Sunday, February 28, 2010

Come, Stop Your Crying. It'll Be Alright.

Pop quiz, hot shots: what was the last song from a Disney studio film to win the Oscar for Best Original Song, and when was that?
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Can't think of it? Even if you did, it took a bit, didn't it? That's because you have to go back ten years for the most recent Original Song win for the Disney studio, when, after receiving three previous nominations, 80s pop/rock star Phil Collins won his first Oscar for the song "You'll Be In My Heart" from Tarzan, which was perhaps the final flicker of the Disney animation renaissance that had begun ten years before that, with The Little Mermaid. Between 1990, when the Mermaid song "Under the Sea" calypsoed its way to the podium, and Collins' win in 2000, four more Oscars went to tunes from Disney animated films (and one more went to an animated film from Dreamworks). Composer Alan Menken received four Original Song awards, lyricist Tim Rice won three, and Stephen Schwartz and Howard Ashman won two apiece (although Ashman's second, for "Beauty and the Beast," was awarded posthumously as the gifted theatrical lyricist died of AIDS before the film had been finished).

But though the Pixar film Monsters Inc. picked up a Best Original Song statuette in 2002, the remainder of the decade following Collins' win was a wasteland for animated films in the category over which they had held such a command during the previous decade. Granted, the 2000s weren't exactly a fertile time for animation (save Pixar, whose films are not structured as musicals in the way Disney's were and therefore did not produce the same quantity of original songs), and the rare times Disney was nominated, as in 2008 for Enchanted, multiple nominated songs split votes with the lack of overwhelming support for the films in general that there was for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, all of which won Best Original Song even with multiple nominations. This is likely to happen again this year with Randy Newman's two songs from The Princess and the Frog, despite the fact that the Academy just this year enforced a new rule that no more than two songs from the same film could earn nominations (for the record, actors and actresses are not allowed to compete against themselves in the same category the same year, although they can be nominated once for each).

The future of Disney animation remains to be seen; The Princess and the Frog was a critical favorite and earned over $100 million at the box office, but in this day and age that figure fell short of expectations, though not short enough to doom 2-D animation forever in the face of Avatar. But we can worry about that later; for now, listen and reminisce to Phil Collins' surprisingly tender love song from a mother to an adoptive son.

Welcome to Vertigoshtick.com!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, after two and a half months of bringing dignified pop music coverage to the world wide web, I am thrilled to announce that Vertigo Shtick is now master of its own domain - by which I mean that you are currently reading the first ever entry to be posted on the brand new site, vertigoshtick.com! That's right folks, no more pesky, amateurish declaration of my dependence on the benevolent gods of Google (although until the big site launch planned for this May, when Vertigo Shtick will transform from haphazardly laid-out template-dependent blog to sleek, organized, self-designed and maintained website), or wondering whether to type in the triad of "w"s, or whatnot. Just vertigoshtick.com. Or if you like the "w"s, www.vertigoshtick.com. It doesn't matter. Both will lead you here.


So update your bookmarks, or create a new one if you haven't yet, because I guarantee you will want to return to Vertigo Shtick (dot commmm...haha) again and again for all your pop music needs and curiosities! As always, I thank you sincerely for supporting my blog (even if this is your first visit) as I work at getting everything off the ground and running; and remember that you can help by spreading the word about Vertigo Shtick to your own friends and acquaintances by using one of the "Add This" features or one of the publicizing links below each post. Also, join the brand new Vertigo Shtick Fan Page on Facebook, and follow @Vertigo_Shtick on Twitter to show your support and to see when new updates are added to the site. For any or all of these things I would be profoundly grateful.

Welcome (or welcome back), and enjoy!

And The Winner Was... "Sooner Or Later (I Always Get My Man)"

With the 82nd Academy Awards just a week away, all this week Vertigo Shtick will be looking back on some of the tunes that have waltzed away with Oscars for Best Original Song over the years. I imagine this retrospective will inspire equal parts nostalgia and "that won an OSCAR?!?!?!?!" incredulity. Enjoy!

Let's start off with a personal favorite of mine, written by a man who is also a personal favorite and performed by a star of whom I have a similarly high opinion. You may or may not remember Warren Beatty's 1990 B-movie Dick Tracy (a comic book movie made about ten years too early), but those for whom Madonna's acting career is defined by her Razzie-nominated turns in Swept Away and Die Another Day ought to Netflix it (well, that or A League of Their Own) for proof that the Material Girl is not totally incapable of acting. In Dick Tracy, Madonna does double duty as both supporting actress (playing femme fatale Breathless Mahoney...hey, it's better than Pussy Galore) and as a singer, providing most of the film's soundtrack of songs written by legendary Broadway genius Stephen Sondheim (Madonna's soundtrack album I'm Breathless featured songs from and inspired by the film). There are a number of standouts, naturally, but the one the Academy chose to honor with the 1990 Oscar for Best Original Song was the slinky, sultry (and oh-so-cleverly titled) "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)."


