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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Why We Need £1 and $1 Stores




They have been lauded as cheap tit- for- tat shops, selling low quality items at low prices. But one pound and one dollar stores - also referred to as variety, discount or bargain stores - have been cropping up during the last couple of years throughout the UK and US and in parts of the world. 

You walk into a one pound or dollar store and notice that everything you see that is on sale is at the same value; not one single item store price is higher or lower than the other. What you see is what you get and what you get, is what you pay for. 

But with the successful proliferation of these types of shops comes the stigma and criticism. That the items are cheap and throwaway, can be easily damaged and will last for a few days. Not forgetting the assumption that shopping at a pound or dollar store implies you are poor, can't afford better quality and that you're willing to settle for less.

I disagree. 

Given the nature of the economy & recession at the moment and the financial situations families and individuals are trying to contend with, hard pressed shoppers are on the look out for a bargain and so, they turn to the likes of Poundland for that. 

Before the pound and dollar stores came along, if you wanted to shop for value, well you couldn't because back when the internet was still in its early development in the mid -1990s, online shopping didn't come into existence until the mid- 2000s. Nowadays, you can search for a pound or dollar store in your local area. People are aware that they can buy their goods in person, knowing their money will go further in a long way. 

Pound and dollar stores instill an urge in us in the ability to buy products and items that most people wouldn't be able to afford, had they shopped in a supermarket, grocery store for example. Because had those exact products been of a higher quality, had a more familiar brand name attached to them, then they would've cost more. 

Yes there is a lot of tat in dollar and pound stores, containing toxic materials that can be harmful such as make-up and cosmetics, toiletries, as well as shoddy toys & poor imitation WWE wrestling and action figures made in China. So be on the look out for that, when you pay a visit to a bargain store. 

Other things I wouldn't buy are DVDs - they may be £1 but the titles tend to be z-list fare. 


Image by Brian Ulrich 

I also believe that for some people, they find that some products or items are overpriced; and so therefore, they think they do not reflect the price the recommended retailer has sold it for. When I shop and buy things in person, I buy it knowing that I don't want to pay high prices, but also realizing that they are worth the price I pay for. 

I ask: 'is that item actually worth the price the store is charging us?'

Likewise, a pack of 2 Duracell batteries should be £1 or $1 - not £/$2, £/$3 or more. Same for sweets/candy, coke and fizzy drinks, earphones. 

When I buy and pay for a product, I do it, knowing it is a good deal. 


These pack of biscuits, for example, cost me 99 British pence. I saw the same exact item in a supermarket that went for £3.99. So I saved £3.00.  

Quality & to an extent, the branding is another important deciding factor, and whereas the quality is usually based on the amount of money the product costs, as well as the production costs, the higher it costs, the better it is (supposedly), I want to make sure that if I were to buy a pair of quality earphones, if I paid £20 or £30 for it, I expect it to last for more than 6 months. And it stops working during the 6 months that I bought it, or lasts for 2 more months, then to me, I'd feel ripped off. 

Bargain stores allows for and encourages people, especially those on a low income, to spend their money and costs and to help keep the retail shopping market sector afloat. Their prices are kept low and to a minimal, so that anyone and everyone can be and are able to buy and afford the products. Whereas if you go into a supermarket and saw a product that you wanted to buy, but you were put off by the price, you wouldn't consider buying it; if you were to go to a one pound/dollar store, and saw something you liked that you wanted to purchase it, you'd pick it up (as an impulse buy and it costs £1/$1) take it to the till, pay for it and take it away. 

They encourage impulse bulk buying: for some people like me, I go into the store to get one particular item, for others they want to get more than one item, knowing it costs £/$1 each, so they end up with 4 or more items. 

The price has to justify the quality of the product, lack of or otherwise. 

The retail consumer landscape has changed for the good to include every single person, household, taking into account that not all households and individuals have the same income level. And even if they do earn more, some would shop at a pound or dollar store out of choice, for a reason. Thrift stores are not considered as main shopping destinations, but for most consumers, they shop there out of convenience and as they act as an go between with convenience and grocery stores and supermarkets.  

