Friday, December 25, 2009

MMIX - and that's the way it was

cover story



Just like the year that preceded it, 2009 was a year that did not like human beings very much. Everything from the world's economy to people's morals seemed to be on the decline, and even microscopic virulent creatures appeared to be conspiring against us. But throughout the resulting mishmash, there were certain things that kept coming up over and over again – some rightfully so as they genuinely warranted our attention, and others that simply refused to go away, despite the fact that we really wanted them to. So, in an effort to help us understand what this year was all about, here is a look at the people and events that we could not escape hearing about during 2009:

Barack Obama
"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future." - Norwegian Nobel Committee
The world enthusiastically welcomed the government change in the U.S. as Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America, taking the oath of office in an inauguration ceremony watched by millions of international viewers. Ever since, and despite the fall in his ratings, the world has been captivated by all things Obama. Whether he is attending an annual meeting of people who annually meet, making teleprompter-assisted speeches about all the things he plans to do in the future, or, umm, killing a fly, none of his actions fail to make headlines; his every move is scrutinised, every word analysed. Even his family can't escape the spotlight – from first lady Michelle Obama's fashion sense, to the choice of the family's new puppy, Bo (as had been promised to daughters Malia and Sasha during the victory speech), no topic has been left undiscussed. Such is the degree of the world's infatuation with the new U.S. President that he has even been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (despite still overseeing two wars); the Nobel Committee bestowed this honour on him for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples", presumably including his efforts to engage on a global platform with multiple international visits, as well as plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and aim to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Swat and Waziristan Operations
"Terror is an idea. You don't fight an idea with a conventional army. To win a war on terror you have to win the hearts and minds of people." - Imran Khan (on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton)
The U.S. might have replaced the term "War on Terror" with the phrase "Overseas Contingency Operation", but that didn't change the fact that the underlying problem itself remains unaffected. While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still continue, the issue unfortunately spilled over into our country, with north-western Pakistan ending up at the forefront. Army operations against the insurgents focused on Swat and South Waziristan, displacing nearly two million people in the NWFP; the IDPs figure still remains at around one million according to the Internally Displacement Monitoring Centre. And in retaliation, the Taliban have started a string of militant attacks across Pakistan, killing hundreds of people across the country.

H1N1
"Despite the hysteria, the risk to Britons' health is tiny – but that news won't sell papers or drugs, or justify the WHO's budget." - Simon Jenkins, The Guardian
As the H1N1 influenza virus made its presence known, concerns about its virulence started to increase, followed by the media's completely disproportionate reaction that made it seem like the virus was going to tear a hole in the fabric of space and time, and signalled the end of all life in the universe. Panic evidently ensued, further fuelled by several misconceptions and misinformation, but then someone noticed that the H1N1 casualty rate was only a small fraction of the annual number of deaths from seasonal flu – worldwide more than 208 countries and territories reported "laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009" (according to the World Health Organization), and the mortality rate from the virus has been around 0.026% (according to a report in the British Medical Journal). So, unless the virus makes a mutated comeback seeking revenge over these findings, chances are that humankind will endure. As for the media, they are now in search of something else to panic about.

Twitter
"I tweet so much, sometimes I annoy myself." - Demi Lovato (@ddlovato)
A few years ago, a bunch of Californians – co-founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone in particular – decided the world was in need of another blogging service, only this one would limit the length of updates to 140 characters and basically restrict the updates in every possible way. In short, they decided to take the status message idea and run with it, and so in 2006, Twitter was born: a micro-blogging service that merges two recent fads – texting and social networking. Within a year of its launch, the service had started to gain popularity, but it really started to gain momentum last year, and then into this year, powered by the presence of high-profile personalities and being embraced by celebrities (including actor Ashton Kutcher's much publicized bid to become the first user to amass a million followers) and the media (to the point where it seems like CNN might have sold itself to Twitter). And now that we can all find out what Calvin Harris just had for dinner, all is right with the world. Except that it's not, and that is where Twitter surprisingly comes in, yet again. The website has actually helped by serving as a platform to rally against political and social issues (including the Iranian presidential election protests), and even brought global attention to issues that might've otherwise gone unnoticed.

Pakistani Judiciary and NRO
"And justice for some."
Politics, as usual, dominated global news throughout the year – the Iran and Afghanistan elections, North Korea's nuclear tests, U.S. health care reforms…the talking heads never ran out of things to talk about. Meanwhile, in the little part of the world that we like to call home, Pakistanis were on a mission to fulfil last year's mission – the reinstatement of the judiciary, and this time their efforts yielded success. In the midst of a long march, the government finally announced that the deposed judges would be reinstated and Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would be restored as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. It might be interesting to note that it is quite possible that we've heard the word "judiciary" more times since last year than we had in the rest of our lives put together; now if everyone starts chanting the word "electricity", then maybe…
Anyway, the next topic on our political issues list was the NRO – the National Reconciliation Ordinance that was issued in 2007 by the then President Pervez Musharraf. The Ordinance was finally declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court this month, and leaves current President Asif Ali Zardari in hot water. Make sure you stay tuned for the next episode of our exciting political reality series Deal or No Deal.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
"But this was no dream, and, unlike the nightmare, I wasn't running for my life; I was racing to save something infinitely more precious." – New Moon
It's plain to see that Stephenie Meyer has hit the jackpot with the Twilight series. It's one big star-crossed love story, featuring a protagonist who seems to have traded rationality for obsession. Plus it features vampires and werewolves, therefore it must be amazing. So, following in the path of the novels that engrossed a whole generation of teenage girls, the movies too are offering an entertaining way to waste a few hours on an idle weekend evening. As the latest The Twilight Saga: New Moon was to be released in November, the year round anticipation by its crazed fans made it an Internet conversation and search staple throughout the year (it was the second most searched term of the year according to Yahoo!). With its release, the second film in the franchise that has propelled Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner to stardom, broke box-office records, despite being derided by movie critics, and added even more hype to a phenomenon that was hard to ignore in the first place. Yet, despite its being incessantly mentioned on the Internet, television and in magazines, New Moon is the sixth highest grossing film of 2009; the year's top five most successful films (as of the writing of these words) are: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 2012, and Up.

Susan Boyle
"Mediocrity at its finest."
In an industry ruled by talent-challenged pop goddesses content with using raunchiness to sell records comes the latest annual media-hyped moneymaking counter-expectations scam from Simon Cowell: Susan Boyle! The Scottish singer became an overnight global sensation after appearing on Britain's Got Talent, despite (or perhaps because of) her homely appearance, much like Paul Potts before her, resulting in her BGT clip on YouTube getting nearly 2.5 million views in the first 72 hours (it went on to get nearly 120 million hits during 2009, becoming YouTube's most watched video of the year). By the finale, though, the audience had presumably moved on; Susan lost to dance troupe Diversity. But her ugly-duckling story was far from over; a hospital stay and a makeover later, the singer released her debut album I Dreamed a Dream, which, according to the record-tracking folks, has sold a hellovalotov copies, despite boring critics to sleep.