Madonna performed the song at the ceremony on March 25, 1991, and video clips of the performance are still available across the web. It really is an endearing performance to watch, not only because Madonna is surprisingly compelling live, but because the Queen is so obviously nervous as hell: her hands shake nearly the entire number and her voice quivers just slightly as she begins the number. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, longtime showrunner Bruce Vilanch recalled the star collapsing into his arms the second she'd gotten off stage, shaking and relieved to be finished (he also said he was perhaps the last man in the world who could fully appreciate having Madonna collapse in his arms). After you check out the studio recording, take a peek at the video, and see for yourself what fireworks can come of the world's biggest pop star singing a song by the world's greatest theatrical songwriter.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Best Original Song Oscar Nominees

The 82nd Academy Awards go down a week from tomorrow (Sunday, March 7, 8pm/5pm Pacific on ABC). The show-runners recently announced that the historically over-lengthy telecast would this year eschew live performances of the nominees for the Academy Award for Music (Original Song), ostensibly to cut down on running time but most likely due to the lack of Beyoncé-caliber superstars involved in any of the five nominated songs to draw more viewers to this year's Battle of the Exes*. But never fear, Vertigo Shtick is here! And today I present to you each of the five nominated tunes so you can listen and judge for yourself. After all, it is really the only category on which the majority of viewers can usually make their own educated shouts of "WHAT?! What the %#$^&(@ were those %#&$&%$@ers thinking?" or (neither as commonly nor as satisfyingly) "Yep, those good ol' Academy voters sure know what they're doing!"

Which one do you think should take home the Oscar? Listen to them with the playlist below, and share your vote in the poll atop the sidebar to the right!



And the nominees for Best Original Song are:
  • "Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog; music and lyrics by Randy Newman.
  • "Down in New Orleans" from The Princess and the Frog; music and lyrics by Randy Newman.
  • "Loin de Paname" from Paris 36; music by Reinhardt Wagner, lyrics by Frank Thomas.
  • "Take It All" from Nine; music and lyrics by Maury Yeston.
  • "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from Crazy Heart; music and lyrics by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ke$ha's Time Atop Hot 100 Finally Runs Out

After a whopping nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, Ke$ha's debut single "TiK ToK" has finally been unseated after holding off worthy attempts at usurpation by the likes of Lady Gaga, Young Money, Lady Antebellum, and, most notably, the combined efforts of Barbra Streisand, Justin Bieber, Josh Groban, Wyclef Jean and dozens of other musical big shots. Fittingly, the folks ultimately able to displace the lightweight pop juggernaut are none other than the equally unstoppable Black Eyed Peas, who with new number one single "Imma Be" from 2009 album The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies) become the first act  to have three singles from one album since Wilson Phillips' self-titled debut album spawned three number ones in 1990-91.

 It says "be" and there's a bee in it!

The Peas have been no strangers to the Hot 100's apex recently: the first two singles from The E.N.D. spent a record-breaking 26 consecutive weeks atop the chart ("Boom Boom Pow" reigned from April 18 to July 4, then "I Gotta Feeling" took over July 11 through October 10); the album's third single, "Meet Me Halfway," peaked at number 7 in November 2009. "Imma Be" made a brief appearance at number 88 on the July 4 chart (the final week of "Boom Boom Pow's" stint at the top), but although Entertainment Weekly predicted it would be a summer smash, "Imma Be" faded amid the behemoth that was "I Gotta Feeling" and only resurfaced on the Hot 100 on January 2, 2010 at number 93.

What likely would have been its first week atop the Hot 100 was spoiled by the release of "We Are the World 25 For Haiti" during the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic games, after which the charity single shot to the top of the Digital Songs chart, where it remains this week; without radio airplay, however, the group effort failed to knock radio favorite and still strong downloader "TiK ToK" off its pedestal, and "Imma Be" sat patiently in third. With the release of the futuristic mega-music video "Imma Be Rockin' That Body," which paired the fast-rising aspirational club thumper with buoyant dancefloor track "Rock That Body," as yet not released as an official single, the Peas solidified their takeover attempt and handily won the day.

In other chart news, Sade's long-awaited new album Soldier of Love became the first to hold onto the top spot on the Billboard 200 for a second week since the other recent chart monster, Susan Boyle's I Dreamed a Dream, began the second of its six non-consecutive weeks at number one on December 19, 2009. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga's "Telephone" (featuring Beyoncé) inched up one spot to number 14 on the Hot 100 and from nine to eight on the Radio Songs rankings, while bouncing to number 5 on the Pop Songs in advance of the also long-awaited music video (which Gaga has said to be "a real true pop event"), which premieres this weekend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sade Aims at Rihanna's Pedestal

At first listen, Rihanna's strong, haunting post-traumatic dancehall stomper "Hard," from the beleaguered Barbadian pop star's dark new album Rated R, and the title track of Sade's long-awaited new album Soldier of Love, which sold over half a million copies in its first week and topped the Billboard 200 albums chart, seem at most like distant, casual relatives. But when the former chose to set her video amid a hardcore military theme, it became all but inevitable that Sade's eventual video would likely feature similar themes, seeing as unlike with "Hard," the entire point of "Soldier of Love" depends on its militaristic metaphor. Which, therefore, would turn out more compelling, more visually gripping, more imminently watchable...in short, which war-themed music video would win the battle and which would lose?

Anyone want to venture a guess? Anyone?

I found Rihanna's video to be a perfect representation of everything I find at fault with her. Despite a seemingly huge budget, a visual landscape that simply screamed "edgy" (that buzzword so relentlessly bandied about by the star and her handlers in a desperate attempt at marketing the new-but-really-not-new Rihanna), a chorus of hunky backup dancers in full uniform, enough haute coutoure to make Lady Gaga drool, an actual machine gun, a bleak and riveting guest turn by rapper Jeezy, and overall a rather good song, the only weak link is Rihanna herself.

