Love or Hype: My So-Called Life

It’s 1994 and all my teen mags bleed My So-Called Life – from giving tips n how to mimic Rayanne Graff’s (A.J. Langer) iconic bohemian grunge chic style to swooning over Jordan Catalano’s (Jared Leto) puppy dog eyes, and lusting over Angela Chase’s (Claire Danes) crimson locks and trendy flannels. It seemed like everyone was talking about this cult show that only lasted for one season, and yet since I was living in Italy at the time, this show never made it across the pond. So when I saw that Hulu finally had the show, I decided to dive in and see if I had missed something truly amazing. Spoiler alert: I did.

The show introduces us to a very young Claire Danes as Angela Chase. Watching the show, I was reminded as to how much I was taken by Danes’ charm and how much she emulated the awkward teen years so well. The winning point of this show is that it shows real teen dynamics and the characters spoke like real teens, which means that they don’t always have amazing come backs and rather mumble or take awhile to find the right words, such as like in real life. In other words, this show doesn’t feel scripted as far as the dialogue goes.

For the two weeks that I spent to watch this show, I really emerged myself in the late 90’s and the nostalgia for that time really hit me like a two ton truck. It was fun to be a part of Angela’s life. Although the real scene stealer was Rayanne (and rightfully so), I couldn’t help but really loved Ricky Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). He was an openly gay character who had pearls of wisdom when it came to love, although he never found love in the course of the show. Although everyone was gaga for Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto), I couldn’t see why since for a good portion of the show he barely speaks and when he does he doesn’t say anything too charming. But towards the end of the show Jordan got more airtime and I actually liked him more after he and Angela broke up than prior.

The real understated heart of the show was Angela’s mom Patty (Bess Armstrong) who truly loved her family and husband and yet no one gave her the time of day, same as Angela’s young sister Danielle (Lisa Wilhoit) who actually wasn’t as annoying as everyone acted like she was. The one character I wasn’t crazy for was Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersail). He was the typical awkward, nerdy fake nice guy who most likely grew up to be an incel. He was the one who came up with the rumor that Angela and Jordan had slept together, only because he was jealous that his love for Angela was unrequited.

To say that I loved this show is an understatement. The show really captures real life teens with real life problems. Often times, teen shows show teens that are very rich and very beautiful (think The OC, Gossip Girl and Beverly Hills 90210), while My So-Called Life depicted the typical teen, meaning that a lot of times you saw Angela wearing clothes from previous episodes in different ways, much like a real teen would do, or styling your hair the way a real teen would, not having amazing blowouts or impeccable makeup. This show was very authentic and hit a nerve. It’s too bad that we never got a chance to see Angela and her friends evolve and grow, instead they remain trapped in amber in that idyllic 90’s moment that everyone will always cherish.

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Book Review: Open Book by Jessica Simpson

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You set my soul at ease, chased darkness out of view.

Release Date: February 4, 2020

Order on Amazon!

Publisher: Dey Street Books

Price: $18.06 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie.

Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her readers if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first.
Now America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality tv pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites readers on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.

Grade: A

Review:

Let me preface this with, I’m not a fan of Jessica Simpson. Sure I know of her from seeing her in teen mags in the late 90’s (who mostly focused on the fact that she was a virgin dating the much older Nick Lachey from 98 Degrees) than her music. In fact, I had never listened to any of her songs till recently (I wasn’t aware that MTV didn’t want to play her songs). But I was intrigued to read her memoir cause it seemed like a fun, spill-all type of book (yes, I’m nosy). And well, Jessica delivered on her promise to be an open book.

We learn some interesting things about her. How she went to the Chuck Norris school of acting (it basically consisted of him taping down her eyebrows because his fave actor is Denzel Washington and apparently he doesn’t move his eyebrows when delivering his lines). I never really noticed that tidbit, but I’m sure as hell gonna focus on Denzel’s eyebrows next time I see him in a movie.

Jessica is the sort of good-hearted Texan gal that we all wish we had as a best friend. On many occasions in her memoir, I felt sorry for her. The girl can sing and yet Tommy Mattola kept trying to make her into the next Britney (with dire results) with Janet Jackson abs (this, in turn, lead her down a road of self-loathing, self-doubt, and diet pills). Let’s all remember the girl was just 18-19 yrs. old.

She also goes into detail about her high profile wedding with Nick Lachey and her turbulent romance with John Mayer (spoiler alert: Mayer’s as much of a creepo jerk that I had always suspected him to be but much much worse).

But one thing that I really loved most about the book was that Jessica is unapologetically herself, meaning that no one has managed to have her question her faith even when times were bleak. And her willingness to give back to people (especially service members) is really telling of her character. I also like that she doesn’t try to paint herself as a saint and her exes as villains. She merely lets us in on events and willingly admits her faults. Nick Lachey seemed to resent the fact that Jessica couldn’t transform into a doting housewife (and how could she? She was twenty-two and never taught any household chores since she spent her childhood going to voice lessons and performing). John Mayer was obsessed with her and was a total sociopath when it came to her (breaking up with her multiple times over email!) only to beg her to take him back.

