Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sasha Sloan: The Second Billie Eilish?

I recently found out about Sasha Sloan through a friend, but I immediately fell in love with her music upon listening to them.
Sasha Sloan (real name: Alexandra Artourovna Yatchenko) is a YouTube singer-songwriter. In February of this year, she made her first debut on national television on The Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert. Although she's only been an officially recognized artist for several months, I believe she's achieved quite a lot to be considered a pro-C in the musical domain.

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Sasha Sloan was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She grew up teaching herself to play the piano that her mother had bought for her when she was 5. When she reached the age of 19, Sloan moved to LA to pursue a songwriting career. To support herself, she worked at a coffee shop.
Between the years 2015 and 2017, she was featured in and credited for several songs. She continued writing songs for Idina Menzel, Camila Cabello, Charli XCX, and many others.
In 2018, she released her debut EP and an additional EP: Sad Girl and Loser.
This year, she released her first album, Self-Portrait. If you ask me, she's quite a hardworking singer-songwriter.

In a Q&A session, Sloan talks about her feelings on pop songs:
"I would feel uncomfortable putting out songs that were pop and happy, because that's not who I am as I write... when I write for some reason, I just get really emotional, so it feels natural to me."
In addition, she talks about how spontaneous her musical process is:
"I think I've been writing for so long that it's easy to take my hat off and just be myself... But it's weird -- I just kind of know when a song is for me. It's just a feeling; I can't explain it." Therefore, her past experience with writing music has helped her gain the tools for good songwriting as well as helped her discover her own style of music.
Upon being asked the question, "Does your songwriting correlate with where you are at that point in your life?", she responded with, "...most of the songs were written before I had broken up with my boyfriend, so they were kind of foreshadowing. Super weird, I know... But I think sometimes when I'm writing, I don't really know what's going on in my brain, so I'll write something and be like, 'Oh shit, this is how I'm actually feeling'." This shows that instead of having a thorough method for writing songs, Sloan just writes songs based on how she feels at the moment, or what she has actually experienced in the past. For example, one of her songs called "Older" from Self Portrait talks about her, as a kid, hating her parents for always yelling in the house, but then growing up to understand that "loving is hard". With her music on YouTube, she usually comments under the videos about the meaning of her songs so that her listeners can better understand where she got the ideas from. With "Older", she shared that she had cried while writing this song because she wasn't sympathetic for her parents' situation until they had actually split.

As I've stated before, I would consider Sasha Sloan to be a pro-C because she has worked with many popular artists before she actually became remarkably recognized by the public.
Another artist I would easily compare her with is Billie Eilish, because they both write songs about things that many people can relate to: depression, divorce or unhappy relationships, death, and many more; this is what I think makes her stand out from typical pop artists (Songs such as "Older", "Dancing with Your Ghost", "Thank God", etc. prove my point.) Both of their songwriting processes are completely spontaneous, but I believe Sloan really moves people just a little more with her songs.
However, I'm not too sure as to whether Sasha Sloan is extrinsically or intrinsically motivated.


Claire Saffitz Serves Up Some Gourmet Creativity

It's 1 a.m.. You have a paper due first thing in the morning, and it's still 500 words short. However, you've stumbled down into a notorious YouTube rabbit-hole Dr. Morrison alluded to in class last week. Next up on the Recommended For You is "Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Takis." Your curiosity has never been so piqued. You click on it. Thus begins a several hour long binge of videos, watching pastry chef Claire Saffitz whip up gourmet pop-tarts, hot pockets, and even mentos.
The "Gourmet Makes" videos first appeared on YouTube in 2017 on the channel for food magazine Bon Appétit, where Saffitz became a senior food editor in 2013. In her very first episode of this series, Saffitz made gourmet Twinkis, and she very quickly became a YouTube sensations, with most of her videos racking up millions of views.
A lot of her creative process is analogous thinking, where she takes an original snack, and completely dissects it in order to figure out exactly what it's made up of. She then attempts to make an healthy, analogous form of the snack without all the processed junk.

