Bruno Mars+Pharrell Williams

Live, via satellite, or pounding through your earbuds, Bruno Mars is unarguably the hardest working man in show business right now – a twenty-something with a 1950s-tinged stage presence and 1980s pop-compounding hits. The impish, dimpled star is joined for this two-night stand by Pharrell Williams, an A-List producer enjoying an unlikely comeback as a kind of R&B classicist. In tandem, the pair’s unique versions of bouncy, saccharine uplift will either buoy your spirits or rot out your molars, depending on your disposition.

Mon., July 14, 7:30 p.m.; Tue., July 15, 7:30 p.m., 2014



The colorful work by New York artist KAWS can easily be described as bigger than life. His mammoth sculptures and large graphic paintings usually play off iconic cartoon characters, such as the Simpsons and Mickey Mouse (he briefly worked at Disney as a freelance animator), but always with his signature touch of large X’s over the eyes. His musical collaborations include designing Kanye West’s 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak, and projects with Pharrell Williams; most recently, the Jersey-born creator reinvented MTV’s Moonman statuette. Now you can catch up on his new works at two solo shows, both opening today: Pass the Blame at Galerie Perrotin and Kaws at Mary Boone Gallery (541 West 24th Street, 212-752-2929)

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. Starts: Nov. 2. Continues through Dec. 21, 2013


Scissor Sisters+Rye Rye

New York’s glitter-balliest glamazons recruited plenty of top-shelf help for their new Magic Hour, which includes contributions by John Legend, Pharrell Williams, and Calvin Harris, who produced lead single “Only the Horses” like it was a sequel to his smash Rihanna collab “We Found Love.” Still, this is definitely a Scissor Sisters record: Where else are you likely to hear somebody rhyme “vote for Obama” with “just like Benihana”? With Baltimore electro-rap charmer Rye Rye.

Fri., July 6, 9 p.m.; Sat., July 7, 9 p.m., 2012



It’s understandable that Pharrell and friends space out their own dance/pop/rock artistic urges around their heavy production schedule (not to mention their label battles). But they came back strong in ’08, playing big festivals and proving to be a strong opener for Kanye. They’re now plotting their fourth album and you can figure that it’ll be good for at least a few fun singles, not to mention a bumpin’ live show to go along with it.

Wed., April 28, 8 p.m., 2010


Death to Cupcakes

For a long time, I thought cupcakes would eventually go away. Like the Atkins diet and elaborately molded stacks of tuna tartare, the precious little nubbins would hop off into the sunset, and we’d all move on to the Next! Big! Thing! Cupcakes went through the traditional stages of a relationship with the food media—first, they were cute; then they were eye-rollingly common; now, they’re done. Except they’re not. Although there’s already a cupcake bakery on practically every block, more businesses keep opening (most recently, a cupcake truck).

And cupcake fanatics—an entirely different breed from casual enjoyers—continue in their over-sugared ways. In April, Grub Street, New York magazine’s food blog, ran a post in which Nancy Olson, Gramercy Tavern’s pastry chef, rated cupcakes from 15 of the city’s bakeries. Within hours, the post had attracted nearly 70 comments, many of them so full of vitriol that they might as well have come from a bunch of PETA folks frothing at the mouth over foie gras.

A commenter calling herself Lady Bouvier was the first to pile on: “I registered just so I could say this b—- is delusional,” she wrote, not sounding much like an actual Bouvier. “Sugar Sweet Sunshine only 10? Sugar Sweet Sunshine has the best cupcakes in the city by far. Nancy Olson should know this: She doesn’t look like a stranger to the cupcake.”

And it only got more ad hominem from there. One commenter imagined Olson had somehow been plucked from obscurity to helm the pastry program at one of the city’s best restaurants: “You should choose a chef who has some authority in the industry, not just someone who’s been blown up by the Danny Meyer empire. Who was Nancy Olson before she came to Grammercy Tavern [sic]?” (Answer: Olson attended the Culinary Institute of America, was the sous pastry chef at Aureole, and worked at highly regarded spots like Bouley and Dona.) Someone else, writing in all caps, declaimed that the list reeked of “sabotage”; another called Olson “delusional.” Cupcakeconnoisseur wailed, “I am outraged by this article. . . . Clearly, Olson is NOT a cupcake connoisseur. . . . I will clearly never trust New York magazine in telling me what cupcake I should eat.”