They are filling a need and a void at a time where a lot of people are struggling with money and financial worries to a point where they are unable to feed themselves and/or their families, as well as to afford the things they need, as opposed to the things they want; therefore, I hope they are here for the long haul. 

As long as you avoid the dodgy foreign toys and miscellaneous items, shopping at a no-frills discount store is no bad thing. And don't let anyone tell you any differently. 




Image source: Poundland 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

My 30 Favourite Stargate Songs


Source: Rocnation 

Stargate are a European record producing and songwriting duo made up of Norwegians, Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, who are currently residing in New York City. They first started out writing songs for artists in 1997 in Norway. 

The team's earlier successes were in the UK market with songs like 'S Club Party' for pop act S Club 7, Hear'say's 'The Way To Your Love' and 'One Night Stand' for Mis-Teeq. During the late 1990s to early 2000s, their records leaned more towards Euro pop, rather than R&B, harking back to Swedish hit maker, Max Martin and Cheiron Studios. I was familiar with some of their work at the time, and as interesting as their UK efforts were, they weren't by any means ground-breaking, nor were they really big hits. There were a couple of hit songs making it to #1 and the top 10, but they were not at the same level as the songs that later came out during the mid-2000s from this team. 

Since 2006 and their worldwide breakthrough hit, Ne-Yo's 'So Sick', the pairing have set the U.S charts alight with their European brand of R&B music. Their sound changed dramatically (and for the better), once they moved to the U.S with a more American- sound to them. In the last few years, it has gravitated more towards reggae & Caribbean - like soca -beats fused with Electro pop. They are mostly noted for their extensive work with Ne-Yo and Bajan pop songstress, Rihanna. 

The New York Times Ben Sisaro described Stargate's musical production style as 'sugary, lilting R&B in the style of Michael Jackson, leavened with a melody rich European pop'. 

Their work carries on from the tradition of Scandinavian pop artistry, that goes as far back as ABBA, Ace of Base and Max Martin. Whilst Max Martin has since made the transition from bubble gum teen pop to rock/contemporary pop, Stargate have continuously been the trendsetters for Scandinavian R&B. 

In contrast to many of the well known music producers of yesteryear and today, what makes Stargate different from their other European counterparts, is the fact they have made their mark on the music scene, without it overshadowing themselves. In spite of their past and present track record of hits, the team are still vastly underrated and unknown to many, compared to other producers. 

Stargate's signature sound can sometimes be difficult to detect, because with the music scene today, it changes every so often. So therefore, you'll never know what to expect from them. However, once you string along 3 of their songs together, you can sense a trademark theme throughout. 

In the midst of an R&B scene that is and has been constantly dominated by Black African- American music producers, Eriksen and Hermansen offer something completely different to what is already out there, not just in contemporary and mainstream R&B, but R&B and music in general. 

And for R&B fanatics and pop music fans in general, this is a good thing.  



My Favourite 30 Stargate Produced Tracks 





Hate That I Love You -  Rihanna featuring Ne -Yo  





Broken - Hearted Girl - Beyonce; an understated track by ex- Destiny's Child's lead vocalist and one of the biggest pop stars today. I definitely prefer this song over 'Halo'. 





Got To Love You - Sean Paul feat. Alexis Jordan




 
With You - Chris Brown 





Worth It - Fifth Harmony 





Mad - Ne - Yo; beautiful piano laden ballad  





Good Girl Gone Bad - Rihanna; this should have been released as a single





I Am - Mary J. Blige 




Stay - Stephen Gately; one of Stargate's earlier efforts was this Britney Spears sounding single for the late Boyzone singer. Sounds remarkably similar to 'Baby One More Time' and 'You Drive Me Crazy'





Stupid in Love - Rihanna; one of the highlights taken from the Rated R album, alongside 'Firebomb' and 'Cold Case Love'. Was penned by singer, Ne-Yo. 





