Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Watch all of the VMA Video of the Year nominees

Originally published on Aug. 27, 2015.

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Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video is up for the VMAs’ top award.

The five nominees for the top prize at this year's MTV Video Music Awards run the gamut, from simple efforts and themes to big-budget blockbusters. Catch up on them before Sunday’s broadcast.

Beyoncé: 7/11

With the help of a selfie stick and some killer dance moves, Beyoncé made the world’s coolest home video.

Ed Sheeran: Thinking Out Loud

The British singer reportedly trained five hours a day during his U.S. tour to prepare for this video, and it shows. Next stop: Dancing With the Stars?

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Kendrick Lamar: Alright

The almost seven-minute long video, filled with striking images that reference the conflict between African-Americans and the police, ends on a surreal note.

Mark Ronson Ft. Bruno Mars: Uptown Funk

Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars don their ‘80s gear and have a whole lot of fun dancing in the streets. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

Slideshow: Worst-Dressed Stars in VMAs History

Taylor Swift Ft. Kendrick Lamar: Bad Blood

If star power alone merits a win, then Swift has this one in the bag. "Bad Blood" broke Vevo’s 24-hour viewing record with 20.1 million views on its first day and boasts a host of famous faces, including Selena Gomez, Karlie Kloss, Lena Dunham, Cindy Crawford, and more.

HONORABLE MENTION

Nicki Minaj: Anaconda

The bootylicious video was arguably the hottest of 2014, setting the Vevo 24-hour viewing record with 19.6 million views before “Bad Blood” broke it, and Minaj didn’t hide her disappointment at being left out of the VMAs' marquee category. With the following tweet she set off a brief Twitter war with Taylor Swift and sparked a debate about race, beauty, and sexuality in the music industry:

Nicki Minaj Tweet Sets Off Twitter Skirmish with Taylor Swift

So was Minaj robbed? You be the judge. (explicit)

See More VMAs Content:

Kanye West to Receive VMA Video Vanguard Award

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—By Pauline Vu

Top 5 moments from Season 20 of ‘DWTS’

Originally published on Sept. 13, 2015.

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Season 20 winner Rumer Willis dances with pro Val Chmerkovskiy.

Dancing With the Stars is back, with an eclectic group of contestants that includes controversial celebrity chef Paula Deen, Steve Irwin’s daughter Bindi, and one of the heroes of the French train attack. Before tuning into the new season on Sept. 14, check out some highlights from Season 20.

5.  Riker Lynch channels Captain Jack Sparrow
During the show’s Disney Week, the R5 singer (and eventual 2nd place finisher) doubled down on the drama of his paso doble by dancing in full pirate costume.


4.  Robert Herjavec kisses partner Kym Johnson
The Shark Tank panelist and dancer Kym Johnson said they were in the moment when they kissed passionately during a routine and denied there was anything more to it. But the duo later confirmed that they were, indeed, dating (and still are).

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3.  Awwwww, Noah and Jamie are in love
Army veteran and motivational speaker Noah Galloway got a huge surprise when his girlfriend, U.S. Army Reservist Jamie Boyd, got out of Basic Training early to come watch him dance live; later Galloway gave her an even bigger surprise: a marriage proposal.


2.  Rumer and Val earn the season’s first perfect score
Rumer Willis and pro dancer Val Chmerkovskiy scored big with a sensual rumba that wowed the judges, the audience, and her cheering mom, Demi Moore. The duo continued to dazzle through the season and ultimately took home the Mirror Ball Trophy.

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1.  Bruno Toniolli totally disses Charlotte McKinney
The judge isn’t know for pulling punches, but the sexist digs he threw at the model/actress (known for a risqué Carl’s Jr. Super Bowl commercial) after a lackluster performance didn’t please the audience or the other judges. McKinney had quite a few things to say the following day about his comments.


Honorable Mentions:
Noah Galloway dances an inspirational freestyle

The double-amputee only expected to last a few weeks in the competition, and instead he made it to the finals. This emotional performance captured his difficult journey — and his resilience.


NFL players do a group paso doble

In the middle of the season the show ran its 10th anniversary special, featuring a host of former contestants and dancers performing. Our personal favorite? This paso doble performed by seven former NFL players and contestants to the tune of the Monday Night Football theme song.


See Related Content:
‘Dancing With the Stars,’ Season 21: Official Cast Portraits

Why Peta Murgatroyd Won't Compete on Season 21 of 'DWTS'

How Double-Amputee Noah Galloway Made It Into the ‘DWTS’ Finals — Against All Odds

—By Pauline Vu

SNL’s 5 best Donald Trump skits

Originally published on Nov. 4, 2015.

