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February 06, 2014 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-02-06

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Talking funny
with Robert Siegel
Local student 7

Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 3B

What the Grammys
should have looked like

thought she could
interview former
Onion editor
Senior Arts Editor
The University has been boast-
ing of an impressive alumni net-
work since its inception. While
passing through campus on a
prospective student tour, an over-
enthused undergrad is bound
to list off a marginal number of
names - including James Earl
Jones and the fictional Dr. House
- from the exhaustive list.
The broad list of successful for-
mer students adheres to no spe-
cific college or major. But comedy
on campus in particular, whether
defined as being a hobby or profes-
sional pursuit, has been establish-
ing budding talent for decades.
When Rob Siegel, screenwriter
and former editor in chief of The
Onion, graduated from the Univer-
sity in 1993, he wasn't convinced
that his interest in comedy would
take him anywhere.
"I didn't really have much of a
plan," Siegel said. "But I was just
trying different things that I
What he liked was comedy and
journalism. Siegel's four years at
the University were spent dab-
bling in journalism, while work-
ing for The Michigan Daily.
"I (wrote) for sports, but if I
could do it again, I'd probably do
arts." and experimenting with
different forms of comedy Sie-
gel "took a few pathetic stabs at
stand up at the student Union."
While the comedy scene at the
University was flourishing at the
time, the future editor in chief
didn't always align himself with
"There was a (comedy) scene
I wasn't one of the main people. I
remember Jon Glaser was there.
The Sklar brothers were there.
There was a little bit of a scene,
which I wasn't very much a part
of," Siegel said.
Following his college girl-
friend to Madison, Wis. after
graduation, Siegel began free-
lancing around the city when he
came upon The Onion, a local
satirical newspaper.
"I was like, 'What the hell is
this? This is awesome.' So I called
them up and just started writing
very soon after that," Siegel said.
Although The Onion now
houses itself in Chicago and has
cultivated its own alumni net-
work of writers, it started out
"When I started, it was maybe
six or seven of us, and we would
meet at somebody's house and
assign stories," he explained. "It
was a very weird thing. I don't
think any of us really had any
plans for it. We just all liked it,
thought it was fun. It was more
like a band. That was kind of the
comedy equivalent of jamming in
your garage."

This is where we normally put a humorous cutline of our own devising.

The turning point for the paper
happened in 1996, when The.
Onion made its fated transition
online. Within the first month of
the site being up, it was featured
in an issue of The New Yorker.
"At the time I was living in
Madison, and I went to my (five-
year high school) reunion. You
know, people ask you what you're
up to, and I said,'well, I'm writing
for this comedy publication based
out of Madison, Wis," and it was
really pretty sad-sounding," he
explained. "And then once it went
online, suddenly you could say,
'Well, I'm writing for The Onion'
... You're not just writing for the
people of Dane County, Wis.
You're writing for the world."
Most writers who leave The
Onion face a typical trajectory
of continuing comedy writing in
TV or film. Siegel recalls flipping
through the channels to find an
old intern starring on the MTV
series "Human Giant."
"I just saw it and I said, 'Holy
shit! That's our fucking intern,
Aziz!" Siegel explained, referring
to "Parks and Recreation" star
and prominent stand-up Aziz
Ansari, who was an NYU stu-
dent during his short stint at The
But after Siegel left the pub-
lication in 2003, he followed an
atypical path - dramatic screen-
writing. Although he would go on
to write screenplays such as the
2008 Academy Award-nominat-
ed "The Wrestler," the transition
into his next career move wasn't
as swift.
"When I was at The Onion and
I filled out my taxes, under pro-
fession I would put 'comedy writ-
er,' because that's what I thought
of myself as," Siegel explained. "I
didn't really hit my stride with
screenwritinguntil I moved away
from overt comedies," he admit-
Siegel described his attempt
at comedic screenplays as "shitty

versions of Judd Apatow movies,"
and cites his breakthrough in
screenwriting as "Big Fan," a dark
comedy he started writing dur-
ing his tenure at The Onion. The
film, starring Patton Oswalt play-
ing an intense New York Giants
fanatic, also marked Siegel's first
time directing and producing.
"(Big Fan is) uncompromised.
It's exactly what I wanted," Sie-
gel said, describing it as the proj-
ect he's most proud of. "I wasn't
writing for another director, I
wasn't writing for a studio that
gave me notes. It's pure in that
I had total creative freedom."
Despite dabbling in all areas
of entertainment, his work on
"Big Fan". has inspired him
to pursue darker, character-
driven projects inspired by his
favorite movies, which typically
involve "fucked-up loners wan-
dering the streets of New York
The fucked-up-loner films he
refers to come from some of the
filmmakers he admires moost:
Martin Scorsese, Robert Alt-
man and Paul Thomas Ander-
son - writer/director types
"you can't write a movie for."
With a couple of projects in
the works that Siegel "probably
shouldn't talk about ... which
is stupid," he hopes to further
craft a signature that is all his
own. To become the next "self-
contained auteur."
Five years have passed since
"Big Fan," and since Siegel has
last been at Sundance Film
Festival, but things are start-
ing to be set in motion. As he
prepares for his next projects
with a couple of other talented
names, Siegel's organic, uncon-
ventional path seems to be tak-
ing him in the direction of those
he admires, but in his own way.
"The best thing to do is to fol-
low that path and try to do the
same," he explained. "Create
my own universe."

