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Book Review: Terrance Dean – Mogul – So So Gay

Have you ever wondered what the lives of some celebrities – especially closeted gay and bisexual ones – are like behind closed doors, where the frenzied media and their fans cannot get to them? Mogul, the debut novel by Terrance Dean, tells an eye-opening (albeit fictional) story just like that set in the world of the hip hop music industry, where homophobia is prominent and street credibility means practically everything.

According to Mogul, the vast majority of the hip hop industry is full of gay and bisexual men, most of whom all know each other – much like ordinary gay people, then – except they are all on the down-low. But is the hip hop world ready for its first openly gay producer? Aaron Tremble, a.k.a. ‘Big A.T.’ (originally so nicknamed because he was predicted to ‘make it big’, not for any other reason), is about to tackle that question head-on after years of struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and trying to hide it from anyone else who is not in the ‘down-low family’.

Big A.T. seemingly has it all: his own successful record label with big-name artists under him, numerous endorsements, millions of dollars, a luxury VIP lifestyle, a network of supportive brothers and right-hand women who initially helped him get to where he is, and he’s in a pretty perfect relationship with the amazing (and apparently well-endowed, just so you know) ‘Tickman’. On top of that, he even has the beautiful Jasmine on the side (but at the front for the media and fans), but she is the only of his close loved ones who does not know of his deep secret.

He wants to tell Jasmine the truth but is worried about the consequences of what that would do to his career. However, a sneaky paparazzo does it for him first, and Big A.T.’s life is thrown into turmoil. Now he must make a life-changing decision: bow down to Jasmine’s demands but still risk her and the paparazzi exposing him, or take the plunge and fully come out first? Either choice could still potentially ruin his hard-earned life and the musical empire he has built for himself.

While it is a touching and intriguing coming-out tale, the story is dragged out by telling almost the entirety of Big A.T.’s 25-year-long life, yet at the same time most of it is rushed to fit into one volume of just under three hundred pages. It feels as though too much space is given to talking about his music and the celebrity life, with less left to detail Big A.T.’s personal life and coming out. One cannot turn a blind eye to the novel’s slightly far-fetched depictions of hip hop’s underground life, yet it does make us wonder whether some of these things (for example, gay sex parties and passing around fame-hungry sex slaves) really do happen. Or at least think: ‘what if that were actually true?’

There are occasional sex scenes – both gay and straight and intricately described – which are probably the main highlights in what is otherwise a mostly unexciting story. Also, a warning: if you are not familiar with American lingo, this novel will be understandably difficult and maybe annoying to read. At least it gives us the optimistic hope that one day in the future, an LGBT person established in the hip hop community might be able to come out.

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Track review: Lloyd Daniels – Suburbian Girl | So So Gay magazine

It’s taken him a while to release any material since being on the X Factor back in 2009 (the Year of Jedward), but now dishy Lloyd Daniels, the sixth series’ fifth runner-up, is finally releasing his debut single, ‘Suburbian Girl’, reportedly at the end of the month. ‘Suburbian Girl’ is a reggae-influenced, mid-tempo pop track that is reminiscent of Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’, except it’s less of a guilty pleasure. While it has definite commercial, radio-friendly appeal, it is not the most exciting of songs.

In it, Lloyd woos a girl with his smooth and sexy voice, telling her, ‘When I’m with you it’s sweet paradise’, and later, ‘You make the sun shine, you make the moon light’ and ‘You’re my saving grace, a ray of sunshine through the haze’. Although the song is easy on the ears – just as Lloyd himself is easy on the eyes – it doesn’t end up sounding as good as he looks.

‘Suburbian Girl’ could have easily been a fresh, laid-back summer hit if released earlier in the year, but it does seem slightly out of place in the colder months. Having gained a rather large following (especially from the gay community) since his appearance on X Factor, Lloyd should be able to fare pretty well, however, if given enough coverage. Though he may not be lucky enough to quite match the success of Olly Murs, despite his potential and talent being just as great, perhaps at least overtaking the little success poor Joe McElderry has accumulated for himself is not too far out of reach.

