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Why Janet Jackson Should Be Remembered as A True Musician

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Source: Wikipedia

When the Superbowl was approaching earlier this year, some of the media took it upon themselves to remember Janet Jackson’s notorious 2004 half-time show wardrobe malfunction. Since then, this incident as well as Janet’s last three albums (Damita Jo, 20 Y.O., and  Disclipine)  seems to have made Janet’s sexuality more memorable than anything else.  However, there are many reasons that Janet should be remembered as a true musician.

1. She has paved the way for many musicians of today.

Janet’s “Pleasure Principle” music video inspired R&B singer Cassie’s “Me & U” music video.

Janet’s chair dance from the music video for “Miss You Much” influenced Britney Spears’ “Stronger” music video.

Janet’s music videos for “Love Will Never Do Without You” and “That’s The Way Love Goes” influenced Ciara’s “Body Party” music video.

 The angry feeling evoked in Janet’s song “Black Cat” can be heard in Christina Aguilera’s song “Fighter“.

2.  Her 1997 album The Velvet Rope showed that you can be sexy, socially conscious, and emotionally vulnerable as a woman.

Rope Burn” is a sexy song that involves sadomasochism.

Free X-One” is a song that supports those who are gay and bi-sexual.

What About” is a explicit, angry song that discusses being physically abused in a relationship.

Special” is a hopeful song that Janet channeled her depression into.

3. Collectively, her songs have an innovative and eclectic sound.

Rhythm Nation” from the album Rhythm Nation 1814- combines new jack swing with funk.

Funky Big Band” from the album Janet- combines jazz with hip-hop beats.

Velvet Rope” from the album The Velvet Rope– combines violin with dance beats.

Trust A Try‘ from the album All For You- combines orchestra, hip-hop beats, and rock.

4. She has been and is an amazing live performer with an electrifying stage presence and an angelic voice.

Janet live at the Grammy’s in 1987– “What Have You Done For Me Lately” and “Nasty”

Janet live at the MTV VMA’s in 1993– “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “If”

Janet live at The Velvet Rope Tour in 1997–  “Let’s Wait a While” and “Again”

Janet live in 1997/98 (Velvet Rope era)– “I Get Lonely”

Janet live at MTV Icon in 2001– “All For You”

Bonus: She has shown that sometimes alternate versions of songs are just as good or better than the original.

Black Cat (Guitar Mix)– this song features Vernon Reid of the band Living Colour on guitar.

Together Again (Deeper Mix)– a slower R&B version of the song.











Why Every Black Person Should Celebrate Black Music Month

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On Sunday June 1st, I discovered that June was Black Music Month when For Harriet,  the blog I’m interning for mentioned on about having t-shirts with the names of female black musicians. Since then, I’ve realized that other black people may not be aware of Black Music month and why it should be celebrated.

According to the website for the National Museum for African American Music, black music month was originally founded in 1979 by Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams in order to celebrate the impact  of black music. However, it wasn’t formerly recognized as a national event until the year 2000.

In 2009, President Barack Obama took it further by calling Black Music Month by a second name, African American Music Appreciation Month.

With all the hip-hop and R n’ B music dominating the charts and radio airwaves, it seems unnecessary to have an entire month dedicated to black music. However, we have done so much more than this.

For instance, any true rock music enthusiast will tell you that rock came from blues, jazz, country, and gospel mixed together. Recently, I did a Buzzfeed listicle featuring some of the black men and women who influenced rock in the past and a little taste of the rock music being done by black musicians today.

Thanks to the multimedia and multi-genre movement  known as Afropunk, black people have a chance to express themselves in ways that aren’t shown in most of the mainstream media. Last month, I did a post on my top ten Afropunk musicians.

We should take this month to celebrate the fact that black people have and will contribute so much amazing music in various genres. They may not sell a million records or win a ton of awards, but that shouldn’t matter. As long as ears are listening, music will always matter.





Written by Serena Zola

June 4, 2014 at 2:10 PM

Neil Gaiman On Reading and My Two Cents

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I was making my usual rounds on the Huffington Post when I saw this link to an article about why author Neil Gaiman thinks reading is important for the future. The article is lengthy, but thought-provoking.

As an avid reader and aspiring author, I agree with every word Gaiman said. The only thing that would impress me more is if Gaiman turned this lecture into a fantasy novel. However, I want to add a few things.

First, fiction is not the only genre that can impact a reader.

As they get older, kids get exposed to other things and have to read non-fiction. If they have to do a paper on their favorite author, then they will have to read biographies or autobiographies.

If a reader enjoys an author’s work enough to read the author’s  biography or autobiography, then the reader might appreciate the author’s work even more. The same thing can apply if you read a biography or autobiography about any creative or innovative person.

By reading more about certain people, you can learn to appreciate certain aspects of life more or want to do something to improve it.