In other words, despite being given every tool in the shed (and some from the shed next door), Rihanna, as I'd predicted she would do with her career before the Chris Brown incident, doesn't show up. I'm not terribly convinced she'd have had anything to bring to the table if she had, but that's only partly the point. She either looks dead in the eyes or hiding behind sunglasses when she's supposed to be looking "hard," or she's flaunting her body like a pinup girl the way she famously did on a recent cover of GQ magazine. That's not to say that flaunting one's assets or even paying lip service (so to speak) to the objectification of women is always a bad move for a female artists - indeed, when done well, it can be either a brilliant gesture that reverses the power hierarchy in women's favor while appearing to do the opposite, or just a good way to sell a lot of albums, get rich and therefore out-money the man. But in the video for "Hard," Rihanna does not sell what she says she's selling. She's not in charge of the men who stand in formation as she bounces up and down their ranks and pretends occasionally to yell orders; instead, she seems more like the slutty girl tagging along with the boys for the ride.

Oh, Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind...

Sade Adu is along for no ride, and there is no question who's in charge in the gorgeous, enthralling video for "Soldier of Love." Over the course of the five-minute video (one YouTube commenter echoed my surprise at discovering the actual run time of the song, which feels more like a marathon than a sprint - and that isn't a criticism) the fifty year old Nigerian-born Brit appears in numerous guises, from sparkling earth tone fatigues to glitter-covered belly-baring equestrian gear, and looks stunning in each one. She is a convincing presence, to be sure, but then Sade has always been convincing; she looks like she's been twirling lassos and teaching men to step since birth (although the steppers leave a bit to be desired, executing the strong choreography with military diligence if not military precision). The rest of the band makes a welcome and somewhat rare appearance, as well, which serves to delight long-time fans without distracting newcomers.

What "Soldier of Love" lacks in production values as compared with "Hard," it more than makes up for in content. The former is almost like a master class on how the latter could have done it right, but failed. In all, the video for "Soldier of Love" does what a music video should: it enhances the song as one watches it, but never overtakes it or becomes important in and of itself. One leaves the video with the same gutted and thrilled feeling one leaves the track.

"Hard" (Rihanna featuring Jeezy): C+
"Soldier of Love" (Sade): A-



"Hard" Rihanna feat. Jeezy


"Soldier of Love" Sade

Ke$ha ft. 3OH!3 - "Blah Blah Blah" (Music Video Review)

Holy new music videos, Batman! Over the past week or so, a sizable crop of America's favorite style of short-form film-making from some of the biggest acts currently working new material has enhanced what for a while now has been a stagnant pool of new music videos. Like the film industry, the early months of the year have a tendency to be all but devoid of exciting new launches (which I believe provides more explanation for the nine weeks and counting Ke$ha's fun but hardly legendary debut single "TiK ToK" has spent atop the Hot 100 singles chart than anything else). So imagine my surprise and delight as I watched a veritable pupu platter of new music videos roll out over the past week...and imagine, if you dare, my further ecstatic shock to discover that a few of them are actually *gasp* good.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Song For the Day: The Cardigans - "Lovefool"

It's been a while since I gave you a Song for the Day here on Vertigo Shtick, so I'm going to get back into what I plan on being a busy week here with a classic offering inspired by one of my student/friends. If you need more justification, think of it as a commemoration of an iconic early Leonardo DiCaprio film as the new Scorcese picture Shutter Island ends its first weekend at the box office. Or perhaps you're just one of the many unfortunate people who so understands the lyrics that so breezily yet devastatingly make up The Cardigans' great song of desperate unrequited love, "Lovefool."

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Trivia: "LoveFool," the biggest mainstream hit by Swedish band The Cardigans, was both a point of great success and a single that was problematic for the group in other ways. It appeared on their third album, First Band on the Moon, which followed their light-hearted, successful sophomore effort Life, and the success of the single after its inclusion in the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet led to the band's profile expanding beyond its former mainstays of its home country and Japan, especially in the United States. However, although it led to sales of over 500,000 copies in the US of the band's album, the song was somewhat distinctive on the moody, darker-toned album, and (much like Alanis Morissette after Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie sold tremendous amounts in its first week or two but turned out to be much different than fans had envisioned) their work was never nearly as popular subsequently.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lady Gaga Rules BRIT Awards

Decidedly non-British diva Lady Gaga dominated last night's BRIT Awards, the UK's version of the American Music Awards/Grammys Lite, winning three awards including International Female Solo Artist and International Album for debut smash The Fame.

The BRITs also honored Jay-Z as International Male Solo Artist, and named the Spice Girls for the BRITS Performance of 30 Years. Dizzee Rascal and Lily Allen won for British Male and Female Solo Artist, respectively. Robbie Willliams was given the career achievement award.

Lily Allen arrives at the 2010 BRIT Awards

For the first time at a major public event, Gaga performed her latest single "Telephone," using a solo piano arrangement similar to live performances of "Speechless" at the Grammys and AMAs rather than a ghetto-tastic duet with Beyonce; she also sang "Dance in the Dark" before accepting her final award with a tribute to the designer Alexander McQueen, who died last week. In another landmark performance, Allen made her first appearance on stage since announcing a two-year hiatus from music in September 2009, shortly after her sophomore album It's Not Me, It's You debuted to critical acclaim.

Here's a sampling of the music honored at the annual British pop music love-in.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: The Evening Playlist

Now that we've had a chance to warm up with today's early morning Valentine's Day songs, let's bring it on home with a specially selected 16-song playlist for your romantic (or sexy) evening at home...or wherever. Happy V-Day, lovers! I'm off to cuddle with the pooch.