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Donald Trump is hosting SNL’s Nov. 7 episode. (AP)

GOP presidential candidate and reality TV star Donald Trump hosts Saturday Night Live this weekend (in spite of the backlash against his hosting). But will it live up to his previous entries on the show, both in person and as played by a cast member? We count down his best SNL moments.

5. Trump and his wife clear up some misconceptions (Oct. 4, 2015)

Taran Killan is the latest SNL comedian to take on The Donald’s trademark squint and pout. Here, he and wife Melania (played in all her European glory by Cecily Strong) explain Trump’s real views on immigrants and women. For example, on his perceived gibe about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly: “He was worried, she’s bleeding everywhere, she should go to hospital!”


4. Ross Perot interviews Trump and Pat Buchanan (Oct. 2, 1999)

Darrell Hammond hadn’t perfected his impersonation yet, but the skit’s still hilarious as conservative icon Pat Buchanan (Chris Parnell) and Trump compete for control of the Reform Party then helmed by Ross Perot (Cheri Oteri). Not only that, but this version of Trump actually defended illegal immigration … sort of.


3. Trump makes a cameo on Days of Our Lives (Oct. 29, 2005)

By this point Hammond had his Trump impression down pat, and his version of the businessman just won’t listen to instructions. Stay to the end of the sketch to see what the soap opera’s producers had to do to make up for Trump’s obstinacy.


2. Trump goes on Live With Regis and Kelly (April 3, 2004)

But no one does Trump better than The Donald himself. He goes on the morning show (with Hammond playing Regis while Amy Poehler plays Kelly) and brags about all the TV shows that got their “highest ratings ever” because he was on. Considering his effect on debate numbers, he’s not wrong. No wonder Regis and Kelly wouldn’t let him leave.


1. Trump plugs cheeseburger pizza (May 7, 2005)

This hilarious fake commercial, based on an actual ad, showed the hyper-confident mogul repeatedly disregarding instructions (such as the correct way to pronounce “Domino’s”). This was just one of several SNL skits in this vein (check out Trump’s promos for the Halloween- and Christmas-themed episodes of The Apprentice).  


Honorable Mention

Trump’s first SNL monologue (April 3, 2004)

In his only other hosting appearance, Trump garnered laughs as he urged his doppelgänger (Hammond) to keep saying his trademark “You’re fired” phrase.


—By Pauline Vu

Top 5 moments on Season 21 of ‘Dancing With the Stars’

Originally published on Nov. 20, 2015.

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The season comes down to four finalists. (Good Morning America)

A champion will be announced at the end of Tuesday night’s Dancing With the Stars finale, but for now the Mirror Ball Trophy is still up for grabs. Will the winner be Australian conservationist Bindi Irwin, American hero Alek Skarlatos, former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, or actor/singer Carlos VegaPena?  

Before tuning into the finale, check out some of this season’s highlights.

5. Tamar Braxton re-creates “Rhythm Nation”
The singer and TV host did a spot-on rendition of Janet Jackson’s iconic music video, right down to the black-and-white filter. Despite her obvious talent, though, Braxton won’t be in the finale — she had to drop out due to blood clots in both her lungs.

4. Alek Skarlatos dances after tragedy
The National Guardsman shot to prominence after helping to take down a shooter on a Paris-bound train, but in the middle of the season, tragedy struck — a mass shooting at his school, Umpqua Community College, left 10 dead. Skarlatos flew home to be with his family and friends, and then returned to the show and performed a paso doble that he dedicated to the grieving Roseburg, Ore., community.

3. Bindi Irwin performs blindfolded
The 17-year-old has routinely wowed the judges, and this flawless Viennese waltz earned her and pro partner Derek Hough a series of perfect 10s.

2. An emotional husband-and-wife elimination
This season featured DWTS’ first-ever married couple, Carlos and Alexa PenaVega. On the Week 9 episode, the duo found themselves in the bottom two, and the tears flowed freely when it was announced that Alexa was eliminated. “I wish it had been me,” Carlos sobbed.

1. Bindi Irwin pays tribute to her dad
Irwin’s father, beloved wildlife expert Steve Irwin, died in 2006 at age 44 of a stingray attack. Here, Bindi discusses his legacy and its impact on her.

Her contemporary dance in her father’s honor had the judges holding back tears.

