Friday, February 25, 2011

Nicole Scherzinger: Is An Elusive Solo Career Finally Taking Off?

The demise of boy bands and girl groups in the first half of the last decade left few survivors, Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé being the most successful in the US, while Cheryl Cole has had a decent go of it in the UK. There were also many more casualties, of course, whose individual careers, at least as pop music performers, were essentially DOA upon the dissolution of their respective group acts (particularly true with boy bands). Of course, some of those in this second category didn't suffer their fates as regretfully as some others; by the time the most popular groups were disbanding, performers who had started with a group in their teens or early twenties were nearing or into their thirties, some with families or eyes on other careers, so the transition wasn't necessarily unwelcome or unmanageable for all of this group.

Then there was a third group remaining in the wake of the categorical collapse, and it was they who have had the roughest go of it: a pool of variously talented performers who chose to continue careers as musicians, only to systematically encounter cavalcades of obstacles, missteps, plain bad luck, or any combination thereof that would continuously prevent success or advancement. Kelly Rowland and Katie Price come to mind as two in this category worthy of immensely greater success than they've yet achieved, while the solo incarnations of Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys), JC Chasez (N*SYNC), Geri Halliwell (Spice Girls), Ashley Parker Angel (O-Town), Michelle Williams (Destiny's Child), Nadine Coyle (Girls Aloud), and Nick Lachey (98°), to name a few, may have more deservedly faltered. No one, however, has had nearly so undeservedly frustrating a struggle as Nicole Scherzinger.

Scherzinger, a dynamic performer with stunning looks, impressive dance skills, and most of all a formidable instrument, hit the pop scene in 2001 with the WB show Popstars, where she competed for and won a spot in a new but predictably short-lived girl group Eden's Crush. She rebounded with a new gig as frontwoman of the pop music offshoot of The Pussycat Dolls, a Los Angeles burlesque troupe that had attracted national attention (and that of executive giant Jimmy Iovine) in 2002 with a Maxim cover shoot with Christina Aguilera, Christina Applegate, and Carmen Electra (who often performed with the group).

The new group was a rebranding similar to the solo careers of Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk that extended the reach of The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, except that unlike the Mouseketeers, the Dolls weren't a household name with internal stars already developed: the pop act would represent the brand collectively rather than individually. That isn't to say the 2005 debut album PCD was a group effort - all lead and backing vocals on the album were performed by Scherzinger. The other four Dolls existed and appeared on the album artwork simply to complete the illusion of dolls, plural, which was what their many live performances provided.
The trick went off so well (did you know that whole album was all her? I didn't for years) that Nicole's stardom never really took off. Her planned solo debut Her Name is Nicole, on which Scherzinger worked tirelessly, was ultimately shelved following poor PR and label confidence failed to attract the interest the singer might have deserved (it was never released). Scherzinger went back to the studio and laid down most of the second PCD album Doll Domination, although this time around the other girls began wanting more chance to shine in a spotlight that (deservedly, although the bandmates disagreed) mostly focused on the lead singer. The album was a hit like the first, but after opening for Britney Spears on the North American leg of the Circus tour in 2009, the group ultimately disbanded.

This time, though, Scherzinger had become at least known and respected enough to try again as a solo act, and the brains and perseverence to make sure it happened. She retained post-PCD buzz and especially earned credibility as an individual performer with her performance as Maureen in the Hollywood Bowl concert production of Rent, directed by Neil Patrick Harris and also starring Vanessa Hudgens, in summer of 2010. Soon she was working in the studio with producer RedOne, a hot commodity after producing most of Lady Gaga's The Fame and The Fame Monster. The first single, "Poison," (listen below) hit the UK in October and shot to number 3 on the UK Singles Chart, but has yet to have a US release.

Still, with the enthusiastic critical response and the recent release of a second single, "Don't Hold Your Breath," that equals or exceeds the exciting if somewhat muddy "Poison," the likelihood of a Nicole Scherzinger solo album finally materializing seems increasingly good. The full release in question remains untitled, though the singer tweeted yesterday that she had just finished writing the final song for what she called her "UK album," so it appears we should expect at least a UK album release before the year's end. With a performer as fiercely talented as Nicole Scherzinger, it would be wise to keep an eye out and an ear open for what might come next, because after a decade of anonymity and disappointment mixed with a legitimate taste of success, it appears Nicole Scherzinger may remain under-appreciated only for a brief few moments longer. And it's about damn time.

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