1. "Rock My World" Michael Jackson (Invincible - Epic, 2001)

2. "Kiss" Prince & The Revolution (Parade - Paisley Park/Warner Bros, 1986)

3. "Can't Nobody" Shoshana Bean (Superhero - Shotime Records, 2008)

4. "Never Forget You" Noisettes (Wild Young Hearts - Mercury Records, 2009)

5. "Shoop" Salt-N-Pepa (Very Necessary - Next Plateau Records/London, 1993)

6. "Bum Like You" Robyn (Robyn - Interscope, 2008)

7. "Could I Have This Kiss Forever" Enrique Iglesias &Whitney Houston (Enrique - Interscope, 1999)

8. "He Loves Me-Lyzel In E Flat" Jill Scott (Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds Vol. 1 - Hidden Beach Record, 2000)

9. "From This Moment On" Shania Twain and Brian White (Come On Over - Island Def Jam, 1997)

10. "I'll Be Seeing You" New York Voices (Sing! Sing! Sing! - Corcord Records, Inc, 2001)

11. "Beauty and the Beast" Angela Lansbury (Beauty and the Beast - Walt Disney, 1991)

12. "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" The Manhattan Transfer (Mecca for Moderns - Atlantic Records, 1981)

13. "I Will Always Love You" Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard - Original Soundtrack Album - Arista Records, 1992)

14. "Whatever" Jill Scott (Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2 - Hidden Beach Records, 2004)

15. "Chocolate" Kylie Minogue (Body Language - Capitol, 2006)

16. "By Your Side" Sade (Lovers Rock - Epic, 2000)

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: Taylor, The Latte Boy

Man, at 7am I can think of one thing that is more than often necessary: COFFEE. Sure, the Manhattan Transfer sing of their love for el cafe in "Java Jive," but since last I checked South American beans don't celebrate Valentine's Day, so how about we go with a little more of the human touch?




"Taylor, The Latte Boy"
Kristin Chenoweth
As I Am
(Sony Classical, 2005)

Chenoweth, best known perhaps for her role as Glinda in the original Broadway cast of the musical Wicked, is halfway to the fourway milestone Barbra Streisand so famously holds (Tony, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy), with a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and, most recently, a sentimental (if not undeserving) Emmy for the by then already canceled Pushing Daisies. She is set to reprise her role as a boozing alumna this spring on Fox's musical phenomenon American I... sorry, Glee.

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: Save Me From Myself

Shhhh...we'll have to keep quiet at this hour. I think that calls for this little number from Christina Aguilera's latest album (which came out back in 2006!).


"Save Me From Myself"
Christina Aguilera
Back to Basics
(RCA, 2006)

Aguilera's album Bionic is one of the more hotly anticipated releases of 2010, having been pushed back to April. If you're thinking that must mean a single ought to be hitting the airwaves right about now, keep your ears open for "Glam," the lead single due this month.

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: Diggin' On You

I'm not sure why, but it just feels like chillin' with T-Boz and some Kool-Aid seems like a 5am thing to do.





"Diggin' On You"
TLC
CrazySexyCool
(Arista/LaFace Records, 1994)

CrazySexyCool was my very early first exposure to hip hop/R&B music - or more accurately if less politically correct, music by black people who weren't Ella Fitzgerald. And even if I didn't quite understand it and it scared me a little, I can't express how much this album influenced me and my musical taste, in what I of course believe is a highly positive way. I always thought this song was fun though, if a little overproduced (it's a totally early '90s song, but my sensitivities lean much more toward the minimalist sound of the late 2000s and today anyway, hence my lack of affection for 80s music in general).

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: All Through The Night

How about for the up late crowd we get some Cyndi Lauper in here?


"All Through the Night"
Cyndi Lauper
She's So Unusual
(Epic, 1983)


I actually was introduced to this song on a cd I picked up during my college tour back east. It was an acapella choir from Williams College, called the Ephlats, whose cd I believe I picked up because it looked the swankiest, and it was my introduction to college acapella as well as the reason I hear certain songs differently than most people seem to. I lost that cd several years ago and would so love to have it back.

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: Honey

For the third entry in today's Valentine's Day Massacre...I mean, "marathon," I'll throw a bone in case any pop lightweights out there are thinking "Ingrid who? Corinne Bailey what now? Isn't there anyone I've ever heard of?" And I'm sure even long-forgotten civilizations on undiscovered islands know of Mariah Carey, and here is my favorite of the few Mariah chart-smashers I can stand in the first place.



"Honey"
Mariah Carey
Butterfly
(Columbia, 1997)

I think Butterfly, which also features the blockbuster ballad "My All," was probably the peak of Mariah's career, at least from a vocal ability perspective, as well as my personal preference (which more often than not doesn't include Mariah Carey one way or the other, but...); the only track since then I've bothered to download was 2007's "We Belong Together."

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: Breathless

Hello again! Seems like that hour just flew by quicker than the lovely Ingrid Michaelson Old Navy ditty does, am I right? Well, for the second of Vertigo Shtick's 24 Songs for V-Day, I thought I'd serenade the L.A. bar patrons as they make their way home (or to the next after-party) with a rousing soul ballad from Corinne Bailey Rae's debut album.