In a recent interview, Saffitz mentioned how she didn't originally want to be a chef, but actually found the passion for it after she graduated from college. She found her way into the YouTube food world seemingly by accident, after discovering the world of food media that anyone who has an Instagram knows far too well about.
Her series of "Gourmet Makes" has obviously been well-received by the field of culinary media — one only has to point to her massive social media following and the popularity of the shows. Saffitz's works fill a much needed space in the YouTube world with a kind of creativity people didn't even know they were looking for. It's unique kind of creativity because while, technically, the product is not new, the process is. And each process for each product is also unique. For me, it's Saffitz's ability to take something that already exists but make it in an innovative way is what makes me a fan of her work.

Yurts 'til it Hurts

I love Bryce Langston’s series, “Living Big in a Tiny Home” on YouTube. This series is one of my favorites because it showcases unconventional living and takes viewers through tours of unique tiny homes. Bryce Langston interviews a different tiny homeowner in each video, talks through the inspiration and design process, then gets a tour of the home. One of my favorite tiny home videos is about a modern yurt built by Nicole Lopez and Zach Both.

Zach and Nicole were inspired to build a yurt in Oregon after deciding to downsize on their living space and take on a new challenge. One goal that they had was to modernize the historical structure of the yurt to bring it into the 21st century. The process of building the yurt itself was highly collaborative because it is impossible to build correctly with only two people. Their creative process was largely research, trial, error, and reassessment, involving a large group of friends and family to help along the way. Nicole said that this collaborative process was very special to them in the build because it brought people together to build something really special.

A yurt historically has a wide-open circular interior with no walls, but Zach and Nicole adapted theirs to adapt to their lifestyle needs by designing their interior to have a living room space, office space, and kitchen space. Their bed is lofted in the center of the structure, underneath which a bathroom is hidden away. When deciding how much space they would need for each section of the yurt, they used a combination of sophisticated 3D modeling and good-old-fashioned tape on the ground. Nicole and Zach said that they learned while doing in this build, and they documented the whole process on their website to encourage other people to experiment with creating their own living spaces.

What I found interesting about Nicole and Zach as creatives is that after enjoying their time living in their handiwork for 6 months, they’re planning on selling it and moving on to another building project. They feel that they completed what they set out to do and can feel proud of the work that they accomplished. This really sets them apart from someone like Frank Ghery, for example, who lives in a home he built himself and whose work is never done. In Sketches of Frank Ghery, Ghery describes how he never feels quite finished with his projects and continues to work out new designs in his head after they have already been built, causing him to dislike the finished product. In class, we talked about how creatives can have tendencies to think that their work is never done, but on the opposite side of the spectrum, people like Zach and Nicole can build an extremely creative space and complete it without continuing to make changes. I would categorize them as little-c creative because they are not professional designers or architects. Zach is actually a filmmaker and had no experience in building a yurt before taking on this challenge. They both seemed highly intrinsically motivated in that they genuinely love the process of building and designing, despite not being professionals.

(Photos obtained from their website.)

Supernatural's Jensen Ackles

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Jensen Ross Ackles is an American actor, director, and singer. He has starred in various television series including Days of Our Lives and Supernatural. He has also starred in My Bloody Valentine 3D and was the voice behind Jason Todd in Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Born in Dallas, Texas, he modeled on and off since the age of four. Originally, he had planned to study sports medicine at Texas Tech University to become a physical therapist. Instead, he moved to Los Angeles to concentrate on his acting career. He guest-starred on Mr. Rhodes, Sweet Valley High, and Cybill before going on to Days of Our Lives. Ackles won a 1998 Soap Opera Digest Award and a Daytime Emmy Award for his work on Days of Our Lives. In 2005, he joined the cast of the Warner Brothers show Supernatural where he stars as Dean Winchester along with his co-star Jared Padelecki who stars as Sam Winchester. The show is currently in its 15th and final season and holds the title of the longest-running North American sci-fi series in history. After years of performing at various Supernatural Conventions, Ackles has released his first album earlier this month called Radio Company Vol. 1 after collaborating with musician Steve Carlson.