Lose Control (Let Me Down) - Keri Hilson featuring Nelly; I love the musical composition of Stargate's songs, but this one has to be up there in the top 10. 'Lose Control' is Rihanna's 'What's My Name?' part 2.





Letting Go (Dutty Love) - Sean Kingston feauring Nicki Minaj; this song didn't chart very high in the U.S billboard charts, which was a surprise, given how infectiously catchy and fun it sounds.





Wait on Me - Rixton; I was surprised when I found out that Stargate had produced this hit single for UK band, Rixton. It's also a good one as well. 





Come and Get It - Selena Gomez;  a huge departure from her previous hits for the former Disney starlet, but also my favourite song out of the ones she has released as a single, so far. 





What's My Name? - Rihanna featuring Drake 






Des'ree - It's Okay (Stargate remix) 






Te Amo - Rihanna 





The Way To Your Love - Hear'Say; the first reality TV show pop stars from the UK reality show titled 'Popstars', they didn't last very long as an act and later split up. I did enjoy this song, however. 





Another Day In Paradise - Brandy featuring Ray J (Stargate remix); I'm not into Phil Collins but this R&B rendition of the 80s hit, was one of the better cover versions I've heard. 





Always Come Back To Your Love - Samantha Mumba 






Sexy Love - Ne-Yo





Tattoo - Jordin Sparks 






Spotlight - Jennifer Hudson 





 
Take You To Rio (Stargate remix) - Ester Dean, taken from the animated movie, 'Rio'  





Thunder - Jessie J; reached #18 in the UK singles chart in 2013, should have been a bigger hit, great song 





What's A Man To Do - Usher 






Talk That Talk - Rihanna featuring Jay Z






Be With You - Flo - Rida featuring Ne - Yo 






Day and Night - Billie; the song 'Because We Want To' was so incredibly annoying and bad, thankfully, this song was miles better than its predecessor.  





International Love - Claude Kelly; later released by rapper Pitbull with Chris Brown on vocals as a single, I like this rendition of the song and prefer it over the single that came out in the charts.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Chinatown and Central London's Soho: Why The Gentrification & Capitalism Is Destroying London's Cultural Vibrancy


The future of London's Chinatown is so worrying that in 5 years time, it may no longer exist anymore. That, or it is made up Western chains and shops, which have little or nothing to do with Chinese culture, society and identity. 

The landlords are cashing in on the hard work to create other businesses and outlets that would generate a lot more money and be able to pay off the rent. The heart of London is being ripped out of the communities in Central London by the way of corporatism and capitalism. Soho and Chinatown in Gerrard Street down Shaftsbury Avenue, are two of the most prominent cultural areas.



Source: Chinatown London, February 2008 by Martin Argles/The Guardian 

London is known to the world for their multicultural communities, landmarks and its rich diverse set of people, so to see some of it go, would mean it would become a metropolis where everything is the same and without the multiculturalism. In the 70s - early 00s, the likes of Frith Street, Soho, Gerrard St had an array of ethnic foods and restaurants. 

The utter selfishness and greed by the landlords, as well as big businesses, has led to the demise of Chinatown. There is no doubt that in their place there would be more betting shops, and perhaps a Starbucks and Tescos occupying the area as well. There are already 9 betting shops in Wardour Street, much to the detriment of Chinatown. 

The mass concentration of betting shops is quite despairing to see, that it is fast becoming a place known for gambling as it is to its food. It reminds me in a way to Macau with its gambling and slot machines. 

I've seen a few restaurants that have been closed down or are no longer in operation - only to be replaced by bookmakers such as Coral, Betfred, Paddy Power & Ladbrokes. 

One would ask, if the likes of Betfred and KFC can make enough money to cover the rent, why can't the Chinese restaurants? Well that's because the former pulls in more money as more people choose to eat at KFC then spend money on Chinese food in Chinatown's restaurants. And that's another issue: the price (and quality of the food). A lot of the food served is expensive and overpriced, although I had a nice meal for £4.50. With the betting shops, Chinese like to gamble. Too much.  




Image Source: Evening Standard 

Central London is not only an expensive place to shop and eat out, but also in terms of living & rental costs of home, retail and catering properties and businesses. 