Secondly, reading fiction has a special message for some readers. That message is, “You are not alone.”

One of the worse things that you can feel is that you’re only person experiencing something. Finding a character in a fictional work going through the same thing you are is as comforting as a warm hug.

Last but not least, I think the ultimate reason reading is important is that it inspires other people to express themselves through any medium.

The short stories I have been writing as practice have been influenced by teen fiction, news stories, and a little personal experience. Some of my poetry has a similar influence, but has also been inspired by classic poets.

Without people reading books, the world wouldn’t be where it is today.  I will always be grateful for libraries, books, and the authors who write them.

Written by Serena Zola

October 18, 2013 at 4:57 PM

A Reflection on My Music Taste and Music in General

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Yesterday, I became a fan of Florence and The Machine. This is the first indie rock band I’ve ever liked. It also means that I’ve finally cracked and decided to explore indie music.

I’ve seen “mainstream music sucks” comments online for a while now. I’ve shaken my head because there are a few gems in mainstream music worth listening to.

Yet, eight years ago I thought I was totally awesome because I only listened to alternative rock and a couple of soundtracks.

Now that I’ve entered the world of indie rock, I feel I’ve come full circle with my music taste and become wiser with exploring music.

In fact, I don’t think that I could have become a fan of Florence and The Machine without the eclectic music taste I gained.

As of today, here is what I listen to: pop, rock, blues, jazz, classical, world music, techno, scores, and a little rap, funk, soul, and r &b.

The only reason my taste has developed like this is that I was somewhat forced to do some research in the past and present for a class.  After that, I became naturally curious.

Before I became a FATM fan, I thought I didn’t need to get into indie music. I thought that because I had an eclectic music taste, I’d never be bored with the music I already had.

However, I missed being a fan of a band that was good, fun, different, current, and still active.

After I became a fan of Janelle Monae then Janis Joplin, I realized that there are some musicians who are one-of-a-kind. I found myself wanting to hear music from someone similar to them and realizing that there wasn’t anyone like them.

I also realized that wasn’t a bad thing.

The reason that today’s music isn’t great is because most people sound like someone else. Furthermore, the reason one musician sounds like another is because they embody what sells.

When a  truly talented and passionate musician comes along, they are underrated or tailored to what sells.  It depends on if the musician lets themselves be fitted or not. It also depends on the circumstances the musician is in.

Someone who has an ideal musical and/or personal image is more easily controlled by record companies and understood by the general public.  In contrast, someone who doesn’t have an image is more likely to only appeal to certain people.

When it comes to music that has lyrics, I appreciate the musician more if they don’t have an image. If they are just being themselves, then that makes their music more special to me.

It seems like today’s world is so messed up that some people want something normal to make them feel good.  Things like being sexy, being young, and being American are norms that have been around since I was born.

You’d think most  people would be bored with that.

It shouldn’t matter if  a hundred or a million people like the music you create or listen to. It shouldn’t matter what most people like or what’s normal.

If more people were willing to be an indie person, then the music would be better.

Written by Serena Zola

October 6, 2013 at 3:54 PM

Top Five Outsider Books for Teens and Adults

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As a teen, I felt like an outsider in more ways than one. One thing that helped was reading books that featured fellow outsiders.

As I started college, I still felt out of place and found more books for comfort.  Some of these books helped me realize that even if you still feel like an outsider as an adult, you don’t have to be ashamed of it.  Here are my top five outsider books for teens and adults.

My Top Five Outsider Books for Teens and Adults

  1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton– This book changed my life and made me see people differently. The fact that the author was a teen herself when she wrote it is a bonus.
  2. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky- I read this book two years before the film adaptation came out and it resonated with me as much as The Outsiders did. It does a fantastic job of including various books, music, and movies into a teen’s life. This is important because these things can keep an outsider alive and sane.
  3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson- While outcasthood isn’t the main subject of this book, it is realistically portrayed in the main character of the book, Melinda. This ended up being the first teen book I’ve read where the main character has no friends all throughout the book.
  4. The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz If it’s one thing I learned from this book is that being an immigrant and a geek can suck. Big time. Despite all the bad crap that happens, it is still an honest and wonderful read.
  5. Geektastic by various authors- Whether you are geeky and proud or geeky and insecure, you’ll love this book. It features geeky stories by young adult authors such as Libba Bray, John Green, and David Leviathan.


Written by Serena Zola

March 15, 2013 at 11:33 AM

Physical Books VS E-Books

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A few years ago, I did not have a Kindle. I thought, “What’s the point? It’s not like it will be useful for me. I’m good with getting the books I want to read from the library.”

During the summer and fall of 2011, a couple of things started to change mind. That summer, I started wishing I could take more than one book with me when I travel. I have a small backpack that is enough for a few bottles of water and a book for pleasure reading. Yet, I found myself wanting to take some how-to-write books in order to inspire my writing.