2009 ICC World Twenty20
"It won't be a disaster even if we exit before the Super Eights. It would be sad if we don't make it, but I have never attached too much importance to Twenty20 cricket, as it is fun cricket." - Younis Khan, a few days before Pakistan won the T20 tournament.
I'll be the first to concede that people in 90% of the world's countries probably have no idea what T20 even stands for, and the majority of the remaining 10% aren't willing to show more than a cursory interest in this cricketing format. But as soon as your team actually wins something, all such considerations go out the window, replaced by irrational jubilant euphoria. So pardon me for mentioning something here that clearly wasn't one of the most talked about topics of this or any other year, but how could I not? We won something. We actually won something, and… wait, it's unimportant, just-for-fun cricket? Never mind then. :(

Global Economy
"The story of the year was a weak economy that could have been much, much weaker." - TIME magazine
A handful of economists had been trying to raise concerns about this for years, but apparently their warnings weren't followed by enough exclamation points. And so last year, the effect of the reckless lending practices led to several issues that needed to be translated from economic English into human English before anyone could make head or tail of them. The result was an outbreak of economic crises, sending the global economy into a financial tailspin. Companies failed, jobs were lost, inflation reached historic levels. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the economy became one of the most talked about subjects around the world. As the year draws to a close, the world seems to be coming out of its financial hangover, following bailouts of failing businesses and stimulus plans to combat the economic downturn, and according to analysts, global economic collapse has been averted. *confetti toss*

Michael Jackson
"Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say that I love him... so much" - Paris Katherine Jackson
There was no bigger news this year than the death of Michael Jackson. The biggest name in the world of music forever changed the entertainment industry, and despite all his problems and dysfunctions, remained a pop favourite. As the news of his death emerged, MJ's fans mourned his talents, but sadly the rumour mills started to spin out of control, fuelled by tabloids hoping to (as usual) cash in on someone else's misfortunes, and even further by the public's unfortunate tendency to further propagate every misinformed detail. A lot of ink and bandwidth was wasted on farfetched untruths and half-truths about his personal life and children. But thankfully there were many who chose to ignore the rumours, focus on the talent, and honour his musical excellence. An estimated worldwide audience of nearly one billion tuned in to watch MJ's memorial service, and his film This Is It became the most successful documentary and concert movie of all time.

Other famous people who passed away during the year include:
  • Adam Michael Goldstein, a.k.a. DJ AM (36) – musician, former member of Crazy Town.
  • Corazon Aquino (76) – politician, 11th President of the Philippines, first woman to hold the office.
  • David Carradine (72) – actor, starred in the '70s television series Kung Fu and the Kill Bill movies.
  • Farrah Leni Fawcett (62) – actress, best known for her role as Jill Munroe in Charlie's Angels and for her famous hairstyle.
  • Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (77) – politician, long serving U.S. senator, youngest brother of John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver (88) – sister of Ted Kennedy, founded the movement that became the Special Olympics.
  • Jade Cerisa Lorraine Goody (27) – British reality TV celebrity.
  • Les Paul (94) – American guitarist and pioneer electric guitar developer.
  • Natasha Richardson (45) – British actress, daughter of actress Vanessa Redgrave and director/producer Tony Richardson, and wife of Irish actor Liam Neeson.
  • Patrick Wayne Swayze (57) – actor, famous for his performance in the film Dirty Dancing.
  • Rob Gauntlet (21) – adventurer and mountaineer, youngest Briton to climb Mount Everest.
  • Robert Enke (32) – German football goalkeeper.
  • Stephen Patrick David Gately (33) – singer, member of Irish band Boyzone.
  • Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. (92) – broadcast journalist, known as "the most trusted man in America", ended each of his CBS Evening News broadcasts with the phrase "...and that's the way it is" followed by the date.
*****

The Year In Weird

While most of what was poured onto the pages of newspapers wasn't particularly strange or unusual, there were quite a few incidents this year that added a sprinkle of weird to 2009:
  • Balloon Boy: People all over the world watched as a runaway balloon supposedly carrying a six-year-old child, Falcon Heene, floated across the sky of Colorado. The home-made balloon finally landed many hours later, only to reveal that Falcon was never in the balloon, and the incident was just a publicity stunt by the Heene family to help market them for a reality show; they are now facing several felony charges.
  • White House party crashers: Another aspiring reality TV couple attended the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite the fact that they lacked an invitation. And when did the security detail find out about their blunder? After the gatecrashers boldly posted pictures from the event on their Facebook page. Best security service ever!
  • Octomom: An American woman, Nadya Suleman, gives birth to the first set of surviving octuplets; only, she has no job, no income, and is already the single mother of six other young children! The world shakes its head in disapproval, then snuggles in front of the tele to watch her reality special, Octo-Mom: The Incredible Unseen Footage, and after that goes off in search of some brain bleach.
  • Kanye West's outburst: Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's Best Female Video award acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, implying that the award should've gone to Beyoncé instead of Taylor. "If you have nothing nice to say, then don't say anything at all," everyone told him in reply. We haven't heard from him since.
  • Tiger Woods: The world's best-known golfer crashed his car into a tree in front of his house, and this incident somehow unravelled into a story of infidelity and deceit that leaves the athlete's personal life ruined and reputation shattered. Things don't get any stranger than that, do they? Or actually they do…
  • 2009 ICC World Twenty20 tournament: Yes, we won the T20 championship. We really did. How strange is that?!!
- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25 December, 2009

Do Re Mi

music in 2009

International

- The E.N.D. came like a blast from the not-so-distant past as The Black Eyed Peas returned with new music after four years. The album was a huge hit, and everyone was happy… except music fans. They watched in despair as the Peas climbed the charts and made history with their songs Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling.

- The infectious hook and accompanying video of Beyoncé's Single Ladies propelled it into becoming a YouTube hit, inspiring countless imitations and parodies.

- Kris Allen won American Idol, beating the much-hyped Adam Lambert. Also, Paula Abdul left the show and was replaced by comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

- After ignoring their last three albums, the world decided to fall in love with the Kings of Leon. Their song Use Somebody off last year's Only By The Night gained constant rotation… or it might have been another Kings of Leon song because frankly we can't really tell them apart.

- The lovely Taylor Swift didn't let the fact that she can't sing stand in the way of her success. The faux-country startlet – who is as cute as a button, seems modest and well grounded, even dated one of the Jo Bros (which ended in the by-now-infamous 27-second phone call), and on the whole seems a lot more well adjusted than her destined-for-rehab friend Miley Cyrus – saw her sophomore album Fearless rank among the year's highest selling records and was showered with an endless stream of awards (much to the dismay of Kanye West).

- Troubled singer Amy Winehouse and her troubled spouse Blake Fielder-Civil untied the knot and went their own ways. They now plan to self-destruct separately.

- Green Day released their new album, 21st Century Breakdown, which sounds like it could've been the b-side to their previous album, American Idiot.

- After realizing that all their individual projects had tanked, Blink-182 reunited.

- Michael Jackson's death propelled him to the top of the charts around the world, and led him to number one spot on the year's Internet search lists. And the release of his This Is It documentary re-established his King of Pop credentials, yet again.

- And Boyzone singer Stephen Gately's death raised so much interest in the deceased singer that his name became the most searched for topic of 2009 on Google UK.

- Eminem made a comeback with his first album in five years, Relapse, which opened at number one in various countries around the world.

- Rappers Flo Rida and Tinchy Stryder conquered the charts with their respective sophomore albums.

- Newcomers including La Roux and Keri Hilson also found chart success.

- After three years of marriage (that's nearly 30 in Hollywood years), pop singer Avril Lavigne and Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley decided to part ways. We still can't decide whether she was too good for him or he was too good for her.

- Britain's Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle's thoroughly dreary first album, I Dreamed a Dream, broke the record of the highest debut by a female solo artist ever.

- Alice In Chains released their first album since Layne Staley's death, Creed reunited to make the album Full Circle, Coldplay's live album LeftRightLeftRightLeft was made available as a free download, U2 released their new offering No Line on the Horizon, and Muse came up with yet another ambitiously awesome album, The Resistance.

- Guitarist Noel Gallagher left Oasis after yet another fallout with his brother, vocalist Liam Gallagher. But music fans' joy was cut short when Liam announced that he plans to continue recording as Oasis.

- Chris Brown was sentenced to "five years of probation, one year of domestic violence counselling, and six months of community service" following his domestic violence incident involving Rihanna.

- Everyone who has a show on the Disney channel released a few dozen albums each.

- Owl City autotuned their way to success.

- Pop/R&B girl band Sugababes went through their 3258176th line-up change when Keisha Buchanan was kicked out of the band (replaced by Jade Ewen), which means the band no longer has any of its founding members.