"Breathless"
Corinne Bailey Rae
Corinne Bailey Rae
(EMI/Capitol Records, 2007)

Mmm, yessir, I've always thought this to be her sexiest song by far; I love the horns in the chorus, and the way the typically demure-voiced singer really brings out a bit of old fashioned lusty growl. Interestingly, this song was released as a single in the US only, and although not promoted by EMI it spent twelve weeks on the Hot Hip Hop/R&B Songs chart, peaking at number 70.

See you in an hour!

24 Songs for Valentine's Day: The Way I Am

Ah, February 14. A day millions of happy couples celebrate (and just as many solo citizens tolerate) the anniversary of the day a Roman priest was beaten and then beheaded after being caught officiating over non-traditional marriages - i.e. Christian ones (gasp! You mean the definition of "traditional" marriage has changed over time? What a concept!). Nowadays, it's just an excuse for 24 hours of luuuuuv (or one of two days a year Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have to pretend to have sex). Even though your faithful blogger is (happily) not among the coupled, it seemed sporting to spend the day coming up each hour with a fun song appropriate to the holiday. I imagine the collection will range from the legendary chart-toppers to the quirky sweet ballads to the occasional odd romantic statement - and for all the single ladies out there with their black leotards and cyborg hands, I shan't forget you either - but all of them will have one major shared quality: all's well that ends well.

We'll start things off nice and easy (sorry Tina) with a charming indie pop gem from Ingrid Michaelson. If there's more romantic than telling someone you'll buy him Rogaine when he starts losing all his hair, I haven't heard it.


"The Way I Am"
Ingrid Michaelson
Girls and Boys
(Cabin 24, 2006)


See you at 2am for the next installment!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting Lost in El Ritmo

Hey, did anyone know the Winter Olympics are three days away? A friend of mine recently pointed out the odd lack of hype surrounding the 2010 Olympiad, particularly one that's relatively close (and, for the first time in my conscious lifetime - I was a mere infant during the 1984 Los Angeles Games but I did apparently get to see the torch pass by - one that's actually happening in the same time zone!). Someone else noted that NBC had broadcasting rights, and so ensued a healthy volley of NBC jokes (and a "blame Canada" thrown in for good measure) before, I presume, all involved went back to not thinking about the upcoming Winter Games for whatever reason. And I LOVED the Winter Olympics growing up: unlike the Summer Olympics, whose traditional schedule typically makes for one week of excitement overload (swimming and gymnastics; what more need there be?) followed by a week of dull track & field events, archery, the marathon, and *shudder* rhythmic gymnastics, and by the Closing Ceremonies everyone's ready to go home...that is, if they haven't left already. But the Winter Olympics have bobsledding! Slalom skiing! Speed skating! The luge (and the delightfully homoerotic two-man luge)! And, of course, sequins on ice: the neverending drama that is figure skating (remember, this is the sport in which one chick actually hired goons...GOONS, PEOPLE...to attack the girl who was better than she was*, only to have said goon-attack victim emerge later with a glorious silver medal comeback, only falling short of the gold because the Fiona Apple-looking recently commie-liberated diva from Ukraine had a more Lifetime-worthy backstory. Surya Bonaly's famous "fuck it" backflip! Skategate! Johnny Weir! Michelle Kwan! The following clip of Robin Williams: Live on Broadway!



Sorry, I got a little excited there (too bad I have no cable hookup on my tv). What I was getting at that has anything to do with pop music is that while I have very few specific Olympic memories prior to Michael Phelps, I still very vividly remember Christina Aguilera's performance at the Closing Ceremonies. I remember the next day at school attempting to discuss the performance with two of my closer male friends - actually, that's not quite right; I attempted to discuss what Christina was wearing during her performance with two of my closer male friends, even making a crude drawing in an attempt to appeal to what I imagined would be the one thing that might appeal to most guys about it (I think my big fashion/pop freakout had to do with the uniquely cut pattern of Aguilera's low-rise pants, which I thought at the time amounted to nearly displaying her female parts on national television...which just goes to show how much I knew about the female anatomy).
My 17 year old gay self: "Isn't her you-know-what hangin' out?" 

A little context here: in early 2002, Christina hadn't been heard from for a good year and a half or so, and looked all grown up, but was still seven months away from releasing "Dirrty" and, two months later, Stripped (God bless her), which was my personal soundtrack during my freshman year at college. I enjoyed the song when I first heard it in the Closing Ceremony telecast, and was pleased to find it on the album...sounding exactly the way it had in Salt Lake City (believe me, I'd found video, and that was pre-YouTube too!). Hey wait a sec... *Raises hand* Teacherrr! She was lip synching!!!


"Infatuation"
Christina Aguilera
Stripped 
(RCA, 2002)



Trivia: Really? After all that? All right, fine. The track preceding "Infatuation" on Stripped is called "Primer Amor Interlude," one of several such interludes that dot the lengthy album. I'm not sure if I knew at the time that Aguilera didn't actually speak Spanish (despite having released a Spanish language album not long after her debut album, presumably to capitalize on her last name, Ecuadorian heritage and a lot of Central and South American girls' parents' pocketbooks), but I was somewhat pleased with myself for being able to translate the entire brief Spanish spoken bit in the interlude. I'll do the same for you, as could anyone else with a year or two of language, since it reads like something you'd write for a midterm exam for Spanish II:

I'm going to tell you a story [pause] of how [pause, giggle] a Puerto Rican robbed me of my heart. Never more have I loved in this way. Perhaps I never will. [Pause, guitar flutter] It is the story of my first love. He was handsome, with big and deep brown eyes [Pause, then severely:] A dancer. [Guitar again] Together we lost ourselves in the rhythm of love [Self-satisfied pause, since preceding clause sounds better in Spanish, then wistfully:] And this is how it began... [Guitar provides musical ellipsis and "Infatuation" begins]

Now stop pretending you didn't love Stripped too and pick up the mp3 download on Amazon.