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Track review: The Collective – Teardrop (Official Children In Need Single) | So So Gay magazine

So So Gay’s theme this month is charities, and it coincides timely with one of the nation’s most prolific charities, BBC’s Children In Need, now in its thirty-first year. Every year, this highly publicised charity releases an official single to help raise funds for underprivileged children in Britain, and 2011 is no different. However, instead of releasing a fun and uptempo or a light-hearted and comedic song (see Peter Kay’s Animated All Star Band’s medley from two years ago), a more serious track has been chosen. At the helm of this project is Gary Barlow, who has taken ‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack and enlisted the help of young and current urban acts to cover it, adding their own raps to it. Together, ‘The Collective’, as they are now called, have produced this lyrically thought-provoking, yet unfortunately musically disappointing song.

The song plods along with the instrumental bass drum beating like a heart and in the new lyrics, the artists speak about significant issues facing Britain’s youth today, from education and ethic morals to self-confidence and love. N-Dubz’ Tulisa Contostavlos provides vocals for the chorus (originally sung by Elizabeth Fraser) that goes ‘Love, love, is a verb/Love is a doing word/Fearless on my breath’ – at least you now know that a verb is a doing word. Labrinth, Chipmunk, Dot Rotten, Ed Sheeran, Ms Dynamite, Mz Bratt, Rizzle Kicks, Tinchy Stryder, and Wretch 32 then take turns in rapping the added verses. Gary himself however, who is the co-producer alongside Labrinth, does not lend his voice to the song.

Although we appreciate and understand the meaning in the song and the fact that it’s all in the name of charity and a good cause, we can’t help but be underwhelmed by the lack of anything that we really find interesting about it. It also begs the question as to why Gary, who is a fine songwriter in his own right, did not simply write a brand new, original song instead of trying to re-work this classic?

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Track Review: Kelly Clarkson – ‘Mr. Know It All’ | So So Gay magazine

Kelly Clarkson, known for her soulful, rock-tinged pop sound, is back with her upcoming fifth album, ‘Stronger’ – set for release in late October, preceded by lead single ‘Mr. Know It All’. A mid-tempo soft-rock influenced pop track, it is aimed at a bossy ex-boyfriend and other ignorant people who think they know everything about other people. Unfortunately, Kelly has yet to re-live the success that she enjoyed with the feisty, near-masterpiece of her second album ‘Breakaway’, and while many hope that ‘Stronger’ will do just that, ‘Mr. Know It All’ doesn’t overly impress.

In the song, Clarkson stands up to a controlling man: telling him that enough is enough, she will not be told what to do, and criticising his know-it-all attitude. Although the lyrics and message are clear and confident, Clarkson’s usual tough chick attitude seems sedated as she reins in her big voice and lazily sings through it, with little vocal dynamite to make us sit up, listen and turn it up to full volume. But at least she sounds relatively decent.

‘Mr. Know It All’, like most Kelly Clarkson songs, has a guitar, drum, piano and string-driven instrumental, but with a less-than-memorable melody and without the sassy punch she normally puts into it. She didn’t have a hand in writing the tune, so it’s hard to blame her, but it is still a wonder as to why she chose it as the lead single. In the chorus, Kelly sings: ‘Oh you think that you know me (know me)/That’s why I’m leaving you lonely (lonely)/’Cause baby you don’t know a thing about me/You don’t know a thing about me’. It bears a striking resemblance to the chorus in the Bruno Mars hit, ‘Just The Way You Are’, only it pales in comparison.

It is unfortunate that Clarkson disappoints us on this occasion, especially when ‘Mr. Know It All’ does not seem like a strong lead single. Its uninteresting melody and toned-down vocals do not stand up against what might have been done with a far gutsier sound. Hopefully, the rest of ‘Stronger’ will contain more of the Kelly we are used to and usually love.

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Track Review: The Saturdays – ‘My Heart Takes Over’ | So So Gay magazine

Polydor, released 14 November

We loved The Saturdays’ last single ‘All Fired Up’ which peaked at number three on the UK singles chart. B=Now they’ve followed it up with ‘My Heart Takes Over’, preceding their third full (and fourth overall) studio album, On Your Radar, which is out 21 November. ‘My Heart Takes Over’ is a mid-tempo pop ballad that offers a stark contrast to the energetic house dance vibe of ‘All Fired Up’, but unfortunately seems quite bland in comparison.