- And while one was tempted to pull out a thesaurus and list all the synonyms for "annoying" in reference to Lady Gaga, it seems as though her "so terrible that it's amazing" shtick worked quite well. Her fashion sense was spectacularly awful, but that's because it was meant to draw attention… which it did. Her music sounded like it was created in a pop focus group and put together every pop cliché that had been successful on the charts in the last few decades. So, very unsurprisingly, her albums and singles sold by the bucketload.

- Also, Shakira, Rihanna, Lily Allen, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, and even Whitney Houston returned to the charts with new album, as did Girls Aloud singer and X Factor judge Cheryl Cole, who released her debut solo album 3 Words.


Pakistan

  • Mustafa Zahid (Roxen): 2009 has been dull mainly because of the current situation in the country; adding agony to the pain is having unlimited news channels on the screen and less entertainment channel. How can someone switch to a music channel and look at what's coming now when a bomb's been blasted every fortnight? The sad truth is that entertainment has gone down big time in 2009. We did Bujh Hai Gaya as Roxen and Khuda Kay Liyay as my solo project, but overall things have been rough for everyone. Eye catcher, or shall I say ear catcher, for me in 2009 was Hadiqa's song with her brother Irfan on her album Jab Say Tum Gai; brilliant song. 2009 made me an Ali Zafar fan too, finally, with his effort in Coke Studio, especially Yaar Dadhi.
  • Faiza Mujahid: I think there was nothing good about 2009 productively, except for Coke Studio, and I think '09 was a hard time for all the musicians in Pakistan. I loved Coke Studio (session 2). And there wasn't anything to dislike, as very few people released their albums or songs. I loved Atif Aslam's songs in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani. It's amazing how in such times he isn't affected by the recession, mashAllah. Everyone needs luck like him! ;) 2010 will be my year hopefully, inshAllah! :)
  • Abbas Ali Khan: Whatever music came out in 2009 was basically neglected and overshadowed by the news channels, thanks to the security situation in the country. Whatever music I could see and hear was ok, nothing great. Some good albums which came out were from MHB, Overload, and Shiraz Uppal (and of course John Mayer). I only released one track on TV and Internet. The response was overwhelming. The track was a tribute song from drama serial Dhoop Kinare called Raat Yun Dil Mein Teri. In 2010, I plan to release more videos, do more classical and fusion concerts, and as a parallel project I'm planning to release an album based on ghazals and nazams.
- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25 December, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Remembering the '00s

cover story

Even nostalgia ain't what it used to be!

Wars and power struggles, economic meltdowns, commercialism, celebrity obsession, ideological black holes… it seems as though mankind was on a mission to collectively jump off a figurative cliff during the last ten years that together made up The Noughties, a decade that, admittedly like every other decade, has changed the world forever. As the sun sets on the '00s, it is plain to see that this century is off to a rocky start, and through it all, one thing has become abundantly clear: humanity's gene pool could use stronger chlorination.


Politics
Self-destruct sequence initiated

Nothing can capture the essence of the decade more than a 2004 quote from one of the world's most beloved leaders, the acclaimed and eloquent statesman George W. Bush: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful," he said, "and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." The jury is still out on whether this is funny because it's true, or sad because it's true.

Either way, the world had set its cruise control for crash long before this decade began, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that world peace remained elusive. Threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation were a permanent fixture in the headlines. Pakistani politics continued to struggle with the hellovamess it had inherited from the '90s. Pervez Musharraf's presidency, the judiciary conflict, Asif Ali Zardari's presidency following Benazir Bhutto's death, and near constant bomb blasts in the major cities of the country in the last few months – makes one wonder what our current political landscape's future history will choose as the lowest point of our decade.

But perhaps the most defining moment of the '00s came on the 11th of September 2001 when hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which led to the US-led war in Afghanistan; nearly a decade later, the terrorists continue undeterred. Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was cited as the reason for the occupation of Iraq by US-led forces; the WMDs were never found because apparently they did not exist. Billions of dollars have been spent. Thousands of lives have been lost. And we're supposed to be the most intelligent species on this planet!


Economy
With compliments from the Department of Bad Ideas

It started with the bursting of the dot-com bubble and ended with the collapse of the housing bubble; everything in between was just as dreary. The world saw increased globalisation and further expansion of multinational corporations, with the US continuing to be the world's biggest economy, and China emerging as a rising power on the back of immense economic growth. Meanwhile, inflation constantly troubled the workingman, with huge increases in the prices of commodities, gold, petrol…and electricity, or what little we had of it. The biggest pain for the residents of Pakistan for much of the latter part of the decade was "load shedding", a term that refers to a foolproof way of ruining your country's already-feeble economy by cutting off the power supply to various or all regions of the country for extended parts of the day. All hail WAPDA!


Technology
Science 1 – Naysayers 0

With the coming of age of the Internet, the Noughties saw further integration of and dependence on technology.

- Internet: While Microsoft Windows maintained its dominance on the global OS market, Google became the Internet search leader, and Google's Gmail revolutionised email, helping kick off rapid development in the webmail arena. Probably the biggest fad of the '00s came in the form of social networking, which provided us a way to connect with all the friends we've never had. Collaborative wikis helped in knowledge sharing, YouTube made video sharing an integral part of the web culture, and blogging gave everyone a social and political voice and became an avenue for keeping up with the latest news and trends. Also, someone decided to test the infinite monkey theorem ("if you were to give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, they would eventually reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare") by creating Twitter; the experiment is still ongoing and the results are as-yet inconclusive. P2P networking and Torrents forced the entertainment industry to rethink its business models; the elements of the industry that remained in denial just saw file-sharers as the bandits of the digital revolution, were reluctant to see the opportunities that came with the evolution of the media, and hence decided to sue its target customers instead – a moments rational thought would've helped spot the slight flaw in this plan, but we all know that rationality and Hollywood don't get along with each other.

- Gadgets: Gadgets were on a mission to become smaller, thinner, and ubiquitous over the decade. Those who didn't have their eyes glued to computer screens were seen with their thumbs dancing on mobile phone keypads, explaining why SMS and MMS spread like an epidemic – text messaging provided instant contact with friends through messages of up to 160 characters in length, and led to much dismay among the fans of correct spelling and proper grammar. Floppy disks gave way to USBs, which made data transfer easier. ebook readers added digital fizzle to literature. Audio- and videocassettes went the way of the Dodo, replaced by CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs. Digital audio gained popularity, with Apple dominating the portable media player market with the iPod and the accompanying iTunes store; Spotify and Voddler promise to further evolve the digital landscape in the coming years. Apple also ruled the smartphone ecosystem with the iPhone. And gaming enthusiasts went crazy over Nintendo's Wii, which became a leading gaming platform; Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox were also popular in the console market.

- Space exploration: Humankind continued its exploration of the cosmos. Space tourism finally took off, with American businessman Dennis Tito becoming the first fee-paying space tourist, by paying USD 20 million for a week's stay at the International Space Station. Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, much to the disappointment of all its fans. Scientists discovered ice on the Earth's Moon; we're now hoping they'll find some cream to go with it. Oh and CERN's Large Hadron Collider (physics/particle accelerator/Big Bang experiment) has failed to destroy the Earth. So far.


Environment
Trice age

With issues of environmental degradation gaining attention during the decade, Global Warming went from being that thing that Al Gore keeps talking about to a globally recognised (albeit debated) concern, and then morphed into Climate Change after it was noticed that the detractors' claims were being reinforced by a phenomenon known as winter. As a result, more emphasis was placed on developing environmental friendly technologies and decreasing CO2 emissions.

Also, the '00s suffered through some of the worst natural disasters that have ever struck the world, with typhoons and hurricanes that resulted in extensive damage, and earthquakes that caused extreme destruction, including the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the 2003 Bam earthquake, and the one that shook us all – the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that took nearly 80,000 lives.