By homogenizing and excluding diverse communities, diversity, in addition to the displacement of a community of people, who have made London their home for years, it then becomes devoid of culture, identity and creativity and in sharing that with outsiders. How boring would Central London be, if in every journey we take, we see and enter the same types of big corporate chain shops, products, with the same decor and appearance as the other shop, restaurant, cafe or eaterie? 

Why isn't Westminster council intervening and assisting the businesses in and around Soho and Chinatown around this issue? They should be doing all they can to preserve these areas and in helping out these people. But apparently, they appear to be 'powerless' and are allowing these changes to go ahead. 

These landlords do not care about the people or the community living and/or working within and around these areas - they are mainly interested in one thing, okay, make that two things: rent and money. As long as they get their rent, that's all that matters to them. To them, it's not about the people who work there, or the hundreds of visitors, who descend into Chinatown and Soho every week - they just want their money, and if they don't get it, they will shut these places down and to replace it with something else. 

But Chinatown is equally important to many Chinese living in London, especially myself. Some would ask 'if you want Chinese food, go to China', but that is besides the point. We want something that reminds us of our heritage, culture, roots, but something that doesn't revolve spending £500 or more on a ticket, just to go to China or Hong Kong to eat Chinese food and to experience the culture. 

For many Chinese of Hong Kong, China and British origin, Chinatown is our idea of 'home' and what it means to be Chinese living outside of our native land. And if it goes, then not only will it impact the UK economy and the numbers of tourists who flock into the city, its loss will be clearly felt by the London Chinese community, moreso. 

Yes, I do understand things are changing; there are times when things have to change, rather than for it to stay the same so that is becomes more progressive and to keep up with today's pace and trends. But when you take away the cultural aspects, instead of making things different and varied, as well as unique, what you end up with is practically the same exact thing and a clone of every other store and outlet as seen in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and other parts of Central London.  

Chinatowns in Sydney, San Francisco and New York may be experiencing the same issues as London's, yet the situation with regards to high rent and property prices, isn't (probably) as severe's as London's. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, I don't know for sure. 

And what's up with the M&M's store? I fail to see the reason for having it in Leicester Square. It would make more sense to have it in Oxford Street or Marble Arch, but to have it in Wardour Street, it looks totally out of place. 

London at the moment, has gone backwards; when we held the Olympic games almost 4 years ago, it was supposed to regenerate and invigorate the city in more ways than one, but beyond that, because of the rent and other things, central London is stagnating and not developing as much as it should do. It's certainly not the London I first remembered in the late 80s to early 2000s. And rest assured, unless it turns around its fortunes and more and more Chinese owned businesses spring up, Chinatown will be long gone. 

Mulitcultural london today is fast being replaced by corporate London; a London that cares more about making a profit than to champion, represent and meet the needs of its own people and its wider racial diversity. 

We cannot allow this trend to continue for years to come. 



*London Underground Chinatown, 1988 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

My 30 Favourite Max Martin & Cheiron Songs *Updated 2016*


The Hit Factory #2 



Cheiron Studios was a recording studio in Stockholm, Sweden founded in 1993 by Tom Talomma and Denniz Pop. As a record company, Cheiron didn't achieve any major success - they experimented with other styles of music, until they finally hit their stride with Pop.

From 1996 up until its closure, Cheiron partnered up with Zomba/Jive Records. Cheiron's rise to international fame and success was then halted by the sudden loss of Denniz Pop to cancer aged 35. In spite of this setback, Max Martin took over as director and the team pushed on, regardless. In the days of Denniz Pop, one of their earlier productions was Ace of Base's 'All That She Wants', which topped the US top 100 Billboard singles charts in 1994 and around the globe.

Max Martin's work on Robyn's debut album, 'Robyn Is Here' helped nurture the studio's trademark sound that would eventually dominate the pop scene throughout the 90s' decade. That sound blended funk/pop with eurodance & a punchy, distinct edge in stark contrast to their other 90s musical counterparts.