While credit must be given to the girls for their strong voices (especially in comparison to the vocally weaker Girls Aloud), at the end of the middle eight, the unnecessary shouting of the first note actually seems oddly well-placed – as if they consciously want to try to wake us up from having dozed off halfway through. The verses are sung softly and accompanied by a sombre instrumental before the chorus kicks in with all five of them chipping in and a heavier beat you could at least attempt to sway to in a club. Yet it’s the very the fact that ‘My Heart Takes Over’ was given the ‘dance genre’ element rather being allowed to be a proper ballad, that makes us feel that the girls’ usual edginess is lost on this comparably dull song.

It’s hard to picture most girl groups as serious contenders for having good ballads in their back catalogues, particularly when we are used to the majority of them, The Saturdays included, releasing great up-tempo club bangers and floor-fillers. The Saturdays however, prove they are not half bad at doing so, but while ‘My Heart Takes Over’ is better than previous ballads ‘Issues’ and ‘Missing You’, it is regrettable that they are just not as exciting when they’re not being fun.

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Album Review: Evanescence – Evanescence | So So Gay magazine

Wind-up Records (UK release 10 October)

American rock band Evanescence seemed to disappear for a few years after their 2006 sophomore studio album The Open Door did not quite live up to the hype of their far more successful debut – 2003′s Fallen. But now they are back with their highly anticipated third effort, Evanescence (what a creative name). But will this help them bring alternative metal and rock music back to the mainstream market? It is probably a long shot, but Evanescence have a secured themselves a loyal following that have been waiting excitedly for this new offering, and they will probably not be disappointed with this.

Evanescence offers a good mix of heavy, guitar and drum-driven tracks and gorgeous, melancholy, piano-led rock ballads, which really allow the band’s lead singer and co-founder, Amy Lee to shine. Her stunning voice could mesmerise even the most adamant rock music hater and even on the more upbeat, rockier songs her raw emotion is still evident with every lyric she sings and every note she hits. However, on some songs such as ‘Oceans’ and ‘Never Go Back’, the volume of the other instruments almost seem as if they are trying to compete with Lee for dominance over the song.

Most of the songs touch on themes of freedom, relationships, death, sorrow and reflecting on one’s past. The band has also added new elements to their usual Gothic rock and nu-metal sound, including the use of synthesizers for a more electro feel, and a harp. Standout tracks include the album’s opener and lead single ‘What You Want’, a strong comeback track that proves Evanescence still have that crossover and commercial appeal; the lyrically poetic yet sad and beautiful ‘My Heart Is Not Broken’; ‘The Other Side’, a poignant, sorrowful ballad where Lee’s spellbinding vocals are at their best; and ‘Lost In Paradise’. The deliberative ‘Paradise’ starts off slowly with just Lee’s voice and a piano, before a suite of other instruments come in to build to an epic climax.

After spending time out of the spotlight writing and recording, and after several band line-up changes, Evanescence have swept aside the depressive and ghostly Gothic-Emo persona with which they were associated. They sound tougher, more self-assured and musically more accomplished than before with their most mature album to date. Understandably, this genre of music may not be to everyone’s tastes in the age of commercial, fun, poppy electro-dance and R&B music, but Evanescence would definitely take the crown for this year’s ‘Best Alternative, Non-Pop Album’  – if ever there were one.

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Film Review: The Lion King 3D | So So Gay magazine

For most of us, 1994’s The Lion King was one of the first Disney films we saw, and to this day still remains one of the most memorable, enjoyable and iconic of all time. Since the late Nineties however, the quality of Disney’s 2D animated films has suffered comparably, meaning we can treasure the classics even more so. And in the past few years, the vast majority of films in general have also been released alongside a 3D version, but not all have been seen as necessary. The Lion King is one of the few older films that have now been re-released in 3D (Jurassic Park is another), but has it made one of the greatest animated films of all time even greater?

The answer to that question is ‘not really’, and simply because not much else in terms of animation could make the film any better than it already was. Some parts of the film did benefit from the enhanced 3D technology, though; namely the wildebeest stampede and the final fight – already two of the most striking scenes. The songs are still amazing and unforgettable, the story is still endearing and exciting and the characters are still brilliant and hilarious, really allowing the audience to relive the magic of Disney, as well introducing a younger generation to something still unsurpassable in the realm of animated films.