Movies
The worst good time you've ever had

Hollywood continued to run out of other people's ideas, and therefore chose to focus on franchises, producing comic book/novel-to-film adaptations along with wholly unnecessary sequels to anything that became a box office hit. They did, however, inadvertently produce some masterpieces along the way: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and The Dark Knight – the decades highest grossing movies and three of only four films to have ever grossed more than one billion dollars – are among the best that Hollywood has ever produced. The only powerhouse that faced no shortage of creativity was the consistently awesome animation studio Pixar, which released a string of amazing films like Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), and Up (2009), helping to popularise animated media along the way; DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox also pitched into the animated film world with the Shrek and Ice Age series. Meanwhile, back home, after many a lacklustre decade, the Pakistani film industry showed some glimmers of revival with films like Khuda Ke Liye and Ramchand Pakistani, but the industry, overall, continued to remain on life support.


Music
Autotune overload

The Pakistani pop music industry thrived during the '00s, led by the comeback of the Strings, and the emergence of pop acts like Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam, and Jal who dominated the music market and even found fame across the border. Internationally, the artists that generated the most sales during the decade include a controversial rapper (Eminem), a pop band that split up four decades ago (The Beatles), and the undisputed king of pop (Michael Jackson) who was thrust back into the spotlight after his untimely death, but the Noughties were by and large dominated by hip-hop and R&B flavoured pop, proving that the citizens of the world like listening to the same old recycled beats, lyrics, and sentiments over and over and over again. Also, Simon Cowell's pop music factory-line started churning out mass-marketed albums as the world continued to buy into his well-designed hype machine. Although to be fair to the decade, it did offer A LOT (maybe even too much) of music – everything from MySpace-assisted pop successes to nu metal with teenage poetry syndrome – and one was bound to find something that fit their taste. However, it is clearly obvious – and even more so after the Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin reunions (because they reminded us of how awesome music can really be) – that most of the '00s albums will one day serve as great Frisbees.


Books
Crimes against literature (and other stories)

Reading generated moderate interest all over the world, whether merely as a potential cure for insomnia or because of the success of fiction novels that saw storytelling inspired by the styles of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (with successful books invariably ending up as Hollywood films); yet that which was a commercial hit was almost always critically divisive. The most successful book of them all was the mystery opus The Da Vinci Code by one Dan Brown, who may be looked upon as the Britney Spears of literature, but gained worldwide recognition for his Robert Langdon series. The biggest selling series included the literary phenomenon of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, which generated Potter-mania with the release of each book and movie, and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, which has also generated global interest despite the fact that no one is willing to admit that they actually like it.


Sports
Oh how the mighty continue-to-reign

From Johnny Wilkinson's extra time drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, to Goran Ivanisevic's performance at the 2001 Wimbledon (including the tournaments final versus Patrick Rafter), and even Zinedine Zidane headbutting Marco Materazzi during the 2006 Football World Cup final… there were memorable moments aplenty in the world of sports. But overall, nearly every sport was dominated by some clear leaders. Tennis had Roger Federer (a record 15 grand slam titles, and some of the most riveting encounters courtesy of his rivalry with Rafael Nadal) and the William sisters (10 grand slam wins for Serena, 7 for Venus); cycling had Lance Armstrong (seven consecutive Tour de France wins from 1999 to 2005); swimmer Michael Phelps was consistently on top of his sport (six gold and two bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics, and a record eight gold in the 2008 Olympics); and sprinter Usain Bolt's performances towards the end of the decade left everyone enthralled. And golf had Tiger Woods, not just one of the most successful golfers of all time, but a brand name and even a role model… until the last few weeks of the decade, of course. In related news, the faithful guy theory continues to be a myth. Oh well.

Cricket evolved, with changes in rules and emergence of new formats. Overall Australia continued to be the team to beat, winning both the 2003 and 2007 Cricket World Cups (their third consecutive win). The Pakistani cricket team was inconsistent at best and totally out of form at worst, but did manage to win the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in 2009.

Also, the Pakistani Olympic squads went from strength to strength at the Summer Olympics that were held during the decade. Here is the final tally of their achievements:
- 2000: Pakistan – 0 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze
- 2004: Pakistan – 0 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze
- 2008: Pakistan – 0 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze
Makes one proud, doesn't it? We can only hope that our athletes can continue showing such great performances in the coming years.


Television
Reality killed the video star

No longer stuck with only terrestrial television, viewers feasted their eyes on a plethora of international entertainment, as first satellite television and then cable took control of the viewing options. Our own television industry saw a massive boom, offering dozens of channels, the most successful (and most prone to being banned) of which focus on news coverage. The international trend that generated the most interest during the decade was the oxymoronic – or probably just moronic – phenomenon of "reality television", which saw a huge surge this decade with shows like the Idol and Top Model series, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and Survivor, and which continues to dominate the market of mind-numbingly pointless televised programming. Scripted television had its fair share of hits, including dramas like 24, The Sopranos, the CSI series, and Lost (viewers of which still have absolutely no idea what's going on), dramedys including Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and House, and sitcoms including The Office, How I Met Your Mother, and 30 Rock, while Disney dominated the children's market with tween and teen-focused series like Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Jonas.

Oh and teenage girls were willing to scream themselves into a frenzy at the very sight of their favourite stars. Just like every other decade. Because some things never change.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 18th December, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Closing the Doorie

interview

After the massive success of Jal Pari, Doorie, and Meri Kahani, Atif Aslam has established himself as one of the best known pop singers of our times. JAM catches up with the singer for a quick chat.

How have you and your music evolved since you first appeared on the music scene?
I think I have learned a lot in terms of technicalities, what people like and how to improve my stamina while singing live. Overall, the growth translates into more maturity from when I first began.

After the success of your first album, did you feel a lot of pressure when you were working on the next albums? Did you face any difficulties when coming up with the follow-ups?
Yeah, I felt the pressure. When you pursue perfection there comes a point where you actually start spoiling your good work. So, there must be a comma at least if you can't put a full stop on your creativity. While making the second album, I felt I should leave it up to the fans to rate my creativity, as I was happy with how it is sounding.

While working on albums, do you also have the Indian and international audience in mind?
An artist has no boundaries, and music has a generic appeal to every person on Earth. I try to create music for all audiences. However, the flavour varies from place to place and I try to take care of it.

What do you think is the key to longevity in the music industry?
Hard work and openness to experimentation helps an artist stay relevant in the long run.

Do you feel any added pressure when performing outside Pakistan?
No. In fact, it gives me a chance to learn more. It also gives me great pleasure to see the international fans.

What inspires you to make music? And how do you come up with new songs?
Anything happening around me can be an inspiration. Sometimes I compose a tune and ask my elder brother Shahzad to write lyrics for it; sometimes he writes something and I compose it; sometimes. Even jamming with my friends creates good melodies.

Of the videos you’ve made so far, which one defines you the best as a person and as an artist?
I like the video of Meri Kahani, as it elaborates on my childhood, my feelings towards my profession and my creative aspect. Tere Bin on the other hand shows me as an artist, it shows my normal daily-life along with my artistic side in the video.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?
I used to make sketches of cartoons, and my other favourite pastime is cricket.

Do you plan to pursue acting in the future?
Sure, why not? I would consider it if there were a proper team to work with.

What can we expect from you in the coming months?
New film songs and new albums. No idea about when they are scheduled for released though.

Any message for JAM readers?
Keep following your passions and work really hard if you want to fulfil your wishes; otherwise stop wishing.