he Grammys and hip
hop have a well-doc-
umented and compli-
cated history. The Grammys were
years late in even acknowledging
the genre and
have consis- - - .
tently reward-
ed popular
and fleeting
artists over
legendary t
ones (Nas has
never won in JACKSON
18 nomina-J
tions). The HOWARD
became even tenser a few weeks
ago when Macklemore won the
three big rap awards - Best
Rap Album, Best Rap Song and
Best Rap Performance. What
really irked hip hop fans, myself
included, was not; necessarily
Macklemore himself - his musi-
cal talent is serviceable and his
cultural and commercial impact
is undeniable - but rather the
artists he beat out for his awards,
namely Kendrick Lamar and his
magnificent debut album. Even
more, worthy artists like Kanye
West and Drake lost out, while
projects by J. Cole and Pusha T
were barely acknowledged or
ignored completely.
The Grammys have never been
perfect, but its hip hop selec-
tions are consistently abysmal
and unrepresentative of what hip
hop fans are truly listening to and
appreciating. So, if you couldn't
already see where this was going,
I've decided to give my own ver-
sion of what the rap at the Gram-
mys should actually look like,
using the same four categories,
time frame (November 2012 to
November 2013), eligibility (i.e.,
no mixtapes. Sorry, Chance the
Rapper) and a realistic approach
to what types of artists and proj-
ects the majority of fans listen to.
Without further adieu...
Best Rap Performance
"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe"
- Kendrick Lamar
"Tom Ford" - Jay Z
"Worst Behaviour" - Drake
"New Slaves" - Kanye West
"Levels" - Meek Mill
Winner: "New Slaves"
"BestRap Performance"always
confused me, because I thought it
was more or less the same as "Best
Rap Song." But in a genre like rap,
where delivery and, well, per-
formance is so vitally important,
the award actually becomes very
relevant. Kendrick harmonizes
and raps in a variety of flows, Jay
Z effortlessly throws swagger
and dismisses Molly in favor of
"Tom Ford," Drake passionately
stunts in an instantly quotable
way (WORST!) and Meek Mill
schools his haters and raps as if
"Levels" is the last song he will
ever make. But on "New Slaves,"
Kanye gives the performance of
a lifetime. His ruthless and biting
message, palpable anger and reli-
giously fervent delivery, border-
ing on full-blown lunacy, makes

"New Slaves" a groundbreaking
and gothic masterpiece.
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
"Power Trip" - J Cole
featuring Miguel
"Bound 2" - Kanye West
featuring Charlie Wilson
"Bad",- Wale
featuring Tiara Thomas
"From Time" - Drake
featuring JhendAiko
"One of Those Nights" - Juicy J
featuring The Weeknd
Winner: "Power Trip"
Rap/sung collaborations had
been a staple of hip hop long
before the Grammys started
acknowledging them in 2002 and
still play a vital role in rap music.
This year proved just as chock-
full of great collabs. Kanye hear-
kens back to his old music with
the help of Gap Band-founder
and soul legend Charlie Wilson;
Wale truly masters the balance
between sexual and sentimental
with newcomer Tiara Thomas on
the mattress-squeaking "Bad,"
Drake and Jhen6 Aiko explore
troubled relationships over soft

samples and intruding noises, Big
Sean and Jay Electronica deliver
excellent verses on the 7-minute
"Control" only to be destroyed by
Kendrick's now infamous decla-
ration-of-war against all rap kind
and 2 Chainz says things that nor-
mal people simply can't say while
embodying luxury to its fullest
with help from a tropical beat and
floating chorus from the legendary
Pharrell. And then there's "Blood
on the Leaves." The perfect rep-
resentation of the "new" Kanye,
the track miraculously combines
TNGHT-infused trap thunder,
auto-tune wailing and a power-
ful Nina Simone sample to create
a magnum opus that will go down
as one of the major musical feats
of this generation from one of the
best to ever do it.
Best Rap Album
Drake -Nothing Was the Same
Kendrick Lamar
-good kid, mA A.d city
Kanye West - Yeezus
J Cole -Born Sinner
PushaT - My Name is My Name
Winner: good kid, m.A.A.d city