I know that Jessica has a billion-dollar empire now with her Jessica Simpson Collection line, but the real tragedy is that she wasn’t allowed to be herself artistically speaking. Her managers kept wanting her to be more like Britney Spears that she just became a terrible copy of her. Unlike Spears, Jessica CAN sing, and her talent deserved so much more.

Open Book is the sort of inspiring celebrity memoir that you didn’t know you needed.

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Find out why this photo haunts Jessica

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Throwback Thursday: Dr. Jones – Aqua

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For someone who’s a self-proclaimed connoisseur of rock music, it’s probably very perplexing to understand why I’d enjoy a pop band like Aqua. Sure, I tried to resist this Danish-Norwegian band with their earworm music and bubbly demeanor. When Barbie Girl became popular, I resisted, they weren’t going to have me! But when Dr. Jones was released I could no longer resist and caved into the bubblicious world of lightness that was Aqua. Perpetually happy and poppy, the band sang about notorious icons such as Barbie and Indiana Jones. Mattel notoriously tried to sue them but a judge dismissed the case in 2002 allegedly stating, “The parties are advised to chill.”

The song though didn’t really have that many Indiana Jones references, the lyrics were more about a summer love (think Grease). But the music video was genius campiness to the max. I also truly loved the female lead singer Lene Nystrom, she was a breath of fresh air, because she dared to defy the busty 90’s gals that had been helped by silicone. Lene had a badass attitude wearing crop tops that read, “No Silicone Added.”

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But much like the heyday of the ’90s, even Aqua’s eternal optimism fizzled with the oncoming of the new millennia. And so, for awhile Lene tried a solo career, becoming one of those many busty gals singing suggestive songs that she used to mock. When the band reunited in 2009 and did a cover of Abba’s My Mamma Said, we immediately knew that this band wasn’t the same anymore. The music video was one of the most visually darkest moments for the band, as you see them reunited around a table, dressed in black as they were being served the strangest foods as roaches walked all over the table. Even their voices had lost their signature cheerfulness and instead had turned more morose. It was official: the once happy pop band had turned dark.

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There had also been a shift in the band dynamics. Before, at the height of their popularity, Lene was dating the male lead singer in the band, Renee. But then she later got married to another Aqua member, drummer, Soren, and the two were married for sixteen years before divorcing in 2017 (the couple has two children together).

So what did I learn from re-listening and rewatching a video I hadn’t seen since 1997? Well, I’m thoroughly confused as to why the cannibals were speaking French, but other than that, the light campiness of Dr. Jones is just as infectious now as it was in 1997. Although now, when I listen to it I’m taken back to a place where my teenage problems seemed so trivial to the real-life troubles that one only understands once you reach adulthood. Nowadays, I relate more to the Aqua members in My Mamma Said, disillusioned and nostalgic for their lightness but now consumed by the darkness.

And despite all those books and movies about how much light wins over the dark, the last two decades have proven that darkness has been prevailing and we’re all left longing for that time in our lives when we used to enjoy light pop songs like Dr. Jones.

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As Lene sings, “Dr. Jones, Dr. Jones wake up now,” I wonder if we’ve all been sleeping and that the past two decades have simply been one prolonged nightmare. Who isn’t ready to wake up now? I know I am.

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1995 Alanis Was My Spirit Animal

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A week ago, the internet was set on fire when someone dared to criticize Alanis Morissette’s multi-Grammy winning album, Jagged Little Pill. Now, I’ll admit that I’m not a current Alanis fan, however, there was a time when I fiercely loved that album and her. So, much like when things have ended with an ex, and you may not currently be in love with them, there will always remain the good memories of your time spent together, and in a way, you will always defend those memories. That’s exactly how I feel about Jagged Little Pill. Living in southern Italy during my youth, it meant that I was bombarded with female musicians who only sung of their broken hearts, begging for ungrateful exes to return to them, or images of TV hosts where they were barely dressed, showing off huge breasts and silicone enhanced lips. To be a woman meant to be passive and beautiful, almost like a pretty Christmas ornament.

But I couldn’t relate to those women, and thus felt very much an outsider living in a town where men stared at you like you were a pretty piece of flesh and that you were obligated to think that cat-calls were compliments in disguise, cause, after all, it only happened to the pretty girls. It also meant having nothing in common with any of the girls living in that town, who would spend hours sitting in the town plaza waiting and hoping for their crushes to pass by with their mopeds. When I’d declare that I wouldn’t wait for hours for a guy to show up I’d be seen as “weird”. Other times, people assumed I lacked passion simply because I refused to be a human doormat for men. I was very passionate as a teen, especially when it came to the guy I was majorly in love with, but I also loved myself enough not to be willing to wait six hours in the town plaza in hopes that maybe the guy would show up, to only be stood up. Cause more often than not, that’s how events played out for my friends.