- By Sameen Amer

JAM Magazine

Friday, October 09, 2009

The ICC Awards

ground reality

Picking one person as the most outstanding performer over a given period in any field – be it music or television or sports – is (usually) a fairly tough decision. And unless the choice is based purely on statistics, it is likely to lead to much controversy. So it wasn't surprising that the 6th annual ICC Awards were marred by criticism even before the first award was handed out, and quite understandably too, as the nominees yielded a number of head-scratchers. Other than the omission of some arguably deserving players, the shortlist, most noticeably, did not include even a single South African cricketer despite the fact that the Proteas had an impressive season and were the number one team in both the Test and ODI rankings at the time (and, were, ironically, the hosts of the ceremony). Consequently, the winners, revealed in a ceremony on the 1st of October in Johannesburg, left out some of the leading countries in the three formats – including Pakistan who were recently crowned the Twenty20 champions. India and Australia dominated the winners' list:
- Cricketer of the Year: Mitchell Johnson (Australia)
The other nominees were: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India), Gautam Gambhir (India), and Andrew Strauss (England)
- Test Player of the Year: Gautam Gambhir (India)
The other nominees were: Mitchell Johnson (Australia), Thilan Samaraweera (Sri Lanka), Andrew Strauss (England)
- ODI Player of the Year: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India)
The other nominees were: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI), Virender Sehwag (India), Yuvraj Singh (India)
- Emerging Player of the Year: Peter Siddle (Australia)
The other nominees were: Ben Hilfenhaus (Australia), Graham Onions (England), Jesse Ryder (New Zealand)
- Associate and Affiliate Player of the Year: William Porterfield (Ireland)
The other nominees were: Rizwan Cheema (Canada), Ryan ten Doeschate (Netherlands), Edgar Schiferli (Netherlands)
- Twenty20 International Performance of the Year: Tillakaratne Dilshan (Sri Lanka)
The other nominees were: Pakistan's Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul, and West Indies' Chris Gayle
- Women's Cricketer of the Year: Claire Taylor (England)
The other nominees were: Charlotte Edwards (Eng), Shelley Nitschke (Aus)

Pakistan's Aleem Dar was declared the Umpire of the Year, marking the first time the award did not go to Australia's Simon Taufel who won the honour five years in a row. The 41-year-old Dar made his international debut as an umpire in 2000 and became part of the ICC Elite Umpire Panel in 2004. Pakistan's Asad Rauf was also in the running for the award.

The Spirit of Cricket award went to New Zealand for upholding the spirit of the game. The ceremony also announced the teams of the year, which included only one Pakistani player (Umar Gul), and also overlooked some international names like Graeme Smith and Daniel Vettori.

- World Test Team of the Year: Gautam Gambhir (India), Andrew Strauss (England), AB de Villiers (South Africa), Sachin Tendulkar (India), Thilan Samaraweera (Sri Lanka), Michael Clarke (Australia), MS Dhoni (India, captain & wicketkeeper), Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh), Mitchell Johnson (Australia), Stuart Broad (England), Dale Steyn (South Africa), Harbhajan Singh (India, 12th man)
- World ODI Team of the Year: Virender Sehwag (India), Chris Gayle (West Indies), Kevin Pietersen (England), Tillakaratne Dilshan (Sri Lanka), Yuvraj Singh (India), Martin Guptill (New Zealand), MS Dhoni (India, captain, WK), Andrew Flintoff (England), Nuwan Kulasekara (Sri Lanka), Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka), Umar Gul (Pakistan), 12th man: Thilan Thushara (Sri Lanka)

All in all, (and not to take anything away from the players who won, because they certainly did put on some splendid performances), the awards could benefit from a better selection process. And while one can even argue that the whole premise of choosing one player over all the others is in itself flawed, if they insist on having such ceremonies, coming up with a system that recognises the performances of players in all the leading cricketing countries, and is more reflective of the ICC rankings, might help add more credibility to this event.

*****

Voting process
The nominees (a long list of around 14 players in each category) were decided by a panel including Bob Taylor (England), Anil Kumble (India), Mudassar Nazar (Pakistan) and Stephen Fleming (New Zealand), and chaired by former West Indian captain Clive Lloyd.
- A panel of 25 members – 11 eminent former players, 11 media representatives, along with Clive Lloyd, Alan Hurst and Billy Bowden – voted for their top three choices in each category. Those votes were tabulated to reveal the shortlist; the winners were not revealed until the award ceremony.
- The performance period taken into account was August 13, 2008 to August 24, 2009.
(The nomination and selection process has been criticised by voting panel member Neil Manthorp as flawed due to being "too hard to do the research and to put in the required time to make considered and balanced judgements". "By putting 12 or 14 names forward," he wrote, "they are simply obfuscating the issue and making it nigh on impossible to give equal and fair consideration to all the nominees.")

*****

Hall of Fame
Launched earlier this year as part of the ICC's centenary celebrations, the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame recognises the "achievements of the legends of the game from cricket's long and illustrious history". Initially 55 players – including Pakistan's Javed Miandad, Hanif Mohammad, and Imran Khan – were induced, with more to be added each year during the ICC Awards ceremony. The cricketers inducted during this year's ceremony are:
- Steve Waugh (Australia)
- Clarrie Grimmett (Australia)
- Victor Trumper (Australia)
- Wasim Akram (Pakistan)
- Herbert Sutcliffe (England)

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 9th October, 2009

Friday, September 04, 2009

A Mystery on the World Stage?

cover story

Have you ever wondered how people in other countries perceive Pakistan? If you were to ask them what came to their mind when our country was mentioned, what would they say? Well, as curious as we are, that's exactly what we did! And here are their answers:

Anansa, Trinidad and Tobago
- The first thing that comes to mind when I hear Pakistan is cricket. :) However, on a serious note, Pakistan brings thoughts of culture, tradition, religion (Islam) and strength of a people.
- The overall image I have of Pakistan is a strongly Islamic State with respect for religion and traditions. The history of Pakistan of being part of India once and then separated, sad but true, also captures my image of Pakistan. Of course friendly, yet strict with traditions.
- What people in my country generally think about Pakistan: At times you hear mixed contributions from citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. Some think fundamentalist Muslims (terrorists) are bred in this country and many Islamic States resulting in wars, unrest, etc. Most think amidst all the negatives there are loving, God-fearing, law-abiding and peaceful citizens of Pakistan. But generally, all countries have their issues and negativities, but it is how they are being dealt with that makes the difference and how each human being can make the difference. I must add that the media has its part to play in portraying a country and at times that is what we depend on, but at times it may not be accurate. I guess it is left up to an individual to research and get the facts!

Anya, 19, Ireland
- The first thing that comes to mind when I hear Pakistan: I get this image of a busy bazaar, with people wearing headscarves, lots of things for sale, a lot of oriental pastries/sweets, those Persian carpets and donkeys.
- The overall image I have of Pakistan: Fascinating country with interesting customs. I think it's not a rich country, so there's a lot of poverty there. Also, I think it would be dangerous to visit, in particular for a foreigner, because they would stand out. To be honest, my image of Pakistan is influenced by the movie A Mighty Heart (it's incredible, by the way).
- What people in my country generally think about Pakistan: Over here people's opinion of Pakistan is very much influenced by what's on the news: terrorism, India. Generally though, people don't know much about it.

Brian, Computer Programmer, England
- The overall image I have: I can vaguely remember Pakistan not being too bad at hockey; it was around the same time the UK got a medal or two in that area. There are quite a lot of people who originally came from Pakistan in Britain, and there are quite a lot of Pakistani areas in England. Culturally, I guess, most people think of them with reference to those people who have immigrated to the UK. So for example, Foleshill which is a heavily Pakistani area in Coventry, has plenty of specialist meat shops, sari shops, and quite a few temples, and those that I work with are a lot more family orientated than most of the Brits are. Often have big weddings with lots of people turning up.
- What people in my country generally think: I can't speak for everyone, since Coventry is a very multicultural city, but when I hear Pakistani, I think cricket! I think you'll find in the UK, Pakistan -- cricket is quite a common view! Most of the terrorists we hear of are actually British, but of Pakistani heritage, second or third generation, and they are certainly a minority. It's the kids and grandkids of the original immigrants that seem to cause most of the problems. In any grouping you always get some bad eggs; it's just a shame that America spent the last eight years being "lead" by one!

Seher, 23, Library Assistant, Holland
- The first thing that comes to mind: I think of different people, different religions (Muslim, Hindus), and the caste system.
- The overall image I have: I don't have a real image of Pakistan; I haven't been there. I do love the Pakistani people that are here.
- What people in my country generally think: No idea what people here generally think of Pakistan. I know they think it's awful what has been happening there; they hope the bombing everywhere stops.