Of course, a downside to watching it again seventeen years older comes with having learned more about the inaccuracies in The Lion King‘s portrayal of the natural world. Yes, there is something quirky, intriguing and comedic about lions and warthogs being friends and lions and hyenas becoming allies, but male lion cubs growing up to replace their fathers and take over their own pride? That just doesn’t happen with real lions, Disney.

But dampeners aside, the spirit of The Lion King has definitely not been lost and its re-release is an excellent (as well as sad) reminder of just how unparalleled Disney’s animated films used to be. Maybe the studio should hold off making new 2D films and continue to re-release the oldies, with or without the use of 3D, just to keep our inner children happy and help give us that twinge of fun and innocent nostalgia from when we were younger.

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Manchester Gay Scene Guide | So So Gay magazine

No-one can forget Queer as Folk – the controversial and compelling late Nineties television series that followed the partying, personal and sex lives of some of Manchester’s LGBT community, set in the city’s vibrant and iconic gay village: Canal Street. Named one of Europe’s best gay destinations and home to one of the friendliest gay communities, Canal Street is always bustling with thousands of LGBT people, be they local, national or even international visitors. Even some heterosexuals love it too, and you’ll never fail to see (predominantly) straight girls wanting a good night where they can go out without being harassed by prowling straight guys.

If you have never visited Manchester and Canal Street before but plan to go at some point, we have compiled a list of a few bars, pubs and clubs that we’d recommend:

Baa Bar

This chain bar is located in a few places across Manchester (Fallowfield and Deansgate) as well as other neighbouring towns and cities (Liverpool, for example) and is very popular for its vast variety of inventive and strong shooters and shots (all for just a quid each). And let’s not forget some of their names, which you will probably never forget either. Anyone fancy a Slippery Nipple, Pink Pussy or Reluctant Virgin? Sackville Street’s branch is the only primarily gay one and also the smallest, but it’s bursting with character. Lined with neon lights and painted in all the colours of the rainbow, Baa Bar is flashy, fun, inexpensive, and usually a good place to start your night.

Queer/Boyz

Queer is an extremely popular venue situated in the heart of Canal Street, and it is probably safe to say that the nearly naked and extremely gorgeous go-go dancers that stand outside advertising it and dance on the podiums inside play a big part in this bar’s attraction. Boyz is down in the basement and every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday plays host to hot male strippers and pole dancers. Even the sexy bar staff get their tops off to serve you.

Just some of the “attractions” to be found at Essential (image courtesy of www.essentialmanchester.com)

Essential

Spread over two floors, Essential is the gay village’s largest club and owned by the same people who run Queer and Boyz. It has had its fair share of closures, name changes and re-openings over the past few years in a bid to regain its once-glorious popularity, but has now reverted back to its former and original name. While the ground floor pumps out more hardcore house tunes and dance remixes of pop songs, downstairs is more spacious and plays the usual chart hits, with stages and podiums where you can show off your moves (and your body, if you wish). Once Queer has quietened down, Essential is the place to be and you’ll find the same go-go dancers will be there too to keep on entertaining you.

The Molly House

Tucked away down a side alley is The Molly House, a quaint little three-storey bar with a warm, friendly country pub feel to it. The ground floor serves as a café with a wide selection of teas and coffees while the upper floors are the bars with an array of gorgeous cocktails and authentic ales as their speciality. Adorned in charming Victorian style décor (which is also found in their unisex toilets), Molly’s is a lovely little gem that is worth checking out.

Tribeca

Towards the outskirts of the village opposite Sackville Gardens lies Tribeca, a stylish bar with comfy leather sofas and dimmed lights that shamelessly calls itself ‘Manchester’s Number One Venue’. Here they serve great-tasting wines (house from £6.95) and a variety of beers and cocktails, sometimes offering two-for-one, making them a worthwhile deal. TV presenter Anthony Crank also occasionally DJs here, and their quiz nights on Mondays are popular with customers. Downstairs is Bed Bar, so called because of the beds you can sit and lie on – but perhaps not sleep on and stay over. Bed Bar usually does not open until much later and is far less busy but just as great.

Vanilla

For girls in need of a break from seeing too many guys around the village, Vanilla is the place to head to. One of two chiefly lesbian bars (the other being Coyotes), Vanilla may be small and dingy but it still manages to draw a large crowd, so they must be doing something right. Some men are allowed in, but not always.