So what’s going on here? Even “best of” lists of iconic foods like pizza and hamburgers don’t inspire this level of rage. Perhaps it comes from the fact that no one is mean to women like other women. Cupcakes are marketed to females—the pastel shades of frosting spread on the cake just so, the sugar flowers, the promise of built-in portion control. And there are the inevitable undertones of guilt and naughtiness that follow foods marketed to women. If a slice of cake is gluttonous and guilty, a cupcake is—if not guilt-free—just nearly so. It’s so small! It’s so pretty! Even the Sex and the City girls eat them! Adding to the stereotypically feminine appeal, a cupcake shop often feels like a cross between your mythical Midwestern grandma’s house and Tiffany’s. You’re here to be loved and feel special, the cupcakes arranged like so many petite baubles in the display case. Embarrassingly, I’m not immune to these charms. More than once, I’ve walked into a cupcake bakery and suppressed the urge to say, “Oooooh!” The sight of those swirly, colorful caps of frosting push some unknown button in my brain—and I don’t even particularly like the damn things.

I e-mailed a friend—a prominent Boston-area psychologist—to ask her about the cupcake phenomenon. She did not want to be quoted by name on this important topic, but she did say she thought their appeal had something to do with a “We’re all special” mentality: “As Generation Y works its way into the workplace and marketplace,” she said, “we find more people saying, ‘I want to have my cake—cake that is individualized, reflects the special person that I am, and is packaged for one—and eat it, too.’ ” A cupcake is not for sharing.

But I did want to share some cupcakes—with another friend, a woman I’ll call the Cake Tsar. The Cake Tsar bakes such amazing cakes that my friends and I organize potlucks just on the chance that she’ll bring one. I went out to eight different bakeries, rounded up more cupcakes than people should ever have in their apartment, and invited her over to see if we could find one we really liked. (Calm down, connoisseurs—this is no “Best Cupcakes” list.) The Cake Tsar is not a snob, but she knows what she enjoys. “The quality of the cake in a cupcake is not as good as that in a slice of cake,” she said, and I agreed, having had one too many sawdust-like examples. Her husband noted that he thought a slice of cake was more festive; it implies that a whole cake has been baked, a special occasion. The Cake Tsar said she thought a cupcake was actually more utilitarian than a slice, since it’s eaten on the go. “A cupcake is masturbatory!” said—who else?—my own husband, who argued that a cupcake is inherently onanistic. Duly noted, and moving on.

We sampled a cupcake from each of the bakeries—I had bought a vanilla-vanilla version from each as a control, as well as a more interesting flavor or two. We especially liked Baked’s vanilla treat (pronounced “perfect” by the Cake Tsar) and Sugar Sweet Sunshine’s pistachio number. Tonnie’s Minis’ vanilla offering was passed around for shock value, as it seemed to be infused with a vile, vaguely piña colada flavor. But in the end, sugared up, lying on the floor and drinking vodka tonics, we were neither impressed nor unimpressed. A cupcake is just a cupcake.

Except when it’s a bejeweled cupcake. For a kick (or a downer), Google “diamond cupcake,” and see how many women take their bling in dessert form. In fact, musician Pharrell Williams has just collaborated with artists Takashi Murakami and Jacob the Jeweler to create a golden, diamond-encrusted cupcake. But Williams was keeping it real on Vernissage TV, saying, “For me, the taste of cupcakes is worth far more than diamonds could ever be.” More diamonds for the rest of us.


Lady Gaga

When the world finally ends, the detritus of humanity’s YouTube files, credit card slips, cellular ringback tones, and forgotten MySpace layouts will gather into a swirling, roaring gyre remixed by Pharrell Williams. Lady Gaga will be there, too, having waited out Armageddon in some gilded green room bathroom with Perez Hilton. And she will become our spirit mother in leopard skin, a Juliet in black jeans and a poker face, and she will tell us, “Just Dance.” And we will rise from the ooze and order more Veuve. Wait, has this already happened? With White Tie Affair and Chester French.

Sat., May 2, 7:15 & 11:15 p.m., 2009



On the exceedingly goofy poster for Kanye West’s Glow in the Dark Tour, the artist poses, C-3PO style, against a black background framed in a Star Wars–evoking flourish and fonts. Only Kanye could possibly conceive of his latest tour in support of last year’s Graduation as a battle against interstellar evil, but there he is, nonetheless, with the names of his allies written out below: Rihanna, N.E.R.D, and Lupe Fiasco. Perhaps in no other room in the nation will so much self-hagiography collide: Fiasco, apparently having done what he came to do in his three short years in rap, is already threatening to retire, while N.E.R.D appears to continue for the sole purpose of allowing Pharrell Williams to stage-dive (as well as to issue seemingly straight-faced video casting calls for “fun girls who are free with their bodies”). At MSG, expect some to show up, along with a guest rapper or three.

Tue., May 13, 7:30 p.m., 2008



Convicted sexual batterer and sole actually talented No Limit rapper Mystikal remains at his fiercest on 1997’s
Unpredictable, issued by No Limit/Jive. Hence the corporate provenance of his best-of, easily the most desirable CD to feature the timelessly timely Pharrell Williams collab “Bouncin’ Back (Bumpin’ Me Against the Wall),” which captured how it might feel to shake your a** at the terrorist threat. The master of the hip-pop guttural, however, is obviously still Mr. Big Baby Jesus, whose posthumous best-of supplants the 2001 stopgap
The Dirty Story: The Best of ODB and will stand until the next best-of as the most convenient way to access his charming collabs with Mariah, Kelis, and Lil’ Mo. On the other hand,
Return to the 36 Chambers and N***a Please
are a lot crazier, and with Ol’ Dirty, crazy is of the essence.