Anny, 33, Marketing Assistant, Australia
- The first thing that comes to mind: I thought they were cricket obsessive.
- The overall image I have: Close ties to India, probably Hindu.
- What people in my country generally think: Cricket fans probably think they're a rubbish team? Not sure. I'm not a cricket fan. Political fans probably think that [Pervez] Musharraf is a dictator and it's great he's out. I think that they might see [Benazir] Bhutto's assassination as a tragedy, and everybody else -- well I don't think they really think about it at all. I think it just doesn't register.

Charlotte, 24, RE Teacher, England
- The first thing that comes to mind: I think about my friend Shaheen, the town Bradford (when my mum grew up -- it had the nickname of Bradistan), the colour green, curry, Islam, war.
- The overall image I have: I think it's probably okay, bit too hot for me, nice scenery, troubled, I honestly know very little about the place, but it looked nice on the photos my friend had.
- What people in my country generally think: Depends who you talk to -- most people I know are white, middleclass, and tend to be a little more open-minded. Other people I know don't like the place and can be very racist in conversation -- even my friend whose families come from places close to Pakistan.

Saar, 22, Student, Belgium
- The first thing that comes to mind: I've seen a programme about it the other day, how Belgians find love outside their country, and it was about Pakistan. What comes to mind first are the differences between the country and the city life. Cities are more developed and modern. Also the trucks that are beautifully decorated with lamps, colours...
- The overall image I have: A country that is diverse, colourful clothes and people, and with many differences in living standards.
- What people in my country generally think: It's an unknown country here, I think. People see it as the country next to Afghanistan and India, with large poverty. It is exotic, but not really a holiday country or something.

Simran, 17, Student, Singapore
- The first thing that comes to mind: The country that is, like, 'fighting' with India.
- The overall image I have: Nothing much? I don't know anything about Pakistan at all.
- What people in my country generally think: Their thoughts aren't too nice?

Nadia, 21, Student, Holland
- The first thing that comes to mind: The political problems within the country, as well as the nuclear bombs-conflict that Pakistan has with India.
- The overall image I have: Not so positive, but also not completely negative. I know the country has some problems and I know their national politics are in a mess but I don't think the situation is hopeless.
- What people in my country generally think: I don't know what they generally think of, as I only remember talking about Pakistan once or twice during International Relations classes, where students thought the whole India-Pakistan problem was quite dangerous. I understand that viewpoint, but I can also understand the situation there. In addition, I think it's interesting to see what the news reports, as good things generally are not reported and thus people only hear about the bad stuff that happens in the country.

Dennis, 63, Headmaster, Australia
- The first thing that comes to mind: Good cricketers and hidden terrorists (because terrorists from other countries are getting support in Northern Pakistan).
- The overall image I have: A strong nation with a bullying neighbour.
- What people in my country generally think: In Australia, they would be seen as having a sporting strength. The terrorism angle is far less obvious. The government needs to do more.

Margaret, 61, retired Chartered Accountant, Australia
- The first thing that comes to mind: Muslims and India. Support for terrorists.
- The overall image I have: Fighting and civil unrest.
- What people in my country generally think: It's hard to know. Probably cricketers. Good at sport if the political unrest will allow them. Terrorism is so much everywhere that we become inured to it, like white noise that you hear all the time, and so you end up not hearing. You hear what you look for and we look to hear how we're going in the sport. In Australia, many Indians seem tight (don't like to spend money), but Pakistanis don't seem so tight.

Martin, 55, England
- The first thing that comes to mind: Failed state.
- The overall image I have: Northern section (Kashmir) controlled by terrorists.
- What people in my country generally think about Pakistan: [A lot of] immigration in the 1960s [from Pakistan to England].

Casey, 34, Homemaker, USA
- The first thing that comes to mind: unrest.
- The overall image of Pakistan I am getting is that they care about terrorism. They are one of few, if not the only country that took a direct hard stand and said they would not tolerate being invaded. I hope to see more rights for the people there.
- What people in my country generally think about Pakistan: I think people in my country insult Pakistanis, and it seems to be done as racial insults or slurs. I'd like to say it's a minority though. I think in general people in the US are leery of Pakistan. We have a difficult time understanding the culture, maybe.

Rasah, United Kingdom
- The first thing that comes to mind: The country next to India, where my mum was born (while it was still India; she was born on a British army base there).
- The overall image I have: That they're a bit more aggressive than India, presumably because of the stuff they've had to deal with over the years. I suppose I think of them mainly as the country that's similar to India but which I know a lot less about. Also, my nan was from Burma and so had a big problem with people from Pakistan (not 100 per cent sure why); she was usually polite but she said quite a lot of negative stuff. I guess the point here is that I really don't know much about them at all, apart from what I see on the news!
- What people in my country generally think: Difficult one to answer... I think the overall impression is that we seem to have a lot of medical professionals from both India and Pakistan (my doctor is Indian and I'm pretty sure one of his partners in the practice is Pakistani). When I was growing up, the attitude was very much that people from Pakistan were moving over here and taking over all the small shops, they were referred to as [ethnic slur] and weren't treated particularly well; but I really believe that's got a lot better over the years. All of that is about the Pakistani people rather than the country though. I guess most people probably think of Pakistan as 'the country that used to be part of India' -- it's awful but I really don't know anything about them! (I just asked a couple of the girls on my team and they both said "don't really think anything, don't really know anything about them"). It would seem they're a bit of a mystery on the world stage!

Billy, Scotland
- The overall image I have: I feel like I am racist, not at the people but at how they have treated us by what they have done. Our society has welcomed them with open arms, saying 'welcome to our country'. I remember reading an article about a family who immigrated over here with no money but a big family so the council gave them a 1.6mil house and the council pays their bills from the taxman's money. Meanwhile, we have to live in rundown houses and are forced to pay or be evicted.

Fefi, 42, Shift Supervisor, Uruguay/Spain
- The first thing that comes to mind: I always associated the skylines of its cities with a clear sky, a lot of people in the streets, long clothes, and very united families.
- The overall image I have: I'm from Uruguay, and I didn't hear so much about the country, except as a child when we studied it at school, and glimpses about its political situation in newspapers. I met Pakistani people in person for the first time when I came to live in Spain, almost three years ago, and that's where the things I really know about this country come from. I verified what I knew about Pakistan with a lot of co-workers in Barcelona, where there are a lot of men taking jobs; they stay here, to raise money or support their families, and visit their wives and children almost every year. It's a great sacrifice. I remember very well a lot of men showing me, with pride, pictures of their wives and children on their cell phones. Many of these women come at last to live with their husbands in Europe, and you can recognise them on the street for their hijabs. You can see here that men keep their religious traditions too, praying several times per day, and avoiding some kind of food. Speaking of food, I see that they love cooking with a lot of curry and spices, and they definitely adore pepper! Men are very careful with the money, and keep as much as they can. I consider them very respectful of others and of their own traditions and religion, and good co-workers, good people to chat with.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 4th September, 2009

Friday, July 03, 2009

Rest In Peace, Michael

cover story

The king is dead. Long live the king!

"Music has been my outlet, my gift to all of the lovers in this world. Through it, my music, I know I will live forever." - Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)

The speculation started with a web alert that said he had gone into cardiac arrest. Within an hour, it was all over the news. And then the worst was eventually confirmed by the (uncharacteristically cautious) major media outlets around the world: The King of Pop was dead. Michael Jackson was gone.


The Musician

'Everyone's taking control of me / Seems that the world's got a role for me'

If there was even a whiff of English music around you as a child, Michael Jackson must've been one of the first musicians you would have heard of. And for anyone who had even a cursory interest in music at any time during the last four decades, Michael's songs must've been hard to miss.

When the world first met him as the front-kid of The Jackson 5, there was little doubt that they were looking at one of the most talented child stars ever. For more than a decade, the singer released a host of successful albums both with his band and as a solo artist. Then in 1982, he released Thriller. The album went on to sell more than 109 million copies, becoming the best-selling album of all time, and redefining the music industry in the process.