Some of Salford University’s LGBT Society on a night out.

Velvet

Velvet is a luxurious bar and restaurant hotel along Canal Street that exudes style – French Nineteenth Century style to be more accurate. One of the most relaxing places to be and probably the poshest in the village, it will almost feel as though you’ve just stepped onto the set of Moulin Rouge, but without the prostitutes. Although a little pricey, their divine drinks and delicious food make this one place where your money will be well spent.

VIA

One of the famous bars where numerous scenes in Queer as Folk were filmed is VIA, an old fashioned-looking pub bar. It usually attracts a slightly older and more mature clientele, but when the village is busy, its customers are just as varied as everywhere else. Decorated and furnished with an old, Gothic feel and with a maze of stairways leading to extra hideaway spaces and seats, VIA is much bigger inside than it may seem from the outside. Little cabaret shows and drag acts sometimes take to the stage to provide entertainment, but it’s just as fun without them and another recommended place to start a night out.

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Track review: One Direction – Gotta Be You | So So Gay magazine

We were not huge fans of One Direction’s last single ‘What Makes You Beautiful’. However, as predicted, it was a huge success for the ever-popular boy band, ultimately reaching number one. Now they’ve followed it up with the mid-tempo ballad ‘Gotta Be You’, which is out on 14 November, shortly followed by their debut album Up All Night a week later. Considering the boys’ increasingly large fan base, it’s undoubtedly going to be just as a big a hit, if not more so than ‘What Makes You Beautiful’. Similarly to their debut single though, ‘Gotta Be You’ fails to make a memorable impression.

While other current boy bands have found their niche – JLS securing the more urban market and The Wanted covering the pop-rock and dance genres – One Direction seem to fill the gap of bland but lovable pop music. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it really makes us miss the good old days of more interesting boy bands such as 5ive and Blue.

‘Gotta Be You’ is a strings-driven track with guitars and drums thrown in during the chorus – probably just so you don’t get bored after the verses, during which the boys grovel to a girl who they messed up with and want to do anything they can to win her back. The chorus simply consists of the repetitive line ‘It’s gotta be you/Only you’ (and the boys showing off their falsetto), coupled with the annoying ‘hey, hey, hey’ chanted monotonously in the background. Surely bound to get on your nerves, but also hard to get out of your head. The middle eight is a rather unimaginative, sloppy mess, with the swooning lines ‘Girl can we try one more, one more time/Can we try one more, one more time/I’ll make it better’. If a desperate wrongdoer sang such a dull ditty to us, it definitely would NOT make us want to take them back.

‘Gotta Be You’ will sit well within the scope of flavourless but popular music of the moment and is sure to keep their vast legion of ‘Directioners’ happy and screaming in excitement. Unfortunately, as far as musically mature and diverse boy bands go, One Direction are still well below the bar. Remember, good looks can only get you so far.

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News: New Amy Winehouse music to be released | So So Gay magazine

When Amy Winehouse, one of the biggest-selling and most influential British female artists of all time, passed away in July, the aftermath of her death was reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s; the controversy surrounding her troubled personal life was hotly discussed, but her musical legacy was also widely celebrated. Now it has been announced that rare, previously unheard and unreleased tracks and even raw, unfinished demos recorded by Winehouse over the past decade will be released as part of a new, posthumous album. This has also been met with mixed reactions; many are excited at the prospect of hearing new material, while others believe it is morally wrong.

That aside, the new album, entitled Lioness: Hidden Treasures will feature twelve tracks, some of which are covers, including the 1963 Ruby & The Romantics song ‘Our Day Will Come’ and the standard classic ‘A Song For You’. ‘Our Day Will Come’ has already been publicly released online and on the radio, as has ‘Like Smoke’ – a ‘duet’ with rapper Nas, who recorded his vocal after Amy’s death. Her touching duet with legendary jazz singer Tony Bennett, ‘Body And Soul’ and the original version of ‘Tears Dry On The Own’ will also be on the album.

Released by Island Records, Lioness: Hidden Treasures will be out on 5 December and for each copy sold, £1 will be donated to the Amy Winehouse Foundation. We will review the album upon its release.

What are your thoughts? Are you looking forward to hearing new Amy Winehouse music?