His creative process is unlike his other co-stars. When getting ready to shoot an episode of Supernatural, Ackles has been said to read through the script one time the night before they start shooting the episode. Jensen Ackles has also been directing various episodes of Supernatural. In this last season, he decided he wanted to direct one final episode of the series. He decided to take many risks with this episode which opens with an action-packed sequence, unlike anything the show has ever done before. The scene features Dean Winchester and other stunt men fighting in the bunker. Talking with Rob Hayter, the stunt coordinator on the show, he stated "Let's go hard here. We're gonna go big. We're gonna do like a full Dean Winchester as John Wick."

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Also with directing the episode, the editor had asked Ackles about his new music being in the episode. The song from his album, "Sounds of Someday" was debuted in the episode in a montage sequence. Ackles stated that "it felt like it was written for that moment...there's no way that Bob Singer [co-showrunner] and Andrew [Dabb, co-showrunner] were going to let that go."

Jensen Ackles is seen to have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Not only does he love his job, but he also does it for the massive fan group that has been behind the show for the past 15 years. For those of you who do not know, the Supernatural Fandom is said to be one big family. Not only Ackles, but also Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, who plays the angel Castiel, and Mark Sheppard, who plays the demon Crowley, have started various campaigns throughout the years. Padalecki, who has been very open about his struggles with depression and anxiety, saw that fans were helped by celebrities being open about these struggles so he started the Always Keep Fighting campaign. Misha Collins co-founded the charity Random Acts which has done amazing things over the years including raising money to build an orphanage in Haiti after the earthquakes and even sending people to do it. Mark Sheppard's campaign raised money for a camp to teach self-management skills for diabetes since his son had Type I Diabetes. Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins started the You're Not Alone Campaign which raising money towards the #SPNFamily Crisis Support Network.

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I believe Ackles to be a little c creative. Thousands of people have been touched by these campaigns and Supernatural itself. For fifteen seasons now, millions of people have been watching Sam and Dean Winchester take on pretty much anything that life in their world could through at them. Ackles started out with small guest-starring roles and has grown to be in one of the biggest roles that anyone could hope for. Jensen Ackles himself has done a lot of work for mental health awareness and suicide prevention over the years. The Supernatural Family is a support system that is not seen anywhere else.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Magical and Otherwordly: The Comedy of Julio Torres

Variety posted a news story on October 1st that said “SNL’s secret weapon Julio Torres brought his surreal comedy to TV screens with Los Espookys”, which Torres responded with “I’m more of a sapphire in a little box under the bed that you can look into from time to time to see how your reflection has changed since the last time you held me than a secret weapon but thank uuu”. And this exchange seems to be the only way I
can begin to sum up or describe Julio Torres. A comedian that has made huge strides in the past year with creating an HBO stand-up special alongside a comedy that has just been renewed for a second season Julio Torres’ is a creative I have never come across before. Whimsical, fantastical, campy, and prima donna dramatic, Torres’ comedy feels like he is continuously opening up magical worlds that you can only view a rare glimpse of before he moves onto another. I believe Julio Torres is a Big-C creative of the comedy scene because of his unique comedic approach and his choice to make most of his content bilingual with Spanish and English. 

Julio Torres is an immigrant from El Salvador who started his career in America after attending the New School in New York City. His childhood and roots influence his comedy greatly. His mother was an architect and fashion designer, her focus and precision on details has made him meticulously aware of every outfit and set design he creates. A great example of this is in the comedy stand-up My Favorite Shapes. The title sums it up, but does not. Torres does tell us his favorsite shapes one by one, but each one he describes an anecdote, an identity, or simply something this shape makes him think of. In the special Julio rejects the mundane clothes and typical stool and microphone set of other comedians. Rather he constructed a set that has the curves and look of Dr. Seuss, but the colors and polish of a science fiction utopia. His clothing reflects the set, with chrome outfits and hands covered in glitter because of how often the camera zooms in on them while he describes the shape. Julio Torres states that his creation in set and outfits is because he does not want you to feel like he is “just an ordinary guy” like so many comedian personas are. Rather he wants the comedy to feel like an experience, to feel like each bit in his stand up is a short story seeped in magical realism. It is a comedy special that feels never done before due to the unique setting and creative input he puts into such mundane items. 
Another successful show Torres has created is his comedy show on HBO Los Espookys. A bilingual comedy, it
tells of a group of friends who start a business to craft scary monsters or events to help people scare away others or to get more attraction on a town losing tourism. The effects are deliberately campy and each character’s story is crafted from a clichĂ© with a unique twist. For example, Torres’s character has a spirit that won’t leave him alone unless he finds a way for her to watch The King’s Speech (yes the movie). And another, falls in love with an online person not understanding all the photos he sends of her are cartoon princes. The show is unique in its plot but also being one of the first bilingual comedies on HBO where the dialogue works and the jokes succeed in both Spanish or English. Julio Torres also went out of his way to film in Spanish speaking countries and recruit Spanish speaking actors from these countries because he wanted the show to not only be authentic but also feel like a show for Spanish speaking people as well as English speakers. For so often it seems that shows despite being bilingual cater to the English speakers.  
When people ask me to recommend a comic similar to Julio Torres or compare him, I come to a loss. His work is something I have never seen before and his style such a unique combination of genres that seem interwoven with his identity. This uniqueness and his push for new ways to consider how comedy is presented and how it can be spoken and understood in multiple languages easily makes him a Big-C creative for comedy. It is exciting to know that this young artist still has so many years ahead to continually create and change the comedy scene into something fresh and new. 