With his distinctive voice and style, Michael was an unstoppable force at the peak of his career, selling millions of copies of each of his albums and dominating charts around the world. His success continued with Bad (1987), and then into the '90s with the release of Dangerous in 1991, but then his personal turmoil began to overshadow his work. He released two more studio albums – HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 (1995) and Invincible (2001) – but despite their success, the albums did not perform as well as expected. At the time of his death, Michael was only days away from embarking on a sold-out "final curtain call" tour. When the 50-concert This Is It tour had been announced earlier this year, many had expressed their doubts and thought it was never going to happen. No one had any idea, however, that the reason for its cancellation would be so heartbreaking, and would mark the end of not only the career but also the life of the world's most successful recording artist.


The Person

'I'm tired of bein' the victim of shame / They're throwin' me in a class with a bad name / I can't believe this is the land from which I came'

Before he was the most popular musician in the world, Michael Jackson was a "sad and lonely" child. He claimed that during his childhood, he was "physically and emotionally" abused by his father, and constantly drilled to perfect his performance. As he grew up, it was his peculiarities that became tabloid fodder. Surgeries, change of skin colour, the facemasks, the Neverland ranch. And then the charges, the trials, and the eventual acquittals. At times his life was so bizarre that we almost forgot what an amazing performer he was.

He married twice – first to Elvis Presley's daughter Lisa Marie Presley in 1994 (ended in divorce less than two years later), and then to dermatologist nurse Deborah Jeanne Rowe in 1996 (divorced in 1999) with whom he has two children: son Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., and daughter Paris Michael Katherine Jackson. His third child, Prince "Blanket" Michael Jackson II was born in 2002, but the identity of the mother has never been revealed. As those close to him have often noted, his children were everything to him.

Over his life, Michael raised and donated millions of dollars for various causes and supported a number of charities. In his later years, he became increasingly reclusive and reluctant to appear in public. And his legal troubles coupled with his lavish lifestyle were also taking a financial toll. At one stage, Michael was one of the wealthiest entertainers in the world, with a fortune of over $750 million. Yet, according to some estimates, he died nearly half a billion dollars in debt.

While some judged him because he was unusual, many still think that he was just someone who never had a childhood, and, as a result, rebelled against being an adult. But despite the fact that he suffered as a result of spending his entire life in the spotlight, he had no regrets with respect to his career: "I've been in the entertainment industry since I was six old," he told AP in 2007. "As Charles Dickens says, 'It's been the best of times, the worst of times.' But I would not change my career." After his death, Lisa Marie revealed that the singer had once told her he was afraid he would end up like her father. "The world is in shock," she wrote on her blog, "but somehow he knew exactly how his fate would be played out some day more than anyone else knew, and he was right."


The Icon

'Well they say the sky's the limit / And to me that's really true / But my friend you have seen nothin' / Just wait 'til I get through'

For nearly four decades, Michael Jackson had an unprecedented impact on the music industry. He was the first international superstar – his music transcended both race and borders. Classics like Thriller, Beat It, Bad, and Black or White set the tone for pop music. He became one of the best selling artists of all time as his music magnetised tens of millions of fans around the world. He inspired countless musicians, and transformed the industry through his music, style, performances, and showmanship. And the moonwalk…who can ever forget the moonwalk!

And then, of course, there were his music videos. Michael revolutionised the concept of music videos, merging dance routines with special effects, and turning videos into an art form. Many grew up dancing to his music, trying to mimic the dance moves of Thriller and Beat It; more than 25 years after its release, Thriller remains the most successful (and most awesome) music video to-date. His videos propelled him into becoming "the first African-American entertainer to amass a strong crossover following on MTV", and he became well known for his brilliant high-budgeted "short films". Thriller was the most expensive video of its time, as were Bad and Scream – the latter, a duet with sister Janet, still holds the record for the most expensive video ever made. From the energy he put into his performances to the effort he put into his music and videos, Michael was in a class of his own. Safe to say that there never was and will never be an entertainer quite like him.


The Legacy

'Every day create your history / Every path you take you're leaving your legacy'

As the world came to grips with the reality of his demise, the very magnitude of Michael's fame started becoming apparent. As fans heard about his death, texting soared all over the world, seeing a record spike in some regions, people all over the world tried to search online for news on the pop legend and even Google News struggled to cope with the massive web-traffic; a number of sites even became unavailable at times. Sales of his albums immediately skyrocketed – the top ten charts almost looked like the MJ discography – and the video of his songs on YouTube saw millions of hits within a day. AOL called it a "seminal moment in Internet history"; "we've never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth," they added. If any evidence was needed of his "most popular artist in the world" status, then the reaction to his death must've been proof enough.

Whatever the controversies around him, no one can deny that Michael Jackson had an influence across the music spectrum all over the world. From those who witnessed little Michael performing ABC with the Jackson 5, to the starry-eyed kids who discovered pop music by way of Dangerous, Michael provided the soundtrack to many childhoods and saw his music become interwoven with the lives of his fans. Any mention of MJ invariably brings back memories of the era when he reigned supreme; yet his music is in no way dated, and remains as popular today as it was when it was released. And now that he's gone, one can only hope that he will be remembered as a gifted artist, and that his awesome music, not his peculiarities, will become his legacy. We will miss his talent. And we hope that he can now find the peace that eluded him in life.


Michael Joseph Jackson
  • Born on August 29, 1958.
  • Son of Joseph Walter Jackson and Katherine Esther.
  • The seventh of nine children. His siblings are Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Janet.
  • Joined his brothers Jackie, Tito and Jermaine's band, the Jackson Brothers, in 1964, along with Marlon.
  • At the age of eight, he became the lead vocalist of The Jackson 5.
  • The band's first four singles – I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, and I'll Be There – topped the charts in the US; other hits included Dancing Machine and I Am Love.
  • Released10 solo albums: Got to Be There (1972), Ben (1972), Music and Me (1973), Forever, Michael (1975), Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), HIStory (1995), Invincible (2001). His albums have sold over 750 million units worldwide.
  • The Bad World Tour (1987–1989), Dangerous World Tour (1992-1993), and HIStory World Tour (1996-1997) were each the highest grossing tours ever at the time; the HIStory tour is still the biggest tour ever in terms of international attendance.
  • His music and videos set numerous records. To name a few: Thriller remains the best selling album of all time; the video of Black or White, released in 1991, was aired simultaneously in 27 countries with an estimated audience of 500 million, the largest audience ever to view a music video; the video of Scream, his duet with sister Janet released in 1995, holds the record for the most expensive music video and reportedly cost over seven million U.S. dollars.
  • Won around 200 awards – more than any other artist in the history of music – including 19 Grammy Awards, 22 American Music Awards, and 12 World Music Awards. Was named the Artist Of The Century at the 2002 American Music Awards.
  • Purchased the rights to a music catalogue holding thousands of songs, including most of the songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney between 1963-1973, for $47.5 million.
  • Was diagnosed with vitiligo and lupus in the mid 1980s.
  • Was accused of child sexual abuse in 1993 and 2003; the first case was settled out of court, the second resulted in an acquittal on all counts; as a result of the allegations, his health declined, and he suffered from stress-related illnesses and drug dependency.
  • Was married twice: to Lisa Marie Presley from 1994 to 1996, and to Debbie Rowe from 1996 to 1999.
  • Leaves behind three children: 12-year-old Michael Joseph Jackson, 11-year-old Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, and seven-year-old Prince Michael Jackson II.
  • Was close friends with other former child stars, including Elizabeth Taylor and Macaulay Culkin.
  • Mentioned in the 2000 Guinness World Records for his support of 39 charities, more than any other entertainer or personality.
  • Passed away on the 25th of June 2009. Was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after a 911 call from his home after he suffered from cardiac arrest; was pronounced dead at around 2.26 p.m. local time.

