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October 02, 2014 - Image 10

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48 - Thursday, October 2, 2014
MUSIC FOR 'U'
A record Iabel for students

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
GENDER & MEDIA COLUMN
Still
Allbout
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Re

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Empty Mug Midway through working on
the class project, Phelps brought
cords supports in LSA senior Meta Stange.
Together, the pair was determined
local artists to pursue the record label outside
of the classroom, and with the
By ALEC STERN August release of Empty Mug's
Senior Arts Editor first compilation album, the
co-presidents have finally brought
n the artistically rich the project from ideation to
inding city of Ann Krbor'to fruition.
hallenging, comprehensive_. "We've met with a lot of people
ulum, the University of to get their insight,".Stange said.
gan provides students with "We were working with a lawyer
ving nexus between arts who was helping us get some stuff
education. For musicians set up and Melissa Levine who
cally, the University has works in the copyright office for
home to a multitude of the University."
ng talent, from Iggy Pop, to "And from there it was just
d Perry, to Madonna. And e-mailing people, getting in touch
ow, there is no shortage of ... asking questions and finding
it musicians in Ann Arbor, people to help you with that. And
is precisely the reason people were so wonderful to us,"
University students have Phelps added.
ped an innovative and Levine, the University's lead
g organization that could copyright officer, has been
veral artiststhe momentum involvedwithEmptyMugRecords
ome the University's next from the beginning, informally
tion of success stories. offering guidance and mentorship.
pty Mug Records is an She was also able to provide key
ndent, student-run record financial support in the form of a
and in its short history, Third Century Grant that two of
used Ann Arbor's art- her former interns had applied for.
d culture as a foundation They had seen the cross-section
vide student musicians the of projects that came through
to develop their music in Levine's office that dealt with
ficant way. Having worked copyright and wanted to reconcile
with artists in School of their law school educations
Theater & Dance Prof. Dick with their passion for the arts
s songwriting class, the to create something meaningful
is now up and running as a for members of the Ann Arbor
sity student organization community. Empty Mug Records
riginating last year in the grew out of that effort, as some
of a class project. of the funds that remained in the
was in a music business Grant were approved for transfer
(a Performing Arts and to the organization as seed money.
ology course offered by "One of the great things about
D) last spring and that's these Third Century Grants is
stemmed. We had semester- unexpected consequences in a
rojects and we got a group good sense, and I think thatEmpty
er and decided to create a Mug may be just that thing,"
d) label for the University," Levine said. "I couldn't have
ailey Phelps, LSA junior and planned for that as a deliverable
Mug Records' co-president. butfor it to have happened is a very
ad of that stopping at the good investment."
roject ... we just took (the With help from the University,
nd ran with it." Phelps and Stange have managed

to grow their record label into a
full-service operation dedicated to
helping student artists in any way
they can;that includes production,
distribution, designing album
artwork, press photos and more.
"Basically anything you would
need as a musician besides literally
sitting down and playing the
guitar, we can help you with,"
Stange said.
"Everythingis in-house,"Phelps
added. "So everything that we do
or help create, we are working on
that within our label ... We have
everyone from sound engineers,
more business-minded people,
financial, promotion, marketing
and then Meta and I primarily
deal with reaching out to artists
specifically. But it's all in-house
so everything that we do comes
fromthe people who we work with
directly."
Because it provides so many
services to its artists, Empty
Mug Records is as much about
the people behind the scenes
as it is about those in front of
the microphone. The company
prioritizes creativity, collaboration
andmostimportantly,inclusivity-
the greater the diversity inaskillset,
the greater the opportunity for
everyone involved to learn and
grow. In time, the co-presidents
hope that the label will not only
become a platform for artists but
also a network for people who are
interested in pursuing music in any
capacity.
"That's one of our main goals:
to make it very inclusive and very
collaborative because we want
people to share their ideas if they
know how to do something better
than us," Phelps said. "We want
to hear that to make this the best
thing possible."
Empty Mug Records' initial
success is exactly what Levine
hoped would come from the
program funded by the Third
Century Grant:to dispel the notion
that people are either creative or
business-minded.
"(My former interns) proposed