One day when I returned to class that fall, I decided to check out a classic book from the campus library. I don’t recall what book it was, but I found myself a little disgusted because it was old, worn-out, and sticky. I didn’t check it out and didn’t want to try at my local library because I didn’t want another book in bad condition. Not all classic books are like that, but it made me feel like getting books in a good condition was like finding a needle in a haystack.

When the holiday season came up, I told my older sister that I wanted a Kindle. She complied to my request and the word of e-reading was open to me.

I discovered that Kindle ebooks on as well as sites like Project Gutenberg had free e-books of classics. I also bought my first e-book, Writing YA Fiction for Dummies , using an Amazon gift card I got with the Kindle.  I enjoyed using the Kindle, but I still liked reading books I could physically hold in my hands.

Having a Kindle has some advantages. I don’t have to worry about old classic books falling apart anymore. I can take as many books as I want with me now. I can have all the book lines I like highlighted in one place instead of written down in several journals.

Yet, I like the smell that physical books have. If the books have illustrations, then I would rather see and feel them in a physical book than magnify them in a physical book. Sometimes, I like knowing what page number I’m on and the e-book doesn’t have it.

Speaking of books with drawings, I think it is impossible to read a manga (i.e. Japanese comic book) as an e-book. You can’t experience the fun of reading a book right-to-left without actually flipping the pages. Also, you can’t appreciate the artwork without seeing the detail clearly.

To conclude, I like both e-books and physical books. However, unless I want to read a manga I don’t want to buy, I will not be reading it as an e-book.

Written by Serena Zola

February 5, 2013 at 10:09 AM

Op-Ed: Why John Green’s Looking For Alaska Needs A Film Adaptation

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I was on the Huffington Post Books section when I saw this article about the film adaptation of the teen fiction book The Fault in Our Stars  and thought I’d spread the word and say my two cents on here.

As much as I enjoyed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I’m only half-happy about the filming. After all, The Fault in Our Stars isn’t my favorite John Green book. That honor goes to the very first John Green book I ever read: Looking For Alaska.

While The Fault in Our Stars is impactful to anyone dying of any disease and the people affected by them, Looking For Alaska is impactful for anyone learning to live in the moment while discovering the truth about themselves and others. Both books deserve to be made into films, but Looking For Alaska is one of those books that can define many generations of young people.

Nowadays, teens are more pressured than ever to be something they’re not for acceptance. Miles Halter, Alaska Young, and Takumi,  the main characters of Looking for Alaska, could care less about it for the most part. Yet, looking for acceptance involves so much more than just doing a dare, doing drugs, or drinking to be “cool.” Looking for Alaska shows that acceptance can be sought simply by putting up a front and what happens when that front breaks a person.

This is a message I rarely see in today’s teen fiction and movies. You’d have to go back in time to films like The Breakfast Club  to see it more often. It it important that a good film adaptation of Looking For Alaska be made so that people  can read the book and see each other in a more honest, if raw, light.

Written by Serena Zola

January 31, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Op-Ed: Is Poetry Dead?

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I was looking at the book section of Flavorwire when I saw an article posted in response to another article entitled, “Is Poetry Dead?”. I read the latter and was astounded. As a poet and a reader of poetry myself, I heartily disagree with the author of the article.

The reason the author of the article says poetry is dead today is because it hasn’t changed anything. By change, did she mean historically change society? Or, did she mean change people’s lives by getting the attention of a large number of people? I think it is both.

Why should poetry have to historically change society or attract the attention of a large number of people in order to change something? With most people being so technology and reality-tv obsessed and, shouldn’t people be happy that poetry still is being read and written by some people?

For instance, me. I have been writing poetry since I was thirteen years old. Discovering that I had the natural talent to write poetry (and as it would turn out, stories) made me happy. Until I discovered my writing talent, I thought I had no talent. If that newfound happiness is not a form of change, I don’t know what to say.

During my first two years of college, I’ve read many poets I never considered reading before: Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Gwendolyn Brooks, to name a few. Walt Whitman became my favorite poet to read for pleasure because his work showed me that no matter who we are or where we come from, we are all connected. For someone like me who has felt out-of-place for a long time, it was an immense comfort and another life-changing moment.

As for poetry that has been inspiring to my own work, Gwendolyn Brooks and her poem “We Real Cool” was the nugget that led me to a gold mine of inspiration from other African-American poets like Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. All three of these poets inspired me to write about youth social issues with raw imagery. When I have enough poems, I will publish them in a collection.

Currently, I want to look for good introspective poetry to serve as inspiration for my own. I don’t know what poet will inspire me next, but when I discover them, it will be awesome.

Simply put,  If poetry can change just one person’s life and make them feel more alive, then how is it dead?