– By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 3rd July, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

More Than A Thousand Words

cover story

A look at some of the world's most famous and iconic photographs

Let There Be Photography
View from the Window at Le Gras (1826)
Photographer: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor of photography, took what is believed to be the first successful permanent photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras, in 1826. The photo was captured using a camera obscura and shows the view from his workroom window on the upper storey of his country house in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France. The picture is currently on display in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nessie?
The 'Surgeon's Photograph' (1934)
Photographer: Robert Wilson? Marmaduke Wetherell?
In 1934, British surgeon Robert Wilson supposedly took a picture that appeared to show a sea serpent believed to live in Loch Ness in Scotland. The picture inspired a lot of interest in the Loch Ness Monster, making it one of the best-known mysteries in the world. In 1994, however, before his death at the age of 90, Christian Spurling, son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell (an employee of Daily Mail, who had been ridiculed in the newspaper), confessed that the picture wasn't of Nessie after all -- it was a staged photograph of a toy submarine with a head and neck made of plastic wood that he claimed he built to help Wetherell get back at the Daily Mail by asking Robert Wilson to offer the pictures to the newspaper. But despite Christian's confession, many still believe that Nessie did/does in fact actually exist. According to some, the picture may be a hoax, but that doesn't mean that the legend isn't true!

The Demise Of The Zeppelin
The Hindenburg Disaster (1937)
LZ 129 Hindenburg, a German commercial airship, started what would become its final voyage on May 3, 1937, on its way from Frankfurt to New Jersey. The Zeppelin was carrying only 36 passengers (half of its capacity of 72) along with 61 crewmembers; the cost of a one-way ticket had been US$400 (which would be equivalent to more than US$5,000 now). Three days later, at 7:25 p.m., when the aircraft was attempting to land, a fire broke out, engulfing the entire airship within 34 seconds; the exact cause of the fire remains unknown. The many journalists and photographers who were there awaiting the Zeppelin's first transatlantic passenger flight of the year, instead ended up capturing images of the destruction of the aircraft and the disaster that claimed 36 (13 passengers, 22 crew, 1 ground crew) lives.

The Ones That Shouldn't Have Been
Atomic Bombings, World War II (1945)
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. August 6 and 9, 1945. Little Boy and Fat Man. 140,000 + 80,000 casualties. And two images that captured the magnitude of the disaster that befell the cities, a cautious reminder of why this must never happen again.
Other famous WWII pictures include:
- Iwo Jima: The picture of American Soldiers raising their flag during the second flag-raising event of the day at Iwo Jima; taken on February 23rd 1945, by Joe Rosenthal
- The Dancing Man: A man, believed to be retired barrister Frank McAlary, dancing on the street in Sydney, Australia, on August 15, 1945, marking the end of World War II and symbolising victory in the war.

Nutty Professor?
Albert Einstein (1951)
Photographer: Arthur Sasse
Albert Einstein, considered to be one of the greatest minds of all time, is remembered just as much for his personality as his intellect. On March 14, 1951, his 72nd birthday, the German-born physicist was returning from an event that had taken place in his honour, and was being hounded by reporters. Tired of being asked to pose for pictures, Einstein, sitting on the backseat of a car, stuck out his tongue instead; the image was immortalised by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse, and became one of Einstein's most well recognised photos.

The Counterculture Icon
Guerrillero Heroico (1960)
Photographer: Alberto Korda
Argentine's revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who played a pivotal role in the Cuban guerrilla war, is considered one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. Seven years before his death, he was photographed by Alberto Korda at a memorial service in Havana in March 1960, when he (Che) stepped onto the podium and came into view for a few seconds during Fidel Castro's speech. The photograph gained worldwide recognition after Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli used it on posters after Che's execution in Bolivia in 1967, and is now believed to be the world's most famous photograph. It was also the basis of Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick's iconic stylised posters.

Guns & Roses
Flower Power (1967)
Photographer: Bernie Boston
Taken during the October 22 1967 anti-war 'march on the Pentagon', the photograph by Washington Star photographer Bernie Boston shows a Vietnam War protester putting flowers in the barrels of rifles held by National Guard troops. The man was later identified as 18-year-old George Harris from New York, who was on his way to San Francisco. The photograph is considered an emblem of the era and how some people felt towards the war.

Third Rock From The Sun
Earthrise (1968)
Photographer: William Anders
During the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, the first time humans were put into lunar orbit, astronauts Frank Borman and Bill Anders were stunned by the view of Earth, and despite the fact that photographing Earth wasn't on the mission schedule (they weren't supposed to photograph anything except "high resolution images of the lunar surface"), they took the pictures that came to be known as 'Earthrise' and have since led to reflection on our place in the universe. Borman took the earlier black-and-white frame, while the more popular colour photograph was taken by Anders.

One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Photography
Apollo 11 Moon Landing (1969)
The lunar landing of Apollo on July 20, 1969 marked the first time humans landed on the moon, and the photographs of the astronauts on the moon have become some of the most well known images ever, not only because of the significance of the event, but also because many people don't believe it actually happened! But despite the conspiracy theories regarding the supposed hoax, the pictures are among the most iconic images of the last century. Possibly the best known of these photographs are:
- Buzz Aldrin on the Moon: The photography of Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin taken by mission commander Neil Armstrong, who can also be seen through the visor's reflection.
- The bootprint: The image of Buzz Aldrin's bootprint on the moon, one of the first steps humans took on the lunar surface; a representation of mankind's venture into space.

The Haunting Eyes
The Afghan Girl (1984)
Photographer: Steve McCurry
During the Soviet-Afghan war in 1984, displaced Afghans sought shelter in refugee camps in Pakistan. Among them was an orphaned girl, around 13 years of age, who was photographed by National Geographic's Steve McCurry at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp and ended up becoming one of the world's most recognized faces. Her picture, which first appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic Magazine, came to symbolize the plight of refugees worldwide. The identity of the girl with the haunting green eyes remained a mystery for nearly two decades in which the photographer made many attempts to find her during subsequent trips to the region; then in 2002 a National Geographic team finally managed to locate her and photographed her for the second time. Sharbat Gula, by then in her 30s, was living with her husband and three daughters in Afghanistan; she had moved back in the early '90s. She had never seen her photograph, had no idea how famous it had become, and according to McCurry, she "travelled 10 hours from her village in Afghanistan to meet us in Peshawar" and "was never photographed before or since the two times I photographed her".

Man versus Machine
Tank Man (1989)
Photographer: Jeff Widener
Following weeks of protests in China calling for political reform, and government crackdown that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the Tiananmen Square became the site of a showdown between protesters and soldiers. A photograph by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener (who was injured and had the flu at the time, and took the picture from the Beijing Hotel) has immortalized the suppression and come to symbolise protests against oppression. On June 5, 1989, an unknown man stepped right in front of a column of tanks, halting their progress. Video footage shows that the lead tank attempted to drive around the man, but couldn't; the man, at one point, climbed onto the tank and said something to a tank crewmember. The man would later resume his standoff with the tank and was eventually led off by two people as the tanks continued on their way. No one knows what happened to the "unknown rebel" – some believe he was taken away by police and executed; others think he might still be alive and living in hiding.

Hope, Change, and Progress
Barack Obama (2006)
Photographer: Mannie Garcia
This might've been just another photograph of Barack Obama had it not been for the power of the digital age. Hoping to design a poster in support of Barack Obama, artist Shepard Fairey found a photograph of Obama using Google Image Search and spent a day on the artwork. The image, quickly spreading through social media, soon gained an iconic status. But Fairey had based the poster on a 2006 photograph of Obama (the then Democratic Senator from Illinois) taken by freelance photographer Mannie Garcia on assignment for the Associated Press, and used the picture without permission. Now, Fairey contends that he did not infringe any copyright as his use of the photo was protected by the fair use doctrine; photographer Mannie Garcia says that, according to his AP contract, he retains the copyright to the photo; and the Associated Press asserts that "the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission". The copyright craziness has led to much debate, and has added a whole different aspect to the image.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 26th June, 2009