With so many hit songs under their belt doing so well on the Billboard chart, charting in high positions, these have been labelled as the best of late 90s popular music. Cheiron's achievements were significant: it not only earned them the moniker 'the hit factory'; they were the hit factory. They were Scandinavia's own PWL/Stock, Aitken and Waterman in terms of commercial pop aimed at teenagers & young girls. PWL had Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Sonia, Rick Astley.... & Cheiron had the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Britney. They were their main target demographic audience, who chose to part with their money so that they could have a slice of Britney, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. 

Cheiron are up there with some of the best, most successful pop producers in not just modern pop history, but pop history in general as well. 

In contrast to the likes of Cheiron and Stock, Aitken and Waterman, many of the major record labels of today are not in the business of creating and developing talent. Solo music producers and writers tend to look out for the interests for recording artists, rather than a team of 3 or more people forming together, helping to write, produce and record songs and that artists are under one label or recording studio. 

Max Martin and Cheiron were an unknown quantity during the early 1990s; for many of us, we loved and heard some of their songs, but at the time, we had no idea who was behind the lyricism, instrumental, who was producing the sound. With Max Martin's body of work increasing, his media profile shot up to the max; when people talk about today's pop music, most of it originated from this guy. 

Whenever I hear a song on the radio, even if I may not know who sung it, the melodies, the chord structures, strong catchy hooks, as well as the sing-a-long potential it possesses, deep down, I recognize that it is or may be a trademark Max Martin production. 

I was a big pop music fan growing up as a child and teenager, and when PWL/SAW folded in the '90s along with their poppy, commercial hit, care-free tunes, it took another team to fill that void left by Pete Waterman and co. to carry on the pop mantle: and thankfully, that was Max Martin & Deniz Pop with Cheiron and later on, Maratone. From early euro pop/dance influences to American 90s pop to today's organic, mainstream - sounding electro - dance pop fusion and soft rock, the Max Martin effect has successfully transitioned from the Cheiron era of the past 20 years to the post - 2000s and current Maratone era. 

Their talent and craft to create songs that have great melodies, lyrics, which makes them memorable in years to come, is why they will go down as one of the pioneers and successful creators of a brand of pop music with a Scandinavian & Euro -centric flavour to it. 

With that in mind, here are my best of and favourite songs, representing some of the best moments of Max Martin, past and present-day. 





1. I Will Be There - Britney Spears (1999) 






2. To Be Able To Love - Jessica Folker (1998)







3. That Girl Will Never Be Mine - NSYNC (2001)







4. Get Another Boyfriend - Backstreet Boys (2000)







5. Rock 'n' Roll - Avril Lavigne (2013)







6. What Makes You Different - Backstreet Boys (2000)







7. This Is How We Do - Katy Perry (2013)







8. If I'm Not The One - NSYNC (2000)







9. (You Drive Me) Crazy - Britney Spears (1999) 







10. As Long As You Love Me - Backstreet Boys (1997) 







11. Stronger - Britney Spears (2000)







12.  Whataya Want From Me - Adam Lambert (2009)







13. The Sign - Ace of Base (1993)






14. Born to Make You Happy - Britney Spears (1998)






15. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry (2010)







16. Criminal - Britney Spears (2011) 







17. Here and Now - Steps (2001) 





18. Domino - Jessie J (2011)







19. Part of Me - Katy Perry (2012)







20. 
That's The Way It Is - Celine Dion (1999)






21. I Knew You Were Trouble - Taylor Swift (2012)







22.  Show Me What You Got - G.R.L (2014)







23. For All That You Want - Gary Barlow (1999) 







24. Life Goes On - Leann Rimes (2002)







24. When The Wrong One Loves You  Right - Celine Dion (2002)






25.  Private Eye - Jessica Folker (1998)







26. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together - Taylor Swift (2012) 







27.  It's The Things You Do - Five (1999)







28. I Want You To Want Me - Solid Harmonie (1997)





29. Show Me Love - Robyn (1997)





30. Stranded - Lutricia McNeal (1997) 


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