Wings of Change

Nowadays, the Neptunes are as famous as most of the rich men they’ve made richer, and even if omnipresent video sidekick Pharrell Williams gets more small-screen time than male enhancement ads, it’s hard to argue he and his reticent partner Chad Hugo don’t deserve rock star status. If we weren’t in a recession and if the rest of the world didn’t hate us, you could say the Neptunes’ moneyed, party-hearty synth-bounce was the soundtrack for a moneyed, party-hearty zeitgeist of sorts, which maybe it still is. As it stands, they’re just the priciest, most recognizable beat aesthetes in the world. And though they can’t quite do whatever they want—hit-making still looms large on their to-do list—how they use their power and smarts will have a decent-sized impact on nothing less than the future of hip-hop.

Fly or Die, the second album from their rock-hop side project N.E.R.D., offers only modest clues about their forthcoming adventures in sound, mostly because Williams and Hugo’s goals seem relatively modest. The Neptunes embody both the great and not-so-great parts of hip-hop’s rampant commerciality—like Timbaland (obviously), they make you wonder what kind of sounds can’t get on the radio, and yet they’re the most conspicuous producers around at a time when platinum rap has made their formula inescapable. This combination of genius and ubiquity made N.E.R.D.’s 2002 debut seem like a chance for Williams and Hugo to embrace their inner rock star and even more extreme shit. Which it was, sort of—In Search Of . . . had all sorts of slick, guitar-based party jams, though the overbearing rap-rock-isms (courtesy of Minneapolis funk band Spymob) took the low-IQ sleaze beyond the realm of deliberate dumbness.

The mellower, more songful Fly or Die says less about Hugo and Williams as big-eared auteurs than as skilled studio men able to integrate bits of Britpop, classic rock, and ’70s soul into their studied flash. This time around, they handle the instruments themselves (Hugo on guitar, Williams on drums, both on synths and miscellaneous) and their rudimentary riffs and occasionally sloppy drumming give off a grimy charm. A lot of it just sounds like Neptunes-plus-guitars. Not a bad thing.

The bouncier stuff almost matches the undeniable presence of the Neptunes’ best productions, with Williams (helped out by underused if not useless third party Shay) setting his gotta-get-laid croon over riff-heavy grooves augmented by piano, random keyboards, shout-along choruses, and group chants. Still, too many tracks fly or die on the strength of Williams’s underdeveloped sensitive side. And, as such, the album harkens back to the work of many headstrong black men wielding guitars and/or a jones for polished, overstuffed compositions, from Curtis Mayfield to Cody Chesnutt. Williams’s voice can’t carry an entire album, and the ability to generate platinum hooks doesn’t equal proficiency at verse-chorus-verse.

Mixed in with dick-centric braggadocio like the rumbling, deftly syncopated “She Wants to Move” are a handful of songs riding a loose concept about troubled adolescence. Considering that Williams and Hugo grew up as savvy kids absorbing everything from Steely Dan to Dolly Parton in racially diverse Virginia Beach, it’s too bad Williams’s lyrics rarely rise above the clichéd hardships of teen-drama flicks: The title cut mentions bad grades, a shrink, a “dumb ass girlfriend,” and whipping someone’s ass; and Good Charlotte teen-drama kings Benji and Joel Madden help out on a light, piano-driven rant.

Fly or Die doesn’t exactly open up amazingly unfamiliar vistas for rock-rap-whatever explorations. But at least the heavy-footed funk in “Thrasher” and the sly, slinky riffage of “Backseat Love” show they’re trying new shit. Money and options: good things to have, whether you’re customizing a Benz or concocting the forward-thinking jams that’ll pour from its stereo.


The Unborn Identity: Even Bars Have to Find Themselves

Replacing what was Bar 16, the Flat—a posh, late-night locale—is trying to find its niche after being open for two months. Proof of this is its ever changing clientele, which ranges from bridge-and-tunnel folks on a Saturday to the occasional hipster during the week. Two V.I.P. areas even found the likes of Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, who threw a private party there recently, along with industry types chilling among the red banquettes, white hanging lamps, and gilded walls with blue swirls. On a regular night, the music is as varied as the crowd, with pop tunes, rock, hip-hop, and then some. A menu of finger foods, including a decadent cheese plate for $10, and surprisingly cheap drinks (a strong vodka gimlet and raspberry Stoli with cranberry both cost $8), make this place a find. Even if it hasn’t figured out who it’s catering to yet, the place has lots of potential.