applying for one of the ... grants
from the Provost's office to develop
a program around entrepreneuria
skills for humanity students with
the idea ... being that many of us
who are interested in the arts
assume we are not interested or
competent in business," Levine
said. "And actually business is
incredibly creative and ideally
about being creative and effective
withthat.So,the proposalwemade
had to do with developingbusiness4
skills for humanity students."
Going forward, Phelps and
Stange will seek funding in the
form of external grants; searching
for additional funding is a large
part of one of Empty Mug's
departments. Currently, the group
has just over 30 members, with
interest growing rapidly among
the student community - both
regarding the organization and its
music.
"My moment of validation from
this whole process was this fall
when we were passing out flyers
to come to our mass meeting and
someone (said), 'Oh yeah I heard
this compilation on Bandcamp.'"
Regardingthe name ofthe label,
Phelps admits she had a hard time
making a decision.
"We had to find a name right
away and I was writing down
lists and lists and trying to figure
out what was going on and I was
actually talking to one of my
friends who works at a coffee shop
and he actually thought of the
name Empty Mug and it was kind
of catchy. It's different," Phelps
said.
"It fits now because we are
motivated by creativity, passion
and coffee," Stange added.
While this maybe true, Levine
was a bit more metaphorical in her
interpretation.
"One of the challenges for
student organizations with great
energy and momentum is that
students graduate, and so I think
the symbolism of constantly
refilling the mug actually gives
some potential longevity to this."

MUSIC VIDEO REVIEW

PharrellWilliams's"It Girl"is
by far the mostvisuallyinterest-
ing musicvideo Ihave seen in
along time.
The produc- A
tion combines
anime-like It Girl
scenes, old
school video Pharrell,
game graphics
and even some Williams
bizarre, neon Columbia
inverse color-
ing of a danc-
ing Pharrell.
Themusic videoopens up on
a sandy cartoon beach. As Phar-
rell begins the first verse, musing
"my compass spinning baby," a
compass in the sand is shown
spinning onthe beach. Such
continuity between the lyrics

and visuals occurs sporadically
throughout.
The next scene is a grooving
Pharrell, with his entire body
flashing and filled in by bright,
neon colors. The background is
plastered with hundreds offloat-
ing little characters and symbols
of origins I am not knowledgeable
enough to know. The stimulus
overload from thisscene makes
it absolutely off-the-wall and
unique.
A video game that looks a lot
like Maplestory then pops up
on the screen with Pharrell as
the skateboarding protagonist,
but then quickly changes into an
anime beachscene of sorts.
I could definitely see "It
Girl"getting some heat for this
video here, as there are plenty of

younglookinggirls in bathing
suits who certainlyhave clearly
definedum, proportions. While
this maybe typical of anime/
mangaystyle art, Pharrell lurking
in the background with a pair of
binoculars inspectingthegirls
definitely sets a creepy vibe.
The music video proceedsto
alternateebetween its computer
generated trippiness, cutesy video
game sets and anime scenes until
finally rollingout the credits in
a'similar fashionto Pokomon
games on GameBoy.
Personally, my favorite part of
"It Girl" comes alittle after the
half way mark, when cheesy-vid-
eo-game Pharrell buys a dolphin
spaceship, goes to outer space,
shoots some bad guys and visits
Galactic Mount Rushmore with

'm bringing booty
back / Go ahead and
tell them skinny
bitches that." I cringe every
time I hear the line - which
is often, considering I've had
Meghan
Trainor's
"All About
That Bass"
on repeat
since mid-
June. The
song, which
originally NATALIE
was praised GADBOIS
as body-
Positive
and revolutionary in an
industry that rarely cel-
ebrates women who aren't
the size of a malnourished
12-year-old, is now under-
going an onslaught of not
unjustified backlash from
outlets as varied as Jeze-
bel and The Guardian. The
lyrics, meant to empower
women who rarely see
reflections of themselves in
the media, just as equally
shame those who are classi-
cally thin. (Though Trainor
does quickly slide in the
phrase "No, I'm just play-
ing," a weak attempt to jus-
tify her slight.)
Perhaps even more menac-
ing is the song's consistent
referral to patriarchal and
heteronormative ideals.
You are beautiful no matter
what size you are because
boys wanna hold your booty
at night. It's an inherently
problematic message we are
teaching to girls; you are
al'wo'rthvhile, bt'ionily in
relation to what-boys think
of you. You all are beautiful
(because being beautiful is
very very very important),
but this beauty can only be
seen through male eyes.
It's insidious, negative
and downright concerning.
But I don't care. I'll repeat
it: I still fucking love this
song.
I'm known to be a pretty
vigilant feminist. My friends
often feel the need to temper
their language and stories
around me so as not to risk
pissing me off. (In other
news, I am the worst to
watch Superbowl commer-
cials with.) Because of my
reputation, multiple people
asked me what I thought
about this song, if I agreed it
was problematic. It's hard to
honestly answer in the affir-
mative when my rallying cry
at every pregame is "Play
'All About That Bass' again,
please!" (Usually without the
'please'). Should I feel guilty
for loving this song? It's a
question that often troubles
activists - if one part of
something is problematic, do
we need to disregard all of it?
When I find cheese with a
bit of mold on it, I throw the
whole damn thing away - no
need to take an unneces-
sary risk. But my grandma
just slices that mold right off
and acts like the cheese is
as good as new. Can we just
as easily slice off the sexism