Does Music Have a Color?

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Next Monday, January 21 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday that is supposed to celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I think that it is also a day to take time out and think about how we can honor Dr. King’s dream of equality through not only civil rights, but through things we enjoy everyday. For instance, music.

Last summer, I came across an article on the Huffington Post entitled, “Does Music Have a Color?” The article discusses a social project that involves interviewing black and white residents of Brooklyn in order to see if music truly has a particular color. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad once.

We were talking about music and I asked if he knew that I listened to rock music most of the time. He replied, “Yeah. I listen to some white music sometimes too.”

That reply disturbed me. Why should rock music be considered “white music”? Furthermore, why any of the music my dad listened to (i.e. blues, funk, old school r&b) be considered “black music”? Is it because rock musicians are mostly white and blues, funk, and r & b musicians are mostly black?

The thing that bothers me about the social project mentioned in the Huffington Post article is that only black and white people are interviewed. I understand that it is easier to just interview two races, but it is a flaw when it comes to its purpose. In order to truly answer the question we must take the musician, the everyday music listener, and every race possible into account.

A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a Japanese singer named Mika Nakashima show up on my online J-rock station. Japanese rock and japanese pop is considered the norm for most contemporary japanese musicians. Only, Nakashima wasn’t singing J-rock or even J-pop music. She was singing a jazz song  called “Love Addict”. I thought “A Japanese singer doing jazz?” for about thirty seconds, then just enjoyed the music. The singer and the music sounded so good, nothing else mattered.

A thing I think would have made the social project more interesting is the age demographic. If it had been done among young people ages thirteen through eighteen, I think the answers would have been more black and white. I feel this way because of my personal experience with music as a teen.

At that time, I felt like I had to listen to what my black peers were listening to because I was black. This consisted of hip-hop and contemporary r & b music. From sixth grade through ninth grade, I did that in order to feel accepted. It made me feel so fake, because I couldn’t personally connect to the music and yet I felt like I had to listen to the music because I was black.

Eventually, I met a Hispanic girl who introduced me to alternative rock music and soundtrack music and I fell in love with both genres. I also realized that this was a girl who liked these genres enough to tell others about them and not care what they think. If she could do that, then why couldn’t I?

When it comes to listening to the music, your race and the musician’s race shouldn’t matter. When it comes to appreciating the music, it is okay to take race into account somewhat.

I take pride in knowing that rock music would not have existed without black musicians like Chuck Berry, BB King, and Little Richard. Without them, The Beatles may have never been formed. However,  just because I take pride in this, doesn’t mean I get snobby about it. I don’t listen to the Beatles cover a Chuck Berry song and say, “The Beatles are trying to steal from Chuck Berry.”  Like it or not, I listen to what original songs the Beatles have created before I judge them.

To sum up everything, let me borrow a few words from Dr. King. Let the musicians not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their music. Let the listeners not be judged by the color of their skin or music taste, but by the content of their character.

Written by Serena Zola

January 14, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Why I Read YA Books

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I read this article about why YA books appeal to adults when it was first published and found it amusing, deciding to bookmark it for a future blog post. Today, I decided to compile a list of reasons about why I read YA books and ask my readers and fellow bloggers, “Why do you read YA Books?” I understand this question might not apply to everybody, but I’m asking out of curiosity because I have a feeling that some of the reasons listed on the article don’t apply.

Here are my reasons in no particular order:

1. As an aspiring young adult author, YA books are my inspiration

For the most part, I read contemporary YA books because that is the exact YA genre I want to write books for. Sometimes, if ideas aren’t coming or I’m frustrated, thinking “Why am I doing this again?” I reread the book that inspired me to write for teens in the first place: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

2.  To remember the comfort received as a teen

A quote from S.E. Hinton about her enjoyment of reading goes, “The act of reading was so pleasurable for me. For an introverted kid, it’s a means of communication, because you interact with the author even if you aren’t sitting there conversing with her.” This sums up perfectly what YA books meant to me as a teen. I didn’t have a lot of close friendships and relationships, so sometimes books and their authors were my closest confidants. They made me experience a wide range of emotions that sometimes matched my own, creating an amazing feeling of empathy. As a result, a very important message was communicated to me: “You are not alone.”

3. To keep up with what everybody (or at least some people)  read

I might not like some of the trends in YA books **coughs** vampires **coughs**, but I like to think that one unlikable trend is connected to a likeable one. For instance, if I had turned my back on the whole paranormal trend completely, I would not have discovered that I enjoy a book from the Riders of the Apocalypse series.

There you have it. Does anybody have the same reasons for reading YA books as I do? Also, what do think of the article I linked to; do you agree with it? Feel free to share your thoughts by commenting!

Written by Serena Zola

January 6, 2013 at 7:37 PM

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