*Technically Harding's ex-husband and bodyguard hired a goon to do the dirty...which is kind of like how when the guy who's 21 already is the one who goes to buy the beer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Semantics of Pop (Plus, Vote Now on Upcoming Content!)

Although the term is so comfortably used today to refer to broad variety of styles and genres (although the definition used for the purposes of this blog is rather more discrete), the term "pop music" has its linguistic origin in the word "populus," as in "of the people," or its contemporary colloquial usage to describe something known and/or regarded positively by a large number of persons in a certian group.

But the dated and arguable semantics of the um-ba-rella title for my chosen music genre aren't the reason I'd like to have some interactivity and input from readers of this blog, whether one is an every so appreciated regular or on one's first visit to Vertigo Shtick. As it nears two months of age, the blog has begun to start showing hints at what it can and will be as it matures into an established, well-regarded and well-trafficked element of the critical and promotional pop music scene. I am about to begin a semester-long project with a student and friend who approached me about possibly using Vertigo Shtick's web entity as the subject of the main required project for a course on web design she's taking with the only other remaining requirements for her B.S. degree this May. Since agreeing to her suggestion really helps me out as much as it helps her, as I'd been planning on transitioning Vertigo Shtick from its current blog format into the relatively simple but far more customizable and appropriate website format but knew that whole thing would go far more smoothly with the involvement of someone with an inkling of what he or she was to be doing. I have several exciting content pieces in the works as well, and several months of decrying, mocking and otherwise obsessing about the American Idol phenomenon while secretly excited about having the self-imposed obligation to follow a full installment of the glorified karaoke competition and revel in the anthropological and societal study I inevitably take in such situations. And, of course, there's so much music to look forward to discovering, rediscovering, or perhaps helping another discover.

In the meanwhile, I'd like to get a feel for what readers here like - musically of course, but also things like content in general. I often have a lot of possible ideas shooting around my brain and have been known more than once to become too overwhelmed by possibilities that I don't end up managing to write anything at all. And since I have gotten no feedback from readers on almost any posts, I have no idea what people have liked or not liked as much and nothing to work from towards improving what we can.

So I'm trying something in an attempt to both create a little anticipation about a forthcoming post, but also in an attempt to bring people over to the blog for their first or one of their first times with the simplest buy anything. There are a number of recently released pop albums that I've at some point thought of reviewing, listed in the poll segment at the very top of the column, along with a couple high profile releases from two or three months ago at most; none of the listed albums has been reviewed on Vertigo Shtick. I encourage all readers whether regulars or first time browsers take thirty seconds to check off whichever of the albums on that list you'd like to see reviewed ; a review of the top vote-getting album will be posted on Friday (but wait, there's more!) and a playlist of the entire album will accompany the review and also be made available for the week in the sidebar menu.

I'm looking forward to seeing which album emerges with the most votes, because I have absolutely no idea what to predict! See below for the eight album choices, then go up to the poll at the top of the right-hand side and vote. You can select as many of the choices as you like.
































Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jumping on My Tutu

While I've always had a certain fascination with pop music since my first exposures to it back in early middle school, the biggest recent influence that started me on the path towards pop music blogging and criticism was a coworker and friend I met while living in London for a year pursuing my MA degree. She and I originally hit it off when we discovered a shared love of a similar kind of music, as well as an interest in and substantial knowledge of the current pop music industry and repertoire. Through her I not only got to revisit some acts from days past who I would realize I still enjoyed thoroughly plus the bonus of time, wisdom and experience allowing me to appreciate them on a different level, but I also got an invaluable education on British pop music, from the artists to the very consciousness. It was then I was first introduced to the likes of Amy Winehouse, Girls Aloud, Lily Allen, Estelle, Paolo Nutini, Arctic Monkeys, Jamelia, and others who were players in the UK pop scene long before the US market picked up on them (if at all), watched Leona Lewis win the X Factor, had my knowledge of Sugababes greatly expanded beyond the single club hit I'd enjoyed in 2004, had my first exposure to Madonna in concert (broadcast on television, not live, but still profound), got some vital 80s music history basics, and mainly had my appreciation for and love of pop music stoked and fueled enormously.

Girls Aloud, currently the big girl group in the UK, is something of a successor to the Spice Girls (although their career in Britain at least rivals that of the Spice Girls and I believe GA has already outlasted the other infamous quintet), formed through a "Making the Band" type reality program years back like numerous bands have in the US; the main difference is that Girls Aloud started out a big hit and have been able to stay that way five studio albums and ten million copies sold. While I was in London, one of the five girls in the group, Cheryl Tweedy, had just married a popular soccer (football) star named Ashley Cole and their wedding photos were everywhere for a good month or two; if the whole thing smacks of Posh and Becks, you're absolutely right (girl group members and reality tv stars are the cheerleaders to the soccer stars' quarterbacks in British tabloid society). The song I came to associate with Girls Aloud was a raucus dance thumber called "Something Kinda Ooooh," the lyrics and performance of which my friend and pop muse and I never tired of discussing and that never left my iPod the whole time I was there. While I've learned since then that it's hardly their best single, it's still my favorite and a good one for a rainy Saturday morning.