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I don’t remember exactly how I came across Alanis, but probably it was through the radio (southern Italy didn’t get MTV) and I believe it was the song, You Learn, cause in patriarchal Italy, that was the least offensive song of the album. But for me, You Oughta Know was my jam. I remember playing Jagged Little Pill uber high that the walls would shake and my neighbors complained. They couldn’t understand the rage I felt, after all, I lived in a society that expected me to just be pretty passive. I was considered a freak for wearing dark blue nail varnish, fishnet stockings with Docs, and coating my lips in dark shades of Vermillion. In other words, I didn’t look “safe”.

Alanis was my gateway drug to Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani (No Doubt heyday was angry, not like today’s pop persona), and Shirley Manson, women who were even angrier and far more outspoken than her. I’m not trying to say that Jagged Little Pill saved my life, but it made it more bearable. It made me feel that there were other girls out there who had a similar rage and outspokenness. That there wasn’t anything wrong with me for wanting to reject the notion of what a woman should be, whether or not others agreed with me.

In 1995, Alanis was pretty much the rock goddess of angry rock that we all needed (I know I did), so to compare her legacy and efforts to a childish song like Baby Shark is not only insulting but downright cruel. I may not be into Alanis’ music nowadays (she’s too mellow for me now, and I never outgrew my anger and angst), but I’ll always defend the woman and the album that made an outcast not feel so much alone. I may have been out of place in Sicily, Italy, but I knew that belonged somewhere. Where the legions of angry girls resided.

1995

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Throwback Thursday: TLC – No Scrubs

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When the single NO SCRUBS came out twenty years ago (February 2, 1999), TLC was the best-selling girl group in the world and fierce feminists at a time when the music world was suddenly getting overrun with Lolita-esque divas like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

I chose this song for my Throwback Thursday because when the song came out I loved the message it promoted. For the first time, you had women who were confident enough to say, “NO.” No, they didn’t want a man who had no ambitions and was a deadbeat parasite. And if you think that this message wasn’t bold, you’re gravely mistaken. For centuries women have been groomed to always say, “Yes,” that stating a “NO,” loud and clear, for women to actually have standards of which men could pursue them, this was a big deal.

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Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes were known for being bold, independent, and outspoken young women. They were no damsels in distress, these women were ambitious and hardworking and didn’t expect anything less from their men. This song actually had men questions themselves for the first time, ask themselves if they fit the “scrub” list or not. Ironically, usually, the men who did fit the “scrub” list were the ones who got the most upset over the song.

Of course, this song wouldn’t have been the same without Hype Williams amazing futuristic music video, especially in an age where music videos could make or break a career (this was back in the day when MTV still predominantly only aired music videos on their channel). Hype Williams at the time was considered to be one of the best music video directors around with his bold colours, anime style sequences, and notorious for his fish-eye view which distorted the image in central focus. In his vision, Chilli, T-Boz, and Left-Eye were futuristic warriors that could be both sexy but ferocious, in other words, they were fierce.

The video went on to win the MTV Video Music Award for that year, beating out the all-male competition of boy bands like Backstreet Boys and Nsync at their career highs, which was no small feat.

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Listening to this song twenty years later only emphasizes how much this message is still relevant today. Not that long ago when just idly chatting with my boyfriend in the car, he said he couldn’t understand my need for all this ambition, that he’d still love me even if I were a slob who’d spend all day at home and wait for him to return and he said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t you love me still the same way if I were like that?” And I replied, “Look, as TLC taught me, I don’t want no scrub. I’d never date someone with no ambition or dreams to be better.” Probably not the kind of response he was relying on (after all, most men would hope that women are “romantic” enough to like them even at their worst), but it’s the truth.

I expect a lot from myself and would never dream of being someone who’s just looking for a way to get out of work to stay at home. So for anyone to think that I’d expect less of them just because out of romantic notions is kind of absurd. TLC taught many girls the power to say no, and that’s a lesson that many of us took to heart. I know I did.

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Review: Essie Brings Back the 90’s

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If you were a teen in the late 90’s, then you’ll feel a strange sense of deja’vu that has inhabited the streets lately. Young girls wearing chokers, velvet tees, flannels, bodysuits, and bold brownish red lipstick making one feel as though you were in 1997, but nope it’s 2017, and the 90’s are back and wildly more stylish than ever.

For those of us who lived through it and kept a few nostalgic memorabilia and garments we’re able to resuscitate our old flannels and bring our chokers back to life after a twenty year hibernation. But what about our coveted makeup?

Have no fear as Essie has brought us a whole new line of 90’s inspired nail varnish that will make you feel like Revlon’s Street Wear never got discontinued.

Meet GIRLY GRUNGE a soft silvery metallic shade with a dash of lavender that looks like it could’ve been the love child of Revlon’s Street Wear nail varnish Prissy and Gunmetal.

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This varnish is both durable (no chipping for two weeks!) and fast-drying, both a must for a busy gal that hasn’t got the time to spend hours on her manicure (although it’ll look like you DID spend more time than you really did to get one).

So turn up the volume on Hole’s Miss World, apply another coat of purple mascara, and slip into a pair of Spice Girl platform boots cause 1997 is back, baby and the second time around is even better than the first.

Price: $9

Where To Buy It: Target or http://www.essie.com

By: Azzurra Nox