Honorable Mentions

Nick Carter announces wife’s pregnancy
The former Backstreet Boy announced on the show that his wife Lauren was expecting the couple’s first child, and then performed a moving contemporary dance dedicated to her.

Paula Deen flashes the audience
Well, not really. But her jive got a little frisky.

—By Pauline Vu

Best performances on Season 9 of ‘The Voice’

Originally published on Dec. 11, 2015.

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Jordan Smith is one of the show’s four finalists. (Scripps)

The latest season of NBC’s hit singing competition has come down to the final four: Team Adam’s Jordan Smith, Team Gwen’s Jeffrey Austin, and Emily Ann Roberts and Barrett Baber from Team Blake (Pharell has no singers in the finals). The season has been filled with jaw-dropping performances (along with some behind-the-scenes drama over Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani’s new romance), but here are our picks for the best.

5. Emily Ann Roberts: “In the Garden”
The country chanteuse’s beautiful take on the classic gospel hymn during the show’s first Live Playoff round propelled her into the Top 12.

4. Barrett Baber: “Ghost,” by Halsey
The country singer showed he can also do rock when he opened the Dec. 7 episode with this passionate performance.

3. Madi Davis: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” by Cyndi Lauper
It’s a shame the 16-year-old, Team Pharrell’s last hope, didn’t make the finals. Her unique spin on every song she sings was in full force when she turned Cyndi Lauper’s famous pop song into a haunting ballad about female empowerment.

2. Jeffery Austin: “Make It Rain,” by Ed Sheeren
Unlike the other three finalists, Austin wasn’t a shoo-in for the finals; he had to go up against Madi Davis and Zach Seabaugh to win the show’s final Instant Save. But Austin’s powerful version of Sheeren’s song had America picking him by a big margin.

1. Jordan Smith: “Somebody to Love,” by Queen
From his first performance, Smith proved he was the one to beat, and he got better week after week. His Queen cover in the semifinals not only received more votes than any other Voice contestant ever, it knocked Adele from the top of the iTunes chart (which she’d been leading for five straight weeks).

HONORABLE MENTION

Amy Vachal: “Hotline Bling,” by Drake
Vachal deserves a nod for her breezy take on Drake’s booty call classic.

—By Pauline Vu

Monday, September 24, 2012

The White Tiger: a quintessential India book

The street and residents who live around Asha, the place I volunteered.
I read “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga the other day. This is considered the book about India, the one the guidebooks tell you to read for insight. Of course I didn’t read it before going over, or even while I was there.

Anyway, I wish I’d read it first, because there are also things in the book that would have soothed me on those days when Delhi was driving me mad. This passage had me laughing out loud, and reminded me of the time I got lost looking for a nearby restaurant
More local residents
“The truth is that Delhi is a crazy city. See, the rich people live in big housing colonies like Defence Colony or Greater Kailash or Vasant Kunj, and inside their colonies the houses have numbers and letters, but this numbering and lettering system follows no known system of logic. For instance, in the English alphabet, A is next to B, which everyone knows, even people like me who don’t know English. But in a colony, one house is called A 231, and then the next is F 378. So one time Pinky Madam wanted me to take her to Greater Kailash E 231. I tracked down the houses to E 200, and just when I thought we were almost there, E Block vanished completely. The next house was S something.”


Monday, September 03, 2012

The timing's the thing

I start a great new job tomorrow, and I wouldn't have gotten it if I hadn’t gone to India.

No, really. Here’s my recent life timeline: in November, I was fired from a job I hated. I decided to finally follow through on a long-held dream to go to India. I arrived on New Year’s Eve and loved being there so much, I stayed…and stayed…stayed. Despite my father’s claim that I promised to come home after one month (I recall no such promise), I didn't return to the States until mid-May.

A little over a week later, I got a temporary contract job to help with Olympics coverage at a fun tech company that’s kind of hard to get in with (I’ve applied to them twice before and gotten no response). I had a blast at the job and when it ended, the company—which likes to pull from its contractor pool—offered me a long-term contract position, where I'll be doing something I'm actually interested in (it involves following current events, which I already do hours every day for fun).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What I'll miss most about India

People really like having their picture taken. After you show it to them, they inevitably thank you.
Most of the time on this blog I complain about India—the men are too aggressive, the postal system sucks, I got robbed, etc. It’s easier (and more fun) for me to write about the bad than the good. But now that I’m back in the States, I want to mention all the things I'll miss about this enthralling, vibrant, lively place.

I’ll miss sitting in the open doorway of a train, parking my feet on the steps, and watching the sun set on some of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen.

