (Shailene Woodley) the quiet girl – sounds cliche doesn’t it? On a deeper level, it’s Sutter’s coming-of-age story – how his unexpected relationship with Aimee changes him, his relationships with his family and friends, and his outlook on life. What made this movie stand out is that it’s not the Hollywood view of teenage life; this feels real with the awkwardness of dating and the anxiety of life after high school.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – One of my most anticipated movies of the year and it did not disappoint. To some, Catching Fire (both the movie and the book) can seem like a rehash of the first movie with another Games and it serving as the bridge to the third (and fourth, for the movies). It’s not completely wrong to think that way because it’s kind of true. However, you can’t deny all the character development that occurs as we’re being set up for Mockingjay. Director Francis Lawrence also proved to be a great choice to take over for Gary Ross, as he brings a different style to the film.
  • Fruitvale Station – This movie is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man wrongly shot in a subway station in the Bay Area on New Year’s Day 2009. The film itself follows the final 24 hours of his life and shows him as a young man wanting to do right by his family, but has to contend with his past. Surprisingly, knowing what was going to happen didn’t make the fateful scene any less shocking because we just spent time getting to know him. It’s certainly a testament to writer-director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan for making us sympathize with Grant’s struggles in such a way that it still does shock us when the incident occurs.

TELEVISION (NEW SHOWS)

  • Orphan Black – I was one of the idiots who didn’t watch this show when it first aired. Despite reading tweets by entertainment writers telling me to watch it, I just didn’t know what it was; I may have also mixed it up with some other show in this brain of mine. Anyways, after getting proverbially hit over the head multiple times to watch this, I binge-watched it over one weekend and was immediately hooked after the first episode (hence the binge-watch). I mean it’s sort of a sci-fi show (it deals with clones after all!), but it also has all this character drama, a hint of a thriller, which also deals with psychological/sociological ideas. Plus, Tatiana Maslany! The girl plays SEVEN different characters with such ease, you forget that it’s just her. Also, being Canadian, I was so surprised to see that this is a Canadian made/set show. I know they say it’s a little ambiguous about where the show is set, but it’s fairly obvious it’s Toronto. The funny thing about all this is that at SDCC, my cousin was all about this show trying to get the autograph signing; she didn’t get it, but I ended up trying to take pictures of Tatiana, Dylan Bruce, and Jordan Gavaris for her during the signing, not realizing I was taking pictures of people I was about to obsess over! Now I can’t wait for my next Comic-Con (be it Toronto or San Diego) so I can try harder and meet these wonderful people!
  • Sleepy Hollow – A sort-of re-imagining of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, where Ichabod Crane wakes up in present day Sleepy Hollow to fight the Headless Horseman. Sounded awesome, with a dash of ridiculous, didn’t it? – which is kind of what it ended up being. It’s a show that ended up striking just the right balance of mythology, character, drama, action, supernatural, campy fun, and humour. Executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci definitely know something about that balance, having worked on Fringe, but Len Wiseman and Ken Olin also bring a lot to the table. And the cast – regulars Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter; plus recurring stars Lyndie Greenwood, John Noble, John Cho – just make everything work.
  • Almost Human – I was so excited about this show when it got picked up at Upfronts back in May because it’s from J.H. Wyman, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk, the three people who were very much responsible for my beloved Fringe. Then I saw the pilot at SDCC, which re-affirmed my excitement. It’s a futuristic take on the typical procedural and that in itself just makes things more interesting because it’s a new realm of crime and technology. Add to that, the fact that this is like a buddy-cop drama, with Karl Urban’s damaged human, Kennex, being forced to team up with Michael Ealy’s emotional and wickedly awesome robot, Dorian.
  • Trophy Wife – The name has been an issue; a case you thought ABC might have learned from when they aired Cougar Town, a show that was also MUCH more than its name suggested. At times, you can have a hard time grasping how Bradley Whitford’s Pete ended up with either of his two ex-wives – the cold and stern Diane + the carefree Jackie – or his current younger wife, Kate. That suspension of disbelief aside, it’s a really funny and cute show. The dynamics between the adults, as well as the kids, are terrific. They’re all such characters that somehow work extremely well together. And yes, Albert Tsai’s Bert almost always steals the show whenever he shows up.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine – I mentioned in my fall check-in post how this cast works phenomenally well together. It was like a well-oiled machine, right from the get-go, and I count on them for my weekly laughs. I just need other people to also watch this show.

TELEVISION (RETURNING SHOWS)

  • Nikita – I’m going to keep this short. My favourite show/obsession just ended its run as one of the most underrated series in recent memory. I’m going to miss it SO MUCH.
  • Arrow – If there’s a show that just continually tries to outdo itself, this is it. Through the second half of the first season and going into the second, the writers just know no bounds. Particularly with this second season, where it seems like DC just let them go nuts with the universe and include whatever character they want. I think it’s a real testament to everyone involved with the show that they can make people like me, who don’t know the source material, still be excited about a character reveal. They’ve just done such a great job building their version of Starling City, plus Oliver’s world and relationships, that it’s very easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on.
  • The Mindy Project – Mindy is on a roll. This rom-com + workplace comedy is non-stop laughs, not just from the leads but also by the supporting characters. I don’t know what to say about it, except that more people need to be watching it! I mean where else are you going to see Chris Messina dancing to an Aaliyah song? (Seriously, watch it for yourself. It is hilariously awesome.)
  • Suits – I love this show. There’s some legal stuff that happens on the show but that’s not important. The important thing is the relationships that occur between the characters and how they seemingly riff-off each other. That, plus the pop culture references! In all seriousness though, this is a show that is the very definition of a dramedy – a drama series that infuses a lot of humour and heart. One of the best examples from this season is how they handled what seemed like a throwaway storyline involving Louis and a cat, and gave it the same depth and weight as any other legal case.

That’s it from me. Here’s hoping for the best in 2014!