"Something Kinda Ooooh"
Girls Aloud
(Decca International, 2006)

Trivia: As much as it might seem like just about everything has been made into a reality show in the US, the Brits are the real masterminds of reality television (and are to blame for a great deal of the reality program concepts that have graced US televisions; Survivor, America's Next Top Model and The Real World are the only notable reality concept franchises born in the USA). Girls Aloud was formed during the second installment of "interactive reality" competition program Popstars, in which the original formula got a hefty face lift the subtitle The Rivals. Instead of simply selecting the members of a pop group, viewers would be voting for which young singers would make up not one but two separate groups, one of five men and the other of five women. The final selection was timed so that the new groups' debut singles would debut just before Christmas and would essentially compete for the top spot on the singles chart (it apparently was a given that one of them was bound to in fact earn the top spot in its debut week, not unlike how new American Idol champs' singles tend to debut big the week following the finale but in most cases quickly drop quickly). Girls Aloud's first single, "Sound of the Underground," beat out boy band One True Voice's "Sacred Heart/After You're Gone" for the "Christmas Number One," and only one of the two bands is still around. You do the math.

Check out Girls Aloud's best reviewed album, 2005's Chemistry.

This Week Not Such a Fairytale for Taylor Swift

Before I begin, let me preface with a little "journalistic integrity" business (as a blogger I'm not sure I need to hold myself to quite the same standard, but I do in one way or another report or relay a good deal of factual/news-y information on this blog and would like to maintain a certain credibility): it is my intention to try to suppress as much schadenfreude as possible on this post. I am, however, only human, so I make no promises.

As you are probably aware, the week began on quite a high note for twenty-year-old country crossover star Taylor Swift. Her latest single "Today Was a Fairytale," from the soundtrack to the upcoming Garry Marshall ensemble romantic comedy Valentine's Day (in which Swift also costars) had debuted last week at #2 on the Hot 100, breaking the first-week download record for a female artist and briefly reaching the top download spot on iTunes. Then on Sunday, Swift won four of the eight Grammy Awards for which she received nominations, including something of a surprise win for her blockbuster album Fearless as Album of the Year, managing to overcome the Grammy tradition of bestowing that award on whichever nominee is oldest (see recent triumphs by minor albums by the likes of Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock and, posthumously, Ray Charles), in this case the Dave Mathews Band, as well as beating out solid contenders Lady Gaga, Beyonce (who nevertheless broke the record for Grammys won at one ceremony by taking home six trophies), and the Black Eyed Peas.

The night wasn't a complete victory for the oh so insistently lovable singer, however, and there her problems began. In her poorly conceived duet performance with legend Stevie Nicks, both singers struggled, Swift more noticeably so with a delivery Entertainment Weekly diplomatically described as "pitchy" (think Adam Lambert at the AMAs late last year). The weak performance stood out perhaps more than it might have had the rest of the live acts of the night not been as consistently solid as they were: Lady Gaga and Elton John's opener was at once thrilling and touching; Beyonce's intriguing song choice (Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know..." wait, didn't that make an appearance just a few months back when Britney Spears shocked the world by singing something live (and unannounced) at several of her concerts?), Green Day being Green Day, the Black Eyed Peas coasting through inoffensively, the Michael Jackson tribute that actually didn't end up sucking, and of course Grammy snubbee Pink bringing the house down with her acrobatic, beautiful rendition of the largely unfamiliar ballad "Glitter in the Air" all made Swift and Nicks' offering look even weaker by comparison.

Swift and Nicks at the 2010 Grammy Awards

To make matters worse, the CEO of Swift's label Big Machine Records, Scott Borchetta, lashed back at the understandable criticism of the performance that ensued over the following couple of days, saying among other things, "This is not 'American Idol.' This is not a competition of getting up and seeing who can sing the highest note. This is about a true artist and writer and communicator. It's not about that technically perfect performance." The label chief's petulantly defensive response may have been intended to neutralize criticism but instead, predictably, had rather the opposite effect of escalating what started as a minor snarkfest with a .likely lifespan of two or three days tops into an argument, and the only thing bloggers love more than one-off bits of snark is a good fight.

One particular blogger with an especially high name recognition, namely Grammy winner and the very first American Idol champion Kelly Clarkson, applied her trademark colloquial meets analytical writing style to a delightfully snide rebuttal on her own blog to Borchetta's rather unwise choice of antagonistic comparison. "We not only hit the high notes, you forgot to mention we generally hit the ‘right’ notes as well," she wrote after admonishing the exec for his Idol diss, closing with some entirely correct and appropriate advice: that "instead of lashing out at other artists (that in your ‘humble’ opinion lack true artistry), you should simply take a breath and realize that sometimes things won’t go according to plan or work out and that’s okay." The post is a solid win on the side of maturity in the music business, and with the exception of the oh-so-subtle "right notes" dig did not at all criticize Swift or her performance - rather the opposite, in fact; however, the confrontation-loving blogosphere teemed with headlines such as Billboard.com's leader "Kelly Clarkson Fires Back at Taylor Swift," a misleading statement to be sure but only those who actually read the article would know it.