and negative stereotyping in
"All About That Bass" and
still appreciate the song?
Last year Dove released
a video called "Real Beauty
Sketches," as part of its ongo-
ing self esteem campaign.
The video had a sketch artist
first draw women based on
how they describe them-
selves - strong jaw, round
face, too many freckles.
The same artist then drew
these women based on how
other people described
them. Unsurprisingly, the
women were much harsher
when describing themselves
- these images were consis-
tently "uglier" than those
described by other people.
The campaign was praised
for shedding a light on the
crushing self-consciousness

so many women feel about
the way they look. It was
also decried for promoting
the beauty ideal - being
beautiful means you are
thin, symmetrical, with
prominent cheekbones and
clear skin.
The campaign was dis-
tinctly imperfect - acci-
dentally upholding some
of the norms it meant to
deconstruct. But at the
end of the day the intent
was wholesome - remind-
ing women that they are
all beautiful. And for every
scholarly article I read about
how the Real Beauty cam-
paign was problematic, there
was another girl posting on
Facebook about how that
video had, at least for a little
while, made her reconsider
how she viewed herself. The
question at stake becomes,
what is more important to
furthering social change?
Political correctness, or
widespread individual
impact?
Back to "All About That
Bass." What I know about
this song: It's surprisingly
sexist and disappointingly
one-dimensional in what it
defines as a real woman. It
also is openly celebratory
of women who aren't size
twos, as the first verse so
proudly proclaims, and the
resonance of this statement
can't be overlooked. In fifth
grade I worshiped Carmen
from the "Sisterhood of the
Traveling Pants," not only
for her candor, but because
I looked more like'Wr'han
most teens I had sen ibTV
or in the movies. Even in
this, the 'Year of the Booty,'
what other songs (or TV
shows, or movies) openly
celebrate bigger or even just
regular-sized women? Even
if they exist, how many have
enchanted as broad an audi-
ence - and had quantifiable
industry success - as much
as "Bass"? Even if other peo-
ple are talking about body-
positivity, finally everyone
is listening.
I don't care.
I'll repeat it: I
still love this
fucking song.
Throughout the summer
my 15-year-old cousin Kelly
would send me texts each
time "Bass" would move
up in the charts. Together
we screamed the lyrics and
learned the dance moves
from the video and tried to
teach our dolthead brothers
why the song was important.
Beyond actual blood ties and
general anatomy, Kelly and
I are quite different - she's
outgoing where I'm awk-
ward, pretty and primped
while I wear Chacos and

pajama pants to buy boxed
wine, the Homecoming Prin-
cess to my Vice President
of the Harry Potter Club.
But we both were drawn to
and powerfully buoyed by
"All About That Bass." Ifa
three-minute pop song has
the power to make two such
different girls, at completely
different stages in our lives,
feel good about ourselves,
then it contributes immea-
surable value. Not to say
that we should stop talking
about why it's problematic.
But Kelly and I aren't going
to stop dancing. And I don't
think anyone else should
either.
Gadbois is never going to stop
dancing. Send encouragement
to gadbnat@umich.edu.

I
I

Pharrell'sface (and hat) chiseled
in.
Even from the start of the
music video, it's clear that the
computer-generated animations
and effects of "It Girl" allow for
fantastical outside-of-the-box
thinking that makes this pro-
duction well worth five min-
utes of your time.
-KENNETH SELANDER

1

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