Malcolm Gladwell: the Creativity of Connections

The celebrity of Malcolm Gladwell is somewhat of an anomaly. Who else has reached house-hold name status because their ideas are valuable in and of themselves? Gladwell does not wish to revolutionize our lives with a product or invention, he wishes to revolutionize the way we think by showcasing his own thought process.

Like many of the Big-C creatives in Gardner's book, Gladwell's early career did not necessarily indicate his later stardom. In his work at Insight on the News and The Washington Post, he reported on events in business and science as they happened in typical journalistic fashion. In Gladwell's own words, "There are serious limitations on how deep you can go with a newspaper story." It wasn't until he snagged a job at the New Yorker, and his articles were required to be longer, that his unique analytical style began to take shape.

His turning point was the day he was assigned to write a piece on a Central Park jogger who was brutally beaten by multiple unknown aggressors. Disliking the intrusive interview style many journalists employ to get stories from witnesses and family members, he sat down for about an hour and a half with the jogger's surgeon. Out of this interview came a piece that was less about the beating and more about "practice variation in medicine" or the idea that doctors separated by geography tend to go about treatment very differently from one another. This tangential, interconnected style of writing is what Gladwell is known for today. In the following quote, he discusses the development of this style:

"I'm not a very deep interviewer, so when I interview someone, I interview them for an hour and a half. I never do more than that. Everyone else does like, you know, at least, they embed themselves for several weeks. I could no more do that then I could go to the moon... If I'm gonna write about person X, they can occupy about 25 percent of the piece and I can fill the other 75 percent with ruminations on what they mean, or with a digression that ultimately helps you understand the person more."

What may seem in some disciplines as a detrimental inability to focus, Gladwell was given the reigns by the New Yorker to explore his thought patterns fully. He went on to master the art of the digression in his six subsequent books and four seasons of his podcast, Revisionist History. The throughline in all of these works is the method of explanation through anecdote, tangential study, and rejection of tradition. In my opinion, this is his great creative achievement in the world of academic thought. I use the term "academic thought" because I can't quite pinpoint the focus of Gladwell's work; he incorporates a variety of different fields like philosophy, psychology, sociology, criminology, business development, and STEM. I believe that he is Big-C because I don't think there's a good example of another creative whose scope is so broad and whose work reaches such a wide audience.

Because his writing involves an inventive use of theory, he often finds that he is wrong. His finished product, especially his podcasts, tends to be a work in progress. I find a lot of similarities between Jonah Lehrer's article and Gladwell's creative process. The anomalies and inconsistencies that can be overlooked by the scientific mind are the exact subjects of Gladwell's study. It seems as though Step 2 of Lehrer's "How to Learn From Failure" (assuming that the failure in question is some societal notion, not a personal failure of Gladwell's) is the moment in which Gladwell presents his findings to the public, either through his podcast or his books. The reading public is his proving ground for his theories.

Here is my recommendation for the reader: listen to a few of Gladwell's podcast episodes while traveling home for Thanksgiving, or once you get home, dust off the copy of Outliers you got your Dad for Christmas that he never read. You'll thank me later.