The WE
to a cra2
its Ste
and ru
from a
while a
ently so
less st
song ce
was tou
ible tr
year, an
feels w
five tra
which a
flips as
rick to
tapose I
and for
of the b
gar co

and snaps, and Juicy J and Now, the big one. All five of
eeknd - two of the most these artists are rap superstars in
artists in popular music - their own right and crafted exem-
haunting and explicit ode plary projects. Drake combines a
zy night out."Power Trip," diverse sonic landscape and his
eless, is incredible. With always-notable wordplay into a
vie Wonder-esque flutes heartfelt, confident and radiant
mbling synths, J. Cole's album. Kanye cements his role as
duced single stands alone the most polarizing but also bril-
nything else on the radio liant and innovative musical cre-
Iso harnessing an inher- ator of the past decade with an
ulful quality. Cole's effort- inconceivable new genre of indus-
orytelling coupled with trial-electronic-Chicago drill-soul
s pained and love-laced rap, J. Cole finally produces a per-
work to create a timeless sonal, lyrical and cohesive project
rtainly deserving of recog- with impressively few guests that
lives up to his unrelenting hype
and Pusha T manages to legiti-
Best Rap Song mately establish himself as a solo
artist with a refteshing take on
ney Trees" - Kendrick his perfected craft of drug tales,
mar featuring Jay Rock threats and bravado boosted by
Blood on the Leaves" an all-star roster of producers and
- Kanye West guest stars. But for all the unde-
umbers onthe Boards" niable talent assembled in this
- Pusha T group, goodkid, m.A.A.d city wins.
rol" - Big Sean featuring Easily. Through a collection of
k Lamar & Jay Electronica brazenly original yet relentlessly
ds Watching" - 2 Chainz cohesive tracks, Kendrick weaves
featuring Pharrell a coming-of-age classic ripe with
loss, sex, family, friendship and
r: "Bloodonthe Leaves" identity. Signed to a major label
with a legendary mentor in Dr.
I'm not going to lie. This DreKendrick nonetheless refused
ugh. Hundreds of incred- to conform and instead created the
acks are released every best rap debut since 50 Cent's Get
id naming one as the best Rich or Die Tryin' (also supervised
'rong. Nonetheless, these by Dre) and a generation-defining
cks not only attracted sig- classic whose message and impact
attention in the hip-hop somehow extends far beyond the
nity but also are simply borders of Compton and into the
it, innovative and fine- hearts and minds of music fans
songs. "Money Trees," everywhere.
lmost took the cake for me, So there you have it. And if
seemingly unusable Beach you're wondering why Mackl-
ample into a pounding and emore isn't on any of these lists,
holy soundscape for Kend- take a moment and listen to good
recap his adventures, jux- kid, m.AA.d city - or to any of
Halle Berry and Hallelujah the other winners for that matter
Jay Rock to unleash one - and let me know if you're still
rest guest verses in recent confused.
y. Pusha T snarls about
drugs and success over a Howard is looking to change
lowingly sparse and vul- the system. To join him, e-mail
mbination of drums, vocal jackhow@umich.edu.


Justin Bieber's latest music
video release since his bout in
jail inadvertently portraysboth
the cool and
creepysidesto B
today's "hook
up culture." Confident
Thevideo (f.Chance
starts off with
Justin noting a The Rappe)
hot girl passby
late at night. Justin Bieber
He immedi- Island Defl)am
ately drops his
bag to follow
her down a dark hallway. After,
the music briefly cuts out for an
admittedly creative pickup line,
when the cute chick stops to
purchase some Takis at a coun-
ter - which seems to appear out
of nowhere. Here, the camera
immediately cuts to a shot of
her derridere. Easy there, Biebs.
Justin then proceeds to fol-
low the girl through an alley
way where a group of backup
dancers forms behind him. At

first it appears a little stalker-
like, but it grows tasteful as it
becomes highly reminiscent
of Michael Jackson's infamous
"Thriller" video.
Cutaways alternate between
this scene and a few other sets,
the main one featuring a single
beam of light illuminating a
dark set where Justin and some
dancers shows off some fresh,
well-choreographed moves.
Unfortunately, the darkness
has a way of highlighting how
ridiculous he looks in his low-

hung skinny jeans.
Chance the Rapperbriefly
enters the video and - not
surprisingly - adds a trippy
elementby doing some silly
As seems to be the trend, the
video closes after Justin makes
out with his (love?) interest.
While "Confident," might be a
little much in a few spots, it's
definitely a positive step toward
more reasonable, artistic music
videos from Bieber.

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