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Sasha Frere-Jones’ “review” of the new Destiny’s Child album [“Funk Fatale,” April 27–May 3] was absolutely hilarious. It read like the mea culpa of a restaurant critic who has suddenly decided that McDonald’s food not only tastes good to millions, but is nutritious, too. Or a political pundit who realizes, “Hey, George W. Bush isn’t as idiotic as we thought — he’s actually a terrific president!” It also reminded me of those Soren Baker concert reviews in the L.A. Times, taking such pains to explain that even though some rapper showed up onstage two hours late and staggering drunk, fumbled the lyrics to the three “songs” he managed to pull out of his ass, and was barely visible behind the 10 members of his posse crowding the stage, it was still a really amazing show.

This is what happens in an era in which standards of quality and artistry have plummeted so low that even professional critics can no longer tell quality from crap. An era in which D’Angelo can cop a few cheesy ’80s synth sounds and loverman moans, and suddenly he’s dubbed the next Prince. An era in which Jennifer Lopez is considered a singer, in which we have No. 1 singles about thongs.

So it’s endlessly amusing to see music critics twist themselves into knots trying to convince readers that this sort of slick, shallow candyfloss is Real Music. It’s manifest to anyone over age 17 that the pap Destiny’s Child is selling is barely a notch above the Spice Girls, yet Frere-Jones spends a whole page trying to turn Beyoncé Knowles into the next Billie Holiday. And he can take all the shots he wants at OK Computer and Music From Big Pink — all these ears hear from Destiny’s Child is a bunch of media-massaged divas trying to out-shriek each other over generic luv lyrics, bland melodies and manufactured beats. The funky old paradise of Chocolate City has decayed into a hellish Valhalla of Vanilla. “Modern R&B,” as Frere-Jones calls it, is a cacophonous glass-shattering derby in which the winner is whatever diva can stretch out a high note the longest and loudest. But as hard as they try, no matter how much platinum they collect, not one of these preening divas is fit to clip the Supremes’ — or Macy Gray’s — toenails.

Here is the larger problem: According to Frere-Jones’ logic, it follows that in not liking Destiny’s Child I must be a racist, a sexist and — heavens to Bootsy! — a “rockist.” So it’s really come to this. By not concurring with his high regard for some trio of waxed, bikinied En Vogue clones, by not adoring Destiny’s Child as he does, I have instantly become a racist-sexist-fascist-imperialist. (If I were to tell him that that sort of irresponsible race- and sex-identity politicking sounds like the more strident critics who write for the grandpa of all free big-city weeklies, does that make me a Village Voice–ist too?)

There is more integrity, more invention and more imagination in one minute of an album or live show by a grand band like the Negro Problem — a multiracial, bi-gender group of rockists, if Frere-Jones can handle that concept — than in every ephemeral album Destiny’s Child may be destined to put out. Their stuff is pabulum, it’s baby food, it’s greasy kids’ stuff, and if Frere-Jones grooves on it, that’s his problem. No accounting for taste. But he shouldn’t waste valuable column inches attempting to convince the rest of us that fast food is fine cuisine.

At the end of the day, the only leg he has to stand on in justifying all this unit-shifting, TRL-baiting rubbish is the old “Ten million Destiny’s Child fans can’t be wrong!” line. Well, you know who else sold 10 million records once upon a time? The Spice Girls. Vanilla Ice. New Kids on the Block. I could go on . . .

—Tim Merrill
Los Angeles



Reprinting the capsule version of Manohla Dargis’ review of Amores Perros [“Dogs, Bodies,” April 13–19] every week in the Current Releases is a disservice to your readers. In the original review, Dargis objected to the “hype” surrounding it. She should have kept in mind that without that hype, the herculean task of getting a Mexican movie into nationwide U.S. release could never have happened. And to insist that Iñárritu’s film is “overly indebted to Tarantino” (and, as she wrote in the full review, other “American independents”) is patronizing, condescending and utterly laughable. Amores Perros doesn’t look, sound or feel like any Tarantino film, or even any Tarantino imitator. Turn off the audio on a Tarantino movie, and you will miss not just the brilliantly hyperactive dialogue, but also almost all of the plot points. Take out the sound on Amores Perros, and you’d miss the cool music, but every subtlety of the story would be as clear as if you were watching a silent film from Murnau or Lang. Tarantino’s characters are jazzy improvs on genre archetypes, and they dazzle us with Shakespearean verbal acrobatics. In contrast, Amores Perros’ characters are neo-realist specimens specific to their habitat, who hypnotize us with their murderous silences.

One style is no better than the other, but the difference is fundamental. If Dargis really must find films to which Amores Perros can be compared, I suggest she take a look at the crime thrillers and melodramas of recent Spanish and Latin American cinema. In these films one finds the pyrotechnic camera narrative, the steamy sexuality and the socialist subtext that you don’t find in any of Tarantino’s work so far.

—Steven Medina




Re: Ben Ehrenreich’s story “Class Wars” [April 20–26]. What lunatic asylum did Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh escape from? There is no way that California taxpayers are going to pay more dollars to allow “undocumented” immigrants to pay lower fees than those granted to state residents. Why should they, at a time when there are a lot of Hispanic-Americans who earned the right to low-cost education the hard way, working at more than one job? I have two kids who are going to be lucky to get into the crowded state-college system, and Assemblyman Firebaugh is crying for undocumented immigrants to get a better deal by paying cheaper fees? Guess we should pay their housing and food costs, too. Firebaugh should be riding with Pancho Villa.

—Felix Cortez




I take exception to Sandra Ross’ review of Jane Anderson’s play Looking for Normal [New Theater Reviews, April 20–26]. I attended this play with several transgender friends. We all found that, far from being Hallmark-sentimental and sitcom-bland, as described by the reviewer, it managed to present the pain and conflict inherent in this little-understood issue in a form palatable to a mainstream audience. The play has that precisely timed juxtaposition of heavy emotional drama and comic moments often seen on television, including, yes, on sitcoms. What, may I ask, is wrong with that?

Also, the whole point of intertwining the stories of past and present generations seems to have escaped the reviewer. It gives roots — a historical perspective — to the issue, and shows that we can learn from the past and treat gender dysphoria in a more enlightened way.

Lastly, as to the “low-rent costumes,” in case Ross missed it, this play is set in Ohio. Not in Bel Air. Not in Marina del Rey. Ohio. Most Americans do not wear designer clothing.

Next time, let the critic at least be from the same planet as the play she’s reviewing.

—Andie Childs
Los Angeles



Last week’s preview of the film Special Event “Gary Cooper: Man of the West” was credited to editor Hazel-Dawn Dumpert instead of F.X. Feeney, who did the actual writing.


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