I’ll miss seeing cricket games in the weirdest of places—narrow alleyways, mountainside trails, a slum’s garbage heap—and the kids who let me play with them (as it turns out, I’m not a bad bowler).

I’ll miss getting afternoon chai in the office, and drinking a cold lemon soda on a stifling hot day.

I’ll miss those random sights that never fail to surprise or delight me: women draped in saris, swinging pickaxes and doing construction work alongside men; the colors that look like a rainbow exploded; the little girls and women in the south, wearing flowers in their beautiful sleek hair.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Backpacker strong

One thing I have to be careful about coming home is gaining weight. When I returned to the U.S. after spending a year in Vietnam in 2006, I quickly gained five pounds thanks to my fierce desire to hit up the dollar menu of every fast food joint within a five-mile radius.

Right now I’m in good shape, even though I don’t work out (I brought a jump rope on my trip and used it twice). I call it backpacker strong. Like how construction workers are fit not because they exercise, but because it’s what they do.

When I was traveling, I’d walk for miles each day. In the steep hill stations of Shimla and Darjeeling, I worked up a sweat just by getting lost.

I’d also stand for hours. Once I couldn’t get a seat on one train’s general seating area and stood for 4.5 hours. Another time I couldn’t get a seat on a bus through the winding hills of Wayanad, and had to hang onto a hand grip for dear life. My arms and shoulders are toned from carrying my heavy backpack from hotel to hotel, in constant search of a good price.

On top of that there are the touristy things you do that make you strong—trekking, whitewater rafting, renting a scooter, etc. I don’t know if I can keep it up now that I’m home. I may have to join a gym.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The kind of traveler I am

As much as I’ve loved my trip, I have to admit that I didn’t really do India the way I should have. I spent two weeks visiting Rajasthan when I first got to India, lived and volunteered in Delhi for ten weeks, and then traveled what seems like the entire country in my final seven weeks. I visited Mumbai, Goa, numerous places in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and then went north to see Kolkata, Darjeeling, Varanasi and Rishikesh. At some point I liked the idea of criss-crossing the entire subcontinent.

I realize now that I just tried to see and do too damn much. I get bored easily and so insisted on doing something almost every day and visiting every damn site that the guidebook says you should see. But it also exhausted me. And when you don’t sit in a hotel or café and linger and read for a few days, you also don’t meet other travelers to see and do the stuff with. I think learning to be independent is important, but the highlights of my trip still involved seeing and doing things with other people. I don’t think I had nearly as much fun as other backpackers.

The other mistake I made was just being too cheap (it feels like blasphemy to say that, but it’s true). I spent $40 on a 30-hour AC train instead of $150 on a two-hour flight. If I was traveling for months, maybe that makes sense, but I had just seven weeks. I think we can agree that I might have lost a bit of perspective there.

If I did it all again—if only there were a time machine!—I’d see less, do less, move less, spend more, and soak it all in better. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My home before going home

After seven weeks of traipsing India—from south India to Darjeeling, Varanasi and Rishikesh—I went back to Delhi (where I lived for ten weeks) to fly out. Literally, I pulled into the city at 11 pm, crashed with a friend, and headed to the airport the next morning.

It felt just a bit like coming home. For seven weeks I’d pulled into a new city, uncertainly pulled out my guidebook, and slowly figured out where to go and how to get there. Sometimes I walked for ages, unsure if I was being cheated. But when I stepped off the train in New Delhi Railway Station, I was all confidence.

To the rickshaw drivers: “How much to Vasant Vihar?”

“Vasant Vihar is very far, ma’am. It is 25 kilometers. 350 rupees.”

“Sir, I lived here, and it is not that far. So how much?”

“300, ma’am. This is night price.”

“That’s still too high. Night price is just 20 percent higher than the meter. Why don’t we use the meter then? Or maybe I’ll take the metro.”

“The metro is closed now.”

“Metro closes at 11 pm, sometimes later. It’s only 10:45 now.”

We settled for 220, although when he asked for more I threw in another 20 rupees.

I’m glad I took the rickshaw. On the way to my friend’s place we passed several of my old haunts—Connaught Place (where I had jeans tailored), Palika Bazaar (where I fixed my camera), Sarojini Nagar (where I bought cheap scarves and clothes), Chanakyapuri (where I played softball), Safdarjung Enclave (where I lived), R.K. Puram (where I volunteered), and even, from far off, the Gateway to India, the first tourist spot I visited.

I loved how familiar it all felt, and was saddened that I didn’t leave at least a few hours to see Delhi one last time.