How aware Swift herself might be of the minor tonality tempest muddying the wake of her big victory night is, of course, debatable. Tangible things like sales figures, however, are of course more difficult to wave away as insignificant. While the new Billboard data released on Thursday was from the week leading up to the Grammys (therefore not yet including any post-Grammy telecast numbers), Swift had seen several tracks enjoying an awards buildup boost on the charts, and Fearless had inhabited the top ten on the Billboard 200 albums chart for many long weeks. On Thursday's chart, however, Fearless had dropped to #13 in its 64th week of release - in itself hardly something to sneeze at, but compared with the 10% sales increase Lady Gaga's debut album The Fame enjoyed in its 65th week to hold the number 3 spot it was an uncharacteristic slump. Over on the Hot 100, "Today Was a Fairytale," which all but disappeared from the iTunes download chart early this week, dropped like a stone from number 2 to number 22, and other singles stalled or slipped down the chart as well.

The very hot debut of fellow country act Lady Antebellum's sophomore album Need You Now this week and the chart staying power historically common among country musicians could easily make the threesome into the new Taylor Swift (who was after all sort of the new Carrie Underwood, who was herself the new LeeAnn Rimes, who was once the new Shania Twain...and so forth) and render the 20 year old's services to country music's coffers no longer required. It remains to be seen in next Thursday's charts whether Swift will enjoy a Grammy bounce this week or whether Fearless and its progeny have finally reached their sell-by date and, as all music does some time or another, begin their steady decline towards their eventual drop off of the charts entirely. Of course, if she plays this wisely, that will be about the time her next album drops and we see whether this precocious Pollyanna has the goods to prove herself as more than just a one trick pony. Until then, I know at least one pop music devotee/blogger who would not mind in the slightest if Taylor Swift happened to vanish for a while - at least long enough for the pop scene to reboot before she presents her next musical project.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why I Still Think "3" Is A Charm

While assembling a post for another blog project on which I work from time to time, the subject and substance of which could hardly be further removed from those of Vertigo Shtick, I nonetheless found myself pondering on Britney Spears, as I admit I am wont to do more than occasionally. My thought process ultimately produced an example of the kind of out-of-the-blue analysis (often of minute or tangential things) I find regularly occupying my mind, and for which I started this blog largely to serve as a sounding board/dumping ground. So, here goes.

The best part of Britney Spears' recent single "3," in my opinion, comes at the end of the very typically Britney-esque bridge, wherein three quarters of the way through a song extolling the joys of three-way sex, Brit claims with mock naivete the way only she can that "what we do is innocent" and assures her lover that if he prefers some 1-on-1 lovin' she's more than willing to oblige. "Let's just do it you and me," she says sweetly.


Except she's not done: a few bars later she adds, "...or three," eagerly diving back into her thrilling sexual discovery after popping out for a moment to placate the puritanical parental censors who so amusingly threw such a hissy fit over the "pun"-ch line of recent single "If U Seek Amy" that its radio incarnation ("If You See Amy;" I mean, give me a break.) was stripped of its joke and any remnant of sense. Then, almost as an afterthought in the moment before the final chorus, she adds gamely, "...or four...on the floor." Say what you will about the ups and downs of Spears' music career since she took over creative control of her fourth album, In the Zone, and then...well, you know what happened afterward; one rare constant in Spears' pop career since that time has been her almost gleeful gameness for sexual exploration, at least in her music (see "Breathe on Me" and "Touch of My Hand" from In the Zone; "Freakshow" and "Get Naked (I Got a Plan)" from Blackout- incidentally the only two tracks on the album on which Spears has a writing credit; "If U Seek Amy," "Lace and Leather" and bonus track "Phonography" from Circus; the carnal, explorative rather than exploitative sexuality of The Circus Starring Britney Spears tour; and, of course, "3"). I have a theory about how and from whence this came about for the pop star who once famously declared her intention to remain a virgin until marriage, and his name is Justin Timberlake, who Spears was famously dating until not long before the release of In the Zone. Regardless, I find Britney's joyful treatment of sex and sexuality refreshing; neither as overt and purposely provocative as Madonna, nor as desperately sleazy and overblown as Christina Aguilera's Stripped or Nelly Furtado's Loose, it actually strikes me as an especially healthy outlook on sex and sexual exploration (not being a subscriber to the "abstinence only" way of thinking).

It happens that it is at that same moment in the somewhat maligned music video that there is an incredibly brief but notable moment of magic of a kind all but absent in Britney's post-Federline life and career. As the crescendo in the background music of the bridge reaches its peak and vanishes for several beats before the final, mega-produced chorus crashes back to carry "3" to the finish line, the largely dead expression the blond starlet has worn since her tumultuous hiatus suddenly flickers to life in an almost infinitesimal smirk, a split second where her eyes connect and spark with the knowing mixture of innocence and sexuality that made Britney an icon unlike any other beyond her music. I love that moment, because it's the first time since the Fall of Spears that I have seen an indication that there's still a trace of the old Brit in there behind the dead eyes, beneath the anti-depressants, below the sadness, beyond the conservatorship. It may never again show itself the way it once did, but by golly if it isn't reassuring to see, even for a moment, that there's still a crazy, overprotected, outrageous, freakshow slave 4 u in there somewhere.


The so-called "director's cut" of the music video for "3" by Britney Spears, directed by Diane Martel.
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Follow the playful, explorative sexual safari of Britney Spears over the more recent half of her career with this specially selected ten-song chronological playlist. If you find this song sequence to be anywhere beyond "mildly risque," I'd advise you to avoid the repertoires of Madonna, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Robyn, and Pink, all of which surpass that of Britney Spears in terms of sexual content. Of course, that basically means your exposure to mainstream female pop music is pretty much going to be limited to Beyonce Knowles and old Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston classics, so I don't envy you.



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